a former federal judge I interviewed, Aleksandr Melikov, told me that's just it. There is a
“mind-set that a court is a law-enforcement body,” he told me, “not an institution there to
protect citizens.” Melikov lost his job after his superiors began complaining that he was
being too lenient with defendants.
There are victims of this system everywhere. I met one, Andrei Grigoryev, in 2011. He
was forty-three, married with an eleven-year-old daughter, and worked as a forest ranger in
a rural area a few hours east of Moscow.
He once went after some hunters who were illegally shooting fox and deer in a wildlife
preserve. When he gave chase, they came after the officer on their snowmobiles. Grigoryev
told me he was knocked down as he fired his rifle in the air.
One of the hunters was a powerful local politician. Not coincidentally, Grigoryev was
quickly charged with abuse of power, facing up to ten years in prison—basically for doing
Russia's justice system allows for Grigoryev to be wrongly accused. It allows Alexei to
be beaten and tortured. It allows high-profile figures like Mikhail Khodokorsky, the former
oil tycoon, to serve time in a Russian penal colony for crimes that still remain unproved.
It is easy to blame Russia's leaders. I also struggle over why Russia's citizens aren't de-
manding something better. Whatever is holding them back may well be the same thing that
keeps Sergei from asking tougher questions when he's setting up an interview. It could be
why that man in Kaliningrad lectures his wife for being too vocal about the Holocaust and
why Russian train passengers go through the motions at the security checkpoint—assuming
it just has to be this way.
Sergei and I have been sitting with Alexei and Lyudmila for two hours. I have one more
question: “Did you ever see or talk to Ilya again?”
“Never. And we were best friends. But I never want to see him again after what he did
“You want to know how sad it is?” asks Lyudmila. “When Alexei was growing up there
were maybe thirty or so boys in the neighborhood who were friends. So many of them have
died—of drugs. Or serving in the wars in Chechnya. Really there were only two left, Ilya
and Alexei. And now they never speak.”
Sergei and I begin to get our equipment together. “Thank you for your time, Alexei.
Good luck to you. I will be thinking of you a lot.”
“Spasibo,” he says, before resting his head back on his pillow.
Lyudmila walks me and Sergei to the door. We are putting our shoes back on. “Please,
if there is any way you can find a doctor who can treat him, will you let me know? We are
“Konechno [of course],” Sergei says.