January 31, 2024

Aiding Vegan Detainees


Aiding Vegan Detainees
A penitential center in Moscow.  Senate of Russian Federation, Flickr.

Following the start Russia's War on Ukraine, repression within Russia has intensified. Over 800 individuals are facing criminal prosecution for their anti-war stance, including many vegans.

Maintaining a vegan diet is crucial for many of them, even while incarcerated. However, due to the challenges of satisfying such a diet in correctional facilities, this can prove difficult. In response, Marina Yastremskaya founded Vegan Peredachky ("Vegan Care Packages") to ensure vegan prisoners are not isolated and can maintain a nutritious diet without jeopardizing their health.

According to standards set by the Federal Penitentiary Service, detainees are entitled to three daily hot meals consisting of bread, cereals, pasta, meat products, fish, milk, potatoes, eggs, vegetables, and dried fruits. However, there is no distinction between vegetarian or vegan menus, leaving vegan detainees with very limited food options. 

However, persons can donate care packages to detainees – up to about 30 kilograms of products per month can be sent to pre-trial detention centers, and up to 20 kilograms can be sent to penal colonies multiple times per year.

Yastremskaya told a Cherta journalist that she began the project because she recognized the lack of support in this area. A long-time advocate of the vegan lifestyle, she empathizes with the challenges individuals face in prison. 

Presently, the project is helping 11 persons, spending an average of R50,000 ($560) monthly on food packages collected through donations. Vegan Peredachky primarily supports those detained or convicted in political cases. Among them is Ruslan Ushakov, administrator of the Telegram channel Nastoyachee Prestuplenye (Real Crime), who was apprehended in December 2022 on charges of disseminating misinformation, inciting hatred, and promoting Nazism. As reported by OVD-Info, his charges stemmed from posts discussing the shelling of Mariupol and civilian casualties in Ukraine, along with calls for violence against Vladimir Putin and endorsement of the assassination of a pro-Russian administration official in Kherson. Ruslan claimed during his trial that he was subjected to electric shock torture during his arrest.

Despite the limitations of the prison diet, Ruslan remained committed to veganism. "Eating bread and occasionally potatoes sustained me," he told Cherta journalists.

Vegan Peredachky volunteers said that the project is vital not only because not all political detainees have relatives or friends capable of providing food packages, but also because loved ones may find it challenging to donate to vegans, as they may lack familiarity with the dietary restrictions. Meals provided must not only be devoid of animal products but also sufficiently nutritious and have all of one's essential daily nutrients.

"We aim to alleviate the burden of decision-making from the shoulders of loved ones and take it upon ourselves," said volunteer Ekaterina. She said she faced a similar situation when a close relative became a defendant in a political criminal case.

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