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On the night of January 13, 2020, a Kemerovo man named Vladislav Kanyus brutally murdered his 23-year-old ex-girlfriend, Vera Pekhteleva. For hours, neighbors listened to Pekhteleva scream in agony and repeatedly called the police, but by the time officers arrived, she was dead. Kanyus was sentenced to 17 years in prison, while the officers on duty were convicted of criminal negligence and sentenced to probation. But earlier this month, Pekhteleva’s mother learned that her daughter’s killer had been recruited from prison to fight in the war in Ukraine — and was subsequently pardoned by Vladimir Putin. The independent journalists’ cooperative Bereg spoke with Vera Pekhteleva’s mother, Oksana Pekhteleva. With their permission, Meduza has translated the interview into English.
This June, human rights activists and the media started reporting that Vladislav Kanyus may have been released early. When and how did you learn about this?
I found out through social networks; it was all sent to me by friends of friends since I don’t believe in using social media. At first, we [the Pekhtelev family] thought it was fake. [The fact that he was released in April] was kept from us; they didn’t tell us.
In one document [that we received in response to a request to] the Defense Ministry, they said that [Kanyus] wasn’t listed in their ranks — this was, if I’m not mistaken, on July 17 of this year. A little later, another document came, stating that he’d agreed to participate in military operations and had joined the ranks [of the Russian army]. The third document we received said that his criminal record had been expunged. The date of the pardon was April 27, and we only learned about it two days ago.
How did your family react when it was confirmed that Kanyus has been pardoned?
I found out from my ex-husband, my child’s father. The prosecutor’s office sent a response to his complaint and, of course, he forwarded it to me. We were in shock, both Yevgeny Pekhtelev and I. We’re still dismayed. How could this happen?
I’m anxious, it’s very hard for me now. There’s a tremendous siege of journalists, and I don’t like it very much. I would really like the [press] to spread our misfortune as widely as possible but to leave out any statements and comments about our government. I’m so exposed right now that tomorrow they could easily charge me for my negative attitude towards my homeland. I’m not going to comment [on this issue].
When messages started appearing last year about prisoners being recruited to participate in the war, did you think that Kanyus could be among them?
Initially, the thought didn't even cross my mind. I was raised in the Soviet Union; my father is an officer, a lieutenant colonel in the armed forces, a military veteran. I grew up in an educated family; we were always taught to respect the country where we live. And, naturally, we believed we couldn’t be betrayed.
There was information — perhaps in the media — that criminals convicted of particularly serious crimes weren’t taken to war. At least, that’s what they told us Russian citizens. I believed it until I was faced with… I don’t know what to call it.
And I’m not alone — believe me, there are at least hundreds of mothers like me. We live in different corners of our vast homeland. Some are afraid [to go public], some don’t want to, some have given up, and some, because of the statute of limitations, no longer have the physical, yes, and emotional strength.
I’m a very strong woman and a strong person. I understand that this is tilting at windmills, that it will lead to nothing. I feel it. No one will hear us, no one will help us. Absolutely all state media are silent — because they’re not allowed [to write about us], no one has given them the green light. And the so-called armchair commentators will be divided into two groups again. [One side will write,] “I’m sick of this, how much can you [keep thinking about this crime],” and the other half will say that something needs to be done, some effort needs to be made [to put the criminal back in prison].
I believe that the news will resonate with people, but things will stay where they are because we’ve already been through the Supreme Court. And the president’s office has already given us an answer: he pardoned the murderer, the torturer, the monster.
Human rights activist Alena Popova, citing you, wrote that Kanyus was sent to the front even before the cassation [high court appeal] process was complete. How did the hearing go in the end?
It was like a video conference: the murderer didn’t attend the court session, but he signed a document stating that he didn’t object to the proceedings taking place without his presence. Everything went smoothly: we were declined on all counts, politely dismissed — and that was the end of the court session.
I wouldn’t even be surprised if [Kanyus] gets awarded a medal. That would be the most egregious slap in the face — both for me and for hundreds of thousands of women, of families with good kids who are supposed to fulfill their duty of dying [in the war]. And these scoundrels, these leeches, [choosing to go from prison to the front] just to avoid punishment, will walk next to us on our land and also secretly beat, kill, and rape. I just don’t understand who let them get weapons in their hands.
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Did you speak with Kanyus during the court proceedings? Did he or his family try to contact you during the trial or after the sentence?
I don’t even want to waste time discussing the family of my child’s murderer — that’s the first thing. Secondly, no one, in fact, gave us the right to talk to him. And how do you imagine this: the mother of a murdered child conversing with the devil? Why would I need him, when I couldn’t even stand to look at him! We communicated through our proxies — a lawyer from his side, a lawyer from our side, nothing more. I don’t want to talk about that scum, that monster. He’s inhuman. I don’t want to and I won’t. I’ll say one thing: that scum is free, and my child has been in the grave for three years.
What do you plan to do next? Will you seek Kanyus’s imprisonment again? And do your lawyers believe this is possible?
I have faith that this is possible — hope, as they say, dies last. But I’m a realist. I’m a pretty educated person, and I keep track of what’s going on in the world. If they decide now to demonstratively send this maniac and pervert back to prison, imagine what the fallout will be. We’re showing mercy and granting freedom to all [inmates] for participating in military service with one hand, and meanwhile, with the other hand, we’re pushing people back into prison who, believe me, do not want to be there. I don’t think it’s politically necessary or appropriate.
We simply found ourselves in this situation through our own misfortune. If it weren’t for the war, [Kanyus] wouldn’t have gone anywhere — he would still be in prison right now. But I have faith. There’s such a thing as divine retribution — the only thing I want is for it to catch up with him. And I don’t care how it happens.
Translation by Emily ShawRuss with assistance from Sam Breazeale
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