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"They say to me: Why didn't you tell me your boyfriend was Russian": how Z-fans attacked a Ukrainian woman in Serbia after learning about her origins


Masha N. from Zhytomyr left her home country to flee Russia's invasion of Ukraine. However, after fleeing from Russian aggression, the girl faced pro-Russian aggression in Serbia.

Masha told Media Loft about how the letter Z was painted on the door of her house and how she was beaten up because of her nationality.

"They bombed my maternity hospital, which was two kilometres from my home in Zhytomyr. And my mother in a panic said: that's it, tickets, bus, quickly. I was given free accommodation in the Czech Republic and everything was fine, but they wouldn't give a visa to Yura, my boyfriend."

We came back in the evening and there are two huge "z" on the door

Masha met Yura from Togliatti on the Internet. After the war began, the couple began searching for a country that would accept them both. Serbia turned out to be the only place where they could live together, Masha says.

"I came, I had 100 euros in my pocket. Jura came, he had 400 euros in his pocket," the girl recalls. In May 2022, the couple settled in the Belgrade suburb of Vinča.

One day, Masha recalls, a man approached them and asked where they were from. When Yura explained that he was from Russia and Masha from Ukraine, the man started smiling strangely.

Then Masha met him and several other people several times wearing T-shirts with the letter Z, the symbol of Putin's aggression, and the inscription "Russian army".

"We tried to ignore it. But one day we were coming home in the evening and we saw two huge 'Z' painted on the door of my entrance. Naturally, I was shocked. Well my reaction is understandable," says Masha.

The hairpin just crumbles in my hair

A month later, late at night, when Masha and Yura were home, a knock on the door rang.

"Yura opens it, a neighbour is there, starts shouting at him. Yura doesn't understand anything and closes the door.  Literally 20 seconds pass. There was another knock on the door, only with his feet. And he could hear the door being kicked in. Yura went to open the door again. I also came out and looked, there were two men and a woman with them. They started yelling at us," Masha recalls.

As Masha understood later, the neighbours were indignant at the loud music coming from the guys' flat. Masha says that they did not have any loudspeakers in the house and the music was played from their iPhones. When Masha started filming what was happening on her phone, the uninvited guests became very angry.

"Suddenly they burst into the flat. A fight breaks out, they start hitting me, trying to kick me in the head. I fall down, my phone flies off, they turn over the nightstand in the hallway, looking for my phone. They search my bed. So they just start searching," recalls Masha.

The girl says that one of the men beat her head against the wall.

"I had such a crab in my hair. I collect my hair in summer because it's hot. It's so plastic and small, the man hits me and the crab just crumbles in my hair," she recalls.

The injuries Masha sustained after the attack

Face down on the floor and into handcuffs

Masha and Yura immediately started calling the police. However, instead of detaining the attackers, the police officers, seeing Masha's Ukrainian passport, roughly grabbed her and took her to the police station, the girl says. Yura, however, was not detained, apparently because of his Russian passport.

"No one questioned us, there was no interpreter either.” We were only asked, "Will you be filming the injuries?" I said, "Yes."

"We were brought to the police station, we were sitting there for a long time and then they gave me some papers to sign. I refused at first, because I didn’t understand anything in Serbian. Somehow they told me through Google-translator that if I don't sign, I'll sit there all night. I signed," Masha recalls.

The girl was treated like a criminal. When the police brought her to the hospital to record the beatings, Masha said she would go to the Ukrainian embassy, but was told that was out of the question.

The injuries Masha sustained after the attack

"They just faced me on the floor and handcuffed me. I was naturally in shock. I have never been in trouble with the law, I have never been handcuffed. It was a huge stress for me. They brought me to the police station. They took away all my jewellery," she says.

Masha was kept at the police station all night, despite the papers she had signed. And in the morning she was taken to the administrative court, where, without an interpreter and a lawyer, the girl was given a fine of 25,000 dinars (€213), allegedly for disturbing public order.

"There were two policemen there who said after the trial: 'Why didn't you say your boyfriend was Russian? Maybe we would have let you go," says Masha.

I don't understand how anyone can approve of this

Upon learning of the story, activists from the Russian Democratic Society (RDO) decided to help Masha. With the help of Serbian lawyer Cedomir Stojkovic and RDO, the case was remanded for a new trial.

Last December, the first hearing in the case took place, where Masha testified for the first time in the presence of a lawyer and interpreter. The RJD activists believe that Masha's story shows "how rabid propaganda leads directly to violence and arbitrariness, which can affect Russians and Ukrainians alike, and ultimately Serbs as well".

In February, there was already a second court hearing. Two attackers appeared in court and were confused about their testimony, Masha said. The last hearing was on March 7, but the judge didn't let the lawyer ask questions about the case and wouldn't listen to Yury. Masha applied for the judge's recusal.

Pro-Kremlin sentiment is very strong in Serbia. Graffiti depicting the letter Z is often seen there, as well as murals dedicated to the Wagner PMC. Of course, as a Ukrainian, it is almost unbearable for Masha to see this.

"I don't feel anything good, because I don't understand how so many people in the world - not only in Serbia, but in Germany, in Spain, in European countries - can be led to Russian propaganda, which forces the murder of civilians, violence against women and children. I don't understand how anyone can approve of this!" she says.

Masha cannot accept the ease with which many people justify the crimes of the Russian military in her native Ukraine.

"We are civilised people, we don't live in caves now and we don't kill mammoths. How can you call for killing other people? I don't understand how many Russians who are in Russia support the war," says Masha.

Masha and Jura in Serbia

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has limited the Kremlin's political allies to only the world's pariahs. Only North Korea and Belarus - the latter hosts a lot of Russian military equipment and launches missiles to bomb Ukraine from there - have given unconditional support to Putin. Some countries - Eritrea, Venezuela and Nicaragua - support Russia only during UN votes on resolutions concerning Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Serbia and Hungary do not officially support the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but pro-Russian sentiment in both countries is depressingly strong.

By: Katya Kobenok

Photos from Masha N.'s archive


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