25 years of abuse Teachers of a school for gifted children molested their female students for years on end. An investigation by Daniil Turovsky
In a small Moscow school for gifted children called "League of Schools," headmaster Sergei Bebchuk and his deputy Nikolai Izyumov molested female students for two decades, according to the testimony of multiple school graduates and former members of the staff. Several incidents of sexual intercourse have been reported; other forms of abuse included sharing sleeping bags with girls, touching, kissing and undressing them and taking a sauna together. In 2015, a few graduates and teachers of League of Schools learned about the systematic abuse and forced the administration to resign; the school was reorganized. However, both Bebchuk and Izyumov continued working with children. Daniil Turovsky, Meduza's special correspondent, carried out an investigation of how the system of sexual abuse worked and what is happening to the molesters now.
In spring 2014, during May public holidays, teacher Sergei Bebchuk offered ninth-grader Tatiana Karsten and her friend to study some maths in a sauna.
As Karsten recalls, the girls were taken aback, but Bebchuk explained himself: "The high temperature of the sauna thins blood and thus enhances blood circulation in your brain – which makes problem-solving easier."
It was Karsten's third year in a Moscow establishment called "League of Schools" (which covered grade 7 through 11 of secondary school), where Bebchuk was the headmaster. The school administration often sent students who had fallen behind to Bebchuk's country house in the village of Bobrovo, six hours away from the city. The trip included a train ride to Tver and a bus ride to Rameshki, where Bebchuk came to fetch his students in his own car. The village next to Bobrovo was called Mogilki.
Network coverage in Bobrovo was poor, and the only inhabited house in the vicinity of Bebchuk's cottage was occupied by "a family of drunkards." It was next to impossible to leave the village without the host's assistance.
Karsten came to Bobrovo after failing her maths mock exam; in a month's time, she was to take the State Final Examination, mandatory for all ninth-graders.
Together with her friend, they went to the sauna, took off their clothes and wrapped themselves in towels. Bebchuk, a bearded man with unkempt hair, slightly resembling the celebrated traveler Fyodor Konyukhov, followed the girls and did the same; they got down to solving math problems. To the utmost surprise of the schoolgirls, studying seemed indeed easier.
On the following day, Karsten went to the sauna to solve some problems on her own: her classmate had left, and her only company in Bobrovo was the headmaster, his wife Anastasia, who taught history of arts at League of Schools, and their children. Bebchuk sometimes dropped by to check on his student. When he learned that she was not as efficient as the day before, he suggested that the girl take a break and steam out a little.
The teacher asked Karsten to take off her towel and lie down on her front. After whisking her with a birch bundle a few times, he sat down on the bench by her side and put his arm around her. "You're a very smart and pretty girl. Everything will be fine. We'll be fine," said Bebchuk and kissed the 15-year-old girl on the lips. Then he hugged her tighter and started kissing her forehead, her cheeks and hair, saying he loved her and "everything is going to be fine."
Karsten recalls feeling petrified at that instant. "I don't remember feeling more scared in my entire life. I felt like a lizard which had been caught and could do nothing to free itself," says she. Suddenly Bebchuk stopped and went out.
At first, Karsten wanted to run away or tell the headmaster's wife about the incident, but then she gave up the ideas. The girl recalled that the Bebchuks had had their second child recently and thought that if she spoke up, the school could be shut down and Bebchuk could be sent to jail. "I doubt he had done anything truly horrible," mused she. "He was simply trying to help me with my exams." Besides, another schoolgirl arrived to Bobrovo on the following say, and Karsten felt safer.
In the new academic year, she only endured two months at League of Schools, after which she decided to get transferred to avoid seeing Bebchuk on a daily basis.
Karsten is convinced that the assault has had a tangible impact on her personality. "I have felt an utter lack of self-conscience ever since," shares the girl. "The year after the incident, I had multiple fits of hysterics. I felt repulsion to myself and to him. It's hard for me to interact with older men. I sometimes feel intimidated without any reason."
"When I found out I wasn't the only victim, I also felt betrayed," says Karsten. "Because everyone believed them."
According to League of School graduates and former members of the staff, similar stories took place for 21 years – the entire school history; prior to it, such incidents had happened at a school called "Iks," Bebchuk's previous place of employment. Meduza has information about more than two dozen people who claim to have been sexually assaulted or harassed by Bebchuk and his deputy Nikolai Izyumov. In the opinion of Ivan Lebedev, former League of Schools psychologist, the incidents were a lot more numerous, but many victims have refrained from sharing their experience.
A school for 'unique' children
League of Schools (secondary general school # 1199) welcomed its first students in 1994 in a compact two-story yellow building, which had previously been a kindergarten, in the district of Yasenevo in the south of Moscow. From the very beginning, the school promoted its unique approach to education: most online sources referred to League of Schools as an establishment for gifted children. Graduate Kristina (Editor's note: the name has been changed at her request), who studied at the school from 2007 to 2010, recalls that students were frequently told they were to become "Russia's new elite" in the future. "We went to school with a feeling that we are unique, [so] we put a lot of effort into our studies. The teachers emphasized the idea that we are exclusive, and if we wanted to gain knowledge which is even more exclusive, we had to get closer to [its] source, that is, to [our teachers]," she says.
The school accepted students of the seventh grade and above; every year it had around 60 students in total, which is one tenth as many as an average secondary school in Moscow has. Getting enrolled was not easy. Apart from the interview, during which applicants were questioned about their life, friendships and favorite books, prospective students had to pass a written test with tasks on logic, literature and art, as well as play a round of charades with high school students "to show their personality." "As a result, the school was full of teenagers who were not the kindest, and each of us thought he or she was special. And you couldn't help but want to be the best," says one of the graduates.
Classes at League of Schools differed significantly from a standard school curriculum: thus, children studied Latin, and botanics classes were only held in September and in May, when plants are in blossom. History, literature and the history of arts were synchronized with one another: first, they focused on Antiquity, then moved on to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and so on. Twice a year, schoolchildren were encouraged to participate in school conferences, where they presented profound academic projects. Each of the graduates interviewed by Meduza has confirmed that studying at League of Schools was very interesting.
The League of Schools curriculum (available at the Department for Education website) pointed out that "informal, personal relationships at the school are highly beneficial for the academic process." "The school has only one dogma, which is a paradox in itself: 'No dogmas allowed,'" claimed the announcement.
The League of Schools code of conduct was captioned as a "constitution". The section with "fundamental concepts" proclaimed that freedom is "an absence of restrictions or limitations on any non-violent activity; in other words, you are allowed to do whatever you want as long as you do not harm others." Another passage read that "actions which may trigger violence in response shall be announced in advance, and the procedures of violence shall remain unchanged if possible." "The teachers may have their favorites," informed the constitution. "But unlike other schools, in ours, favorites are also ones who have to work the most and the hardest."
Most students wanted to become "favorites" of Sergei Bebchuk or Nikolai Izyumov, the two leaders of the school.
Bebchuk is a professional programmer who graduated from the Faculty of Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics of Moscow State University and started his teaching career in 1988. Among other places, he taught informatics at "School Number Two," a lyceum with an enhanced curriculum in physics and maths. Over 20 years of teaching experience earned Bebchuk a considerable weight and his name has been mentioned in the media more than once. Vechernyaya Moskva called him "a pioneer who is up to any challenge." Russian Reporter magazine announced: "Sergei Bebchuk is an unconventional headmaster; least of all, he resembles a monarch, and calling League of Schools students and teachers his subjects is downright insulting; if we were to find a term for them, they could be citizens of a free republic." In his turn, Sergei Bebchuk declared: "Our graduates will never become victims because we develop strong personalities in our students." He also boasted of not having a separate office and sharing one with his deputy, Izyumov. According to Nina, (the name has been changed at her request), it was in their office that Izyumov sexually harassed her repeatedly.
Izyumov, nicknamed Mikhalych, after his patronymic and because of his hob-a-nob relationships with his students, moved to Moscow from St Petersburg in the early 1990s. He had graduated from the Department of Scientific Communism at the Faculty of Philosophy of Leningrad State University. According to several Meduza's sources, before moving to Moscow, Izyumov had worked in a St Petersburg residential care facility for orphans, and in Moscow, he started with teaching at an orphanage in Lobnya. "I baulk at the idea of what he could have been doing there," said a League of Schools graduate.
At League of Schools, Izyumov taught economics, physical education and extracurricular classes, also delivering motivational speeches before breakfast. He often photographed his female students. "After the prom I asked him to send me all the photographs I was in," recalls a graduate. "By chance, he included a photograph of a girl from my class, shot from an angle which emphasized her breasts." Izyumov is married; he has a son.
According to a few League ex-students, the entire system of education at the school was conceived with the purpose of finding future abuse victims and molesting them without a risk of punishment.
At the end of August, before the academic year started, all newcomers to League of Schools would go on a three-week hike in Crimea with their teachers. "It was where everything started," recalls a graduate. "I remember Bebchuk applying sun cream on me, when I was naked. Furthermore, it was a test for newcomers. The teachers looked for loners and studied their weaknesses, their family issues, to be able to use them when necessary."
"Bebchuk took the hike very seriously," recalls graduate Svetlana Bozrova. "He would kick anyone who dragged behind. He would often get handsy in general. Once, he heard a group of boys use swear words during a school break. He hit one of them on the head so hard that the boy's eardrum ruptured.
The hike was not the only ritual of initiation for seventh-graders. During the first six months at the school, all newcomers washed floors on a daily basis: the headmaster said the exercise would do them good.
Izyumov would meet students at the doors of the school almost every day. He kissed every girl on the cheek; sometimes he missed and landed his kiss on the lips instead. He often hugged them, touching the back and the buttocks. A League of Schools graduate mentioned to Meduza that she was afraid to go to school, knowing that she was in "for a wet kiss." According to Svetlana Bozrova, most students did not view this ritual as outrageous.
Tatiana Karsten mentioned Izyumov's kisses to her parents. They were mildly surprised, and her father would mock her: "What does a pedophile have in common with a teacher? Both like children."
Former teacher of the League drama group, Irina Dmitrieva, has told that Izyumov was "jokingly called a pedophile." At the same time, according to her testimony, no one suspected that his kisses were a part of systematic sexual abuse. Kissing his students, he "looked like a father meeting his children," adds school psychologist Lebedev. "Izyumov wasn't trying to conceal it; it was no secret. He once said at a performance: 'Girls, you are so beautiful, I love you so much,'" recalls Lebedev. "It seemed ordinary."
It also seemed ordinary, recalls Dmitrieva, that Bebchuk sometimes seated schoolgirls on his lap during drama group rehearsals. He said it was a way of teaching girls how to behave around boys. "Bebchuk believed it was impossible to convey ideas and views without close interaction," adds one of the graduates. "Everything developed too fast – and the relationships became too intimate."
Bozrova recalls Izyumov warning newcomers that he had "a close contact" with some of his students at a beginning-of-the-year meeting, but she never suspected him of sexual abuse either. When Bozrova was in the 10th grade, she heard rumors of Bebchuk molesting a schoolgirl, but back then, everyone at the school was certain that the rumor had been spread by Moscow's Department for Education: the headmaster would often tell the students that the officials wanted to shut down the unconventional school.
Every New Year, League of Schools students were taken to Porechye children's camp in the vicinity of Zvenigorod, Moscow Oblast. At the camp, schoolchildren staged performances and went for walks in the forest. They lived in rooms which accommodated three or four people each. Every morning, Izyumov would peep into the girls' dormitories. "Morning, little birds," he would say entering a room. He would sit down on beds and give each girl a kiss.
According to former students, another place where abusers harassed their victims was the village of Bobrovo. "Bebchuk is an extremely charismatic and very clever man," explains Bozrova. "Unlike Izyumov, he kept up appearances at the school, so his students welcomed an opportunity of not-so-formal communication at his country house."
In January 2017, Meduza correspondent paid a visit to Bobrovo. The Bebchuks' house was empty, and their neighbor Valery (the only villager to stay there through the winter) testified that the former League of Schools headmaster spent all winter holidays in Bobrovo. On New Year's eve, they played hockey with a ball and lit fireworks. Valery characterized Bebchuk as a "nice, although sly man." "He brings me food, and I shovel snow for him in return," explained he. "He has always had a lot of schoolgirls visiting. He is always very strict with them and with his wife: everything has to be his way. He'd put up a fight if someone misplaced his things."
The sauna, where Bebchuk allegedly kissed Karsten, is located between a river and a coniferous forest. It is separated from the road and the rest of the village by two houses and a row of trees: thus, there is no way of seeing what is happening in the sauna. The sauna door is propped with a stick. Decorated with blue garlands, a snowman which was made by the Bebchuks during winter holidays is still standing near the hut.
Apart from it, the estate of the ex-headmaster features three big cottages, built with the assistance of schoolchildren, and three more saunas. In the yard, there is a well with a wooden windlass, and a toilet with a plate "Wedding Boutique." According to one of the abuse victims, Bobrovo gave her a feeling of isolation and inability to escape (the village is truly remote, accessible only through a dirt track in a forest).
League of School students and teachers often came to Bobrovo in large crowds of 15 to 20 people, having fun, steaming out in a sauna or going on walks. Dmitrieva has been there as well; it was in 2005. She saw that schoolchildren were preoccupied with their studies from early morning till evening. They went to the sauna every day; the boys washed separately, and Bebchuk joined the girls. Dmitrieva did not feel like anything was going wrong back then. "He went there with his wife," she recalls. "In the system of coordinates which had been created at League, it did not attract any attention. The system appeared to be impeccable."
"Such intimacy with teachers was appealing, as well as an atmosphere of exclusivity," confirms Ivan Lebedev, League psychologist. "It is a story of incest and unlimited authority."
"What difference does it make if we are in love?"
According to Bebchuk's and Izyumov's former students, the first instances of sexual abuse on the part of the teachers date back to the early 1990s, when both of them worked at a small school called "Iks" (School # 1561; "Iks" is an abbreviation of Russian words for "intellect," "beauty" and "conscience"), in the district of Yasenevo as well.
Lera (the name has been changed at her request) studied at that school starting from 1991. Bebchuk had a major influence on her; she enjoyed his eloquent and inspiring talks about the role of intellect in a person's life, and he often invited her to watch films at his place. (Lera accepted the invitation a few times, after which her parents asked her not to go there anymore.)
At the end of her eighth grade, before a school hike, which was a frequent activity at Iks as well, Lera and other students sewed sleeping bags in the school: each sleeping bag had to be big enough for three people. On the very first night of the hike, Bebchuk told her to come sleep in his sleeping bag. "We need to cuddle up; it feels nice," explained the teacher. Lera found the idea strange, but thought: "He's in charge. I must listen to him." All night long, she was too afraid to shake his arm off her. "It was awkward and frightening; I felt powerless," recalls Lera. "I remember my stupor and helplessness. I never fell asleep that night. All I could do was wait."
In the morning she asked two of her classmates to let her inside their tent. When she told them about what had happened, they were not surprised and replied they had heard about similar incidents before. Later, Lera heard of another classmate who had been abused by Bebchuk during another hike.
Next year, Bebchuk did not pay her any attention. He started dating her friend Marina (the name has been changed). According to Lera, Marina told her classmates that she was in love with a teacher and went to see him in his apartment in Butovo after classes. They never demonstrated their relationship at the school. Marina told Lera that until she was 16, they only petted each other. When she turned 16, she got pregnant. After she had an abortion, their relationship continued for another few months. (Marina story is known through Lera's testimony; according to the latter, Marina has warranted her to share her story with the press. Marina has refused to speak to Meduza's correspondent in person. The fact of abortion made by one of Bebchuk's students was also mentioned by a few graduates of schools where he worked.)
In 1993, when Bebchuk resigned and set up League of Schools, the Iks school hired Anastasia Loseva, Bebchuk's future wife, as a history teacher, while Nikolai Izyumov started teaching economics there and took charge of extracurricular activities. Thus, during winter holidays he organized trips to the same suburban camp Porechye, where he would later take his League of Schools students. At the age of 15, Lera went there for the first time. When she happened to be alone with Izyumov, he hugged her and started touching. The girl ran away.
A few weeks later, a disco party was held at the Iks school. Izyumov invited Lera for a dance. He pressed himself against her and then suggested that they have a word in private. They went out to the hall. Izyumov told her he liked her. "But you're a teacher, aren't you?" asked she. "What difference does it make if we are in love?" Izyumov referred to Bebchuk's relationship with Marina. "We can be like them," he said. Lera broke off the conversation and left. Izyumov never approached her again; soon after, he left Iks and started working at League of Schools.
* * *
Vera Volyak went to the Iks school at first (from 1991 to 1994) and then to League of Schools (in 1995 and 1996). In her video message (submitted to Meduza), she gave an account of her lengthy sexual relationship with Bebchuk. "It happened for the first time when we went to his apartment to record music for the disco; I was 14 at the time," says Volyak in the message. "The relationship went on for a long while." According to her, she had sex with the teacher after classes, at his country house or in his car. On the day before his wedding with history-of-arts teacher Anastasia Loseva, Bebchuk told her: "I am getting married, but it's all right, I will ask her to make allowance for us. And when you get married, ask your husband to make allowance for us too. We will be together for the rest of our lives."
When Vera turned 15, she participated in a threesome with Bebchuk and Loseva. "In spite of a repeated sexual act, during which, according to Bebchuk, his condom got torn more than once, I did not get pregnant," says she.
When Volyak was in the 10th grade, Izyumov started harassing her as well. Skipping classes, she once ended up at his place. There, he undressed her and took off his clothes too. "I was lying on his bed," recalls Volyak. "He started it, but never finished."
Volyak has expressed her consent to speak to Meduza's correspondent, but the interview has not taken place. Volyak's video message was submitted at her consent by the graduates who carried out their own investigation of Bebchuk's and Izyumov's activities.
* * *
13-year-old Nina had a complicated relationship with her parents. She felt lonely, and when she entered League of Schools in 1994, she took a liking to it at once. The school featured a "familial atmosphere," and the girl was not surprised at Izyumov's tradition of morning kisses.
At that time, Izyumov acted as the League psychologist, among his other duties. He asked schoolgirls to drop by for a word whenever they felt like it. Sessions were held in a small room with a lock.
Nina attended them throughout her seventh-grade year. Izyumov seated her on his lap; they discussed her studies and difficulties she had with her classmates. The teacher was one of the few people with whom she could be completely honest. During their conversations he kept kissing her, putting his tongue in her mouth, stroked her body and put his hand underneath her top. He sometimes said: "You're such a good girl; I like you so much." "I was thirteen – not an age for critical thinking," says Nina. Some of her female classmates also attended those "sessions."
Closer to the end of the year, the deputy headmaster suggested that Nina come to his place to fetch a Nietzsche book she had failed to find at the school library. Izyumov lived in a house in Litovsky Boulevard in ten minutes' walk from the school; they walked together. In the apartment, he asked Nina to take off her top and lie down on the bed. The girl obeyed, but she got scared and started trembling. Izyumov let her go. The incident occurred shortly before the summer vacation and she did not meet Izyumov until October.
When they met at the school, Izyumov handed her a letter he had scribbled on a copybook page (Nina showed it to Meduza's correspondent): "Actually, we haven't seen each other in ages. However, judging by your reaction, you don't really care. You prefer to ignore me. I'm very sad about it, as I've missed you dearly. I'm afraid we have become so distant that there is no point for me to hope for the kind relationship we used to have. I must have spent too much time longing for you."
"He is a psychological abuser; he chose weak girls with family issues and told them approximately the same: 'I'm your only true friend,'" says Irina Dmitrieva.
In 2016, Izyumov moved to the same apartment block in Yasenevo where Nina lives. They have stumbled across each other, but never said hello.
* * *
In 2006, 14-year-old Lida (the name has been changed at her request) went to spend winter holidays at Porechye camp. One night, after bedtime, Izyumov entered her room. He lay down on her bed, hugged the girl and had an erection. Lida froze, with the only hope that nothing else would happen. Izyumov left the room.
In the summer of 2007, she was sent to the village of Bobrovo to catch up on her maths. By that time, Bebchuk had become Lida's "close friend and mentor who helped her and heard her out;" they had heart-to-heart conversations. During the first days, he washed her in the sauna, naked.
Instead of beds, Bebchuk's house had bunks: a two-tiered wooden construction which could accommodate up to 15 people. Lida slept on the upper tier and Bebchuk was down below. On one of the nights, she could not sleep and kept tossing and turning. Bebchuk heard her. "You can't sleep? Come here, I'll help you." Lida climbed down. "Get underneath the blanket," the teacher told her.
Still not being able to sleep, Lida left the house and went for a stroll around the village. Around six in the morning, she saw Bebchuk on the porch. He looked worried and suggested that they go to the sauna. "To do what?" asked Lida. "We need to wash ourselves," replied Bebchuk. When they went inside, the teacher told her to get undressed. Lida refused. "How are you going to wash your hair?" asked Bebchuk, but the schoolgirl left the sauna.
Over the following few days, she often had one-to-one maths lessons with the headmaster. Sometimes, while explaining equations to her, Bebchuk hugged her and switched the topic to their relationship. "We must be friends," said he.
When another girl from League arrived to Bobrovo, Lida told her that Bebchuk had sexually harassed her. A minute later it turned out that the teacher had overheard the conversation, sitting outside the house under an open window. He never commented on what he had heard. At the beginning of the following year, Lida switched to homeschooling.
"They sustained the illusion of exclusivity at the school," says Lida. "It seemed that the closer you were to the administration, the more knowledge you would acquire."
"I kept trying to win Bebchuk's attention during my years at the school," recalls Svetlana Bozrova, who was never assaulted by Bebchuk. "And when I found out about the abuse, I had a quick thought: 'How did I escape his attention?'"
Apart from the incidents mentioned above, former League of Schools students and employees told Meduza about sexual abuse on the part of Bebchuk and Izyumov in 1994 (kissed the girl's knees, hugged and offered his "love;" pressed himself against the victim in a tent during a hike, asked for a permission to kiss her), 2004 (a suggestion to have sex in the forest near Bobrovo), 2005 (undressing in the sauna, kisses, abuse in the car, a suggestion to undress and drive to the forest together), 2006 (kisses, a demand to undress), 2007 (kisses in the school), 2009 (a love confession, kisses), 2010 (kisses, pressing against the victim, erection), 2013 and 2014 (a demand to undress, kisses, a love confession). The victims are not ready to share their experience in public. Many of Meduza's interviewees say they have been discussing the sexual abuse they suffered at League of Schools with psychotherapists for years.
"A fascinating fictitious story"
For a few years, League of Schools featured a drama group headed by Irina Dmitrieva. In the fall of 2014, she and her students staged Ibsen's Peer Gynt. After a rehearsal, she was walking to the subway with Tatiana Karsten – who had left the school shortly before (a rare occurrence at League), but continued attending rehearsals – and the girl told Irina about Bebchuk's assault in Bobrovo. A few weeks later, Dmitrieva learned from her acquaintances that Bebechuk had had a sexual relationship with his student Vera Volyak for years.
Dmitrieva decided to find out whether the abuse was systematic. She started looking for his possible victims among good-looking graduates, making phone calls and inviting girls for a chat; she also spoke to other teachers. One of the graduates burst into tears during the conversation with Dmitrieva; she recalled Bebchuk seating her on his lap, defending her at the meeting when she risked being expelled, and then telling her: "You owe me now."
At the end of 2014, Volyak, one of the first students to graduate from League of Schools, recorded her video message at the request of the activists. "I have been tormented by this story for many years," shared Volyak. "Why have I decided to disclose it 20 years later? I'm 35 now; I was 14 then. Now I'm as old as [Bebchuk and Izyumov] were when [they] did it to me. And it is completely unacceptable for me to do anything of the sort to a child... I moved to England and have worked as a teacher for six years. And I fully realize now that a teacher, being an authoritative figure, must not engage in a sexual relationship [with his or her students]. I've had a daughter. If I found out that a guy I was supposed to trust pawed and banged my 14-year-old daughter, I would not have doubts as to what punishment he deserved. I don't want them to ruin anyone else's life."
After a while, the group of activists was joined by more League of Schools graduates, including victims of sexual abuse on the part of the teachers. It took them two months to compile a table which covered dozens of incidents reported by the respondents of their questionnaire. (The table is at Meduza's disposal.) The activists devised an ultimatum to Bebchuk and Izyumov and went to see the League of Schools administration on January 22, 2015.
At the school entrance, they met Nikolai Izyumov and Anastasia Loseva, Bebchuk's wife. It appeared to Dmitrieva that they had guessed what the visit was about. Izyumov showed them to his office and went out to get Bebchuk. He tried to escape from the school building, but one of the grown-up graduates grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and pulled him back to the office.
Izyumov was explained that they had come to discuss sexual abuse which had involved "a horrendous number of people." The graduates delivered him an ultimatum with a demand to resign from the school and never seek employment in education again. Izyumov quickly consented to sign the demands, claiming that "he is tired of all this."
Bebchuk was not in the school. When the graduates drove up to his house, he made a call and said he was in the school. The headmaster greeted them with a smile and said he was happy to see everyone.
He escorted them to the office where Izyumov had molested schoolgirls during "therapeutic sessions." The graduates recorded their conversation with the headmaster (a copy of the recording is at Meduza's disposal).
"Abuse, rape and the breaking of lives must be put to an end. These are not formal crimes. They are inhumane. We have demands," declared a female graduate.
She cited the list of demands to Bebchuk: to file his resignation from the post of headmaster, to ensure the dismissal of Izyumov and Loseva, "to announce his resignation from school for reasons unrelated to the acquired information," "to keep away from the school with the exception of instances when his presence is required for the formal procedure of resignation," "to discontinue working as a teacher," "not to invite or bring minors to his country house in Bobrovo (or any other houses or apartments)." Bebchuk was to resign on June 15, at the end of the academic year.
On hearing the demands, Bebchuk seemed unperturbed.
"What I have to say is that starting from Vera [Volyak], nine out of ten cases are all lies, nine out of ten are lies," emphasized he. "It's a fascinating fictitious story. I don't see my fault behind any of them. I fail to understand what broken lives you are speaking about. As for the closure of the school, I'm all for it."
"Do you deny the allegations? Are you saying there was no one except Vera? Nothing happened in Bobrovo? In the car? In the sauna?"
"What do you mean by 'happened'?"
"Such a multitude of reports cannot be all lies. Without a previous concert, without knowing each other, people share identical stories.
"Let us agree on what we mean by 'happened.'"
"Are you saying it is acceptable to take a schoolgirl to a sauna, to undress and kiss her? From the legal perspective, it is classified as sexual abuse (Editor's note: the speaker is referring to Tatiana Karsten's case)."
"No, I admit it is wrong," said Bebchuk.
"We have a list of seven people ready to testify. Four of them are still minors."
Bebchuk remained silent for a long while.
"I assume that the person who left the school because of poor academic results has decided to offer an alternative version of what happened," said Bebchuk. "In fact, the girl started crying at some point because she couldn't solve [a few problems]. She was hugged, stroked and told not to cry. In Bobrovo, children studied for hours on end. This girl was studying in the sauna. I sometimes went there to check on her."
"Are you out of your f***ing mind to study in a sauna?" a female graduate cried out.
"She was sitting there doing her algebra!" retorted Bebchuk.
The graduates demanded that the headmaster sign the ultimatum. "I consent," he wrote on the paper with demands.
One of Izyumov's victims explained to Meduza that the graduates did not want "to make a scandal or ruin good memories of the school."
Late in January, Tatiana Karsten's father came to one of the parent-teacher meetings. When he told other parents that Bebchuk had abused his daughter, almost no one believed him and he was asked to leave the room.
Around the same time, the investigation team sent a letter to League of School graduates. It was a questionnaire:
"What did they do?
They sexually abused female students and seduced them. The character of their actions was varied: from psychological pressure to petting and sexual intercourse.
Is the testimony about sexual abuse credible?
We have been personally acquainted with these people for a long time and believe their words to be credible without a doubt. It cannon be a coordinated effort on the part of the victims, many of whom do not know one another.
Why haven't you filed a statement to the public prosecutor's office or other relevant authority?
The limitation period for many cases had already expired by the moment of disclosure. The family of the student who was abused in 2014 consulted a lawyer about the incident and approached a local deputy, but decided to put a halt to the proceedings due to their departure from the country."
In mid-February 2015, the school website announced its imminent closure. In accordance with the graduates' demands, it did not say a word about the real reasons behind the decision; the announcement declared that "the school's existence is not possible due to recent restrictions imposed by the legislative environment." First and foremost, it implied per capita funding which meant that a school's budget depended on the number of students: the more schoolchildren, the more money (this approach was not beneficial for the all too small League of Schools).
After meeting the activists, Izyumov stopped coming to the school. Bebchuk worked there up to June 15.
"You can write anything on social media"
In the fall of 2015, the League of Schools graduates who were investigating the case found out that former school administrators continued working with children.
Sergei Bebchuk had been employed by Intellectual, a school for gifted children, as deputy headmaster. Ivan Lebedev, former League psychologist, had also sought employment there, although unsuccessfully; according to him, the administration of Intellectual disclosed that Bebchuk had been transferred to his new post at the direction of Moscow's Department for Education.
Meduza has failed to confirm or disprove this information. Isaak Kalina, head of the department, did not answer the phone. The spokesperson of the authority said: "[League of Schools] was closed in 2015, wasn't it? But it's 2017 now!" The official letter of inquiry to the Department for Education has not been answered at the moment of publication.
At that time, the position of headmaster at Intellectual was occupied by Yuri Tikhorsky. He announced to Meduza that the city administration had nothing to do with Bebchuk's appointment. "The decision was made by the governing boards of the schools [Intellectual and League of Schools] in the process of their merger. Starting from that moment, Bebchuk has been my deputy," explained Tikhorsky. According to him, it was the first time when two schools from different administrative districts were merged (the recent reform of education in Moscow includes merging and expanding schools); moreover, the schools were combined "on the grounds of ideological unity rather than geographical location." The ex-headmaster of Intellectual is convinced that the only reason behind the closure of League of Schools was financial and economic changes in the education system which had put the school "on the brink of extinction."
However, Tikhorsky confirmed to Meduza that he had been aware of sexual abuse allegations against Bebchuk prior to his employment at Intellectual. "In my understanding, they have nothing to do with the reorganization. Allegations are one thing. But a ruling of the court is entirely different. You can write anything on social media. It did not occur to me that [sexual abuse allegations] could be an impediment to his employment," said Tikhorsky.
Yuri Tikhorsky, former headmaster of Intellectual, in 2012
Photo: Ivan Prokhorov / Komsomolskaya Pravda / PhotoXPress
Tikhorsky resigned from the position of headmaster of Intellectual in April 2016 to become general facilitator; his former post was taken by Ilya Zapolsky. Soon he was approached by Nina, a League of Schools graduate, who had learned that Bebchuk had violated the conditions of the ultimatum he had signed at the meeting with the activists. According to Nina, Zapolsky fired Bebchuk once he learned about his employee's history of sexual abuse. Nevertheless, as of January 2017, Bebchuk was still listed at Intellectual's webpage as deputy headmaster. Ilya Zapolsky has confirmed to Meduza that he dismissed Bebchuk after a conversation with the League of Schools graduates.
Around the same time, in the fall of 2015, Bebchuk started working for a startup called "A Teacher for Russia," a social project which offered two-year paid internships at schools for graduates of top Russian universities (the two major partners of the project are Sberbank and Higher School of Economics). The final Teacher for Russia presentation for the year of 2015 mentions Bebchuk as a project team member; another presentation, compiled in April 2016, lists him as School Relations Director. According to Tikhorsky, Bebchuk's duties in the project included interaction with regional schools and regional teachers. "We are not ready to deny and we do not deny that Sergei Aleksandrovich [Bebchuk] has been our methodology consultant," project representative Rusina Lekukh informed Meduza. "But he has never been a member of staff, has never been hired or dismissed at the direction of our partners."
At the end of 2016, Bebchuk started offering his expertise to the Algoritmika startup on methodology of teaching informatics to children. When Meduza's correspondent asked the director of the company, Andrei Lobanov, to comment on the allegations against the teacher, he wrote: "This is quite the news," and expressed his intention to discuss it with Bebchuk. He has not answered any of our follow-up messages.
Meduza has not succeeded in contacting Bebchuk. He did not take the call on any of his three phones and left a text message unanswered. Bebchuk's acquaintances say that he has recently changed his place of residence, abruptly moving out of the apartment where he lived during his work for League of Schools.
"She was like a tiny flower to me"
In the fall of 2015, a few months after League was shut down, Nikolai Izyumov, Bebchuk's ex-deputy, founded "Intellect Club," a chain of extracurricular academic support clubs. In November, he registered himself as an individual entrepreneur and indicated academic support lessons for schoolchildren as his specialization. Intellect Club was to be launched at the facilities of Russian State Children's Library in Kaluzhskaya Square. Having learned of it, Nina, one of the teacher's victims, approached the director of the library and told her about the events which had occurred at League of Schools. Izyumov had to find another venue for his project.
At the website of the project, Izyumov stated that the idea of creation of an "intellectual club for teenagers from 10 to 15" was born after League was closed because "many students and parents were intent on keeping at least some of the elements of the educational concept aimed at the development of intellect and metaskills." The first lessons at Intellect Club were held at the end of 2015.
The site of Intellect Club features a few highly enthusiastic feedback messages from parents whose children attend Izyumov's classes. "When my daughter was at the fifth grade, we started coming to League for special events and performances, went on excursions with them and planned to attend extracurricular activities," writes a student's mother. "And then we suddenly learned that the school was going to be closed. It was the death of all hopes." "The year when League of Schools ceased to exist, the very concept of 'school' became empty for our family," shares another woman. "We switched to part-time education and opted for homeschooling. But then I learned that League of Schools may have been shut down, but the people who had been inseparable from this school, who had dedicated their entire lives to it, had launched Intellect Club."
On the evening of January 20, 2017, Nikolai Izyumov was giving a lecture as part of "Family Movie Club," one of his hobby clubs. It was hosted by Yurgenson Music Library (not far from Taganskaya Metro Station), which rents out classrooms to Izyumov for his Intellect Club classes on a regular basis.
Nilolai Izyumov giving a lecture at Yurgenson Library (an Intellect Club event), January 20, 2017
Having greeted Meduza's correspondent, Izyumov – a short, gray-haired man in baggy clothes – gave a broad smile and offered to have the conversation at his apartment. Eventually, the conversation took place in the cloak room of the library.
Izyumov rejected all accusations against himself. "Those are all lies," said he. "As for Bebchuk, all I can say is that I've known him for 20 years and I saw what kind of school he created and how much happiness he brought." Izyumov described his colleague as a reticent, introverted man, who was hard to keep in touch with (he confirmed that Bebchuk's phone number used by the correspondent was up-to-date).
"When accusations are brought forward post facto, after so many years, it is an act of revenge," assumed the former deputy headmaster of League of Schools.
"It's a matter of psychology. My wife and I know each of these kids. And each of them is a separate story... I have seen the list of accusations."
"Is every incident mentioned in the table compiled by the graduates a lie?"
"No, certainly not. Starting from the incident where I allegedly made someone lie down on a bed. It was a shock for me. We were friends with her [Nina] for many years; I still have her letters, photographs and postcards. I can comment on each of the cases."
Meduza's correspondent procured a printed copy of the table compiled by the League of Schools graduates.
"2007, Porechye. 'Lied down on her bed when she was alone in the room, hugged her, pressed himself against her, showed arousal.'"
"What do you mean, 'showed arousal'? These terms are unclear for me," Izyumov rolled his eyes.
"Did you enter her room?"
"I made a round of all the rooms. But I never lay down on any beds."
"A few female graduates testified that you entered their rooms in the morning to wake them up, sat down on beds and kissed them."
"I always came to wake them up and wished good morning to each of them, personally. Each of them. I kissed them on the cheek, on the forehead sometimes. Such moments of tenderness matter. I wanted children to know it."
"Is that why you greeted children at school with kisses?"
"It was one of the reasons."
"What can you say about Nina's case?"
"She was always a fine little girl. She was like a tiny flower to me."
"I'm going to quote her testimony. 'Seated me on his lap and spoke to me about the difficulties I had with my classmates.' 'During our conversation he kept kissing me, putting his tongue in my mouth, stroked my body and put his hand underneath my top.'"
"It is complete madness," whispered Izyumov. "I did not seat her in my lap. We just talked."
"He suggested that we go to his apartment to get a book."
"The latter may have happened. Students often visited me at home. They still do. I know what she says next. That I told her to lie down on the bed. It's not possible. It's madness."
"Have you discussed these accusations with Bebchuk?"
"No, I haven't. I almost had a stroke when I heard them. I had to leave the school at the end of February . Doctors insisted that I check in to a hospital. I didn't, but I spent half a day in a rehabilitation facility. My wife's condition was serious as well. Such a betrayal on the part of children we were so close with..."
"You've said you did not know anything about Bebchuk. Have you heard about Vera Volyak?"
"Who told you about her? Vera was going to become an art historian. During one of the hikes, Sergei Aleksandrovich [Bebchuk] and Anastasia Stanislavovna [Loseva] took her to see a few temples. Presuming that the three of them had an orgy in a tent is unbelievable, blasphemous slander! Words fail me! It doesn't sound like Bebchuk. I was the one to show my attitude openly. And were I the only one to be accused, it would have been more credible. There is a story about Bebchuk driving a schoolgirl into the woods and ordering her to get undressed. The truth is that she came to his country house and wore nothing but a bikini there. Bebchuk wanted to teach her a lesson through a shock. He told me he took her to the forest and told her to take her clothes off. He wanted to show her that no one could help her and she would be helpless in such a situation. Naturally, he humiliated and insulted her."
"Volyak testified that you undressed her, and then she was lying on your bed and 'he started it, but never finished.'"
"There was nothing of the sort. Everyone liked Vera Volyak very much. We were friends with her family. She accused me of banging her," Izyumov was interrupted by two schoolgirls entering the cloak room. He greeted them with a smile. "It's not true. Anyway, it's a sad story."
"The table contains information of more than 20 people accusing you and Bebchuk."
"20 people out of hundreds of graduates is not many."
"Why would they make it up?"
"One of those who accuses us is also... She has ruined a family. But the husband who ran off to her, cheated on her and left her as well. Another one sent me her erotic photos, which I still have. Another one [who took part in the investigation of Bebchuk and Izyumov] tried to seduce me by writing letters! I was intimidated by her. If I'm such a pedophile as they say, why didn't I take advantage of her? We live in difficult times. People's minds are contaminated; they take on faith any bullshit they find on the Internet. Another one claimed that I took her to my office and put my hands underneath her top, saying, 'Oh, look at these breasts.' As if she had been a chicken. How could I have said such a thing? She is angry at me because I didn't let her attend the prom."
After the conversation with Meduza's correspondent, Izyumov returned to the hall, where his lecture about Belgian film director Jaco van Dormael was about to begin. One of the girls who had come to the lecture rushed to him, handed him a gift bag with a New Year present and gave him a hug.
This text was translated from Russian by Ksenia Khydadyan.