Three grown women voluntarily became slaves.
And nothing's able to free them.
June 22, 2003

Don't submit this story, advised the one in the main course of events. The family is a mystery. The wife quarreled with the husband and left home. And he contrives a story about some cult. Give it time, sort it out.

So far, however, three residents of Volgograd who left their families for the Scientology cult have not returned home.

Apparently that is also the argument of the police personnel who have been carefully looking around the neighboring apartments for three months now. They do not expect to find the missing Vera V. But they do have the statement from Sergei V about his missing wife. So they are compelled to look. The policemen question the neighbors about the relationship between Vera and Sergei, "Did he hit her or not? Did he throw her out or not? Was there a lot of swearing?" That was the whole investigation. Sergei continues to send in statements to all the authorities, he goes to the reception area of the deputy and demands that immediate steps be taken. In his statements he writes that his spouse left not of her own volition, but at the order of the spiritual instructor, Scientologist Natalia Simonova. That this woman was dangerous and had power over people.

The people at the district attorney's office have never run into a situation like this and they don't have a procedure to follow.

She left and didn't come back

Sergei brought with him to the interview with the Izvestia correspondent two thick photo albums. These photographs, yes and there are some video cassettes and recordings of a happy family, are the last memories he had of what used to be a successful family unit.

Vera ran a home business, raised the sons and in the evening sang in the church choir. Many envied the emotional well-being of this family. They enjoyed the outdoors and spent free time in their dacha doing honest work. And all this would have been fine if Vera had not been bothered by the pain in her back. Periodically she went to the hospital, but this only relieved the pain for a short time. A (male) friend offered to introduce her to a specialist to help her recover. The cure would cost a thousand dollars. A special physician performed a massage and stuck her with needles. The cure produced a result. The pain stopped but Vera had nightmares, the cause of which Sergei still cannot understand. Vera had a constant dream with the "Savior" appearing in a vision. In order to find mental relief, a (female) friend advised going to a wonderful woman, Natalia Simonova. At that first meeting, Natalia Simonova explained to Vera that this fell into the realm of black magic, that there was a black spot that remained on her soul, which urgently needed to be removed. The cleansing of the soul would be carried out according to the methods of Scientology founder Ron Hubbard. Natalia Simonova provided her ward with literature for home study. Vera idolized her spiritual instructor, and carried out her recommendations unquestioningly. Vera became completely immersed in the doctrine by the name of Dianetics, which promised her deliverance from sickness, from failure, and from the suffering of this world.

Vera became a vegetarian, in the morning she walked to meet the rising sun. So what was the harm of this? But Sergei felt a wall of alienation growing between him and his wife. She suddenly began to hate the older son - only because he refused to go to the sessions with Natalia Simonova. Sergei tried to explain to his wife that her enthusiasm was starting to be dangerous, but she neither listened nor wanted to listen to him. More than that, she also tried to get him to go to the "purification" with Natalia Simonova. "You are the person nearest and dearest to me, and if you want to be with me, do it. But if not then don't interfere with me, you're holding up my development." For the sake of saving the family, Sergei went for a session to the spiritual instructor. He paid her a thousand rubles for twelve hours of "auditing" - two sessions of six hours.

This was in September 2000. We went to Simonova's home. Artificial smile, the desire to make an impression. I sat in an armchair and she sat opposite. She asked me to shut my eyes. She devoted the time to all the intimate details of our family life. I had a feeling of disgust that she so shamelessly picked at our personal lives. This was a sort of suppression of volition and consciousness ... It seemed to me that she wanted to make a slave. After the first session was over, I said I wouldn't come back for a second. The spiritual instructor stood and screamed at Vera that she had not adequately prepared me for the action.

From that time forward, Vera changed a great deal. The only thing she shared with her husband was the fifth floor doormat. She demanded money to conduct her home business. For her it was like the children no longer existed. No warmth, no kindness, no ordinary politeness. At the first call, she'd report to her spiritual instructor. It got to be a habit for her to spend a week at at time working from their dacha. The instructor, in her turn, yelled at Vera, gave her orders, and these had to be unquestioningly followed.

That's how it went until March 2, 2003. When Sergei was not home, Vera collected her things and, without saying a word to the children, left for parts unknown. The neighbors said that a blue Zhiguli arrived for her and two women loaded her things. A week later Sergei went looking for his spouse. It didn't put his mind at ease that she had told him that she was not afraid of death and that nothing would keep her from leaving life.

A little investigation

In one of the local papers there was published an interview with a certain Olga S., who related good things about "Dianetics" and about the "heavenly" woman Natalia Simonova. Sergei read Olga S's interview carefully, then he found Olga's telephone number on a note pad left behind by Vera. He arrived at the editor's department of Izvestia with this note pad. We called. At the other end a woman picked up who said she was Olga's mother. She said that her daughter had left home at the same time Vera had. And the blue Zhiguli -- that was her car. The next day the woman, Anna Ilinichna, arrived at the editor's department and told how back in 1997 spiritual instructor Natalia Simonova had turned her daughter into a novice. And everything began with Olga meeting a fellow traveler by chance on the road at the dacha. The lady charmed Olga, who enthusiastically told her mother about an interesting and marvelous woman. Literally after two days of making Natalia's acquaintance, Olga came running into the house, grabbed the stereo and with the words, "It needs to be saved from everything in the past," left for Natalia Simonova. But things were not to end on this note. Olga gathered her things, packed her bag and sped away. Her mother tried to reason with her, but in response her daughter either yelled at her or mumbled something incoherent. "I do not believe that this was my daughter, it's like it was someone else," sobbed Anna Ilinichna. It was like her Olga had gone insane. She always had a candle lit and she stopped seeing her friends. She left her job, which she had liked very much. She started to work as a janitor and as a freight handler. The experience gave the mother a heart attack. The neighbors called soon thereafter, but the daughter didn't even leave her office.

In April the mother discovered the blue Zhiguli was missing from the garage. The vehicle was registered to the mother, and she gave a statement to the police about the theft so that she might find out where her daughter was.

And that same day

We found out the name of a third victim of Natalia Simonov, Svetlana K. Her husband told us where to find the three women and the blue Zhiguli. The next day we drove to the area where the dachas were, to the dacha of the spiritual instructor. With the help of the bookkeeping cooperative we quickly found the dacha in question. At the gate was wound a thick rusty chain, which had not been taken off for a minimum of two years. Not a blade of grass was on the lot. The neighbors said the owner and three other women lived here. Only the gate was not used here; they climbed over the fence. And they also entered the house strangely -- not through the door, but through the window. And the owner in general, in the neighbors' opinion, acted like she had a screw or two loose. She was aggressive and yelled at everybody at the top of her voice. The neighbor felt sorry for the three women. They were strongly affected.

She rules them, they are silent. All are skinny and morose. Their eyes are hollow, pure zombies, the neighbor whispers to us, making an impression. If she's being honest, I'm afraid.

The lady of the house does not favor us with her attention. We didn't get to storm the dacha. Everything was written in a statement to the district attorney. The old assistant to the district attorney Yurii Panchishkin promised to see to the matter him self.

The families are very hopeful that he will keep his promise.

In the meantime

In the RF Justice Ministry office in the Volgograd oblast it was communicated to us that on May 30, 2002 Scientology was eliminated from the registry of juridicial persons. But this absolutely did not impede Mrs. Simonov from continuing her sessions. She keeps Ron Hubbard's precept of "If a person really wants to make a million dollars, then the best was is to start your own religion."

Larisa Sheremet, Volgograd