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"Your father is in custody"

Stories of three Novosibirsk scientists who were arrested for treason

Image: Natsya.
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Dmitry Kolker, Anatoly Maslov, and Alexander Shiplyuk had worked at Novosibirsk Akademgorodok institutes and dedicated their lives to science: laser physics, hydrodynamics, and mechanics. In the summer of 2022, FSB (the Federal Security Service) officers came after them. The scientists were accused of treason and sent to a pre-trial detention center. Dmitry Kolker, who had cancer, died a few days after the arrest. “7x7” reports on these arrests and how the families of the arrested and their colleagues are dealing with the new reality.

"Fly to the apartment right away"

It was seven in the morning in Novosibirsk, when Maxim Kolker's phone rang.

"Your father is in custody, this is the Federal Security Service speaking," he heard from the speaker.

Maxim thought it was a joke - early morning and a Moscow number. He hung up. Another call, he hung up again. On the third time, it was his father Dmitri Kolker, a prominent physicist, saying: "I am accused of treason for the book material I used in my lectures. Fly to the apartment right away, open the door, so they wouldn’t break it and turn upside down everything, there will be a search now," he said

After the search, Maxim copied down all the materials that the operatives were interested in - the files titled "Laser spectroscopy of gaseous media," "Semiconductor lasers," and "Laser lidar. Basic Principles."

The day before this happened, June 29, Maxim took his father to a private clinic. Dmitry Kolker was in the fourth stage of pancreatic cancer. The week before the arrest he could not even eat on his own.

Alina Mironova, Kolker's daughter, said that her father’s health problems began in the fall of 2020, but he wasn’t diagnosed with cancer at that time. Doctors found the disease only in October 2021, by the time the cancer was in the fourth stage.

“Pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose, and usually it is discovered in later stages when there is little that can be done. [After October 2021] my father had undergone a course of chemotherapy, which continued until June, and when the resources of chemotherapy were exhausted, he was prescribed supportive therapy [to alleviate symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life - editor's note]. Until then, he had been working and even traveled to a conference in Minsk in May, although his condition was fast deteriorating and was hanging in solely through his character and his will to live. If he was unable to come to work, he worked from home," the scientist's daughter told “7x7.”

"I say goodbye to you all."

Dmitry Kolker was born in a professor's family. His grandfather, Joseph Kolker, was also a physicist and founder of the department of aircraft engineering at Novosibirsk State Technical University (NSTU). As Dmitry told Sobaka.ru in 2017, there was never a doubt that technology would become his career choice. He had worked as head of the laboratory of quantum optical technologies at NSTU and at the Institute of Laser Physics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science and as a professor in the Department of Laser Systems at NSTU.

Evgeny Yerushin met him in 2014 when he was a first-year student at NSTU: Kolker was teaching an introductory course on lasers.

“It was my third year [at the university], I had to choose a laboratory, and I chose him [Dmitry Kolker] as my academic supervisor. Dmitry Borisovich is a people's teacher. One of the best professors. I admired him as a person. I tried to be like him. He was great in his profession, he was a good father, and he was a good family man. It was amazing how he managed to succeed in everything,” Yerushin says.

Evgeny, now a Ph.D. student, works in Kolker’s former laboratory. They are trying to discover new radiation sources for medical, environmental, and special tasks.

He recalls how Kolker returned from the hospital one day: "The doctor had diagnosed him with cancer. That day at the lab he was lost in his thoughts. Later he visited another doctor to get a second opinion, and the second diagnosis was negative, [Dmitri Borisovich] was very happy that the first doctor had misdiagnosed him." However, in October 2021, the cancer was confirmed.

According to Evgeny, his colleagues at the lab could see how much Kolker suffered while undergoing chemotherapy, but they still did not fully realize how serious it was. "I didn't know he was in last stage of cancer; he never told us. I guess he didn't want us to feel bad for him," Evgeny says.

At the private clinic, Dmitry Kolker was in palliative care. But on June 30, he was suddenly discharged from the clinic and taken to the Soviet district court in Novosibirsk.

According to the discharge statement, the scientist was in last stage of cancer. However, the court was presented with a different certificate signed by Alexander Romanenko (someone is listed under this name as a doctor at Novosibirsk State Regional Hospital). It said that Dmitri Kolker was examined at 8:00 a.m., June 30, and was diagnosed with prostate disease: "As of today he can participate in the investigative actions and be present at the trial.”

Dmitry Kolker’s wife Natalia contacted lawyer Alexander Fedulov on the same day and told him that her husband had been "taken away.” Fedulov said that because of his health condition Dmitry Kolker shouldn’t have been placed in a solitary cell, but no one had provided valid certificates.

A source close to the Novosibirsk district judicial system suggested that it was a lawyer’s fault whose duty was to argue for postponing the hearing for 72 hours so the court could establish Kolker's health condition: "Most likely it was Lubyanka. Investigators wouldn’t do anything like that for no reason. They always follow instructions."

At the hearing on the preventive measure, the defense presented medical documents to prove that Kolker had cancer. Judge Irina Alieva didn’t ask any questions, included the papers in the case file, and ruled to arrest Kolker. According to Fedulov, the court statement says that she had no documented proof that Kolker had cancer.

Later, human rights activist Pavel Chikov published a fragment of the court session on Kolker's case.

Investigator: "There is no possibility for any other preventive measure. There are no documents on the impossibility of implementing a preventive measure. During the preliminary investigation, we will get the results of the expertise, as well as the necessary documents. For the time being, we ask to implement a preventive measure until August 29, 2022.”

Kolker: "Are you sure that I will be still alive on August 29, 2022?"

Investigator: "The doctors' reports in the materials demonstrate that you can participate in investigative actions, I am more than sure that you will be alive.”

Kolker pleaded not guilty. He was airlifted to Moscow's Lefortovo pre-trial detention center.

"Goodbye to you all," Dmitry Kolker said to his wife over the phone before being transported to Moscow.

“We can’t learn to live in a new way”

Maxim Kolker thinks that the criminal case against his father was opened because of the lectures that gave to Chinese students at an international conference in 2018. There was always an FSB officer next to him, and he was allowed neither to have a conversation nor give a talk in English – he had to speak in Russian only. Besides, on December 18, experts from the Institute of Laser Physics issued an official conclusion that the lectures he was planning to give in China contained no state secrets.

On December 24, already in China, Dmitry Kolker corresponded with his daughter, Alina.

“How are you, what's up?” he asks.

“Hi! We're fine, I'm still at work, and I'm finishing my presentation for tomorrow's speech. It's freezing, but the car starts. How are you?” the daughter answers.

“I'm fine. The first day is over. They don't know English and they are scared. The Chinese interpreter is very good - she translates all my lectures from Russian. It's +10 here, like we have in late September or early October. We were welcomed well; the flight was long - we are somewhere near India.”

“That's great. And we're freezing here. It was -40 this morning at the lake.”

“I still want back home.”

Dmitry Kolker had been kept in Lefortovo detention center until July 2. His daughter and his lawyer were denied meetings with him. Late that night Kolker was transported from the detention center to Municipal Clinical Hospital № 29, where at 2:40 a.m. he died. His relatives received the news about his death by telegram.

"None of us slept that night," his daughter Alina wrote on her VKontakte page. An hour before her husband's death, Natalia Kolker wrote a poem (excerpt):

"My beloved spouse,

Will we ever see you again?

Cruelly we are separated

By fate.

Your happy soul

strives for paradise without hurry.”

For several days the hospital administration refused to pass the remains to the family. They claimed that they needed the man’s passport, which had been left at the detention center. Kolker’s relatives had to transport the body from Moscow to Novosibirsk at their own expense.

Three days after Kolker’s death, the July 1 Club, an informal community of academicians and corresponding members of the Russian Academy of Sciences, published a statement on its website. The club members expressed their condolences to Kolker's family and protested the actions of the investigating authorities.

Meanwhile, a spontaneous memorial to Dmitry Kolker and Anatoly Maslov, who was arrested just before Kolker, appeared in Akademgorodok in Novosibirsk. People brought to the place flowers and photos of the two scientists. By the night a plaque with the photos was removed and access to the place was blocked by the police. Similar memorials appeared in other cities and countries.

"It's very hard and painful. I would even say we can’t learn to live in a new way. We support each other as we can, but it is impossible to make up for the loss," Alina Kolker told "7x7" about the situation in the family after her father’s death.

Dmitry Kolker was buried on July 19, seventeen days after his death.

Half of the institute are his students

Image: Natsya.

Two days before Kolker's arrest, another physicist, 76-year-old professor Anatoly Maslov, was arrested in Novosibirsk. Maslov is a specialist in hydrodynamics, a laureate of several prizes. The scientist had worked all his professional life at the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. At the time of his arrest, he was the institution's chief researcher and was teaching as a professor at two other universities.

Like Kolker, Maslov is accused of treason. Current Time, citing a source in the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences claims that he is suspected of transferring to the Chinese secrets concerning studies in hypersonics.

“According to the laws under which he is incriminated, it must do something with his international contacts, because I absolutely exclude that he could know any secrets and pass them to foreigners,” his son, Nikolai Maslov, told "7x7. “Most likely it is related to joint research or contracts on which he had worked earlier. He did this kind of research about 10-15 years ago, and that was it for his international cooperation. He didn't travel anywhere.”

Anatoly was detained early in the morning, and he exercised his right for a phone call - he called his son. The scientist said he couldn’t talk about the details of his arrest but asked Nikolai to finish "some of the cases he had started" - he did not want any debts left behind.

The hearing was closed to the press and the public. The court chose Lefortovo pre-trial detention center in Moscow for temporary confinement, where Maslow was sent the same day.

Anatoly Maslov has been held there ever since.

Almost a month later, on the website of the institute where Anatoly Maslov worked, appeared a letter of support from his colleagues who were demanding explanations for his arrest. "For many years of his career, all his [Maslov's] efforts were motivated by the interests of the institute and the national aviation. He has dedicated his life to this, and knowing him as a patriot of Russia, no one can accept the idea that he could deliberately do anything to the detriment of his country." The letter was signed by 514 people. It was sent to the presidential administration and, according to his son Nikolai, they have received half a dozen replies saying that the letter had been forwarded further down the chain of command: "There is no substantive answer yet."

At the reception desk of Andrei Sidorenko, deputy director for research at the institute, a "7x7" journalist was told that "half the institute are students of Anatoly Maslov, and everyone loves him.”

At Lefortovo, Anatoly Maslov is held in solitary confinement. Once a day he is allowed a one-hour walk. He is also authorized to receive food deliveries from this family and a book from a library for a couple of days.

The prison has aggravated his chronic diseases. He received access to his prescribed medicines only after his relatives had provided documented proof that he needed them. Nikolai Maslov told "7x7" that the family keeps in touch with Anatoly Maslov by exchanging letters.

“We send letters every two or three days, but it takes seven or ten days before he receives them. Apparently, they must pass through censorship,” said Nikolai.

In his letters, Anatoli Maslov describes what life is like in the detention center and how he spends his time. The family asked him to write memoirs, especially the episode about how he fell in love with planes when as a child he got engaged in aircraft modeling – they want his grandchildren to know their grandfather’s biography.

In his last letters, the scientist never complains about his health condition. "Although he has no particular illusions and knows that elderly scientists were arrested before, and none of them could not last long in these conditions," adds his son Nikolai.

August 7 is Maslov’s birthday. On that day, the family used to get together and have dinner at home or in a restaurant. This year, relatives sent him letters, and the children drew drawings for him. The institute also collected congratulations and sent their own letter. This day is of double significance to him as it was on August 7, 1969, that Anatoly Maslov started working at the institute.

Maslov's family is going through difficult times, especially his wife, 76; several times they had to call an ambulance for her. "Her health is not very good," says Nikolai.

“The main thing is that my future has disappeared for me," says Nikolai. He teaches at the Novosibirsk State University. “Before it was uncertain, it loomed ahead, and now it's disappeared, I don't understand what's going to happen.”

“I don't know how I can say to students now, "Come to the department of aerogasodynamics, it’s a very interesting place. I have planned experiments that I probably won't do anymore, because I don’t want to touch topics that could attract unwanted attention, so I will deal exclusively with topics that are 100% safe.”

Alexander Shiplyuk, the third person arrested, had started his academic career under Anatoly Maslov at the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (ITPM). Maslov's family does not yet know if Anatoly is aware that his colleague is also suspected of treason.

"We need science to make airplanes fly"

Image: Natsya.

On August 8, two significant events were scheduled at the House of Scientists of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences; the first was the ceremonies to mark the institute’s 65th anniversary, and the second was a conference on methods of aerophysical research. Alexander Shiplyuk, director of the institute, was expected to make a welcoming speech, but on August 5 the news broke out that he had been arrested.

Shiplyuk, 55, is a well-known Russian specialist in the fields of mechanics and high-speed aerogasodynamics, a member of the Presidium of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science. He has been working at ITPM since 1990 and became the institute’s director in 2015.

"Without science planes cannot fly," Alexander Shiplyuk quoted his engineer father in an interview with Leaders Today a year ago. In the same interview, he said that the institute produces technologies and equipment for the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Germany.

The institute is currently working on an engine for wide-body aircrafts: "I think that when it is finished Russia will finally eliminate the technical lag from the world leaders in aircraft engine building," Alexander explained.

The research director of the institute, Vasily Fomin, told TASS about searches that had been conducted at the institution and were related to Shiplyuk’s case. Shiplyuk, like Maslov, is in the Lefortovo pre-trial center. The decision to take him into custody was made by Sovetsky District Court of Novosibirsk. On August 22, the regional court denied an appeal by the defense and upheld the decision.

The scientist's family and his lawyer, Alexei Pavitsky, have refused to talk to 7x7. His son, Mikhail, works at the same institute as a laboratory assistant, and his wife, Yekaterina, works there as a lead translator, according to the institute’s website.

Mikhail Yadrenkin, head of the institute's Council of Young Scientists, wrote on his personal page on the social network "VKontakte" on August 19:

"I am afraid that at this rate, in the heat of the investigation, important academic areas that ensure the country's defense capability can be "ruined.” <...> Without cohesive teams of top-notch researchers, unique aggregates will turn into piles of useless metal. As for A.A. Maslov and A.N. Shiplyuk, I know them as true patriots who, despite great opportunities, did not go to work abroad in the 1990s.”

On September 8, the scientist had a birthday – he turned 56, 32 of which he had worked at the institute.

There will be next ones …

Three days after Shiplyuk's arrest, Elia Kabanov, a science reporter, published a column about arrests in Novosibirsk. The journalist believes that scientists work on solutions to the humanity’s biggest problems, so their arrests are "reprisals against the future."

- How did you feel when you learned about the arrests of the first, then second, and then third scientist?

- These were not the first arrests, far from that. Maybe first in a while in Novosibirsk, but scientists on charges of treason have been regularly arrested in Russia since 1999. This happens in waves, in different regions. At one time there were many arrests in Primorsky Krai, then in Moscow. And now, apparently, it is Novosibirsk’s turn. These arrests always happen in clusters, rarely one person. FSB agents find a "cluster of spies" and expose the cell, thereby ruining the lives of several scientists at once and getting promoted for their “job.” One of my colleagues, a science reporter, has noticed that those arrests for "treason" mostly occur in summer. Presumably, in winter agents are catching real spies, and in summer they practice on defenseless academics.

- But it is unlikely that Kolker was connected with Maslov and Shiplyuk, right?

- There are several hypotheses here. The first hypothesis: there are bigger bonuses for uncovering an organized group of spies. The more spies you uncover, the better. Another hypothesis: it is possible that the FSB is beating the evidence out of old, sick people, and under pressure they name all their colleagues, with whom they either worked in the same laboratory, or crossed paths somewhere. Thus, everyone from an old scholar’s notebook first goes as a witness, and then as a defendant.

- Why do you think in all three cases the FSB’s focus of attention is on China? Those scholars had many other connections - with Germany, the United States.

- China is a scarecrow. "The Chinese are trying to take over everything.” On the one hand, we want to be friends with China, and on the other, we are afraid that they could take something from us. Another reason - where else can Novosibirsk scientists go? What other conferences? America is far away, a visa is hard to get, and invitations are rare, while China is close by. Naturally, there is more academic cooperation with China. This is a purely geographical issue, I think.

Now, if we are talking about serious scientists doing serious science, none of them can succeed without international contacts. In all grant competitions, international collaboration is among the main criteria. You must publish, you must give talks. Otherwise, you will never get a grant. And now exactly for these efforts our scientists get arrested.

- A colleague of Shiplyuk and Maslov told the media that they were literally forced to cooperate with foreign colleagues, and then everything turned against them.

- For the Federal Security Service, the cooperation was not a surprise. Every university, and every academic institute has a department, which approves and checks everything. No one can be appointed an institute director or a university rector without their approval. So now when they claim to be in shock that someone revealed some secrets, they are only playing innocent. They have coordinated and approved all those presentations and reports.

- Is it today possible to cooperate and communicate with colleagues from other countries and not to get charged with treason?

- It seems to me that since the start of the war, science in Russia, in general, has become quite a peculiar phenomenon, and it will be shrinking. Russian scientists are rarely welcome at international conferences or asked to publish in international journals. And now, since you can go to jail for this, people will shy away from international contacts. Why take risks? And everyone who can leave will leave. Young scholars will be taking jobs in foreign laboratories. No one will stay in Russia. There are no such fools. Except for old people and those with big laboratories and many employees who find it hard to leave them behind.

- Why is the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences still silent?

- It is a useless organization, run by useless, and rather ridiculous grandpas. They haven’t done anything significant for a long time. They have no scientific achievements. They get together once a quarter for their presidiums, they babble about nothing, they complain about their lives and that no one listens to them, and that's the end of it. It's not just that they're afraid to stand up for their colleagues. They don't understand what's going on. You certainly can expect nothing from them. These are people who have no moral authority left.

- The children of Kolker, Maslov, and Shiplyuk, as far as I understand, are all young scientists, and they choose different tactics concerning the arrests: some speak out and turn to the public for help, and some go through this drama quietly. What do you think is better in this situation - to remain silent or to speak out?

- I think that publicity is the only thing that can save arrested people. A few years ago, Sergei Maslikov, former director of the Novosibirsk Planetarium, was arrested – it was publicity that helped to get him first out of jail and then out of house arrest before the charges were dropped. So, I would advise everyone to set alarm bells ringing, get the attention of journalists and bloggers, make public appeals and publish open letters. There seems to be no other way to show to the people behind the arrests that people care. And that the public is watching their illegal actions.

- When I called the institute where Maslov and Shiplyuk had worked, I got the feeling that everyone was terrified.

- No one knows who will be the next, but everyone understands that there will be others. And, naturally, in such a situation, keeping your mouth shut seems safer. But if you ask me, it's safer to talk. Everyone understands that the "treason" law can be applied to absolutely everything. It is written in such vague language that any scientific activity can become a basis for charges under this law. You don't even need to communicate with any foreigners. All you need to do is to read a paper or record a YouTube video about an academic study (not necessarily your own), and that could become grounds for charges of treason. You can talk on a subject that is not a state secret, and tomorrow some FSB experts will retroactively declare it a state secret and you will be arrested.

- You said that young scientists will be trying to leave the country for safety reasons. What about the prospects of those who stay in Russia and continue to cooperate with the rest of the world?

- This question is very painful to me in many ways. I have spent many years encouraging young people to choose academic careers. I spoke before high school and university students about the world-class science in Russia and the great laboratories that are waiting for talented young people. I told them about how exciting it is to do science in Russia and about the internationally significant achievements of our Russian scientists.

I’m not sure how effective my efforts have been. I hope I failed. I hope nobody because of me has chosen to become a scientist in Russia.


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