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Saturday, November 26, 2022

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After Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed a witch hunt for “scum and traitors” last week, activists and antiwar figures have found the word “traitor” painted on their apartment doors, often alongside the “Z” symbol that has come to signify support for Putin’s war against Ukraine.

In the latest ugly incident Thursday, someone left a severed pig’s head on the doorstep of Alexei Venediktov, one of Russia’s most prominent media voices and former editor in chief of the liberal radio station Echo of Moscow, before it was closed down eight days after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The severed head was arranged on a white curly wig, apparently meant to resemble Venediktov’s hair. A sticker representing the Ukrainian coat of arms was left on his door, with an antisemitic label stuck to the emblem.

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“The country that defeated fascism,” Venediktov, who is of Jewish origin, posted on Telegram, referring to the Soviet Union’s role in fighting Nazi Germany and storming the Reichstag in Berlin in World War II. “Why not a six-pointed star on the door of my apartment?”

“They decided to intimate me and my family?” he posted, adding that he had seen worse when he was seized by Chechen rebels in 1994 and subjected to a series of fake executions.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Echo of Moscow reported on the war, even after authorities instituted tough wartime censorship, banning the words “war,” “invasion” and “attack.” Echo of Moscow was swiftly blocked by Russian authorities, and days later, state-owned gas giant Gazprom, which held a controlling stake, shut the station down.

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Putin has long claimed that the station was a foreign-funded project to undermine the Russian state.

Venediktov, who has almost 300,000 followers, posts news constantly on his Telegram channel, including UN reports on civilians and children killed in Ukraine. He quotes Ukrainian and Russian officials, maps troop movements in Ukraine, and shares news about the impact of sanctions on Russia and about the repression of protests and free speech.

Putin said in a speech last week that Russia would spit out “scum and traitors,” and pro-Western “fifth columnists,” who were out to destroy Russia. He accused Russians who look to Western liberal ideas as being guilty of “slavish thinking.”

And he called for a “natural and necessary self-cleansing of society” to leave Russia purified, unified and strong.

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