Release of OYUB, a Russian documentary play

“How much longer are we going to kill and imprison human rights defenders?”

“With every passing year, there are more and more restrictions, and less and less rights.”

Oyub Titiev, Shali Town Court, Chechnya, Russia, 18 March 2019.


OYUB is a Russian documentary play about the life of Oyub Titiev, a human rights activist in the Republic of Chechnya, Russia. His arrest and subsequent show trial in Chechnya in 2018-19 caught worldwide media attention and drew broad international criticism. Titiev was sentenced to four years imprisonment, but was released on parole three months later, having served out two years in detention since his initial arrest. In 2018, Oyub Titiev was awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. He now lives in Moscow, where he continues his human rights work.

This radio play is read by current human rights activists, not actors (although one of the participants is both). It was recorded by the participants from their homes in the U.K. and Europe during the COVID-19 lockdown. The play was not rehearsed or directed, and is performed as a reading, rather than acted out. Emphasis is placed on the professional connection between participants and Titiev himself, and for this reason their biographies are included below.

The play features an introduction by Julie Curtis, who is a Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Oxford. Her work on contemporary Russian drama has been pursued in association with two AHRC (OWRI) research projects hosted by the Universities of Oxford (Creative Multilingualism) and Manchester (Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community). She is the editor of a volume of essays and interviews on this subject called New Drama in Russian: Performance, Politics and Protest in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020), to which the translator of the play, Alex Trustrum Thomas, is a contributor.

The play text of OYUB is published by Bookmate Originals and is available as a free e-book in English and in Russian. This is part of a forthcoming anthology of Russian documentary plays being published later this year by Common Place (Moscow).  The radio play is also downloadable to a mobile device as a podcast from iTunes.

This project was supported by Creative Multilingualism, as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Open World Research Initiative (OWRI).

N.B. Headphones are highly recommended for playback to hear the full range of sounds.


Participant biographies, in order of appearance:

Peter Wieltschnig is a human rights lawyer, focusing on human security in crisis and conflict as well as the right to water. He has worked on projects including: the protection and empowerment of refugees and displaced persons in Lebanon and Syria, the development of due diligence legislation to regulate the arms industry and States’ arms export regimes, the criminalisation of humanitarian assistance in Europe, and the human rights impacts of counter-terrorism legislation in Ireland and the UK.

Jacob Burns is a writer, researcher and journalist who has worked across the Middle East. Currently the Communications Advisor for Yemen, Iraq and Jordan at Médecins sans Frontières, he has previously worked for Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture.

Mistale Taylor conducts research into various areas of international criminal law and human rights law to provide pro bono legal advice for states, governments and NGOs in conflict/post-conflict situations in her role as Counsel at Public International Law & Policy Group.  She has advised on, amongst other things, maritime piracy; the invocation of state secrets privilege to bar third party access to information in torture cases; and life sentencing practices in Europe. In her work at Trilateral Research, Mistale contributes to ongoing projects related to law, technology, privacy, data protection, human rights and ethics.

Sorcha Thomson is a PhD Fellow at the University of Roskilde, Denmark, researching anticolonial struggle, internationalist solidarity and revolutionary movements in Cuba and Palestine. She is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign Youth and Student Committee, working to build and organise the next generation of support for Palestinian human rights and justice in the UK. She has worked with Amnesty International in Israel, Palestine and Scotland across a number of campaigns.

Rea Eldem lives in Berlin where she works as a gender equality strategist with a focus on working culture under the name in-visible. To her, addressing gender equality in the workplace means making visible normalised cultural practices, institutionalised dynamics and organisational structures that hinder women and other marginalised groups to strive forward. Although equal treatment and access to opportunities are basic human rights the discrimination of individuals based on aspects of their identity continues to persist in the workplace today.

Matthew Romain trained as an actor at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School after studying philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He has worked extensively in theatre throughout the UK including Shakespeare’s Globe and the Donmar Warehouse; screen credits include BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ and ‘World on Fire’. Matthew performed in the Calais ‘jungle’ and other refugee camps as part of a two-year tour of ‘Hamlet’ to every country in the world. He has taught theatre in the community and run workshops on theatre and censorship for ‘Index’ magazine. Matthew is a founding member of Earth Ensemble - a theatre group for climate activism born out of Extinction Rebellion.

John Farndon is an author, playwright, poet, songwriter, literary translator and activist. As a translator, he champions the literature of Russia and Central Asia and is chairman of the Eurasian Creative Guild. He was joint winner of the EBRD literary prize 2019 for his translation of Uzbek poetry in Hamid Ismailov’s The Devil’s Dance and finalist in the 2020 US PEN Translation award for the Kazakh epic Dead Wander in the Desert by Rollan Seysenbaev, about the ecological disaster of the Aral Sea. He is also a founding member of Earth Ensemble, the theatre and music company associated with Extinction Rebellion, which has brought climate activist performances to the streets of London and the Edinburgh Festival.



OYUB was created by

Elena Gremina

Anna Dobrovolskaia

& Zarema Zaudinova


Translated by

Alex Trustrum Thomas


Sound and original music by

Josh Field


With thanks to

Zarema Zaudinova

Anna Dobrovolskaia

Alina Anufrienko

Scarlett Woolfe

& Oliver Tobin


In memory of

Elena Gremina

Mikhail Ugarov

& Sasha Rastorguev


Additional audio sources

Chistyi chetverg, dir. by Sasha Rastorguev & Susanna Baranzhieva (Rossiia, 2003)

Nur-Zhovkhar. The ancient Chechen folklore’ by Petites Planetes/Vincent Moon, licenced under CC BY 3.0

(Image reproduced with permission, courtesy of Kazbek Chanturiya/OC Media)