The case of a Russian election official's daughter who ran over two sisters six years ago, killing one and leaving the other disabled, has ignited fresh outrage after the woman was amnestied recently before ever serving a day in prison for vehicular manslaughter.
A court in the eastern Siberian region of Irkutsk on May 25 released Anna Shavenkova from responsibility for the December 2009 accident as part of a nationwide amnesty tied to the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
Police charged Shavenkova with a crime only after a video surfaced showing Shavenkova running over the two women, and then checking the car for damage and making a call on her mobile phone while ignoring the wounded sisters as they lay sprawled on the sidewalk.
The video sparked widespread indignation in Russia and accusations that authorities balked at aggressively prosecuting Shavenkova because of her mother's position as a regional election commission head and ties to the ruling United Russia party.
In 2011 Shavenkova was given a 2 1/2-year prison sentence suspended for 14 years, formally because she is the mother of young children. But her amnesty last week means she will not serve time behind bars.
An online petition launched on the popular U.S.-based website Change.org has now gathered 23,000 signatures demanding that the Russian authorities revisit the decision. "We did not achieve this victory [over Nazi Germany] in order to use the occasion of its anniversary free murderers of responsibility," the petition sates.
The petition adds that Shavenkova "completely avoided responsibility" for the fatal accident in part because of her mother, Lyudmila, who has since stepped down as head of the Irkutsk regional election commission but still serves as its secretary.
A small group of demonstrators gathered in central Irkutsk on May 31 to protest the amnesty granted to Shavenkova, an event covered by state-run Russian media outlets.
"In my opinion, it's corruption, immortal corruption in Russia, that's all," a man at the demonstration told Russian Public Television (OTR). "There is no justice in Russia. There is a caste of untouchables that no one bothers."
Russia's tightly controlled state-owned media frequently reports on cases of corruption and public discontent involving lower-level officials or those who have fallen out of favor with Russia's ruling elite.
Kremlin critics' allegations of malfeasance by top Russian officials, however, are largely ignored by these outlets.
Shavenkova was speeding when she lost control of her car, which mounted a sidewalk and hit sisters Yelena and Yulia Pyatkova (see video of the accident below). The elder sister, Yelena, later died in the hospital, while the younger sister, Yulia, was severely injured.
"I think about [the accident] every day," Yulia told OTR. "And I dream of my sister regularly. I miss her, of course, and my pain remains deep in my heart. Our parents think of [the accident] constantly."
Viktor Grigorov, a lawyer for the victims, told the network that he did not believe Shavenkova, who said in court in 2011 that she was "very sorry for what happened," has shown sufficient remorse for her role in the deadly accident.
He said amnesty should be granted "only to those who committed a certain category of crime and, through their actions, have atoned for the damage they've cause to the victims [and] shown that they are reforming their ways."
"Without a doubt, the victims see neither from Shavenkova," Grigorov said.
In an interview with the doggedly pro-Kremlin tabloid website Lifenews, Shavenkova's mother accused critics "on the Internet and everywhere" of "sucking the blood" from her daughter over the past six years.
"She was hoping for an amnesty, and finally it happened," Lyudmila Shavenkova told the website. "She has two children. What would they do without their mother?"