Olesya Shulgina and Aleksandr Bezlyudskikh belong to that group of people whom no one needs, and the word “group” is the most exact and clear one to both of them; drugs, alcohol, a medium-security correctional facility, etc. After they were freed, they found each other and worked together doing seasonal jobs at a farm in the Sea of Azov region. When Olesya was eight-months pregnant, their boss drove them to Rostov and said, “Now you are on your own”.
There were few options, all of which were predictable: the street, giving up their child, getting drunk and committing a crime, and the typical final that awaits almost all former convicts freed from prison.
Aleksandr didn’t want things to end that way. He wanted a child, a family and “any, just any kind of work”. They needed to have someone lend a helping hand.
Aleksandr was amazingly lucky that all of this took place in Rostov. He flew through all the state departments, shelters, hospitals and churches, and he finally found someone to help at a church. He was advised to go to Pushkinskaya Street, building 6.
Pushkinskaya 6 is no church, although it does have a lot of both icons and benevolence. The building is home to the Saint Anastasia the Martyr charitable foundation, which gives help to people also part of that same group: recently freed prisoners, homeless mothers with three or more children, orphans, lonely disabled people, etc.
Incidentally, the word “help” isn’t exactly the right one. The foundation’s employees say, “we rehabilitate”. Their rehabilitation method relies on putting these people to work.
It all has to do with the foundation’s creator, Vladimir Melnikov. Under the Soviet government, he was well-known for selling jeans on the black market in Rostov. Come the beginning of the 1990s, he built Gloria Jeans, the country’s first jeans factory. Fast forward to today and he has 16 plants where he is constantly having trouble trying to find enough workers. Russians don’t want to work. This is a statistically proven fact at Melnikov’s factories. Take, for example, the city of Novoshakhtinsk. The chief industry there, coal mining, began to die off back in the Soviet Union. Today, almost all of the city’s mines are shuttered, unemployment is through the roof, and drug use is skyrocketing. Meanwhile, Melnikov doesn’t have enough workers. He even had a dormitory built next to one of his factories for out-of-towner workers.
This was quite an unusual success for Aleksandr. I should add that the people at the charity foundation, for Aleksandr’s sake, helped Olesya out too, who even after a second glance gives you the impression of being a wild child.
They were given a room at the dorm in Novoshakhtinsk, received help in registering their documents, got aid for their baby (milk for the mother, clothing for the newborn and a small allowance), and were given work at the factory, but only if they wanted it (no one here forces anyone to work).
Aleksandr, however, didn’t need to be forced. As he said himself, “this is the first time in my life that I have experienced happiness”.
In Russia, however, there is a category of people who believe that those like Aleksandr don’t have the right to be happy, because they don’t have any rights at all. These people include the police. Namely, precinct officer Obshchev, assigned to the dormitory at the Gloria Jeans plant.
Over the years, the foundation’s workers became accustomed to seeing the police officer as a necessary evil; however, if evil isn’t kept in check (and there isn’t any authority to keep the Russian police in check), it can have a dangerous trend of crossing all the lines.
The foundation’s rules have it that before people can move into the dormitory, they are required to have x-rays of their lungs done. A tuberculosis test showed that Aleksandr’s was already at an advanced stage, so he was sent to the hospital. In the eight months that he was in the hospital, Olesya gave birth and slept with two other guys. One of them was her dorm-room neighbour, Sergei Semeiko, a lonely disabled man. He helped her care for her child, did her chores at work (they cut sheets with jeans labels on them), and let her use his refrigerator. In return, Olesya brought Semeiko groceries from the store (Sergei used to be a semi-truck driver and once was run over by a Kamaz truck. After the operation, he was left with one leg much shorter than the other, and it is hard for him to get around on his homemade prosthetic leg, made out of tarpaulin shoes with a wood platform).
Officer Obshchev, who had been christened Beer-Vodka by the dorm’s residents, was enraged by these half-friendly/half-family ties that Olesya and the disable man had. He would tell her, “You are my woman”. Then came the threats: to take away her son, strip her of her parental rights, throw her out on the street, send her to prison and other similar, typical tricks under a policeman’s belt.
All in all, Olesya was grudgingly willing in sleeping with the officer, until he was ordered to come up with a “drug plan” to fulfil his quota. That’s when Olesya agreed to stab Semeiko in the back.
It was something like a test purchase. Two officers, Obshchev and detective Makiyev, got the poppy stems and marijuana themselves.
When Olesya arrived with the poppy seed, marijuana and a voice recorder strapped under the front of her shirt, Semeiko asked, “Why are your hands shaking?”
She wasn’t able to complete her task. Her voice recorder picked up only when Semeiko decides to give himself a shot of poppy straw (to relieve his back pain) and gives the other part of the injection to Olesya. Nothing about money was caught on the voice recorder; they weren’t able to catch proof of a deal taking place. Semeiko was found with the money only after he was detained. The cops had planted a meagre 300 roubles on him, not to mention marijuana, in order to create more credible elements to the crime. The court sent the almost immobile Semeiko to prison. He has been (to be more exact, has been slowly dying in) the pre-trial detention centre for seven months now.
Aleksandr initiated a coup of the outcasts. Not long before Semeiko was arrested, Aleksandr had gotten out of the hospital and, having discovered the whirlwind of men surrounding Olesya, decided not to get involved.
But when those low-down police took Semeiko, Aleksandr couldn’t take it anymore. He recalls, “I ran down the hall of the dormitory and knocked on all the doors: “Hey, everyone, get up”. All this injustice made me so livid that I decided that we are to barricade the entrance ways to the dormitory, declare a hunger strike and hold a siege until the city prosecutor arrives. Or until they kick out that local policeman…”
The dormitory residents couldn’t stand it anymore. They had written a boat load of complaints about Obshchev. The people there talk fervently about their relations with the police, who don’t follow any rules whatsoever.
That’s when the foundation’s workers understood that the point of no return had been crossed and that keeping neutral with the police was no longer possible.
Thus, the war began.
Svetlana Manukyan headed up this people’s front. No other attorney in the Rostov Region is able to match her warrior-like qualities. She has terrorised all the supervisory organisations and was able to reach the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Investigative Committee in record time. The inspections began, and the authorities began to cringe at the calls for help from the little dormitory.
The dorm precinct officer, however, was not only not fired for illegal drug trafficking, forging interrogation materials and abuse of power, but also passed the state’s certification process and became a police officer.
All they did was transfer him to another precinct.
The Novoshakhtinsky city court was the next line of attack in their offence. Olesya, who for some unknown reason was the defence’s secret witness, was forced to come to the trial. She said that early in the morning Obshchev and Makiev kidnapped her at her home, brought her to the court house and kept her in the car for several hours against her will while convincing her to give false testimony. Giving her testimony under a fake name from a room neighbouring the court hall, she was supposed to shore up Semeiko’s sentence once and for all.
Olesya couldn’t do it. She told everything as it actually happened. She said that there wasn’t any test purchase, but that rather it was just a set-up. She told how the police officers had given her the drugs, and that Semeiko didn’t store or distribute anything; no witnesses had been with her, and no one had given her any money. She described how she signed all the papers without reading or understanding what she was really signing, and how she is very ashamed for having been scared of the policemen.
She truly was ashamed. “I couldn’t look at Semeiko. I was looking at the judge and attorney the whole time. Judge Shish was acting odd. When the policemen were holding me in the car, I heard that they had called the judge several times. But when my attorney motioned to have me given actual protection from them, he just laughed right in my face…”
Judge Shish and Manukyan are polar opposites. The judge sees the law as nothing but a pure formality, while the attorney uses it as her only weapon. And despite fighting for Semeiko on an uneven playing field, Manukyan almost won. She brought the situation to a point when no system would be able to put a person behind bars. The was nothing left to make an argument from. The defence didn’t have any witnesses or evidence left.
Last week, Semeiko, slouching almost flat on the defendants’ bench, said, “God will not forgive you for what you are doing to me!” The investigator retorted: “I’m not the one who set you up”. He thought no one would hear him. The young prosecutor overheard him and cried out, “So it turns out he was set up after all?”
Judge Shish quickly declared a recess.
That same day, the guards at the pre-trial detention centre didn’t accept a package for Semeiko. It was a tiny package from the charity foundation, with the packaging of a pain-reliever medicine called Ketorol. Seven months after he was put in prison, the guards suddenly remembered that this is a “banned substance containing drugs”.