A Russian teenager, Masha Moskalyova, who was taken from her home and placed in an orphanage after she expressed anti-war sentiments with her father, has left state custody to live with her estranged mother, according to Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner. Masha’s father, who was charged with “discrediting the Russian military” and put under house arrest, was sentenced to two years in prison, but his current location is unknown. In April 2022, Masha drew a picture of Russian missiles being fired at a Ukrainian family and wrote “No to war” and “Glory to Ukraine” during her art class, leading her school to call the police. Masha’s case has drawn attention to human rights abuses in Russia by authorities who are widely regarded as corrupt, with Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner, currently wanted by the International Criminal Court for kidnapping Ukrainian children and placing them with Russian families.
Lvova-Belova has claimed on Telegram that at first, Masha did not want to leave the orphanage to return to her mother, and her opinion is required by law to be taken into account. “Now her [Masha’s] position has changed” Lvova-Belova claimed. However, Masha’s father’s lawyer, Vladimir Bilienko, dismissed the photos of Masha with her mother as propaganda from the Children’s Rights Commissioner’s office. Previously, officials in the city of Yefremov’s Commission on Juveniles had stated that Masha’s mother had not been living with her daughter for more than seven years and the connection between mother and daughter had been lost; this has been a “180-degree U-turn,” according to Bilienko, who claims that the officials’ decision was an initiative of higher authorities.
Masha’s case highlights the dangers of speaking out against the Russian military, with human rights activists warning that it shows how anti-war sentiments are being silenced, while abuses against children are being enabled or ignored. Lvova-Belova’s status as a wanted criminal has also called into question her authority and the level of compliance with international laws in Russia. Reports also suggest that Masha’s father’s imprisonment and subsequent disappearance, combined with his daughter’s removal from his care, will serve as a warning to other Russians not to speak out against the military.