Russia’s #MeToo resurgence In two days, half a dozen men working at ‘MBK Media,’ ‘Dozhd,’ and Sberbank have been named in sexual harassment and abuse allegations
Over the past two days, on July 12 and 13, multiple threads have appeared on Twitter accusing current and former Russian journalists of inappropriate behavior, sexual harassment, and abuse. Violeta Er was the first to discuss her past abusive relationship with one of these men. When Valentina Dekhtyarenko, a project manager at the “Open Russia” human rights group, outed the name of Er’s ex-partner, it led several other women to share their stories of abuse, harassment, and mistreatment within Moscow’s small community of journalists.
Gafarov and Minenko
Multiple women have made sexual harassment allegations against former Open Russia employee and current Sberbank SMM manager Ruslan Gafarov. Valentina Dekhtyarenko says he made unwanted sexual advances. Valeria Shabelnikova then wrote that Gafarov raped her, and Maria Konstantinidi says he forced her into unwanted, painful sex.
Additionally, journalists Anna Chesova, Olga Beshlei, Zalina Marshenkulova, Darya Kushnir, and Karina Merkuryeva tweeted about sexual harassment by Sberbank projects manager Sergey Minenko, who previously worked as a journalist at Men’s Health Russia, Mel, Gazeta.ru, and Izvestia. Violeta Er later published a screenshot showing anonymous correspondence indicating that Minenko secretly filmed his sexual encounters with women using hidden cameras in his apartment.
Sberbank subsequently suspended both Gafarov and Minenko, pending the results of an internal audit. “Sberbank was mentioned as the employer [of these men] and, of course, we immediately took notice. We categorically oppose violence in any form against anyone,” the company said in a public statement.
Gafarov later confessed “to everything” written about him. “I apologized before to those who spoke about this and I privately apologized again yesterday and today. I still haven’t managed to write to everyone, but I will,” he explained on Twitter, expressing the hope that “those who found the courage to talk about the traumatic experience will feel better.”
Minenko has not yet commented publicly on the allegations.
In another thread on Twitter, Valentina Dekhtyarenko said that Moloko Plus editor-in-chief Pavel Nikulin forced her to have sex without her consent. “It’s not like there was violence — it was just very unpleasant for me. Next to the many other stories I’ve read, I don’t consider this one to be significant,” wrote Dekhtyarenko.
In a statement on its Telegram channel, saying it had “listened to both sides,” Moloko Plus announced that Nikulin will keep his job. “We believe the relationship history between our staff member and Valentina Dekhtyarenko should be addressed separately from the charges against other participants in the scandal,” the publication said (though Dekhtyarenko says no one at Moloko Plus reached out to her to hear to her side).
Prostakov and Zolotov
Other women also published allegations naming MBK Media chief editor Sergey Prostakov and MBK Media photographer Andrey Zolotov. Anastasia Zavyalova and Evgeniya Ofitserova described separate incidents of sexual harassment, and Victoria Kuzmenko wrote about the alleged gang rape of a woman at Prostakov’s apartment during a party several years ago in which Zolotov supposedly participated.
Before dawn on July 14, Prostakov shared a message on his Telegram channel apologizing to everyone he offended and announcing his resignation from MBK Media. Responding to the gang-rape allegations, he said that he doesn’t remember that night. On Twitter, Zolotov denied the rape accusation and argued that he sees no way to exculpate himself in his current situation. He also resigned from MBK Media, saying he wants to avoid further damage to the publication’s reputation.
MBK Media’s owner, former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is aware of the allegations but does not interfere in the newsroom’s personnel decisions, his spokesman, Maxim Dbar, told the BBC on Tuesday. “We adhere to a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to such matters… In our working conditions, it’s quite difficult to have any written or formal codes of conduct, but we will try to maintain a respectful and friendly team atmosphere,” said Dbar.
MBK Media editor-in-chief Veronica Kutsyllo later apologized publicly to Sergey Prostakov’s victims and described Prostakov’s and Zolotov’s resignations of as “the right and only possible [decisions] in this situation.”
While the harassment and abuse allegations named men exclusively, not all those who have come forward in the past two days are women. MBK Media correspondent Alexander Skrylnikov tweeted about unwanted sexual advances from television host Pavel Lobkov when he was an intern at Dozhd. Other former interns at the independent television station have also come forward anonymously about Lobkov’s attempts to kiss and fondle them.
Lobkov later offered his apologies to everyone “discomforted by his frivolous behavior” who “had the courage to talk about it publicly.” “Yes, I grew up in a time when students lived with teachers, and hugging a colleague at a friendly party or even kissing them was considered okay. I’m not justifying myself — I’m just asking you to understand me. For me, personal-space boundaries are still what they were in the 2000s,” Lobkov wrote on Facebook.
Dozhd editor-in-chief Tikhon Dzyadko also extended his apologies to anyone Pavel Lobkov may have offended and promised to look into the matter and discuss it publicly. “We will conduct an audit of staff relations within the company to ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” Dzyadko said in his own Facebook post.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock