stern reporter Bettina Sengling tells very moving stories about people she met in Russia. She is following a trial in St. Petersburg in which a woman is accused of using notes in a supermarket to draw attention to the war in Ukraine. The young woman had disguised the notes as price tags, but was reported by another customer. Now she is in custody and faces ten years in prison.

Putin influences his people not only through severe penalties and deterrence. It also starts with children. Since the beginning of the war there have been “hours about the important things” in schools, in which political questions are debated. In addition, the cadet movement has experienced an upswing, and there are also extra classes for it in the schools. More than a million children are now active in the Jung-Armee. It is organized in a similar way to the Boy Scouts, but with military content. “Then there are marches, they also wear a kind of uniform, they take apart Kalashnikov rifles, fight and take part in patriotic activities.” Many of these children later want to join the army or the civil service.

February 2 was the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, days that Putin is celebrating. The entire World War II staging is of great importance in Russia, because the Kremlin draws the parallel between the fight against fascism then and against alleged fascism today by calling the Ukrainians fascists. Days like February 2nd and May 9th are celebrated, and one can hardly avoid them in Russia, explains Bettina Sengling.

Even for them, journalistic work is often only possible to a limited extent. Sometimes Russian state television journalists would tackle them. It is also difficult to persuade interviewees to talk to her. Many would be afraid. It is therefore particularly important to her to protect her interview partners. All texts are checked by Russian lawyers so that nobody is in danger.

Most of her Russian colleagues, who are liberal, left the country long ago. Sengling is currently working on a story about a father and his son. Both were journalists and wrote extensively on the military and arms trade. The father had already fallen out of the window in 2008 for an unknown reason – one assumes murder. His son has now been sentenced to 22 years in prison on charges of espionage. “You can see in this one family, which was not at all combative, oppositional, how this Putin country is shaping up (…) and how insanely tough and brutal it has become.”

Sengling has not only been to Russia, but also to Ukraine and is currently working on a story about kidnapped children from orphanages. At that time, attempts were made to hide the children, but some of them were found and taken away by the Russians. It is now known that they live in an orphanage in Crimea. Such children would receive Russian citizenship and attempts were made to place them in Russian adoptive families. “In Russian propaganda, the child from Donbass who needs to be saved is of great importance.”

Towards the end of the interview, Sengling explains what the “stern foundation” does and how it helps at the front – in bunkers, but also with the evacuation of sick, old people. She met a woman who was forgotten in a skyscraper. She was disabled and had nothing left, was ready to die. The non-profit organization Proliska, with which the “Stern Foundation” works, was able to save her.

Nele Balgo talks to stern reporter Bettina Sengling.