World News

11.08.13

Is Pussy Riot’s Nadia Tolokonnikova in a Siberian Gulag?

A singer goes missing in Russia’s penal system. Her husband gets news she’s in a Siberian gulag—but officials say she’s not there. Where in the world is Nadia Tolokonnikova?

On Wednesday morning, Petr Verzilov, the husband of Pussy Riot’s most famous member—Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, nicknamed Tolokno—finally heard about his missing wife. A source called him from the depths of Siberia with news that Tolokonnikova, who has disappeared without a trace in the country's prison transportation system for 18 days, was being transferred the IK-50 women's prison, a jail in the remote region of Krasnoyrak.

For the past two weeks, Tolokonnikova has been traveling by railroad in Siberia with a special convoy by order of the Russian Corrective Administration. Neither her family nor her lawyers had any news of her exact location or where she might be headed—and how long it would take before she would arrive.

Verzilov felt relieved. “Finally, she has been found,” he told The Daily Beast on the phone before hopping on the night plane to be near his wife for her 24th birthday.  Yet on Thursday morning, an unindentified woman at the prison, who answered The Daily Beast's phone call, told reporters that “Tolokonnikova is not being kept at #50.” Still, Tolokno's husband felt hopeful—even if it was just a prison wall to see, at least it was something definite.

While Verzilov was on the airplane on Wednesday night, Tolokno’s supporters in Moscow decided to perform a birthday surprise for the Pussy Riot member. Activists spread Tolokonnikova's portrait, painted with black ink, on the ground and set off fireworks in her honor right outside the Russian Corrective Administration headquarters.

Tolokonnikova’s husband covered almost 3,000 miles only to hear that his wife was still missing.

On Thursday morning, more presents followed. Tolokno’s Swedish fans posted fun pictures on a Tumblr devoted to the singer. And in Moscow, Pussy Riot activists set up a huge cube for birthday cards with colorful lines written on its walls: “Where is Nadia?” and “Happy Birthday, Nadia!”

Meantime, Verzilov arrived in Krasnoyarsk, met with local friends and drove 200 miles to the IK-50 prison, outside the tiny Siberian village of Nizhny Ingash. The town is not much to speak of—a few wooden houses along a snowy road in Taiga, some tiny food stores, a Kavkaz café. That and a long wooden fence surrounding the IK-50 prison. But there was no Nadia behind that wall. Tolokonnikova’s husband covered almost 3,000 miles only to hear that his wife was still missing.

“I do not think that Vladimir Putin is aware of this sophisticated extension of Nadia’s punishment. This is revenge by the Russian Corrective Administration generals for Tolokno’s endless efforts to struggle against violations of their system," Verzilov said. “But the generals were not attentively reading her letters from prison—she foresaw this and wrote that she was not afraid of total isolation."

Unlike Tolokonnikova’s husband and her Russian supporters, the singer's father, Andrei Tolokonnikov, would not like for his daughter to become a Russian politician when and if she emerges from her prison term this spring. “I would be happy if my daughter immigrated and had some social activity as a dissident somewhere in France,” he told the Russian newspaper MK. Still, he noted that his daughter inherited her grandmother’s courage. “She is ready to go through fire and water.”

Meanwhile, whether Tolokonnikova is inside the IK-50 prison or whether she's still on a train to a different gulag, remains an open question.