Moral resistance, then & now (Tuesday 14 May 2019)

Veteran human rights campaigner


will speak at Pushkin House, London,
on Tuesday, 14 May, at 7 pm

about political prisoners in Putin’s Russia and the Soviet Union
and the many other opponents and victims of both regimes

Lena Saninikova, May 2008 (Sakharov Center)
Elena Sannikova at the Sakharov Centre (May 2008)

Over the past ten years, the level of repression has been rising in Russia. Today several hundred prisoners of conscience and political prisoners are imprisoned or detained in the country, a figure comparable to the late Soviet Union.

  • How does the repressive apparatus function?
  • What is the make-up of today’s contingent of political prisoner?
  • What forms of activity has civil society developed to withstand these repressive policies, and to provide a public defence and moral support to Russia’s political prisoners and other victims of political repression?

At an evening organised and hosted by the Pushkin Club, Elena Sannikova will be speaking about these issues and some of the most interesting and remarkable stories of  those imprisoned for their political views or religious beliefs.

A Soviet dissident

Elena N. Sannikova was born in Moscow on 25 October 1959.

She first came to the attention of the KGB at university in Kalinin (today Tver) where she organised a Bible study group among fellow students. In summer 1980 she was expelled from the languages department and the university.

Lena Sannikova, before 1984 arrest
Lena Sannikova in 1978

Elena joined the Action Group for the Defence of the Disabled. At the same time, she set up a support group for political prisoners, writing them letters and sending greetings cards to them on special occasions. In March 1981 at Nelidovo village (Kalinin Region), where she had not long found employment as a kindergarten assistant, the KGB gave her an official warning about her unacceptable activities.

From 1982 onwards, Elena worked for the Fund to Aid Political Prisoners and their Families, set up in 1974 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his wife Natalya. Elena gathered information for Bulletin V, a samizdat  human rights publication, compiling a list of all political prisoners in the Soviet Union. She also wrote open letters and appeals, both individual and collective, on human rights issues. In December 1983, she compiled and circulated a bulletin entitled The Herald of the Human Rights Movement.

Early in 1984 Elena was arrested by the KGB, charged with Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda (Article 70), and incarcerated in the KGB’s Lefortovo detention centre  (Moscow). Later that year the Moscow City Court sentenced her to 12 months in a strict-regime labour camp, followed by four years’ internal exile. She had not yet reached her 25th birthday. After a short period in the Mordovian camps – she had  been in custody since January – she was sent to Siberia to the Tomsk Region to serve her term of exile.

At the beginning of December 1987, Elena was offered a pardon by Mikhail Gorbachev as one of the last two women in the USSR serving a sentence under Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code (the other was Tatyana Velikanova).

In a “new” Russia

In 1990, Elena Sannikova finished her degree course, graduating as an external student from the languages department of Tomsk University.

From 1988 to the end of 1992 Elena issued A Prisoner’s Notebook, a samizdat bulletin concerning the country’s remaining political prisoners, that also described the lives and creative activities of former prisoners of conscience. In 1994 Elena’s Russian translations of the verse of Ukrainian poet and dissident Vasyl Stus (1938-1985) were published by Simeon Vilensky at the Vozvrashchenie Press.

Between 1989 and 2007 Elena was again employed by the Solzhenitsyn Foundation as its charitable coordinator. Later she worked in Memorial’s archives and at the Sakharov Centre in Moscow.

In the early 21st century Lena became involved in anti-war activities. From December 2002 onwards, she travelled regularly to Chechnya to help people who had suffered from the fighting and she published a number of articles and reports about the victims of that war. In 2004 Lena prepared the diary of Chechen nurse Madina Elmurzayeva for publication and it appeared with her preface. Elmurzayeva was killed in Grozny during the first Chechen War in February 1995 when, as usual, she and her group were working to save the wounded.


Today, the mother of four children, Lena lives in Moscow. She serves as an expert consultant for the movement “For Human Rights” and is a participant in the ecumenical and independent Christian Action movement.

Her articles have been published in the weekly newspapers Russkaya mysl (“Russian Thought”, Paris-Moscow) and Obshchaya gazeta (Moscow), and in the Chechen magazine Dosh (“The Word”, Moscow). She is a regular contributor to the internet news websites and the Daily Magazine [Yezhednevny zhurnal] and writes prose and verse in her spare time.

Sannikova, Lena with photos of Markelov and Baburova
Lena Sannikova at Mayakovsky Square (Moscow), holding photos of the murdered lawyer Stanislav MARKELOV and journalist Anastasia BABUROVA