1990, Kyiv, the last execution of a woman in the history of the USSR

Svetlana Didenko / Ivan Siyak

On March 17 and 18, 1987, three sixth-graders, four teachers, a speech therapist, a nurse, a librarian, a driver, the head of the canteen at school No. 16 in the Podolsk district of Kyiv, and a technician who repaired a refrigerator there were hospitalized. They all complained of weakness and severe joint pains. The initial version was a flu epidemic caused by an unknown strain. The doctors contacted the police when the patients began to go bald. Two adults and two children would die before early May.

It turned out that the day before the disease, all of the victims had stayed at school after the end of the school day. The adults were waiting for an advance. Sixth-graders helped carry new chairs. In the canteen they were fed with the remains of their lunch: buckwheat soup and fried chicken liver.

They began to see who had control over the cooking. Nobody. The dietarian Natalya Kukharenko had died two weeks before the events. The diagnosis was cardiovascular insufficiency.

“It’s strange somehow my hands go numb, and my feet can’t get warm. And they’re going numb, too. The pain in my joints is so bad that I can’t sleep at night…” – she told a colleague before her death.

Kucharenko’s body was exhumed. Traces of the toxic metal thallium were found in the remains. Interviews with teachers revealed that in late 1986, two schoolchildren, a chemistry teacher and a partisan teacher, were sick with similar symptoms. The children recovered, the chemist lost his hair, and the party leader died.

Tamara Ivanyutina
Maria Sidorchuk and Vasily Yurchenko from the school canteen were put in intensive care and died a few days later. Screenshot from the program "Investigation... with Leonid Kanevsky" / NTV
Tamara Ivanyutina
Natalya Kukharenko (left), a dietician. Screenshot from the program "Investigation... with Leonid Kanevsky" / NTV

Trail’s taken.

A search of the canteen turned up nothing, but all the workers were under suspicion. One of the operatives met with the husband of the school dishwasher Tamara Ivanyutina. He was just on sick leave. Oleg Ivanyutin complained to the policeman about pain in his legs and baldness. He said that recently his parents died almost simultaneously, leaving the spouses a private house with a plot.

“At the funeral of my father, my mother became ill. Tamara brought valocordin and water. After drinking the medicine, the mother staggered, she immediately vomited. She died two days later,” this is how the operative told the investigator Ivanyutin’s words.

During a search in the Ivanyutins’ house, an expert removed a vial for lubrication from the drawer of the Singer sewing machine. Analysis showed that it contained a thallium-based Clerici solution. The fluid is used by geologists to determine the density of minerals.

Kiev school #16, where Tamara Ivanyutina
Kiev school #16, where Tamara Ivanyutina worked. Photo: Google Maps

A apartment question

Tamara Ivanyutina got a job at the school in September 1986. Since she had a criminal record for speculation, she presented a fake work record book. The woman dreamed of getting rich and buying a black Volga. She poisoned her first husband for an apartment. The second husband was poisoned for the sake of his parents’ land, where she began to breed pigs.

Ivanyutina fed the animals with the wastes from the canteen and killed everyone who got in the way. She killed all those who got in the way, the Party Manager and the nurse, because they controlled the writing off of food. The students, in order to distrust the school lunches and to take away more waste.

On March 17, 1987, Ivanyutina poured thallium on the plate of the cafeteria superintendent. The soup went cold, and the man poured it back into the cauldron, from which 13 people were then fed. Four did not survive it.

Tamara Ivanyutina USSR
Tamara Ivanyutina. Screenshot from the program "Investigation... with Leonid Kanevsky" / NTV

Из воспоминаний следователя Поддубного

«Самое ужасное то, что преступники оставались безнаказанными на протяжении очень длительного времени. Уверовав в свою исключительность, они привыкли мстительно расправляться с теми, кто вставал на их пути, плеснув несколько капель жидкости Клеричи в еду или в стакан с водопроводной водой».

Family Business

The police found a lab assistant of a geological prospecting expedition who had been giving a thallium solution to an acquaintance of the Maslenko couple to poison rodents for almost 10 years. The acquaintances had daughters, Nina and Tamara (after the second marriage she became Ivanyutina). Both of them buried their spouses and became owners of apartments.

Already during the investigation of Tamara Ivanyutina, her parents treated a neighbor with a large pension to pancakes. The neighbor turned out to be suspicious and fed the pancakes to her cat, and after the cat’s painful death, she called the police.

It turned out that Tamara and Nina were taught to poison the unwanted by their parents. Among their victims were a neighbor in a communal apartment who was watching TV at high volume and a relative who made a remark about a puddle in the toilet.

Investigators were able to prove that the Maslenko-Ivanutin dynasty was responsible for 40 poisonings, 13 of them fatal. Nine murders and 20 attempts were committed by Tamara. A psychiatric examination found all of the defendants sane.

Lukyanovsky pre-trial detention center
Lukyanovsky pre-trial detention facility in Kiev. This is where death sentences were carried out during Soviet times. Photo: Artemka / CC BY-SA 4.0

Mentally healthy

The courtroom of the Kyiv City Court was packed during the entire trial. Familiar acquaintances of the Maslenko family, friends of their victims, teachers and parents of pupils of school #16, and journalists came. People crowded at the entrance every day who did not get in.

The verdict sentenced the 79-year-old head of the family to 13 years in prison, his 77-year-old wife to 10 years and his daughter Nina to 15. There was almost a riot in the hall; the audience demanded the death penalty.

The court sentenced Tamara to death. When Ivanyutina was given the last word, she refused to admit guilt or ask the victims’ relatives for forgiveness. “I don’t have the right upbringing,” the serial killer said.

Ivanyutina was shot on December 6, 1990, in Kyiv’s Lukyanovsky detention center. It was only the third and last court-ordered execution of a woman in the postwar history of the Soviet Union. The Nazi executioner Antonina Makarova and the plunderer of state property Bertha Borodkina were executed before the serial killer.

Antonina Makarovna Makarova (Ginzburg)
Antonina Makarova (Ginzburg), nicknamed "Tonka the Machine Gunner. During World War II, on the orders of the German authorities and Russian collaborators, she shot more than 1,500 people. She was found and arrested in 1978, executed in 1979. Source: kulturologia.ru
Berta Borodkina
Berta Borodkina, head of the Gelendzhik Restaurant and Canteen Trust. Executed for large-scale embezzlement in 1983. Screenshot from the program "Soviet Mafia. Iron Bella" / TVC