The story of this relationship began when Katya was a 14-year-old schoolgirl and her lover, Ilya Spirov, was a 43-year-old former sectarian and active priest of the Russian Orthodox Church with at least two marriages under his belt. Katya's mother was able to take the case to court, but Spirov effectively escaped punishment for having sex with a minor. Despite the fact that the court found him guilty, he continues to pursue Katya, seeking to deprive her mother of her parental rights and gain complete power over the girl.
Silence of the ROC
What victims and their relatives should do
Anna Levchenko, director of the NGO Monitoring Center and the “Turn in the Pedophile” project:
Alexei Fedyarov, lawyer, director of the Status Legal Aid Center:
Katya's parents have been divorced for many years. Her father lives in the Pskov region, and her mother, Viktoria, lives with her daughter in Anapa. Katya had been visiting her father on annual vacations for the last nine years, and her father was close friends with the local priest, Ilya Spirov. In May 2022, Spirov traveled to the Krasnodar krai and offered to take Katya to her father by car. Since Viktoria trusted Spirov, his offer did not arouse any suspicions. However, on the way to her father's, just 24 hours later, they called to say that they were in a relationship, which shocked Katya's family.
Katya's parents have been divorced for many years. Her father lives in the Pskov region, and her mother, Viktoria, lives with her daughter in Anapa. Katya had been visiting her father on annual vacations for the last nine years; he was close friends with local priest Ilya Spirov, rector of the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow” in the village of Krasny Luch, on annual vacations. In May 2022 Spirov traveled to the Krasnodar krai on a routine visit to his former parishioner and her then 15-year-old daughter. Since Viktoria knew about her ex-husband's friendship with his confessor and trusted Spirov, his offer to take Katya to her father in the Pskov region by car did not arouse any suspicion. The girl's stepfather recalls, “We sent her off with her father's permission without a second thought. But just 24 hours later, they called by video link to inform us that they were in a relationship.” The mother adds that Spirov “described their love nicely, but when I asked directly if they had been intimate, he confessed that they couldn't resist each other.”
Viktoria and her current husband immediately appealed to the guardianship authorities and the Investigative Committee. A criminal case was opened with the help of a lawyer under Article 134 “Sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 16 committed by a person over the age of 18.” At the same time, Viktoria appealed to the priest who is considered to be Putin's spiritual advisor, Metropolitan Tikhon Shevkunov of Pskov and Porkhov. She managed to get him on the phone and put forward her version of events. Following the phone call, Spirov was suspended from administering sacraments and performing religious services. The church court made the decision to remove him from ministry on September 5, 2022, after the civil trial had ended.
“Everyone in the parish, except for me, immediately took Father Ilya's side,” reveals Irina P. <name changed – The Insider>, a former parishioner. “To this day, they are wearing rose-colored glasses and refuse to believe that it happened. People think that the story is far-fetched and that he has been unjustly accused. Father Ilya is a skilled psychologist who knows every answer and can manipulate people and guide them to make the decision he wants. He openly admitted to reading books that help him influence people's psychology. Additionally, he frequently collected money from the parishioners for food, gasoline, and other expenses. The messages asking for money were incessant, and some people donated large sums, around 20,000 rubles ($270), while he was frequently changing cars. His followers even raised money for his lawyers. Father Ilya openly claimed to have heard voices and seen images after going into meditation and practicing the expansion of consciousness. He believed he was a god, likely picking up these beliefs from his former sect, Anastasia, or his time as a Krishnaite.”
Spirov openly claimed to have heard voices and seen images after going into meditation and practicing the expansion of consciousness. He believed he was a god
The quasi-religious and quasi-mystical Ringing Cedars of Russia, or Anastasian movement, which reveres a Siberian prophet Anastasia fed by squirrels and claims access to ancient wisdom and cedar power, emerged in the early 1990s and is still active. The founder, Vladimir “Megre” Puzakov, has successfully monetized the movement's beliefs on their website.
Spirov was declared sane by psychological and psychiatric experts. The investigator and Viktoria's lawyer explained to her that the trial, if conducted in the usual manner, would last at least six months. In order to avoid multiple 2,000-kilometer trips to the Sebezh District Court of Pskov, Katya's mother and stepfather agreed to the lawyer’s proposal of a special trial, which excluded questioning the accused and complainants or examining evidence. This type of trial examines only mitigating and aggravating circumstances relating to the defendant's personality and renders a decision on the same day. (Viktoria learned just before the trial that Katya’s and Spirov's relationship began one year before the April trip to the Pskov region, when Katya was only 14 years old.)
Here are some excerpts from the August 23, 2022 verdict:
“The defendant Spirov I.V., being an individual over the age of 18, engaged in sexual intercourse with an individual under the age of 16 under the following circumstances:
- In the period between October 20, 2021 and October 30, 2021 Spirov I.V., being in his car parked at the roadside in the village of Dubrovka, Sebezh district, Pskov region, being sexually attracted to Ekaterina [...], born in 2007, under the age of 16, in order to satisfy his sexual passion, with the intention of repeatedly having sexual intercourse with her, offered to have sexual intercourse with her, to which she consented voluntarily. Spirov I.V., being aware that Ekaterina [...] was under the age of 16, by mutual consent, without using violence, committed sexual intercourse with her in a natural manner by inserting his penis into her vagina, thus violating the normal physical and moral development of Ekaterina [...] and her right to sexual inviolability.
- [...] between October 20, 2021 and October 30, 2021 Spirov I.V., being at the place of residence of [...] offered her to have sexual intercourse, to which she voluntarily consented.
- [...] between December 7, 2021 and December 14, 2021 Spirov I.V., being in his car parked on the side of the road near the village of Krasnoznamenka, Yalta region, Republic of Crimea [...] offered her to have sexual intercourse, to which she consented voluntarily.
- [...] between January 5, 2022 and January 20, 2022 Spirov I.V., being in a room of the hangar located at kilometer 27 of the Tolkachevo-Sebezh highway, [...] offered her to have sexual intercourse, to which she consented voluntarily.
- [...] Spirov I.V., being at the place of residence of [...] offered her to have sexual intercourse, to which she consented voluntarily.
- [...] between 8:00 am. and 8:30 am on May 23, 2022, Spirov I.V., being in a room of the hangar located at kilometer 27 of the Tolkachevo-Sebezh highway [...] offered her to have sexual intercourse, to which she voluntarily consented.
The judge of the Sebezh District Court, Sergei Olegovich Dmitriev, considered the positive characteristics of the defendant's permanent place of work and took into account the fact that the defendant had “two dependent children, one of whom is a child with a disability,” as well as the fact that the defendant fully admitted his guilt and repented. The judge found no aggravating circumstances in the case. The sentence under Article 134.1 of the Criminal Code which provides for a punishment of 480 hours of community service to four years of restriction of liberty, was as follows:
“Considering the nature and degree of social significance of the crime committed, [...] to impose on him a penalty of 120 hours of correctional labor.”
Following the completion of his sentence and divorce from his wife, defrocked Ilya Vyacheslavovich returned to Anapa and began meeting Katya in secret after school. Viktoria reported that Spirov provided Katya with a phone, on which he sent voice messages, including the following one:
“So, you study the gospel and believe our relationship to be sinful, and that we should repent. You do not understand how I do not see it as a sin. Christ said he came to fulfill the law, which is detailed in the Old Testament. My education is quite serious, and my knowledge of the Old Testament, New Testament, and further acts of the first apostles is extensive. Polygamy was widely accepted before the tenth century, as long as the man was not married, and the woman was not promised to anyone. This was not considered a sin, nor was it considered adultery. However, when Greek Orthodoxy, with its mono-marriages and one wedding, took over, this changed. […] If you explore the canons of antiquity, the Old Testament, and the books of the Apostles, you will find that our relationship is not a sin. Telegony is the idea that when a man first enters a woman, her gene pool becomes a part of his. If she gives birth to a child by another man, it will have a part of the first man’s gene pool. As soon as we had our first contact, we merged into one body and flesh, making you my wife. Although you must obey your parents, when you became mine, you became united with me on a genetic and deep level, and you transitioned from obeying your parents to obeying me.” (Listen to audio)
Viktoria and her husband resorted to confining Katya at home and taking away her phone as she continued to meet with Spirov. Katya's stepfather defended their actions by stating, “We have been to the psycho-neurological dispensary, to a lawyer, to the guardianship authorities, and according to family law we have the right to raise her.”
Katya told her mother that she would only communicate through a lawyer, saying, “Mom, I love you, but when you fight with me, you're like a stranger to me.” Despite this, they continue to communicate and discuss school and art classes, but when the topic of Spirov is brought up, Katya often shuts down. Victoria admits to pressuring Katya to help her see the situation more clearly, but they work together almost every day. “Sometimes I pressure her to get her to hear what I’m saying,” says Viktoria, “We try to work with her almost every day.”
Spirov states in his voice messages that on the night of April 1 to 2, when Katya turns 16, he intends to arrive on a motorcycle and elope with her, never to return home. He reported Katya's unlawful confinement and isolation from the outside world to the Krasnodar Krai guardianship authorities, and as a result, her family is currently under investigation.
Spirov did not respond to The Insider's requests for comment.
Silence of the ROC
The Insider contacted various representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, all of whom declined to comment. Only Father Alexei Lebedev, a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, agreed to comment on Spirov's actions.
“The Orthodox Church imposes high requirements on individuals preparing to become priests. From the beginning of the process, they undergo a search, a canonical questioning, and are held to high standards of moral purity, considering their past and present activities. Choosing a divorced man for such a position seems doubtful to me, but personally, I don't view being a Krishnaite or Anastasian as necessarily negative, as it could indicate a seeker's mentality.
Sexual misconduct is a grave sin, and the Gospel teaches that those who commit adultery and engage in promiscuity will not inherit the kingdom of God. This is especially forbidden for a priest, who must not even harbor desires for women or engage in any other form of passion. In short, this issue cannot be compared to that of a middle manager, as higher expectations are placed on those with greater responsibility. While a manager may only face criticism from their colleagues and the criminal justice system, a priest will be condemned by all of the heavenly hosts.
Power can be a potent and alluring force, and it is especially true for the priesthood. Priests wield power in various ways, including through their teachings and their position in the hierarchy of the Church. When we see a man dressed in golden robes standing on a podium, it is natural to assume that he is speaking on behalf of the Church. However, everyone understands that only those depicted in icons can genuinely represent the Church. In Orthodoxy, there is a phenomenon known as “Batiushkism,” which is the tendency to idolize and idealize priests. It is not uncommon to hear parishioners praise their priest, admiring their spiritual insights, intelligence, or even their beard. Unfortunately, some priests can begin to take advantage of this adoration. However, it is important to note that such abuse can be resisted, and many examples of successful fights against such wrongdoing exist. Even an ROC priest can be held accountable for their actions, as seen in the case of Spirov, and the diocese will take an interest in ensuring justice is served.”
The Insider knows of more than 20 successful cases of fighting pedophilia in the Russian Orthodox Church: Ulyanovsk's Alexander Bersenev, an acolyte, received 20 years for raping 19 boys; in the Komi Republic, priest Denis Vandyshev was found guilty of molesting girls ages 7 to 12 and was also sentenced to 20 years; priest Roman Pogrebnyak of the Stavropol diocese was sent to prison for 14 years for the abuse of 9-12 year old boys, and the spiritual leader of Zenit soccer club and popular Orthodox radio and television host Gleb Grozovsky was sentenced to 14 years in a strict regime colony for violent sexual acts against at least three girls aged 8-12.
What victims and their relatives should do
Statistically, about 50% of sex crimes occur in the family and inner circle. And only 23% of cases occur on the street involving perpetrators the victims do not know. Known cases of pedophilia, harassment and violence in areas where there is an imbalance of power are increasing by the year. Coaches, teachers, educators, supervisors, priests - professions where there is a “guru-student, boss-subordinate” relationship and there is a temptation to take advantage of that power. The Insider talked to experts who explained how to protect underage children from sexualized violence, or how to act if a child has already suffered from it.
Spirov in the Temple
Anna Levchenko, director of the NGO Monitoring Center and the “Turn in the Pedophile” project:
“There is a misconception that the diocese, the Investigative Committee, and the FSB provide cover up for pedophile priests. This has not been the case for a long time; such cases are isolated. If it turns out that a priest is involved in sexual crimes, he will be dealt with even more harshly than the average pedophile, including through the ROC. I’ve met with church hierarchs and I know their attitude. They say, “Report it. If you don't want to go to the Investigative Committee, go to the diocese and we will do it for you. We don't need all this ourselves.” Father Fedor (Lukyanov), with whom I spoke, head of the Patriarchal Commission for Family, Women, and Children, says that it is the parishioners themselves who keep quiet. They [the church] benefit from showing that they have found the black sheep and have sorted it out, and vice versa, they do not benefit from the veil of conspiracy, from the belief that “everyone in church is this way.”
People here seem to have a misconception that pedophiles are a distinct group of individuals with horns on their heads and frightening faces, akin to characters from a 90s police drama. However, the issue with pedophilia is that it is far more common than the stories about crazed individuals. Typically, it is uncommon for a pedophile to abduct, assault, and murder a child as that is usually the behavior of a deranged individual. In contrast, pedophiles are generally people who are part of the child's inner circle and are no different from others in their social lives. They develop a genuine affection for children, admiring and complimenting them extensively before engaging in any sexual behavior.
People here seem to have a misconception that pedophiles are a distinct group of individuals with horns on their heads and frightening faces, akin to characters from a 90s police drama
Pedophiles often target vulnerable children who may be in a difficult social situation, such as those from marginalized families. However, even children from loving and supportive families can be at risk if their parents are frequently absent due to work or other obligations, leaving the child feeling neglected and isolated. In such cases, pedophiles may find a particularly receptive target.
One of my subscribers emailed me today with a question: “How do you talk to kids about pedophiles and teach them to protect themselves? At what age should we have these conversations?” My response is that there are no definitive instructions or scripts for these types of conversations, and therefore, it is best not to have formal “serious conversations” with children as this can cause unnecessary fear. Children of all ages, from toddlers to teenagers, may have difficulty processing information in this way. Rather than shielding children from the world, it is important to speak with them honestly and adjust the conversation appropriately for their age. Answer their questions when they arise and when the child expresses an interest. Then there won't be any problems.
Raising children in an ideal world is not necessary. It's important to have conversations with them about the reality that there are bad people, even among those closest to them, who can cause harm and pain. We should not shy away from discussing sexual relationships, as doing so can make conversations with children much easier. By the age of five, children should be aware of the “panty rule”: no one, not even their father or doctor, should undress them or touch their intimate areas without your presence. If this rule is violated, their mother should be immediately informed.
Raising children in an ideal world is not necessary. It's important to tell them about the reality that there are bad people, even among those closest to them, who can cause harm and pain
You can raise the topic of pedophiles with older children. Engage in a dialogue about recent news events, provide real-life examples, and ask for their thoughts and opinions. Encourage them to share any similar experiences that they may have encountered. By establishing an open and non-judgmental environment, you can help your child feel comfortable talking to you about sensitive issues. Reassure your child that you will always protect them, even if they make a mistake due to inexperience or lack of knowledge, such as engaging in correspondence with a suspicious individual or being unable to refuse advances.
A family's foundation is built on trust and the absence of taboo subjects, which initially children do not have as these societal constructs are imposed by adults. Unfortunately, children may read into the discomfort and embarrassment exhibited by adults surrounding certain topics and begin to associate them with unpleasantness and shame. Today's children exhibit a refreshing openness and candor when discussing sensitive subjects, using frank and unashamed language. In contrast, their parents may struggle to communicate effectively, often displaying discomfort or even anger when confronted with difficult topics. A 12-year-old girl bluntly wrote, “Some asshole pedophile sent me a penis from every angle,” while her mother struggled to speak clearly when she said, “He sent my kid this!” It's essential to understand that a parent's reaction to these situations can impact a child's perception not only of specific topics of pedophiles and perverts but also of sex and sexuality in general, which in adulthood can lead to problems in personal life, including sexual dysfunction in boys and frigidity and anorgasmia in girls.
If you suspect that a child has been sexually abused, it's not acceptable to simply shirk your responsibility as a parent. It's alarming to receive calls on our hotline where parents say, “I'm the daddy of so-and-so girl and I’m reporting a pedophile. Sort it out.” I say, “If you're a daddy, you have to write a statement to the Investigative Committee. We can help you draw it up and provide legal assistance, but first you have to go and say that you are the father of this child and that you will fight for his rights,” and he says, “Then what are you for? You're the special people who are supposed to do that, so I'm calling you.”
We provide advice, instruct how to behave and what to do, but we can't protect your child instead of you.”
Alexei Fedyarov, lawyer, director of the Status Legal Aid Center:
“Based on what Yekaterina's parents said, they made gross mistakes, which led to this, to put it mildly, strange verdict: the parents agreed to a special procedure, did not attend the hearing, agreed to the judge's verdict, and did not appeal it within 10 days as prescribed by law. Had they done otherwise, the verdict would have been different, even though the girl does not yet consider herself a victim.
In our country, sex crimes are often not seen as crimes. Yes, the classic rape is bad. But the fact that the child has been touched, that he’s been receiving certain messages, that he has been spoken to – well, yes, it's kind of bad, the man has been playing around, now we'll have to see a therapist. People just don’t understand it’s a crime. As a parent or a guardian you are obliged to look after the child, you must understand that otherwise you will be covering up a particularly grave crime.
The first thing a parent must do is to determine what crime has been committed. Four articles of the Criminal Code may apply: 131, 132, 134 and 135. Article 131 is rape, that is, penetration of the vagina with the penis. 132 is violent acts of a sexual character, including anal or oral contact and any other sexual acts, including touching and other ways of obtaining sexual gratification, up to and including forcibly showing pornographic videos to a child or attaining self-gratification in the form of exhibitionism.
Everything that is committed against victims under the age of 12 is considered by law to be violence. That is, it is a priori considered that the victims are not aware of the nature of the actions they are committing and cannot offer active resistance. Even if there was no actual physical violence. If there was any form of sexual intercourse or if pictures or videos of pornographic content were sent or shown to a child under the age of 12, it is considered a violent crime.
Article 134 of the Criminal Code is engaging in sexual intercourse or other acts of a sexual character with a person under 16 years of age. And then there is Article 135: lewd acts against a minor, that is, acts that have sexualized overtones. This refers to conversations with explicitly pornographic content for the purpose of self-gratification, correspondence, forwarding pictures and links to pornographic content.
There is also Article 133, coercion, which is extremely rarely used. Most often it means harassment of adult victims for career advancement, when there seems to be no direct violence. It’s application is extremely rare, I haven’t seen a single such case in 26 years.
It's crucial for a parent or guardian to avoid the common mistake of not seeking immediate help after reading through these articles. Emergency medical assistance or contacting the police right away is essential. However, it's important to note that the police do not have the authority to investigate sexual crimes. Instead, it's necessary to approach the Investigative Committee. The way the Investigative Committee has been set up by Alexander Ivanovich Bastrykin, accessing it can be challenging, particularly after regular hours or during weekends. Upon arrival, you may be faced with a closed door, and reaching out to the electronic receptionist is futile as they don't respond to crime reports. During workdays, it's essential to visit the Investigative Committee, not at your place of residence, but where the crime took place, and file a report.
The way the Investigative Committee has been set up, accessing it with a crime report can be challenging. You may be faced with a closed door
It's advisable to seek the help of a lawyer, preferably one who is a former employee of the prosecutor's office or the Investigative Committee, and take them with you right away. In case of emergencies during non-business hours, taking the child to the police and requesting them to contact the Investigative Committee immediately is essential. The police may not be enthusiastic about handling sexual offenses, but it's necessary to persist in getting a report filed. Subsequently, the investigator should provide a referral for a forensic examination by a medical expert. It's important to note that regular hospitals or emergency rooms may not provide the necessary documents required as evidence in court after the examination. The forensic examination should primarily focus on the condition of your clothes, physical injuries, and traces of biological material, such as epidermolysis, saliva, blood, or semen. Regardless of how repulsive it might seem, it's imperative to preserve the evidence, such as not discarding your clothes or showering. The Investigative Committee must document all injuries and initiate a criminal case.
If violence did not occur, as in Ekaterina’s case, it does not imply that a crime was not committed. If Spirov had denied it, the judge's decision would have been based on a psychological-psychiatric examination, which they both underwent; it established what their recollections were. There is also various circumstantial evidence, such as witness testimonies and camera footage. However, it becomes challenging when the accused doesn't provide a confession.
Regrettably, unlike America, we do not have restraining orders, so currently, the parents cannot prevent Spirov from approaching Ekaterina. We have been striving to obtain a restraining order for a while, but we have not succeeded so far; we would have been had the court restrained him from certain actions. Spirov has the right to report what he believes to be crimes, even if committed by the parents, and it is the duty of the guardianship authorities to investigate such reports. However, if he takes Ekaterina away from her home after she reaches the age of 16, he will be charged with kidnapping under Article 126 of the Criminal Code. Essentially, after the age of 16, he is legally permitted to have sexual intercourse with her, as the “age of consent” will have been attained, but he still cannot take her away. This would be a hundred percent guarantee that he would go to jail.
If he takes her away from home, even after she reaches the age of 16, he will face punishment for “kidnapping”
I firmly believe that this case is not indicative of a systemic issue within the ROC. However, it is important to acknowledge that sexual offenses are a problem that can exist in any type of closed or hierarchical institution, such as a military or prison facility, or even within elite educational institutions. Similarly, there is a problem of hierarchy and reverence for priests within the church that can contribute to the issue. Unfortunately, this problem of power, violence, and harassment is pervasive throughout our society, and it is often normalized and accepted. It’s a deep-seated and archaic issue, and I am committed to doing my part in fighting it.”