Today, we are witnessing the largest military conflict in Europe in 80 years unleashed by the Putin regime in Ukraine. Tens of thousands have died in Ukraine and millions of internally displaced Ukrainians have sought refuge in European countries. But not all Ukrainians manage to start a new safe life in a calm and peaceful Europe.
The guest of our interview Halyna Shabshai is a Ukrainian psychologist, who together with her husband Iyefym Shabshai in 2022, became a victim of information attack of Russian religious extremists and followers of Alexander Dvorkin in the heart of Europe. This situation came to light through a report by Christne Mirr and from the French human rights organization Coordination des Associations et des Particulares pour la Liberte de Conscience at the Human Rights Council, March 17, 2023.
According to a report by Christne Mirr, a representative of the human rights organization, in 2016, Ukrainian psychologists Iyefym and Halyna Shabshai began to expose the destructive activities of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine. In response to their statements, followers of Alexander Dvorkin launched an information attack on Ukrainian psychologists and actively promoted the thesis that Shabshai Technology is a destructive sect.
In 2016, the Shabshai family was able to defend themselves, their honor and dignity, but in 2022 in Europe, they were attacked again by followers of Alexander Dvorkin using partisan online methods. Alexander Dvorkin is not only an ideologue of religious extremism in Russia, but also a longtime vice president of FECRIS, an organization founded by the French government.
In this interview, we will talk with Halyna Shabshai about what happened in 2016 and 2022, how Russian religious extremists are attacking Ukrainian businessmen in Europe, and what can be done to combat religious extremism in Europe in 2022.
Halyna, tell us, when did you first encounter such a phenomenon as religious extremism?
We first encountered religious extremism in 2003. In Svetogorsk, we organized a festival of master classes in psychology, art therapy, and various kinds of body therapy. We invited the best experts from Ukraine and other countries to share their experience and knowledge with everyone who was interested. But not everyone was happy about this development. The Russian Orthodox Church considered the festival to be propaganda of sectarian teachings and began actively pressuring us to cancel the event. The first attacks began long before the festival even began. We were receiving threats and phone calls demanding that we cancel the event. Articles in the newspapers began to appear calling us sectarians. Rumors were circulating about us that rituals were being held at the festival that contradicted Christan beliefs, and that festivalgoers might be exposed to sectarian propaganda.
We were shocked by this attack on us and the festival. At that time, we did not yet know that the Russian Orthodox Church had its own special department that deals with all kinds of discrediting of those who do not conform to their ideas about the true faith. We tried to explain that the festival is intended to help people who are interested in self-development, but our words were ignored.
The ROC used all sorts of ways to shut down our festival. Their apologetics center was in full force. They even appealed to the city authorities to cancel the event and arranged for newspapers to write negative articles about us the festival. But we didn’t give up and continued to fight for our right to hold the festival. We contacted Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper at the time, where we explained the goals and objectives of the festival and refuted all the accusations of the ROC. In the end, we managed to defend our name and successfully hold the festival.
Is organizing psychology festivals a business that you do in Ukraine?
Not really, in 2003 I was one of the founders of the Cultural and Educational Center “Art Life Creativity”, or as we called it “IZhT”. In the center we were developing methods in psychology, psychotherapy and theater. Psychology was our area of interest. My first full- fledged business, my husband Iefym Shabshai and I opened it in Donetsk in 2009. A business directly related to psychology began when I created and patented the system of personal effectiveness coefficient development “Shabshai System” in 2013. Until 2014 we conducted our activities exclusively in Donetsk. In 2014, when the Russian army invaded Ukraine. Specifically, in the Donetsk region, we were forced to move from Donetsk to Kyiv. We took our child with us, one suitcase with belongings, and left to escape the Russian troops, leaving both the business and all the property in Donetsk.
We opened a new company in Kiev. Our main business is based on psychotherapy. We help people discover their potential, help them cope with problems, and improve their quality of life. In our practice, we use various methods of group and personal therapy. We were constantly engaged in volunteer work, helping participants of the ATO to return to normal life, helping the military to cope with post-traumatic syndrome.
Could you tell us how you encountered religious extremists in 2016?
It all started in 2015, when my husband began to expose the actvities of the ROC during group therapy. We saw with our own eyes how the ROC was brainwashing and making money of parishioners without giving them any benefit. They simply recruited people who became their agents, that is, we told people the truth about the ROC. About how under the guise of clergy are working undercover agents of the FSB, how they collect money and conduct destructive activities in our country.
Naturally our words and speeches did not please the representatives of the ROC, and soon we were faced with an unprecedented attack on our reputation and Business. Someone sought out our detractors and people who were jealous of us in order to persuade them to harm us. And since our school and our methods were very popular and our meetings were attended by hundreds of people, it was not difficult to find someone who did not like something about us. It later became clear to us that it was none other than Dvorkin who organized the attack on us.
They colluded with our video operator, who had been with us for several years. She had borrowed money from us to buy a car, and when the time came to repay it, she called us and began blackmailing us by saying that she had collected a lot of various material from our group meetings and theatrical productions over the years, which she could easily edit into defamatory material and publish in the media. She suggested that we forget about the debt. We didn’t go along with the blackmail, and we naturally turned her down. But we did not know then that she had already been recruited, and whatever we responded to, the video would still be posted in the media, because the intruders’ goal was to deprive us of our business, our clients and our voice.
As a result, a video of our activities over several years was edited. So, a video appeared in which my husband was presented as the leader of a sectarian movement. The accusations of sectarianism were started. In the video there were false facts, such as that criminal cases were opened against me and my husband and our business, there were even accusations of having sexual relations with students and other terrible things. We were even accused of conducting sectarian activities under the guise of helping in the ATO.
How were you able to resolve this unpleasant issue?
After the video was released, we naturally filed a lawsuit for defamation and protection of honor and dignity. We sued the TV channel where it was posted and the people who starred in the video for spreading knowingly false information.
Unfortunately, the court took a very long time to consider this case and the consideration was postponed several times. Only in 2019, we managed to get through to the management of the channel and prove that the TV channel was simply taken advantage of. As a result of our negotiations, the video was removed from the channel. For a while, after that the activity of our detractors decreased. But after a while, the video started to be sent to our clients with whom we cooperated. The first big victim was my client from Kazakhstan in 2019. It was one of the largest businesses that I consulted with. The client broke the contract with me after a few months of work.
In 2020 there was a massive attack on all of our clients under the same scenario. Three families in Ukraine refused to cooperate and we had to refund money in the middle of the program. Then we lost most of our clients. In 2021, the attackers’ activity decreased, and our business picked up again.
How did the attack on your business happen in 2022?
In 2022, after a full-scale invasion by Russia, we had to leave the business again, but this time in Ukraine, and relocate to Europe. Throughout 2022, we were actively developing our business in Germany, Spain and other European countries, but at the end of the year the situation was repeated again. The first messages of accusations began to appear after we announced several online events. These were events attended by our partners and clients, and after their names were made public, the speakers started to receive similar messages as years before, with the same video, and the same messages from anonymous people. Some of the speakers were forced to withdraw from participating together.
In Germany, two of our potential partners with whom we cooperated in 2022 received the same messages and had to give up developing projects, fearing for their reputations.
As a result of attacks by religious extremists, we incurred total losses of hundreds of thousands of euros. We do not know how to stop the activities of Dvorkin and his religious extremists. We are ready to continue developing our legitimate business, but we are sitting on a gun powder barrel, not knowing the next time our partners will receive such reports from fakes and how to explain to them that these are fabricated materials.
So, we turned to a French human rights organization in the hope that we could find protection and support in Europe and protect our good name.
On March 17, 2023, Christne Mirr, representative of the Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberte de Conscience, at the end of her report on the Shabshai family case to the Council of Europe for Human Rights, initiated sanctions against Alexander Dvorkin and his affiliated organizaton FECRIS, founded with the participation of the French government.