It sounds like the plot of a Russian novel, yet this is the true story of two men, a crime, and the books they read at a remote outpost in Antarctica, the world’s loneliest continent.
Scientific engineer Sergey Savitsky, 55, allegedly stabbed welder Oleg Beloguzov, 52, on Oct. 9 and is charged with attempted murder.
His reported motivation? Literary. His impetus? Spoilers.
It’s the first such crime ever charged stemming from an incident in Antarctica. (But perhaps not the first to have occurred somewhere else—I won’t spoil the end of this story for you though.)
Savitsky is accused of attempted murder and said to have stabbed his colleague with a kitchen knife in the canteen of the scientific outpost Bellingshausen station in King George Island. The location offers little in the way of entertainment—they had their work, access to two Russian TV channels, a gym, a library, and a church. The island has a population of 25.
After the incident, Savitsky turned himself in and was kept under house arrest, then transported to St. Petersburg in Russia to face prosecution. He is said to have expressed regret for his actions. The Interfax News Agency states that he was having an “emotional breakdown” arising from “tensions in a confined space.” Beloguzov was transferred to a hospital in Chile, where he is in critical condition but expected to survive.
Russian investigators say the two men, who spent six months working together, were both avid readers. Apparently, however, the welder was a somewhat speedier reader, revealing plot twists in texts the engineer hadn’t yet read. Investigators believe the crime was fueled by booze. Savitsky reportedly has been stationed in Antarctica for four year-long stints. Sadly, there is no indication of which books specifically prompted the crime.
Alexander Klepikov, deputy director of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, told Komsomolskaya Pravda: “They are both professional scientists who have been working in our expeditions, spending year-long seasons at the station. It is down to investigators to figure out what sparked the conflict, but both men are members of our team.” The station was set up in 1968 by a Soviet Antarctic expedition.
If the engineer’s response seems extreme, so are the conditions in Antarctica. In 1983, a Chilean doctor burned down his research station to avoid a winter on the ice. And in a 2016 story about the effects of isolation in Antarctica on the mind, John Bennett at Canadian Geographic recounts a tale about a deadly 1959 chess match reported to him by University of British Columbia psychologist Peter Suedfeld. Allegedly, a researcher killed his opponent with an ax at Russia’s Vostok Station. Chess was supposedly banned at Russian Antarctic facilities thereafter.
Russian literary disputes do sometimes end badly even under better circumstances. In 2014, a 53-year-old former teacher from the Urals was sentenced to eight years in a penal colony for stabbing his 66-year-old friend to death during an argument over the merits of prose and poetry. The former teacher favored poetry, his friend prose. The two were drinking vodka shots and things got heated.
The champion of poetry stabbed his literary friend with a knife and fled, responding much like a character in a novel. Meanwhile, the deceased was remembered as a fan of verse. ”The whole town knew him, he was a very emotional person, if he met someone on the street he could declaim some verses or make a declaration of love,” recalled Galina Ufarkina, director of the town’s library service.