A woman, a dog and a walnut tree, the harder you beat them, the better they be.
“Sergey thrusts an axe into Tatiana’s breast. He then rolls her up in a rug, goes out and buys more spirits, and continues drinking vodka.”
Name: Tatiana Andreyeva
Killed: Aged 58
Tatiana’s death would be reported in the local paper in just seven words: “Female citizen from Luga murdered in Siverskaya.” Perhaps that is all the editorial staff were told, but even if the police authorities had made more than that brief information available, it is not likely that the details would have been printed, since it would not have been considered news. A drunk had beaten his woman to death at home, and most likely she had been drinking with him. Just one of all the thousands of cases every year, no more than yet another private family matter between people who get what they deserve. That is the general view.
Against this background, Maria Andreyeva is an unusual woman; an ordinary Russian teacher, but a woman who sees her mother Tatiana’s death as being part of a social problem which goes unnoticed in her country. And which she wants to tell us about.
We meet Maria in the small town of Luga, a few hours drive south of St Petersburg. The town has been hailed as a “town of heroes” since the Second World War, when the inhabitants bravely resisted the German army for a whole month. Just under 40,000 people live here now.
Tatiana herself was not from Luga. She was born in Murmansk, in the village of Kuropta, where she grew up an only child. She is never told the circumstances behind her father’s deportation to the Gulag under the Stalin regime, and it is not even certain that there is an explanation, at least not one that makes sense. Neither does she know how her father came to lose an arm.
Tatiana’s childhood revolves around making her father proud.
Tatiana’s childhood revolves around making her father proud. No-one in her family has previously studied at university, but she herself goes to St Petersburg and the polytechnic university, where thirty students were competing for one place. The demanding studies are too much for Tatiana, who returns to Kuropta and an angry lecture from her father. She returns to the university town the following day without having unpacked her suitcase. In order to have her board and lodgings paid for by the state, she dutifully attends a vocational college to become a plasterer, but she complements her training with academic studies, and graduates. Her father is proud. His daughter is a physics teacher.
Chance leads Tatiana to Luga. Like all new graduates, the state first sends her north for two years of service, but it turns out that she is not needed, and she manages to find a teaching position further south, in the small town of Luga, where she is even able to find a one-room flat of her own, something which is not easy in a country where whole families crowd into one room and share the kitchen and bathroom with other families.
There is a cloud on the horizon which will shape Tatiana’s life. Her mother-in-law appears to hate her.
When she is almost 30, she meets a man at the city tourist office, where she works part-time as a guide. He is three years older, a divorced history teacher. He is good-looking, articulate, and passionate about teaching.
Tatiana has two daughters within two years. The couple are happy.
But from the start there is a cloud on the horizon which will shape Tatiana’s life. Her mother-in-law appears to hate her.
With the break-up of the Soviet Union, changes in the economy lead to teachers’ salaries shrinking. Many teachers give up their jobs in the public sector to start their own businesses, and Tatiana’s husband is smitten with the desire for success. He wants to create wealth for his daughters. He sells the flat to raise the starting capital and starts his own company, selling clothes. They move to the family’s dacha, the small house just outside the town, where his mother, Tatiana’s dour mother-in-law, lives. It has three rooms and a kitchen.
She is very tired when she comes home to her fourth job, as housekeeper. Nobody questions the fact that she is the one who cooks and cleans.
Tatiana’s husband proves not to be a businessman. The money disappears and it comes as a shock to him that he is unable to support his family. He returns to his poorly paid job as a teacher, which he still loves.
But Tatiana has three jobs. She teaches physics at two schools, and in the evenings she works as a cleaner at the tax agency’s offices.
She is very tired when she comes home to her fourth job, as housekeeper. Nobody questions the fact that she is the one who cooks and cleans.
It is not a happy atmosphere in the house, where her mother-in-law complains about everything that Tatiana does not have the time or the energy to do. And Tatiana increasingly accepts her husband’s offer of a glass of vodka. She deserves it, she thinks. It will help her to relax.
Tatiana’s husband does not believe in drinking alone. But he does not always have friends at home when he feels like opening a bottle. So he sometimes asks his daughter Maria to sit with him by the kitchen window in the little red house, to keep him company. Then he drinks vodka and becomes even more talkative than usual. When he is drunk, he likes to tell the story of how he met their mother: “Your mother fell in love with me like a kitten.”
Maria does not consider sitting like this so often with her father to be in any way strange. Her father is no different from other Russian men, except that he is not drunk particularly often, usually just once or twice a month.
Rather, Maria realises as a teenager, it is her mother who drinks too much. Everyone in Luga knows what is going on. Tatiana performs her work faultlessly. But in the evenings, she can be seen more and more often staggering the few kilometres from the town out to the dacha. Maria meets her mother from work as often as she can. She confronts her mother and tells her she is ashamed. “It feels like you’re abandoning us,” she says.
Tatiana does not answer.
She begins to understand that her mother is unhappy.
It is hard for Maria to be angry; she loves her mother, who reads the classics, who loves to discuss the films she’s seen, and who always takes an interest in her daughters’ lives and lets them make their own decisions.
But she begins to understand that her mother is unhappy. Sometimes she withdraws and they know she is crying. And she says: “I wasn’t born on a rubbish dump.”
Things get worse at home after 2002, when Maria’s father has a stroke and is unable to work. He, who used to be so strong and capable, loses his zest for life; he has lost the respect of the school students and can no longer take care of his family. His disability pension is peanuts.
This comes at the same time as both daughters start studying at university. Tatiana is supporting them all. She is increasingly at the mercy of her mother-in-law’s sharp tongue. And she is drinking every day.
The lack of housing and the crowded living conditions are a problem that is having serious social consequences in Russia. There are still too few new homes being built, and the existing housing is expensive. In the past, Soviet citizens had been allocated a room in a flat where they would have shared a kitchen and bathroom with one or more families. As a result of the reforms, these rooms became privately owned. This has created an inefficient market, since few people can afford to buy rooms other than the ones where they already live.
What kind of wife did you find? She’s useless. You were much better off before you moved in with that woman!
Tatiana, who once had her own one-room flat, is now stuck in a house with a husband who is sick and emotionally broken. Her mother-in-law, Alexandra, never wastes an opportunity to criticise Tatiana. She usually turns to her son: “What kind of wife did you find? She’s useless. You were much better off before you moved in with that woman!”
Tatiana knows that her husband has been unfaithful throughout their marriage. She tells her daughter Maria that she is not worried. “Your father is the kind of man who goes with other women, but his family his everything to him, and he won’t leave us.”
Tatiana does not consider the situation to be strange, or in any way remarkable. She married an attractive man, and he has his needs. She considers herself ugly. She is particularly dissatisfied with her dark skin. She calls herself “Big nose”.
Of course she takes full responsibility for her home and family. This is the culture of obedience described in Domostroi, a collection of directives from the 16th century Orthodox book which sets out rules and instructions for Russian families of the upper and merchant classes, down to the most minute details, such as how a wife should be punished for various misdemeanours.
The directives were supposed to have disappeared under socialism, when men and women lived on equal terms. But the violence proved to be more than just a creation of the bourgeoisie; it continued. Despite the fact that no-one talked about it.
Tatiana cannot afford a place of her own.
Tatiana’s husband dies in 2006. But even as a widow, she is unable to make her own life. Her daughters need financial support as long as they are studying. Her mother-in-law owns the house. Tatiana cannot afford a place of her own. The two women can hear each other breathing through the thin walls. In the evenings, Alexandra puts on her TV and leaves it blaring loudly until four o’clock in the morning. Tatiana gets up one hour later to go to work. And what can she do? Other than grit her teeth. And open a bottle of wine.
Her daughters move back to Luga when they have completed their studies. Maria has a job teaching social sciences, and her sister works at an art school.
Tatiana is at last free. She finds a job selling ice-cream and drinks on the train. Her working days are long, twelve hours, but the pay is reasonable, and she rents a room in Siverskaya, near St Petersburg. It is not in a particularly pleasant building; the neighbours drink and the walls are thin. But it is hers.
And she never sets foot in the house in Luga again.
It hurt her that she no longer belonged to a social class where she was respected and listened to.
We meet Maria in the dacha, the house which Tatiana shared so unhappily with her mother-in-law, Alexandra. It is impossible to see that the house was once red. It is now more of a brownish green, and is very run-down. We huddle in the cold kitchen, and Maria tells us Tatiana’s story.
“It was hard for our mother that she couldn’t earn her living as a teacher. It hurt her that she no longer belonged to a social class where she was respected and listened to.”
On the 16th of September, Maria met Tatiana for the last time. Maria’s husband had been taken ill; they needed to borrow money to pay for his medicine, and Tatiana hurried to Luga. They decided to meet again on the 16th of October, to celebrate Maria’s birthday.
After Tatiana had left, Maria’s husband suggested they go to Siverskaya to get to know the new man in Tatiana’s life. They did not know much about the way Tatiana lived, but they were aware that she was drinking heavily. She used to turn the phone off so she would not have to hear Maria’s nagging and disappointment. But Tatiana was a grown woman; was it really right for them to interfere and turn up unannounced? They decided to wait. They were going to meet again soon.
On the night between the 13th and 14th of October 2009, 49-year-old Sergey Kudriavtsev thrusts an axe into Tatiana’s breast. He then rolls her up in a rug and carries her down to the basement, goes out and buys more spirits, and continues drinking vodka. When his friends arrive two days later, he tells them straight out what has happened, and they call the police, who find the woman’s body. It has around thirty knife and axe wounds. There are cuts on Tatiana’s hands.
On the Friday evening of the same week, Maria received a phone-call from the police asking her to go to Siverskaya. At first Maria objected, as she would not arrive until late in the evening, but the police interrupted. That did not matter. She must come immediately.
“At the police station, they told me that my mother had been murdered several days earlier, and that they were holding the killer in custody. Since three days had passed, they needed a statement from victim’s relatives so they could hold him longer. And so I signed a paper to say she was ‘missing’.”
Maria was not allowed to see the body, just some black and white photographs. The police showed her that consideration.
Maria was not allowed to see the body, just some black and white photographs.
Sergey Kudriavtsev confessed calmly in court, on the advice of his lawyer. However, he changed his confession on one point, and claimed that Tatiana had died instantly. According to the first version, she had lived for a while and he had heard her wheezing. He said he was sorry for what he had done. He explained that Tatiana was jealous and had started a fight.
“But I know my mother was never jealous,” says Maria. “She never raised her voice.”
How did they become a couple? Maria searches for an explanation. He was younger than she was, and good-looking, but she probably that she knew that he was dangerous. He had previously killed his own mother.
“My mother must have been feeling very lonely to have fallen for him. She had no friends for many years. She was drinking on her own, and ashamed of her problems. And it was difficult for her to meet new people; she was an academic, but she was working with people who were not like her, people who had no education.
We remembered later that she had a few bruises.
It must have been the loneliness, and I do wonder what her life was like. We remembered later that she had a few bruises. On one occasion, she had a cut on one of her eyebrows. She said she had been robbed but that there was no point in reporting it to the police, they wouldn’t catch the thief. Now I think she was lying.”
Sergey was sentenced to nine years in prison. His lawyer advocated a milder sentence, on the grounds that he had confessed, and the judge chose to listen to his argument. The scale of punishment for “simple murder” is imprisonment for between 6 and 15 years.
Under Russian law, the fact that the criminal was under the influence of drugs or alcohol has no bearing on the length of the sentence, but in practice the judge can allow himself to take into account the fact that the perpetrator was drunk and “in a child-like state”. The link between alcohol and violence has been investigated in Russia too. According to the Ministry of the Interior’s survey from the early 1990s, three out of four killers were under the influence of alcohol. It is significant that the number of deaths resulting from violence was halved in the 1980s, when the then President Gorbachev raised the price of spirits, and the age at which they could be bought to 21. After the market reforms in the 1990s, things returned to the way they used to be.
“There is no reference to anything I said about my mother in the verdict,” Maria says sadly. “Nothing about what a good job she did in supporting the family, or what a wonderful mother she was. Only that this had happened under the influence of alcohol.
Now when I think of the man who murdered her, I think of him as scum, a despicable person. But what can you say about a country that treats its citizens this way? That pays its teachers so badly that they have to take on extra work as cleaners to make a living, and end up losing their way.”
Maternal deaths: 34 deaths per l00,000 births (2008)
Number of children/woman: 1.42
Abortion legislation: Right to abortion
Law against rape within marriage: No
Violence against women in close relationships: Violence in the home is the cause of two thirds of all murders in Russia. It is estimated that 34,000 women are subjected to violence in the home each year. 60-70 per cent of these victims do not report the abuse, mainly because previous attempts to report it have failed.