'Simple doctor': trial of paediatrician reveals Russian repression

Russia's Ukraine offensive ushered in an unprecedented crackdown on dissent at home (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA)
Russia's Ukraine offensive ushered in an unprecedented crackdown on dissent at home (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA)

Wearing a short-sleeved chequered shirt, 68-year-old Moscow paediatrician Nadezhda Buyanova faced court Thursday, like thousands before her, for having criticised the Kremlin's Ukraine offensive.

The doctor faces up to a decade in prison.

She is on trial accused of spreading "fake" information on the army after a complaint from the ex-wife of a soldier killed in Ukraine -- Anastasia Akinshina.

The trial has revealed the level of repression gripping Russia for more than two years, in which thousands of Russians have landed in court for criticising the military offensive orally or on social media.

Buyanova was born in Ukraine's western city of Lviv and has lived in Russia for almost 30 years.

Akinshina has accused the doctor of saying during an appointment that her ex-husband was a "lawful target for Ukraine."

The 34-year-old testified in court Thursday and accused the doctor of speaking in a "mocking tone".

"She told me that my (ex-) husband was a legitimate target for Ukraine, that Russia is an aggressor country that was attacking Ukrainian civilians," Akinshina said in court, crying.

"It all makes sense. This is why she hates Russia and Russian fighters. She is from Lviv!" she exclaimed.

Anything Ukrainian is considered suspicious in Russia and some Russians with Ukrainian backgrounds have reported pressure.

Denunciations -- a practice common in the Soviet era -- have grown in Russia since the military offensive, which ushered in an unprecedented crackdown on dissent.

- 'I am just a simple doctor' -

Ahead of the court hearing, Buyanova told journalists that she was innocent.

"It's all a misunderstanding," she said.

"I am just a simple doctor, this is all very hard for me," she added.

Since being denounced in January, Buyanova was fired from the clinic where she worked, then arrested in February and accused of being motivated by "ethnic hatred".

Her lawyers have said that Akinshina's seven-year-old son was not present during the conversation, arguing that the accusation should therefore be lifted since Russian law only punishes spreading "fake information" on the army "in public."

Moscow has used the legislation, adopted in the wake of the offensive, to silence dissent.

Around 20 people came to support Buyanova in court.

They included the parents of jailed opposition politician Ilya Yashin, serving eight and a half years for denouncing the Ukraine offensive.

"There are more and more political prisoners every day," the politician's mother Tatiana Yashina told AFP. "I think it is important to support each other."

"I have the impression that her guilt lies in that she was born in Lviv," she added.

The west Ukrainian city is known for a specific strand of anti-Russian sentiment and has been portrayed in Russia as the birthplace of evil.

Some medics, many of whom have been shaken by the affair, also came to the court.

Over 6,000 doctors have signed a petition in Buyanova's defence.

Ambulance worker Vera Rebrova, 49, said she travelled from Saint Petersburg in order to support Buyanova in the capital.

"Her story has shocked me," she said.

Hygienist Olga Zaleskaya, 42, said she signed the open letter in support of Buyanova.

"It is our duty to support this person in a situation that is this difficult," she said.