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Mother’s boys: conversations with the parents of Russia’s neo-Nazis

Russia’s growing nationalist movement has alarmed many liberal commentators, who wonder how the country that defeated Adolf Hitler could have given birth to so many young men overtly sympathetic to his ideas. Journalist Olesya Gerasimenko, who has covered several neo-Nazi trials, wondered where the defendants came from: how Russian boys could go out and kill foreigners in cold blood. She persuaded three of the convicted murderers’ parents to talk to her.

I often observe them in court. They sigh and observe how their son – accused of 15 murders – has lost weight. They wink at him furtively. They beg the guard to loosen his handcuffs, oblivious to the voice of the prosecutor: ‘…demonstrating their own superiority over people of non-Slavic origin, they attacked the victim K., whose external appearance indicated Asian ethnicity, and struck him with a knife no less than 26 times in the head and other parts of the body, causing wounds to the chest, which penetrated the right and left pleural and abdominal cavities with damage to the right and left lungs, the left part of the diaphragm, the spleen, the third and ninth ribs on the left, and the chest, as a result of which the victim died from severe loss of blood’.

I want to ask: did you know, did you guess, did you support this? What were you thinking when they were arrested? Do you believe the judges? Have you come to terms with this? Are you proud, or are you ashamed?

Neo-nationalism in Russia is growing and becoming
more overt. Photo Yury Goldenshteyn/Demotix.
All rights reserved.

But the parents of those nationalists convicted of violent crimes are rarely asked about these things, and they themselves are not keen to talk. Only a few agreed to meet me, and even they didn’t agree immediately. ‘And what views do you yourself hold?’ ‘You’re not interested in the documents.’ ‘You’re not going to actually print any of this!’ But after 15 minutes of face-to-face conversation it becomes clear that they do have something to say.

One has adopted the views of their only child and says that violence is necessary. One blames the politicians that have incited adolescents to street fighting. One cries, convinced of the innocence of his son. They are all different, but they have all asked themselves one and the same question: ‘am I to blame for what happened?’

Elena Krivets, academic, mother of Vasily Krivets

Vasily Krivets is a 23-year-old nationalist. He was sentenced in 2010 to life imprisonment for 15 murders. The victims were citizens of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Russia. He was arrested, but escaped police custody when taken to one of the crime scenes for a reconstruction and hid for almost a year. He did not confess to a single one of the crimes and refused to give evidence.

‘Vasya is a warrior. And everything follows from this. When he was a child all his little fingers were pistols, all of them shooting. Then he formed his toy soldiers into armies. Then we played together, conquering Constantinople.

Gradually he gained an education. He’s not the kind of warrior who just lashes out with his fists and feet, but a warrior who understands history and tradition. I myself have a degree in philosophy, and my husband was a political scientist.

Our family line is an old one, we’re Cossacks. So his love of history appeared by itself. He started with the American Indians and the Civil War. Straight away he wanted to go and save the American Indians. He investigated the Civil War himself, and the White Army immediately interested him. He’s now completely debunked the myth of some great victory by the Red Army. He came to venerate the Tsar, Nicholas II.

I had an aunt, a noblewoman, an aristocrat, she gave me a different understanding of history, which differed from what the communists taught about the Tsar, the Tsarina. She laid in me the foundations of religion. Vasily read children’s books about the Tsar. Somehow or other we were in St. Petersburg; we were called into the University and he, 12 years old, asked us to buy him Tikhomirov’s academic volume on Russian history. We, laughing, bought it. At home he leafed through it a bit and said – when I grow up, I’ll read it. He was already studying it in his first year of higher education.

There was a period when my husband and I were travelling in Egypt on business, and the whole time there Vasya kept saying it was ‘lost time’. I didn’t understand at all. I thought it would be interesting for a teenager to see another country, to travel. I understood only later that he felt a deep sense of his motherland, and he was homesick. Even in his young heart he felt that he had been cut off from the life of the country.

When he was studying in years nine and ten he went to a Cossack Sunday school. This was a club at his school. There were field expeditions, reconnaissance. I myself taught Orthodox catechism there, Cossack history. I went there specially. You should never let a child out of your sight, without knowing what and how he will be taught. Never. A mother must always know exactly what a teacher is telling her child. It is the parents, you see, not the teachers, who will answer before God for that child.

‘And it was then that I understood that there have always been individuals who went to battle like this; rather than cautiously, correctly, with their eye on the final outcome. Sometimes the outcome isn’t important. In order to raise the masses, you need a loud cry and a summons.’

When he finished school he said: ‘I’m a soldier, I need to enter a military institute of higher education’. But his intellectual inclination was more towards the humanities. And in a military college you need to pass algebra. I said to him: ‘well, into what sort of military institute?’ And he answered ‘for officers’. Well, he got in, and studied for about seven months. Then he ran away because, as he said himself, the uniform was 1944-style, and he got into the political science faculty instead. Our local church had a club for free style wrestling, hand-to-hand fighting and such like. Vasya carried on going on expeditions with them. They completed reconnaissance tasks there, you know, like we used to play ‘Summer Lightening’ (a ‘military-patriotic’ game played in the Soviet Union’s pioneer camps – editor).

With time he began to notice what was going on. In particular that Moscow was filling up with foreigners. And when he was around 16 years old he started to fight them. He of course didn’t say anything about it, but it was clear from the jeans he wore, and from his requests that we buy a certain type of boots. Once he mentioned that he had fought with black people over the drugs they were distributing in the metro. I didn’t see any fighting, but at home there was always discussion over whether violence was necessary or not. I was always against it. But he argued that it is right: that the Lord helps those who help themselves; that we need action as well as prayers. And action for him, as for a soldier, was to use his hands. It is only now that I agree with him. The court case has been and gone, the sentence too, so you see how long it took me to reach this position. And lots of people asked me why our lads went so openly, nakedly, unarmed, to battle. And it was then that I understood that there have always been individuals who went to battle like this; rather than cautiously, correctly, with their eye on the final outcome. Sometimes the outcome isn’t important. In order to raise the masses, you need a loud cry and a challenge.

Russian nationalism often has an extremely violent
side. In Moscow alone, there are hundreds of
racially-motivated murders each year. Photo CC:
Iliya Varlamov

The arrest wasn’t unexpected: we’d already had a similar experience with him. We have Cossack ancestry, and Don Cossacks always fought with Turks – and the first case we had was precisely with a Turk. That struck me. Then he had to be bought out of trouble – well, not exactly bought out, but this case had to be covered up by any means possible. It was a murder: there were three of them, two survived, one died. From that moment on Vasily’s views became clear. I understood that I wouldn’t change him. We didn’t row, no, that would have driven my son away from me. You must always protect your relationship with your child. I needed not to lose him. After the incident with the Turk I said: ‘Vas, first pay off the debt – we are in debt – I can’t do this myself, you help me. Study and work for now’. I thought I’d found a brilliant solution. For some time at least I could hold on to him.

Later he came to me himself and said: ‘Mum, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to take action’. I looked sadly at him and remained silent. And what could I say?

Confrontation has increased: the town is full of foreigners from other races with completely different mentalities, with whom we do not want to live. As a result white parents will now go anywhere, even to the outskirts of Moscow, just so to make sure there are only children like theirs in the classroom. Well, this is now happening all over the world. And genetic research has shown that when a person encounters someone of a different race, you see, he expends a huge amount of inner energy in order to suppress his inner opposition to them. Even these gay parades have started here. He also went to them, bashed the queers – well, these people’s mentalities are so alien… He asked: ‘where will be the place for my children?’ And it’s true, it’s already impossible to raise children in purity. 

The government has a system in place to destroy our nation. Some people are imprisoned for drugs, others for drunkenness, others again for screwing around. Some people are stuffed full of money; this younger generation earns a good wage. And only a few remain who can understand what is happening. And how does the government find them? They need to provoke them, for example, to attack foreigners. There were an awful lot of provocateurs in the movement. Parents wrote to Putin saying that their children were being zombified, were being got at through the Internet. If someone is by nature a nationalist, simply loves his motherland, and he sees everything that is going on, then they stir him up.

‘The political system is built like that: they blame lads for not liking non-Russians.’

He understands now that he went against these blacks for nothing, that this process is being controlled by the government and bureaucrats. And what’s the point of fighting these ordinary people? There’s another million on their way here. Confronting them has helped a little bit though. Everything counts.

We held out hope until the very last moment during the court case. We prayed to St. Nicholas in the corridors, because they wouldn’t let us into the courtroom. But Judge Olikhver (chief justice in the case of Vasilii Krivets Natalia Olikhver - editor) is possessed by demons, she felt the spirit. In the recesses she would run out into the corridor and throw us out the door.

Despite the fact that they jail our children, we parents are united and think about what is wrong in our lives, and where the truth lies. The government has done us a favour by introducing us to each other. There are parents who take the side of their children. And there are also parents who refuse to accept their children’s views, who won’t accept the struggle. Some manage to deflect their children. Some don’t manage to.  To begin with I didn’t agree with Vasily, but I could hardly do nothing: freedom must take priority.

I work in the Academy of Sciences, researching a doctorate in history; I write academic articles and teach. Vasily has been good for me, he’s given me a lot. He’s cleverer than me. He digs something up and shares it with me. And I with him.

What would I say to him, if he were to come out now and say that he was going to carry on killing, fighting the system? Well, what can one say to a person whose soul aches for the motherland and who is ready to give up his life for it? A mother can only bless. And know, that she blesses unto death.’

Andrei Appolonov, engineer, father of Victor Appolonov

Victor Appolonov is a 22-year-old member of the National-Socialist Society North (NSO-Sever) and was sentenced to life imprisonment for five murders. On the day the sentence was announced he entered the courtroom shouting ‘Yids, prepare to die!’ and ‘Baburova croaked, and you’ll croak too!’ (for further detail see ‘The case of the thirteen’ in issue no. 29, 25 July).

‘We immediately refused a lawyer, because they are useless. I think that’s it’s useless to go to the Supreme Court too. This is a case that’s been politically ordered, so it’s difficult to contest. The investigator told me himself that he sits there like the Tsarist secret police: whoever needs to be sent down, he sends down.

I’ve worked all my life as an engineer in a factory, politics never interested me and I never subscribed to any party. But now, if you don’t get interested in politics, then sooner or later, politics will take an interest in you. I started to look at what was happening only when they took my son, arrested him. And I understood that power is simply being divided up between the clans on high, and up there our children are expendable material. So there is politics here, which came about because Putin is in office. Because of him, hundreds of lads are sitting in prison. If it were only my son accused of murder or something else. But it’s impacting on so many people! In our group almost everyone is unacquainted; they even lived in different towns – Sergiev Posad, Mytishchi, Novgorod. And who’s guilty here? Did their parents give them knives and say: ‘go out and kill’?

"Let's give Russia back to the Russians" - a troubling 
slogan given the large number of ethinicities and
nationalities that form the Russian state.

The political system is built like that: they blame lads for not liking non-Russians – because of the colour of their skin or the slant of their eyes, and there are articles in the newspapers that Russia’s economy will rot without immigrant labour. So it happens that someone is using their political power in order to bring a cheap labour force over here. It’s profitable for someone. That same Tel’man, who built Cherkizon (a huge market in Moscow - editor), he needed cheap labour. All this is robbing Russia of money.

Basically the territory of Russia is like a welcome mat. A representative of another nationality can get Russian citizenship, but when he goes to Armenia then he’s an Armenian. All these people have their own countries, and Russians don’t. Putin, when he met with the youth after the protest on Manezh Square, said that in the Caucasus – which is a part of the Russian Federation – they have their own traditions, and he doesn’t care who infringes them there. So the former guarantor of the Constitution doesn’t care about someone who is on the territory of the Russian Federation. This is double standards.

We need to resolve the nationality question in Russia; to declare that Russia is a Russian country; to write people’s ethnicity in their passports again. You cannot tell a Tajik or an Uzbek to serve Russia. But a Russian will understand if you tell him he has to serve his country. In our country, Jews are holding top positions, but I would never claim high office in someone else’s country.

‘We need to resolve the nationality question in Russia; to declare that Russia is a Russian country; to write people’s ethnicity in their passports again. You cannot tell a Tajik or an Uzbek to serve Russia.’

Victor’s views weren’t unexpected, but what he was accused of was. He wasn’t a difficult child: he worked as a consultant in a bookshop, was at home in the evenings, was interested in history. He wanted to go to an institute to study history. He wasn’t particularly sociable. He lived a fairly solitary life, read loads of books, that’s why he liked the bookshop too. The following year he was due to be conscripted into the army. I didn’t take any interest in whether or not he wanted to go. Everyone goes usually.

Friends of the family were amazed when they found out about his arrest. They all asked what on earth was going on. He didn’t drink, didn’t smoke. Of course he was withdrawn sometimes, thinking about something or other. Not long before his arrest he mentioned a sports club, but I thought, sport – that’s a good thing.

I don’t know where he got interested in all that, I don’t know whether he came to these opinions himself or not, because at 18 years old – as far as I remember – interests change quickly. He is not an experienced person, naturally, and politicians exploit the young.

I didn’t read the case notes. Could he kill? I wanted to investigate this independently, but the judges and investigators took this mission upon themselves. This didn’t suit me at all. And if only this was an isolated example! But as I attended the court sittings I understood that this is a whole system: one little group passing through after another, you see. And what, am I supposed to say to my own son that he’s guilty, when there’s a whole system?

I honestly didn’t expect a life sentence. I think this is revenge for the fact that he openly says what he thinks. He sat in a pre-trial detention centre for three years, then went to court, and I could see immediately that he’d become more vicious. Moreover he was in a cell with all different ethnicities, people arrested for drugs, robbery, theft. He got some experience there, began to answer back to the judges and prosecutors in court. So because he began to answer them like that, they used their authority and gave him a life sentence.

During a visit I asked him what he did with his time in the cell. He said he played chess. ‘With whom?’ I asked. ‘With an Uzbek’.’

Pavel Golubev, Retired Colonel, father of Sergei Golubev

Sergei Golubev was the youngest convicted murderer in the case of NSO-Sever. He was 16 when he was arrested in 2007. He pleaded guilty to the murder of one person and attempted murder motivated by racial hatred. He was sentenced to ten years in a penal colony.

‘Basically Sergei had nothing to do with this. Well, he went to a demonstration against illegal immigration. And is there anyone who does support breaking the law? On 1 May 2008 he was at that demonstration at VDNKh. ‘Peace, Labour, May! Guest-workers away!’ And after the demonstration participants beat up some Tajik or other – right in front of the local police station. Sergei was also there. He said that he wanted to stop them, that they were starting a fight five metres from the window of the police. He got detained, and they checked whether he belonged to a youth organisation. And in the report they wrote that: ‘he is not a member of a gang, but shares the view that the Russian people and the Russian Orthodox faith must flourish on the territory of the Russian Federation’. And this was recorded as a nationalist viewpoint. No one told President Medvedev it was a nationalist viewpoint when he said the same thing at a meeting of the State Council in February 2011. And Sergei, of course, wasn’t a member of the NSO. He had some knowledge about that organisation, but even I’ve heard of it.

Nationalists at the oppostion protest on Bolotnaya Square on 11 December 2011, which took place one year after the infamous Manezhnaya Square race riots. Maria Pleshkova/Demotix. All rights reserved.

He is a very capable boy generally. He got into an economics grammar school sponsored by the Academy of Finance. But he didn’t have the self-regard to become a top pupil. It is an elite school with elite children, who are driven there by their chauffeurs. Basically they try to force out any children who don’t give the teachers money. He had a high temperature one day, and for some reason the class teacher kept him at school and wouldn’t let him go home. He ran away, jumped over the fence, ran across Prospect Mira in winter with no coat on. Something snapped in him then. He lost interest in school completely. He sat in lessons, looking out of the window, thinking his own thoughts. We took him out of that school after that, and sent him to be examined at the psychiatric hospital. The doctor said to me’ ‘you know, I see so many like him, the most important thing is that he doesn’t get sent to prison before he reaches 18. After that everything will pass, he’ll get distracted by work and love. But many don’t make it that far’.

Sergei rarely went out. He sat at his computer. I used to tell him to go out and have a wander. He would take me to the window and ask if I really wanted him to go out there. ‘Do you see them sitting there, already pouring out drinks on the bench? What’s more, when evening comes, the darkies will bring weed. Do you want me to join them?’ I said that of course I didn’t.

It scared me that he was going off into a virtual world. That’s why I was even glad when he decided to go out to a girl’s birthday celebrations. (On 6 May 2008 at the Butyrka café on Dmitrovsky highway Vasilisa Kovaleva celebrated her 21st with her then-boyfriend Mikhailov, with Appolionov and with Golubev. That same evening the group killed two Uzbeks - editor.) He got to know Kovaleva via the Iyupnternet. He liked older girls. She was a student in the faculty of journalism, and he could talk to her about all sorts of things. I couldn’t have imagined how it would all end. He went out to her birthday.

He was a witness at that murder incident, the one they prosecuted him for. He saw the struggle, the cries. He said that he felt sick. When they hit the woman in the neck and she started bleeding, he didn’t even see what happened to her, he was pulled away. The investigators asked whether he tried to help the victim. No? Well then, that means you’re an accomplice.

Sergei said: ‘as far as I’m concerned, be they blacks, Chinese, Tatars – it makes no difference to me. I respect them all. They’re all human beings’. When he went to prison he was a Christian. He’s now lost his faith. He said that if God existed, He would not have allowed this to happen to him.

‘I used to tell him to go out and have a wander. He would take me to the window and ask if I really wanted him to go out there. ‘Do you see them sitting there, already pouring out drinks on the bench? What’s more, when evening comes, the darkies will bring weed. Do you want me to join them?’

They didn’t let us meet for a year and a half. They tortured him twice. They told him to write what they wanted him to write about the other lads, but he refused. ‘I don’t know them, or what sort of people they are. If you know that they are murderers, then you write that.’ They promised to make life difficult in the cells for him for that. They put some sort of lads in with him. They burnt him with matches, beat him up, his shoulders, stomach, the small of his back were all covered in bruises. I saw all of this at the court hearing about the extension of his arrest. Sergei looked at me from behind the bars and asked’ ‘what should I do? I can’t last much longer’. Do you understand – he looked me in the eye and asked: ‘what should I do? You’re stronger than me, but they string you up by the hands to see how long you last. Should I cut my own throat? Either way, the judge has guaranteed that I won’t get more than ten years. Maybe I should stab one of them at night? Tell me what would be better?’ And he looked me in the eye. I said: ‘better to cut them than yourself’. It ended with him taking a sharpened implement and preparing to drive it into the eye or neck of this lad, who noticed and left. The lawyer and I complained to whoever we could, and they held an investigation in the pre-trial detention centre, and they stopped bothering him.

And after a year his cellmates were ordered to beat him up again so badly that they wouldn’t even let us go to court. I asked him later whether he had managed to get them back a bit, so it didn’t feel quite so bad.

Even the detectives passed on their approval to me. Everyone thought that since he was the youngest, he’d sign everything, but he wouldn’t budge and said that no one would persuade him to. His steadfastness amazed them. ‘What a good lad we have here’. Well, thanks, I thought, I’m glad.

How did he end up there? As the investigators said to me after his first year in pre-trial detention centre: ‘if we’d known from the start what evidence there would be, we wouldn’t even have arrested him. But now, you understand, how can we let him out? He’s underage, and responsibility would have to be taken for this. So, you see, we’ll treat him like the others, and he might get around five years’. And then they explained further that I’d angered them by complaining to the Moscow City Court that they hadn’t allowed us to meet. Why, they asked, did you behave like that? In a fit of anger they included five unnecessary years in the indictment.

Then I gave further evidence in court. I told them about the torture, about the false documents in the criminal case, about how no one had interrogated him for a year. And that made the prosecutor angry with me. But of course I didn’t expect them to give him ten years. I thought that even a military court, a troika, is not allowed to settle personal scores; all the more so that this was based on the admission that they should have basically let him go. I was a professional soldier myself, a colonel. I worked for a long time at a research institute. Of course, when I became Sergei’s legal representative I couldn’t work anywhere.

It has, of course, made him angrier. He’s continually in the punishment block. He says they have sworn an oath. ‘Don’t they know what to do with me? Haven’t they read the case notes?’ After the sentence he said that he would never go and fight for this country, like his grandfather who held a machine gun in his hands and shouted that he was fighting for this motherland. He was patriotic before. ‘If I get a call up for the army I’m not going to evade it. If they send me to Chechnya – I’ll go, I won’t hide behind anyone’s back’. And now he says that it was the Russian Federation that passed this sentence on him. It found me guilty, he says, of being a fascist, a murderer. That makes Russia my stepmother, not my real motherland, and I’m not going to fight for her. ‘Let the prosecutor’s children go and serve her.’ That’s what he says.’

A version of this article was first published in Russian on Kommersant. Vlast’ here


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