She grew up in a “difficult home”, as she put it. Her parents met when they were art students in Odessa, Ukraine. When Kravchenko was 3 and his sister 5, they lost their grandfather and father murdered within months. Their grandfather, a high-ranking commander in the Soviet army, was temperamental and belligerent and possibly mentally ill, Kravchenko said. He was killed when an assailant strangled him and set his house on fire. Ola’s mother, Tania, was suspected of arson and spent almost a year in Soviet custody. (According to Tania, her body was exhumed and new evidence cleared her of the murder.) Shortly after, the body of Ola’s father was found hanging from a tree in a forest. He had been a penniless artist in St. Petersburg, “extraordinarily talented” and “hypersensitive”, according to Tania. No one knows how he died, although his friends later told him they saw two men chasing him through the woods. Ola’s family moved in with Tania’s mother. Four years later, they immigrated to Israel, settling in Katzrin.
Kravchenko struggled to fit in. She tried hard to get rid of her accent and avoided the children of other Russian or Ukrainian immigrants, who make up about a third of Katzrin’s population. She often wandered out of class, disappearing into the wild. The school repeatedly called her mother to pick her up. She distinctly remembers the first time she heard voices. She was 17 and driving home with her mother. “She started saying all these nasty things about me: that she didn’t want to take me home, that she was tired of taking care of me, that I was always nagging.” But when Kravchenko looked at his mother, “his mouth didn’t move.” Soon the voices became numerous and frequent, disguised as the voices of people Kravchenko knew well. “They were always critical of me, always mean,” she said. “There was no way to distinguish them from the real voices.”
Around the same time, Kravchenko’s mother suggested that she try meditation, and she began taking classes led by a charismatic Chilean-born guru named David Har-Zion. Kravchenko fell under his spell. After several months, she moved in with a group of her followers. She slept on a yoga mat with dozens of people in a large room. Members were forbidden to form relationships with the outside world and they were required to turn over their personal property to the group. For three years she lived in “virtual slavery”, she said. Har-Zion then fled the country, and Kravchenko suddenly found herself alone and unmoored. “I had no life skills,” she said.
At 20, she met Habany in the streets of Tel-Aviv. She was collecting donations for Har-Zion’s group at a local market, and he helped her father run a clothing stand there. They started taking long walks together on the beach, smoking marijuana and talking about their past. He was 19 years old, bookish and obstinate, and he impressed her with his knowledge of Hebrew literature. He told her that when he was 17, he was committed to a mental institution outside Tel Aviv. (The court later ruled it was conduct disorder.) Rather than alarm her, it “only brought me closer,” she told me. Six months later, she moved in with him. “I was totally his,” she said.
There had been warning signs, but Kravchenko chose to ignore them. “The sex was violent, but I was attracted to it.” In 2005, Kravchenko felt increasingly isolated. One evening, on her way home from work, she started chatting with a group of young people who were frequenting a public square. They offered him vodka. The next thing she remembers is waking up naked in her apartment, her body aching, Habany yelling at her, “What is that? What did you do?” Kravchenko doesn’t know the person who raped her or remember much about that evening – “I have flashes of the guy,” she told me – but when Habany saw her, he kicked her in the head and stomach, dragged her into the tub and urinated on it. Habany later told investigators that he “peed on it”, because he “wanted to”. An investigator pierced this: “Your partner, your lover… was raped according to you by another man, and you pissed on it?” Habany told him: “It’s my personal business, not yours.
After that night, Kravchenko said, Habany became obsessed with her whereabouts. He didn’t allow her to socialize or go out without him anywhere other than work. “I didn’t realize I was being abused,” she told me. “I always wanted to marry him, have children with him.” In 2006, they ran out of money to pay their rent and had to move in with Kravchenko’s mother in Katzrin. Tania was worried about the way Habany treated Kravchenko and tried to warn her daughter. But by then Kravchenko had lost his sense of self. In a sketchbook from that time, she drew a female warrior with a sword entering her private parts. “I even bought myself a dog collar,” she said.