78 separate incidents Two former United Russia lawmakers in Astrakhan face multiple felony charges for sexually abusing, raping, and filming children
In Astrakhan, court proceedings are underway against Vitaly Kurskov and Igor Poplevko, two former regional lawmakers from United Russia. The men are charged with heinous crimes against minors and the trial is closed to the public. Federal investigators cite 78 separate incidents where the suspects raped or sexually abused children. Kurskov and Poplevko filmed and photographed their crimes, as well. A 20-year-old woman who acted as an accomplice by bringing children to Kurskov’s apartment — including her own nephews — has already been sentenced to 12 years in prison.
On the evening of March 10, 2018, a woman in Astrakhan called the police to report that some man was bringing underage girls into the neighboring apartment. Officers came to the address, but the man locked himself inside and refused to open the door. He then tried to escape, jumping from the second-floor balcony, before police apprehended him. Detectives later learned that this individual rented an apartment in Astrakhan’s Lenin district in March 2017, where he brought girls between the ages of 13 and 15, and sexually abused them. Investigators charged the suspect with the felony offense of violent “lecherous actions” by an adult against multiple minors. This would not be the only charge in the case.
The man caught trying to jump from that balcony was 53-year-old Vitaly Kurskov, who twice between December 2017 and February 2018 invited his friend, 55-year-old Igor Poplevko, to join him at the apartment. Police say Poplevko also sexually abused and raped several underage victims.
In 2001, Vitaly Kurskov was elected as a deputy in the Astrakhan regional Duma. Four years later, he gave up his seat to take a position as the region’s environmental protections minister, serving under Governor Alexander Zhilkin. Kurskov held his job until 2007. Igor Poplevko was a deputy in the Astrakhan regional Duma at the same time as Kurskov. The two men are entrepreneurs, and until recently both were members of the country’s ruling political party, United Russia.
Kurskov and Poplevko now face felony charges for 78 separate incidents of statutory rape, sexual assault against a minor, obtaining sexual services from a minor, and child pornography.
In the apartment rented by Kurskov, investigators found cameras, laptops, and storage devices containing more than 1,400 “pornographic images and videos,” including footage showing children. According to the Telegram channel Mash, police discovered “15 DVDs with completed films and several hard disks with working materials.” Sources told Mash that Kurskov apparently drugged his victims beforehand. The mothers of two 15-year-old victims reportedly filed police reports stating that their daughters came home “saying something strange.”
When officers found this evidence, the case was transferred to a major investigations unit. Using the footage left at the apartment, officials were able to identify 10 of the victims — girls who were between the ages of eight and 17 at the time of the crimes. Kurskov paid the girls for the visits. He also hired a 20-year-old acquaintance named Maria Yakusheva to bring more children to him. Yakusheva even brought her own two nephews, ages eight and twelve.
Yakusheva’s case was prosecuted separately. She was convicted of involvement in 13 incidents of sexual abuse and child pornography, as well as the rare offense of knowingly putting another person at risk of HIV infection. After cooperating with investigators, Yakusheva was sentenced to 12 years in prison on October 22, 2018. When she goes free, Yakusheva won’t be allowed to work with minors for another 15 years.
On January 15, 2019, United Russia expelled Kurskov and Poplevko for “discrediting the party.”
“Kurskov and Poplevko are suspected of heinous crimes against children. As a mother and a grandmother, I can say that these crimes are immoral and inhuman,” said United Russia’s regional parliament leader, Irina Rodnenko. “I’m ashamed that they were once associated with our faction and used to serve as deputies. The very least we can do is expel them from the party. Now it’s up to the court, and I’m confident that these criminals will face the harshest punishment.”
In January, federal investigators submitted their indictment against Kurskov and Poplevko to Astrakhan’s Lenin District Court. Sources tell Meduza that hearings are already underway. The trial is taking place in a closed session because the charges concern sexual offenses. Judge Sergey Agapov is presiding over the case.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock