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Held hostage by Munchausen: A thousand lives of Svetlana Bogacheva

Alyona Koroleva

Early in September, stand-up comedian Tanya Shchukina was in despair, having fled Russia to escape the Federal Security Service, learning of her grandmother's sudden death, watching her best friend Svetlana lose her battle with cancer, and wanting for money. However, on September 11, Tanya's world did a one-eighty: she learned that most of what she'd endured in the previous few months had been a hoax played out by Svetlana Bogacheva, who had been writing to Tanya under multiple disguises. She had lied about her cancer, had faked the threat of prosecution, had robbed (and according to Tanya, may have killed) her grandmother, and had withdrawn thousands of dollars from Tanya's accounts. As it turned out, Bogacheva, who appears to be suffering from Munchausen syndrome, had spent years conning people all over Russia. Tanya hopes to put Bogacheva behind bars, but the latter insists she needs psychiatric help.

ALL CARDS
  • Part 1. School and college

  • Part 2. Svetlana decides to die

  • Part 3. Tanya. The beginning

  • Part 4. Tanya. Friendship and cancer

  • Part 5. FSB and emigration

  • Part 6. Tanya's grandmother

  • Part 7. The exposure

  • Part 8. How she pulled it off

  • Part 9. The Munchausen

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The illustrations were created by the Midjourney neural network

Part 1. School and college

Svetlana started inventing stories and characters when she was still a child. With time, this tendency got worse, she says. She had a school friend Katya, whom she'd known since primary school. What began as innocuous little lies soon turned into stories of life-threatening conditions. Her friend believed her.
Even more so, as Katya admits in a 2017 social media post, she believed Svetlana to be her best friend:

“She’d sometimes make up peculiar stories she’d purportedly experienced, but they were easy to dismiss.

We were friends throughout school, and even though we chose different universities, we still kept in touch. The unbelievable stories of her life that she kept telling were becoming increasingly darker. In her first year in college, Svetlana would say that her father had gone completely insane, that he was beating up her granny and raped Svetlana (the act was described in horrendous detail), that Svetlana was going to incapacitate him and apply for guardianship. A while later, she shared that she’d allegedly institutionalized him and that he’d died in a psych ward. I can tell you in advance that her father is currently alive, well, and legally capable.”

Katya also recounted that Svetlana's love life had always been “screen-worthy” but no one among her friends or family had ever seen her suitors.

“As her graduation drew nearer, Svetlana started borrowing money, ostensibly to pay for chemo treatment for her cancer. She complained that her mother had turned away from her, saying ‘I’m f*cking sick of your problems’ and had evicted her but let her stay for a while. Even my mother and our common school friends’ parents lent her money for treatment. Everyone was incredibly sympathetic to the poor girl and judged her mother harshly.”

For her conditions and injuries to appear more convincing, Svetlana engaged in regular self-harm, saying she'd been assaulted or robbed. She would beat herself or cut her forearms and then beg for money because “they took everything”.

Stories of bereavement were another way to win attention and elicit sympathy. In 2014 and 2015, she claimed to have lost her cousin, her daughter, and a close college friend.

The illustration was created by Midjourney
The illustration was created by Midjourney

As Svetlana confessed to The Insider, it is during her friendship with Katya that she developed the urge to make up false facts about her life. But stories only got you so far, and Svetlana began offering presents to people whose attention she craved:

“I was in over my head, telling stories of fatal illnesses I presumably had. I invented a great many crazy things over twenty years. I also developed the need to offer presents that were over the top (a collectible guitar for an acquaintance, a car for her brother), borrowing and re-borrowing money from others.”

After graduation, Svetlana would tell Katya that her condition was getting worse and that she always needed money for costly medical appliances, doctor visits, and medication. Her debts had crawled up to $8,500.

Back then, in 2017, Svetlana worked in an ICU of a hospital in Ivanovo. While she worked, she paid back some of her debts, but soon borrowed more.

Part 2. Svetlana decides to die

At some point, no one in Ivanovo would lend money to Svetlana anymore.

“My debts grew to cosmic proportions, and I was at my wit's end. I had taken out multiple bank loans. So I decided to ‘die’.”

Svetlana insists it was an act of despair. She called the hospital where she worked and said Svetlana Bogacheva had died. She realized the hoax would not hold for long.

“These processes in my head occurred simultaneously, in parallel. The sane part of my mind understood it was all crap and that no good would come out of it, but the impulsive part was uncontrollable.”

Ivanovo is a small town, and Svetlana’s acquaintances quickly realized that Svetlana had faked her death. She was sighted acting as if nothing had happened.

Sighting of Svetlana at a post office after her fake "death"
Sighting of Svetlana at a post office after her fake "death"

Having failed to stage her death, Svetlana decided to leave for Kavalerovo in the Russian Far East. She found a dot on the map that was as far from Ivanovo as possible and set out. In Kavalerovo, she didn’t know a soul.

She found a job at a local hospital, which was understaffed.

“It got even worse there. I kept doing the same: buying package tours for random people and coming up with crazy stories. Eventually, I was charged with fraud. Kavalerovo is a tiny settlement where everyone knows each other, so deceiving people for a long time wasn't possible.”

As Svetlana recalls, her case was dismissed due to her active repentance. She left for the nearby town of Arsenyev and found another job, presumably giving all her earnings to the people she owed – a total of about $3,400.

In Arsenyev, Svetlana was doing fairly well. She got on well with her colleagues and neighbors and stopped borrowing money for about a year (2018-2019).

“Once I realized I was about to relapse, I left so that the people I knew had good memories of me. I left for Saint Petersburg.”

Part 3. Tanya. The beginning

In Saint Petersburg, Svetlana began working as a doctor at Children's Hospital No. 17. In the meantime, she studied disorders typical of premature babies and looked for someone who could help her make a video on the subject. That was how she met Tanya. Tanya is a stand-up comedian, who was twenty when she met Svetlana.

“I became attached to her early on. I generally feel the need to be cared for, and that was how we got together. I started using my usual manipulations to get her to take care of me, telling fake stories of my husband's or my brothers’ deaths.”

As Tanya recalls, Svetlana reached out to her by email. She said she’d seen Tanya’s performances, knew she wrote scripts for YouTube channels, and had browsed her portfolio. She wanted to make a video for the hospital and was looking to write a text about the complications of premature birth.

“We arranged a meeting, and it went well. She paid me 100,000 rubles (~$1,700) upfront. I’d never have said she was manipulating me. We got on great,” Tanya recounts.

She remembers that Svetlana kept dragging out the video production by adding new details. Tanya thought she was just passionate about what she did.

Their communication was limited to business in the first three or four months – until Svetlana called Tanya outside business hours and started sobbing and apologizing, saying she had no one else to turn to.

“She said her husband had hanged himself and that she was in pieces, not knowing how to get on with her life. I tried to console her and said she shouldn’t be alone. I asked if she was with someone and if she’d called her therapist, but she said she hadn't.”

Tanya offered to help and went to her place. Still sobbing, Svetlana told Tanya about the horrible car crash she'd survived: her husband had been driving, their three-year-old daughter had been in the back, and Svetlana herself had been nine months pregnant. Ostensibly, a long-haul truck collided with their car because its driver had dozed off. The daughter was killed on the spot, and the baby in her womb didn’t make it either. Her husband was relatively unharmed but could not forgive himself and committed suicide.

The illustration was created by Midjourney
The illustration was created by Midjourney
“Her story was impossible not to believe. The interior of her apartment left no room for doubt, with all the children’s drawings and a photo of a girl on her bedside table.”

Later, after Svetlana was exposed, Tanya learned that the photo had been Svetlana's portrait as a child and the drawings had been borrowed from work.

“I trusted her. She recounted the circumstances of the crash in great detail: how she'd felt the baby in her belly freeze, how blood had started flowing down her legs, and how she’d turned around to look at her daughter and seen her tilt her head backward and her pupils dilate. How can one share things like these without having experienced them?”

Svetlana asked Tanya to spend the night at her place and wake her up because she couldn’t handle her nightmares on her own.

Tanya stayed in the living room and watched YouTube. Every two or three hours, she heard gut-wrenching screams from the bedroom. “Daughter, dear, don’t leave me! It’s my fault!”

As Tanya recalls, this went on until around eight in the morning. She left, and a while later Svetlana texted her. “Tanya, I’m so awfully sorry! I feel so awkward. This was the first night when I was able to get any sleep at all. You are so kind and wonderful. Thank you.”

Tanya suggested that Svetlana should get counseling, and she soon did.

Part 4. Tanya. Friendship and cancer

Svetlana and Tanya stayed in touch and even became friends. Tanya says she felt pity for her friend. At some point, Svetlana said she’d found a psychotherapist who was willing to take her case on one condition: she had to cohabitate with someone.

“This seemed reasonable, and I said I could stay with her but not longer than a month. So I spent a month at her place. She had nightmares every night, and I had to stay up and wake her from them. In the meantime, she was presumably getting counseling.”

When the month was almost over, Svetlana's therapist messaged Tanya, asking her to stay for another month:

“Tanya, you're the one living with Svetlana. She is very reticent, reluctant to share the details of her life. I really want to get to the bottom of her trauma, but I need your help. Her case is very complex, and I am having a hard time. I know it’s not your responsibility, and I’m very grateful for what you're doing. You're restoring my faith in humanity.”

Tanya stayed with Svetlana for another month, after which her brother (who is still alive) allegedly hanged himself. Her nightmares relapsed, and then the cancer began. By then, Tanya had been living with her for four months:

“I was very immersed in her story and believed it. All of my friends who came to see me and talked to Svetlana were greatly impressed with how intelligent and amazing, and strong she was, with how she was struggling. What a tragedy, they would say, we probably wouldn't have been able to cope. My friends also supported me, saying I was doing the right thing taking care of a stranger.”

Svetlana once shared that she’d decided to become a mother and had gone through an IVF cycle. As she’d mentioned earlier, she hoped that the IVF would not trigger cancer.

A month after she ostensibly had the IVF, Svetlana told Tanya she had cancer.

“The cancer was a nightmare. She started a course of highly toxic chemotherapy and developed polyneuropathy – a severe pain syndrome. Polyneuropathy patients often commit suicide during chemotherapy. She would scream from the unbearable pain. She often lost consciousness and had urinary incontinence. Sometimes I would find her lying, covered in blood, with her veins torn because of the chemo. She had vast areas of necrotic tissue, chunks of rotting flesh. I once saw her break a finger because of the pain: she grasped her little finger and snapped it in two.”

As it later turned out, Svetlana gave herself calcium chloride injections to make it appear as though she was receiving chemo treatment.

During her “illness”, Tanya was in touch with many people who knew Svetlana: her therapist, her oncologist Liza, and a few more. They wrote: “Tanya, you should leave her. There’s nothing in it for you. People like her die alone, abandoned even by their families.” Tanya paid no heed and stayed with Svetlana to keep helping her. Both the therapist and the oncologist were in fact impersonated by Svetlana herself.

“At times, I had to look after Svetlana around the clock because it felt as though she would have died, had I left her for even a couple of hours.”

Before her “cancer”, Svetlana traveled to Vladivostok. As she told Tanya, she had to “spend a week in prison for violating medical confidentiality”. She returned to Saint Petersburg all beaten up.

“It wasn't makeup: she had bruises, a black eye, her nose was smashed, and her left arm was in shreds as if she’d been run over with a road roller. I asked: ‘What happened?’ She replied: ‘I didn’t get on well with my cellmates. They kept raping a fifteen-year-old girl named Lena, and I decided to stand up for her, so they beat me up.’ During her later confession, Svetlana admitted that she had inflicted the injuries on herself to make her story believable.”

Tanya and Lena corresponded for a long time. The girl shared how grateful she was to Svetlana for saving her and how she wanted to give up drugs and for Svetlana to adopt her. Lena does not exist either; she was yet another Svetlana's character.

Tanya's social circle shrank to three close people who also trusted Svetlana: her boyfriend, her friend Fedor, and her manager Anna. Having to look after Svetlana, Tanya often had to stay in and canceled some of her concerts.

“Once I went out, everyone started messaging me. ‘Tanya, she’ll be dead in no time. Stay with her for as long as she has left.’ At some point, my friends have had enough of the depressive atmosphere in the apartment, and I didn't communicate with anyone except Svetlana's make-believe characters.”

Tanya also received counseling to cope with the situation. Her therapist believed in Svetlana's stories too and treated them as part of Tanya’s life. Meanwhile, living with Svetlana was making her physically unwell. Tanya is strongly allergic to fish, seafood, and seaweed. Even a drop of fish oil can trigger Quincke's edema.

“When I lived with Svetlana, I had severe edema that would begin early in the morning, out of the blue. I would wake up feeling as though something was stuck in my throat. My tongue would swell, my eyes would pop, and Svetlana heroically saved my life, lunging for her bedside table where she kept prednisolone and adrenaline. I don't know why she kept them in her bedside cabinet; I thought she needed them too. I never ate fish, and it was enough to put a drop of fish oil in my nose to cause the edema.”

Svetlana explained Tanya’s condition by her probable ulcerative colitis, which allegedly resulted in poor digestion of proteins. When Tanya consulted a proctologist to find out if it was true, he said that UC could not possibly cause Quincke's edema.

Tanya is certain that Svetlana was not trying to kill her but wanted to win her affection by saving her life.

Part 5. FSB and emigration

Before the war, Tanya mentioned thinking about entering a university in Berlin and moving to Europe after a while, but she was not making any immediate plans. At Svetlana's birthday party, Tanya met Yan, who worked at the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Svetlana made up fantastic stories about their connection, recounting how close they were as friends and how much he’d helped her. Tanya and Yan began messaging each other. He shared that he hated security services and the FSB in particular, that 90% of his colleagues hated Putin but had families to provide for, and that they avoided taking up political cases.

“In short, she fed me all sorts of bullshit, saying things I wanted to hear. Besides, need I say that the ‘Yan’ I was messaging was, in fact, Svetlana? I never saw the real Yan again after that party.”

When the government went after stand-up comedians, Tanya reached out to Yan. She was scared because she took part in the Big Mike concerts, infamously monitored and filmed by anti-extremist center officers. She asked if she was on their radar. ‘Yan’ replied: “Yes, they are listening to you, but you’re safe for now. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.”

When things started to get tense in Russia and its troops were concentrated on the Ukrainian border, Tanya made her anti-war stance public on social media. A day or two before the war, Svetlana woke Tanya up, shouting: “Tanya, get up right now! You must leave Russia today. They are coming for you!” She also got a message from Yan: “Tanya, you’re in danger. You have to leave Russia within 24 hours. That’s how long they gave you. Take whatever things you need and go.”

“On the same day, I ran to my grandma, who lived nearby, and told her I had to leave the country. We booked a flight to Istanbul. I even left my phone behind to prevent them from tracking me.”

All of Tanya’s friends believed she was being followed. As she recalls, her best friend and her boyfriend came to see her off, and they spent the evening sobbing to Russian rock songs. No one thought it could have been a lie.

Tanya flew to Istanbul and rented a small room in a hostel. Two days later, the war began. “It felt as though reality itself adjusted to match Svetlana's tales.”

“It felt as though reality itself adjusted to match Svetlana's tales”

Since Tanya’s boyfriend Mikhail did not have a passport, he couldn’t fly to Istanbul but could enter Armenia with a national ID. He and Svetlana set out for Yerevan. Tanya joined them a couple of days later. Yan the FSB officer purportedly fled to the Finnish embassy when the war began and sat there drinking and shouting: “How could we have let that happen! I am unforgivable. My people will never forgive that I worked for this government.” Tanya sent him words of consolation.

Shortly after moving to Armenia, Svetlana said she was being summoned to the police as a witness to some sort of crime. She went to the police and said she only had the time to message her lawyer and Tanya before they took her phone: “They’re looking for you.”

Still scared of being followed, Tanya went out. Mikhail texted her in a bit: “Tanya, the cops are here.”

“We think that Svetlana could have told on us about some crime we’d never committed because the police were disgusting, shouting, threatening to kick the door in. Mikhail kept asking them through the window who they were, saying that they had no right to act like this, but they only said: ‘What rights are you talking about? It's Armenia. You’ve got no rights here, only in Russia.’ They were very mean, pushed him into the car, threatened him, took him to the station, and kept him there for several hours. We still don't know what it was about, but I’m almost sure it's something Svetlana told them.”

However, Svetlana denied her involvement to The Insider:

“I have nothing to do with the occasion when we were brought to the police station and accused of something. It was just a coincidence. I never initiated or controlled any of it. It was incidental.”

Tanya and Mikhail flew to Turkey, and Svetlana joined them later, when her passport for international travel was ready.

Part 6. Tanya's grandmother

Tanya's decision to leave Russia was a tremendous blow to her grandmother. She always had a spare key to her grandma’s apartment at home so that grandma could phone her if she was unwell and Tanya could come and help her.

“Grandma was in perfect health, always very energetic and positive. All the women in my family lived long: my great-grandmother died at 95, and grandma's elder sister is still alive. Grandma led a very active life and had no issues with her legs or joints. She was one of those springy old ladies chasing buses at six in the morning.”

She called Tanya a day before her death and sounded normal. She asked for someone to bring her the spare keys from Tanya’s apartment. Svetlana, who was still in Russia, volunteered to help.

She took the keys, went to Tanya's grandmother, and called Tanya to say she'd just found her dead body.

“I was grief-stricken, shouting: ‘Why, what happened to her?!’ because we’d just talked on the phone. Svetlana told me: ‘Tanya, she’s in her eighties. People die.’ It sounded logical, of course. I asked: ‘How did she die? Did she have a stroke or something?’ She replied: ‘No, she was making pancakes and dropped dead all of a sudden.’”

Svetlana called the police and an ambulance, looked for papers, and came by some money – around 6,000 euros. The money was gone. Later she admitted to taking it. In conversation with The Insider, she explained her actions by thinking that no one would notice.

Tanya also suspects Svetlana of murdering her grandma:

“She is an anesthesiologist and always kept a bunch of powerful prescription drugs, like Propofol, in her bedside cabinet. I used to think they were part of her cancer therapy or pain management scheme.”

When Tanya contacted Svetlana’s ex-colleagues later, they said she’d been stealing drugs, which had often got her fired. Besides, her colleagues from the hospital also believed Svetlana and even raised money to help her fight “cancer”.

The illustration was created by Midjourney
The illustration was created by Midjourney

Meanwhile, Svetlana insists she never did anything to harm Tanya’s grandmother:

“When I came to Saint Petersburg because my dog had chewed on my passport and I had to get a new one, I dropped by Tanya’s grandmother and found her body. I did absolutely nothing to make that happen.”

After her grandmother's death, Svetlana went to Tanya to console her.

“I cried for days because the last time I’d seen grandma was before leaving Russia. We were both sobbing, and grandma said: ‘Promise me we’ll see each other!’ And I reassured her it would be all right. Svetlana knew the entire story. Of course, I suspect her of killing grandma. ‘I couldn't have killed her! How do you even see it happen?’ she protested. And yet she had no qualms about robbing the dead woman and then going to her granddaughter with words of consolation.”

Part 7. The exposure

A couple of days after moving to Turkey, Tanya received a long letter from her mother. They had lost touch previously because Tanya’s mother disapproved of her attachment to Svetlana and had reservations about the woman.

In her letter, she wrote that, while realizing that the message could end her relationship with her daughter forever, she still had to say she suspected Svetlana of fraud and of killing and robbing Tanya's grandmother. She begged her daughter to verify Svetlana's every document and transaction – anything there was to verify.

“I called my mom and started shouting at her: ‘How dare you?! Svetlana is a saint, and she's done so much for me!’ At some point in our second year of cohabiting, Svetlana convinced me and our friends that I wasn’t living with her because of her cancer and mental health issues but that she was living with me because I needed looking after.”

However, Tanya promised she would verify Svetlana's papers before cutting ties with her mother for good.

Svetlana admits that Tanya was growing suspicious at the time because things were getting complicated.

“I was telling her I’d paid for tuition in Greece and bought a house there but had no documents to prove it. First, I come up with a fantasy, and then I decide how to spin it.”

Arriving in Turkey, Svetlana said she’d once again developed metastases in her lungs and had about a year left. Once she flew in, Tanya and Mikhail asked to see her X-ray images and the rest of her records and papers. Svetlana acted offended and said they were soon all applying for residence permits and everyone would see each other's account statements and other papers anyway.

“She pulled the jealousy card, accusing us of suspecting her and believing my mother, who was simply jealous of the relationship we had. My mom abandoned me as a kid, and I lived with my grandma until I was eight, so Svetlana masterfully used this knowledge to manipulate me.”

Two days later, Tanya and Mikhail realized they still hadn't seen a single document of Svetlana's.

“I said: ‘Sveta, you said you had a photo of your metastases on your phone.’ She answered: ‘Are you out of your mind? Do you realize how personal this is?’ ‘Sveta, I dragged you out of a pool of your piss and blood innumerable times, how personal can this be? Show me one damn photo, and I won’t bother you again.’”

Svetlana started crying, and Tanya stopped feeling anything, as she recalls. She went for a smoke on the balcony and watched Svetlana look for the image on her phone. She wasn't looking for anything, in fact, just swiping through photos. Tanya lost her temper and started shouting. Svetlana promised to show the image after using the bathroom.

At this instance, as Tanya recounts, it began to dawn on her and Mikhail that there is no image and that there probably was never any cancer.

“Mikhail went to check on her, and lo and behold: Sveta was lying on the floor, with her arms, legs, laundry, and half the bathroom smeared in blood and feces. And there she was, amidst the Picasso painting, faking death throes.”

When Tanya said she was calling an ambulance, Svetlana quickly regained her senses and cleaned up. The conversation continued. “At some point, I realized I had nothing to say in my defense. I was out of arguments and simply told them everything,” she recalls in conversation with The Insider.

She was still reluctant to show her papers or images. Tanya took her phone and started dialing all of Svetlana's friends one after another.

“I phoned Liza the oncologist (who was presumed dead and whom we had all mourned), and Svetlana's phone started ringing in her hand.”

That was when Svetlana agreed to tell the truth. Tanya switched on the recording and later uploaded a fragment to her Twitter.

“It was creepy. She was speaking in a very even voice, without any emotion at all. A drastic contrast with her earlier histrionics on the slightest occasion. It was as though all her muscles relaxed at once and her mask drained away from her face. She was sitting there telling the truth in a dull, horrifying voice.”

As Tanya points out, Svetlana did not confess to things she could be prosecuted for: her grandmother's murder, triggering Tanya's anaphylactic shock, and impersonating FSB officers in earlier conversations.

The Insider publishes the full version of Svetlana's confession for the first time.

Svetlana Bogacheva's full confession
“Even after she confessed, my savior complex resurfaced. I started screaming: “I want to be mad at you but I can’t because you're a sick person!” How can one be mad at a sick person? I told Svetlana I’d find her a cottage in rural Turkey, that I’d rent an apartment for her, get some Haloperidol and pay for a psychiatrist, and that she’d be fine. I said I’d take all her devices away and make sure she leads a quiet life writing articles about medicine but interacting with others through me, to avoid getting caught up in her own lies again. Mikhail listened to me with an angry face and said when I was finished: 'No, Tanya. None of it will happen.'


I think I was in denial about what had been done to me. It was easier to believe she was seriously ill and needed help than acknowledge she had tricked me out of three years of my life.”

Mikhail insisted Svetlana was dangerous and made sure she left.

“We gave her some money and a bus ticket so that she could get to the embassy and showed her the door.”

Tanya wrote a post recounting how Svetlana had been playing her for three years and posted it on Twitter. She did not expect her story to go viral, initially focusing on people who followed Tanya’s life and knew about Svetlana.

“It’s a good thing it happened, though, because fewer people will be tricked into something of the sort and lose years of their lives trying to save someone who doesn’t need saving.”

A few days later, Tanya wrote Svetlana had access to all of her accounts. She had helped Tanya stay on track with her loan payments and made sure she paid all her bills on time. When Tanya restored her access, it turned out she owed the bank almost $10,000.

“As I was fleeing from Russia, she had me remove all banking apps from my phone saying it was all too easy for the FSB to use them to track my location. I believed her and got scared.”

Svetlana spent all the money on bringing her fantasies to life: buying fake phone numbers and extra phones, and sending presents and flowers to herself.

Part 8. How she pulled it off

Svetlana did an extraordinary job of simulating disease and making up stories. As Tanya recalls, everyone believed her.

“When someone is sobbing into your lap, having lost their daughter in a terrible car accident, you’ll hardly say: ‘Can I please see the death certificate?’ Or when someone tells you: ‘I’ve got cancer.” If you can see half of their body rotting from chemo, it doesn’t occur to you to ask if the necrosis is real or if you’re hallucinating it.

I spent three years in hell, dragging her out of the most horrible states. She faked urinal incontinence, could stab the insides of her nose to cause heavy bleeding, or use atropine eye drops to expand one of her pupils and fake a stroke. As a doctor, she knew how to imitate disease.”

Speaking of the imaginary characters, Tanya still struggles to understand how Svetlana managed to impersonate so many different people without once getting caught:

“Back in Russia, she could somehow fake loss of consciousness, lying in her own piss with a heavy nose-bleeding; at the same time, I was messaging her doctor and therapist, terrified that she might die on me right there and then, and they would answer me.
She may have managed to text back when I went to fetch some rags or water. I still can't get my head around it. I’m not even sure our dog is real. She might be Svetlana's another creation.”
“I’m not even sure our dog is real. She might be Svetlana's another creation”

Tanya thinks Svetlana is extremely intelligent. She is sure that her actions were driven by cold calculation and doesn't believe in any love or affection on her part. When the truth came out and Tanya posted it on Twitter, she was contacted by hackers who disclosed some of Svetlana’s passwords. One of them was Gartman – as in Eduard von Hartmann, a German philosopher who explored the theory of the Unconscious.

“She looked into ways of exploiting people's unconscious. A criminal element, but a well-read one.”

Tanya says she has laid her hands on Svetlana's old papers. As it turned out, Svetlana had already been ruled insane by the court and sentenced to community service for duping her victims out of $13,000. Svetlana also had a criminal case against her in Kavalerovo, which she’d mentioned earlier. However, the case was never closed as she disappeared.

Tanya plans to make sure she is prosecuted properly:

“To begin with, I have her confession about robbing a dead person's apartment. I won’t be able to prove that she also stole a fortune from us because we were stupid enough to give her access. But I could still put her in jail, and I’m on it so because she poses a threat to others. If I ever go back to Russia, I will go to my grandma's grave first thing and beg for forgiveness.”

Part 9. The Munchausen

Svetlana admits she understands Tanya and Mikhail's intention to go to the police but insists that she is not a con woman but a sick person:

“It is a rational decision on their part. I’m useless at fraud. The only thing I got out of it, the only thing I ever wanted was emotions. I was cared for.
I’ve always wanted people to love me and look after me. I’ve had this strange feeling since childhood that no one is interested in the real me so I have to invent a different personality. I’ve been spending a lot of money on it, so I’m left with nothing: no assets or reals estate. Everything I have fits into a single suitcase. I’ve nowhere to return.”
I’ve had this strange feeling since childhood that no one is interested in the real me so I have to invent a different personality

Svetlana is in Turkey now, looking for a remote job. Russian expatriates who are helping the new arrivals have provided her with temporary shelter.

According to the psychiatrists we consulted, Svetlana Bogacheva’s case is a typical example of Munchausen syndrome. This mental disorder (included in ICD-10 as code F68) is characterized by an acute need for attention and care, which causes patients to make up stories and harm themselves (sometimes with elements of masochism) or imitate health conditions to be admitted to a hospital. Their drive is so strong that they often inflict serious harm on their health just to receive the attention of others. Many Munchausen syndrome patients were deprived of their parents’ attention as children or survived abuse. Many were seriously ill in their childhood and enjoyed the care and attention they received at the hospital while lacking it elsewhere. As adults, they are normally incapable of starting a family and prone to changing jobs, and if they manage to secure steady employment, it is often in healthcare.

Due to childhood traumas, people with Munchausen syndrome are faced with an identity crisis and often create new personalities, becoming artful manipulators and thus regaining confidence. Simulating illnesses, they go for rare, life-threatening, and intriguing conditions. They also like to impersonate professional athletes, the rectors of foreign universities, and pilots, or go with the image of someone who has dedicated their life to a noble cause, like treating children who were evacuated from war zones, to earn empathy and respect of others.

There is no known treatment for Munchausen syndrome.


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