"What are you talking about; people stopped caring about the Tsapok's gang long time ago"
On November 4, 2010, 12 people were killed in the village Kushchevskaya of the Krasnodar Territory: three families, including four children.
After that, the leadership of the country’s security agencies gathered in Kuschevka. Soon, Sergey Tsapok’s gang, which was responsible for the crime, has been neutralized. Roman Popkov inquired into how Kushchevskaya lives six years after the tragedy, whether someone replaced Tsapok’s gang, and what worries the inhabitants of the village these days.
Six years ago, the massacre in the village Kushchevskaya shocked the whole country. Tsapki, Tsepovyazy – names horrible by ear, sounding like a spell of Gogol’s dead Pannochka – became generic. And the name of the unhappy Kuban village now represents any place in Russia, where the criminals along with the authorities keep the population in fear.
I was not surprised when the driver of the Rostov evening train, who was announcing stations in a small and indifferent voice, suddenly said Kuschevka station with the tone, as if he was post-synchronizing a horror movie. And there is no other way to say it.
- Ha, he announced it in a funny way, laughed a girl in a red hipster hat and stepped out of the car. Me and the photographer stepped right after her on an almost unlit platform of Kushchevskaya. The hat flashed several times ahead and disappeared into the darkness. She walked quickly and confidently, Kuschevka was clearly her home.
"This year it’s so bad that can’t get any worse"
For more than half an hour we walked along dimly lit Kuschevka, stumbling over the borders and flashing the way the screens of smartphones. Finally, we got to the hotel with rooms booked in our names.
The hotel occupies the second floor of a three storey building. On the other floors, there are offices. Just eight rooms: spotlessly clean and even cozy. Paintings with angels, cupids and ample-bodied Aphrodites hang on the walls.
We were the only guests that evening. The innkeeper is a gloomy man, who, besides the hotel, also has a farm business. He said that it is hard to cover outlays if you own a hotel in Kuschevka. In the summer, it is easier: though the village is not a resort, vacationers on their vehicles go through it to the sea, and it is in Kuschevka they stop for the night.
- In the summer we earn for the whole year, and in winter we’re idle. All is well, there are only problems with water.
We tried: in a white mug sickly yellow hue is immediately visible.
- The water is like this all over the village. The worst in the Kuban Region, perhaps, shyly admits the girl at the reception.
- The water we have is the most expensive in the Krasnodar Territory. Cold water costs about 74 rubles per cubic meter, and hot – is hundred rubles. Sewer – 45 rubles per cubic meter. We have cut hot water in the house, installed electric heaters, it makes it cheaper, a man, smoking at the entrance to the hotel, grimly shakes off the ashes.
There is clean water in Kuschevka: it is sold on the streets in vending machines. These hefty things can be found in several places of the village.
- The very municipal water supply enterprise sells us clean water! First, they sell us dirty water for a fortune, and then also sells the clarified one, - Cossack Anatoly grins, with whom we met walking along the village center.
Drinking water vending machine
In fact, we came to Kuschevka to talk about the Tsapki, but it turned out that people are much less interested in this issue than in what is happening in the village right now.
- What are you talking about; people stopped caring about the Tsapki long time ago: they are crushed by the collapsing economy. This so-called social sphere is pissing us off, resents black-haired Anna emotionally, with the inimitable Southern accent. She is one of the local intelligentsia – aristocratic and nervous.
- Our grocery is more expensive than in Rostov, more expensive than in Krasnodar. The utility prices are unbelievable. The pension is 7200-7300 rubles, and for the heating system they pay six thousand a month. At that, at night from midnight to three, they sometimes turn off heating. You freeze at night, do not know why. You touch the radiator, and it is cold. This is because they save on people! And how am I supposed to prove that they are turned off? I called the administration on the phone, and they literally tell you where to get off.
In the afternoon we walk along the streets of Kuschevka, look around in search for traces of the gangster terror and overall fear. People leisurely go about their business. Beautiful girls and boys, neat pensioners. There are, of course, also exhausted alcoholics on the streets. Ordinary residents of the ordinary district center.
Perhaps, Kuschevka looks even more fun than the average district center of central Russia. Yes, sometimes there is desolation, but the central part of the village is neat: there are lawns, benches. In obese pre-crisis years, they managed to build the Ice Palace for children, on the central streets one can see paving tiles familiar to Muscovites. The well-kept houses, the roses bloom throughout the village, even in November. There are several educational institutions.
But one still cannot claim that life of Kuschevka is a happy one. People are angry and depressed. About the expensive utilities, rising prices and salaries remaining low, people are more willing to talk than about the times of the Tsapki.
- If tomorrow something happens with my husband, I'll have to sell the house, I will not be able to pay for utilities in winter with my salary! And keep in mind that there is a twenty thousand tax on a house. We were building it by our own forces for eight years without any help from the state, and now have to pay the state for the house. We do not live, we survive, says the middle-aged saleswoman at the store.
Trading promotional campaign
We do not live, we survive: one hears this phrase in Kushchevskaya very often. It is said that for pensioners the basic delicacy is chicken backs: dirt-cheap product, almost the leftovers in which there is almost no meat: only the spine and shoulders. The car pulls over, and the crowd runs to buy them.
Six months ago, in the village, the bread-baking plant was closed, and the bread here is now imported. The foundry and the mechanical plant was also shut down.
Shut down foundry and the mechanical plant
The traders in the market show half-empty aisles between stalls: "You see, there are almost no people, no one has money to come here. For several years, it’s been getting worse and worse every year. But this year is already so bad that can’t get even worse."
It is worse than it was during the Tsapki? On this issue, opinions vary.
"It’s not all that simple with the Tsapki"
In an article on Kuschevka in the Russian Reporter in 2010 there was the following sentence: "The village of Kushchevskaya is 35 thousand people and not one living person." Then, many media resources wrote about fear that suppressed the will of Kuschevka, about the locals’ unwillingness to communicate with the press, about the only answer to all questions: "We will live here, and you will leave."
In 2016, Kushchevskaya is not more alive or dead, not braver or more coward than the rest of Russia. The amount of those who agree to communicate with the journalists and refuse to is approximately the same as in any provincial village.
About the times of the Tsapki people talk differently. Some demonstrate undisguised hatred and joy about the fact that the gang exists no more. Others talk with a vague uncertainty.
- What about the Tsapki... They didn’t touch us. You should ask those who are richer, ask those who have dealt with them. We are humble people: where are we, and where are the Tsapki, shrugs the neat old lady in the market.
A stout active village woman – a saleswoman of the department store located near the entrance to the market – disagrees with her.
- Of course, it became easier for the young people in the village, especially thegirls. The gang members tortured them severely. There were both rapes, and murders. We were afraid to send daughters on proms. Yes, now it is not like this.
A man who sells vegetables is in a philosophical mood:
- Yes, it became better, calmer. But the Tsapki also created jobs...
This is the most amazing thing: six years later, there are people (and many), who believe that "it is not so simple." Of course, there are no open apologists of the gang in Kushchevskaya – or, at least, they would never call themselves ones publicly. "Yes, the Tsapki are the murderers, scum, filth", is a necessary entry. And then, one hears the word "but".
"But they created jobs."
"But there was order."
"But they did not allow the non-Russian in village. And now, take a look on what is happening, how many of them come."
After that, long vehement speeches follow, which I do not want to reproduce here in order not be convicted under Article 282 of the Criminal Code of incitement of ethnic hatred.
The finals of these speeches are also all the same: "Still it is good that the Tsapki were destroyed. But it is not all so simple. Everything is much more complicated."
Kushchevskaya is saturated with optimistic advertising
I remind you that in 2010, after the arrest of Sergey Tsapok and his accomplices, the federal reporters felt that even the grave of one of the founders of the criminal clan, Nikolay Tsapok (Kolya Crazy), who was killed in 2002, the villagers overflowing with anger will reduce to powder.
Nikolay’s grave is all in one peace: a huge black monument adorns near the entrance to the cemetery. "Impossible to return, impossible to forget", says the inscription on the gravestone of Kolya Crazy.
For a very large number of the villagers, the Tsapki topic is just uncomfortable, undesirable. One can feel it. And now it is already not exactly fear.
Anatoly – the Cossack, who told about the water, tries to explain to us the nature of this discomfort. Without the Cossack hats and sword belts, he looks quite metropolitan, as a frequenter of restaurants on Nikitsky Boulevard, Deti Raika, for instance. The red sweater, stylishly tied scarf, real New Balance sneakers (I have the same ones, but I have not seen anybody else wearing them here). However, Alexey’s face does not remind us of the "gentle bearded men" from the Central Administrative District of Moscow. His features are sharp, with a hint of prey, as if from movie versions of Sholokhov’s books.
- You should understand them. There is a specificity, says Anatoly. - Take all the members of the gang - "sixes", "infantry". They are all locals. And here, in Kushchevskaya, everyone’s related to each other somehow. Someone’s a godfather, another’s a matchmaker, someone’s married to someone else, this one’s a father, another one’s a brother. Everyone’s related. And so, they are sometimes embarrassed to say some things out loud.
Another brilliant representative of the village is the saleswoman in the beer store. Beautiful, south-blooded Russian girl fluttering her their long lashes, says that Sergey Tsapok may be alive:
- Well, many of us believe in that: his body was replaced by the double and he was taken to freedom! His mother and wife could organize anything with that much money.
This conspiracy theory to me then was shared by a few people in the village, and everyone said that personally they could not be sure, but many people in Kuschevka think so: Tsapok is alive.
Both the Cossack Anatoly, and the local farmers, with whom I spoke, believe that the mafia power vacuum that formed after the gang seized to exist is still not filled. In the village, the Caucasian Diaspora is gaining power, but they do not engage in an open criminal activities like the Tsapki. Anyway, for now.
The rumor says it that the classical underworld members – the thieves in law – have their eyes for Kushchevskaya. But so far the place of the Tsapki is empty.
Monuments of Kuban Chicago
The bloody local history of Kushchevskaya is cast in granite, marble and brick for decades. Perhaps, even forever.
Zelenaya (Green) Street is the place where, on November 4, 2010, the murder of Server Ametov’s and two other families unfortunately visiting his home took place. 12 people were killed in Ametov’s house; the thugs tried to burn their corpses.
Preparing for the trip to Kushchevskaya, I had studied a bunch of materials, but, to my shame, I completely tracked off the fate of the house in which the nightmare happened. For some reason, I was sure that I would see on Zelenaya Street some ruins or even a vacant lot with zero chance of a sale. It seemed to be impossible to live in a place where such a tragedy happened. But we saw that the house was restored and habitable.
According to neighbors, now, the sister of the killed the farmer lives there with her family. From the windows, the children's voices are heard. When we rang the bell at the gate, a gloomy man who introduced himself as "just a worker" came out, but he was more like a private security officer. When we asked for an interview with the owners of the house, the "worker" said that the hostess sits with the children and will not communicate with us.
On Berezovaya (Birch) street, which is within a ten minute walking distance from Zelenaya, among fairly large mansions, the huge one is towering – a three-story house that used belong to Sergey Tsapok. It is also inhabited and, as the villagers say, is now owned by one of the most influential lawyers of Kushchevskaya. On the same street, there is another great house; it stands unfinished for many years. It was erected by the influential Kushchevskaya farmers – Vadim and Roman Bogachev (father and son), who were in conflict with Tsapok – for their clan. The construction stopped after the Bogachevs, in 2003, were killed in the yard of their old home on the same Zelenaya Street. The killers have not been identified.
Place of Kolya Crazy’s death
A little further on, in the center of Kushchevskaya, there is another symbolic place – the intersection of Lenin Street and Moskvicha Alley. It is here in the autumn of 2002, the older brother of Sergey Tsapok, the 27-year-old Nikolay (Kolya Crazy) was killed.
He got out of the car, walked into a kiosk. It was evening. The killer was outside and shot him through the glass from the darkness. Vyacheslav Ryabtsev who was accompanying Kolya (later sentenced to 20 years for the gang’s case) was injured. Sergey Tsapok believed that Server Ametov was behind his brother Kolya’s murder of.
Near the kiosk, there is a stadium, at which, as the villagers say, once four hundred Tatars gathered to meet Tsapok’s gang members, but the latter did not come.
And the Moskvicha Alley, on which Kolya’s criminal career ended, is named in honor of the Head of the Kushchevskaya District, Boris Moskvich. Moskvich was killed nine months before Kolya Crazy: the killer shot five times right in the yard of the District Administration building, also not far from the intersection, on which later Kolya will be killed.
In Kushchevskaya, everything is located nearby.
The Tsapki, along with the corrupt police officers, were also suspected of Moskvich’s murder, but the crime was not solved.
- Well, it’s like Chicago here, huh? - says with a kind of shy pride the driver who is driving us through the village.
The dead and the killers, who also could not avoid the other killers lie in the Kushchevskaya cemetery next to each other. Almost, on the same alleys.
The graves of Kolya Crazy and the killed Mayor Boris Moskvich are close to each other.
The most notable one is the huge Kolya Crazy’s grave, who can be "neither forgotten, nor returned." Nearby, there are the graves of Moskvich and Bogachev, the grave of the Tsapki OCG member Sergey Karpenko (Ris Jr.), who participated in the murder of Ametov. According to the official version, he committed suicide in custody at the stage of investigation.
A little further, there is the grave of Natalya Kasyan and her son who were killed on November 4, 2010, along with the families of Ametov and Mironenko. The 14-year-old Pavel, in that terrible night, went after his mother, who was late at the Ametov’s (the Ametov’s and the Kasyan’s were neighbors). Seeing what is happening in the house, the boy tried to escape, but the gangsters noticed him and shot him in the back. Somewhere here (the exact location is hidden), another gang member is buried: Igor Chernykh (Amur), who received a life sentence and hung himself in the cell a few days before Sergey Tsapok’s death.
Tsapok himself lies on one of the cemeteries of Rostov; the relatives of the victims demanded not to bury him in Kushchevskaya.
The grave of the Colonel Pavel Kornienko
There is also the grave of the Colonel Pavel Kornienko, who, in in 1990-2000-ies, headed the Kushchevskaya police. He tried to pressure the gang which was still forming then (the methods were quite familiar to Kushchevskaya: under his leadership, the policemen took out the yet young Tsapki to the forest, made them dig their own graves and simulated shooting). It was Kornienko who made a detailed help-memorandum on criminal group. But the Tsapki, in the 2000s, had already had connections in the Prosecutor's Office and courts (Kolya Crazy’s cohabiting partner was the local judge), and they have learned to successfully avoid the police attacks. And then, Kornienko was replaced by militiamen of the new formation: those who are flexible and attentive to their pockets. They easily agreed with the Tsapki.
The Colonel Kornienko died in 2011, he lived to see the defeat of the gang.
Next to Kornienko lies the farmer Oleg Petryankin. He was shot in 2012, when the Tsapki were already defeated.
On the other side of the cemetery, next to the wall, there is a black monument to the farmer Anatoly Smolnikov (Babon), who was killed in 2008. At one time, he was close to the Tsapki, but then, there was a conflict between them. They say that they kept taking vengeance on Babon even after his death: they would dig up his coffin, pulled it behind the fence of the cemetery and throw it on the road.
And here is the grave of Server Ametov and his family who paid with their lives for the Tsapki’s defeat; it is far away from the others, on a separate Tatar cemetery.
On grave neighboring the Ametov’s one, a small yellow dog sits huddled up to the monument. It greets us with barking, guarding its dead master.
Kuschevka and politics
In April 2014, while the whole of Russia was watching the events in Crimea, protests were held in Kushchevskaya. However, they were not against geopolitics, but against the raider seizure of the local church. This indeed impressive church actually was built by own design of the very popular priest in the village, father Nikolay Zaporozhets. However, the intelligent, beloved priest had a conflict with the diocese, and the Bishop of Yeisk and Timashevsky German sent to Kuschevka a whole group of monks, who with the help of the Cossacks surrounded the church. Their goal was taking the church by assault, but the Father Nicholas opened the gate. However, the attackers closed them again with chains and, after that, cut the chains grinder. For what? The residents of Kuschevka have told us that they the invaders had had to justify their visit by spectacular force actions, which they filmed.
The villagers organized several spontaneous demonstrations, and then held a rally in defense of the Father Nikolay. The village Ataman Alexey Marchenko took the protesters’ side, and said that in the capture of the church participated "the paid Cossack squad, which serves for the money, gets paid, and its chieftain ... does not believe in God, and is still a Communist."
The protesters have not succeeded, and the church, having lost the popular priest (now the Father Nikolay serves in another small church), now stands in ruins.
With those villagers who are willing to talk about politics, the conversations are interesting. Those who are more progressive and successful in life, somehow know how to use the Internet, have heard about Navalny’s famous film about Chaika and Natalia Tsepovyaz (the spouse of one of the defendants in the case of Ametov’s murder). Well, you can’t really tell that they are surprised. Tsepovyaz’s participation in the business of the Prosecutor General’s family is not the picture that the villagers find hard to imagine.
Kushchevsky temple, because of which the village was shaken by protests
They do not like the regime, do not know the opposition and do not believe it. And when they hear that "Putin decently represents Russia in the international arena" their eyes light up. In order to talk to them, it is important to be aware of the abyss that separates the interests of the average Facebook user in Moscow from the average inhabitant of Kuschevka.
The resident Kuschevka, care neither about Kids-404 nor the whole LGBT topic, as well as the bombardment of Aleppo, or Putin’s violation of international law, or Roskomnadzor blocking websites or "fucking chain links", nor any political prisoners.
You can, of course, spend years and tons of nerves, proving the hard workers, that all this is somehow related to their troubles, that their troubles, in particular, and arise from these problems, and likely you will not prove anything.
For them, the important things are simple and clear: to avoid exorbitant corruption. To prevent the cops from shoving bottles in people’s asses. To be able to defend their rights in courts. To make sure that the taxes people pay do not go into the pocket of Ramzan Kadyrov.
It is sometimes dangerous to talk about politics to these people. The local Artem Martynenko, who was trying to organize cinema screening in Kushchevskaya of the FBK’s film about the Prosecutor General Chaika’s sons, was brutally beaten less than a year ago. Then he was forced to leave Kuschevka.
I really wanted to talk about this beating and the social problems of the village Kushchevskaya with the Head of its Administration Andrey Kalyuzhny. But it was not possible to arrange a meeting either in advance by phone, or in the Administration building.
I have a suspicion that with the Tsapoks the village leadership behaved more friendly.
Businessman Badri Shengelia – a ‘professional witness’ and notorious figure of criminal St. Petersburg – won’t help the law enforcement authorities anymore in their struggle against corruption, banditry, and internal intrigues. The professional ‘work’ of the killers has drawn a line under his controversial life and left plenty of questions to the investigators – because persons interested in this murder can be found literally everywhere, including their own agency.