Former Mariinsky opera singer sentenced to 10 years in Russian jail following COVID-19 protest

20 July 2022, 12:34

Former professional baritone, Vadim Cheldiyev, was sentenced on 19 July 2022
Former professional baritone, Vadim Cheldiyev, was sentenced on 19 July 2022. Picture: Getty

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Vadim Cheldiev, a former professional baritone, has been sentenced to 10 years in a strict-regime penal colony.

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Former Mariinsky Theater opera singer, Vadim Cheldiyev, has been convicted to 10 years in prison.

Cheldiyev, who is from North Ossetia – a republic of Russia situated in the North Caucasus of Eastern Europe – was detained in April 2020 after organising a 2,000-strong anti-lockdown protest in his hometown due to concerns that restrictions would cost many their jobs.

Prior to the protest, Cheldiyev shared a video message with his followers, highlighting that the “non-existent coronavirus” was part of a government plot to “enslave the people”.

On 19 July 2022, Cheldiyev was charged under four articles of the Criminal Code: 213 (hooliganism), 280 (calls for extremism), 318 (use of violence against a representative of the authorities) and 207.1 (public dissemination of knowingly false information about circumstances posing a threat to the life and safety of citizens).

Cheldiyev was tried alongside two co-conspirators, Arsen Besolov and Ramis Chirkinov, in the Russian courts. All three pled not guilty, and Besolov and Chirkinov each received an eight-year sentence.

Cheldiyev will serve his 10-year sentence in a strict regime correctional colony.

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Cheldiyev graduated from the Vladikavkaz College of Arts and went on to study at the Academy of Young Singers of the Mariinsky Theater and the Rimsky-Korsakov St. Petersburg Conservatory. He is a recipient of the state-bestowed title of ‘Honored Artist of North Ossetia’.

The young opera singer left the Mariinsky in 2016 to return to his hometown some 1,500 miles (2,400 km) away from the legendary St. Petersburg theatre.

Upon returning, he became known by local media as ‘The Man Who Quit The Opera To Help The Poor’, becoming somewhat of a celebrity.

Cheldiyev reportedly set up a charity named the Iron Zui charitable movement, in his hometown of Vladikavkaz, which provided clothes, toys, and dental care to those living in poverty. However, this was disbanded in 2019 due to lack of donations.

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Prior to his sentencing, Cheldiyev has previously been detained and questioned for his political views. He has spoken out about environmentalism and police brutality in the past.

Cheldiyev moved from being the face of charity to the face of political protest in 2018, thanks to a speech he gave about environmentalism after a fire at the ‘Elektrotsink’ factory, one of Russia’s biggest metallurgical plants.

Two years later he was labelled as the leader of North Ossetia’s ‘Covid dissidents’. This group is linked to the ‘Soviet Citizens’, a growing conspiracy movement in Russia made up of those who do not acknowledge the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After the 2020 protest incited by Cheldiyev, North Ossetia saw its biggest wave COVID-19 wave to date, and recorded the most confirmed cases per head in the entire North Caucasus.

As of yesterday’s sentencing, Cheldiyev has 10 days to appeal the decision of the Rostov Regional Court.