‘I’ll punish myself’ Public pressure leads to sexual-assault investigation, after Russian journalist comes forward about rape
On October 13, Novgorod.ru journalist Alina Scheglova published a blog post stating that a colleague from another news outlet raped her in late September. She says a man working at the local municipal newspaper attacked her at a party after an awards ceremony. Scheglova says she hesitated to speak openly about the assault, and only went public when the authorities extended their preliminary probe by a month and replaced the investigator assigned to the case. The man she says raped her, meanwhile, “has continued to head the newspaper, hold meetings, and attend press conferences.” In her blog post, Scheglova refrained from naming her attacker, but his identity ceased to be a secret almost instantly, as other journalists quickly pieced it together. Meduza special correspondent Irina Kravtsova traveled to Veliky Novgorod and spoke to the people involved in this story.
On Friday, September 27, at 6 p.m., journalists in Veliky Novgorod gathered to honor the winners of the “Phoenix” journalism contest, organized by the regional branch of the Russian Union of Journalists. The event wrapped up at 9 p.m., after which a group of 15 people set out to continue the celebration at the Novgorod municipal newspaper’s office. Journalists in the group say people imbibed and conversed. At the very outset, the paper’s editor-in-chief, Mikhail Bogolyubov, told everyone that they could stay in the building until 11:00 p.m.
Around 11, people started heading out, and Regnum journalist Olga Larina invited the group back to her apartment. The last people left at the Novgorod newsroom were Novgorod.ru journalist Alina Scheglova, Novaya Novgorodskaya Gazeta correspondent Matvey Nikolaev, VNovgorode.ru correspondent Anna Ogorodniychuk, and Mikhail Bogolyubov.
At about 11:40 p.m., Ogorodniychuk asked Scheglova how she was feeling, and if she wanted to join everyone at Larina's apartment. According to Ogorodniychuk, Scheglova said everything was fine and that she’d take a taxi home with Bogolyubov, whose apartment was on the way.
Nikolaev says he also asked Scheglova how she was doing, before he left. “Alina said she was fine, but her eyes were glassy, and it was clear that she’d had a few, and actually she wasn’t doing so hot,” he told Meduza. Ogorodniychuk says Bogolyubov promised to get Scheglova home. “In the lobby, [Bogolyubov] seemed pretty chipper. I remember thinking there was something too lively about him. I later realized that he’d cracked,” says Ogorodniychuk.
Alina Scheglova says Bogolyubov, 42 years old, had suggested at the very start of the party that she come home with him that night. Scheglova is 33 years old and has three children with her husband, who happens to be childhood friends with Bogolyubov. She’s also known Bogolyubov for many years, often crossing paths with him when she worked in the press service for the Veliky Novgorod Mayor’s Office. “There were many times we randomly met in town, when my husband and I were out running errands,” Scheglova says. “Every time, we’d say hello and talk about getting our families together.”
After the others left the newsroom, Scheglova says she put on her coat, sat in the office where everyone had gathered around a big desk, and waited for Bogolyubov to call a taxi. She soon started feeling sick and passed out. When she came to, she says her dress was torn, and Bogolyubov was raping her. (Speaking to Meduza, Scheglova identified Bogolyubov as her attacker, though she asked us not to disclose further details. She did, however, clarify that he raped her twice: first in the office and again in the newsroom’s bathroom.)
Around 2 a.m., Scheglova grabbed her shoes and ran barefoot into the street to hail a taxi. There were no cars around at the time, she says, and when a taxi finally stopped for her, Bogolyubov was already seated inside. Scheglova says he forced her into the car and said he would bring her home. She refused to give him her address, and asked to be left alone. In the end, the driver took her to her neighborhood, and she walked the rest of the way home on her own.
At 2:40 a.m., Scheglova finally reached her apartment and immediately ran to the bathroom. “Alina was all in tears, lying on the floor in her torn evening dress,” says her husband, Ivan Zykov. When he asked his wife what had happened, she said that Mikhail Bogolyubov had raped her. “Hearing this, my husband said, ‘Misha Bogolyubov? I don’t know if I believe that,’” says Scheglova. Zykov became convinced, however, when she described the assault in detail. He then said they should turn to the police.
That night, on September 28, Zykov tried to contact Bogolyubov, but he didn’t answer his phone. In the morning, Bogolyubov called Zykov himself and said that nothing had happened between him and Scheglova, but 30 minutes later he telephoned again and said he’d “remembered that there was something that night, but it was all consensual.”
Bogolyubov also tried calling Alina, but she refused to answer. He then texted her the following message (Meduza obtained a copy of the SMS): “Alina, I know you’ll never forgive me, and I’ll never forgive myself for this. The only thing with all this is that I’d never dare to humiliate you just out of desire. That’s not who I am. Inadequacy is no excuse, I know that. But this nasty thing happened… just like you consented to… it was the booze talking. It would have been better if you’d killed [me]. All I ask is that we don’t now ruin each other’s lives. I've lost a friend, I’ve lost myself, and I’ve lost my self-respect with all this nastiness. That’s the truth. I’m a complete, hideous jackass — I know that. And I’ll punish myself. Harshly.”
Zykov told Meduza that Bogolyubov “was always a gentle and calm person,” and he enjoyed a good reputation among colleagues. Novaya Novgorodskaya Gazeta correspondent Matvey Nikolaev says journalists gathered annually at Bogolyubov’s newsroom, “always without incident.”
Scheglova says she doubted whether it was worth reporting the attack to the police, but she nevertheless went to an emergency room on Saturday, September 28, to document the multiple bruises and abrasions all over her body. The clinic was closed on the weekends, however, and she wasn’t seen until Monday. In her examination, the doctor informed her that he was required to report her injuries to law enforcement. At the same time, physicians refused to conduct a gynecological exam, stating that the procedure requires a form from the Investigative Committee.
Scheglova filed a report with the Investigative Committee later that day, on September 30, and officials granted her a referral for the gynecological exam, but it wasn’t carried out until October 1. When she asked her doctors for documents confirming that she’d been examined, the hospital refused to share the paperwork.
On September 30, Scheglova also brought the jacket, coat, and ripped dress she wore on the night of the attack to state investigators, but officials rejected the items, explaining that the department was already overwhelmed with murder-case evidence “and would just lose the dress.” Another investigator assigned to Scheglova’s case later agreed to take her clothes, but this wasn’t until October 9.
Based on Scheglova’s statement, the Investigative Committee opened a preliminary probe. On October 14, investigators summoned Scheglova for a polygraph test, and she still hasn’t been informed of the results. Officials also questioned others who attended the part on September 27. VNovgorode.ru correspondent Anna Ogorodniychuk told Meduza that her interrogator “greatly distorted the facts of the case” and tried to prove that Scheglova’s version of events is “unconvincing.” “I assume that, when dealing with the other witnesses, [the investigator] did the same thing and tried to influence the professional community’s general opinion like this,” says Ogorodniychuk.
Scheglova emphasized to Meduza that she didn’t initially plan to publicize her attack, wanting only “a fair punishment” for her assailant. She says she was also afraid to come forward because she worried that she herself would be accused of defamation.
“Unfortunately, I have information that they are trying to cover up the case,” Scheglova wrote online on October 13 (without naming Bogolyubov). “Why? The rapist works at the municipal newspaper that’s directly tied to the Veliky Novgorod Mayor’s Office. His wife is a police colonel, and she’s vehemently asked me to withdraw my statement. She found out the name of the investigator who filed my report, and she just happened to throw out the phrase, ‘I’ll be grateful.’”
Mikhail Bogolyubov’s wife is Alla Egorova, a police colonel and the deputy chief of the Interior Ministry Migration Directorate’s Novgorod branch. Scheglova told Meduza that Egorova telephoned her on September 30 and asked her to withdraw the report she filed with the Investigative Committee. She later texted her, apologizing for the “intrusiveness,” clarifying that Scheglova should “write a letter retracting [her initial statement] with minimal explanation.” “I’ll be very grateful, understanding your suffering. I’m in your debt. This is serious,” Egorova wrote. (Meduza obtained a copy of the messages.)
Mikhail Bogolyubov and Alla Egorova declined to speak to Meduza for this story. Asked whether she urged Alina Scheglova to withdraw her police report, Egorova answered, “I won’t say anything.”
A day after Scheglova went public about her attack, state investigators announced the preliminary probe into the rape allegations. At the same time, journalists learned that Bogolyubov has gone on an extended holiday. According to the Mayor’s Office, he is “using up his remaining annual vacation days.” On October 16, after national news outlets picked up the story, investigators summoned Scheglova and informed her that they’ve launched a felony sexual-assault case, based on her report.
On October 15, Scheglova’s employer, Novgorod.ru, published a statement in her defense. “Like her, we have concerns that the statement filed with the Investigative Committee might go nowhere,” the website said. “We will defend our colleague and we intend to cover the course of the investigation.”
Scheglova says she's received an outpouring of support from colleagues, since going public about her attack, but she says there are still some people encouraging her to “forget about what happened,” to avoid “ruining Bogolyubov’s life.”
“Some people are asking me how far I’m ready to go to ruin this man’s life,” Scheglova told Meduza. “That’s not it at all. The punishment is enshrined in the Criminal Code. The man committed a crime. He raped me. Am I really supposed to keep silent about this?”
Scheglova says she’s surprised by the people standing up for Bogolyubov, and she wonders if his defenders are prepared to take responsibility, if he attacks someone else.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock