Russian Historian Faces 15-Year Term for Butchering Lover

A view of the unusually empty embankment during evening rush hour outside the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. The Russian capital has woken up to a lockdown obliging most people in the city of 13 million to stay home. The government ordered other regions of the vast country to quickly prepare for the same as Moscow, to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia (AFP) — Prosecutors in Saint Petersburg on Monday requested a 15-year jail term for a decorated Russian historian and Napoleon enthusiast accused of murdering and dismembering his young lover last year.

The trial, which spurred activists to voice growing anger over domestic abuse in Russia, began in June after delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A broadcast of the final arguments on Monday showed Oleg Sokolov, a lecturer who received France’s Legion d’Honneur in 2003, wearing a grey jacket and mask.

He paced back and forth in a glass cell in the courtroom before the prosection requested that the judge deliver a 15-year term in a strict penal colony, an AFP journalist following the trail reported.

Prosecutors proposed the sentence for charges of murder and also the illegal possession of firearms.

Asked during the proceedings whether he considered himself responsible for the murder Sokolov said: “I find myself completely guilty and repentant.”

The historian was arrested in November 2019 after he was hauled out of the freezing Moika River in Saint Petersburg while drunk and carrying a backpack containing a woman’s arms.

He soon confessed to murdering and dismembering his 24-year-old former student and lover Anastasia Yeshchenko and was placed in pre-trial detention.

‘Uncontrollable act’

On Monday, Sokolov said he committed the murder in the heat of the moment during an argument with Yeshchenko, in which he said she insulted his children.

He described the murder as “an absolutely spontaneous, uncontrollable act.”

However, prosecutors previously claimed that the murder could have been pre-mediated, saying the former professor searched online for the locations where he later disposed of Yeshchenko’s remains.

Alexandra Baksheyeva, a lawyer representing the victim’s family, said after the sentence request was announced that she believed the murder was premeditated.

“It was not a crime in the heat of passion,” she said. “Sokolov did everything not to get caught.”

The grisly murder scandalized Russia after many of his students said Sokolov had exhibited inappropriate behavior in the past and demanded that the management at his employer Saint Petersburg State University be investigated. 

Every year, nearly 16.5 million women across Russia fall victim to domestic violence, according to activists. However efforts to lobby for a specialized law against violence and protect victims have failed. 

In May this year, prosecutors refused to drop murder charges against three sisters who, as teenagers, murdered their father in 2018 after suffering years of abuse.

Lawyers and activists, pointing to the lack of legal protections for victims of domestic abuse in Russia, have argued the women were forced to kill their father to save their own lives.

by Marina Koreneva
© Agence France-Presse

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