“I consider myself fully responsible for her impulsive actions. We had a conflict, a domestic one that had nothing to do with sports.” Sofia Fendechenko coach of Alina Gorbacheva who went missing
Interview with coach Sofia Fedchenko about her student Alina Gorbacheva who went missing.
source: Sport24 dd. 12th September 2023 by Konstantin Lesik
The disappearance of figure skater Alina Gorbacheva was the most troubling event of the off-season. The 16-year-old athlete went missing for over a day: the Junior Russian champion spent the night in a stairwell, and the following day she was found in one of the Moscow cinemas. What makes this story particularly noteworthy is that Alina has been living with her coach Sofia Fedchenko for several years, and her parents are not actively involved in her upbringing.
Following the incident, Gorbacheva did not disappear from the public eye; she maintains a presence on social media, sharing glimpses of her life. She also expressed that she is “ashamed of her actions.” However, coach Sofia Fedchenko did not comment on the situation until now. Sport24 correspondent Konstantin Lesik reached out to Fedchenko to find out what happened on August 28th and 29th and what lies ahead for Alina.
You agreed to this interview only after 2 weeks…
Sofia Fedchenko: I am least inclined to discuss the situation that has occurred and subject personal matters to public scrutiny. Unfortunately, speculation and conjecture are on the rise, with the media and bloggers fueling interest in the situation, publishing an incredible amount of fakes and rumors. There is a huge wave of negativity directed at Alina, me, and our entire team. While we, as adults, can ignore such things, the mental well-being of a child, especially Alina’s, is being seriously tested.
What was the reason for Alina’s actions? Who is to blame?
Sofia Fedchenko: I consider myself fully responsible for her impulsive actions. We had a conflict, a domestic one that had nothing to do with sports. After a long conversation, I conveyed my position to Alina regarding her living arrangements with me and my responsibility for her. I told her that I was not ready to take responsibility for her life and health if certain rules were not followed. I emphasized that she could continue training at the academy, and this would not affect her training process. However, when it came to her personal life, she needed to move in with a relative or rent her own apartment, with prior notification to her mother.
What happened next?
Sofia Fedchenko: After that, we needed to go onto the ice. I told her that we would discuss this after the training session.
So, Alina came to the rink for practice?
Sofia Fedchenko: Yes, she came. She was warming up with a jump rope, and I saw her in the hallway as I walked by.
At what point did you realize that something was wrong?
Sofia Fedchenko: It was on the ice, about 20 minutes into the session. I started getting worried because she was taking a long time to warm up, so I went out to the lobby to check on her. I couldn’t find her. I tried calling her, but her phone was unreachable. At first, I thought maybe she was at the ice rink, where the network signal is weak. Another 15 minutes passed, and that’s when I got really scared.
I rushed to check the security cameras at the entrance and saw that she had left the rink 20 minutes ago. Her phone was still unreachable. I called her mother and told her that Alina was missing and that she should file a police report. I also called “LizaAlert” (volunteer search and rescue squad – ed.) to get them involved in the search promptly. At the same time, we were driving and running around the neighborhood, then we started looking for a way to check the security cameras in nearby apartment complexes.
You said “we.” Who was with you?
Sofia Fedchenko: Vlada Danilkina, Nikolai Stepanenko (Deputy Director General of the National Aeroclub of Russia named after Chkalov), Maxim (Nikolai’s assistant), and parents of the athletes from my group.
Around 3-4 a.m., Alina’s mother arrived with her husband and the police. By the time they arrived, we already had videos of Alina and her route, which ended in a park. It took a long time for the police to process the paperwork, and Ekaterina (Alina’s mother) sat there for about five hours.
We spent the whole night running around the neighborhood, hoping to find Alina. We checked all the hostels. By morning, we managed to enter a church to check its cameras, and we saw that she had gone towards the river, which made us even more worried.
Were you afraid that she might be contemplating suicide?
Sofia Fedchenko: God forbid! No, such thoughts never crossed our minds. We were worried about the possibility of a crime because there’s construction nearby, many migrants around, and homeless people often hang around on the beach. Overall, it was just a very frightening situation. I didn’t expect such behavior from her, and I didn’t understand what her plans were.
The search was made more difficult by her turned-off phone and all means of communication. She also had her own bank accounts, her iCloud, and she had cash with her. We have complete trust, so I didn’t think about monitoring her every move. She usually asks for advice and tells everything herself.
In the morning, everyone was alarmed because of the socks found on the beach…
Sofia Fedchenko: Those socks definitely weren’t Alina’s. I think the reporters themselves planted them to create a sensation. We combed the shore 3-4 times that night. There were no socks at 6 in the morning. They appeared around 10-11 am, right after the media got wind of the situation. Reporters swarmed in, and they arrived even before the investigators did. But perhaps there was some benefit in this. Police action really started at that time.
Then there was the video from the café. Did that ease your worries?
Sofia Fedchenko: No, it didn’t. I felt relief when we met and hugged. It wasn’t until the next morning when Alina explained the motive behind her actions that I felt completely at ease.
Your phone number was everywhere during the search for Alina. Journalists criticized you for not answering. But what if someone who had really seen Alina had called?
Sofia Fedchenko: Ekaterina provided my work number, which stirred up a lot of noise in the media. People were calling me with stories of having seen or found Alina, but they didn’t provide any specifics. Journalists were asking about my emotions, whether I would continue working with her, and many other things that were not the right time to discuss. Eventually, I turned off my work number. The people who were genuinely involved in the search for Alina had my personal phone number (investigators, the police, “Liza Alert”), while everyone else could still reach 112 for such purposes.
Did Alina’s mother express a desire to take Alina with her after everything that happened?
Sofia Fedchenko: I can’t know what she was thinking, but Ekaterina didn’t voice any ideas out loud. After such a stressful situation, I believed it was necessary to create the most calm and comfortable situation for everyone. I offered Alina’s mother to stay in my apartment until all the emotions subsided and Alina explained what drove her to such an action. After that, we could make decisions. Ekaterina stayed with me for a few days and then went on vacation. Now, Alina is with me.
What about returning to the reasons for the conflict?
Sofia Fedchenko: It’s not even a conflict; it’s more of a disagreement. At 16, they’re not children anymore, they’re teenagers with hormones and puberty, wanting to do things their own way. It’s normal, and I understand and accept that. But please understand me as well, when you take responsibility for someone else’s child, it’s a double responsibility. I’ve been raising Alina since she was 12.
Her education, medical care, leisure, and daily needs are under my control. I have to be sure that everything will be fine not only in sports. We’ve never had problems with discipline during training, and I hope we never will, but life brings various challenges. The process of upbringing is very complex.
But why did she run away? It’s a very serious step.
Sofia Fedchenko: It was an impulsive, thoughtless step. We didn’t have a chance to settle things before going on the ice. The situation remained unresolved, and the question of moving out stayed in the air. At that moment, Alina thought that if she ran away, she wouldn’t have to move anywhere. A couple of hours later, her emotions subsided, and she realized that she had only made things worse. She got scared that I would definitely not agree to take responsibility for her now. In short, it became a vicious circle.
So Alina wants to live only with you?
Sofia Fedchenko: I won’t answer that question because these are family matters and issues that didn’t just arise two weeks ago. I don’t have the right to discuss this.
My task is to give her everything I can and help her establish herself in life, not only as an athlete but also as a person. Sports will eventually end, and one needs to know how to live after it!
Many found Alina’s first social media post and video to be unnatural. They thought that adults wrote the text for her. What was it really like?
Sofia Fedchenko: The morning after, Alina said she was ashamed of her actions. She realized she had made a mistake and didn’t know how to behave now, fearing the public’s reaction. She had a long conversation with a psychologist who advised her to express her thoughts to people and to communicate more, even in social media, to stop hiding from the situation and cope with it faster. I am very grateful for this advice because after the video, she felt much better, and a few days later, she returned to her normal self.
Did you make her to apologize?
Sofia Fedchenko: Why would I do that? I don’t believe she’s at fault for anything. Guilt and shame are different things.
What about now? Aren’t you afraid to continue taking responsibility after this incident?
Sofia Fedchenko: Everyone makes mistakes, and Alina and I are no exception. There were very long conversations, not just one. Right now, everything is in its place.
Have you changed your approach to working with Alina after everything that happened?
Sofia Fedchenko: No, there is no need for that. She is very independent in her training and makes many decisions herself. In our team, the athlete’s opinion is always taken into account, from a very young age. I don’t think it’s right to impose strict boundaries on her or other children.
Alena Kostornaia: “Shows are fun and cool but the life of an athlete who works for high results is different, in terms of dedication and emotions. And I like it.”