She Posted Anti-War Stickers in A Russian Grocery Store. She Now Faces Up to 10 Years in Prison.

November 1, 2022

Since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began in February, the Russian president has signed laws that crack down on people in his country who protest the war and independently report on its human cost.

Drawing on remarkable footage from inside the country, Putin’s War at Home, a new FRONTLINE documentary directed and produced by award-winning filmmaker Gesbeen Mohammad and produced by Russian journalist Vasiliy Kolotilov, tells the stories of Russian journalists, activists and ordinary people who refuse to stay quiet in the face of Putin’s clampdown on dissent.

Among them: an artist, Sasha, and her partner, Sonia, who went to a rally in St. Petersburg as Russia’s war on Ukraine started.

“We realized it was impossible to stay silent,” Sonia says in the above excerpt. “Nobody could have imagined that such events would begin at the end of February and political repression would unfold so widely across the country.”

Sonia tells FRONTLINE she wanted to say ‘no to war’ — words that she says “are considered extremist” in Russia and could lead to years in prison.

“This explains why hundreds of thousands don’t go to protests,” she says in the excerpt.

Russian authorities arrested thousands who protested against the war in the first month. Amid the crackdown, some protesters resorted to subtler ways of expressing their opposition.

Sasha was one of them. As the excerpt shows, she posted stickers about the war in a grocery store, part of a trend Sonia says became popular in Russia.

“These stickers — they are very similar to regular store price labels. But instead of the price, there are numbers about the war in Ukraine,” Sonia explains.

Sasha would pay a steep price for her actions.

“I remember well the day when Sasha was arrested,” Sonia says. “Sasha left five anti-war stickers in a shop. The precise reason for her arrest was the price label with information about the victims in Mariupol,” the Ukrainian city that came under Russian assault early in the war.

An image of an anti-war sticker mimicking a price tag that was posted in a Russian grocery store, screengrabbed from the FRONTLINE documentary "Putin's War at Home."
A still from the FRONTLINE documentary “Putin’s War at Home” that shows an anti-war sticker mimicking a price tag that was posted in a Russian grocery store.

A translation of the sticker reads, “Russian army bombed an art school in Mariupol. About 400 people were hiding there from shelling.”

“The official line is this did not happen,” Sonia says. “So, it’s considered a fake statement against the Russian army and therefore a criminal offense.”

Russian authorities identified Sasha using surveillance cameras, and tracked her to a friend’s house.

She’s been in jail awaiting trial ever since — and if convicted of spreading false information about the Russian armed forces, she faces up to ten years in prison. In footage of her courtroom appearances that is featured later in the full documentary, Sasha is shown in a cage.

Through the stories of people including Sasha and Sonia, Putin’s War at Home shows how some Russian citizens are publicly protesting the Kremlin’s war effort despite the threat of arrest and imprisonment. The documentary also shows how independent reporters in Russia have continued to seek out the truth about the war.

As Russia’s war on Ukraine approaches its ninth month and evidence of potential war crimes continues to mount, Putin’s War at Home is a powerful look at the Russian leader’s efforts to stifle domestic criticism — and some of the people in his country who are speaking out anyway.

“I would like to live in a free and democratic country where there are free elections and freedom to assemble,” Sonia says in the documentary. “Freedom to express yourself so that if people don’t like something, they can gather peacefully and non-violently to speak out.”

But for now, “I see the future as very uncertain,” she says. “Sasha’s arrest has changed both of our lives. I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

For the full story, watch Putin’s War at Home starting November 1, 2022. The documentary will premiere at and in the PBS Video App at 7/6c. The documentary will premiere on PBS stations (check local listings) and on FRONTLINE’s YouTube channel at 10/9c. Putin’s War at Home is a Hardcash production for GBH/FRONTLINE in association with ITV. The producer and director is Gesbeen Mohammad. The producer is Vasiliy Kolotilov. The senior producer is Eamonn Matthews. The executive producer for Hardcash Productions is Esella Hawkey. The editor-in-chief and executive producer for FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



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