Targeted accusation

How an alleged comment during a consultation led to unimaginable consequences for one Moscow doctor

Targeted accusation

Illustration: Alisa Krasnikova for Novaya Gazeta Europe

Nadezhda Buyanova, a 67-year-old Moscow paediatrician who was born in Ukraine and graduated from medical school in Lviv, had a criminal case opened against her and lost her job after a patient accused her in a video that quickly went viral of calling Russian soldiers a “legitimate Ukrainian target”.

Mother-of-two Anastasia Akinshina had been amicably divorced from her husband for three years when he was killed fighting in Ukraine last year. She encountered Buyanova when she took her 7-year-old son to her to get him treatment for an eye problem.

When her son began acting out during Buyanova’s examination, Akinshina says she attributed his difficult behaviour to the fact that he was still “struggling with the loss of his father”, to which Buyanova allegedly responded that as a Russian soldier he had been a legitimate Ukrainian target.

“A senior doctor tried to calm me down. Then I understood that they were trying to hush this up. But there’s no way to hush this up,” an enraged Akinshina said through tears in a video she posted on social media afterwards. “My question now is where should I go to lodge a complaint about this bitch so that she’ll be thrown out of the country and can go to hell.”

The video caught the attention of Russia’s Investigative Committee. In a later statement made to the police, Akinshina alleged that, as well as referring to Russian soldiers as “legitimate Ukrainian targets”, Buyanova had also called Russia “an aggressor who attacked Ukraine”. Akinshina demanded the doctor be prosecuted for her comments, adding that Buyanova “either was or still is a Ukrainian citizen”.

Search and interrogation

On 2 February, law enforcement officers arrived at Buyanova’s apartment with a search warrant. According to Buyanova, they overturned and damaged her furniture despite her pleas for them to be more careful. They also refused Buyanova’s lawyer access to the house during the search, confiscated her phone and interrogated her through the night.

Nadezhda Buyanova in her flat after the search. Photo: Baza Telegram channel

Nadezhda Buyanova in her flat after the search. Photo: Baza Telegram channel

She was charged with spreading false information about the Russian army in court the following morning and was later released on condition that she did not communicate with witnesses or anybody else involved in the case, with the exception of her lawyers and the prosecution. Buyanova denies the charges against her.

Photos of the doctor surrounded by her upturned and broken furniture following the police search of her apartment were published by Russian news outlets and on social media on 3 February, prompting Nikolay Lyaskin, an associate of jailed opposition politician Alexey Navalny, to write: “The photos say so much about the times in which we live. They aimed to intimidate, as they always do, by showing what happens to those who don’t toe the approved line, but instead they ended up showing the living standards of a doctor. They also demonstrated the anger and stupidity of the law.”

A flawed investigation

As well as denying she made the comments, Buyanova says that nothing about Ukraine was ever discussed during the consultation. Her lawyer, Oskar Cherdzhiev, said that Akinshina “took offence at the doctor’s comments about her son’s behaviour and became angry when she thought the doctor was saying he was mentally ill, which of course is not the case. This resulted in the accusation.”

Buyanova in court. Screenshot from a video

Buyanova in court. Screenshot from a video

Buyanova’s lawyer argues that the case should be thrown out for lack of evidence: “The criminal code specifies that the crimes of spreading false information and discrediting the army must take place publicly, as when an individual addresses a group. This was a private conversation between doctor and patient that nobody else could hear. The investigation and evidence are insufficient, and such inconsistencies must weigh in my client’s favour,” Cherdzhiev said.

During her interrogation, Buyanova requested access to the recording of her conversation with Akinshina, which medical practices in Moscow are required to make. Cherdzhiev says that this recording “could be conclusive evidence”, though its existence has yet to be confirmed.

Buyanova’s lawyer is also planning to contest her being fired from her job, which happened after she was officially charged. “Management fired my client for an alleged gross violation, without conducting an investigation,” said Cherdzhiev. “We will be appealing her dismissal.”

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