Oxana Goncharova, a Russian journalist for business outlets Vedomosti and RBC, is a survivor of domestic abuse spanning over 10 years at the hands of her civil partner and father of her younger children Alexey Samusyov.
Black eyes, broken ribs, and knocked out teeth: this is how colleagues remember Oxana after “quarrels” with Alexey. The police were turning a blind eye to conflicts and battery for years, while attempts of her friends to help yielded no result.
In late September — at the time the journalist had long left him — Alexey stormed into Oxana’s flat and attacked her with a pair of scissors. Goncharova wrestled them out of his hands and struck back. Alexey died the same day, while the journalist was charged with murder and sent to a detention centre.
On 25 November, a Moscow court extended Oxana’s arrest until 29 January. The investigation team believes that she committed a premeditated murder of Alexey. Goncharova now faces up to 15 years in prison.
Oxana, 45, has three children at home waiting for her to come back. Her two younger kids have not even turned 11 yet. Novaya Gazeta Europe covers the story of Oxana, a woman who was domestically abused for years without any reaction from authorities and only managed to end it by retaliating, and is now facing a prison sentence for it.
“In early October, talented journalist for Vedomosti and RBC Oxana Goncharova, who we and many of you worked together with, got into trouble. Oxana was a victim of domestic abuse for 15 years. She did not have a single rib intact, had a broken nose, and many teeth knocked out. She split from her civil partner many years ago, but he kept coming to her place, beat her up, and was aggressive with the children,” Olga Pavlikova, founder of the TrendFox PR agency and Oxana’s friend, wrote on Facebook.
The post was published on 17 October when Oxana was already placed into custody. The tragedy we are covering now unfolded a little earlier.
According to the police statement, Oxana was at home with her two sons, Matvey, 10, and Arseny, 3, on 29 September. Alexey showed up at her apartment with his friend Maksim. The “guests” started drinking alcohol. At some point, Oxana and her ex started arguing, he took her phone and threw it against the wall, started berating her and hit the woman, Goncharova recalls.
“Out of fear for my life and health, I demanded that Alexey leave my place, but he ignored my demands. I was scared he could beat me up because he repeatedly inflicted physical pain on me in the past,” Oxana told the police.
As the fight went on, Alexey attacked Oxana with a pair of scissors, but she wrested control of the item and struck him back approximately in the collarbone area.
At the time, the journalist did not even think that she could have seriously injured her ex. Oxana told the police that Alexey remained conscious after the strike, kicked her, and left the flat by himself.
Noises started coming from downstairs a few minutes later. An ambulance arrived for Alexey. Oxana was swiftly detained, while the man died in hospital later that day.
‘...he then turned Oxana’s life into a living hell’
Oxana Goncharova was raised in a small town in the Volgograd region, southern Russia. In 1995, the 17-year-old girl moved to Volgograd, the regional capital, and got into the journalist faculty of a local university. This is where she met Saglar Manjieva, her friend through all these years.
“Oxana, of course, was a smart cookie. She was an example to follow in terms of studies, she is very logical and clever, a real hard worker,” Saglara remembers.
After the second year, Saglara transferred to Moscow State University. Oxana followed in a couple of years’ time.
Almost all students then were dreaming of moving to Moscow and get their own place to live. But it was not always easy.
“In her fifth year, Oxana got pregnant, and it was clear that she would keep it. It is a big challenge to be left without the support of a man who you fell in love with and got a child from at such a young age,” Saglara says. “Her number one goal was to graduate. But she went for it and gave birth to Petya (short for Pyotr — translator’s note). And graduated with very good marks.”
After graduation, Oxana stayed in Volgograd for several years, and then in the mid-2000s moved to the Russian capital. She found a job at Vedomosti, a Russian business daily newspaper.
Oxana simply could not afford to live in Moscow; therefore, she took a mortgage for a flat in the Moscow region.
Oxana soon met Alexey at the new place, he was living in an apartment opposite hers. They got romantically involved, even though all her friends seemed to think that they had almost nothing to talk about.
Alexey (on the right). Photo: Odnoklassniki
“I don’t even know if he has ever read a book in his life,” Oxana’s friend Saglara told Verstka. “But let’s just say he was nice to look at. Oxana, of course, was achieving everything herself, but it was hard for her. When you are alone, with a child, and a man turns up who starts paying attention to you… I think this is what the deal was. On top of that, there were likely some feelings in the beginning of their relationship and no conflicts. Well, this period was very short and lasted about a couple of months. He then turned her life into a living hell.”
‘Maybe a welder or an electrician’
Oxana’s son Pyotr at the time lived with her parents in the Volgograd region. On the Radio liberty podcast, he said that he knew about Alexey’s role in his mom’s life and sometimes heard his voice when he called his mum.
According to Pyotr, his first impression when they saw each other for the first time was normal, nothing out of the ordinary. Pyotr was then either 9 or 10, his grandmother and he travelled to Moscow, and Oxana and Alexey were meeting them at the railway station.
The idea that Alexey seemed “normal” at the time now causes a great deal of dissonance for Pyotr.
“He was born in 1986 in Elektrostal [Moscow region], tried to seem like a mobster from the 1990s (a turbulent time in Russia’s history after the collapse of the Soviet Union characterised by high crime rates — translator’s note),” Pyotr remembers. “He worked as maybe a welder or an electrician.”
Oxana and Alexey in 2011. Photo: Odnoklassniki
Pyotr soon became completely disillusioned with his mother’s partner. According to him, they regularly fought. “I started to slowly learn more about him as a person, and we were not close,” Pyotr says.
“I never saw him as a role model, there was nothing he could give me, he was just my stepfather, lived with my mum but not on a stable basis. He’d stay for a month and then leave. And it went on for all those years that my mum knew him, and they met around 2006-2007. There was no stability over this whole period. But what was there were conflicts and arguments.”
Pyotr was also on the receiving end of living with Alexey. According to the son, the stepdad felt at liberty to hit him for a bad mark at school and used force to “bring him up”.
He claims that Oxana was trying to reason with Alexey, but their conversation never yielded a lasting result.
Oxana’s son does not remember when he first witnessed violence between his parents. “He was always tormenting her. She wanted to leave this environment because the whole neighbourhood is like that. All of them, his buddies, grew up together and were taking the side of this man. The fact that he beat her up was seen as normal. She hated this person; she never forgave him and did not think he’d change.”
Dmitry, Alexey’s friend, confirmed to Novaya Gazeta Europe that the journalist had a difficult relationship with her civil partner. He described them as “strained” and explained that Oxana and Alexey were often fighting. Alexey never introduced his partner to friends or took her out with them.
When asked about Alexey’s occupation, Dmitry replied, “Don’t know, worked somewhere, helped his mum out in his free time.” At the same time, he saw Alexey as a “stand-up guy, a friend”.
Another friend of Alexey’s, Sergey, was even less enthusiastic about sharing his opinion on his buddy. “He was a good man. Nothing like the journalist that killed him.” he said and refused to answer any more questions.
In spite of all the continuous conflicts, Oxana and Alexey had a boy in 2012, Matvey, and another one 7 years later, Arseny.
Oxana and her younger children. Photo from personal archives
The journalist repeatedly tried to end this tumultuous relationship, but it was not easy. He lived just across from her. Moreover, Alexey’s mother and friends were quick to defend him. Meanwhile, Oxana did not have any relatives nearby to support her.
In 2019, Alexey was found guilty of making death threats twice but managed to get only suspended sentences despite his previous convictions. The verdicts do not name the victim but judging from the details it was Oxana, Verstka found out. In one of the cases, Alexey pushed the victim against the wall in front of the building entrance and threatened her with a knife.
The man was regularly detained on administrative charges by the police, in one of police reports he is labelled as a drug addict.
‘A spring cannot always be taut’
According to friends, Oxana often called the police, tried to file lawsuits against Alexey and hoped that all her visits to emergency rooms were recorded to be used later in court. Goncharova’s son Pyotr says that the police only sent back half-hearted replies and were not any help at all.
“At some point, I started fearing that he would kill her. Because the beatings were getting worse. It, of course, started with conflicts, scandals, insults, broken dishes, arguments, and so on. It snowballs and grows, turning into an avalanche a few years later. Then any fight was escalating into a scuffle and broken ribs,” Saglara remembers.
At that stage, Oxana did not have the necessary skills or moral resources to leave her abuser. “You have little kids, work, mortgage, you need to address the most basic and routine daily issues…” Oxana’s friend notes.
Oxana tried to sue Alexey twice but unsuccessfully both times. Verstka writes that the judge refused to hear her lawsuits on battery and light damage to health charges.
“I think that at some point Oxana realised that she just can’t do anything and focused on the kids to shield them as much as possible from this and somehow make their life better. She just decided to give up on her life and sacrifice herself for the children. A spring cannot always be taut, at some point it either shoots up or breaks. So, Oxana possibly just broke down at some point,” Saglara says.
‘Started showing up to work bruised’
The tense situation in Oxana’s family could not but had an effect on other sides of her life. Her Vedomosti colleagues repeatedly tried to help her but to no avail.
“Of course, we tried to support her as much as we could. We cheered her up if needed, collected money to help, and were convincing her not to tolerate abuse and to go to the police,” says Inna Kravchenko, who used to work as an editor in Oxana’s department.
It was not immediately clear that Goncharova was a victim of domestic abuse. “When we worked together (between 2007 and 2015 — editor’s note), this horror was only starting to unfold. After several years of working together I noticed that she comes to the newsroom in tears or speaks very nervously on the phone. I asked her what was happening. She told me. And then later she started showing up to work bruised.”
Oxana sometimes wrote posts on Facebook, crying for help. Later, she would take them down, saying that everything was fine. People in the comment section were telling her to seek legal and psychological help, gave advice about crisis centres, and were writing words of support.
Friends, I gave everyone a fright yesterday. My situation is indeed complicated and I need to give credit to the police — they helped me many times. It is not the issue. If I send this skunk to prison (I have a case in court already), a bottle will fly into my flat. In winter. A broken window. Children. It is cold, and they are his pals who love and respect him a lot. It is not just about one person. It is a systemic problem. But I will get through this. I swear.
A chance to escape
Oxana’s friends and family time and time again were telling her to move to be far from Alexey who could ambush her near the building or break into the flat.
Financial difficulties were one of the factors preventing Oxana from starting a new life somewhere else. “She earned as much as she could and spent everything on the kids and mortgage,” Saglara says. “She could not afford anything extra. The issue was possibly that she was not brazen or audacious enough to earn more or ask for more.”
Olga Pavlikova, Oxana’s friend and colleague, confirms that Goncharova was struggling financially. “Oxana never complained, but it was obvious that her family was dysfunctional. She never had money, had nothing to wear for a business meeting.”
At the same time, Oxana and Alexey still had what seemed like better moments. Shortly before having her third child, the journalist was telling her friend that everything worked out and they were planning to get married. However, brief moments of peace and quiet never lasted, and conflicts, arguments, and beatings always ensued.
Oxana recently saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Three months ago, she paid off her mortgage for her apartment, and a bank approved her loan request to get a new place.
“Just recently we were talking about how to quickly get a flat on a mortgage. In other words, she had plans for the future,” friend Olga remembers.
However, Oxana never managed to move to a new place.
‘Alexey was butchered by your mum’
The day when Oxana was detained, her elder son Pyotr was in a different city. Several hours before the tragic turn of events, Alexey’s mother Lyubov called him to say that the ex-partners had had yet another fight. Lyubov promised Pyotr to call back when everything would quiet down — but never did.
Pyotr then called her himself and was told that Oxana was taken by the police. When asked what happened, Lyubov responded, “Alexey was butchered by your mum.”
In October, Oxana was placed in custody despite the fact that she had young children and the family was struggling financially. “I would very much like to continue helping my children with money. The crime victim had a big alimony debt, nobody ever helped me, I was the one providing for the kids,” she told the court at a hearing.
In 2017, Alexey’s alimony debt to Oxana stood at 180,000 rubles (€2,850) according to official data.
The investigation now treats Oxana’s actions as a premeditated murder even though according to the woman the blow was very weak and Alexey remained conscious for some time afterwards. Forensic expert Olga Fateeva explains how it is possible.
“We are told that the blow was dealt somewhere around the collarbone area. The neck is above the collarbone, and the chest is under. Major vessels and major neurovascular bundles are located in these areas,” she says.
According to her, the scissor strike could damage one of these vessels which led to bleeding. It could also start internally, and that’s why its traces were not visible at first.
“When major arteries, like aorta, are damaged, blood pressure plummets and people almost instantly faint. In case of smaller vessels, like the ones in the neck and the collarbone area, blood loss can increase as time goes on. This time can be quite short or can take several dozen minutes.”
Fateeva notes that her comment is only based on Oxana Goncharova’s police statement. An autopsy would be required for a more precise expert conclusion.
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Alexander Garanin, Oxana’s lawyer, told Novaya Gazeta Europe that he would seek to change the charge to excessive use of force in self-defence. This charge would only land Oxana in prison for a maximum of 2 years.
According to Garanin, Oxana remains upbeat, she does not complain about her custody conditions and “hangs in there”. Oxana’s son Pyotr has seen his mother just once since she was detained — at the court hearing about the form of her detention. “When I saw her, I somewhat realised that her agony was over. Emotional, psychological, physical — all this torment ended. Unfortunately, in the most difficult way possible. She was exhausted, her physical and emotional resources are drying up.”
Oxana’s younger kids — Arseny and Matvey — now live with Alexey’s brother who secured temporary custody over the boys, Olga says.
“Arseny is 3, he barely understands anything but always asks where his mum is. Despite his age, Matvey took everything like a man. He understands perfectly well why it happened, he says, ‘He drove mum to it’,” Pyotr says.
Saglara, Oxana’s friend, is still hopeful that the journalist will soon be able to come back to her normal life. “I have a lot of hope in the justice system, I hope she will be acquitted. Oxana had to go through a lot of sorrows and suffering in her life.”
“I won’t shy away from saying that Alexey was punished and deserved this punishment. He tormented her and her kids for so many years. It could not have been left without a trace. He is also a person, something went wrong in his life, he found himself behind bars many times. You can say that Oxana was sent to him so that he can change his ways, but he never understood it.”
Almost 80% of women convicted for murder or manslaughter in Russia were defending themselves against their partners. At the same time, the Russian Criminal Code still has no article on domestic abuse. Officials are inclined to say that the issue is “blown out of proportion” and that “the current laws provide all the necessary instruments” to address it.
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