On October 17, we reported, via a translation of a quite emotional post on the Live Journal of the Moscow anarchist and journalist Vlad Tupikin, on the brutal murder of a young woman in Irkutsk. It was alleged that the woman, identified as “Olga Rukosyla,” had been kicked to death by skinheads who had identified her as a member of the antifa movement. Vlad’s account was both so chilling and heartfelt that it never occurred to us that the information could be false.
Well, that is apparently what it was: false. What was almost instantly troubling about the story was that, after Vlad’s post, the wild discussion that took place there, and the inevitable repostings of the story, no more details were forthcoming. Since Russia has in the last few years witnessed a series of rather high-profile murders of anti-fascist activists, it was odd that yet another such murder and one that took place in a major Russian city (Irkutsk) would not generate further interest. Soon it became apparent that something was wrong, although when pressed for details by his readers, Vlad merely wrote that the story was being investigated.
Something was wrong, as you will see in the following translation of a long investigative report that was published in late November by the Irkutsk newspaper SM Nomer Odin. It is, however, still troubling that this same newspaper had earlier—in its October 23 issue, hot on the heels of the alleged murder—published a story proving that the victim hadn’t existed; hence, no woman, no crime. But since that was a Siberian newspaper, and the Moscow and Irkutsk antifa and Vlad Tupikin were still trying to figure out what had happened, this news did not make it into the “central” alternative press in the two capitals.
Nevertheless, we are genuinely sorry if our posting of Vlad’s obituary misled any of you. That was not our intention and, knowing Vlad, we are certain that was not his intention, either. He has already apologized in his Live Journal.
But what explains our collective willingness to believe this story? It’s pretty simple: the hundreds upon hundreds of murders and beatings of antifascist activists, migrant workers, members of ethnic minorities, and other activists that have happened in Russia over the past several years. If you don’t believe me, check out the special BASTA! issue of our newspaper. There in the centerfold you will find a map of Saint Petersburg marked with the spots where 132 people had been beaten or killed by fascists between February 2004 and January 2008. Those are the inglorious numbers in just one (albeit very large) Russian city.
And if you think we made that up, you should know that we compiled the map using the reports on the website of the highly respected, not-at-all hysterical SOVA Center, in Moscow. In one of their latest reports (released on December 1) they write that, since the beginning of the year in Russia, no less than 82 people have been killed and no less than 348 people have been injured as the result of neo-Nazi and racist attacks.
It is one thing to read the statistics; it is quite another to have the SOVA Center among one’s “friends” on Live Journal, as we do. If you have friends like them, that means that nearly every day you get to read things like this:
09.12.08 17:11Vicious Assault on Workers from Tajikistan in the Moscow Region
On December 5, 2008, near the village of Zhabkino in the Leninsky District of the Moscow Region, two Nazi-skinheads attacked two workers from Tajikistan.
The 20- and 22-year-old migrants, who were working as loaders at a produce base, were returning from work late evening and were passing through a grove. As soon as they entered the forest, they were fired upon with pneumatic pistols. One of the men, who was wounded in the temple, escaped. He was hospitalized, and in the hospital he told the brother of the second migrant about the incident.
The headless corpse of the second migrant has been found in a gully. The man’s body had six stab wounds in the back. Nothing had been stolen from the dead man.
The wounded migrant has informed [police] that both attackers were Slavic in appearance.
The group Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists (which probably is a mythical organization) has claimed responsibility for the murder.Not too shabby, eh? So forgive us our gullibility. And ask yourself, as you read the article about the Rukosyla hoax, why in the world would someone want to make a story like this up?
SM Nomer Odin November 27, 2008
The story of Olga Rukosyla—the “Irkutsk girl killed by skinheads because of her red shoelaces”—really resembles the blast from a New Year’s firecracker: it made a deafening, impressive explosion, but the echo quickly faded away. Soon, everyone forgot the story, in the main thanks to our newspaper’s investigative report, “Did the Girl Exist?” (SM Nomer Odin 42, October 23, 2008), that proved that the girl simply had not existed. However, our reporters continued to be troubled by one simple question: who had dreamt up Olga Rukosyla and why did they “kill” her? And so we continue our investigation retrospectively, returning back in time to the source of this story.
The Beginning of the Story Is Its End
For everyone, this story began with its ending. Everyone knows the end of the story: on October 16, the pro-antifascist site Indymedia reported that on October 8 in Irkutsk, three skinheads had beaten a girl named Olga Rukosyla to death because she was a member of the antifa movement, which was indicated by her red shoelaces. Over the course of the day, wire agencies, antifa sites, and the blogs of an enormous number of people both in Russia and abroad spread this news. Memorial vigils took place in Moscow and Berlin. After her death, Olga Rukosyla lived a brief but vivid life. Her moment of genuinely international fame lasted almost two weeks.
The first week was filled rage and sorrow. Thousands of people from around the world expressed their condolences to the relatives and friends of the dead girl; they seethed with righteous anger towards neo-Nazis and nationalists of all colors and stripes. Then, in large part thanks to the investigation conducted by our newspaper and our colleague Dmitry Liustritsky from Vostochno-Siberskaya Pravda, the tone of these outpourings abruptly changed. When it transpired that no such girl existed, Russian nationalists did their own peculiar reenactment of George Lucas’s The Empire Strikes Back.
They accused antifa representatives of deliberately lying, of spinning their own movement with the blood of a girl they themselves had invited. They labeled the Moscow antifascists Sasha Maskodagama and Vlad Tupikin, who had first published the information on the web, Rukosyla’s murderers. And then everyone simply forgot the whole thing. No such girl existed—that meant there was nothing to discuss. All that remained of her was a new journalistic term coined by RIA Novosti correspondent Dmitry Sokolov-Mitrich—the Rukosyla Syndrome. This is what they say in situations where a journalist publishes sensational but uncorroborated information that in the end turns out to be false.
But that is the end of the story. To the credit of the Moscow antifascists, they found the courage to admit they had been mistaken. They had been misled by the plausible details of the reports coming in from Irkutsk. And with the help of journalists from our newspaper, they conducted their own honest investigation in order to locate the mysterious people who had been the source of the story—Olga Rukosyla’s “parents.” And her “murderers.”
Rukosyla Breaks Free
What had preceded Olga Rukosyla’s rise to international popularity? How did she appear on the Internet? Having investigated these questions, today we can say with all certainty that the Moscow antifa did not dream up this girl. That is, neither Sasha nor Vlad is Rukosyla’s murderer. This virtual person popped up on the web completely accidentally. In mid-October, Moscow antifa got a message from their Irkutsk colleagues on a closed-access forum.
The message contained all the details that would roam the entire Internet unaltered for the next two weeks. But it didn’t arrive as trustworthy information, but rather was presented as “people are saying, that…” At around 10 p.m. on October 8, 2008, in the Sinyushina Gora district of Irkutsk, three young men dressed like Nazi skinheads approached a girl with red shoelaces. After a brief conversation, during which one of the men grabbed the girl by the jacket, the girl pushed away the man’s arm and said something harsh to him. The men threw the girl to the ground and kicked her for several minutes. Passersby called an ambulance, but she died en route to the hospital.
This information came with the footnote that the girl’s family had asked that the incident not be made public. The suspects—Irkutsk skinheads Boomer and Def—were already in custody, but the girl’s father, a police colonel, had decided to take care of the matter privately. For a whole week, the antifa discussed on their closed forum whether it would be ethical to make the information public in defiance of the wishes of the girl’s parents. Then the question was decided for them: a certain light-minded young woman who was on the forum’s mailing list took the story and posted it on her blog. That was tantamount to writing it on a fence: the information became accessible to anyone wandering the web.
There was no sense in keeping silent, and so that was when Sasha Maskodagama published it on the Russia Indymedia site and Vlad Tupikin wrote his now-infamous post:
“Olya is no longer with us. I first saw this face, these eyes (on this photograph) twenty minutes ago. Since then, I haven’t been able to stop shaking, although I knew beforehand that I would be seeing the image of a dead human being, a girl who was kicked to death by three Irkutsk neo-Nazis. [. . .] Look into Olga’s eyes one more time. These are the eyes of everyone who has perished at the hands of the Nazis, no matter whether those eyes are blue, hazel or black. These are the eyes of each of us. For all of us are threatened while murderers freely roam among us.”
Olga’s brief but fairytale-like afterlife had begun.
Everyone Knows Something, But No One Knows Enough
With Sasha Maskodagama’s help, we located the people in Irkutsk who had sent the story to Moscow. Three members of the Irkutsk antifa movement came to our offices on condition of complete confidentiality. That is how we learned about the previously unknown middle third of this tangled story. Which made us even more confused.
On October 5 and 6, persistent rumors about the girl’s murder started to spread at the same time at two different hang-out spots for the city’s alternative crowd—at the “Jar” (the triangle formed by the eponymous shop, the drama theater, and the House of the Actor) and at the “Lower,” that is, on the Lower Embankment of the Angara River. The only “but” is that originally the information was a bit different. First, there was nothing about said about the murder having to do with antifa/skinhead enmity. On the contrary, it was said that the girl was an emo fan, and that it was drunken yobs who had killed her. Second, a different crime scene was mentioned: the girl had been killed, allegedly, at the Jar.
Third, the girl had, allegedly, been stabbed to death. Even in this source information there is a lot that arouses suspicion. Although literally everyone was spreading these rumors, the details were far and few between and they were all the same. This suggests that the information originated with one person, who passed it on to different people in different places. After all, the Jar is a place that is crawling with people twenty-four hours a day. If even two other people had seen the incident, the accounts would be more varied: two people see different things and see those things differently, adding their own details to the other’s account.
One other tiny fact was even more worrisome. When the Irkutsk antifa began questioning members of various alternative movements at the Jar and the Lower, literally all of them confirmed that they had known the murdered girl and her friends, who literally a minute before had been hysterical with grief somewhere in the vicinity. But when the antifa tried to find out some facts—the concrete circumstances of the incident or the names of eyewitnesses—all the people they questioned quickly broke down. It turned out that they themselves had heard the story from someone else.
After three days of intense investigation, the only concrete fact that Irkutsk antifa managed to find out was the identity of the murdered girl’s mysterious boyfriend. One of them got his cell phone number from acquaintances. It is here, in the story’s first third, that everything becomes a total tangle.
Viktor aka Denver and a Young Lady Named Ksiusha: Olga Rukosyla’s “Parents”?
We agreed to meet at the entrance of the Angara Hotel on the afternoon of October 11. The young man who showed up introduced himself as Viktor aka Denver and behaved in a way that was quite unexpected for the boyfriend of a murdered girl. He immediately showed me the ID of a member of the Irkutsk Anti-Organized Crime Squad, explaining that he was the police detective in charge of investigating the murder of Olga Rukosyla. (This was first time I had heard her last name.)
This information so shocked your correspondent that he immediately called the prosecutor’s office. Vladimir Salovarov, senior assistant to the head of the investigations branch of the Investigative Committee, couldn’t conceal his irritation:
“We’re accused of concealing the fact of a murder. You cannot conceal a murder! We did an internal investigation during the course of investigating this “murder,” and even it proved conclusively that there was no murder! And it is of no account here that the murder was motivated, allegedly, by ethnic hatred and the conflicts between the skinheads and the antifa. After all, when Ilya Borodaenko was murdered in the eco-camp near Angarsk we didn’t conceal the fact that it was this type of conflict!”
As Salovarov explained to me, the Anti-Organized Crime Unit had been disbanded. In the Interior Ministry’s system, it had split into two branches—one for witness protection, the other for combating extremism. Should I mention that the police had no record of Viktor Denver and that they had not opened a criminal investigation into the murder because there was no evidence of a crime having been committed?
It was Viktor Denver who had informed the Irkutsk antifa that Olga Rukosyla had been murdered by three skinheads; that two of the suspects, Def and Boomer, had already been arrested; and that the murder happened because of red shoelaces—that is, because the girl was a member of the antifa movement. It is unbelievable that Viktor had the nerve to convince the Irkutsk antifa that she was one of their crowd. It is odd that they themselves didn’t know anything about this. Next, Denver behaved in an altogether paradoxical way. He strongly advised the Irkutsk antifa not to interfere in the investigation of the case because the girl’s father was a policeman and wanted to take care of everything himself. (How is that? With a criminal investigation already underway?)
It was right after this that Viktor gave them the cellphone number of a girlfriend of the murdered Rukosyla. The friend had apparently witnessed the murder. They called her the same day, at eight in the evening. Viktor Denver proved to be a man of many talents. He is only twenty years old and a graduate of the Russian Federation Prosecutor General’s Office Irkutsk Law School. At the same time, he is young and stupid enough that he is also an active member of the same alternative scene that, in an unexplained coincidence, also gave birth to the trustworthy rumor of Olga Rukosyla’s murder.
The other real human being who took part in this story was a young lady by the name of Ksiusha, a resident of one of the nine-storey buildings on Sinyushina Gora. It was she who confirmed that she was a close friend of Olga Rukosyla. She informed the antifa of some shocking details: the murder had taken place on Sinyushina Gora (this was the first mention of the scene of the crime), at the Ruchei transport stop. Or rather, somewhere in the courtyards near the stop.
“It was this that convinced us the story was true,” the Irkutsk antifa confessed to me during our conversation. “According to our information, three neo-Nazis really are renting a flat on Sinyushina Gora. On the other hand, a year ago this Buryat guy joined our group. He had been beaten up by three skinheads at that same stop—because of his ethnicity.”
Ksiusha had told them that three guys dressed in heavy boots, blue jeans, bomber jackets, and suspenders had approached Olga. They asked her a question—probably, why she had red shoelaces. Olga confirmed to them that she was a member of the antifa. They grabbed her by the jacket, by her shoulder. She pushed them away and said something harsh to them. They threw her to the ground and began kicking her. When they ran away, Olga was still alive. Witnesses called the ambulance only ten minutes later, but Olga died on the way to the hospital. Ksiusha had not seen this herself, but she had spoken to the witnesses.
That is when something altogether strange happened. Ksiusha informed them that she had the phone numbers of several witnesses of the crime, the people who had also called the ambulance, and that she was prepared to give the antifa the numbers. But then the line went dead. When the antifa called her back a few minutes later, Ksiusha told them in a very frightened voice that the brother of the dead girl had called her and categorically forbidden her to give out any information. This is why the information was designated for internal use in Russian antifa circles. It ended up on the Internet against their will.
We owe the photographs of Olga Rukosyla to this very same Ksiusha. Despite the categorical ban imposed by the “relatives” against giving out contact information for the witnesses of the murder, Ksiusha nevertheless considered it permissible to send the Irkutsk antifa two photographs of the murdered Olga Rukosyla through her page on the V Kontakte website [the Russian equivalent of Facebook]. Thus the now world-famous photos of the murdered girl—“red shoelaces”—appeared. After this, the antifa lost all contact with Ksiusha.
Today, the telephones of the only people who, allegedly, really knew the murdered girl and were even conducting a criminal investigation of the murder, are not being answered. When you call one phone, you get a message that you’ve dialed a wrong number. When you dial the second number, you are told that the number isn’t registered at all. The “parents,” Ksiusha and Denver, prefer to maintain their silence as to why they gave birth to Olga Rukosyla and murdered her.
—Bert Kork, SM Nomer Odin