WASHINGTON — It was just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin's May 2018 inauguration that the footage appeared online: a coterie of men clad in unmarked military garb chasing down and beating anti-Kremlin protesters as riot police passively looked on.
Two young rights advocates, a journalism student named Viktor Oleynik and a data analyst, Anton Gromov, had had enough. Loading the footage to encrypted instant messaging app Telegram, the pair implored their followers to crowdsource identities of the assailants, a rag-tag band of self-proclaimed Cossacks who delivered the beatings with impunity.
The two then published a list of names and photographs identifying the vigilantes on a site called bewareofthem.org, which has since grown into a fully indexed user-generated database that tracks everyone from corrupt election commissioners to violent thugs, riot cops and secret police officers who are recorded beating pro-democracy demonstrators across Russia.
By cataloging each image by name, profession or organizational affiliation, Oleynik—who, like Gromov, has since moved abroad after being declared an "enemy of the state"— is creating an official record of crimes committed against Russian nationals for practicing their constitutionally protected right to peaceful protest.
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