ESSAY: It's a Sick Society That Fails to Honor Elderly

The pair had calculated everything. They arrived at Yelan-Koleno station on the elektrichka, or suburban train, late in the evening. From there it is a few kilometers to the village of Dolginka, in the Novokhopyorsk area of Voronezh region.

The spot is quiet, the streets empty. The pair found a deserted shed, from which it was easy to watch the house of the elderly Torokovsky couple. From there they figured out that the couple rose early: At dawn, 73-year-old Maria Andreyevna would come out to milk the cow. After her would appear the 83-year-old Alexander Semyonovich, dragging forage for the livestock: besides the cow, the Torokovskys had goats and sheep f indeed, a whole farm.

The pair had decided to lie in wait in the Torokovskys' barn early in the morning. They smoked and talked, having met each other only two days before in the railroad station in Liski. The older, who had a name which is rare here f Eduard Ionescu f was 19. He had approached the younger one f 15-year-old Zhenka Orlov.

The two quickly discovered that they were both broke and unemployed. True, Zhenka had been in the eighth class in night school, but had shown up irregularly both there and at his bricklaying job. Edik had come from Chuvashia, and had been living for five months with his father's relatives. His father and mother had long ago divorced and thus Edik had spent all his childhood with relatives who didn't care about him. Zhenka's life experience was virtually identical. Edik, however, had figured out how to get money. One time his mother, who had a drinking problem, had taken him (following one of his many jail terms), to stay with an acquaintance in Dolginka for the summer. There he had seen the old Torokovsky couple, about whom it was said in the village: "Look how hard they work in their old age! They are rich, probably."

Edik decided it was necessary to get money from these "rich" people, and told Zhenka about it. This is how they wound up sitting in the barn, early in the morning.

Alexander Semyonovich had worked as a tractor driver in his youth, then as a foreman and then, prior to retiring, a section manager in a state farm. At 83, he walked with difficulty, relying on a cane, but refused to just lie around. He could not simply do nothing, particularly since it was impossible for him and his wife to live on his pension, which was paid three to four months late. Maria Andreyevna was 10 years younger, and thus more vigorous, but was also tired.

On their final morning they rose, as usual, at dawn. Maria Andreyevna milked the cow. As she headed toward the door with her milk pail, she suddenly heard frightened bleating and quick steps coming from behind. She didn't have the chance to turn around: a strong blow on the head knocked her to the ground. The pair dragged her from the entrance of the house into the barn. Now it was the old man's turn, but for some reason he was slow in emerging.

Alexander Semyonych finally appeared. He called to his wife, but there was no reply. He pulled at the barn door, not knowing it was being held shut from the inside. The door was set free suddenly, and Alexander Semyonych fell on his back. The pair threw themselves at him, wrapping a chain around his neck. They then dragged him into the barn and laid him next to his wife.

The intruders went into the house and rifled through the couple's dresser. They grabbed a man's jacket (which had cost 10 rubles), a man's shirt (5 rubles), a white sweater (5 rubles) and a green sweater (10 rubles). Finally they found a mink hat (45 rubles), a scarf (55 rubles), and two gold rings (240 rubles). They also grabbed a medal commemorating the 50th anniversary of Victory Day, three old watches and two pairs of boots. But the pair didn't find the money they had expected; the elderly couple had obviously not received their pensions for a long time.

The pair did find a bottle of Soviet champagne (which the frugal couple had been saving for ages). Feeling themselves to be supermen, they drank it down. They finally left the house at 7 p.m.

The next day, the neighbors, hearing the noise of the hungry livestock, came by and discovered the murdered couple.

Eduard Ionescu was quickly arrested in Chuvashia, the police soon apprehended Yevgeny Orlov.

The pair were brought into court handcuffed together. Shaved bald, they looked like brothers. Answering the judge's questions listlessly and tersely, the were animated only in complaining about the tough conditions in the prison and the rudeness of their guards.

"Such people should be killed!" Yevgeny Orlov exclaimed. The judge, looking at both intently, asked: "And how did the elderly Torokovsky couple offend you? Why did you kill them?"

A hush fell over the courtroom. The erstwhile supermen did not answer, and from that point on refused to answer any questions. They never expressed one word of remorse for their deed: they were apparently incapable of such feelings. Eduard Ionescu was sentenced to 19 years in prison; Yevgeny Orlov, who was a minor at the time of the crime, was sentenced to 9 years.

The murder of the Torokovskys was, unfortunately, not exceptional.

Another such bestial murder took place in the Ertilsk area, where a large, healthy middle-aged man tried to extort money from a legless elderly man. When the latter refused to give the money, the extortionist beat him, doused him with diesel oil and set him on fire.

In all of these cases, court-appointed psychiatrists found the perpetrators to be of sound mind f that is, responsible for their actions. But it is impossible to call such people normal. Their obtuse cruelty is beyond the boundaries of normality, although this does not free them from criminal responsibility.

Thirty elderly people were murdered last year in Voronezh region alone. The police recently in Voronezh told me that they have issued warnings to residents via radio and television not to allow old people to travel alone to the post office to get their pensions or to the store to buy food. The public service announcements have apparently worked: the number of attacks on the elderly in Voronezh has dropped dramatically.

But this is not grounds for celebration. Every time someone raises their fist at a defenseless elderly person, the world collapses, because honor toward the elderly is one of the foundations the world is built on. The absence of honor and compassion for the old and frail is an alarming symptom that society is infected with a dangerous disease, and that surgical measures are required to save it.

Igor Gamayunov is a correspondent for Literaturnaya Gazeta. He contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.