Award-winning director and playwright sentenced to six years

The Bell

A Russian military court on Monday put a grim end to one of the most high-profile political cases of the last year. Director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriychuk were sentenced to six years in prison on charges of “justifying terrorism.” The case is designed to become a demonstrative example to Russia’s opposition and cultural elite of the dangers of speaking out.

  • The case against the pair concerned the staging of the play, “Finest, the Brave Falcon.” Named after a Soviet fairytale it tells the story of Russian women who traveled Syria to marry Islamic State fighters they met online. All the stories in the play are real, based on criminal cases that were levied against the women when they returned to Russia (you can read the script here). The show ran from 2020-2021, winning Russia’s most prestigious theater award, a Golden Mask. The case against them was filed in May 2023.
  • Like most Russian criminal case in which the defendants are charged with “justifying terrorism”, the evidence has been plucked out of thin air. The real reason for targeting the women was the Kremlin’s desire to scare the country’s opposition-minded intelligentsia. Berkovich, 39, was the perfect candidate. She comes from a family of intellectuals — many of which were also repressed, including her great grandfather who was executed during Stalin’s Terror — and is well known in Moscow’s opposition circles. In addition to her work as a director, she wrote anti-war poems that were widely circulated on Russian-language social networks.
  • The prosecution did not even particularly try to conceal its political motivations. The trial was openly staged — and even by Russian standards, ugly. Prosecution experts could not explain where in the play the justification of terrorism was supposed to be and some witnesses even switched to the defense’s side. The author of the denunciation that led to the initial charges spoke only in the trial via video link and with an altered voice, raising suspicions he was from one of Russia’s intelligence agencies. Towards the end of the trial, the judge closed the hearings to the public, with the final month heard in secret.

Why the world should care

The trial against Berkovich and Petriychuk became a showcase spectacle itself. By handing down the first prison sentence for a play in Russia’s modern history, the regime is demonstrating to the intelligentsia that it will target people for their anti-war stance, even if they are not a politician or a journalist.


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