A Moscow court has ordered the arrest in absentia of a teacher at the prestigious Moscow Central Art School of the Russian Academy of Arts on suspicion of sexually assaulting underage students.
The arrest warrant issued for Viktor Yelizarov by the Khamovniki District Court took effect last week. He could face up to 12 years in prison. A long article detailing allegations about Yelizarov’s behaviour over many years towards underage young women studying painting with him was published in November by Baza, an investigative media outlet. Over the summer, more than ten former students filed complaints against Yelizarov with the school’s director Dmitry Gubanov and the police, Baza reported.
Yelizarov was suspended by the partial boarding school in September and disappeared from view and from its website, which had previously described him as an “energetic master of the brush and palette” who “passionately transfers his knowledge and life experience to young artists, being in co-creation with his students.”
Several of the students spoke on the record with Baza using their full names and told their stories on social media as well. In late November they also detailed their allegations in a video on Baza’s YouTube channel.
Anatasia Kopittseva, who graduated from the school in the early 2000s, told Baza: “I remember how when I was 12 years old he held my hand for a long time and kneaded my leg from the inner side of my hip, telling me that girls have this wonderful ‘bun’ in that spot. I didn’t understand how to behave in this situation. Should I tell my parents?”.
Kopittseva told Baza that Yelizarov favoured blue-eyed blonde girls and groomed them, zeroing in at age 10-12 after testing their boundaries and determining “how close their ties were with their parents, to what extent it was necessary to worry that the child will tell them everything, to what extent they needed another teacher-parent figure”. He would then speak more and more with his victims about sex and “start to push for sex” once they reached puberty, she said.
Another student, Ekaterina Sverchkova, described field trips during which he would awaken students in the morning “by touching our private parts while we were asleep”. She said he told students that the age of consent was for “average” children, while they were “gifted.” During a trip to Crimea she caught Yelizarov in bed with a 15-year-old student, she told the Baza reporter Anatoly Suleimanov in the video. Suleimanov said that the student, now around 27 years old, did not want to speak publicly since she has spent years in psychotherapy as a result of Yelizarov’s abuse.
Yelizaveta Tulchinskaya, who studied at the school from 2002 to 2009, said Yelizarov showed students nude photos of his wife, who is still listed as a teacher at the school, and spoke of their sex life.
Kopittseva described on Facebook how difficult it was to give the interview, how sad she was that one man did so much to damage the school’s reputation, and how thankful she was that “at some point I found in myself the strength to spare new young students from new unhealable traumas.”
She said that other women have been writing to her with stories identical to hers. “While everyone is silent about such cases, thinking that it only happened to them, society as a whole believes that there is no paedophilia. And it certainly won't affect their children. This is our common problem that needs to be dealt with. You can't cope with it without public disclosure,” Kopittseva wrote.
Support was expressed for Yelizarov on his Facebook page by several of his colleagues. One described it as a “made-to-order case” of “false accusations” by Yelizarov’s “own hatchlings” and offered to testify on his behalf if it goes to trial. Tulchinskaya described her disappointment at these statements.
Several sexual assault and harassment scandals have rocked top Russian schools and universities in recent years.
In October a math teacher at the art school resigned after parents found BDSM content on his social media. A story on the website of Tsargrad, a conservative television channel founded by Konstantin Malofeev, a billionaire who professes Orthodoxy and wants to restore the monarchy, claimed that the teacher was part of a liberal Western plot to promote contemporary art and destroy classical Russian art.