A Siberian Tragedy

With a very heavy heart, this week I closely followed the news reports from Krasnoyarsk of the senseless and tragic murder of a five-year-old girl, Polina Malkova. What brought my attention to the story was the overwhelming public demonstration of grief and outrage shown by these Siberian citizens, who only recently were accused by Western media of being heartlessly stoic and immune to tragedy.


Polina Malkova, Krasnoyarsk, 2001-2007

It could be argued that it is not my position to comment these matters, and indeed I resisted and hoped that someone more informed could begin writing about it, but the silence in the English-language blogosphere was becoming an embarrassment. According to the reports, five-year-old Polina Malkova disappeared from the backyard of her apartment building on March 19, and after a few days a regionwide search began at the federal level. Ten days later, the severely mutilated and defaced body of Polina was discovered by another group of children in a parking garage not far from her house. Theories began to arise that she was a victim of a ritualistic murder, as numerous other children in this region have been killed in similar circumstances in recent years (in 2005, five children aged 9 to 11 were kidnapped and later found dead).


Hundreds of people spontaneously gathered to mourn the little girl

What I am most struck by in seeing the considerable public outpouring of grief for this abhorrent tragedy, is that it was fundamentally spontaneous, and not whatsoever organized by local officials, organizations, or government. After withstanding a single month in which at least 180 Russians lost their lives in accidents (plane crash, mine explosion, and a nursing home fire), Western observers have looked to the reactions of Russian Federation officials and found what could be described as “grief exhaustion.” (This is however an administration led by a man who when asked by Larry King in 2000 what happened to the Kursk, he curtly replied “it sank.”) But clearly this does not represent your average Russian. Don’t look to the politicians and bureaucrats to show you the depth of a culture! This impressive show of heart, moral rectitude, and humanity in Krasnoyarsk came directly from the people, showing just once more that the problem in Russia is usually not the Russians, it is the state itself. Here Siberian News Online reports on the crass indifference exhibited by officials, as well as the heartbreaking details of the funeral:

Neither local authorities, nor police came to say goodbye to the small girl. There were no official speeches and no comments of police about the course of investigation at the funeral. People were indignant with the fact that children leisure was poorly organized in their district. First of all, there are no opportunities for parents to take their children to game centers. Parents are not always capable of staying with their children permanently. And kids are often without proper care, which causes tragedies like this. In spite of heavy injuries of the child’s body, it was decided to bury Polina in the open coffin. After a short farewell the funeral procession moved to the village of Barkhkatovo, where the girl’s family had lived before moving to Krasnoyarsk. It was decided to bury the girl at the village cemetery. When the mourning pack was approaching the cemetery, the weather went bad. It started pouring, and there were strong blasts of wind. There were pools at the cemetery. All the soil roads turned into mud. The grave dug out for Polina filled with water, and cemetery workers started scooping water out of the pit with buckets. In the end they covered the bottom of the grave with boards not to put the coffin into the pool. … After that the coffin with the child’s body was taken down. Relatives and friends threw handfuls of soil to the grave as a remembrance. They put wreaths, flowers and a plate with sweets and food onto the grave. “Eat, Polina, for the first time within many days,” a female relative said weeping.


When the Krasnoyarsk Territory Governor Alexander Khloponin finally awakened to these events more than a week later, he did not come to express solidarity with the mourning public, condemn this vile murder, or even talk about what he would do to make the city safer. He blamed the parents, and gave everyone a lecture to say that the responsibility is placed solely on them:

“I think it is high time to make us, parents, responsible for our children at the legal level,” Krasnoyarsk Territory Governor Alexander Khloponin stated, answering a question about his attitude to the killing of five-year-old Polina Malkova in Krasnoyarsk at the online conference. “Parents who dare to leave a five-year-old outside alone should be responsible, and not only authorities, who will be laid claims upon, it goes without saying,” the governor emphasized. “There are very strict systems of surveillance in the whole world, in the countries, where there are video cameras in the streets. Parents are instituted to criminal proceedings for leaving their children without care at the age of under five. If a child is between 5 and 7 years old, the responsibility differs, as well as when the child left is under 12,” he stated.

This petty statement at a time of such enormous accumulated grief does little to inspire trust in this administration.