Mad professor, who killed and dismembered student, was idolized; torture and murder statements by students went ignored
The wealthy professor showed hysterical behavior more than once, his friends said.
Oleg Sokolov, 63, a famous historian, associate professor of St. Petersburg University, killed his lover, Anastasia Yeshchenko, 24, at his apartment, and sawed her body to pieces. He threw the parts into the river and tried to sink a backpack with the remains in the Moika on Saturday morning. The backpack did not sink, so the drunk professor jumped down to get it. He was spotted by taxi drivers, who called the police.
Sokolov gave a confession. The man admitted that he had shot the woman on November 7 and received guests at home the next day. On November 9, he decided to get rid of the body.
Sokolov’s acquaintances told MK what preceded the tragedy.
Anastasia Yeshchenko hails from the Krasnodar region. The woman graduated with honors from St. Petersburg State University, Department of Russian History, and entered graduate school. She was engaged in tutoring and took 700 rubles for a lesson. She spent her free time with her teacher, a Napoleonic era specialist, Oleg Sokolov.
“My friends, who were Sokolov’s students many years ago, recall that he made the impression of a delusional person even back then. All the stories about him that have now surfaced tell us one thing: if someone had addressed his conduct, then the tragedy would have been avoided,” says local historian Dmitry Vitushkin.
This is the story Vitushkin told. Some time ago, Oleg Sokolov’s student filed a statement with the police. The girl told that the historian had brutally beaten her when he found out that she was going to leave him: “Sokolov tied me to a chair. Hit on the face and stomach. He left and came back with an iron. When the iron got hot, he brought it close to my face. He threatened to disfigure me. Then, he started beating me in the face and head. When I begged him to stop, he beat me even more, lifted me by the hair and ears along with the chair, threatened he’d kill me and bury my corpse at a construction site. When I tried to run, he threw a leather cord over my throat and started choking me. I began to lose consciousness. Then he let me go.”
Police left the statement without consideration. The assistant professor got away with it.
Another incident happened more than a year ago. During an open lecture at St. Petersburg State University, Oleg Sokolov ordered to get a young man out of the room for asking the assistant professor a tricky question. Several people ran up to the student, hit him on the back and head, grabbed him by the neck and dragged him out into the hall. Sokolov did not stop his subordinates and only shouted, "Get out of here." The case was handled by the university ethics committee. Sokolov’s colleagues did not find anything reprehensible in the incident and unanimously acquitted him.
“The story about the students he kicked out of the lecture room met a great public response,” Vitushkin continues. “The thing is, Sokolov made his "subordinates" deal with the kid who’d asked him the question he didn’t like. Those were his men, who, apparently, followed him as bodyguards. There were rumors that they were armed and idolized Sokolov. After all, he was with the RVIO (Russian Military Historical Society), and was a member of the scientific council.”
Sokolov’s name has now been removed from the site.
“Is Sokolov a rich man?”
“He did live in an upscale neighborhood of St. Petersburg. The cost of his apartment is at least 30 million rubles. The man had powerful patrons. He was associated with the infamous businessman Viktor Baturin, hence his impunity. He would get away with anything.
“Is the faculty going to speak out?”
“They’re not going to justify him, that's for sure. Sokolov is trying to play fool. He said that after the crime, he thought of putting on a Napoleon’s costume and shooting himself at the Peter and Paul Fortress. In my opinion, this is a painfully obvious lie. If he’d wanted to do that, he wouldn’t have covered up his tracks. All his actions show that he was planning to get off scot-free. He invited guests over after the murder, had a party, with a corpse in the next room. The whole story is reminiscent of Cargo 200.
“Have you heard anything about his wife or daughters?”
“I heard that he had an elder daughter from his first marriage, who lives in France, I think. I don’t know about his other children”.
“Did you know Anastasia?”
“Everyone knew her. Sokolov did not hide his relationship with that woman. Although universities have the rule that teachers are forbidden to have relationships with students. But that did not seem to apply to Sokolov.”
“Maybe the student loved him?”
“I doubt that there could have been love between them. The girl came from a small town, so she probably wanted to gain a foothold in St. Petersburg. Sokolov took advantage of the situation. It was a profitable alliance for both. There are many photos where they take part in historical balls, dance dressed up as Napoleon and Josephine. They traveled to Yekaterinburg together recently”.
“Was Sokolov considered a good teacher?”
“All of his students noticed he was acting strange and complained about him. Some time ago, one of the students posted a video from a lecture of his, where he acted weird and his speech seemed incoherent. Either he was drunk, or delusional. But the university chose to turn a blind eye to the complaint.”
Invited underage dancers to drink champagne
Oleg Sokolov’s fancy for very young women was mentioned by some graduate students of another educational institution where the historian taught.
“About twenty years ago, Sokolov taught at the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet,” says Anatoly, a graduate student. “He gave us lectures on the history of St. Petersburg. I understood back then that the professor was clearly mentally unstable: he seemed too excited during the lecture, his eyes bulging, saliva sputtered all over. He looked decent outwardly - he wore expensive clothes, new jacket and tie every day. He taught History of St. Petersburg to us once a week. But he rarely showed up, missed his own lectures and he was replaced more often than not. When he did come, he was almost always in high spirits. Where do you think he got his loud voice and red face? As far as I remember, he carried a small flask with him...”
According to the interlocutor, Sokolov was soon asked to leave the educational institution.
“By the way, Sokolov wasn’t a great teacher at his History of St. Petersburg class, at least I don’t remember anything remarkable. Only when it came to France, his eyes would light up. Besides France, he loved schoolgirls. For example, he would invite my minor classmates to dress-up parties and balls. After the incident, we contacted female graduates and many admitted that Sokolov had often invited them over for champagne. Those who agreed and came would get an “A” without an exam. Those who’d come to the exam in a short skirt would get a pass, too.”
“Where did he live back then?”
“Same place he lives now. By the Moika. That is where he invited the girls. The building where he lived is considered one of the most expensive ones in the city. Next door is the building of the Main Directorate of the Investigative Committee for St. Petersburg; opposite his entrance hall is the main tax department. All of them are state-funded agencies. Surely there are CCTVs all around. But, apparently, Sokolov was so drunk with impunity and permissiveness to be afraid to commit a crime under the cameras. By the way, no wife or children were ever there. He did not talk about his marital status.
“Was he already well off at that time?”
“He was always a wealthy and influential person. As long as I’ve known him, he’s always been among French people, attended receptions at the French Embassy.
Here is what a former graduate, Ekaterina, recalled: “Sokolov seemed to me expressive and emotional. That was why I barely attended his lectures. He would shout at students with and without any excuse. He ran up to me one day. Grabbed a piece of paper from my desk, tore it to shreds above me, while screaming like a crazy person that he’s not used to that eastern bazaar and was brought up in a European community. After the incident, I stopped attending his classes.”
"His first wife died in obscure circumstances"
The reenactors prefer not to speak out against Oleg Sokolov. They wait and hope that their leader falsely incriminated himself.
“I know Oleg Valerievich and Anastasia personally. None of the reenactors believes that he could have committed the crime,” says Sergey Sabirov. “Sokolov is an impulsive person, but not an idiot. Anastasia was his only woman, as much as we know. He brought her to the reenactment field once. Then we met in Moscow, he took her abroad. He never referred to her as his wife. But everyone knew that they had been together for a long time and everything was good.”
“Did he think he was Napoleon?”
“He didn’t. Sire is indeed his nickname, but only among the reenactors. He did not call himself Sire in real life. He never wore a Napoleon's costume. He dressed up as a brigadier general.
There is a video clip titled Sire’s Legend. Here is what Oleg Sokolov told about himself while sitting on a throne, “At the age of 9, I read Dumas’ Three Musketeers, and the book completely changed my life. At 15, I taught myself French. At 19, I tried on my first French combat uniform. Since then, there’ve been just four things that mattered in my life: swords, horses, love and war. And I realized: the most important thing is that people stay true not only to their uniforms, but also to their conduct. Being a knight is my calling. "Sire", as one of my subordinates called me. And they all started calling me that that day. I could not refer to myself as "Napoleon", or I would be considered a madman, although his personality would be the closest to mine."
By the way, it was not the first crime that would have jailed Oleg Sokolov. According to some of the oldest reenactors, a tragedy happened in his club in the 80s or early 90s - a person died during a boat trip. So, Sokolov, as the club founder, is known to have escaped punishment. Someone else was serving time.
Another fact: shortly before the murder, Oleg Sokolov had lost a lawsuit to director Evgeny Ponasenkov, with whom the assistant professor had had a long-standing conflict. Ponasenkov had accused the historian of plagiarism.
“On October 29, I won a trial against Sokolov about authorship and concept; the court recognized that the historian’s scientific works had plagiarism in them; but that’s nothing,” says Ponasenkov. “A year ago, I posted a statement on a YouTube channel that Oleg was going to kill that student. I said it openly. I applied to the faculty dean officially and turned to the rector of St. Petersburg State University asking to fire the associate professor. I read out a statement of another girl, whom Sokolov had tortured in a rented apartment. The university ignored my statements, as did the police. The Institute explained: in a civil society, we have no right to interfere in the personal life of people. So, no one stopped Sokolov. As far as I know, his first wife died in obscure circumstances. He’d met her at the school where he taught. I spoke about that in my statement, but no one listened to me.”
“How did he react to the loss in court?”
“You can see for yourself how he reacted. Got really nervous. Came home and vented his evil on that woman”.