St Andrei Bogolyubsky Convent in Vladimir Oblast
For the second consecutive year, a scandal surrounding St Andrei Bogolyubsky Convent in Vladimir Oblast flared up, following the same pattern as before. Students who ran away from the Orthodox orphanage there told us how the nuns who operated the shelter severely flogged them with a belt, locked them in solitary confinement in the church, starved them, deprived them of sleep, and forced them to make numerous prostrations for the slightest fault. Material relating to child abuse was isolated in a separate proceeding and handed over to the Suzdal Raion OVD. Twice, the Investigation Committee of the Vladimir Oblast Office of the RF Prokuratura made preliminary investigations at the convent, and, based upon the alleged results, refused to open a criminal case based on the statue of the RF Criminal Code regarding illegal deprivation of liberty. Their verdict was the same in both cases… “No evidence of a crime”, so, no one received an indictment despite the copious evidence given by the victims. Why did this happen? Our MK special correspondent is going to get to the bottom of this and sort things out for you.
“For three days, we had to pray for Russia”
A year ago, MK conducted its own investigation into the events at the orphanage. At that time, two girls had run away from the convent. One of them, 16-year-old student Valentina Perova, sent a letter alleging abuse at the facility to the RF General Procurator, Patriarch Kirill, and President Dmitri Medvedev. Valya told me that the nuns forced kids to live according to ancient monastic rules, they were severely flogged, forced to sleep in wet nighties, and were locked up for 12 days in a room with only water and dry bread. When Valya’s younger sister Masha snitched some food from the table without permission, one of the nuns held her hand in a fire. “This is to burn not only your skin, but also your soul”, was the explanation the nun gave the child. The nuns replied, “The girl is nothing but a daydreamer, we don’t beat, insult, or lock up the girls. It’s nothing but a calumny against Orthodoxy!”
We managed to find two former residents of the convent orphanage. One of them, Eva, confirmed what Valya Perova said, “We were really flogged with a belt; it left bruises. Before the arrival of the commission, we were whipped in such a way that it left no traces on the face and hands where they could be seen”. Another former resident, Nastya, confessed, “The girls weren’t allowed to communicate even with the nuns and novices. They lived in their own closed little world. The system there was that the teachers tried to force all of us to be ‘obedient’. We rejoiced when Mother Rafaila was removed, but she was replaced by Mother Natalia (Natalia Efremova, a lawyer by training: MK), and things became even harder. Their blows left me in desperation and shock; it shocked me even more because we were supposed to be their spiritual children. Of course, I talked about the severe corporal punishment to Fr Pyotr. He did what he could, and that moderated the arbitrariness of the nuns. However, they were all on a power trip. Unlimited power corrupts”.
One of the officials at the convent responsible for the shelter, Mother Antonia Davidovskaya, commented on the reports, “Valya interrupted our prayers. For violation of our rules, she and another girl were just isolated in a separate room. This wasn’t a punishment cell or cellar, as Valya put it. It was a heated room, which our sisters now use as living quarters, and they had regular meals in the refectory. Of course, both were deprived of ice cream, candy, and children’s tours. All the time, we had ‘educational conversations’ with them. We called this our system of individual education”.
However, this is what Nastya told us, “At first, we took it like it was a normal thing. For three days, we had to pray for Russia. We were in a group of ten people gathered in a room, but we couldn’t sleep and we couldn’t eat. Of course, most of us, like me, didn’t resist; we shut down, we just went along. Nevertheless, we saw it as a good thing at first. Soon, it came down to, ‘Oh, you’re lazy; we’ve got to lock you up’. It truly was a punishment, and quite cruel”. After the revelations of Valentina Perova, law enforcement officers, government officials, and higher clergy descended on the convent to do an investigation. However, the nuns frightened the young residents; so, they didn’t confirm the testimony of their runaway girlfriends. They were told that their Orthodox orphanage was under attack by external enemies, so, we must defend our home. The authority of the nuns was so great that the girls perceived their words as truth.
For three weeks, the Investigative Committee of the Vladimir Oblast Office of the RF Prokuratura held a preliminary investigation in the convent, but they could not find any direct evidence of wrongdoing by the nuns. According to the results of the various commissions, the convent was found to have no license, registration, or permission to conduct educational services, so, the school was closed. Some children were sent home, some were transferred to the diocesan boarding school in Suzdal. Girls with had mothers living at the convent, remained there. Yet, in less than a year, a new scandal erupted at the St Andrei Bogolyubsky Convent. 16-year-old Veronika Sarina and 17-year-old Sveta Kuznetsova ran away from the convent.
Most Orthodox families are healthy, not dysfunctional, but we shouldn’t ignore any signs of abuse… ever.
Views of life at the convent
The girls asked for protection from the first policeman that they met. At the Suzdal Raion Police station, in the presence of child welfare officials, they said that they were kept by force in the convent, and that they couldn’t endure the harassment and hard work any more, so, they decided to escape. The girls’ testimony was recorded on video, and, then, they were transferred to a hospital for examination and consultations.
Vladyki Evlogy blessed Svetlana and Veronika to study at the diocesan secondary boarding school, where they would spend a year studying with their girlfriends. They bought Class 11 textbooks and new school clothes, and they processed their passports. However, three days later, early in the morning, their mothers, Dmitri Rostovsky (a lawyer for the convent), and Mother Antonia Davidovskaya (the convent chancellor) broke into their bedroom. Therefore, Vladyki Evlogy tried a new tack; he decided to send the girls back into the community. Veronika Sarina, who lived in the shelter for eleven years, was to be put into a car and driven to Voronezh to live with family members. Svetlana Kuznetsova, who lived at the convent for six years, was to be sent to Bugulma in Tatarstan. Both locations were far away from Vladimir’s investigative bodies.
By the way, under pressure from lawyers and nuns from the convent, the girls abandoned their claims, and requested that the police not carry out checks on their testimony. Veronika then rang up the school and they told her, “If you don’t get a statement from the Procurator, it’ll be bad for your household and for the cops who took your statement”. According to psychologist Inna Bausheva, the girls’ behaviour is understandable. “The entire system is at the convent was directed at depriving residents of self-will and self-assessment. It meant that they must absolutely believe everything that’s told them. This was the view of life at that convent. The children caught up in it were spiritual slaves, for any dissent was brutally suppressed”. However, as the runaways were minors, the investigating authorities nevertheless started to check things out. Soon, the work of the SKP increased.
Surprisingly, the nuns tried to kidnap two of their former pupils, Lyuba Gorbachek and Ksenia Golovchenko, whilst they were walking near the school. As they feared that the convent could continue to interfere in their lives, these girls, who previously lived at the convent shelter, but had been in the diocesan boarding school near Suzdal for about a year, appealed to the Office of the RF General Procurator in Moscow, complaining of beatings and abuse at the convent. The girls repented of the fact that a year ago, after Valya Perova ran away, they did not support a girlfriend and hid the truth from the investigators performing the inspection. Ksenia Golovchenko said, “When the commission came from His Holiness the Patriarch, we gathered in the infirmary. There was a rich table laid there, we were forced to say that we ate meat, and that we abstained from seafood. Mother Georgia was quite insistent that I testify to the investigator in private. I’m sorry I lied to him. Mother Antonia Davidovskaya, the chancellor of the monastery, made me lie then, and also tell lies during a TV broadcast”.
“They asked us to say nothing about punishment. The only thing that we could talk about was the ‘twelve bows’”, echoed another former student at the convent school, Marina Loiko. Fr Vitaly Rysev, the director of the diocesan boarding school, gave an answer to the question as to why Lyuba and Ksenia were silent for so long, “During the past year, these girls have grown up, they’ve become true citizens; now, they feel their responsibility for the fact that their lies led to more suffering on the part of other children”.
“Forced to lick the dust on the floor”
“We rose at 05.30, and, until 10.00, we had the morning service in the chapel; then, we had breakfast, and we worked in the kitchen or in the barn until noon. After that, we had classes until 16.00, and we went back to work until 19.00, when we had dinner. Finally, we cleaned the refectory and did homework until lights out at 22.00, and we were wakened at midnight for prayer”, Marina Loiko said in telling of the daily routine in the convent orphanage. Marina came to the convent in 2005, along with her mother Raisa. When her husband left her for another woman, she sold her apartment and gave the money to the convent. Raisa Loiko decided to live near the convent in the village of Pereborovo, and her daughter was sent to a skete in Spas-Kupalishche, and, later, in the convent itself. “They forbade us to see our parents, explaining that we had dedicated our lives to God and that our mothers shouldn’t interfere with our education”, Marina Loiko said.
Raisa Loiko confessed, “Once, on a weekend, I came to the convent to receive Holy Communion, but when my daughter saw me, she appeared frightened, she scrunched in her shoulders and tried to get away from me. It came out that she would be severely punished if she was seen to be talking to me”.
The nuns and novices raised the girls. One of them, Natalia Chakina, once told Raisa Loiko, “I recently went to a confessor in Spas-Kupalishche, on the way back, I prayed, ‘Lord, send us adversity, take away these pure souls; don’t let them be soiled with these new passports’. I ask God to do this continually”. In the summer, the girls were taken to the convent’s sketes to do field work, in Yakimanskaya, Pavlovskoye, Kibalo, Yanevo, and Danylovka.
Ksenia Golovchenko said, “You got up at 3.00, ate a small piece of prosphora, worked until 09.00, ate breakfast, and, then, worked in the field until 16.00. We had an hour for dinner, and we were so tired when we went to bed at 21.00, as we worked until 19.00. Our teachers used their slippers as weapons, and once hit me so hard that dislocated my tailbone”.
Marina Loiko said, “Once, Aleksandr Mileko came to the kitchen and asked for water. Valya Perova addressed him by name, for which Mother Rafaila grabbed her hair and began beating her head against the wall, and, then, took off her slippers, and started to beat Valya on the face”.
Raisa Loiko confirmed, “I just saw Sister Anastasia, who’s now Mother Rafaila, dragging a child across the floor by her hair, it looked like she was wiping her feet on the girls. With my own eyes, I saw the teachers Yelena Sarina and Tatiana Skamukh tie Lyuba Gorbachek’s hands and legs to her bed at night, they fettered her so that she wouldn’t run away, they sealed her mouth with duct tape, and, then, for a whole day, they locked her up in a closet in the barn”.
Marina Loiko said, “In the dormitory, I saw a girl sleeping with her mouth open, so, I jokingly offered to fill her mouth with something so that she would close it. Mother Rafaila heard me, and came to me with a 50-gram (1.8 ounce) Nescafé coffee packet filled with salt, poured it into my palm, and she said, ‘Eat it!’ I ate it, as I understood that was the only way to prevent her from physically attacking me. I ate all the salt in the packet. Then, I felt very bad inside, everything burned and ached, I drank a lot of water, and I took me a while to feel better”.
Girls were punished for not lowering their eyes and having a bold and direct look, for talking whilst peeling potatoes, falling asleep in church, shifting from foot to foot during services, and arguing with a superior. Ksenia Golovchenko said, “Their favourite punishment was hitting us with a belt; on average, they hit us eight times a week. It created an environment where it was impossible to live in the convent without breaking this or that rule. In December, because I wasn’t wearing tights, one of the teachers, Ms Efremova, covered my back with a wet towel and struck me with a buckled leather belt. I think that she hit me thirty times. After she was done, I had to bow and ask her forgiveness, at which time she hit me in the head with the belt”.
Marina Loiko said, “I was beaten severely with a strap, often, up to 103 times. I was deprived of food for the slightest offence; I had to sit in a pitch-dark basement for the whole night. Then, I was forced to do 200-250 prostrations without respite, and lick the dust off the floor”. The girls named their tormentors, Natalia Efremova, Mother Rafaila Malkevich, Mother Ludmila Sumina, Treasurer Arseny Mitko, as well as those who covered up for the abusers, Mother Maria Korzevich (the superior of the convent) and Mother Antonia Davidovskaya.
To push our kids to the brink is sinful… and those who do so should PAY for it.
“Mum, I’d rather die!”
The St Andrei Bogolyubsky Convent has always been special… a kind of autonomous republic within the Russian Orthodox Church. At that time, its confessor, Archimandrite Pyotr Kuchera, urged believers to reject the new “Satanic” passports with their “devilish” INN numbers, he claimed that there was a code in them; it supposedly added up to the symbolic number 666. Fr Pyotr preached “Orthodoxy with a Stalinist twist”. Fr Vitaly Rysev said, “In the convent they made all the kids pray at night ‘for deliverance from the yoke of the Jew, and that the country would have a king better than both Stalin and Ivan Grozny’”. For the twelve years of its operation, the orphanage was a sort of social experiment. Fr Peter Kuchera tried to instil asceticism, to raise “perfect Christians”, to raise well-educated girls who would be fanatically devoted to the Church. Needless to say, what did prevail in the convent was a cult centred on Fr Pyotr.
Ksenia Golovchenko said, “If the ‘elder’ ate olives, I had to collect the seeds as ‘holy relics’ so that nurses could then use them as a means for healing. In addition, we girls were required to collect the hairs that fell off Kuchera. However, the most shameful thing was that he violated the secrecy of confession. Immediately, he told our teachers about our revelations, and we were severely punished. It’s scary for me to remember one night when we were punished, we had to wear a hair shirt, and we were forced to read the Psalms or all four Gospels aloud, and if we fell asleep, we were beaten with a belt. However, the worst of all was when we were locked down for twelve days. They locked us in an unheated room; they put in a chair for reading the Psalter and a chamber pot. They didn’t feed us the first three days, we only got water, but they gave us dry bread on the fourth day. The first one that they released was Anna, the daughter of Mother Maria Korzevich, the convent superior. All of us, led by Valya Perova, threw our jackets on the floor, so, they gave us some prosphoras to eat. It was hard to endure the pangs of hunger, I was often sick to my stomach. That’s when Valya decided to run away”.
Her girlfriend Marina Loiko agreed, saying, “Being locked up was a very difficult trial. I remember how they put Mother Varsanufeya to watch me. Sleep was only possible from 04.00 to 06.00; you had to pray all the rest of the time. For three days, I didn’t eat anything; I just drank water. When I spoke about this to Fr Pyotr, he said that it wasn’t punishment, but a prayer for our country to avoid war”.
One day during cleaning, Marina Loiko needed to discard some spoiled soup. She decided to see what happened if you added bleach to it. Then, she came out with a joke, “What would happen if we added bleach to the teachers’ soup?” One of the teachers, Natalia Chakina, heard about this quip. Marina then told us, “Our ‘spiritual counsel’ Fr Pyotr came cursing and shouting at me, ‘You bitch, you occultist, you witch! You need to be burnt at the stake’. I was afraid of his curse, as everyone thought that the boy Aleksandr Loginov died after Kuchera cursed him. Our teachers told us, ‘See… our elder’s wisdom is fulfilled’. They wanted to frighten us, so, they said, ‘Whoever leaves the convent, they don’t live long’”.
Raisa Loiko learned that her daughter had collected a great many different pills, in order to induce an overdose. She insisted on meeting with her daughter, and Marina told her, “Mum, I can’t tolerate the humiliation and beatings any more, I’d rather die”. Then and there, the mother and daughter decided to leave the convent. Fr Vitaly Rysev gave asylum to them in the dormitory of the diocesan boarding school.
The statements of Lyubov Gorbachek and Ksenia Golovchenko before the Prokuratura backed up that of Marina Loiko. The Audit Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed the published facts. The Investigation Committee for the Vladimir Oblast filed two criminal cases under the articles covering “torture” and “illegal deprivation of liberty”, and child witnesses and victims of persecution came forward.
“I thank Fr Pyotr for giving my daughter a martyr’s crown”
Since the beginning of the investigation, near the dormitory of the diocesan boarding school, where the children from the convert found asylum, the nuns began to organise rallies and pickets, including at night. Together with their lay followers, they read the Psalter, and called on the girls to repent and return to the convent. One morning, people saw three gallows drawn on the windows of a car, with the inscription, “Marina, Ksenia, Lyuba”. This fact was recorded in a separate statement to the procurator. Seeing the futility of their efforts, the convent’s supporters tracked down the father of Lyuba Gorbachek.
Fr Vitaly Rysev said, “When she was very little, her father left her at the convent. He dedicated his daughter, as they say, to the Virgin, and left her in the care of the nuns, then, he went off to wander. When the convent shelter was closed, Lyuba Gorbachek went to an orphanage. When her father begged me to take her into our school, I went to meet him. Even before Lyuba gave extensive testimony, very serious, and gained recognition as a victim, I asked her father, ‘Did you know about your daughter’s enormous sufferings?’ He said, ‘I didn’t know it before, but I know it now. I thank Fr Pyotr Kuchera, because he gave my daughter a martyr’s crown; it will be easier for her to enter the Kingdom of Heaven’. What more can I say?” Before the criminal proceedings began, Yevgeni Gorbachek showed no interest in his daughter. When the investigation at the convent began, he dashed off a statement about the attempted kidnapping of Lyuba to the Suzdal cops. Svetlana Golovchenko, the mother of Ksenia, followed his example. They filed a countersuit against the directors of the Suzdal Diocesan Boarding School, alleging the illegal detention of their children in an Orthodox institution.
At the gates of Fr Vitaly Rysev’s school, a veritable play unfolded, the protagonist of which was Yevgeni Gorbachek. With no fixed abode, no job, he pleaded for the return of his daughter, he fell to his knees, and simulated a heart attack, but when the ambulance came, he refused all treatment. To neutralise a witness who knew the victims, the nuns of St Andrei Bogolyubsky Convent held religious processions around the school, they handed out leaflets, which stated, “SOS! Everyone should come to the defence of Yevgeni and Lyuba Gorbachek!” Meanwhile, a working group established by the Governor of Vladimir Oblast in convent conducted a preliminary investigation, which concluded, “The facts don’t allow us to say that child abuse was found in the convent”. Fr Vitaly Rysev said, “Governor Vinogradov, in the manner of true Russian justice, played the role of a proper prince… he held an investigation, and he rendered a ruling. What do you think of the investigating agencies after such a ruling?”
The scandal had to be deflated as soon as possible. Archbishop Evlogy Smirnov of Vladimir and Suzdal decided to suspend Mother Georgia Kurchevskaya as superior of the convent, at the same time, he decided to retire the convent’s confessor, Igumen Pyotr Kuchera. Fr Vitaly Rysev was dismissed as director of the diocesan boarding school. In addition, the school is to be converted to an extended-day programme Orthodox secondary school, with no children resident on-campus.
Lyuba Gorbachek, at the insistence of Archbishop Evlogy, was given into her father’s custody, who only had the old Soviet passports, in consequence of which the Commissioner for Human Rights requested that a criminal case be initiated under the article of the Criminal Code covering “failure to perform responsibilities for the upbringing of a minor”. Ksenia Golovchenko, along with another former pupil of the convent school, Stepana Vusal, are now going to transfer to another educational institution in Vladimir Oblast, presumably in the village of Seslavskoe, near the Suzdalets Social and Rehabilitation Centre for Minors. Important witnesses and victims are scattered in different towns and schools, making it more difficult to reach them.
With respect to the testimony of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Victoria Sarina, the Investigation Committee of Vladimir Oblast concluded, “One of the minors and her mother lived at the St Andrei Bogolyubsky Convent for ten 10 years, the other girl with her mother for six years, they were there voluntarily, without coercion, and the ban on communication with each other was a part of the normal monastic rules. Because of our audits of the said declarations, based on the totality of the materials collected, the investigators concluded that there was no evidence of a crime under Article 127 of the Criminal Code (unlawful imprisonment), in connection with which, the institution of a criminal case is denied”.
Criminal cases regarding three other children are still underway, but we I think that we can say that “circumstances of the crime” won’t be found. In the end, nobody will have to face criminal charges. Meanwhile, according to the fugitives, in the sketes near the convent there are nine school-age girls. The parents of these children sold their houses and apartments, burned their passports, and they took refuge in a monastic setting, waiting for the end of the world; meanwhile, the nuns are educating their children. “These sketes are private homes, for what it’s worth, their owners consider them small monasteries; they aren’t listed in the documents of the Diocese of Vladimir, and they don’t obey its orders”, according to Vladimir Legoida, the head of the MP Synodal Information Department.
Shall the children’s suffering continue?
A comment by psychologist Inna Bausheva
“There is no doubt that many of the residents will not be able to reintegrate themselves outside of the convent. Was it systemic emotional abuse? These children are disoriented; their conception of reality is extremely limited and distorted. They may become victims of charlatans and abusers, as the habit of giving others responsibility for life choices forms a socially helpless person. They will find it hard to start a family. They only have one hope… to rely on the protection of the convent, for they don’t know of any other security”.
26 November 2010
Московский Комсомолец (Moskovsky Komsomolets: Moscow Komsomol Member)
As quoted in Interfax-Religion
Most MP social institutions are on the up and square… one reason is that they’re under press and government scrutiny. That’s why most of the OCA’s institutional apparatus is rotten to the core… there’s no oversight from the outside, and it shows (like Bobby not facing charges for credit card fraud and Iggy not facing John Law for “losing” church records)!
Nasty, wasn’t it? Russians aren’t better than Americans are, but the MP still is better than the OCA. The Prokuratura filed no criminal case for deprivation of liberty, but the OVD still has a child abuse case open. Of course, the fact that the diocesan bishop acted with some despatch was part of it all. The convent superior got the sack, the monastery confessor was demoted, all diocesan boarding schools were converted into extended-programme day schools, no children can live on the territory of a monastery/convent, and the nuns involved in the case have been forbidden contact with children. Whew! Vladyki Evlogy has been eating his Wheaties (even if he was reacting to bad press, his reactions were, at least, the right ones).
It’s all because the Russian press didn’t let up and kept it all in the public eye. If Fathausen had done something similar, well, Bobby, Iggy, and Seraphim would be history by now. The OCA is paying for having a narcissistic slug as its leader. The difference is that the Russian press is on the watch, and it shows. This play ain’t over, yet. It shows what can happen when the press and people refuse to listen to the “it’s for the good of the Church” argument. More heads are gonna roll, that’s for certain. Thank God for the lot at MK… they’re good at sniffing out rotters in the Church, and they’re not afraid to expose ‘em. Cappy and Mel at Pokrov are like that… that’s why I like them, too. I noticed that a loudmouthed konvert in Stokoe’s comboxes was downing Mel and Cappy… let me tell you, smarkach, that they’ve gone through more shit from posturing apparatchiki in one week than you’ve ever faced.
Fathausen is attempting to bury the Storheim case, and he wants there to be no repercussions to the Syosset/SVS/New Skete cabal… either he acts to remove Storheim and Bobby (he doesn’t need a court verdict… Vladyki Evlogy didn’t need one) or he destroys what little cred he has left. Isn’t his little band of loyalist konvertsy pathetic? Don’t argue with them… they’re a lost cause.
Here are some links to earlier posts on this affair: