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Goats, cyberbullying, and a letter to Putin: How 12-year-old Tasya Perchikova became the center of a village scandal that shocked Russia

Источник: Meduza
Alexey Trashkov

On March 16, Meduza published a lengthy report in Russian about young girl named Tasya Perchikova who wrote a letter to Vladimir Putin about her family’s difficult living conditions in the village of Tomsino. When the 12-year-old and her family began receiving national attention and small donations along with it, they found themselves facing harassment from their own neighbors. The Perchikovs’ fellow villagers threatened Tasya and her mother, tricked the girl into handing over a nude photo, and posted the picture in local social media groups.

Although Tasya’s story first reached a public audience in January of 2019 on Radio Svoboda, Meduza’s report struck an extremely strong chord. Both regional government officials and federal news agencies began paying attention to the Perchikov family: in the past week, they had visitors from Russia’s state-owned Channel One as well as reporters from St. Petersburg, Pskov, and regional newspapers closer to home. The journalists were joined by political figures ranging from Investigative Committee employees and a regional ombudsman to members of a special commission led by Pskov Oblast Vice Governor Vera Yemelyanova.

Meduza’s story also changed life in Tomsino more generally. Locals came forward saying that strangers had begun commenting on their social media pages, threatening them, and accusing them of treating Yelena Perchikova and her daughter poorly. At a town hall meeting with local government leaders, many of the village’s residents claimed not only that they had never bullied the family but that they weren’t familiar with Yelena and Tasya at all. However, new interviews from Tomsino make clear that the Perchikovs did not merely imagine the enmity that was directed against them and that the bullying Tasya encountered was also very real.

“What do those scumbags want from you?”

The rutted tracks in front of the Perchikov home are covered with a mountain of sand. Yury Polubedov, who lives with Yelena Perchikova, poured it out to block the path between the family and the endless flow of journalists that have come to visit in recent days.

The house where Polubedov and the Perchikovs live has no fencing. The green paint that once covered the small building faded long ago. A doghouse stands nearby, and a white dog named Zhora is lying on its roof. Zhora doesn’t bark at the family’s unexpected guests; he simply watches them go about their business with his jaws held open. On the porch, three icons watch a carpet dry in the sun.

The Perchikov home in Tomsino
Alexey Trashkov

The first to greet me as I approach the front door is a white baby goat named Portos, who licks my hand and promptly begins jumping around me. Twelve-year-old Tasya appears behind him on the threshold. She gives me a tight hug and tries to lift me up, though she doesn’t even know my name. Her mother, Yelena, who has emerged behind her, asks me not to be startled: “Tasya loves everyone, even investigators and journalists from state TV channels.”

The barn Yelena keeps with Yury Poluybedov houses seven adult goats and a cow named Karamelka. The Perchikovs keep newborn goats in a cage inside their own home, near the entrance. Nearby is the door to Tasya’s room, which is furnished with a bed and a small cupboard. There is running water in the house, but it is cold. The Perchikovs heat their home using a wood-fired stove. They take baths once a week when their neighbor Fyodorovich heats up his traditional banya.

The family’s 74-year-old neighbor is named Valery Fyodorovich, but he asks everyone to call him by his patronymic, a middle name derived in Slavic languages from the holder’s father’s name. Tomsino’s residents say that Fyodorovich is the only one who openly sympathizes with the Perchikovs. In return, he faces attacks from other villagers himself: people have called him a kleptomaniac and accused him of stealing small tools. Some have even spread rumors that Fyodorovich “polished off” his wife many years ago. “Their kids still don’t even know where their mother is buried,” one of the villagers told me.

Yelena Perchikova told me that when her family moved to Tomsino, they formed a connection with Fyodorovich almost immediately. Tasya visited him often and bought groceries for him. Fyodorovich himself says the girl is “like a daughter” to him.

However, Perchikova said, when Fyodorovich’s sons told him about the nude photograph of Tasya that had appeared on the Internet, he stopped speaking with her. According to Perchikova, he felt Tasya had “shamed him and the entire village.” Fyodorovich himself denies turning away from the girl. He claims to have supported Tasya and her family despite unkind gossip from the neighbors.

“Yesterday was grocery day, and I went to the store. And they were asking me: aren’t you tired of hobnobbing with her?” Fyodorovich said. “They said that it’ll end with Tasya seducing my sons and then saying they dishonored her.”

Now, he helps the Perchikovs by “holding the fort” and fending off TV reporters and other unwanted guests.

On March 19 and 20, a brigade from Channel One stood guard outside the house. Yelena Perchikova said producers from the channel had offered her 150,000 rubles ($2,310) to appear on the talk show Pust Govoriat (Let them Talk) with host Dmitry Borisov, but she refused them for fear that the show would “tear us to pieces like they do everyone else who goes on there.”

The next morning, when Perchikova left the house, the reporters decided to go through Tasya. They told her to crack open the window and then asked whether the girl wanted to go to Moscow. “They asked me whether I would want to see Moscow. They said that it’s really pretty there, and they promised to show me the city if I convince mom to go with them. I told them I want to see everything,” Tasya said.

Now, while Tasya washes a potato to eat for lunch, Perchikova gets a call from the district employment center asking her to join its registry. “What do those scumbags want from you and Tasenka?” Fyodorovich yells. “Tell ‘em you won’t give ‘em anything.”

Tasya Perchikova and Fyodorovich
Alexey Trashkov

From the city to the country

Yelena Perchikova moved to Tomsino with Tasya in August of 2018. Until then, Yelena had lived with her two daughters in St. Petersburg. Her older daughter, 21-year-old Anastasia, still lives in a dormitory in St. Petersburg and is not on speaking terms with her mother.

The family moved out of St. Petersburg in 2015. At first, they settled not far away in Kingisepp, but then they moved to the Pskov Oblast village of Alatovichi, where Yelena tried to collaborate with a local farmer to raise goats. The farmer, Ivan Rodin, provided the family with housing, and Perchikova was supposed to take care of the animals. The plan was for Rodin to sell the operation’s output at local markets, allowing the partners to split the profits.

In the end, the family’s arrangement fell through. Perchikova claims that Rodin refused to provide legal documentation for their plan and that he did not vaccinate his goats (Rodin himself declined to speak with Meduza). In the summer of 2018, after a period of conflict, the farmer kicked Yelena and Tasya out of their home.

The Perchikovs decided to move to Tomsino and live with Yelena’s acquaintance, Yury Polubedov. Yelena said she met him in 2016 through the ride hailing app BlaBlaCar: Polubedov drove her from St. Petersburg to Kingisepp.

Perchikova and Polubedov bought a house in Tomsino from the wife of the district governor for 350,000 rubles. They agreed that Polubedov would pay for the mortgage while Perchikova would buy all of their food using her own salary, which she earned working as a hospital janitor in the district capital of Sebezhe. Various complications prevented Polubedov and the Perchikovs from officially transferring the home to their ownership. The group only achieved that goal on March 20, and the property now officially belongs only to Yury Polubedov.

As she cooks lunch, Yelena Perchikova tells me that when the nude photograph of Tasya began circulating online, she was afraid to tell Polubedov about it. When he heard about the photo from other villagers nonetheless, he told Yelena that she and Tasya had shamed him and told them to “leave the house by April 1.”

“I wasn’t ready to live with this beauty [Tasya],” Polubedov says by way of explanation. He is sitting in the kitchen, eating the food Perchikova has prepared for him. While she told her story, he primarily remained silent and nodded his head from time to time. “One day, she’s totally under control: she feeds the hogs, does everything around the house. And then another day, you tell her what to do, and she doesn’t listen. And then there’s the photographs.”

After Radio Svoboda reported on the Perchikovs, people from all over Russia began to send them small donations. Perchikova transferred some of them, a significant sum in total, to Polubedov “for safekeeping.” When he asked the Perchikovs to leave the house they shared, Yelena asked him to return that money to her. He refused, saying he had already spent the funds to fulfill the family’s basic needs. Yelena believes the money may have gone toward the mortgage on the house.

Throughout our conversation, the phone rings almost incessantly. Yelena answers on speaker phone. Banks call to offer microloans, and lawyers call to offer their services. Journalists ask Yelena to talk about the latest media reports and assure her that they are on her side.

A correspondent from Moskovsky Komsomolets offers his newspaper as a forum for Yelena to “explain herself to other locals.” “After all,” he says, “we’re all people, we’re all human beings, they’ll forgive you.” “I’m not on Golgotha,” Yelena answers.

Yelena Perchikova
Alexey Trashkov
Tasya Perchikova
Irina Kravtsova / Meduza

“The biggest fraud in the history of Pskov Oblast”

“This mom’s older daughter is in a shelter in Leningrad Oblast, she’s got 370,000 rubles in debt on her apartment, she’s got a failed independent business. Everything drags on around this lady, and it’s the other villagers who get blamed,” said Sebezhsky District government head Leonid Kursenkov on March 19. He is the same district governor whose wife sold Yury Polubedov his home.

Kursenkov, who lives on the same street as the Perchikovs, said after Radio Svoboda’s report was published that in his district, “pretty much all of these [poor] families have the same quality of life” and that “the government has no right” to help every one of them. Now, he calls Yelena Perchikova a scammer.

Though Persikova’s debts are not quite so large, some parts of Perchikova’s biography in Kursenkov’s telling are correct.

In 2010, at age 35, Perchikova registered in St. Petersburg as an independent contractor providing services in shipping and construction as well as clothing and footwear sales. At the same time, data from SPARK-Interfax indicates that Perchikova became the general director of eight for-profit companies and the co-owner of two. The fact that all of the companies that Perchikova directed had unrelated owners and were registered at different addresses in St. Petersburg strikes the eye as a little odd.

Perchikova’s account of what those companies did is not entirely straightforward: “In our country, one firm is supposed to be in one industry and have its own accounts. One firm does one kind of work, and another does another. I was the general director so that I could lead all those calculations — run over here, write something down, strike up a contract, as a coordinator.” In 2013, Perchikova left her general director positions but kept her registration as a contractor, which she says she did not want to let go after nine years of work. Sometimes, she uses that registration to help friends and acquaintances who don’t have that official status but, say, hope to sell pine trees at New Year’s markets in St. Petersburg. That said, Perchikova assured me that she does not take part in “any machinations.”

Perchikova has not submitted her contractor registration for a tax audit since 2016, and she has gone into debt as a result. She owes the government almost 29,000 rubles (about $440). She also has debts on utility payments for the St. Petersburg apartment where she is still a tenant on paper. Those debts amount to 99,499 rubles ($1,514). Perchikova believes that debt belongs not only to her but to all five people who technically rent the apartment: herself, her two daughters, her sister, and her father.

Following in the footsteps of the Sebezhsky District governor, journalists also began to write that the Perchikovs had committed fraud.

On March 22, Andrey Malakhov’s online magazine Starhit published an article titled “A letter to Putin, or a scam for charity.” The article claimed that “this story about a suffering family from the depths of the countryside has already earned the title of the biggest fraud in the history of Pskov Oblast.” The magazine adopted Leonid Kursenkov’s claim that Yelena Perchikova disowned her older daughter, Anastasia Kiseleva, in 2014, leaving her to live in a shelter.

Kiseleva, 21, told Starhit’s journalists that her mother disowned her and later explained that she did so in order to allow the government to give Kiseleva an apartment as an adult orphan (Anastasia has never met her father). The young woman sent journalists a screenshot containing portions of a 2018 conversation between herself and her mother in which the latter hinted that she could “crank out” a similar scheme with her younger daughter as well. Yelena Perchikova argues that she was making a joke. The conversation as a whole (which is on file at Meduza) can indeed be read in a sarcastic tone.

“A good imagination is in our blood”

In 2011, Anastasia Kiseleva, who was 13 years old at the time, accused her mother of beating her. Yelena Perchikova says that her daughter was simply reacting to their first major family conflict: according to her, the girl refused to go to school and played computer games instead. Perchikova claims that when she turned off the apartment’s Wi-Fi as a form of punishment, Anastasia began inventing the accusations.

In March of 2011, the television channel NTV aired a report about how Anastasia’s rash decision-making led to the possibility that child protection services might remove her from her family. In the report, the girl admitted to lying about being beaten to take revenge on her mother for turning off the family’s Internet. Yelena Perchikova was under investigation for about a year, but in the end, her case was closed, and her daughter remained with her.

Three years later, after additional difficulties at school, Yelena Perchikova approached her older daughter with the possibility of disowning her on paper so that she could live on her own. Perchikova calls that move a joint decision between herself and her daughter.

“Our relationship was extremely intense, and I decided that she should at least have her own place to live,” Yelena told me. She said she told her daughter why she was giving up her parental rights, and Anastasia agreed with her reasoning. Kiseleva told Meduza that there was no such agreement and that the idea to get her a separate apartment was Yelena’s idea alone.

After their separation, 16-year-old Anastasia spent some time in a recovery center for minors but soon entered college and now lives in a dormitory. She has not yet received her own apartment; her name is on a waiting list.

“Our apartment reeked of animals. Even the walls. No one talked to me at school because of the smell just like they don’t talk to Tasya now,” Anastasia Kiseleva told Meduza. She calls her mother exclusively by her first name rather than by naming their relationship.

According to Anastasia, Perchikova kept a small animal nursery in their St. Petersburg apartment. At first, she raised baby rats for sale, and she later raised dozens of cats and several dogs. Her daughter believes that Yelena “found an emotional outlet in animals” while “Tasya just didn’t know any other way of life.”

Kiseleva asserts that her mother did beat her but that she told NTV’s journalists otherwise at her mother’s request. After that story aired, she says, Yelena “calmed down a little” but began hitting her again three years later, at which point Anastasia decided to leave the house.

Perchikova argues that she might have shouted at her child but has never hit her daughters.

“You know, let’s put it like this. A good imagination is in our blood, both mine and Yelena’s,” Kiseleva told Meduza.

Anastasia said she has not been on speaking terms with her mother and younger sister for eight years. “Tasya has been asking for many years for me to send her my telephone number, but I’ve refused. Tasya is a very good girl, but she’s under Yelena’s control, so I don’t want to talk to her. But I hope that she figures things out and makes a final decision about what kind of person her mother is.”

“She was too talkative”

“As soon as Tasya joined my son’s class, he told me she was odd,” said Lyudmila Trashkova, whose 12-year-old son, Pavel, studies with Tasya. Lyudmila believes that Tasya was bullied at school.

In the past three years, the Perchikovs moved three times, and Tasya also had trouble connecting with her classmates at her previous schools. She herself said that the children in her school in Kingisepp didn’t want to talk to her: she “smelled like goats, and they didn’t like livestock.”

In September of 2018, a few weeks after the family moved to Tomsino, Tasya, who was then 11 years old, started the sixth grade in the neighboring village of Kuznetsovka (the school in Tomsino had closed the previous spring).

“Tasya was too talkative. She would just hug the teachers and tell them about her animals,” Pavel Trashkov explained. He said the other children saw her behavior as “brown-nosing.” Tasya also came across to her classmates as “stubborn” because she always defended her opinions. In the end, the sixth-grader spent most of her free time with children substantially younger than she was who liked her because she let them play with her cell phone.

Second grader Dasha Trashkova, Pavel’s younger sister, became one of Tasya’s friends. “Tasya was very kind and cheerful and treated everyone like a friend,” Dasha said. “I also used to hug everyone and call them my friends when I just started school. I just started holding back at some point, and Tasya stayed the same.”

Pavel and Dasha recalled that the school’s teachers began to dislike Tasya as well. The Trashkovs believe teachers did not look kindly on the fact that Tasya spent so much time with the second graders and began “getting angry and telling her to stay in her own classroom during breaks.”

Tomsino’s empty school building
Irina Kravtsova / Meduza

When one student’s phone disappeared during the school day at the end of October, Tasya’s classmates immediately blamed her. Lyudmila Trashkova said the school even called the police, though the telephone was found under a bench in the school cloakroom the same day.

Tasya herself believes that she met with dislike at school for several reasons. “First of all, I’m new. Second of all, they don’t like livestock. And third of all, there was one fine day, a month and a half in, after they had been beating me up, insulting me, just coming up to me and hitting me, and I couldn’t take it anymore and gave it to all the boys in the class,” Tasya recalled. “Stand up. I’ll show you how I squashed ‘em.”

After that incident, Yelena Perchikova said, the school’s director called her into the office and asked her to move Tasya to a school for “deviant children.” Perchikova soon took her daughter’s documents home, and since early December, Tasya has been taking classes online.

The boy from VKontakte

The idea of writing a letter to the president occurred to Tasya soon after her mother took her out of school.

The girl said that as New Year’s Day approached, she began asking her mother for a “super-duper-tablet” with AliExpress installed and “grown-up onesie pajamas that look like a unicorn.” She understood that the tablet would cost an entire month of her mother’s salary.

Tasya “saw on television that Putin answers everybody’s questions” and decided to write him a letter about how her village’s school had closed and her mother was making too little money.

She recalled that after Radio Svoboda journalists first wrote about the letter and people from all over Russia began sending her packages and donations, her relationships with her peers became even worse.

“The girls I used to walk to school with threatened me. They said they would beat me up and record it on video,” Tasya said. She sits within arm’s reach of the goat Portos and a little dog named Watson. As she speaks, she takes turns asking each of them to shake her hand.

In February, when Tasya had already studied at home for some time, a “boy” she did not know wrote to her on the social media site VKontakte. He called her “beautiful and beloved” and asked her to send him a nude photo. Tasya complied and asked her new friend not to show the photograph to anyone. The “boy” then refused to call her and soon deleted his account. Tasya’s picture began to circulate in every social media group with ties to the Sebezhsky District, and Tomsino’s residents showed the photo to one another.

When a stranger, this time a woman, sent the photograph to Yelena Perchikova, Yelena called the police. Officers confiscated Tasya’s telephone, her tablet, and her memory card to clear up the situation. According to Perchikova, investigators then called her in March to say that it was a former classmate of Tasya’s, actually a young girl, who asked for the photograph. In a Radio Svoboda video that was published on February 17, Tasya calls that classmate her best friend. Perchikova could not provide documentation to demonstrate what she remembers of the investigators’ claims.

“The way the girls treated me, it was because of that box over there and the laptop that’s inside it,” Tasya said, pointing to a computer that was sent to her by the nonprofit charity “Zemliaki.”

In mid-March, Tasya’s page on VKontakte was hacked, and it began posting “links to pornos.” She was forced to delete the account.

Yelena Perchikova showed me screenshots on her phone that indicated numerous calls from hidden numbers. The conversations lasted from one to four minutes. Perchikova said the callers threatened to “rip Tasya from ear to ear” if she did not heed their warnings.

“Tasya is dirt on your hands”

“Did you bully her?” Olga, a postal worker in Tomsino, asks the Perchikovs’ neighbor Gennady Illarionovich. (She did not give her last name.) The neighbor shakes his head. “I didn’t bully her,” Olga says. “How can we threaten them when we never even go to that street? And the fact that she was naked on camera, well, that’s true.”

Gennady Illarionovich remembers one of his neighbors saying Tasya had been “with another naked girl” in the photograph. Olga convinces him that Tasya was alone, but “it would have been easy for her to pull someone in.” That’s why the village’s parents forbade their children from talking to Tasya, Olga believes. In fact, there is no one in the photograph apart from Tasya.

Olga says the Perchikovs received about five packages a day and that Yelena “subscribed to 10,000 newspapers and magazines.” Other villagers, she adds, don’t write to Putin in hopes of “getting a mini tractor, a tablet, and a TV.”

The postal worker adds that her salary is 7,000 rubles (about $100). “And so what? We all make something like that. And I told them, take a ride out and look at how people are doing even worse in the collective farms where the villages have totally fallen apart and there’s no work at all. We don’t have real destitution here.”

79-year-old Gennady Illarionovich says that he did not see Tasya’s photos but trusts “a granny who did see them.” As he walks, he tells me that he knows the Perchikovs asked Putin for “some kind of crap” and that, in his view, Tasya “has a weakness — she steals things.” The man says he once caught the girl in his courtyard and reached for a rock to scare her away and prevent a theft.

The “granny” he mentions is 83-year-old Valentina Shpakova. She told me the Perchikovs immediately seemed suspicious to the residents of Tomsino.

According to Shpakova, as soon as Tasya moved into the village, she began “running around to people’s yards and introducing herself to everyone.” “She ran up to me on what might have been her first day here and started reporting right away: ‘We have so many goats, so many cats, so many dogs, so many chickens, and a cow.’ Well, good for you. What did she think, that I was going to be jealous of her? As though they were going to get rich quick with their cats here and it didn’t work out!” Shpakova said.

“And that Tasya just reeks of goat!” the family’s neighbor continued. “I told her, ‘Tasya, get away from those goats! Go to school, talk to the kids, be a human being.’ And she told me, ‘Granny, but what will I eat if I leave the goats?’ Well then go suffer with your goats if you don’t have a brain.”

Once, Shpakova claimed, Tasya stole 5,000 rubles (about $76) from her. She visited the Perchikovs to demand her money back.

“I tell her stepfather: your daughter took my money. If you give it back to me, I won’t tell anybody anything.” Shpakova said Yury Polubedov immediately told Tasya to bring a 5,000-ruble note out of the house. Tasya brought it out and gave it to her neighbor. “And her tears were just streaming, she was crying, she said, ‘Granny, I didn’t take the money,’ but she was still crying,” Shpakova recalled.

“Tasya is dirt on your hands,” she concluded. “She stole, she stole money around the village. I won’t say from whom and what and when. I don’t know. But she stole them, that’s how it was.”

“I know what it’s like when people come out to greet you with bayonets,” countered another neighbor of the Perchikovs, 70-year-old Galina. She moved to the village many years ago from Ukraine, and she remembers that the locals didn’t like her at first and started calling her “a hen.”

“I worked in a few places and always got along with the bosses,” Galina said. “They told me that I was sucking up to them. And I was just doing my work well. Everyone’s whispering about that girl, but I’ll just say this: innocent until proven guilty.”

“A lot of people are commenting from abroad”

On the evening of March 18, villagers and police officers gathered in Tomsino’s community center. Alexey Ryabov, the vice governor of Sebezhsky District’s local government, led the meeting; he also sits on the commission assigned to deal with the Perchikovs’ story by the regional government. The town hall meeting was called because new threats had begun appearing in local online groups. This time, they targeted Tomsino’s residents.

After Meduza published its initial article about the Perchikovs and it was posted in the “Overheard in Sebezh” group, people began posting comments that spoke extremely negatively of Tomsino residents. The villagers were accused of bullying and being jealous. Some comments included thoughts like “the whole village should be burned, and only the girl should be left alive.”

The town hall meeting in Tomsino. March 18, 2019
Alexey Trashkov

In the course of the meeting (an audio recording is in Meduza’s possession), Alexey Ryabov assured attendees that he has no doubt that they did not direct any “physical negativity” toward the Perchikovs. He explained that the purpose of the gathering was to “preempt negativity from the other side [the Perchikovs’ supporters].”

The district vice governor said he had “analyzed who is posting comments in [our] group” and concluded that “90% of the time, it’s not someone local. It’s very likely that a lot of people are commenting from abroad. There are serious people working there who seem to want to get our population riled up. I’m asking you, please don’t give in — don’t answer them.”

“No one needs them [the Perchikovs] here anyway,” a voice in the audience said.

“We don’t know them, not at all, believe me.”

“We didn’t do anything bad to her!”

“Could you please explain how it is that you didn’t do anything bad but you’re somehow not swine if you take [Tasya’s photo] and put it on VKontakte?”

Ryabov also suggested that the Perchikovs themselves may have posted the nude photograph online.

A buzz spread through the room.

A man’s voice noted that the villagers also carry some responsibility for what happened because they refused to speak with the Perchikovs.

One of the village mayor’s representatives advised locals to call the police if threatened with physical harm. At another point in the meeting, he said the idea of “burning down Tomsino” could also be investigated under Russian criminal law as harm done to another’s property through burning.

None of the Tomsino residents interviewed by Meduza confirmed that they had personally received threats after Tasya’s story was published.

A trip to the Investigative Committee

Alexey Ryabov believes it has not been proven that the Perchikovs received threats from other residents of Tomsino. On March 18, the local branch of Russia’s Investigative Committee said the same, calling news of the threats fake.

Yelena Perchikova said that after Meduza reported on the bullying Tasya had faced, an investigator called her. He asked whether the Perchikovs plan to leave Tomsino and requested that Yelena send him the date of their departure so that he could return the telephone, tablet, and memory card that were taken from Tasya after her photograph was posted online.

Late in the evening on the same day, March 18, Mayor General Pyotr Krupenya, a high-ranking official in the region-wide Investigative Committee, visited the Perchikovs with a group of colleagues, and Yelena gave him a pre-written letter describing the threats she claimed her family had faced.

Perchikova said the investigators arrived at her home at around 10:00. Yelena gave them savory pancakes stuffed with liver along with tea and cookies because “the men were getting off work” and because “if someone has broken bread in your home and then they do something bad, then it stays on their conscience.”

According to Perchikova, the investigators “bit their tongues” when she asked why their press secretary had called her note about online threats a fake. Nonetheless, Yelena said, the agents offered to give Tasya a tour of the Investigative Committee and “show her how they shoot.”

The investigators stayed at the Perchikovs’ home until one in the morning, but their conversation was “just chit-chat, as though they were visiting old friends: ‘Oh, what a lovely little goat you have! Can I pet him?’ Tasya gave them hugs and sang each one a little ditty as a souvenir.” When they left, the investigators promised to look into the threats but hedged their bets, saying the story would likely “die out” because the sources of the threats were “unknown individuals.”

On March 22, Perchikova received a response from the Committee: there were no indications that a crime had been committed in connection with any threats against her. On March 29, investigators made a similar announcement with respect to the photograph of Tasya that had been published online.

***

Despite their accusations of fraud and spreading rumors about “fake threats,” regional government officials have been a major part of Yelena and Tasya’s life in the past few days.

On March 18, a commission under the direction of regional Vice Governor Vera Yemelyanova visited the Perchikovs. The commission concluded that the family “requires guidance.” Government officials promised to help Yelena in the immediate future by arranging “employment in the health care industry along with a potential promotion and the possibility of returning her daughter to school.” They also raised the possibility of helping the Perchikovs move out of Tomsino.

On March 20, government officials from St. Petersburg promised Perchikova they would forgive her utility debts. They also suggested that Yelena register with the unemployment office in Sebezhsky District.

On March 22, Pskov Oblast ombudsman Natalya Sokolova accompanied Yelena Perchikova on a trip to see potential homes near the town of Velikie Luki, where officials may be able to help her move. Perchikova said they are also prepared to offer her an interest-free loan on at least part of the cost of the house.

Irina Kravtsova, Tomsino

Translation by Hilah Kohen