shadow

Russia wrestles with a US-style school massacre in Crimea

Why We Wrote This

In the wake of a school shooting, signs in Crimea – as in America – that society is divided between cracking down and seeking to solve underlying causes.

Pavel Rebrov/Reuters
A woman lights a candle at a makeshift memorial near the scene of a fatal attack on a college in the port city of Kerch, Crimea, Oct. 17.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

There doesn’t seem to be a clear reason why a student in Kerch, Crimea, on Wednesday took two backpacks stuffed with explosives and a rifle to his college, where he killed at least 20 people and wounded 50 more before killing himself. But it’s an incident that has stirred among Russians a set of questions all too familiar to Americans. How could Vladislav Roslyakov, the shooter, have gotten a gun? Why wasn’t the shooting foreseen? Who is to blame? It’s not Russia’s first school shooting, but school shootings have been few and far between. Many Russians reserve some blame for the United States and the horrific example its long history of mass shootings sets for impressionable young Russians. Others are complaining about how easy it is to obtain a firearm in Russia – though far more rigorous than in the US – and calling for tighter controls. But no one has any clear answers. “As always, the mass media covered this terrible story in full detail, showing all the human reactions, the panic, the desperate attempts to escape,” says Mikhail Vinogradov, a criminal psychiatrist. “This has all happened before, and will happen again. I doubt such tragedies can be prevented.”

It's the kind of tragedy Americans are all too familiar with; Russians, far less so.

But the Russian public reaction to Wednesday’s massacre by a lone shooter at a school in Kerch, in the Russian-annexed Republic of Crimea, will also look hauntingly familiar to Americans.

There is an outpouring of grief, tinged with disbelief and bewilderment; frustrated appeals to the authorities to “do something;” and a lot of talk about the malign influence of the internet and video games. Despite Russia’s already rather tough gun regulations, there are also calls to crack down harder.

At the end of the day, and as is often the case in the US, there seems to be no clear explanation for why Vladislav Roslyakov, an 18-year-old student at Kerch Polytechnic College, came to school on Wednesday with two backpacks stuffed with explosives and a legally acquired shotgun-like hunting rifle, and proceeded to slaughter his fellow students and teachers. After detonating a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb in a crowded cafeteria, he wandered the halls shooting people randomly before killing himself in the school’s library. At least 20 victims are dead and 50 wounded, some critically.

It's not Russia’s first school shooting, but they have been few and far between. And the Kerch massacre is one of the worst ever, anywhere. There has never been such an event in Ukraine, of which Crimea was a part until 2014, when it was annexed by Russia.

To the credit of Russian authorities, and despite some initial confusion, they quickly rejected the explanation of terrorism, perhaps inspired by the enemy Ukraine. Rather, they publicly acknowledged that what they have on their hands is an American-style mass school shooting – even if Crimea’s leader Sergei Aksyonov continues to claim that Mr. Roslyakov must have had “accomplices.”

“We need to accurately determine all the details of this tragic massacre. And only after that, probably, the experts should predict certain actions. Because this is a very dangerous trend, of course, and a very deep analysis must be performed,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.

Roslyakov had been known as a bit of an introvert, who loved video games, but he was regarded as a good student and a polite young man.

“It is clear that he had long cherished this idea of going on a killing spree, and carefully planned it,” says Mikhail Vinogradov, a veteran Russian criminal psychiatrist. “He most likely suffered from a mental disorder, but neither relatives, nor friends, nor teachers attached any importance to his oddities. The worst thing is that even psychiatrists found him fit.”

Many Russians reserve some blame for the US and the horrific example its long history of mass shootings sets for impressionable young Russians. Some Russian news outlets are highlighting the undeniably eerie similarities between this shooting and the 1999 Columbine massacre in the US, with stress on how contagious that kind of viral-internet experience appears to be.

“It's hard to say how those American cases affect our teenagers, because there are no studies about this,” says Margarita Pozdnyakova, an expert with the official Institute of Sociology in Moscow. “But judging by all my experience, there is such an influence. Teenagers today have a ‘mobile psyche,’ and they absorb everything.”

Many voices in Russia are also complaining about how easy it is to obtain a firearm in Russia, and calling for tighter controls. Oleg Adamovich, a reporter for the Moscow daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, underwent the procedure to obtain a hunting rifle a couple of years ago in order to write a story about it. It was not a process that Americans would find familiar.

“On the whole it takes about two or three weeks, and it is a boring bureaucratic procedure,” he says. “There is one day of mandatory study for future gun owners. Then there are medical consultations, which take a couple of days. You need to see a psychologist and a narcologist, and take a medical drug test. If everything is OK, and you acquire all the necessary documents, you may register in the queue to get your gun license.”

Russians are not permitted to own handguns or semi-automatic weapons. Even hunting rifles must be stored in a locked safe in a person’s home, subject to police checks.

Roslyakov passed through all these hoops last month and acquired a shotgun. With the right documents, he was able to purchase a large number of cartridges for it, some of which he used to manufacture his bombs.

There will be calls for tougher gun control, and some deputies in the Russian parliament are already mulling more measures to control what Russians can access on the internet. But no one has any clear answers.

“As always, the mass media covered this terrible story in full detail, showing all the human reactions, the panic, the desperate attempts to escape,” says Mr. Vinogradov. “Criminals will see this and make their own calculations, adopt new methods of killing. This has all happened before, and will happen again. I doubt such tragedies can be prevented.”

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.