Love, family, and fear She married the son of Russia’s future, now former, attorney general. Now Marina Chaika is fighting for a divorce and access to her children.
In late July, Artyom Chaika and his wife Marina were divorced at Moscow’s Presnensky District Court. Artyom is challenging the marriage’s dissolution, however, and an appellate court will hear the matter on September 17. The son of Russia’s former attorney general, Yuri Chaika (now presidential envoy to the North Caucasus District), Artyom is also suing for full custody of their youngest daughter. Marina says he has tried to intimidate her, threatening to take away her children. He even confiscated her identification documents, including her passport, apparently to prevent her from fleeing Russia. Meduza special correspondent Svetlana Reiter spoke with Marina about her marriage and divorce.
How did you meet Artyom Chaika?
It's been a long time, 21 years ago. We met when I moved to Moscow. We simply saw each other, fell in madly love, and that's it.
Madly in love?
We knew each other for three days and understood that we liked one another. I didn't think that this would be my other half, but he came to see me in the city, and that's what happened….
And where did you live?
In Tomsk. He proposed there and carried me off to Moscow.
Actually carried you off?
Not at all. He proposed, and I accepted and moved.
What was he doing then?
He probably already had some kind of business. I don't remember. I think he was working at a legal company at that time. I didn't think about it at all. I can't say that he worked nine to five. It was some type of work with an abnormal schedule. He didn't tell me what he was doing, and I didn't ask.
What kind of family do you come from?
Completely average. Dad was an engineer and mom taught descriptive geometry at the university in Tomsk.
And you ended up part of the family of a major law enforcement officer’s son.
My father-in-law wasn’t the attorney general when I joined their family. I left all my friends behind in Tomsk and I had no one in Moscow. Things were pretty conservative — his authoritarian mother controlled everything. I got along with my father-in-law without any problems. I got pregnant almost immediately after the marriage.
That’s how we lived. I did everything: cooking, cleaning, ironing. Everything fell on the wife. I did everything I could. I showed my skills and they accepted me. They needed a good wife and mother.
If I understand correctly, this was an old-fashioned family where you absolutely had to tidy up and iron?
Of course. And cook and clean. At that time, there was no cook or a maid. All that seemed to come gradually. Things were improving. When the first baby was born, the entire family moved to the city, to the [affluent] Rublevskoe Highway area. Before this, Artyom, his brother, their parents, and then me all lived in one apartment — a four-bedroom, I think. When we moved to the Rublevskoe area, our house wasn’t very big at first, until they finished building it. By then, we already had a cook and a maid.
What was the household staff like?
There was a cook, a maid, and an assistant. There were nannies, of course. I had the first three kids, one year after the other. I wouldn’t have managed without help. Yes, the family allowed it.
How was life with your husband?
Fine at first. Well, there were little things. It’s true, he lived his own life and didn’t share it with me. I didn’t really cross paths with his friends. In 2009, we had our first serious fight, and he hit me across the face. I even documented my injuries but didn’t report it to the police. I understood that, in my case, it was pointless to go to the authorities. I documented the injuries because I wanted to scare him or something.
I don’t even remember what we fought about — everyday stuff, some small disagreement. I took the kids (I had three by then) and went to my mother’s in Tomsk. This was on December 21. When it was time to come back for New Year’s, my husband called and made it very clear that my children would be taken from me if I didn’t come home. It wasn’t clear what would happen to me. Who would stand up for me? At that time, my father had already passed away and back in Tomsk I had only my mom and two aunts: a women’s collective. My father-in-law even called one of my aunts, he said, to convince her to bring me back, to keep me from staying there any longer for any reason. So I went back, and we started living together again.
The kids. Now there’s four of them. You know, it was up and down. Everything would be good and then suddenly it got worse. When it was bad, I tried to smooth things out. Where would I go? To Tomsk? Sure, I had an apartment there, which my husband bought, but my kids were already in school in Moscow. Our whole lives were there. I was afraid that he’d threaten to take away the kids again. Moreover, there was psychological pressure: He had certain administrative resources. Wherever I went, he could have me brought back, if he wanted.
What kind of man is your husband?
He has different sides to him. If something was going poorly, he’d take out all his nastiness on me. With other people though, he was great.
Did you know anything about his business?
He didn’t share anything with me. He didn’t think it was necessary. I sat at home all the time and took care of the kids. I didn’t work a single day. I wasn’t supposed to ask questions.
And your husband registered a building in your name? [Note to readers: Marina Chaika owns the “Siberian Athens” business center in Tomsk. In 2015, the building was leased to “Svyastransneft” until 2025 for roughly 147,000 rubles (almost $2 million). Open Media was the first to report this connection.]
He registered the building to me because I'm from Tomsk and it might come in handy. Initially, the building was in his name, he bought it and an opportunity arose. In 2014, he transferred the building to me so I wouldn't ask for money for the household. I didn't work, so where was I supposed to get money? But it seems to me that he gave me the building, probably, so I'd be independent in some way in his eyes. I don't know.
Did your own family live the same way as your in-laws?
Yes. My family was conservative.
You went to church on Sundays?
The men pilgrimage to Mount Athos?
Yes, all of them. It’s a holy place. And it’s in Greece, where we went every year on vacation.
Your husband's hotel is there?
Yes. It’s not his only one, of course, but we stayed there on vacations. The kids liked it.
When your father-in-law became the attorney general, did your life change at all?
Not really. I mean, the attorney general isn’t anything all that special.
Is that why your voice drops when you say the words “attorney general”?
He and I got along fine. He didn’t really change much, it seemed. He’d always had bodyguards.
Did your family have a bodyguard?
Yes. A bodyguard and a driver. And the kids had drivers when they started going to school.
You didn’t want to grow professionally somehow?
Things got boring for me when the kids grew up. I spent all my time taking care of them, and then they didn’t need their mom anymore. I thought, maybe I’ll go back to school. My husband opposed the idea, but I hadn’t finished my education. When I moved to Moscow more than 20 years ago, I started studying in the Business Administration Department at the Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. But then I had a baby. I tried to balance motherhood with my studies, but it didn’t work out.
You studied at the Presidential Academy of National Economy?
I think so, but I’m not sure. Maybe it was there. It was 20 years ago. I already had a bodyguard when I was in school. They controlled me. After all, what if I suddenly got to know someone? My husband always wanted someone following me. I thought, well, he’s just walking and carrying my bag. If the driver stayed in the car while I went shopping, my husband could rest assured that I wouldn’t be alone. Our oldest daughter had the same type of security.
When did you start talking about divorce?
A year ago, he started saying, “I’ll divorce you. I don’t like you. You’re all dried up like a roach.” He was constantly insulting me, calling me a worm. We rarely went out to eat together and never went to the movies — not even once.
We had an average relationship with his family for a while. Even when we all lived in one house, they either made comments to me directly or showed their dissatisfaction through my husband. I “didn’t answer right.” “Why was I always walking around in a bad mood?” “The children’s manners are no good, they don’t say hello.” Things like that. Even in 2017, when we left his parents’ house, he got a place close to them in the Rublevskoe area so they could dine together every weekend. This was mandatory — scheduled meals.
Did your father-in-law ever welcome any famous guess “from the TV”?
No one came to visit us. It would have been unpleasant. We lived in a very closed-off environment. If my friends from Tomsk came to Moscow, I’d have to ask if they could stop by. They only allowed the kids to play with children from families we knew well. The only people who came over were doctors or colleagues.
You know how it is — different families become friends and go out together and hang out. Well, it wasn’t like that with us. It was just my husband, his parents, the kids, the staff, and me. When we’d go to Greece, which we did a lot, my husband would get together with some acquaintances, with business partners, so he didn’t have to go to dinner with us.
He likes motorcycles?
Yeah. He’s a biker, eight years with the Iron Birds Club. The season starts and then it ends. He never took me for a ride or brought me with him anywhere. He thought there wasn’t a place for me there. Once, he took me to an event for the club’s birthday, but ended up sending me home to the kids. He’s an absolute tyrant with his position. He forbade vacations with friends. I couldn’t grow professionally or socially. I only had the house and the kids.
Did he only hit you one time?
He left the family in February  and I filed for divorce in April. He found out about it, showed up, locked me in a room, and wouldn’t let me see my youngest daughter. She was only six. He grabbed me and tried to explain our relationship. I screamed, “Let me go!” I managed to open the door somehow and jumped out onto the landing. He kicked me in the back. It was a miracle that I stayed on my feet. Our oldest son saw it all. The pressure was constant. Even when my husband didn’t live with us anymore, his security guards still informed him of all my movements, even if I went to the dentist.
Why is your husband against a divorce? He was the first one to leave.
You have to understand that he feels he should make all the decisions himself. He wanted to be the one who decided when we got divorced. In early winter, he started saying, “I don’t need you. You don’t cook for me; you don’t satisfy me.” He left in February and went to live with his parents. He didn’t like me or our home. He even insulted the kids. He’d call our oldest son “gay” and “pansy.” He didn’t like the tight pants he wore or that there were holes in the knees. He didn’t like his hairstyle. My son was just following trends, and we tried to support him, saying he looked cool. Artyom called our oldest daughter, Masha, “as dumb as the hood of his car.” She graduated high school with a gold medal and was accepted at an institute. She’s remembered his words ever since.
After he left, you immediately filed for divorce?
Almost. I submitted the application remotely because we were already under [coronavirus] quarantine. I showed him the notification and he got scared. “Don’t you understand?” he said. “We’re the kind of family where the media will find out. Why do you need to do this? How about, after quarantine ends, we call a notary and get divorced quietly and peacefully?” I went along with it and canceled the application. Then he secretly took my documents. I was looking for my passport and couldn’t find it. I thought I’d lost it. Then I noticed that my other documents were missing, as well.
You’re certain he took your documents?
How else can you explain that my prenup and passport disappeared from my house, both mine and my youngest daughter’s?
With the prenup, what does that leave you after the divorce?
The building in Tomsk, two parking spaces, and two cars — a Land Cruiser and a Cadillac. And there are apartments in Moscow registered in my name that he bought for all the kids, in the Mosfilmskaya Metro Station area, in the “Vishnevy Garden” residential complex. The design project is already ready — each apartment is 80 square meters [861 square feet]. I was supposed to live with my younger daughter, Sofia, in her apartment.
I asked him for this, so the kids would have their own place, so they could begin their adulthood without needing to earn money for housing. All the documents were issued to me to make things easier. I figured, when the documents arrived from the Federal Registration Service, I’d register the deed to the kids, but the documents never came. Meaning that my husband gave the kids the keys, finalized the transaction, and stopped the documents from being issued.
You said you’re afraid your husband might take your youngest daughter.
Yes. He filed a lawsuit to determine our sixteen-year-old daughter's permanent residence. (The Presnensky Court will consider the claim on September ninth and determine Sofia's permanent place of residence). He indicated that his parents would help him raise her. It turns out I'm no longer needed. My husband writes letters to the guardianship authorities and complains that I hide the kids from him.
How were you able to get divorced without your documents?
I got a temporary ID and applied with that. Before I did that, I tried to convince my husband to return my documents and I even texted my father-in-law and asked for help. He didn’t answer. My daughters wrote to him, too. Grandpa made it clear to them that there wouldn’t be any support for us, that this conflict doesn’t concern him.
Does your husband see the kids?
He almost never sees the older ones. He brings a whole gaggle of security guards when he meets with our youngest daughter. The last time, he even brought his brother’s bodyguards, too. They’re these huge men talking on their radios and running around with wires in their ears. It’s probably another way to intimidate me.
Translation by Megan Luttrell