The plague of domestic violence in Russia

Campaigners hope the murder of Vera Pekhtelev will force police in Russia to act following concerns about domestic abuse victims.

Video Transcript

- In 2018, 8,300 women were murdered in Russia. That's 22 a day. Women's rights organizations say the majority were victims of domestic assault. But the authorities only recorded 253 as being due to domestic violence.

Campaigners hope things might now start to change, following an outcry over the murder of Vera Pekhtelev. She was killed by her boyfriend, despite desperate calls to the police from neighbors, who could hear what was happening.

A warning. This report from our Moscow correspondent, Diana Magnay, includes parts of those telephone calls in which Vera can be heard pleading for help. Some people may find it upsetting to hear.

DIANA MAGNAY: Last year in this Siberian apartment block, Vera Pekhtelev was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. She was a 23-year-old student, just come to pick up her things.

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DIANA MAGNAY: The neighbors called for help seven times, but no one came. When they finally broke the door down, it was too late.

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DIANA MAGNAY: At the hearing we attended, the judge read out 111 injuries inflicted on Pekhtelev over hours before Vladislav Kanyus finally strangled her with a cord from an iron. Her uncle sat just feet away from the man who killed her.

VLADIMIR PEKHTELEV: [SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

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DIANA MAGNAY: Last month, the audio recordings went viral. Only then was a criminal negligence charge brought against the call center operators as well as the police, and the potential penalties for them and for Kanyus increased.

This is a horrific case, but it is in no way a one-off. Russia suffers a plague of domestic violence, concealed behind closed doors. And what unites most of those cases is the weak response of the state and law enforcement.

In the same city of Kemerovo, we meet Ruslan Mellin. He's a surgeon, specializing in face and neck traumas. He knows better than anyone what domestic violence looks like, so he draws it-- each face, each horrific set of injuries, each with its own story.

RUSLAN MELLIN: [SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

DIANA MAGNAY: In this kind of violence, do you think this is just the nature of things? Is there nothing you think that the law or the state or civil society can do?

RUSLAN MELLIN: [SPEAKING RUSSIAN]

DIANA MAGNAY: In 2017, Russia decriminalized first instance domestic assault. So as long as there are no bones broken, it isn't a crime.

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DIANA MAGNAY: It's not as though society doesn't care. This is a new talk show, all about domestic violence, hosted by Margarita Gracheva, well known now after her ex-husband cut off her hands in a fit of jealous rage.

But the leading advocacy group, Nasiliu, or No to Violence, which helped produce this play, featuring Gracheva's story, has just been labeled a foreign agent. Because even as civil society tries to look forward, Russia has a leadership which looks back. And without a systematic response to the problem of domestic violence, from Parliament to the courts to the police, Russia's women will continue to die.

Diana Magnay, Sky News, Kemerovo, Russia.

- Sky News approached the Kemerovo police force and local Investigative Committee for comment, but has yet to receive a response.