At the age of 63, Oleg Sokolov is one of those Russians who are said to exist only in films: distinguished historian, great specialist of Napoleon and dean of the faculty of history of the University of St. Petersburg , immeasurably Francophile, speaking French with an ease of Tolstoy aristocrat, decorated with the Legion of Honor … very reactionary, also, associate of the very nationalist Russian Society of Military History (who claims not to have been with him since " years) and close to the extreme right-wing French milieu, associated with the Issep, the institute of political sciences founded by Marion Marechal Le Pen, who hastened to dismiss him as soon as the drama was announced. He has just admitted to having killed his girlfriend, one of his students.
Until very recently, a Google search on his name referred to photos of him in Napoleon's costume, reviewing his imperial guard with a martial air, sword light, perched on his horse. The man is the tutelary figure of the European community of amateurs of historical reconstructions. A hobby of which the Russians are the undisputed experts. Every year, near Moscow, thousands of extras, wearing authentic period costumes with gaiters close, bivouack under the tent and replay the battle of Borodino (1812), a bloody clash between Russian and French armies that both sides claim to have won. And every year, Oleg Sokolov embodies Napoleon. In all the historical reconstructions of Europe, from Moscow to Paris, the role is his. According to testimonials from his students, he sometimes wore his costume without any particular occasion, he was sometimes called "Sire". Since 9 November, search engines have been sending pictures of police cordon along a St Petersburg canal in a greyish late autumn mood.
Oleg Sokolov, during a pageant, in 2005 (AFP).
Already accused of violence
That morning, Oleg Sokolov was drafted in the Moika, one of the main canals in St. Petersburg, drunk dead, hypothermic, clinging to a backpack. Rescuers evacuate her to the hospital. A few hours later, someone opens the backpack. Inside, two human hands, and a pneumatic gun. At the bottom of the canal, there are legs. At Sokolov's house, at 82 Moika Dock, an ax, a blood-stained saw, tape, and the severed head of a young woman.
The victim is named Anastassia Echchenko, a 24-year-old student nicknamed "Sokolov's apprentice". They had been living together since 2015, sharing the same passion for the history of France and the Napoleonic wars. She also liked to dress up in period costume, and Oleg Sokolov nicknamed her "Josephine". On the night of November 7, Sokolov allegedly killed her with a pneumatic gun before cutting her body to pieces and trying to get rid of it in the Moika. According to the version taken by the Russian press, it is by throwing in the water the backpack containing his hands that he would have fallen in turn in the canal. According to other sources, he allegedly attempted to commit suicide.
In the past, Oleg Sokolov had already been accused of violence by female students. Upon his arrest, he admitted his guilt to the police. According to the news site 47news, he also claimed to have intended, once cleared of the body, to commit suicide in front of tourists visiting the Peter and Paul Fortress, in his uniform of Napoleon.
The case occurs less than a week after the body of the Empire General Charles-Etienne Gudin was formally identified, mortally wounded near Smolensk in 1812 and discovered by an archaeological team last July. It is a question of a return with great pomp to the Invalides. One of those absurd coincidences, as only Russia knows how to offer.
Lucien Jacques in Moscow