Inside the horrific 'exorcisms' sweeping Russia with sons whipped to death and daughters disembowelled by their parents
THE gagged boy screamed out in pain as the adults held him down and took turns whipping him to "drive out demons".
The nine-year-old child — David Kazantsev — died after his parents had been among those torturing him during the "exorcism" carried out by a sect named the Disciples of Jesus Christ.
The tragedy in 2019 is one of a chilling number of gruesome cases in Russia that has led the Russian Orthodox Church to warn against DIY exorcisms.
A senior cleric Bishop Hilarion is to publish a “unifying” set of rules for such rituals.
The church has cautioned that casting out demons should only be attempted under the guidance of “spiritually strong” qualified priests.
But across Russia, people have already died in horrific circumstances as an exorcism craze has swept the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Mutilated body in the woods
After David died, sect members reportedly prayed beside his body for two days seeking to “resurrect” him.
When this failed, his body was secretly buried in woodland near a lake in Ekaterinburg, and was only found due to a call to police by the child’s concerned aunt.
Forensic experts said he'd died from asphyxia and that horrific whip marks were visible on his body.
In February, his father Ivan Kazantsev, 40, and female sect leader Zemfira Gainullina, 50, a former saleswoman, were both sentenced to compulsory medical treatment, a typical punishment in such cases.
An expert on religious cults in Russia Dr Alexander Neveev said: “In this sect it was believed that sinfulness should be beaten out of children.
“It was necessary to fight the devil.
“When punishing a child, you should not pay attention to his or her suffering, because in hell, he or she will suffer even more.
“Of course, a person whose head is filled with such nonsense is simply not able to understand that a child should not be hurt.”
'Satan is sitting inside them'
Yet Russia retains a propensity to believe in evil spirits and, for example, shamanism survives and even thrives in some regions including Siberia.
In the Orthodox Church too, a priest named Ilia Semiletov faced a religious court after “violently” baptising a terrified two-year-old girl who — he evidently believed — was possessed by the devil.
Worried parishioner Liliya Reznikova said the priest had told her that children must be “broken” during the baptism ritual because: “Satan is sitting inside them”.
She said: “I remember how I was scared when he began to speak this nonsense.”
Another alarming case involved a female shaman — also called a witch doctor — named So Dyavor, 59, who performed an exorcism on a four-year-old boy suffering from pneumonia in the eastern Russian village of Sergeevka.
The parents of the boy, Dmitry Kazachuk, turned to her and her “healer” husband for a “non-traditional cure” to his intractable illness.
It echoes a trend that sees a surprising number of people ready to believe in healers and shamans who advertise their services in local newspapers or on the internet.
She decided the sickly little boy was possessed by Lucifer due to his “parents’ sins”.
She ordered the mother and father out of the room while she drove out the devil.
But when they returned Dmitry was lying on the floor, dead.
A churchman Alexei Rogozhin described this exorcism as a “mortal sin”.
He warned that after seven decades of communism, when religion had been all but banned, people were too willing to turn to “shamans, witches, healers and other non-religious practices” instead of seeking “biblical miracles”.
Yet even in tsarist times, when the church was all-powerful, there was veneration for madcap holy men such as monk Grigory Rasputin, who held the royal court in his thrall, offering “cures” to the Crown Prince Alexey.
Hockey stick beating
Today others blame a struggling health service for failing to tackle physical and mental ailments.
But often those attempting home exorcisms are themselves creating physical and psychological trauma in the people they believe they're helping.
One popular Russian hair stylist was detained for “torturing” her son Anton, then 12, after becoming convinced he was possessed by the devil.
Maya Mayer, 31, tied and beat the boy with an ice hockey stick during “a month of abuse” aiming to exorcise evil spirits, said reports.
She injected him with painkilling and sedative drugs so he did not scream during the thrashings.
After police broke into the hotel room they shared in Nizhny Novgorod, the boy told them: “She kept saying that … she was casting out the demons from me…
“She could hit me ten times and even more.
“Here are [the traces] of how she tied me and the rest was made with a hockey stick.”
He was “emaciated” and “covered in bruises” including under his eyes and on his chest.
The boy’s aunt Olga Kurgozheva said: “The saddest thing is that Anton himself believes that there are demons inside him.”
The boy has since recovered but at the time appeared to confirm this, saying in his haunting account: “I did not cry.
“I have a low pain threshold.
“I myself noticed when the demons came, too.
“My eyes colour changed, the complexion.
“And the pupils became giant.
The saddest thing is that Anton himself believes that there are demons inside him.
“She injected something, maybe so it was not painful for me.
“That is when the demons went away."
The woman was ordered to undergo compulsory medical treatment, and the boy was adopted by relatives.
In Volgograd, parents Alexander and Natasha last year posted a video of themselves restraining their ten year old son Ilya in an attempt to drive out his demons.
They exorcised the ten year old with garlic and holy water.
The parents sought help from the local media to cope with their son’s "obsession with demons".
Another shocking case was in Voronezh where parents killed their 26-year-old daughter Alexandra trying to “expel Satan” from her body.
They beat her cheeks, threw her on the floor, and dragged by the hair.
They forced her to drink five litres of holy water which she refused, triggering more beatings.
The mother Elena Antonova, then 49, ruptured her intestines and jumped on her daughter as did her bus driver husband, finally killing her.
A report said: “The couple wrapped the corpse and put it in their bed – and they slept either side."
They told other relatives that Alexandra was “sleeping” and would be resurrected in three days.
They were unmasked in the 2011 case after the victim’s grandmother called in police.
Elena appeared in court with a bible and like her husband was sentenced to compulsory psychiatric treatment for the ritualistic killing.
In Kudymkar last year, a father went to work for the local heat supply utility.
Unknown to him, his wife Anna Goleva, 32, a trained teacher, strangled two of their four children aged five and one.
Two other children survived by hiding from their mother.
Her aunt Valentina said: “She told the doctors that she was saving her children from demons.”
The woman later committed suicide in hospital before her case had been properly investigated.
The distraught husband required counselling.
In a further case, a middle-aged man was suffocated by his mother after he became interested in the occult.
Notorious exorcist Sergei Romanov was detained last year after riot police stormed his monastery in the Urals.
Unfrocked by the church he was a former policeman and convicted murderer accused of running a cult.
He is suspected of physical and psychological abuse towards dozens of children who lived at his monastery where he taught followers to be ready to “die for Russia”.
He was charged with persuading minors to commit suicide
The new guidance from the Russian Orthodox Church is yet to be made public but is aimed at stressing the conditions under which exorcism can properly take place.
“People want to become shamans, witches and healers because they feel helpless,” said psychologist Natalia Dikova.
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