I’ve avoided this topic in the last few weeks, while the reports of the utter lawlessness and horror out of Kushchevskaya and the surrounding region kept coming. The almost total power of the criminals operating there is startling, the details are like something out of good movie combined with a bad dream: how breaking down doors at the local medical college and raping female students became a norm, how the graves of murdered people were desecrated over and over again as a means of “discouraging” their relatives from so much as moving on with their lives and starting over, how one of the few people who tried to defy the gang in spite of local government and police collusion was first imprisoned then literally driven insane, how one gang member actually bragged about the 11 rape complains filed against him within 24 hours… Is it at all surprising that finally, a massacre of this magnitude happened here?
Olga Bogacheva was one of the few people to speak with Russkiy Reporter on record – she did so because she has nothing to lose. A few years ago, the gang, headed by Nikolai and then Sergei Tsapok, murdered her husband and son. Now, Bogacheva has lost her sister and nephew in the massacre. A former successful businesswoman, she works as a sales clerk at a store – the gang took away her business, along with the people she loved, long ago.
At first, the journalists arriving in Kushchevskaya kept asking the same question – how could Sergei Tsapok be so stupid? Didn’t he realize that massacring 12 people, destroying three families, may cause a national uproar?
Bogacheva explained Tsapok’s actions when she spoke with Dmitry Sokolov-Mitrich for Russkiy Reporter (translation mine):
“You have to understand – impunity is not just an advantage over others, it’s also a progressive disease. A person who is in no way limited by others very soon reaches a state of utter idiocy. These are lawless people for whom lawlessness has become an ideology. We’re tsars, we’re members of a supreme race – everyone else is redneck scum. They liked this feeling, they didn’t want to have to stop feeling this way. They simply lost the ability to live or to think differently. These people have grown so stupid, that they were not able to realize that sooner or later, lawlessness will devour the very people who perpetrate it.”
I have no words as to the suffering this woman has endured. The fact that she spoke to a journalist about this is a testament to her strength and courage. This gang, aided by corrupt officials and policemen, took away everything from her (need I even point out the fact that the murders of her son and husband were never actually solved?), but didn’t break her.
In his piece, Dmitry Sokolov-Mitrich pointed out that although the Krasnodar krai (or region), where Kuschevskaya is located, has enjoyed growing prosperity, it did so at the expense of social institutions, of freedom of the press, of public conscience. The local paper in Kushchevskaya, Vpered (meaning, ironically enough, “Forward”) DIDN’T WRITE A SINGLE REPORT about the November 4th massacre. Today, Vpered mostly publishes statements by public officials condemning the way in which the village and the region have been “tarnished” by other media outlets.
When you consider the fact that the editor-in-chief was forced to leave Kuschevskaya when she dared publish damning reports about the mass rapes and other crimes committed by the Tsapok gang a few years ago, at a time when the governor had made a solemn promise to crack down on the gang (similar solemn promises have been made following the events of November 4th, of course), and was then “forgiven” and allowed to come back for as long as she played nice – the situation ceases to be remotely surprising, and starts to feel downright hopeless.
Novaya Gazeta reports that from 1998 to 2002 the Tsapok gang was most active in forcibly taking away land from farmers. Boris Moskvich became the head of the Kushchevskaya region around this time. His official slogan was “We won’t give the criminals an inch of land.” Moskvich was murdered in 2002. Naturally, despite a whole lot of rhetoric from Krasnodar governor, Alexander Tkachyov, his murder has remained unsolved, though it’s pretty obvious who killed him.
For women, even as much as walking down the street in Kushchevskaya could be a problem. Want to walk to the store alone? A gang member could drive up next to you, drag you into his car, kidnap you, rape you, and get clean away with it. In fact, according to some Novaya Gazeta sources, it was exactly these mass rapes that eventually lead to the assassination of Sergei Tsapok’s vicious older brother Nikolai, at which point Sergei headed the gang alongside his mother, a Lady Macbeth-type figure whom locals refer to as “Tsapchikha.”
Zhenia Gurov, one of the first men to be arrested in connection with the Kushchevskaya massacre, was apparently especially beloved in the upper echelons of the gang. Zhenia was not only a brutal rapist – he enjoyed beating his victims within an inch of their lives. If you sit around long enough on various Kuban and Krasnodar forums, you’ll see his girlfriend come up – apparently, she’s a 17-year-old who knew about the things that Gurov has done, and has given statements to the police. Locals claim that this girl started dating Gurov because by the time she realized he liked her, she had already heard about the various gang rapes he and his friends were responsible for, and was too scared to reject him.
Under Sergei’s leadership, rapes became no less common, but the criminals were less blatant about it. For example, instead of kicking down dormitory doors, they’d just snatch up girls at the entrance of the medical college. After all, Sergei was more commercially minded than his beast of an older brother, and wanted to bring a touch of class to his gang.
Oh, and need we even mention the fact that Sergei was, naturally, a member of the regional government for a while – before being replaced by a friend and “business associate”? Sergei even bragged about having been at the inauguration of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev back in 2008.
Ingeniously, the Tsapok gang recruited members at the local secondary school, filled to the brim with abandoned and orphaned children. They were taken care of, encouraged to take up sports, trained, discouraged from alcoholism. The government doesn’t know what to do with these children, but criminals are often more resourceful in that regard. Yelena Kostyuchenko and Anna Artemyeva, writing from Kushchevskaya for Novaya Gazeta, point out that young orphans remain loyal to the Tsapok gang, and incredulous at the very idea that the gang would be responsible for raping girls or knifing children.
Of course they are. The Tsapok gang is probably the only real authority they have ever known.