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Feature Story February 6, 2008
Russia's Sex Slave Graveyard
Over the Urals and through the woods to the mother of all Russian crime stories By Yasha Levine & Alexander Zaitchik Browse author
Page 6 of 6

Even in Chudinov's hometown of Lyovikha, where he was a regular face, the news of a nearby mass grave stocked by a native son was taken in stride. There was no candlelight vigil; no national soul-searching. "We heard it on TV," says one Lyovikha resident. "Sure, we thought it was terrible, but it wasn't such a big deal. Most people didn't react to it."

Nationally, the story was buried, lost among the sprawling country's daily blood-spattered "In Brief" items--each of which would provoke months-long obsessions on CNN's Headline News if they occurred in Kansas. But here they were lost in the tide. According to a 2001 U.N. study, Russia had the world's highest murder rate among all major industrialized nations. There are 28,000 people murdered in Russia every year, roughly 11,000 more victims than in the U.S. (which has a population double that of Russia). This might help explain why even after the police shut down Chudinov's brothels, the surviving girls have chosen to remain silent. Not a single one has come forward to speak about her ordeal or work to prevent it from happening again.

Just as details of the Chudinov case began to appear in local papers, Irina Volkovna said her 16-year-old daughter Katya disappeared. She was last seen getting into a white BMW outside her trade school, located next to the Caspi.

Katya reappeared a month later, her clothing ripped, stumbling around the Nizhny Tagil train station in a drug-induced haze. Someone recognized her and called her mother. At the hospital it was determined that she had a near-lethal dose of benzodiazepine--the active ingredient in Valium--circulating through her veins. At first, Volkovna says Katya couldn't even remember her own name. In the following days, she began piecing together bits and pieces of her memory: She had met a man and gotten into his car. She was drugged and spent the next month as a barely conscious sex slave. She had been forced to wash cars in her bikini, live in tiny quarters with other girls, and sleep with men. But that's all she claimed to remember--no names, no addresses.

Katya disappeared in January, when the Chudinov crew was already behind bars. Someone else was likely running the same racket, possibly with another grave site. Katya, who somehow managed to escape from her captors, was in a unique position to help bring down that operation. But she refused, showing no sympathy for the girls still imprisoned. "Let their families take care of their own problems," Katya told her mother. But had she attempted to press on, the local police would've been right there to stop her. As soon as Katya returned home, the police forced her mom to close the investigation into her daughter's disappearance.

"Nu chto?” They asked her. “She came back didn't she? Why does it matter how?"

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