Terrible Things Happening in Cold Places

The Bellingshausen stabbing: an update and some background
24 Aug 2019, 7:33 p.m.

Last November, I posted about the case of Sergey Savitsky, the electrician at the Russian Antarctic research station Bellingshausen, who stabbed the welder Oleg Beloguzov in the chest over lunch. Today I have an update on the case, as well as some background context.

Multiple low buildings on a snowy plain, with snow-covered mountains in the background, under a black night sky.
Bellingshausen Station at night, via Wikimedia Commons

While searching for information about another post, I came across the Russian livejournal of dave_aka_doc, a psychiatrist who has spent an extended period at Mirny Station in Antarctica. He wrote this long post about the psychological effects of life on a closed station for months at a time, from his experience in a specifically Russian context, which I found very interesting. (The link is to a Google Translate version of the page; it's quite readable, but there are lapses.)

And here, another holy polar tradition of the mechanics of the technical personnel of the Antarctic stations comes to the forefront: slowly get a person crazy and watch him freak out. Slowly - because if you immediately and strongly offend, then you can get into an otvetka. And so, you can always otmazatsya phrases in the style of "What am I, I'm nothing, I'm just." Because every single episode is a harmless trifle.

I wouldn't be surprised if similar patterns arose in research stations of other nations, given that I've seen this sort of behaviour away from the ice myself. The low numbers of potential staff members and reverence for seniority ('polar brothers') that dave_aka_doc describes would certainly entrench it, though.

A tiny, wooden Russian chapel.
The Trinity Chapel at Bellingshausen, where Savitsky was held until he could be evacuated to St Petersburg, via Wikimedia Commons

A sidenote: when the stabbing was first in the news, both Russian and English-language reports asserted that the trigger for the attack was that Beloguzov kept spoiling the endings of books for Savitsky. This is an unconfirmed report; another, also unconfirmed report claims that Beloguzov invited Savitsky to dance on the table before Savitsky stabbed him. (Source for both theories, in Russian as Google Translate does not like the Javascript on this page.) Be that as it may, the rumour has gained in specificity to the point where a particular book is supposed to have been involved: Les Quatre Fils du Dr. March by Brigitte Aubert. In the book, a cleaning lady discovers a diary kept by one of the sons of her employer, implying that he is a murderer... but which son's diary is it? This seems quite an ironic precursor to actual attempted murder.

Book cover with Russian text and a woman's startled face looking through glass.
The Russian cover for Les Quatre Fils du Dr. March

Here's—hopefully—the end of the story. Savitsky was supposed to be tried for attempted murder in St Petersburg on February 8 this year. The case was dismissed by the court, however, on the request of Beloguzov, who had reconciled with his attacker. From this article by RAPSI, the Russian legal information agency (Google Translate):

Savitsky pleaded guilty to attempted murder in the heat of passion of another polar explorer Oleg Beloguzov. In anticipation of the beginning of the process, both sat on the same bench and talked peacefully on abstract topics.

When the meeting began, both informed the court that they continued to work at the Institute of the Arctic and Antarctic in their posts. Then the victim filed a motion to terminate the criminal case against Savitsky in connection with the fact that he reconciled with the accused.

This ending is in contrast with the career prospects Savitsky saw for himself on his arrival at St Petersburg from Bellingshausen, as reported in this gossipy article from 47news (Google Translate):

Who needs a man brandishing a knife in Antarctica? So would you begin to keep such a person in your editorial office?