Russian Woman Faces 10 Years in Jail for Leaving Anti-War Stickers in Supermarket

Alexandra Skochilenko’s small act of resistance has made her a symbol of Russian opposition to the war in Ukraine, her supporters tell VICE World News.
Alexandra Skochilenko. Photo: Supplied

A Russian artist and dissident has become a symbol of the growing crackdown on the anti-war protest movement, as she faces up to 10 years in jail for swapping a few price tags at a local supermarket with anti-war messages.

Alexandra Skochilenko, 31, is just one of over 15,000 people targeted by the Russian government for protesting the ongoing war against Ukraine. She has become a high-profile example of how badly Russia treats people who engage in even small acts of rebellion.


Skochilenko has been held in pre-trial detention ever since her arrest in St. Petersburg on the 11th of April, and her friends have told VICE World News that she’s in bad health as prison authorities are denying her the medication she needs.  

Despite the crackdown on anything considered to be remotely critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February, tens of thousands of Russians like Skochilenko are still fighting back covertly.

The exact content of the modified price tags in her protest have not been made public by prosecutors, but it is believed they mainly contained information about the battle for Mariupol

Her case has also attracted attention in Russia because of her harsh treatment, despite not being a protest figurehead. Her legal defence team told VICE World News they don’t deny she staged the protest. However, they claim her intentions were not to discredit the Russian army, but to express her genuine personal opinion in a way that posed no threat to the public.


Tens of thousands of people have been detained for peaceful protest against the war. PHOTO: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images

Skochilenko has severe coeliac disease and needs medication for her bipolar disorder, her friends told VICE World News, but the authorities have refused to transfer her to house arrest, which would be typical under these circumstances. 


Many women have been inspired to take action by a Russian Telegram channel called the Feminist Anti-War Resistance. Created in late February, the channel is a self-managed Russian-speaking community of 34,000 subscribers whose acts of resistance throughout Russia are anonymous.

The Feminist Anti-War Resistance focuses on everyday acts of defiance instead of organising large events that could expose its followers to state violence. Actions range from encouraging public employees to strike or take sick days, to distributing leaflets and anti-war newspapers, or engaging friends and family members in activities that cuts down on the amount of time they spend watching propaganda on TV. The group also offers psychological support to anyone in need, and has a fund for those who’ve lost their job or had to quit because of their beliefs.

“Feminism as a political force cannot be on the side of a war of aggression and military occupation,” the group writes in their manifesto. “The feminist movement in Russia struggles for vulnerable groups and the development of a just society with equal opportunities and prospects, in which there can be no place for violence and military conflicts.” 


One of their most popular actions involves setting up crosses in public spots as a memorial for the victims of the war. People then take a picture of their small acts of resistance and leave them in the chat for everyone to see, stripped of metadata that could identify who took it. The group has been targeted by bots, likely sent by the Russian government to gather information about who’s active in it.

An old school friend of Skochilenko told VICE World News the channel she and her friends have set up to support Skochilenko has been infiltrated, too. “I thought, ‘Wow, the fact that they're sending people to make our work so much harder definitely means that they're paying attention’,” Anastasia, who VICE World News is not naming in full for security reasons, said.

Skochilenko does not actually identify as a member of the movement, her lawyer has said. Russian poet Daria Serenko, one of the few public faces of the group, also told VICE World News that Skochilenko was not affiliated with the Russian Anti-War Resistance. She simply took inspiration from one of the group’s posts and decided to go ahead with the protests. 

Anastasia said that the artist was devastated by the news of the war. Just like many Russians, Skochilenko had friends and family in Ukraine. She’d protested the war in Donbas and the annexation of Crimea, and had taught filmmaking to Ukrainian kids in Kyiv in 2019 and 2020. “For her, the war was a tragedy. It was heartbreaking. Life changed,” Anastasia said, describing Skochilenko as someone “with a very sharp mind attune to injustice.”


In the weeks following the invasion, Skochilenko grappled with feelings of helplessness, and with the question of “how to be a Russian who’s deeply against this, who’s never been silent,” Anastasia said. She started organising small events, called “Jams for peace,” where she’d invite musicians, poets and artists to perform in cafés and people’s homes. She created postcards with pacifist messages.

Eventually, she decided to stage the protest that led to her arrest. Anastasia said she knew she was exposing herself to risk, but never expected to be targeted so harshly. After all, she is not a famous activist or political figure.

Alexandra Skochilenko – woman playing guitar in front of a group of children and teens.

Skochilenko hosting one of the workshops in Kyiv before the war.

Virtually all forms of dissent in Russia have been banned by a series of laws passed between 2019 and March 2022. The latest addition, dubbed the Fake News Law, prohibits people and organisations from sharing any information about the Russian army that diverges from the Kremlin’s version of events, with punishments of up to 15 years in prison. Under the new law, all independent news organisations still active in Russia were effectively shut down. Around 15,400 people have been detained and fined, while 40 people are currently being dragged through criminal courts.


Maria Kuznetsova, a spokesperson for the human rights organisation OVDInfo, which is based in Tbilisi, said that the Russian crackdown on civil society started to take a sharp turn back in 2011 and estimates there are over 500 political prisoners in Russia. “Before, they would only criminally charge a journalist, a politician or an activist, someone famous enough for them to argue they had done something serious against the state,” she said. “But now, even regular citizens are being charged with the same kind of prison time for something as small as switching supermarket tags. That’s sending the message that no one is safe.”

And these tactics are working – thousands of Russians gathered to protest the war in February, but the movement has basically been quashed by now. The few resistance groups left are regional, decentralised and operate very tactically. “I also think that the Russian Anti-Feminist Movement survived because the government underestimated them, they didn’t see women as a threat for a while,” Kuznetsova added.

Kuznetsova said more women are getting arrested at protests than ever before. OVDinfo observed that in past movements, about 80 percent of protesters arrested were men, “not because women didn’t participate but because they weren’t seen as an issue,” she said. Now the split is closer to 50-50.

On the 17th of May, the courts denied a motion to release Skochilenko or transfer her to a non-life-threatening form of detention. She’ll now stay in jail at least until the 31st of May. Her friends said she’s been sick multiple times. They have tried to bring her food, but the authorities have thrown it away. They are still fighting for her and have launched a petition which has received 135,000 signatures.

“I’m afraid Skochilenko’s case is not really exceptional in this new Russian reality,” Kuznetsova added. “However, it does represent an escalation. It shows how we’ve transitioned from a soft authoritarian state to a hard authoritarian regime.”