In Crimea, No Room for Blogger Liza Bogutskaya And Her Pro-Ukrainian Views

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Blogger Liza Bogutskaya braves the roads in Crimea in a car decorated with Ukrainian embroidery patterns and dresses in Ukrainian colors. Image from Facebook.

This article is part of an extensive RuNet Echo study of Russian-language blogosphere in Eastern Ukraine. Explore the complete interview series on the Eastern Ukraine Unfiltered page.

Liza Bogutskaya’s Facebook profile has over 20,000 followers. Although the Simferopol native’s page was originally primarily a social outlet that she didn’t use for political discussions, her outspokenness against what she sees as Russia’s illegal occupation of her native Crimea has made her a favorite of pro-Ukrainians online. It has also made her an enemy of the Russian state that now administers Crimea.

On Monday, September 8, Bogutskaya was awoken early in the morning by strange voices outside her door, followed by gunshots.

While I was still sleeping I heard voices outside my house. I have a detached house, not an apartment. My dog reacted. Naturally she launched herself towards the street. I then heard shots. They were shooting at my dog. They didn’t kill my dog, but they grazed her cheek.

It soon turned out that the strangers outside Bogutskaya’s home were Russian government officials who came there to search her property.

My daughter managed to grab my phone and ran quickly into another room. She went onto my Facebook page on my phone and wrote that our home was being searched.

The men searching Bogutskaya’s home claimed they were searching for weapons, drugs or “forbidden literature.” Bogutskaya described the investigators as

Four people in masks… men armed with machine guns, with big bulky builds… a person in civilian clothing, and two “witnesses” who they brought with them… These were their people, they weren’t impartial individuals.

Though the investigators “neither found, nor planted” any illegal material in Bogutskaya’s house, they did confiscate her electronic equipment.

They confiscated my computers. Confiscated other information devices, confiscated USB-sticks and naturally they confiscated all the phones.

When asked by RuNet Echo if she thought the search of her property was related to what she wrote online, Bogutskaya was unequivocable. “It’s undoubtedly related,” she said.

After her house was searched, Liza Bogutskaya was detained and questioned for hours. Image from Shevket Namatullaev on Facebook.

Bogutskaya believes the search was also related to the local elections that took place in Crimea on Sunday, September 14 and her willingness to write about the plight of Crimean Tatars, whose homes and mosques have undergone raids in recent weeks and whose leaders have been banned from Crimea. Bogutskaya also thinks the search was linked to her high visibility in Sevastopol (she drives a car with traditional Ukrainian folk patterns and often wears blue and yellow clothing).

Well naturally I write everything. I speak about [their plight]… and have always spoken quite bravely and quite harshly. And it stands to reason that the current authorities didn’t like my behaviour and didn’t like that I wrote about everything, traveled around the cities quite freely, feeling myself to be very much at liberty.

After being questioned as a “witness” for several hours, Bogutskaya was released. No longer feeling that she could write freely and talk about what was going on in Crimea, she has left the territory and is now in Kyiv. It had become clear to her that

I had to leave because I wouldn’t have been given the possibility to keep writing there. I left. I will be able to write more. I will be able to say more and I will be able to get my thoughts across to my readers.

Bogutskaya believes her Facebook updates, which often receive thousands of likes, mainly appeal to her readers because of their emotional resonance, as compared to rather dry traditional reporting or analysis.

I write with my heart. I try to affect people’s emotions. I try to appeal to people’s emotions. You need to act this way, so that people can evaluate what’s happening… I think that because I write from the heart… I talk a lot about my family, I talk a lot about my past, people sympathise with me and understand that I’m not an abstraction.

Bogutskaya is defiant, but her case clearly shows that the Russian and Crimean authorities are not going to tolerate such open dissent anymore. While Russia has introduced a plethora of laws targeted at bringing the blogosphere under control, Bogutskaya’s case shows that, while laws forcing bloggers to register or proposed internet kill switches may be cause for concern, at the end of the day, old school intimidation can be just as effective.
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Written by Daniel Alan Kennedy

This article was originally published by Global Voices on September 22, 2014.

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