2 Russian Women Put on a Play. Then the State Came for Them.

2 Russian Women Put on a Play. Then the State Came for Them.

They wrote and staged their play as an indictment of terrorism, examining the deception and depravity of violent extremists and the people whose lives they ruin.

But now the two women behind the production of “Finist the Brave Falcon” are standing trial in a Moscow courtroom, charged with justifying the kind of acts they meant to condemn.

The director, Yevgenia Berkovich, 39, and the playwright, Svetlana Petriychuk, 44, two highly decorated fixtures of contemporary Russian theater, have been in custody for more than a year. They face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

One of their lawyers and people in the Russian cultural community contend that the prosecution is one of the clearest examples of the accelerating crackdown on freedom of expression since Russia attacked Ukraine in February 2022.

Cultural figures supporting the women say this is the first time in Russia’s post-Soviet era that a work of art is effectively being put on trial. The prosecution has been condemned by some of Russia’s best known intellectuals, including the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitri A. Muratov and the director Kirill Serebrennikov, under whom Ms. Berkovich studied, as well as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups.

“Finist the Brave Falcon,” interweaves a classic Russian fairy tale with the personal tragedy of a woman who falls in love online with a radical extremist, who deceives her into coming to Syria to join the Islamic State. But there is no happy ending; instead, feeling horrified and betrayed, she returns home to Russia, where she is convicted as a terrorist.

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