Russische Föderation: Ella-Maria Polyakova

In Russia, the time has come to recognize your personal dignity. It is time to take the responsibility for your own life and the destiny of your loved ones into your own hands.

— Ella-Maria Polyakova

Ella-Maria Polyakova (born 1941) graduated from the Leningrad Institute of Communication and worked as an engineer and researcher. She is active in the field of human rights. In 1991, she was one of the Russian activists who went to Vilnius and Riga to support democracy. In autumn 1991, she created the NGO Soldatskiye Matieri Sankt-Pietierburga (Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg), which uncovers violations of soldiers' human rights. She participates in conferences in Russia and abroad, speaking on human rights issues and advocating peace.

In March 2004 in St. Petersburg, newly arrived recruits were beaten up by higher-ranking soldiers. The conscripts wanted to go into the army and to see the world. They were proud to soon become part of the navy in the big city of Kaliningrad. But reality turned out to be different from their dreams. The first night they spent in the barracks, they were humiliated and beaten by older soldiers from nine o'clock in the morning to five o'clock in the afternoon. It seemed as if during that night there were no officers on the base. In the morning, the sadists promised their victims they would continue the torture. So the young soldiers had no other choice but to escape. They headed straight to the Military Prosecutor's Office in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, their story fell on deaf ears. Undeterred, the recruits turned to the human rights organization Soldatskiye Matieri Sankt-Pietierburga (Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg). They were welcomed by the Vice-president of the NGO, Ella-Maria Polyakova. She called for ambulances, and the doctors attended to the bruises and contusions of the soldiers. After that, Ella-Maria went to the judicial authorities. She also invited TV, newspaper, and radio journalists. The story was made public. It now became impossible for the officers to cover up the affair. Their attempt to accuse the kids of having beaten themselves up in order to have a reason to leave their military unit failed. Last year, around 200 soldiers solicited assistance from this human rights organization. “Slave psychology is the main problem,” says Ella-Maria Polyakova. “The parents do not know how to negotiate with officials on equal footing. Ignorant of their rights as citizens, they raise children who only know how to be afraid. We teach them to overcome their fear and exercise their rights as dignified human beings.”

Soldatskiye Matieri Sankt-Pietierburga (Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg)