Concerns are growing for a Russian girl who was taken from her father after painting an anti-war portrait at school, with the single father now missing after fleeing house arrest under Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Alexey Moskalyov, 54, was on the run on Tuesday after being sentenced to two years in prison for “defaming the reputation” of the Russian military after police investigated his online activity in the small town of Yefremov south of Moscow.
His 13-year-old daughter Maria was taken from him earlier this month and placed in a local children’s home, with the couple denied contact and their lawyers now raising concerns about her uncertain future.
Moskalyov came to the attention of the authorities last April after Maria, then 12, drew a picture at school showing Russian missiles raining down on a Ukrainian mother and child.
After international condemnation, the Kremlin today adhered to what many saw as a harsh judgment on Moskalyov and criticized what he called his “unfortunate parenting”.
Fears are running high for 13-year-old Maria Moskalievna, a Russian girl who was taken away from her father after she painted an anti-war picture at school.
Alexei Moskalyov, 54, fled on Tuesday after being sentenced to two years in prison for ‘defaming’ the Russian army.
But, in a bizarre twist, the head of Wagner’s feared mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, slammed the verdict on Moskalyov, who has historically been close to Putin.
In a surprising intervention, Prigozhin, founder of Wagner’s private army fighting for Russia in Ukraine, called the ruling “unfair, especially in light of the fact that his daughter Masha will have to grow up in an orphanage.”
Prigozhin even asked the prosecutor to review the verdict, and also requested that lawyers associated with Wagner be allowed to work with Moskalyov’s defence.
Mokalyov’s lawyer, Vladimir Belenko, said he supported both requests, even if he was unsure of Prigozhin’s motives. “I am ready to accept any help that will help my clients,” he said.
Later on Wednesday, in a short, expletive-filled audio message, Prigozhin angrily dismissed the notion that he was motivated by “political ambitions.”
The case has garnered international attention, as Moscow cracks down on any dissent while Putin’s forces wage a brutal war in Ukraine.
Moskalyov’s lawyer, Vladimir Belenko, said he did not know his client’s whereabouts and that he had been denied access to Maria, but had received a fee from her.
He also confirmed the authenticity of a message Maria posted on her father’s social media.
In a bizarre twist, the head of the Wagner Mercenary Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, criticized Moskalyov’s sentence.
“I love you very much and I know that you are not guilty of anything,” the letter said.
Everything will be fine and we will be together. He said: You are my hero.
She described him as “the bravest person in the world”.
Belenko said it was now “difficult to predict” what would happen to Maria, as the court is due to rule on April 6 on the restriction of parental rights for the 54-year-old father.
“We will do everything we can to defend (Moskalev) from these charges,” the lawyer said.
He criticized Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova Belova and Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova for not being involved in the case.
“The fate of the child is being decided here and they are not interested,” he said.
A local human rights activist, Yelena Agafonova, said she was ready to receive the girl.
Moskalyov looks out the window of his apartment after being placed under house arrest (on March 23)
“We will apply for custody of Masha (who is younger than Maria), we are preparing the documents,” she told reporters.
She believed the case was “a show case to show what will happen with those who do not agree” with Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine.
Closed by the Russian authorities, Russia’s largest human rights organization Memorial said it considered Moskalyov a “political prisoner”.
Maria, or Masha as she is known, painted a pro-peace portrait in April last year.
Her school principal called the police, who began investigating and fined her father for comments critical of the Russian military.
He was then investigated for a second time last December on suspicion of defaming the armed forces, a crime under laws passed shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
Vladimir Belenko, Alexei Moskalyov’s lawyer. Belenko said it was now “difficult to predict” what would happen to Maria
Moskalev’s current whereabouts are unknown. Human rights lawyer Dmitry Zakvatov said on Wednesday that Moskalyov has been in contact with him and sent him a copy of a letter Masha wrote to him from the children’s home where she has lived since early March.
“Hi, dad, I really ask you not to get sick and not worry. Everything is fine with me, I love you very much and I know that you are not guilty of anything. I am always on your side, and everything you do is right.
The delicately written message on lined paper ended with “I love you” in English, and the words “You are a hero” inside a crudely drawn heart.
The prosecutor’s office in Tula, south of Moscow, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Prigozhin’s request and on the investigation into Moskalyov’s escape.