No one has come to claim the body of Tatiana Khaikin, who the police believe was murdered by her partner this week. Ukrainian-born Khaikin, 50, immigrated to Israel on her own at 19 and had no relatives here.
Mastwell Alaza, 31, wasn’t born in Israel either. Last week she was stabbed to death by her husband – who confessed – after years of physical and emotional abuse.
This isn’t the only similarity between the two women. Both had mustered the courage to file complaints with the police against their partners, who were convicted and sent to prison. Both women came from impoverished backgrounds, and both took back their partners after the men served prison sentences for beating them. The welfare services knew that Alaza was at risk, but they knew nothing about Khaikin.
This week, Bat Yam Mayor Tzvika Brot told of how, at the start of the coronavirus lockdown, the city’s welfare services phoned women known to be at risk, checking up on them. No one called Khaikin because no one knew about her, even though her partner had been convicted of assaulting her and she was an alcoholic who sometimes lived on the street.
On Thursday, acquaintances of Khaikin said that when she was 19 she married a well-off man 20 years her senior – a Jewish businessman she had met in Lviv, Ukraine. The couple moved into the Bat Yam apartment where her life ended this week, but three years after the move, Khaikin left her husband for one Igor Chepikov.
Not long before they met, Chepikov was convicted of beating his previous wife, the mother of his children. He was sentenced to six months in prison, which was commuted to community service.
“She chose Chepikov, and when they were together it was a disaster, they drank 24 hours a day,” says Sofie, the owner of the neighborhood hair salon where Khaikin lived. Sofie says that she and two other women from the local shopping center were the only people in Israel with whom Khaikin had any links.
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Now they’re trying to contact her relatives in Ukraine, to inform them about her death. “We tried for a long time to help her, and two and a half years ago we gave up,” Sofie says. “She told us, ‘I’ll be with him until the end.”
Local people say Chepikov was known as a drinker and always resisted his family’s pleas that he go to rehab. “Once in a while he would work in renovations or deliveries. He’s not a clever criminal. He’s a drunk and all of his crimes had to do with drunkenness and violence against women,” a local activist says.
“It’s a classic case of someone who came from the Soviet Union and doesn’t speak the language; a recidivist who’s released from prison and doesn’t receive any treatment.”
Neighbors in the building who heard the violence and screaming say they knew things would end badly, but one neighbor admits that when she saw drops of blood in the stairwell she didn’t call the police. “There was lots of yelling. He would drink a lot until late at night,” another neighbor says.
In 2014, Chepikov served six months on a conviction for severely assaulting Khaikin. Before his arrest, she had no one else to turn to, so she called his mother, who called the police.
Khaikin was offered assistance and follow-up by a social worker, but she declined. The only time the authorities are permitted to intervene without the woman’s consent is when minors are involved or when there is a very high level of danger from several family members. In such cases, the information is passed on to the police’s domestic violence division.
“Women often accept the offer of contact with a social worker, but not always right away,” says Ayala Meir, head of the children, family and community department of the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry.
“There are also women who want to drop the complaint. Sometimes the woman doesn’t see the warning signs. She’s just trying to survive and often she’s financially dependent,” Meir says, adding that a majority of the women murdered didn’t want help, and those that did wanted just a little. “Very few of the women who’ve been murdered did everything they could to save themselves.”
When Chepikov went before the parole board, it didn’t release him, citing the danger he posed to his partner. Khaikin’s few friends say that while he was in prison, she went into rehab for alcoholism and even changed her phone number, with the intention of starting a new life. But when he was released, she took him back because she had no one else in the world.
Once they were back together, they both sank back into alcohol dependency and their physical and financial state was poor, the friends say. They couldn’t hold steady jobs and ended up living on the street for a while. The welfare authorities weren’t aware of any of this.
In the past week, the welfare services investigated why Khaikin completely eluded their radar. The issue of requesting help seems key.
“This moment before the release from prison is an important one, and we try hard to reach the women then, but we’re largely unsuccessful,” Meir says, noting that half the women murdered in Israel in the past decade were not known to the welfare services or the police.
“A lot of women think that when their violent partner is in prison, the danger is stifled, but the risk increases during furloughs and right after the release.”
‘Not a decree of fate’
Unlike Khaikin, Mastwell Alaza was known to the police, the welfare service and others in law enforcement, but that didn’t save her life. She and her husband, Mandparo, immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in 2005. He says they were motivated by Zionism.
Mastwell gave birth to their first son when she was 17. When they arrived in Israel, they went to live in an absorption center on Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar in the north. Almost two years later, Haaretz reporter Esti Aharonovitz met them while covering a protest over immigrants’ living conditions. Mandparo was one of the leaders; Mastwell stood quietly beside him.
According to the welfare authorities, one instance of violence by Mandparo was documented in the absorption center. In her article, Aharonovitz described the poverty in which the immigrants lived and the tensions on the kibbutz.
“They don’t like us,” Mandparo told her. “They think we’re animals. Anything that’s broken, they blame us. Anything that’s stolen, they blame us. We’re not even allowed to go in the pool.”
The family’s financial situation was difficult lately too. The couple lived in Holon near Tel Aviv and were employed at a food factory, but the police say Mandparo drank and gambled and Mastwell kept the household going. They say Mandparo was often violent and Mastwell lived in fear for years.
“This wasn’t a one-time event, it was an escalation in the severity of the violence,” says a social worker who spoke with Mastwell.
An earlier incident that led to an assault charge that took place in front of the couple’s 14-year-old son, who called the police. When the court released Mandparo to house arrest, the welfare services objected that “there is an assessment of significant risk of a repeat of violent behavior.”
The police appealed the decision and the court granted their request, with Judge Zion Kapah stating: “I cannot take upon myself any possibility of an error in this case, as the consequences could be irreversible.”
On Wednesday, Mastwell’s family finished sitting shivah. A younger brother, Aviv, said Mastwell, the eldest of six siblings, only complained when the violence occurred in front of the children. He says she wanted to get a divorce but changed her mind when Mandparo kept telling her that he had no one else in the world.
“It was only when he went to prison that she told me that he’d been abusing and beating her for six years,” her brother says. “He played with her feelings. He told her he had no family and he wanted to raise the children with her. She believed him and let him come back home.”
After his release, Mandparo lived with his sister for a week and then returned to his wife so that the family could be together. But the whole time he believed that his wife was cheating on him with his good friend, he said.
He told his friends about his suspicions and two weeks after returning home, he stabbed her to death in the stairwell. He told the police he did it out of anger when Mastwell refused to have coffee with him. But the police say the killing was planned.
“We may not be able to reach all the women, but we certainly try,” Meir says. “We’ve saved 700 women who are now in shelters. It’s possible to get out of this circle. It’s not a decree of fate, and we have the tools.”
Mastwell’s brother says his sister was reserved by nature and didn’t tell the family about other troubles she was having with her husband.
“He would get the family into debts because of his gambling. She worked two jobs. When she wanted to go to a shelter, I tried to convince her to come to us instead and we’d take care of her,” her brother says.
“The children were always afraid of their father. They’re very introverted, too. I want the judge who released him to feel like I do right now, and I want the women who feel like this and are suffering to know that they have to talk about it with their family and let them know. For us, it’s too late.”