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Russia's whistleblower cop is a YouTube sensation

Russian police officer Alexei Dymovsky has released a series of videos calling out corruption and asking Prime Minister Putin to act.

Alexei Dymovsky, a former Russian police officer, gives a news conference in Moscow, Nov. 10, 2009. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

MOSCOW, Russia — Alexei Dymovsky sits in full uniform and stares at the camera with tired eyes.

“Maybe you don’t know about us, about simple cops, who live and work and love their work. I’m ready to tell you everything. I’m not scared of my own death,” Dymovsky says in a YouTube message addressed to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“I will show you the life of cops in Russia, how it is lived, with all the corruption and all the rest – with ignorance, rudeness, recklessness, with honest officers killed because they have stupid bosses.”

And so Dymovsky continues, in a series of three 2-to-7-minute long videos released over the past week that have together garnered 1 million hits on YouTube, and caused a firestorm across Russia.

In a country where open criticism is seen as a brief luxury offered by the chaotic post-Soviet 1990s, the videos immediately raised questions about Dymovsky’s safety — and the power and fate of the internet in Russia.

One question they did not raise regards the level of corruption and brutality of the Russian police. Those are taken as a given.

Statistics are hard to come by, but just looking at one day in the life of Russia’s police force gives a good idea of how bad it is. On Tuesday, which happened to be National Police Day, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev used his annual speech as a chance to remind officers that their “weapons should be pointed only in the direction of criminals, and not aimed at peaceful citizens."

(The reminder was particularly pertinent following an April massacre at a Moscow supermarket, when a police officer went on a shooting rampage hunting down shoppers, killing three and injuring six.)

In the Siberian city of Chelyabinsk, a police officer was sentenced to 12 years in prison for beheading a 20-year-old man after the two fought over 60 rubles (about $2). In the southwestern city of Stravopol, a 22-year-old police officer was brought before a court for allegedly killing a 17-year-old girl while drunk before dumping the body near her relatives’ house. And on and on.

Dymovsky, a 32-year-old police major stationed in the Black Sea port city of Novorossiisk, said he has had enough.

“I hope others will listen, other officers who don’t want to live on their knees. I think many will understand. I want to work. But I can no longer stand investigating made-up crimes, imprisoning people we are told to imprison. I can’t stand crimes made-on-order. I’m sick of it all,” he says in one video.

Dymovsky was promptly fired after the clips spread across the internet, and a local prosecutor has opened an investigation into libel. The interior ministry has ordered an investigation into the claims, with the report to be presented to Putin.