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Belarus arrests Russian separated from daughter over sketch

A Russian father, who was separated from his daughter over a Ukraine-themed school drawing, has been detained in Belarus after fleeing house arrest in Russia, Belarusian authorities said.

Alexei Moskalyov, a 54-year-old single father from the town of Yefremov south of Moscow, fled house arrest this week just before a court handed him a two-year sentence for “discrediting” the Russian army.

“Moskalyov has been detained … following a request from Russian police” and is currently being held in Belarus, a spokeswoman for the Belarusian interior ministry was cited as saying by Russian news agencies on Thursday.

Lawyer Dmitry Zakhvatov said Moskalyov had been arrested in the capital Minsk, most likely as a result of turning on his mobile phone and giving away his location.

“Apparently someone made a mistake, maybe it was due to him using a mobile phone,” said Zakhvatov, who had been in contact with Moskalyov. “Most likely it was due to him using a mobile phone improperly,” he told the Reuters news agency.

Moskalyov first came to the authorities’ attention last year after his daughter Maria, now 13, drew a picture at school showing missiles next to a Russian flag heading towards a woman and child standing by a Ukrainian flag.

Her head teacher contacted the police.

A criminal case was later opened against the father for allegedly criticising Russia’s assault on Ukraine on social media.

On Tuesday, he was sentenced to two years in prison for “discrediting” the Russian army. Moskalyov was not present in the courtroom, having fled house arrest before the sentencing.

Maria was taken away from him in March and placed in a local “rehabilitation centre” for minors, with the pair denied contact.

The case has garnered national attention, as Moscow cracks down on criticism of the offensive in Ukraine.

Moskalyov’s lawyer Vladimir Biliyenko has said it is now “difficult to predict” what will happen to Maria.

Moskalyov is at risk of losing parental rights in a separate trial set to begin on April 6.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has defended Moskalyov’s sentencing, describing the father’s parenting as “deplorable”.

But in a letter published on social media Maria called her father “the bravest person in the world”.

Russia’s top human rights organisation Memorial, which has been outlawed by the authorities, said it considered Moskalyov a “political prisoner”.

Memorial said that his case was “an attempt to intimidate all opponents” of the conflict.

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