Since 2014, Andrey Yurov, the well-known Russian lawyer and public figure with an established reputation as a human rights defender, has been actively involved in the “Crimean issue”. A native of Voronezh and a psychologist by education, Yurov previously actively participated in “human rights missions” in Chechnya as part of the so-called “Joint Mobile Group”, in August 2008 he was in Georgia, and in 2010 in Kyrgyzstan (clashes associated with a change of state autorities) and in 2010 in Belarus (protests after the presidential elections). Yurov served as Director for Strategic Development of the Moscow Helsinki Group, as a member of the Expert Council under the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation, periodically attended the events of the Council of Europe and the OSCE .
Since the beginning of the 21st century, Yurov has been developing and supervising the so-called “Youth Human Rights Movement” (YHRM), which mainly united young experts from post-Soviet countries. In 2009, the YHRM received the participatory status at the Council of Europe and by 2020 the movement had about a hundred active participants, primarily in Russia, as well as in Belarus and Ukraine. YHRM members got into the movement through Yurov’s trainings organized by the International School of Human Rights and Civil Action. Also in the YHRM there was the so-called “core” of the movement, which consisted of people loyal to Andrey Yurov who were responsible for project management and resource allocation. Although the staff of the “core” of the YHRM changed, invariably for ten or more years it included Elena (Alena) Obezdchikova, Maria Gordeeva, Lyudmila Dronova (Lada Burdacheva), Dmitry Makarov, Vitus Media, Anastasia Nikitina, Victoria Gromova and Konstantin Baranov .
Yurov’s key project was the Human Rights House (HRH), which was practically founded in 2009 in Voronezh on the basis of the Civil Assembly, established back in 2002 by the Voronezh branch of the Soldiers’ Mothers organization and an organization for the protection of consumer rights. Although from the moment of its creation formally the functions of HRH were exclusively regional, HRH immediately began to apply for international work within the framework of the European “network of Human Rights Houses”, began to participate in European events and, in particular, extremely actively involve citizens of Ukraine, neighboring Voronezh, in its activities. It is worth mentioning that the supervisory board of this “regional” HRH consisted of the chairman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, the president of the all-Russian “Confederation of Labor of Russia”, members of the board of “Memorial” and so on .
Therefore, it is not surprising that the “regional human rights activist” Yurov was not only allowed into hot zones by the Russian military authorities for many years without any problems, but was also included in the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. At the same time, among other things, Yurov was responsible in this structure precisely for the “Ukrainian direction”, gave interviews to the Ukrainian press. And after the beginning of the occupation of Crimea, Yurov promptly headed the “Special Temporary Working Group on the Civil Society and Human Rights Development in Crimea” created under this Council, whose activities, among other things, were actively highlighted by “KrymRealii”.
For example, in an interview in 2014, Yurov announced his interaction both with the aforementioned Council and with the Ombudsman of the Russian Federation, as well as with the UN and OSCE missions. As Yurov said then, justifying the illegal “elections” of the occupation power of the Russian Federation in Crimea, “whatever power we choose, the question is not who we chose, but the question is how we control it” . Through Yurov, relevant messages about the occupied peninsula, clearly convenient for the Russian authorities, were actively promoted for international structures. For example, in 2015 Yurov stated for “KrymRealii” that “Many documents of Crimean residents are not recognized in Ukraine. But people are not to blame for the fact that they found themselves in such conditions,” and also that “people there are collectively defeated in their rights,” allegedly through the fault of Ukraine. Yurov called his group of “human rights defenders” the “Crimean Field Mission on Human Rights” .
It is interesting that in 2016 it was already extremely difficult for Yurov to answer the logical question of “CrimeaSOS” – “why do they not touch you” in the occupied Crimea. At the same time, the “human rights activist” admitted that the aforementioned Council on its moderation discussed the issues of Crimea, and that, among other things, he communicated with the “Head of the Federal Migration Service of Crimea” and several times with the “Crimean Ombudsman” .
According to some experts, Yurov was actively considered by the Russian authorities as a key person in the so-called “tribunals” for the alleged massive “violation of the rights of Crimeans by Ukraine”. However, the “tribunals”, planned for the “water blockade” and other “genocides” did not take place, and no one played their rehearsed role of the “formal advocate of the Kiev junta”.
Life turned out to be much more ironic and angrier than the script of the Russian special services.
In February 2020, an unprecedented scandal erupted in the YHRM, and in the entire “Russian human rights community” after Anna Dobrovolskaya, who was a member of the YHRM “core” until 2017, and in 2018 became the executive director of the “Memorial” Human Rights Center, erupted on social media. Ms Dobrovolskaya then wrote that “Andrei Yurov had many sexual relations with both the people from the team and with the participants of the seminars, there were cases of physical violence, what can be called harassment and involuntary sexual contact” .
A few days after this message on social networks, Yurov gave an interview to the Russian “Kommersant”, in which he confirmed the facts of violence and admitted that he “preferred closed-type romantic relationships”. At the same time, Yurov said that allegedly “no YHRM exists as a single organization. There is no structure, no office, nothing”, and also indicated his alleged …mental illness, for which he is allegedly undergoing treatment. At the same time, the “non-existent” YHRM promptly announced the official dissolution of the movement .
The seemingly “delicate issue” of Mr. Yurov was closed by the high Kremlin leadership in the spirit of “Fifty Shades of Gray” – “a man was wrong, a man will be healed”. In the summer of 2020, after several months of pause, the “Russian human rights activists” coordinated by Yurov, even continued their activities. But apparently the situation with the Mr. Yurov’s “contacts of the first level” get out of the control of his curators somewhat now and even, perhaps, has become partially coordinated by someone completely different.
In October 2020, girls who participated in the YHRM in different years began to publish “Facebook” posts with a difference of several days talking about their difficult relationship with Andrei Yurov. We are interested not so much in the intimate content of these revelations as in the relationships in the YHRM, described by Yurov’s forced partners.
I am sure that these posts should be carefully studied by specialists in countering modern Russian intelligence structures, since they very vividly describe the internal cuisine of “human rights defense”, as well as the Voronezh HRH itself, which has actually become one of the key residencies of the aggressor’s intelligence services working against Ukraine and other countries the civilized world.
So in her publication dated October 1, Julia Arkhipova says about her experience of working in the YHRM, “I personally was in a sect” where an opaque “redistribution of money” was carried out, that “I knew that it was unsafe, but kept silent”, calling people “involved in administration of a destructive community for many years”. Well, the nature of Yurov’s work with female subordinates Mrs. Arkhipova expressively outlined in two words: “princess fund” .
Publication in the same “Facebook” about Yurov done by Elizaveta Markova as YHRM activist on October 6, should be considered much more frank. She writes that “we were not volunteers, we had an internal hierarchy,” with “constantly coming up with incomprehensible rules,” where “the goals of the work were not clarified,” and there was always money “to relocate people from Voronezh, St. Petersburg and Vladimir, to seminars in the Hilton, at a conference for several dozen people with meals and accommodation”.
At the same time, it turns out that within the framework of the YHRM Yurov received those involved in the “Great Scythia, a country without borders” by “ritual drinking of wine from a bowl passed by candlelight in a circle”, and within the YHRM there was still a hidden organization, “Project” “dedicated according to the level of loyalty”. The “Project”, writes Markova, “had its own constitution” “and three stages of initiation – participants, builders and keepers”, “newcomers signed an agreement of loyalty and service to the master,” and “Yurov himself called himself a dragon”.
Well, at least not a ‘mother of dragons’, and thanks for that …
In general, as a “lyrical digression”, it is worth to ask a public question to the leaders of the Russian special services – do you still have many such “dragons”? Do you only admit them to “agents work” with young activists of both sexes, or else, for example, to what important buttons and test tubes?
At the same time, Markova cites Yurov, who stated that “he is not interested in managing projects, he is interested in influencing people so that they manage projects as he needs”. Markova points to such features of the YHRM and HRH as “highly emotionally charged trainings” and “an incomprehensible system of leadership and management”, as well as that “everyone serves a great purpose, but no one can say which one”.
Markova states that “Yurov was in a relationship with half of the team, simultaneously controlling all projects and financial flows in them through them”, and she “at some point began to think that I was in the ‘South Park’ series”. The nature of the “relationship” Markova exhaustively describes with her own example – “although I resisted, but in the end I gave up”, and that at the same time at least four more employees of the YHRM “were in a relationship with Andrey Yurov in parallel to each other”. Interestingly, according to Markova, since the spring of 2017, Yurov demanded “to increase the level of secrecy and rent apartments”, for which he began to give her money .
On October 12, Anastasia Sultanova took over the “baton of frankness”, also mentioning the ritual of the “Scythian circle” to which the YHRM “attributed colossal importance”. As she recalls, one day she was given an award for her accomplishment, stating that this money was “accidentally found in an old safe”, but in general “the attitude towards finances and their administration was always strange and vague,” all team members “were very busy are exhausted”.
Anastasia also points out that “of all the structures and institutions of the “core”, which were innumerable and through which it was difficult to wade through and remember and understand their meaning,” the YHRM most of all reminded her of … the Komsomol. In order to join the YHRM (and, accordingly, get into the “princess fund”), it was necessary to write a “participant’s questionnaire,” indicating two referees of different sex, “dad” and “mom”.
As Sultanova recalls, working at the YHRM “I was constantly in a strange psychological state, I drank a lot of alcohol (although I was always not a fan)” and that “a lot of legal entities were registered at the “core”, legal persons who did not function, their activities were not carried out”, and that they were “avatars necessary for the implementation of activities”, and the HRH itself did not have the status of a legal entity. Sultanova blurts out, without mentioning details, that two months later she “realized what it really was and what the avatars and the “core” were, covering for the organization” .
An even more striking post on October 25 was written by Darina Zabludovskaya on Facebook, stating that “I was one of the “princesses” and yes, I am the person he beat”. This nineteen-year-old volunteer describes the time spent with Yurov “in a trash one-room unsanitary flat, littered with books and souvenirs, where rats from the basement sometimes appeared”. Under the influence of this “human rights activist”, she “stopped communicating with people outside the human rights circle”, “began to divide people into “outliers” and “ours””, and from the end of 2014 to the beginning of 2018, she “was in a completely inadequate state”, and in 2016 she “survived the suicide attempt” .
All of these stories, some of which are not quoted for moral reasons, are obviously authentic and autobiographical. A number of the applicants were apparently used, both by the HRH and Yurov personally, blindly in every sense of the word. It is unlikely that this was from the very beginning a long-term operation carried out within the framework of the struggle of various Russian special services among themselves to discredit Yurov and the YHRM/HRH. Most likely, the primary cause of this scandal, which completely discredited the Voronezh intelligence residency, was a purely human factor.
The nature of the work of the HRH/YHRM suggests the creation and supervision of this site more likely from the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service than from the Main Department of the Russian Army General Staff. Close contacts of the YHRM and HRH with the Ukrainian and Western human rights organizations of the Human Rights House network , which Yurov’s senior bosses could massively use in their own interests, at least in the dark, are extremely important.
Suffice it at least to point out that in the likeness of the Voronezh Human Rights House in Kiev, four human rights structures recently created the “Human Rights House. Crimea” as “a member of the international network of Human Rights Houses”, which covered 17 organizations in 11 countries . And it is a purely rhetorical question – would the “authoritative human rights activist Yurov” have the tremendous influence on the activities of this “Crimean” HRH, if he hadn’t embodied the stories of “The Decameron” and “South Park” so actively in his work at the same time.
However, now the scandal around Yurov’s “princess fund” is gaining momentum. And now it is already obvious that “competing organizations” began to savor the absurd failure of the head of the “Crimean Field Mission”. For example, on October 8, the Russian “human rights resource” “7X7” published the “Open Letter from Former YHRM Members on the Results of the Investigation of Abuses within the Organization” .
First, it was signed by the aforementioned former victims of the YHRM Darina Zabludovskaya, Julia Arkhipova and Anastasia Sultanova, Elizaveta Markova, who were joined by Olga Aksarina, Ramila Gubaidullina and Elizaveta Vereshchagina. However, on October 12, ten more people joined the Open Letter, eight of them of one gender and two of the other, five people of different genders joined the letter on October 19 and two more on October 23, 2020.
Of course such “free will unanimity” does not exist in the modern Russian Federation “without approval”. Most likely, special services began to actively work with the Yurov’s “princesses”, perhaps in the dark. It is noteworthy that no one initiated any criminal cases of rape or anything else. And no one filed applications to all kinds of police, although, I repeat, it is hardly possible to invent the abovementioned girls’ descriptions. Those facts definitely took place.
In addition to the descriptions of Yurov’s corresponding actions, the Open Letter indicated that the YHRM “had been building partnerships with well-known human rights organizations for many years”, for which “people from the YHRD core had several organizations, which we will call avatars”. The open letter includes the Voronezh HRH, the already mentioned International School of Human Rights and Civil Action and its projects: Moscow and St. Petersburg Open Schools of Human Rights, as well as a number of other structures.
The letter states that “since 2000, a total of several million euros have been allocated for YHRM projects and projects of avatar organizations”. In the YHRM projects, as the letter says, in one form or another there were “unique educational methods” as a series of long trainings, without which further participation in YHRM projects is impossible. Every year, up to a thousand people passed through these educational projects, the meeting participants were invited to become part of one of the YHRM teams.
At the same time, as is was stated in the Open Letter, although “formally Andrei Yurov retired, and the YHRM announced self-dissolution,” Yurov himself still appears in his personal account in the Voronezh HRH, and “people from the MPD core continue to actively attract activities and projects of young people, including girls”. According to the Open Letter, Yurov’s old partner Elena Obezdchikova continues to lead the Voronezh HRH, which is “looking for new employees,” and Dmitry Makarov, co-chairman of the YHRM coordination council before its “self-dissolution”, became the co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Other members of the YHRM “core” continue to successfully organize trainings. The main factual requirement of the Open Letter is the termination of the activities of the YHRM and “avatar organizations” .
Thus, at least the competing structures demand that the further activities of the compromised Yurov be recognized as useless, and the millions spent on the YHRM, not only in grants, but also in “state budget” euros, have been thrown away. The current attempt by the YHRM and HRH curators to quietly continue the project led not only to an Open Letter, but also to the creation on October 17 of this year of the “Group on the Crisis around YHRM” by “several public figures with many years of experience in Russian and international civil society” .
The Group demands to investigate reports of “the YHRM leader’s intimate relationships with subordinate women based on inequality of power” “and other possible abuses”. Moreover, on October 29, a mass mailing took place through the YHRM’s extensive email database, disseminating this information and urging the “victims of Yurov” to inform the Group about the relevant incidents.
As a result, the following should be noted.
“Human Right Defense” is actively used today by the Russian special services for the intelligence and sabotage activities, and this format of their work does not encounter practically any opposition.
If there would be no scandal with the “princess fund” – no one would have prevented Yurov from continuing to implement the tasks, set by the authorities of the Russian Federation for the “House of Human Rights” and the “Youth Human Rights Movement”.
However, despite the allocated material resources and personnel coverage (tens of thousands of people “passed through Voronezh”), due to human qualities, this system did not become highly effective. This naturally does not reduce its danger for the processes of countering the aggression of the Russian Federation and the de-occupation of Crimea.
Associate Professor Alexander Herzen