Russia’s Top Breast-Feeding Expert Arrested for Running a ‘Cult’

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Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP / Getty Images

A Russian woman pushes a baby carriage through a park in St. Petersburg on April 30, 2010.

Russia has had its share of problems with religious cults. From faith-healers and doomsayers to messiahs of every description, there are roughly 4,000 of them across the country with some 800,000 followers, according to the Russian Association of Centers for Religious and Sectarian Studies. But with no clear definition of a cult in Russian law, very few of their leaders are ever charged with any crimes, even when their teachings are clearly harmful to their followers. So on Friday, Oct. 18, when Russian police announced the arrest of an alleged cult leader, local media splashed the news across the headlines. The only problem was the supposed cult turned out to be a pre-natal center, and its director, Zhanna Tsaregradskaya, had never claimed to have any occult powers. She merely taught seminars on breast-feeding and natural births.

According to the statement released on Friday by Russia’s counter-extremism police, the Rozhana Center, which was founded in 1989 to help re-introduce home births in Russia, was actually “a sect with a strict hierarchical structure.” Contrary to common practices in Soviet and Russian medicine, the center encourages mothers to breast-feed their newborns, and it provides training courses for midwives and expecting mothers to give birth at home instead of at a hospital, according to the center’s website and its former clients.

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In the West, such courses first appeared about a century ago and have become commonplace around the world. In Russia they seem to have resulted in felony charges. In their statement, investigators said they had charged Tsaregradskaya on two counts — “creating a non-commercial organization that encroaches on the personalities and rights of citizens” and “the incitement of hatred and hostility.” If convicted of both charges, Tsaregradskaya faces up to 7 years in prison.

The investigators’ statement emphasized the fact that Tsaregradskaya steered mothers away from traditional “principles.” The center’s roughly 14 “followers” were taught to “reject the family as a social institution, to act negatively toward their spouses (men), to refuse medical help, education, work and military service,” the statement said. In essence, they were being taught disobedience toward social norms. As the statement also claimed, the center used “physical and psychological violence” to maintain control over its followers.

Tsaregradskaya, who has been released pending trial, did not respond to requests for comment. But one of the coordinators at the center, whom TIME reached by phone on Monday, denied that any violence or “brainwashing” was used in their training courses. “We provide free phone consultations to mothers who are having trouble breast-feeding, or who simply want to know more about it,” said the coordinator, Anna, who declined to give her surname as she was not authorized to speak to the press. She said the hotline continues to function as normal, and no police have come to shut it down. “We have no idea why our director has been singled out like this.”

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The Rozhana Center’s legal troubles began in 2010, when about a dozen disgruntled clients came to the center’s live-in facility in Kaluga, near Moscow, to retrieve property they claimed to have left there after a seminar. According to police statements and local media reports, Tsaregradskaya accused them of failing to pay for her services and refused to allow them inside. When they insisted, her husband fired shots at them with a “traumatic pistol,” a form of air gun widely sold in Russia, and the husbands of two of the former clients were injured. Police then shut down the Kaluga facility, and Tsaregradskaya’s husband, Andrei, was sentenced last year to five years in prison for assault.

The lawyer who defended the victims in that shooting incident, Alina Pokrovskaya, appeared on Russian television Friday to discuss the case, and even she denied the investigators’ claims that violence or coercion was used against the center’s clients. “There is a great demand among women to organize natural births, because these methods have been lost in our country,” Pokrovskaya told a cable news channel. “Unfortunately, even our grandmothers have lost this know-how,” she added. “And our doctors do not accommodate such needs.”

That helps explain why the Rozhana Center enjoyed such popularity. Under the Soviet Union, the state did not allow private clinics or midwives to deliver babies. Child birth was the responsibility of state-run clinics, which encouraged mothers to use baby formula instead of breast milk to feed their newborns. When Soviet rule collapsed in the early 1990s, natural births started to catch on along with other trends in holistic medicine, dieting and health care — all of which were flooding in from the West. The Rozhana Center was among the first organizations to work in this field in Russia, and Tsaregradskaya often appeared on television talk shows to explain the benefits of breast feeding and natural birth.

According to some of her former clients, she used her popularity to extract exorbitant fees, a charge that Tsaregradskaya has repeatedly denied. But whatever claims could be made against her business practices, they would hardly explain why she is being accused of organizing a sect. Over the weekend, Russia’s state-run media ran stories accusing the Rozhana Center of “brainwashing mommies,” and coercing them into joining a “cult of breast-feeding.” For Anna, the center’s coordinator in Moscow, the reports seemed totally bizarre. “We can’t figure out why there’s this witch hunt now,” she said. “Maybe it’s just a fear of the unfamiliar.”

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13 comments
Olvaslog
Olvaslog

Unfortunately, the activity of this "home-birth"  center has resulted in much harm to a number of women, babies and families in Russia. There is even the internet society Anti-Rojana, formed by the relatives of the women suffered from involvment in this really cult-like brain-washing organization.  This article does not objectively describe the situation. . 

DaveRoberts
DaveRoberts

Interesting to see these pro-Putin commenters jump on here in support of their state. I suspect that they're paid propagandists similar to the commenters you find at the foot of "RT" web-site articles.

Dave

yva
yva

Can't say much about article main subject, as I've never heard about Tsaregradskaya and her organisation, but there are enough ridiculous statements worth commenting.

"Contrary to common practices in Soviet and Russian medicine, the center encourages mothers to breast-feed their newborns"

Soviet medicine wasn't encouraging mothers to breast-feed?! Then I'm a King of England. Breast-feeding was (and mostly is) a standard practise, and every "Zhenskaya Konsultatsiya" (literlally, "Female Advice" - local state medical offices in USSR and Russia) would run courses for expecting mothers with information on birth preparation and breast-feeding.


"That helps explain why the Rozhana Center enjoyed such popularity."

What popularity - 14 followers mentioned earlier in the article?


"Under the Soviet Union, the state did not allow private clinics or midwives to deliver babies."

Of course state didn't allow private clinics to deliver babies - because there were no private clinics in the USSR, in the first place. Just like now the state does not allow that to martians. And not permitting midwives in favor of professional birth clinics was absolutely right approach.

ujckfqth
ujckfqth

Sorry for bad translation. Was too lazy.

Mothers were forced to give up visiting prenatal clinic and urged to give birth at home - without doctors and skilled care, only under the supervision of "Rozhana Center" staff.

And while police are looking into the social aspects advocated in the sect (abandonment of medication, education and employment), doctors in horror from the health aspect. Birth at home - a deadly and unnecessary risk to both mother and child.

"To give birth is not more dangerous than going to the toilet. Diagnostic sonography is dangerous. Avoid maternity hospitals, give birth at home and don't let husband to be around." Such were perfected Zhanna Tsaregradskaya's spells of "natural childbirth." And in the Kaluga region, she founded an isolated settlement where they nurture a new, "clean" breed of people.

The power of Zhanna Tsaregradskaya was such that for women's in community was offered to collect money for a gold crown for her. After that, some of the women decided to leave. But when their relatives tried to pick things up, her husband of Tsaregradskaya and their son shoot from a traumatic weapons. That was in 2010. Then her husband was sentenced to five years, and her son was sent for psychiatry examination.

Prior to the episode with the shooting at "Rozhana Center" seemed invincible. The idea of ​​a home birth attracted many, although in the internet were stories that the midwife from "Rozhana Center" caused baby’s death in process, and the other "specialist" broke a leg of healthy child.

VasilyElbakiev
VasilyElbakiev

Article lie! In this center the most important thing is the spiritual Foundation. There was studied the esoteric. Sleep and dreaming, the culture of the universe, child upbringing religious tradition. It's all there in the Russian Christian Church, why is this in the organization of feeding breast milk? They "corrected" children up to 8 years! Breast-fed up to 8 years? And all courses naturally pay. The usual spiritual sect.

Vyacheslav
Vyacheslav

One lie. Plain sect, under the guise of good deeds processed young women. Where, ultimately, offers to sell the property for the needs of the sect. Open criminal cases, there are victims and witnesses. "Time" - small rag, dipped so low.

Trufanov_Nick
Trufanov_Nick

And by the way, what is with the video "A Russian Roadtrip"? Seems like another smear campaign to me. Deliberately chosen angles for pictures, worst angles. Could you not shoot the Red Square without some ugly unfinished construction in the way? Did you really have to choose a car that was manufactured like 20 years ago? Even VAZ makes better cars now. Did you really have to go to wilderness, where there are no roads? COuld you not choose a more conventional route to make your video more representative of the real Russia at this moment? And so on, and so forth.

Or was it made just to make your own population like "fearnothing" even more ignorant and hostile to Russia. Oh, yeah, centuries long "Russophobia project" seems well alive. Good luck with your unpayable debts. We'll sit on the river bank and watch.

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

" Go and arrest her , I don't give a sh1t what for , just arrest her " .

Trufanov_Nick
Trufanov_Nick

I am tired of foreign "know all experts" on Russia who chant "Putin has to go. Quickly". You have to go home and educate yourself on what is really going on in Russia. Until then put your fracking tongue between your "buns".

fearnothing
fearnothing

Knowing Putin's Russia, which is coming more and more to resemble Kim Jyong's North Korea, this woman probably failed to pay someone off or put some official/gangster nose out of joint.  Given the horrible state of Russian Hospitals these days, home births may be a more desirable alternative.  Putin needs to go.  Quickly.

Vyacheslav
Vyacheslav

@DaveRoberts Let the Western media are talking about us, about Putin Russian, whatever. The main thing do not lie to yourself and others!.

Vyacheslav
Vyacheslav

@fearnothing From where do you know what the situation in hospitals Russia?. you give birth there?. You and those like you, stop writing nonsense.