Ruslan Akhmetshin at the gate of his prison camp where he spent almost 3 years. Photo: Akhmetshin’s friends

“I'd just like to sit quietly tonight.” Arkhangelsk political prisoner Ruslan Akhmetshin is free

Ruslan Akhmetshin, an activist and photographer from Arkhangelsk in Northern Russia, who was sentenced to 2.5 years in October 2022, was released from prison on December 15. The reason for his conviction was several comments and shared posts on social media in which the activist did not agree that Victory Day is a holiday of fun. In an interview with The Barents Observer, Ruslan spoke about his feelings on his first day of freedom, prison life and plans for the future.
January 09, 2024


On December 15, Ruslan Akhmetshin, an activist from Arkhangelsk, who spent almost 3 years behind bars, was released from a minimum security prison camp.

“I have two feelings,” Akhmetshin told The Barents Observer. “Of course, it’s very nice to be free, to see that the world exists: people walk around, cars drive, where there is pleasant and tasty food and hot water. There are even forks and knives that you can use at lunch. On the other hand, I am haunted by some kind of bitterness and resentment. Was all my activity in vain? Everything that was done just went down the drain. Taking to other convicts and wardens, I realized that no one is interested in the problems of the world order, ordinary people are not interested in all this. That’s why there is such an unpleasant aftertaste. Many people say: “What about Shies?” Well, what about Shies, there will be an environmentally friendly concentration camp there.”

Ruslan Akhmetshin worked as a camera man at the Arkhangelsk office of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny and was also involved in protests against a planned landfill in the village of Shies in the Arkhangelsk region. On March 5, 2022, he was detained, his apartment and office were searched, and his computer equipment was seized. On March 23, 2022, Akhmetshin, along with other activists, underwent a second search in the case of Alexei Navalny’s “extremist organizations.” In this criminal case, he acted as a witness. On May 9, 2022, Akhmetshin was detained at Moscow Domodedovo Airport while passing border control and taken into custody. On October 26, 2022, he was sentenced to 2.5 years in a minimum security prison camp: Akhmetshin was found guilty of rehabilitation of Nazism for his comments on social media, in which he quoted the writer Viktor Shenderovich and expressed disagreement that May 9 is a day of mourning and sadness, not a day of fun. Russia’s human rights group Memorial recognized Akhmetshin as a political prisoner.

On privacy behind bars 

The biggest problem behind bars is the lack of privacy, says Ruslan. You are always in the company of other people: you eat with others, you sleep with others, you shower with other people. Even when you walk around the prison yard, you can only do this with other people. It is simply impossible to just sit down and concentrate. And this happens for several years.

Tonight I would just like to sit quietly, walk along the embankment alone, and think.

Family and fellow inmates 

“I expected my comrades, friends and associates to come. New buddies from prison colony also saw me off. The prison staff gathered as a whole delegation and silently escorted me out. “I was ready for something else as well,” Ruslan said.

As far as I know, another (criminal) case has been fabricated against me. I had a feeling that the operatives could meet me and I would go somewhere again. I don’t feel completely safe now. But the human psyche is structured in such a way that a person cannot constantly be in a state of fear or horror. But what will be, will be.

Ruslan Akmetshin’s friends waiting for his him to be released from prison. Photo: Ruslan Akhmetshin’s friends


Ruslan Akhmetshin told The Barents Observer what surprised him most about the prison system. According to the activist’s opinion and experience, conditions in pre-trial detention centers, where people have not yet been convicted, are much worse than in penal colonies where there are people whose guilt, in the opinion of the Russian state, has been proven in court.

“I was in three pre-trial detention centers,” says the ex-photographer. “The living conditions there are disgusting. For example, the Kirov pre-trial detention center was cold and damp with woodlice running along the walls, and the food was impossible to eat: it was cold and disgusting. These are the conditions of detention for people who may still be innocent. And in the prison camp there are convicts, some of them killed people in road accidents. Here they are in the sun, they can move around, they have a kitchen where you can bake pies, where there is a shower in which you are not limited in time. Cats are running around, magpies flying, there are swifts and spiders. And this is very important. Because people under investigation sometimes spend years in pre-trial detention centers, and these are people who are potentially innocent. And this is happening all over Russia. In the pre-trial detention center cell where I was, there were 14 men; the latrine there had ventilation into the cell, and not into the street. Can you imagine the smell there? I still don’t understand why the most stringent conditions are created not for those who are already recognized by the state as criminals but for those who may still be found guilty or not guilty.”


New friends in prison 

“I made friends, and this also happened in the pre-trial detention center,” the activist said. “These were entrepreneurs who, in my personal opinion, were there for no reason. I also have several comrades in the prison camp. One was involved a car accident. The state is trying to correct him, but I don’t know how. He is a highly qualified electronics engineer who now works in a garbage dump, sorting garbage with his hands. There is no correction here and there cannot be one. There is a famous athlete from Nyandoma (a town in Arkhangelsk region), he was also in a car accident. From his case materials, I understood that he was not guilty. There were certain political motives there, he was a well-known person in town. Reading other people’s case files, I saw so many unfair court sentences which were not politically motivated at all.”

On changes in Russia 

“I haven’t felt much change. The fact is that articles by independent journalists did not reach me. This is prohibited. Anything political (in prison) is confiscated by the censors. What happens in the “zombie box” (television) has hardly changed since the time when I was imprisoned. And most people are infantile in a political sense. That is, people don’t care what’s happening around them. They are deaf to any atrocities on the part of the state, they are only interested in their stomach, their own children and mainly material well-being,” Ruslan said.

Future plans 

“I will sit quietly and peacefully,” said Ruslan. “I understand that there’s absolutely no opportunity for me to engage in politics. It won’t lead to anything, I’ll just end up back there (in prison), but for a completely different term. I no longer want to help local residents, because I have nothing in common with this majority, except maybe a passport with the same symbols.”


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