Ust-Kut, Siberia. Spring 2003. I'm 10 years old.
A phone rings and we learn that a day earlier several men were killed on a suburban highway as a result of a fire opened on two cars. One of the victims was the leader of a local organised crime group nicknamed the King.
Same evening I started looking for my own private sniper.
At that time, in Russia it was virtually impossible to conduct business without protection of and from criminals, and in our small Siberian city, the King was krysha of many private entrepreneurs, including my stepfather. With his death, the authority lost its corporeality, and the law got reduced to a symbol referring to its own structural lack, to the error within the system and to the absence of a protective mechanism. Everything about the surrounding —the quiet conversations of the adults behind the half-open doors, the anxious look captured on their faces, and the streets that seemed to be emptied at once—let my fear out, which was spreading out in space like a sticky foul-smelling substance.
I used to be a regular guest at the King’s place, I remember the old-fashioned stove in the corner and the big icons on the walls, I would easily recognise the arch where his brother had disappeared in the dark, I could still hear his mother's frantic crying and I had never seen such high tombstones. Fear was nagging at me, crawling under my skin. At home, I would meticulously research the best shooting location from where it would have been possible to attack me, and as a consequence search for the hideout. I was preparing, I was waiting for an encounter with my own private sniper.
I thought that what had happened would leave its mark on me, or perhaps it already did, and I just couldn't figure it out. One crime inevitably leads to another, and I felt like a witness, who had to be gotten rid of. What did I see and what did I know?
* The term krysha literally meaning “roof” has become widely used in Russia over the past 30 years. The breakdown of law and order in post-Soviet states created a conducive environment for the expansion of criminal organisations varying in sizes and scales of affiliation to the state apparatuses. Essentially, krysha was a key phenomenon in newly-formed and largely corrupt society in Russia and referred to the private protection of people and small business’ from racketeers. In practice, however, the latter was highly indistinguishable from krysha, since protection was also realised by the racketeers, usually from the competing gangs. Thus, simply put, the image of Russia in 1990-s — early 2000s would depict one group of bandits fighting another, with the rest of us just being concerned onlookers trying hard not to get hit by bullets.