Darya Komarova was a cub reporter in 2012 when she scored an interview with Stanislav Govorukhin, a top Russian film director who that year was working as the campaign chief for Vladimir Putin ahead of Russia’s presidential election.
Govorukhin had traveled to Cheboksary, the capital of the Chuvash Republic, some 670 kilometers east of Moscow, to stump for Putin and had agreed to meet with Komarova, a reporter with the biggest local newspaper, Progorod.
Komarova was elated, telling family and friends that she was about to meet a “famous person.” Making it all the sweeter was the fatter paycheck she had been promised by the newspaper for the interview.
Komarova met Govorukhin at a local restaurant, where she says he laid out his quid pro quo for the interview.
“He proposed that I spend the night with him. I rejected him, and he threatened to cancel the interview. I was ashamed. I had already told all my friends and colleagues that I was going to interview a famous person -- Stanislav Govorukhin,” Komarova recounted in a recent interview with RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service.
Shocked but unfazed, Komarova stood her ground.
“I first told him that he would have to pay me for my lost time if he refused to do the interview, but it didn’t work. Then I told him I would leave the room and stir up a scandal. Apparently, that frightened him," Komarova recounts. “After that, I asked him a few questions and we finished.”
Komarova later contacted Govorukhin to check a few facts from the interview. His nonchalance over the phone overwhelmed her.
“He picked up the phone but didn’t remember me. It was funny. I thought, 'He must have had a lot of provincial journalists.' This isn’t about Govorukhin, but the fact that such behavior becomes commonplace. That’s what so scary.”
RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service contacted Govorukhin by telephone but he declined to comment on the allegations.
“I’m at a hospital and can’t talk,” Govorukhin said.
But Govorukhin has previously denied having ever met Komarova for an interview, a copy of which is available on the journalist’s Facebook page.
Komarova says she was scared and confused at the time but then largely forgot the incident after colleagues she confided to largely brushed off the whole thing with a laugh. She also was wary about bringing it up with her husband.
“My husband was against me working as a journalist, and then this happened. Maybe that’s why I did not dwell on it. Now I’m able to laugh at the whole thing involving Govorukhin. It just seems funny to me how some high-ranking people react when they see a pretty girl. However, this is no laughing matter. In all these situations, it is disgraceful how these men behave.”
Komarova continued in journalism, including work as a contributor to RFE/RL, before she became a campaign manager for Ksenia Sobchak, the former TV personality who made a failed run in Russia’s recent presidential election.
Then public allegations emerged that numerous female journalists working in Russia had been harassed, an indication that the global #MeToo movement exposing cases of sexual harassment and abuse appeared to be spreading to Russia.
Among the first to come forward were several female reporters who accused Russian lawmaker Leonid Slutsky of sexual harassment.
Slutsky is a member of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, (LDPR), whose leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, called Sobchak a “whore” during a TV presidential debate.
The developments led Komarova to post details of her own experience on Facebook.
After that, Komarova said she was harshly criticized on social media (from many ‘fake’ accounts she suspects were solely created to target her) and attacked by others she assumes were friends or fans of Govorukhin.
Komarova said she was disappointed by the reaction of Alena Arshinova, a State Duma deputy from Chuvashia, who in a posting on Facebook defended Govorukhin and cast doubt on Komarova’s claims, saying she had worked alongside him during the 2012 campaign.
Sympathy, or justice for that matter, for victims of alleged sexual harassment appears to be in short supply in Russia.
On March 21, the State Duma’s Ethics Commission heard the Slutsky case after accusers officially filed complaints. The committee, however, ruled that Slutsky had not committed any violations of “behavioral norms,” prompting more than 20 media outlets to pull their journalists from covering the lower house of Russia’s parliament.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has questioned why so many victims of sexual harassment have waited so long to file complaints.
“If he groped you, if he harassed you, why did you remain silent? Why didn’t you go to the police? Why did so much time pass, and then you went to the Ethics Commission?" Peskov told students at a Moscow university on March 29.
Peskov noted that women in the United States and elsewhere have been speaking out increasingly about sexual harassment, sometimes years after an alleged offense occurred, and suggested that Slutsky's accusers were making "something of a fashion statement."
“We’re trying to keep up with the mayhem that’s been happening in America,” he said.
A State Duma deputy from Tatarstan, Fatikh Sibagatullin, from the ruling United Russia party, on March 23 compared journalists to “servants,” sparking outrage.
“To a certain degree, we are all servants before someone, I guess,” says Komarova. “Our deputies often forget that they are servants of the people and not the other way around.”
Komarova predicts sexual harassment in Russia will only be addressed once there is a frank, public debate about the problem.
“In my case, I just wanted to show that this happens so often,” she says.
Komarova regrets that she herself didn’t come forward sooner.
“Maybe if I had talked more openly about what happened to me, then no one would have experienced the same thing,” she says, before adding a bit of advice.
"As a journalist, I can only urge [anyone] to turn on your Dictaphone. It’s important that you have evidence. As a woman, I urge anyone not to keep this to themselves.”