Mr. Bureaucrat, Russia's ‘Wrinkled’ Young Women Would Like a Word

A selection of #WrinkledWomen flashmob participants. Instagram screenshot.

A selection of #WrinkledWoman flashmob participants. Instagram screenshot.

Pavel Astakhov, Vladimir Putin's ombudsman for children's rights, has inspired a flashmob on Instagram, after going on the radio and implying that it is “prude” to have concerns about a widely publicized marriage in Chechnya between a 17-year-old girl and a much older police captain.

“In the Caucasus,” Astakhov told Russian New Service, “girls are emancipated and mature earlier [than elsewhere in Russia], so let’s not be prude about this. There are places where women are all wrinkled by the age of 27, and they look about 50 by our standards.”

In response, young women online have started posting selfies on Instagram with the hashtag #сморщеннаяженщина (#WrinkledWoman). In the photos, they scrunch up their faces to simulate the appearance of wrinkles. Many of the selfies include sarcastic greetings to Astakhov.

The woman behind the campaign appears to be Bella Rapoport, a prominent Russian feminist writer. Rapoport was recently at the center of another media debate, when she authored a widely read opinion piece on that crticized the gender insensitivity of another Russian news outlet, Meduza. (Full disclosure: yours truly writes for Meduza’s English-language version.)

According to Instagram’s timestamps, Rapoport was the first to use the “Wrinkled Woman” hashtag in this flashmob. The second contributor appears to be Tonia Samsonova, a popular journalist at Echo of Moscow with a large online social media following. Within 12 hours or so, the hashtag has attracted more than 120 contributions.

#сморщеннаяженщина 35 лет передает привет детскому омбундсмену

A photo posted by Евгеньевна (@belkitz) on

A #WrinkledWoman of 35 years says hello to the children's ombudsman

A wrinkled woman, 28-years-old, says hello to the children's ombudsman #WrinkledWoman

#сморщеннаяженщина может и порчу навести, аккуратнее там.

A photo posted by Ekaterina Sultanova (@katerinasf84) on

A #WrinkledWoman might put a hex on you. Better watch out.

#астаховавотставку #сморщеннаяженщина

A photo posted by Elijah (@iosav) on

#AstakhovResign #WrinkledWoman


A photo posted by Anna (@marmousetttt) on


#Сморщеннаяженщина а мне как раз #27лет :)

A photo posted by Alice Shpiller (@aliceshpiller) on

A #WrinkledWoman and I happen to be 27! :)

Elena Milashina, a reporter for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, is responsible for breaking the story about 17-year-old Heda Goilabieva marrying Nazhud Guchigov, a much older, already-married police captain. The story—published on April 30—launched a major public scandal because Milashina claimed Guchigov was forcing Goilabieva into the marriage, going so far as setting up roadblocks around her village to keep her family from evacuating her. Milashina said the girl’s sister even appealed Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, for help.

Kadyrov soon got involved, later refuting Milashina’s version of events, saying Goilabieva was marrying consensually and with the approval of her parents. On May 15, Kadyrov even invited “one and all” to attend the couple’s wedding in Grozny on May 16, joking that the nuptials seemed to attract more attention than the ceremony for Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

On May 12, the government-friendly television station LifeNews published an interview with Goilabieva and her mother, where the 17-year-old expressed her happiness about marrying Guchigov, who it turns out is 46-years-old, not 57, as Milashina reported. 

According to Heda Saratova, Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman, Guchigov’s first marriage is only recorded according to Muslim customs, not Russian law, meaning he is unmarried, legally speaking. His first wife is reportedly unperturbed by the looming arrival of a younger additional wife. “She [the first wife] even helped buy gifts for the girl [Goilabieva],” Saratova told the BBC.

Milashina, who fled Chechnya on May 14 after allegedly being threatened by the Chechen police, says she thinks Goilabieva and her relatives are being pressured into going ahead with the wedding. Milashina says the father has suspiciously avoided journalists, and Guchigov initially denied ever knowing the woman he plans to marry tomorrow.

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