‘The police are coming. There’s no need to swear!’ Outrage spreads after Russians learn about the police ignoring a grisly domestic dispute that ended in a woman’s brutal murder. The negligent police officers could get off with a fine.
Details about a grisly murder committed a year ago in Kemerovo have found an audience on social media in the past week, following activist Alena Popova’s Facebook posts about the killing of 23-year-old Vera Pekhteleva at the hands of a jealous ex-boyfriend. Her death is particularly disturbing and shocking because neighbors pleaded with the local police for assistance for hours while listening to the woman scream in agony. By the time the neighbors finally kicked in the apartment door, Pekhteleva was dead. The public’s attention now turns to the trials against the killer and the officers whose negligence likely cost a woman her life.
Russians know the story of Vera Pekhteleva, a 23-year-old student at Kuzbass State Technical University who was murdered in January 2020, thanks to Alena Popova, the co-founder of “You Are Not Alone,” an organization for victims of domestic violence. On February 20, Popova shared the following message on Facebook:
Her former boyfriend murdered 23-year-old Vera over a period of three and a half hours. For several hours, the neighbors called the police, begging them to come, but the police didn’t come. Finally, the neighbors themselves broke down the metal door, but it was too late. By then [the former boyfriend] Vladislav Kanyus had inflicted no fewer than 56 injuries on Vera: bruises, cuts, a broken nose, and cranial trauma. He didn’t leave a single place on the girl’s body untouched. In the end, he strangled Vera with the cord from an iron.
Popova, who obtained the case file from Pechteleva’s sister, said Vera had decided to break up with Kanyus. On the day of the murder, she went to his apartment to collect her things, but he wouldn’t let her leave. She tried to break free, but he pulled her away from the door and continued to beat her. Neighbors heard her screaming and called the police at least seven times, but no one responded. By the time the neighbors ultimately broke down Kanyus’s apartment door themselves, Pekhteleva was already dead.
Kanyus has been charged with murder and faces six to 15 years in prison. Popova noted that he is charged simply with murder, not aggravated homicide, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Pekhteleva’s relatives had petitioned for the more serious charge, but prosecutors ignored these requests. The indictment does not state that Kanyus “tortured her to death” over a period of hours, Popova said, which could allow him to get a relatively short sentence with the chance of parole.
Thousands of people, as well as Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee, reacted to the story of Pechteleva’s murder, but the police officers who ignored the neighbors’ calls might only be fined.
Popova’s post sparked widespread outrage. Facebook users have shared it more than 5,000 times and there are more than 4,400 comments on Popova’s original story. She also attracted the attention of pop musician Valeriya (Alla Perfilova).
Oksana Pekhteleva, Vera’s mother, confirmed in a February 21 interview with the TV channel 360 that state prosecutors declined to press more serious charges against her daughter’s killer. When officials brought the case to court, they summarized the offense in relatively innocent terms: “‘hit and strangled four times,’ and that was all,” recalled Oksana Pekhteleva. “Torture and bullying — that doesn’t figure in the case at all.” A petition posted the same day on the Change.org website demanded tougher charges against Kanyus. At the time of this writing, more than 111,000 people had signed the document.
Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee also reacted to Popova’s post, confirming that it’s launched a negligence inquiry in connection with Pechteleva’s murder against two local police officers: a 41-year-old duty unit shift chief and a 40-year-old senior operational duty officer at Kemereov’s Leninsky police station. (The news website Taiga.info has identified these officers as Major Mikhail Balashov and Captain Dmitry Taritsyn.) Federal officials say the local police received a report about Pechteleva being beaten but did not send a team to investigate. The officers have not entered a guilty plea, but the agency says it has collected “irrefutable evidence” against them. They face a fine as high as 120,000 rubles ($1,625) and other penalties as severe as 360 hours of compulsory labor, a year’s community service, or three months in jail. The officers’ superiors will also face “strict disciplinary responsibility,” said spokespeople for Russia’s Interior Ministry.
Popova considers it unfair that police officers could get off with a relatively small fine:
Our state now stands up for the interests of the murderer and the police. This attitude towards domestic violence has become the norm in Russia. The state continued to view domestic violence not as a crime, but as a centuries-old tradition of the Russian family in which it should not intervene. In the end, the state stands by and waits for another body to be taken. This case demands wide publicity. We can’t let the killer get away with a short sentence and the cops with a fine.
Later, Popova published a transcript of a conversation between the alleged killer’s neighbors and the police.
On February 23, Popova shared another Facebook post about Pechteleva’s murder. This time, she posted transcripts of some of the calls that neighbors made to the police, the day the woman was killed. Popova says she got the transcripts from the victim’s sister and argues that it’s now clear the police should receive “severe punishment.” However, one of the officers in question has close relatives who work in the Kemerovo court system, according to Popova, who says, “All their connections and resources can be put to work to cover up the case.” She has not yet named the relatives or their positions.
“J.Z.”: Hello, hello. We need the police. There’s some kind of slaughterhouse happening at the neighbor’s. A girl is screaming, like hysterically. The door won’t open, either. Everyone has already pounded on it.
Operator: The call has been given to the police officers.
[In the background of the call, a woman screams] “Aaah, no, no, no, aaaaaah!”
“M.Z.”: Lady, do you hear her screaming behind the door?
Operator: What am I supposed to do?
“M.Z.”: Where are the fucking police?
Operator: Why are you talking like that?
“M.Z.”: How do I get the door open?? She’s getting fucking killed in there right now!
Operator: The police are coming. There’s no need to swear!
“J.Z.”: We called an hour and a half ago. No one showed up, we opened the door on our own, the girl was already dead. What do we do next?
Operator: Stay on the line, I’ll switch you over to the police and assign an ambulance.
Kanyus’s case went to court in November 2020, but the proceedings were suspended due to the absence of either the defendant (due to illness) or witnesses. The case against the officers who failed to respond is scheduled to begin on Friday, February 26.
Translation by Carol Matlack