Veronika Belotserkovskaya, an influencer best known in Russia for her glamorous posts from Instagram about her life and her cooking classes, has become one of the main targets of the country’s new draconian legislation that punishes critics of the war in Ukraine with up to 15 years in prison.
An unlikely candidate for the wrath of President Vladimir Putin’s government, the influencer known on Instagram as Belonika, until recently mainly posted photos of her dazzling lifestyle, in chic places and wearing Prada clothes, Chanel accessories and Louis Vuitton, or fine images of bouquets, animals and kitchen.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, his posts turned political, often scathing in their opposition to the war and to Putin. In one post, she is dressed in a blue dress in front of a yellow door in a not-so-subtle nod to the Ukrainian flag.
In a bolder post, he wrote: “I do not consider the Ukrainian people as my enemy. I consider them as brothers and sisters. I consider this ‘special operation’ an invasive WAR against a sovereign state”. In others, he describes Putin as “a man tired of life” and his recent television appearances are “creepy”.
The Russian Investigative Committee said in a statement that Belotserkovskaya’s publications “discredited” to government authorities and the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
They are “Deliberate false information about the use of the armed forces by the Russian Federation for the destruction of cities and against the Ukrainian civilian population, including children, in the course of the special military operation on the territory of the Ukrainian Government”, said the Committee.
Belotserkovskaya is not in Russiaso the country could seek to put her on international lists of wanted persons, the Committee said.
The influencer, whose posts suggest she spends a lot of time in France, did not immediately respond to calls and messages from Bloomberg seeking comment. Her Instagram account, which says that she was born in Odessa, has almost a million followers.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin enacted new legislation imposing prison sentences of up to 15 years on those accused of spreading “fake news” about the army or call for sanctions against Russia. Under those rules, the invasion cannot be described as a “war”, but should be called a “special military operation”.
The move is the latest step in a major campaign against independent media and freedom of expression in Russia. The legislation prompted many international news organizations, including Bloomberg, to suspend their journalistic activities in Russia until the consequences of the new rules are clarified.
Put pressure on independent journalists in Russia It is not new. Journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkóvskaya was murdered in 2006 after previously suffering a poison attack. Still, the fact that the target is a social media influencer who is not in the political mainstream and who is outside of Russia indicates that the country is widening its net.
Earlier this month, the Kremlin blocked access to Facebook and Instagram as part of a broader effort to keep anti-Russia posts out, silence dissent and limit reporting on the Ukraine invasion.
“I woke up feeling like I can never go home”, Belotserkovskaya wrote in a recent post.