An unforgettable tune The three witnesses against ‘extremist singer’ Yuri Khovansky used identical language in their testimonies, and two of them appear to be former police officers

Yuri Khovansky in St. Petersburg court on June 10, 2021Valentin Egoršin / TASS

Video blogger Yuri Khovansky has been locked up since June, awaiting trial on charges of “justifying terrorism.” For months, he’s claimed in letters released to the public through his lawyers that the police are trying to frame him for performing a banned song about the deadly 2002 Nord-Ost siege. The case against him, Khovansky says, relies on false testimony from a handful of witnesses who claim he played the song in 2018. He says he performed the piece (which he now renounces) only once, in November 2012, which should exonerate him under the statute of limitations. Journalists at the news outlet RBC obtained copies of the case evidence against Khovansky and found that significant portions of the prosecution’s witness testimony repeat identical phrases and even whole paragraphs of text. Two of the three witnesses also appear to be former police officers.

All three of the witnesses in the case against Yuri Khovansky, who is charged with “justifying terrorism” for singing a song, are St. Petersburg residents who say they distinctly recall overhearing a performance of Khovansky’s Nord-Ost tune in the summer of 2018. Two of the witnesses say they heard it on other people’s smart phones while sitting in bars. A third witness says he heard it on someone’s telephone while strolling through a park.

All three witnesses repeated this exact phrase in their testimonies: “It was an online conference on Skype — apparently, a live transmission featuring a young man named Yuri Khovansky, a popular YouTube blogger.”

All three witnesses also gave detectives identical descriptions of what they supposedly heard: “The song’s content was aimed at praising terrorism and terrorist acts. I remember that the song had lines about the terrorist attack at the Nord-Ost theater with obscene admiration for this tragedy. I also remember that the song had lines about murdering kids and sponsoring new terrorist attacks.”

Each person also stressed that he or she had witnessed the song at a particularly trying moment, making it easy to remember, more than three years later. Andrey Bakulin says he was depressed at the time about a canceled family vacation. Svetlana Gavrilkina says 2018 was the first time in years that she didn’t travel, staying in St. Petersburg to do remodeling work on a new summer home. “That’s why I remember it well,” Gavrilkina said in her testimony. Ivan Bend, meanwhile, says his office car had broken down earlier in the year and his employer was suing the car dealer. “That’s why I remember the song well,” he told investigators.

The case materials contain no personal data about the witnesses (other than their full names), and defense attorneys for Khovansky declined to share any further identifying information, but journalists at RBC tracked down social media accounts that appear to belong to the three individuals.

On his accounts, Andrey Bakulin said he worked as a security specialist previously employed by the state. In 2017, he reposted an Officer’s Day celebration from the Federal Security Services Special Forces Center. On the police-russia.ru online forum, someone with one of Bakulin’s usernames posted multiple messages about seeking a job as a case officer or an interviewer in St. Petersburg’s customs office. On the service GetContact, where users share their address books and make it possible to see how certain telephone numbers have been identified on various mobile devices, phone numbers registered to Bakulin show up listed as “Killer Andrey,” “Andrey UgRo [Criminal Invesigations] Piter,” “Andrey FSB,” and so on.

Reached by journalists, Bakulin said he’s never heard of Yuri Khovansky and doesn’t know anything about the case. After the conversation with RBC, he deleted some the information from his Vkontakte account that coincided with data about the witness in Khovansky’s case. Police officials in St. Petersburg did not respond to questions about whether Bakulin ever worked in the city’s law enforcement.

Ivan Bend, the other witness who appears to have worked as a police officer, wrote in his social-media pages that he graduated from the St. Petersburg Interior Ministry University in 2006 and found a job as a criminal investigator. He declined to tell RBC anything more about himself.

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Summary by Alexander Baklanov

Abridged translation by Kevin Rothrock

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