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Russians are using prison tattoos to protest Putin’s inevitable reelection

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s brother has become a tattoo icon in prison.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t said his name in years, but his disdain for anti-corruption blogger and opposition leader Alexei Navalny is well-known.

Putin has gone to great lengths to stifle the underground leader’s budding movement; jailing him repeatedly, raiding his headquarters, censoring his websites, and shutting down street protests, but it’s the imprisonment of Navany’s younger brother that’s proved most painful.


Oleg Navalny was jailed on dubious embezzlement charges in 2015, and has been viewed as a political prod by the Kremlin ever since. (Alexei avoided his brother’s harsh sentence and instead was handed a suspended sentence, which led to his exclusion from March’s presidential election).

Read: Putin’s archrival has weaponized YouTube and turned it against the Kremlin

Now, Oleg is designing tattoos from behind bars as an underground protest against Putin and the Russia he stands for.

“For me, Oleg’s case is a symbol of blatant injustice,” said Pavel Akimov, the urban planner turned activist helping raise money for Oleg and his family.

The act of getting a tattoo has long been a socially subversive strand of counterculture in Russia. And for the Navalny brothers, the art has become yet another way for them to boycott the election and challenge the legitimacy of Putin's certain victory.

Read: The Visual Encyclopedia of Russian Prison Tattoos

“Art to him may be the only way of engaging with the outside world. So we have decided to widen the reach of this art," Akimov said.

This segment originally aired March 6, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.