Now Volkova’s highest-profile client is Sergei Udaltsov, a socialist leader. He has had several cases brought against him, including charges that he plotted to incite mass riots at a May 6 protest in Bolotnaya Square, on the eve of Putin’s presidential inauguration.
Police and protesters clashed then, and about 20 are being investigated. One man has been sentenced to 4½ years in prison for assaulting a police officer, even though he cooperated with police and apologized. Others fear even harsher treatment.
As a commercial lawyer, Volkova, 40, specialized in fending off corporate raids — takeovers often carried out with the help of corrupt police and courts. She had started her career as a prosecutor but couldn’t stand a system that operated like a machine, she said, discouraging independent thinking. Last fall, when her team visited the United States, Polozov described the role of a lawyer here as carrying money from the client to the investigator or court officials. “Some are happy with that situation,” he said. “We are not.”
Volkova is divorced — no man could put up with her long, erratic workdays, she said. She has an 18-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son and lives with her mother, who keeps the household running and makes Volkova’s Twitter-driven life possible.
One spring morning, Volkova saw a tweet about Suren Gazaryan, an environmental activist in the southern region of Krasnodar, who was in danger of going to prison for protesting construction of a residential compound for a local official in a protected forest.
Within a few hours, Volkova was on the case and in the air. Gazaryan had been charged with causing thousands of dollars in damage by painting a small slogan on a fence. She challenged the lack of evidence, the absence of an expert to evaluate the cost of the fence, and a long list of other weaknesses in the case. Eventually, Gazaryan got probation instead of three years in prison. But the authorities hadn’t given up. They brought new charges against him, and he fled the country.
Lawyers take political cases at their peril. Volkova considers herself lucky that she has gotten off so far with her bank accounts frozen, the occasional threat of disbarment and nasty comments via social media about her vehemence and weight. Feygin has been summoned as a witness in the Bolotnaya case. “Witnesses soon turn into defendants,” Volkova said.
No one in the human rights community has forgotten how Stanislav Markelov, a 34-year-old lawyer who defended Chechens abused by the Russian military, was gunned down near a busy Moscow metro stop in January 2009, dying along with a young reporter who was walking with him after a news conference.
“I’m not afraid,” Volkova said. “This is our life.”