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A Russian Sex Slave's Suicide in Astrakhan

RuNet Echo This post is part of RuNet Echo, a Global Voices project to interpret the Russian language internet. All Posts · Learn more
Galia Borisenko before her disappearance and suicide. Text reads, "Not the last victim..." alluding to rumors that North Caucasians operate a sex slave ring in downtown Astrakhan. (Image circulated anonymously online.)

Galia Borisenko before her disappearance and suicide. Text reads, “Not the last victim…” alluding to rumors that North Caucasians operate a sex slave ring in downtown Astrakhan. (Image circulated anonymously online.)

Galia Borisenko disappeared in mid-July last year on her way to a doctor’s visit. She was three-months-pregnant, 23-years-old, and it was the day after her wedding. No one would see Borisenko again until January 1, 2014, when she suddenly turned up at her grandmother’s apartment, gaunt, childless, and disoriented, and claiming to have survived almost six months as a sex slave, chained to a radiator in someone’s basement. Borisenko said the men who kidnapped her were from the Russian North Caucasus, and some reports [ru] identify a nameless “50-year-old Dagestani man” as the owner of the home in which she says she was imprisoned.

Police told [ru] the newspaper Komsomolskaia Pravda that narcotics use had impaired Borisenko’s mental state. (Indeed, she was unable to lead them to the basement where she was held, though investigators did accompany her to several different suspected locations.) According to Borisenko, her captors forced her to inject drugs to keep her incapacitated.

In what proved to be a dreadful mistake, Borisenko’s relatives decided not to admit her to a hospital, following her return. Subsequently, in the middle of the night on January 5, Galia Borisenko leapt to her death from the fifth story of her apartment building. It remains unclear whether she had a psychotic episode or consciously decided to kill herself. She did not leave a note.

Borisenko’s disappearance and now suicide have become the center of a tense debate about kidnappings in Astrakhan, which many locals blame on North Caucasian immigrants. Groups like the Nationalist Socialist Initiative and the Movement Against Illegal Immigration have picked up the story, citing Borisenko’s demise as the latest example of race crimes against white Russians and the authorities’ refusal to respond. (Borisenko was half-Tatar, half-Ukrainian, by blood.)

Astrakhan investigators seem to have only aggravated ethnic tensions with a January 6 press release [ru] refuting Borisenko’s claim that she’d been abducted. Investigators now say they have witnesses and security camera footage verifying that she walked Astrakhan’s city streets freely during her supposed imprisonment. Without going into any detail, the press release explains that Borisenko’s long disappearance from home was the result of “the circumstances of her personal life,” implying presumably that she fled her family either out of fear or in search of drugs.

Astrakhan bloggers have received the Investigative Committee’s version of events with great skepticism. According to local activist Alexandr Alymov, certain city officials contacted him [ru] within hours after he first blogged about Borisenko’s suicide and kidnapping, asking him to remove the story from his LiveJournal. Other bloggers have mocked Astrakhan’s Governor, Aleksandr Zhilkin, for calling on citizens to avoid fomenting ethnic hatred. “Let’s continue to practice tolerance, fellow citizens,” LiveJournal user Andrei Egorov wrote [ru] facetiously on January 6, before offering a link to investigators’ press release and adding, “Here’s the Investigative Committee’s tolerant version [sic]. Personally, I don’t believe it.”

The National Socialist Initiative (a right-wing group, if you didn’t guess) claims that the police’s refusal to acknowledge Borisenko’s story is part of a larger trend [ru] to conceal North Caucasians’ ethnic crimes against Russians. According to NSI, Russian law enforcement often “blames the victim” in order to hide news about crimes committed by certain ethnic minorities. NSI says police and journalists have been involved in defaming individual Russians and entire Russian communities victimized by North Caucasians, dating back as far as the 2007 race riots in Kondopoga.

Of course, not everyone sees in Borisenko’s tragedy a conspiracy to oppress whites. LiveJournal user and Astrakhan resident hren_morjov was willing to entertain investigators’ conclusion that no kidnapping ever took place. He calls attention to several inconsistencies [ru] in Borisenko’s story. For instance, why did she reappear at her grandmother’s in Rastopulovka, “the asshole of the world” (a village some distance outside Astrakhan), rather than walk home to her parents and husband (who were only two hours from downtown)? hren_morjov also finds it puzzling that Borisenko’s family elected to keep her out of the hospital after she supposedly endured more than five months being drugged, beaten, and starved. “Any normal husband and parents,” he argues, “would have carried his wife or their daughter to the hospital, and waited outside the door until everything had been checked out.”

As recently as autumn last year, Astrakhan’s Investigative Committee has cautioned against the online dissemination of horror stories about North Caucasian kidnappers. In an August 3, 2013, press report [ru], investigators even warned against attributing Borisenko’s disappearance to a secret sex slavery ring. At the time, investigators attributed the rumors to “teenage girls who don’t possess reliable information,” who “create a panic” in the process of trying to warn Astrakhan’s women about monsters from the south.

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