Outrage as autistic sister of Russian supermodel and activist Natalia Vodianova kicked out of cafe

Top-model and philanthropist Natalya Vodianova © Vladimir Astapkovich
A public outcry has been raised after Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova’s autistic younger sister was kicked out of a cafe in Nizhny Novgorod. The manager, who ordered her out to avoid “scaring off customers,” now faces criminal charges.

According to a Facebook post by Natalia Vodianova on Wednesday, her 27-year-old sister, Oksana Vodianova, who suffers from Kanner’s syndrome and cerebral palsy, entered the cafe in her hometown of Nizhny Novgorod with her nurse.

Instead of a hot chocolate, ordered by the nurse for Oksana, the cafe’s manager came out and demanded that Oksana leave immediately. “Get out, will you,” Natalia Vodianova reported the manager as saying. “You’re scaring off all our customers. Go and get some treatment, cure your child. And then come to a public place.”

The nurse tried to explain that Oksana is a person with special needs, that she just needed to sit awhile and would quietly leave, but the manager called security to force the two women to leave. A security guard threatened to “call the nuthouse, call an ambulance” and even to lock them in the cellar.

According to Natalia Vodianova’s Facebook account, there was only one other customer in the cafe at the time, and he asked that the two women be left in peace.

Дорогие,Ситуация, которая вчера произошла с моей родной сестрой Оксаной, не единичный случай, к сожалению, это та реал...

Posted by Наталья Водянова on Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The nurse refused to give up, however, and called Oksana’s mother, Larisa Vodianova, who was at work. Upon her arrival, Larisa confronted the manager verbally, shaming him for threatening a quiet young woman with special needs, but was told that police would be called if they did not leave. Larisa led the daughter and the nurse out, but the story did not end there – armed police in the street detained the women for what they were told was “minor hooliganism.”

Vodianova’s mother eventually had to go to the city’s central police station, where she filed a complaint against the cafe’s manager over the public insult and discrimination.

Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, said Thursday that investigators have opened a criminal case on charges of public violation of human dignity with threats of violence. Markin condemned the behavior of the cafe staff, noting that both the manager and the security guard would be investigated.

Earlier, local police told Interfax that both sides in the incident filed complaints against each another and that all the witnesses have been questioned.

Natalia Vodianova questioned why her mother had to go to the police station, when she said the manager should have been taken there in the first place. The supermodel, who is a prominent campaigner for children’s charities and a well-known philanthropist, called the situation “a signal to society that should be heard,” urging everyone to help children with special needs and their families feel welcome and cared for, not the opposite.

Natalia Vodianova’s Facebook plea also asked for help for the rehabilitation specialists and those who take care of the disabled in Russia, as well as to the NGOs that contribute to a “more inclusive society.”

The supermodel’s FB post caused a social media frenzy, being reposted and commented on tens of thousands of times. It also grabbed the attention of leading politicians and public figures.

Elena Klochko, the co-head of the Public Chamber’s Disabled Coordination Council, has called for justice for Oksana’s rights, saying that this could help change public attitudes toward the disabled and people with special needs.

“In many countries, all the positive changes in the public attitude towards the disabled originated from lawsuits filed by the disabled themselves… as they fought for their rights, fought against the discriminatory attitude toward them,” RIA Novosti reported Klochko as saying. She added that “such horrible ignorance stems from unfamiliarity with the problems of the disabled.”

“In Moscow, both in airports and in the metro, there are special services helping the disabled so the situation changes, but this is only the beginning,” she added.

The press service of the Charity Foundation “The Way Out” called the Nizhny Novgorod incident “an absolutely shocking, bizarre but also, unfortunately, quite typical situation” adding that “the foundation, like many other NGOs, is working to change the situation, but it will require years of work.”

Olga Epifanova, the deputy chair of the State Duma’s Family, Women and Children Committee, called the situation “unacceptable.”

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“I would like to ask the owners of various outlets to brief their staff about equality of rights, which do not depend on appearance, or someone’s state of health,” RIA Novosti quoted her as saying.

“Creating a barrier-free environment should include not only making the physical environment friendlier for the disabled, but also forming a decent public attitude towards them,” Epifanova added.

Natalia Vodianova is famous throughout Russia as a supermodel who achieved global stardom, while coming from an extremely humble background. As a child, she sold fruit in on a street stall in Nizhny Novgorod’s poorest district, and later went on to work for Calvin Klein for eight seasons and coming third on Forbes’ top-earning models list. In Russia, she is also well-known for her charitable activities. Natalia Vodianova’s charity, the Naked Heart Foundation, was founded by the model in 2004. It has since provided children’s playgrounds in dozens of Russian cities and supported children with special needs across the country. In Nizhny Novgorod alone, there are 20 children’s facilities and organizations funded by the charity, according to its website