Tragic leap of Ruslana Korshunova reveals dark underbelly of the new Russia and its 'lost girls,' author claims

In 2008, 20-year-old supermodel Ruslana Korshunova leapt off a Manhattan rooftop to her death. Now, six years later, journalist Peter Pomerantsev's 'Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible' digs into the dangerous, cult-like elitism among Russia's post-Soviet oligarchs and a new class of exploited 'lost girls' like the beauty with Rapunzel hair

New York Daily News/November 16, 2014

By Sherryl Connelly

When supermodel Ruslana Korshunova took a running leap from a lower Manhattan building on a searing-hot day in 2008, she landed with a thud that caused a nearby city worker to turn and look.

There it was. Her 20-year-old body crushed in the middle of the street. The rumors started circulating immediately. She was murdered. She was a drug addict. She was a prostitute.

The truth that veteran journalist Peter Pomerantsev reveals in a new book, “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible,” is that the young woman with the Rapunzel-like hair was a victim of the new Russia.

The territory of the former Soviet Union is vast and trolled by modeling scouts looking to pick off girls with that runway look. There, they find “great wells of beauty, raw girl crude to be pumped and refined.”

The author refers to them as the “the lost girls,” some of whom grew up in flats with no running water and are looking at a future just as barren.

It’s also a landscape dotted with bizarre and menacing sects. When the oligarchs no longer desired Korshunova as a plaything just as her career stalled, she found a cult, the “Rose of the World,” that promised to open a door on a new life.

Instead, she died.

 Korshunova was not a typical hardscrabble prospect. After the breakup of the USSR, her former Red Army father made a fortune in private business. At 16, she was living a good life in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and had plans to go to college.

She also had waist-length hair and wolf-blue eyes with a slight defect that caused them to always glisten — which made her scout bait. Soon, she was on her way to London, Paris and Milan.

A friend of hers from the time, another neophyte model, recalls: “In Paris and Milan there’d be these dinners, rich men would pay to come, we could join in for free. Ruslana and I would go. It would be our only chance to eat.”

Many of the girls go wild, but Ruslana’s friend insists, “The men could tell we were not like THAT. We were dunces, the ones who went to bed early.”

Then, suddenly, Ruslana was a superstar and things changed. The 18-year-old was the face and flowing locks of a Nina Ricci campaign. In the commercial, she floated through a fairy tale setting in a pink ball gown, reaching for an apple-shaped perfume bottle that tauntingly remained beyond her grasp.

In real life, Korshunova got the prize. Powerfully rich men desired her. Pomerantsev writes that one even flew her to his private Caribbean island.

 In Moscow, the new class of oligarchs toasted her in the VIP lounges of exclusive clubs. She fell in love with “Alexander,” one of the handsomest of the tycoons.

Another Moscow model described him to Pomerantsev.

“He’s not that young, but he’s gorgeous. Girls drop at his feet. He’s been with so many of my friends. All of them perfect.”

Korshunova, who maintained a certain childish innocence, told friends that Alexander wanted to marry her. She brought him home to mama, and soon they were living together.

When he dumped her, she nearly lost her mind. There was a dramatic weight loss. Sleepless, she texted him day and night. She tasted even more of life’s cruelty as her professional bookings dried up at the same time. A model’s career ends when the phone stops ringing.

Says her friend: “Suddenly she was one of a thousand girls. A no one.”

 Back in New York, she fell in with a Russian luxury car dealer in the last months of her life. Again, it was true love, at least for Korshunova. But the Russian was famous for test-driving every model that crossed his path and moving on fast.

According to a Vlada Ruslakova, a haute runway model prized for her doll-like features, Korshunova had spent much of that last year in Moscow before returning to the city. The two were close friends and had a long evening out the night before Korshunova killed herself.

The author was granted such unusual access to Korshunova’s friends and family because her mother, Valentina, trusted him. She even granted permission for him to conduct a second round of toxicology tests and another autopsy.

The toxicology tests indicated there was no heavy drug use in the months prior to her death. Nor had she been drugged. The autopsy determined she was alive when she plunged from a building at the corner of Water and Wall Sts. in the Financial District. Those facts diminished the prospect that she was murdered.

Still, her friends and family refused to believe she committed suicide. She seemed so stable at the time.

In 2009, another Russian model — a close friend of Korshunova — leaped to her death in Kiev, Ukraine. In conversations with Anastasia Drozdova’s mother, Pomerantsev learned that both models had become followers of the Rose of the World, after their careers began to fade.

 Together, Korshunova and Drozdova, young and washed up, tried to find a life that would sustain them. Tragically, they turned to a bizarre and brutal cult for salvation.

“The Rose” has its antecedents in a discipline known as Lifespring that in 1980 went bankrupt in the United States after a number of former adherents filed lawsuits claiming mental damage. It has appeared in new forms under different names since.

Pomerantsev himself joined the Rose and endured a series of dehumanizing training sessions in which life coaches harangued and humiliated the trainees while excoriating each for their life’s woes. For instance, the blame for a rape was placed on a victim who was stridently accused of self-pity.

The author says he experienced the surreal highs and the intense bonding that are the psychological watermarks of cult seduction. Pomerantsev writes that he was in the room when a life coach talked about Korshunova’s death.

“Ruslana was (a) typical victim,” he announced.

When a student asked him if he didn’t feel bad that a student of his had died, he callously responded: “Sometimes it’s better to commit suicide than not to change.”

 The problem for many cult adherents is the sweeping emptiness once they “graduate” and go back into their lives expecting that things will not only be different, but so much better.

Korshunova returned to New York and followed the same old pattern. She allowed a rich man to convince her they had a future together. Then the car dealer dumped her.

On the day she died, June 28, she called a senior member of the Rose identified only as Volodya. It may have been in the hour before her death. Korshunova wanted to chat, but was told to ring back later. Volodya, who’d had a brief affair with her during training, was in a bar and busy.

There was construction netting over the balcony of Korshunova’s building on Water St. The police found a slit small enough for her to get through, but a glance down reveals that the jutting architecture would have stopped her fall long before she reached the pavement.

So she went next-door to an office building under construction at the intersection of Water and Wall Sts. While the police report doesn’t indicate what floor she leaped from, she landed almost 28 feet from the building — a long reach.

The distance suggests that Korshunova had to have started some distance back and run fast to take such an astonishingly ferocious leap to her death. In three days she would have turned 21, already having amassed a seemingly unendurable past.

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