WHO was behind the cold-blooded slaying of Russian couple Yuri Shipulin and Nataliya Gerasimova? Is he, she or they still walking among us? And what could have been the motives behind the brutal dismembering of a couple who friends and family described as the nicest and kindest people?
From the moment the pair — who were high school sweethearts — were reported missing on June 16 to when the first of their remains was discovered on June 29 last year and up until they were laid to rest at the Balawa Cemetery in Lautoka on Thursday, these are the questions that have haunted Yuri’s mother, Valentina, and the couple’s closest associates.
In an exclusive interview with The Fiji Times on Thursday after an emotional farewell ceremony, in her grief Mrs Shipulin made time to point out that she was troubled by the lack of information made available to her.
She said too many questions surrounding her son’s life and his business in Fiji remained unanswered.
“For a start, who were his local business partners and what were the arrangements regarding the property he lived on in Mulomulo, Nadi,” the 73-year-old said.
“I want to know what the police have found out so far.
“As a mother I want peace of mind as to what authorities think may have happened to him and what information they have so far.”
When a team from The Fiji Times visited the farm a few months after the couple’s remains were discovered along Natadola Beach, a group of iTaukei men were farming on their land.
Yesterday, except for a tractor parked in the compound, no one was there.
However, neighbours said a group of iTaukei boys lived on the property.
Close friends and associates have described the couple as warm, generous and kind-hearted.
One of Yuri’s first friends in Fiji, Michael Adams, said he still could not get over why anyone would want the Russian couple dead.
“Yuri sold everything and moved here because he loved Fiji so much. He even said he was coming to Fiji to settle and eventually die here, but he and Nataliya should never have died the way that they did,” said Mr Adams.
“I still can’t understand who would want to do something like that to Yuri because he was the happiest guy ever.
“He was clever, smart and did not have a hint of aggressiveness in him.
“And as for Nataliya, she was a primary schoolteacher and loved kids.
“Even though they did not have any of their own, you can imagine her demeanour and the type of personality she had.
“She was the most beautiful and kindest person I had ever met.
“It’s so sad that they had travelled halfway across the world and found paradise only to have it all taken away like this.”
Mr Adams said he first met Mr Shipulin in 2009 and they “just clicked” while having coffee one day and he ended up staying with him for three months.
“He originally wanted to set up an aviation school and he went around finding out what needed to be done.”
When things did not pan out, Mr Shipulin returned to Russia and came back to Fiji in 2011.
He developed an interest in farming and began looking at land.
His first place of interest was Uciwai.
But upon discovering a chicken farm was going to be established there, he opted to lease a property in Mulomulo, Nadi, instead.
He began farming vegetables and sold produce to resorts and vendors at the Nadi market.
“We hooked up again and used to have barbecues almost every second day,” said Mr Adams.
“I knew he was a good businessman because he owned property in Russia and had an eye for opportunity.
“The only problem Yuri had was that he trusted people too much and he was very generous with his money. People used to ask him for money all the time and he was only too happy to give them a hand.”
Mr Adams said the couple’s love for Fiji and the Fijian people drove them to even learn the language.
They took lessons from a Fijian woman and within a year had learnt enough to hold a conversation with the locals.
He said the hardest thing for family and friends to accept was the manner in which Yuri and Nataliya had died.
“Even though we buried their remains today (Thursday), there is no closure.
“We don’t know who did it or why they had to do such a thing to two wonderful people.
“We all have questions that remain unanswered.”
Stephen and Alla Mallerich, close friends of the couple, said the family needed answers and Yuri’s mother needed closure.
“We are doing our best to provide emotional support to Valentina and I can’t even imagine what she is going through,” Mr Mallerich said.
“We just hope that everyone will be supportive and give her some of the answers she needs.
“We are also at a loss to why someone would want to do them any harm.
“All Yuri and Nataliya ever did was help people.”
Mr Shipulin also moonlighted as a photographer and according to friends and peers, he had a natural eye for capturing amazing pictures.
He used to take wedding shots for Nadi businesswoman Shafia Hassan.
She said that when she met Mr Shipulin on Wednesday June 15 last year, there was nothing unusual about his behaviour.
The couple’s business partner, Andrew Luzanenko, who was one of the last to see them alive, had said at the time that he had no knowledge of where the couple had gone when they got into their metallic grey Toyota Landcruiser registration PILOT at their Mulomulo farm shortly after midday on Thursday, June 16, last year.
The vehicle was found abandoned with the keys still in the ignition on Saturday, June 18, at Natadola Beach.
On Friday June 29, police closed the beach after the discovery of human body parts, which were later declared to be that of the couple after confirmation via DNA tests.
Over the next few days, several body parts — confirmed to be of the couple after DNA tests — washed up on the beach, including dismembered feet weighed down with rocks and wrapped in netting.
The discovery sent shockwaves through the community because of the manner in which the bodies were disposed.
On July 7 last year, Police Commissioner Brigadier General Sitiveni Qiliho issued a statement saying that police would not be making any further comment about Yuri and Nataliya’s deaths.
Brig-Gen Qiliho said the couple’s brutal slaying was one of the most horrific deaths to have occurred in the country.
He called for an end to speculation and said there were no links to gang involvement.
Brig-Gen Qiliho appealed for information and urged anyone who may have seen the couple during their disappearance to come forward.
Questions sent to police on Thursday regarding the status of the case remain unanswered.