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“Who will look into these gestures?” Why eight-year-old's plea for help on Channel One remained unanswered

The Borzhov family from the city of Murom gained recognition due to their appearance on the Male/Female show on Russian TV's Channel One. In the episode that aired on June 21st, two girls aged 4 and 8 praised their parents and spoke about the positive environment at home. However, the older sister discreetly made the international gesture for victims of domestic violence behind her sister. This incident sparked significant public attention and prompted an investigation by the Investigative Committee. Both parents (who are no longer living together) have accused each other of mistreatment. Despite the considerable outcry, there have been no changes in the girl's situation. A correspondent from The Insider visited Murom, interviewed those involved in the conflict, their relatives, and neighbors, and reached a disheartening conclusion – addressing potential family violence in Russia continues to be a challenge.

Content
  • Cry for Help on Air

  • Kristina's perspective: “I won't allow anyone to tarnish my children's reputation”

  • Karen's perspective: “Everyone is afraid of Kristina”

  • Family and Neighbors' Perspectives: “I'm sure there's no violence in the family”

  • The gesture, and why it won't work in Russia

  • A psychologist's perspective

Cry for Help on Air

“He raised his hand against me, hit the child on the head, and she started crying…”
“I didn't cause any harm to the child!”
“Then who did?”
“It was the mother who caused the harm!”

This is how the attempt at a dialogue between the former saleswoman from Murom, Kristina Borzhova, the system administrator from Moscow, Karen Tunyan, and the hosts of the Male/Female show looked like. At first glance, it's a typical story: young people separated, trying to sort out their relationship, sharing a child (Kristina has two – 8-year-old Veronika and 4-year-old Milana, while Karen is the biological father to only the younger daughter).

On air, Kristina accused her ex of violence against her and the children – alleging that he was physically aggressive and even used pepper spray. Karen claimed that Kristina had extorted money from him, prevented him from seeing his daughter, and if anyone in the family was abusing the children, it was Kristina herself.

Veronika, while speaking to journalists about the home situation, insisted that everything was fine – the family was united, and she and her sister “really, really” loved their mom. As she said these words, the girl raised her hand behind her sister's back, making sure her mother couldn't see, and clearly demonstrated the gesture used worldwide by victims of domestic violence. Her open palm had the thumb pressed against it, while the other four fingers quickly bent.

The gesture Veronika made behind her sister's back during the show recording
The gesture Veronika made behind her sister's back during the show recording

Viewers recognized the signal, and as a result, letters from concerned people were sent to the show's address. Channel One employees wrote to the Investigative Committee and requested an investigation into the situation. Other media outlets picked up the story, and bloggers started discussing it – the scandal quickly gained momentum.

Simultaneously, statements from the Children's Ombudsman of the Vladimir Region, Yulia Rasnyanskaya, appeared online, stating that the Borzhov family had been under her supervision since 2020. However, she didn't specify the details of what exactly was happening within the family and the nature of this oversight.

Following the letter from television professionals, child protection agencies and the Investigative Committee initiated an investigation into the family. However, this didn't lead to any significant changes: the girls still live with their mother and her new boyfriend, and Karen still hasn't been able to see his daughter.

Kristina's perspective: “I won't allow anyone to tarnish my children's reputation”

After the incident, Kristina herself doesn't want to communicate with anyone. However, comments from empty accounts have been appearing on social media, seemingly written by her.

“Scammers who should be held criminally responsible!” wrote a person using the Nika Nika account in the group 'Overheard in Murom - Navashino' in a post about the show's episode. “We were deceitfully lured onto the program!”

Kristina Borzhova, Male/Female show
Kristina Borzhova, Male/Female show

Nika Nika claims that the journalists promised to help her in depriving Karen of his parental rights, as he was “mistreating her and the children”: he hasn't paid child support for two years and allegedly “caused her a concussion by hitting her on the head with his fist” and even was “convicted” for it. “I gathered a complete package of documents for the show, but they didn't show anything on air, even though I have all the screenshots and conversations with the reporters they sent to our home!” Nika Nika is outraged, but she still hasn't shown these documents anywhere.

According to Nika Nika, the reporter named Maria showed the domestic violence victim signal to Veronika. Allegedly, she told Veronika that she could use it if she starts stuttering or gets tired. “We didn't even know what it meant; these shameless journalists manipulated everything just to boost their ratings. There's no conscience or justice there — it's all about money for them!” Nika Nika writes.

The journalists from Channel One were also accused of leaving the child in danger, but they insisted that they immediately contacted the Investigative Committee of Russia. The TV channel didn't respond to The Insider's interview requests.

Kristina also declined to be interviewed. Well, to be precise, she promised to respond several times, but each time she disappeared. Learning that Karen responded almost immediately, Kristina became explosive. “I don't need to be blackmailed! I personally don't trust anyone. If Karen has nothing to do except hanging around journalists, I certainly have things to do! I'm raising two children,” she wrote.

Kristina reiterated that she had already spent a “great deal of time, effort, and nerves” on the journalists, naively believing that they would reveal the whole truth, but she experienced “complete disappointment.”

Karen's perspective: “Everyone is afraid of Kristina”

Unlike Kristina, Karen Tunyan was more than willing to engage in a conversation. He welcomes the additional publicity, as he stated that he has no intention of giving up on his little daughter.

Karen explains that problems in his relationship with Kristina started almost immediately:

“She is, to put it mildly, a difficult person. She doesn't accept criticism, believes that only her opinion is valid, and views the word 'commitment' only in the sense that others are obligated to her. She often behaved quite rudely, impulsively, and exerted both physical and psychological influence on the children. I believe she has psychological issues.”

They didn't live together with Kristina for long. A month before Milana's birth, Karen brought Kristina to Moscow. However, after Milana's birth and yet another conflict, Kristina went back to live with her mother. “While we were together, Veronika was with us. She treated me well, but she was afraid of Kristina. There were a couple of instances of violence against Veronika that I witnessed. I learned about other episodes from Kristina's mother and stepfather—they provided audio and video recordings,” Karen recounts.

According to him, Veronika's biological father lives in the Moscow region, pays child support, but doesn't have any contact with his daughter due to Kristina's interference. After the birth of their younger daughter, Kristina started asking for a minimum of 50,000 rubles every month, Karen complains. When he began questioning how the money was being used, she abruptly stopped communicating with him, claiming she had found a new partner.

Karen says that when he tried to arrange meetings with his daughter through Kristina, he even approached law enforcement agencies, but they ignored him.

“There's lawlessness there! Plus, nobody wants to deal with Kristina because of her temperament,” Tunyan claims. “That's why the residents of Murom probably won't say anything. Everyone is afraid of Kristina!”

Karen Tunyan, Male/Female show
Karen Tunyan, Male/Female show

When asked why Kristina is feared in her hometown, Karen explains that Borzhova caused scandals in the kindergarten and the city hospital, resulting in one of the kindergarten teachers resigning, and a female medic “almost tendering her resignation.” In court, Karen allegedly heard that his former partner had assaulted some woman in Murom. However, Karen doesn't provide the names of the affected individuals and doesn't offer their contacts, emphasizing that people don't want to discuss anything because they don't want to get involved with Kristina.

According to Karen, his suspicions of Kristina having a mental illness are confirmed in a letter from the Child Ombudsman in the Vladimir region, but he's not willing to present it.

Verification of the accuracy of Karen's statements in Murom was not possible. “No one has resigned here at all... and had no plans to,” says an employee of the city's ambulance station upon hearing the story about the female medic. “What's the point here? Are you trying to protect this girl? Or do you need dirt on Borzhova?” At the kindergarten, the journalist was asked either to make the visit official or to leave, as “the media had already caused trouble.”

Karen shifts to the main point: “The decision to appear on Channel One was mine. It was related to the lawlessness of the local authorities in Murom. I wrote a letter to the show, and they offered me to participate. Of course, I agreed. The TV professionals behaved in a completely impartial manner, showing no bias towards any party in the conflict.”

According to him, Veronika was aware of the gesture that caused the scandal long before the recording—she saw it on TikTok, and its meaning was later explained to her by her grandmother, Kristina's mother.

Currently, Karen is actively dealing with legal matters. He has already appealed the decision of the first-instance court, which left Milana with her mother, and has contacted the Prosecutor General's Office to request opening a case against Kristina for obstructing his access to his daughter.

Family and Neighbors' Perspectives: “I'm sure there's no violence in the family”

Kristina Borzhova's relationship with her mother, Galina Gennadievna, is strained. Especially after Kristina accused her stepfather, Galina's husband, of sexual violence. Later, Galina denied this story, telling the media that the legal proceedings were closed due to lack of evidence to support her daughter's claims. In her opinion, Kristina simply harbors hostility towards her relatives and wants to hurt them as much as possible.

Kristina Borzhova's relationship with her mother is strained, especially after Kristina accused her stepfather of sexual violence

Galina Gennadievna refused to share details: “I don't see the point. You can't cover every mouth with a scarf. Besides ratings, you don't need anything else.” Veronika's father, Andrey, and Kristina's new partner, Kirill Labutin, also declined to talk.

Even Kristina's friends don't want to speak with journalists. “We studied together, and I have no idea what's happening with her now,” said Kristina's former classmate, Elena. “In 10th and 11th grades, she often skipped classes and had conflicts with everyone.”

A neighbor of Kristina's (their children attend the same kindergarten) is happy to answer questions: “She has a normal child, like all kids. Beautiful, well-groomed, I've never seen any signs of abuse. They always go out together, have fun, like regular happy children. I'm sure there's no violence in the family!” Marina says (she asked not to use her real name).

When asked about the gesture on air, Marina responds that at 31 years old, she's not aware of such international gestures: “My son is 9 years old, and he doesn't know it either, nor do most of my acquaintances. Whether her daughter knew this gesture, I don't know! But she loves watching TikTok and could have seen this gesture. In any case, at eight years old, I think a child doesn't fully understand the meaning of this signal and its potential consequences. She might have just been fooling around,” the neighbor says.

She doesn't rule out the possibility that the gesture could have been solicited by the journalists. Marina, in general, doesn't hold Channel One in high regard and is convinced that they “rarely tell the truth, whether in the news or in the shows”:

“They pounced on Kristina like dogs! So many children living in truly troubled families where parents are alcoholics, drug addicts! Their children are not taken away from them, they are always given a chance, sending their children to a rehabilitation center for a month. But in this case the want to take the children away! From a normal, non-drinking, and loving mother,” the neighbor says with indignation at the end of the conversation.

The gesture, and why it won't work in Russia

The gesture displayed by Veronika was invented recently, in 2020. On April 14, it was introduced by the Canadian Women's Foundation—an organization that has been addressing gender equality, feminism, and decolonization since 1991. During the pandemic, cases of domestic violence increased, and its victims needed a distress signal they could discreetly use against the abuser. When the Women's Funding Network recognized the gesture, it quickly spread worldwide.

After the Channel One report, even Russian lawmakers became interested in the gesture. Boris Chernyshov, the Vice-Speaker of the State Duma, suggested teaching all children about this signal and giving it federal status.

According to psychologists, the gesture of help won't work in Russia because it's part of a larger system to combat violence, a concept that isn't present in the minds of Russians or in the Criminal Code. The average person from a provincial town won't be able to recognize the gesture given by a victim, and even if they do, they won't take any action. In modern Russian society, it's considered acceptable to beat children, but intervening in other people's affairs is not. Specialists say this is historically rooted—it's seen as correct not to interfere in others' matters, and the idea of “I was beaten, and I grew up fine, so I'll beat my own child too” has been passed down through generations. Domestic violence is normalized in society. But authorities are feared—the next day they visited the Borzhov family for an inspection, and they'll be visiting again soon.

The gesture of help won't work in Russia

However, even a call from a concerned witness of domestic violence in the context of Russia is unlikely to lead to any significant action. Take, for example, the case of the prolonged murder of Vera Pehtaleva, where law enforcement authorities failed to respond. Will they really prioritize responding to a report about a seemingly innocuous gesture? And if they do respond, will they conduct a thorough investigation if no obvious signs of trouble are apparent?

A psychologist's perspective

The sensationalized TV broadcast has faded from memory, and public interest in Kristina's family has quickly waned. Child protective services conducted an assessment of the Borzhov family but didn't uncover any red flags, allowing the children to remain with their mother and her new partner. “Let me explain what this assessment entailed,” says another Murom resident. “They came, checked the refrigerator—there's food. The children weren't showing any signs of neglect. Were the parents sober? Yes. So, by their assessment, everything seemed fine. There's little incentive to look into these gestures. Who would want to do it?”

According to a psychologist interviewed by The Insider, all parties involved in the conflict are likely presenting biased narratives to protect themselves. The psychologist sees the need for an investigation even based on the footage shown during the TV show. In her analysis, Kristina might be grappling with narcissistic personality traits, while Karen's motives seem driven more by a desire for vengeance against his ex than a genuine concern for the child's welfare.

At this point, the best course of action for all parties involved is to de-escalate the conflict and provide the children with a chance to regain stability, the psychologist suggests. Child protective services should approach their responsibilities with thoroughness and care, genuinely striving to uncover the truth of the situation from the children's perspective.

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