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With hearts of sadness, Russians express satisfaction


With hearts of sadness, Russians express satisfaction

Thursday, May 20, 2004
Star-Ledger Staff

From half a world away, reaction to the conviction of Robert and Brenda Matthey on child abuse charges was a mix of satisfaction that they will be punished for their crimes and sorrow that a family has been torn apart.

Vera Ovchar, who lives in the Russian Far East city of Svobodniy, where Viktor Alexander Matthey lived in an orphanage before his adoption by the Mattheys, said in a telephone interview that more important than the guilty verdicts is whether the Mattheys will finally accept responsibility for Viktor's death.

"From the very beginning, I was sure they are guilty," said Ovchar, who teaches English and is a contributor to the local newspaper. "It is very important to me that they repent. They ought to repent, look into their hearts and souls and be afraid of what they have done to the little boy."

Ovchar said the Mattheys should go to prison, but she believes the 30-year sentence they were exposed to -- and could be again if they are retried on aggravated manslaughter -- is too harsh.

"In any case, they will have some years of prison," she said. "We don't want them to be in prison 30 years. It's too much. Maybe five, six, or seven, but they must do some."

Elena Korockova, editor of the Svobodniy newspaper Zeiskie Ogni, named for the river on which the town is located, said it was important to Russians that the jurors returned a guilty verdict.

"The fortunes of many children adopted by Americans, not only from Russia, will depend upon it. The adoptive parents taking children into their family must understand the great responsibility they have for the life of their child. They should take a child not for fun or pleasure or for remission of their sins."

Korockova said she, too, did not want to see the Mattheys given too harsh a punishment.

"But I would like this case to be well-known to as many people as possible in many countries, not to repeat the Mattheys' mistake," she said. "The Mattheys have been already punished. They are not able to look openly into the eyes of their own children. I do not think that prison will correct, or will soften, their hearts and souls. There is no absolution, or forgiveness for them."

Natalia Mikailovna Shashova, Viktor's teacher from the orphanage in Svobodniy, said she still grieves for the death of the student she said goodbye to several years ago, when he left for America with the Mattheys.

"When it happened, it seemed to me as if I had lost my own child," Shashova said. "I'm so sorrowful to read about those brutalities. We hope that in America, the law code is fair. God is their judge."

She also felt sympathy for the Mattheys' other children.

"We are sorry for their biological children," she said. "They will have to live without their parents. Let God not let them feel such grief."

Anna Mikhalovna Gubrova, a teacher of Russian literature at the school in Svobodniy, said the Mattheys must be punished for their crime, "but God has already punished them, having deprived them of the ability to love children, no matter whose child it is, their own or a stranger's."

The mayor of the city, Robert Valentinovich Kaminsky, said he felt sorrow and sadness when he heard the outcome of the case.

"When I think about the injuries on the body of the child and can't make anything come to help him," he said. "We can only pray to God to give us wisdom. But I think that punishment must be very stern."

Ludmilla Petrovna Mechenkova, director of the orphanage, is still angry about the death of the boy who had been in her care.

"There are no words," she said. "They had taken the child. I am indignant. If there are bruises, they ought to be punished. They are wrong. They must be punished. Why was the child so exhausted? These uncooked beans in his stomach?

"We have many children in our orphanage," she said. "We do not behave in such ways. That boy was clean, tidy, calm, he sang, recited, danced, was a leader in children's games. If the adoptive parents are not punished, we will not give our children to be adopted to America."

Larisa Vasilievna Nesterova, a retired teacher of Viktor's orphanage, said she isn't sure what punishment would be fitting for the Mattheys.

"I don't know what the punishment must be for them," she said. "I'm sure they have done a crime. The boy died. They must be punished, but in the way not to make the other children to be unhappy."

Matthew Reilly can be reached at mreilly@starledger.com or (908) 782-8326.
2004 May 20