In Russia, video games are unsafe for kids. But not for the usual reasons

Screenshot of The Insider on YouTube, Nikita Uvarov.

Elena is a housewife and lives in a small Russian town not far from Moscow.  One Sunday morning she heard her 8-year old son screaming with pride: “Mom, I killed Putin!  Just shot him right in the head!” She was terrified.

Of course, her son did not actually shoot anyone. He also did not know who Putin was. In fact, he was playing an online shooting video game, where other people take aliases to participate.  But Elena’s fear was authentic: in today’s Russia, kids are punished for saying and doing less than that.

On January 17, 2023, the Russian Supreme court upheld the 5-year jail sentence that Nikita Uvarov received for playing Minecraft when he was 16.

As Radio Liberty reported in February 2022, Nikita and the two other boys, Denis Mikhailenko and Bogdan Andreev,  were 14 when they were arrested in 2020 in Krasnoyarskii krai in Siberia.  At the time of arrest they had glued a leaflet to a local FSB  (the FSB is the Federal security service in Russia, a law enforcement structure that is the successor of the KGB) building to support Azat Miftakhov, a Tatar-Russian mathematician and political activist. Azat was in police custody in Moscow at the time for allegedly breaking the window and throwing a grenade into pro-government’s party office.  He was himself only 26 years old, a PhD student in Moscow.

After arresting the boys, the police confiscated their phones and later claimed they found chats in the phones where friends planned to add the FSB building to the Minecraft game and blow it up there.

The investigators also stated that the boys criticized the FSB, read banned books, made DIY firecrackers, and blew them up in abandoned buildings in their native town, Kansk in the Krasnoyarsk krai of Russia.

While filmed by the local TV during his first trial in 2022, Nikita said he was “grateful” to all those who supported him and his friends.

As Nikita’s lawyer said to the local media on January 17, 2023, so far they have appealed three times, but the verdict was unchanged. “All we asked for was a suspended sentence for him to finish serving his sentence outside the prison. Nikita was ready for what happened. The family had hope, but in the current situation it is unrealistic,” said Nikita's lawyer Vladimir Vasin.

Days before his trial in 2022, Nikita and his mom talked to Insider media about fabrications in his case. There is a website dedicated to the Kansk teenagers case, and a Telegram channel.  Nikita Uvarov will be transferred to a prison for adults once he turns 18 years old.

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