I offer the following post not as an analysis of insider Washington politics, but just to bring light to a particularly nasty story that hasn’t gotten much coverage in the English-language media (though the Moscow Times had a blurb about it here.)
Anyone who has lived in or even visited Russia has likely shivered under the eerie feeling that, at any minute of the day, they might witness a horrifying car accident. In my travels in the Motherland, I’ve spent a total of about 13 months wandering Moscow’s dangerous streets, and my stomach has had more than one opportunity to turn at the sight of blood on the asphalt. Added to the omnipresent threat of a “ДТП” (Дорожно-транспортное происшествие, Road-Transport Accident) is the completely unreliable reaction one can expect from fellow victims and passersby.
One Wednesday afternoon in Irkutsk, 34-year-old Elena Pyatkova and her 27-year-old sister Yulia were walking down Lenin Street. The pair walked hand-in-hand, in the Russian female tradition. The sun was shining, though the long shadows you see in the video (see YouTube clip below) of their stroll suggest it was a cold winter day. Ten seconds into that video, as Elena and Yulia are knocked into a nearby building by a speeding car, you remember that you’re watching the traffic cam footage of a vicious crash.
That, sadly, is not half as startling as what follows: 28-year-old driver Anna Shavenkova steps out through the passenger side of her Toyota Corolla and, without even glancing at the two women ten feet away, dying on the sidewalk, proceeds to inspect the damage to her car. Paramedics apparently arrived fifteen minutes later, but Elena died in the hospital that night from her injuries and Yulia will be an invalid for the rest of her life.
So far, there have been no legal consequences for the driver. This all happened almost three months ago, on December 2nd of last year.
Ms. Shavenkova was originally listed as a “witness” and no criminal charges were filed. It turns out that Anna’s mother is Liudmila Shavenkova, Chief Election Officer of the entire Irkutsk region. The incident got a lot of Internet buzz, however, and the regional ГУВД (Main Department of Internal Affairs) finally announced two days ago that Anna was actually a suspect and that the investigation would soon lead to an indictment.
Эхо Москвы, which reported this story yesterday after the cops’ press release, is linking the event to a series of public-outcry stories, where initial police inactivity was overcome and corrected by electronic outreach campaigns. Эхо first cites the successful effort to free Yukos laywer (surprise, surprise) Svetlana Bakhmina. This seems like a lousy comparison, in my opinion. (And why do they list her first? Are they trying to discredit themselves over at Эхо?) Mrs. Bakhmina got pregnant on a visit home (this was during her sentence), and later was allowed to leave prison to care for her child. I’m all for human rights and babies getting the appropriate maternal love, etc. — but weren’t we talking about car accidents and the police misbehaving?
Well, it turns out there’s no shortage of cases like that, either. In August 2005, Oleg Shcherbinsky was sentenced to four years in prison after Altai Governor Mikhail Evdokimov’s blue-siren elitny-mobile tried to pass him by on the highway. A collision ensued and the governor and his entourage died. Oleg was put in jail for reckless driving. A court later overturned his conviction and “disqualified” the judge who presided over his first trial. (For a weepy interview with the Honorable Galina Shcheglovskaya — “I didn’t deserve this,” etc. — see here.) This whole turn of events, too, came after a concerted Internet campaign to raise awareness (and stir outrage) about Shcherbinsky’s treatment by law enforcement.
In June last year, police-officer Roman Zhirov struck and killed a seven-months-pregnant woman in a hit-and-run. He didn’t even slow down his car, witnesses report. Immediately after the incident, Zhirov was fired from his job, though he evaded prosecution for months until the blogging efforts of the woman’s husband finally ‘motivated’ police. His trial is ongoing, and he has employed several legal tricks to keep his case out of court. “I acknowledge my guilt partially [частично],” Zhirov has (kind of) admitted. Сволочь.
All these horrors taken together say a great deal about the value of life in Russia. (Calm down, comrades, I’m not saying Americans always rush to correct every public danger or tragedy, either.) While the political corruption aspect is the key tidbit the media picks up (not surprisingly, for an opposition outlet like Эхо Москвы), the really shocking thing for me is how indifferent and downright callous these villains were in the first place. While I’m sure this sort of thing happens all the time, all over the world (in the U.S., too, no doubt), I can’t help but be shocked and thank my lucky stars that I’m not currently crossing too many Moscow streets (or sidewalks, for that matter).
Kudos to all the people online who helped pressure the police into investigating these cases. This is another reminder that even crappy systems can manage some functionality, when people demand it. The Russian justice system isn’t something I’d ever want to rely on, but here’s hoping Shavenkova and Zhirov get what’s coming to them.