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A man walked into a Moscow radio station and stabbed a famous Russian journalist in the neck. Here's how it happened

Source: Meduza
Vitaly Ruvinsky / Ekho Moskvy / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

On October 23 around 12:45 p.m., Moscow time, Ekho Moskvy deputy chief editor Tatyana Felgenhauer was attacked inside the radio station’s studio.

Sergey Buntman, another deputy chief editor at Ekho Moskvy, told Meduza that the man entered the building from Novyi Arbat, where he sprayed gas from a cannister into the security guard’s face (injuring one of his eyes), and made his way to the 14th floor, where Ekho’s studio is located. According to the station’s chief editor, Alexey Venediktov, the assailant then stabbed Felgenhauer in the neck. “The attacker didn’t scream anything. Everything was quiet and he was silent. He walked up, grabbed her, and delivered the blow,” Buntman says. The radio station’s security guards then detained the man. Buntman says the assailant managed to injure one of the guards when they were subduing him, inflicting a small flesh wound.

Immediately following the attack, Felgenhauer was hospitalized at Moscow’s Sklifosovsky medical center. “When she got into the ambulance, Tanya was conscious and could walk, but it was obvious that she wasn’t in the best condition. They treated her for a cut on her neck,” Ekho journalist Olga Bychkova said. Venediktov later added that doctors did not believe Felgenhauer’s life was in danger. Irina Vorobyova, another Ekho host and one of Felgenhauer’s friends, later tweeted a statement by Sergey Petrikov, the director of the Sklifosovsky medical center: “Her condition is serious. She’s in the operating room. The surgery isn’t yet complete. It’s a knife wound to her neck. It’s good that they got her to the hospital so quickly.” By the time of this writing, the operation was finished, and Felgenhauer had been put into an induced coma.

Update: doctors later clarified that Felgenhauer was never placed in a coma, and in fact remained conscious after the operation on her neck wound.

Officially, no motive is known for the attack. The case is being investigated as an attempted murder.

The attacker is now in police custody. Several state-run and government-friendly news outlets (RIA Novosti, Interfax, simultaneously reported that an anonymous source claimed the attacker was acquainted privately with Felgenhauer, and attacked her for “personal reasons.” Ekho Moskvy journalist Tonia Samsonova soon responded online that Felgenhauer did not know the attacker, and other colleagues have also denied that she knew the man.

Citing a police source, the website Republic reported that psychiatrists will evaluate the assailant. When officers detained him, the attacker apparently behaved “strangely,” giving bizarre answers when questioned. According to the tabloid Telegram channel Mash, the man claimed to have a “telepathic connection” to Felgenhauer. “She was too intrusive. She was in my head,” he reportedly told police.

At the time of this writing, police were still investigating the scene of the crime. Officially, Russia’s Interior Ministry has only said that the attacker is a foreign citizen. The case is being treated as an attempted murder. Police initially wanted to treat it as an act of “hooliganism,” but later reclassified the case.

The attacker might be mentally ill.

The first news outlet to identify the attacker was the tabloid Life, which named him Boris Grits. Journalist Roman Moguchiy discovered a Wordpress blog authored by someone with this name, where Grits wrote about his hatred for Felgenhauer and their “telepathic connection.” In the blog, he also asked her colleagues and her relatives to “rein her in,” threatening “unpleasant consequences” if they did not.

Boris Grits graduated from Moscow State Pedagogical University in 1991 with training as a physics teacher. In 1993, he emigrated to Israel, where he earned a doctorate in physics and math and worked for four years as an assistant lecturer at the University of Jerusalem. Between 2007 and 2008, he was a research assistant in the University of California system. In 2009, he accepted a position as research fellow at the Russian Hydrometeorological Center. Meduza learned that Grits worked there “several years ago.” Next, he taught at a college in Beersheba, Israel, and started studying the atmosphere at Tel Aviv University. He even did some tutoring.

Grits graduated from a one-year program in Web programming, and received a truck driver’s license in Canada. In Israel, Grits was denied work as a driver because of his foreign license, and in the summer of 2017 he filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Commission. He failed to find other work: After 2012, no Israeli organization would offer him a job. “I’m certain that what’s been happening to me for the past five years is evidence of serious problems in Israeli society,” he wrote online. Grits also wrote that he was unable to find any physical labor due to health problems, including a past heart attack.

Ekho Moskvy radio hosts get death threats constantly.

Felgenhauer’s frequent co-host, Alexander Plushev, told Meduza that Ekho staff are constantly receiving threats. “All the hosts at Ekho Moskvy are more or less regularly getting text messages or online messages with threats from various unbalanced people. It’s just that some people get more, and others get less. We usually ignore these threats. I haven’t been threatened in the past few days, but I don’t know about Tanya. I don’t know what specifically may have provoked the attack. I think almost any of our broadcasts could drive some unbalanced person to do something. And thank God our show isn’t just ambient noise,” Plushev told Meduza.

The state-run television network Rossiya-24 accused Ekho Moskvy and Tatyana Felgenhauer of “working for the West.” The same Rossiya-24 correspondent then reported on Felgenhauer’s attack.

On October 11, the TV network Rossiya-24 aired a segment titled “Echo of the State Department: Ekho Moskvy has been cooperating with Western NGOs.” The broadcast focused on “noncommercial structures with murky financing that are becoming more dangerous for Russian society than ISIS,” and accused Ekho of conducting “anti-government activity” and being a “foreign agent.” The network mentioned a conference in Orenburg attended in part by some foreign journalists. Felgenhauer also participated in this conference, and Rossiya-24 highlighted her remarks at the event about the excessive number of restrictions Russia places on its journalists. “The attendees see more foreign funding for critically inclined media outlets as the way out of this situation,” says VGTRK special correspondent, Anton Podkovenko, in the segment.

On October 12, Rossiya-24 aired a second installment of its report on Ekho Moskvy, where the network again accused the radio station and Felgenhauer of “working for the West.” Former Ekho Moskvy anchor (current RTVI journalist) Tikhon Dzyadko later warned that reports like those aired on Rossiya-24 can provoke unbalanced individuals to violence. “If the TV keeps hitting them over the head and saying that Ekho is ‘the enemy,’ then they’ll go for a knife,” Dzyadko tweeted on October 23.

Throughout Monday, Rossiya-24 reported extensively on the attack against Felgenhauer. One of the correspondents covering the story was none other than Anton Podkovenko, who appeared in the “Echo of the State Department” report from earlier in the month. In his coverage of the attack, Podkovenko said nothing about the work of Ekho Moskvy or Tatyana Felgenhauer. “Information is being updated literally every minute. Of course, we’ll be following this developing story,” he said. And that’s how Rossiya-24’s coverage ended.

Russian text by Pavel Merzlikin, Sasha Sulim, and Denis Dmitriev, translation by Kevin Rothrock