ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — A woman went on trial Wednesday in the bombing at a St. Petersburg cafe that killed a prominent Russian military blogger after he was given a bust of himself that later exploded.
Darya Trepova, 26, is charged with carrying out a terrorist attack, illegal trafficking of explosive devices and forging documents in the April 2 blast at the cafe in which Vladlen Tatarsky was killed and 52 others were injured.
She was arrested shortly after the bombing and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted, according to Russian news reports.
Tatarsky, 40, was an ardent supporter of the Kremlin’s military action in Ukraine and filed regular reports on the fighting from the front lines.
Trepova was seen on video presenting Tatarsky with the bust moments before the blast at the riverside cafe in the historic heart of Russia’s second-largest city where he was leading a discussion.
At her court appearance, Trepova admitted guilt on forging documents but maintained her innocence on the charges of carrying out a terrorist attack and the illegal trafficking of explosives, insisting she didn’t know the bust contained a bomb, Russian media reported.
Trepova’s 27-year-old acquaintance, Dmitry Kasintsev, is standing trial with her, although he is under house arrest. She had stayed in his apartment after the blast, and the authorities have charged him with concealment of a grave crime. Kasintsev said in court he was willing to plead guilty to a lesser charge of not reporting a crime.
The judge said that one of those injured in the blast had died, without giving details on whether it was connected to the blast, and adjourned the hearing until Friday.
Russian authorities have blamed Ukrainian intelligence agencies for orchestrating the bombing. Authorities in Kyiv have not directly responded to the accusation, but an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has described the bombing as part of Russia’s internal turmoil.
Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, charged that a Ukrainian citizen whom it identified as Yuriy Denysov had gathered information about Tatarsky and supplied Trepova with explosives through a courier service. The FSB claimed that Denysov acted on orders from the Ukrainian security services.
Tatarsky was the pen name of Maxim Fomin, who had hundreds of thousand of followers on his Telegram messaging app channel. He had joined separatists in eastern Ukraine after a Moscow-backed insurgency erupted there in 2014 and fought on the front lines for years before turning to blogging.
Military bloggers have played an increasingly prominent role in Russia amid the fighting in Ukraine, supporting the Kremlin but often criticizing Russia’s military leadership and exposing various military flaws. Unlike independent media or opposition figures, they haven’t faced any crackdown for that criticism.
The FSB alleged Trepova was a supporter of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and that his top allies, Ivan Zhdanov and Leonid Volkov, have made repeated calls for subversive activities in Russia.
Zhdanov has alleged that authorities could try to use the explosion to extend Navalny’s prison term. The politician is currently serving 19 years in a penal colony east of Moscow after being convicted on extremism charges, which he alleges are false.
In a letter to the St. Petersburg news outlet Bumaga, Trepova claimed a journalist and a military blogger she knew asked her to attend Tatarsky’s speaking engagements as part of a journalistic investigation, and she had no idea it would lead to a deadly explosion. She didn’t identify that journalist in the letter.
“I didn’t know I would be presenting (Tatarsky) with something,” Bumaga quoted Trepova as saying. “Morally, of course, it is very hard. I still can’t believe in the reality of what had happened.”