Hero`s welcome for Russian victim turned murderer

Vitaly Kaloyev, whose fate aroused widespread sympathy in Russia, has had an emotional homecoming at Domodedovo airport, being greeted by relatives, friends and the media. He was released early after murdering Peter Nielsen, who he blamed for the death of

51-year-old Kaloyev smiled with emotion as he spoke to the media at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport. He said he's grateful to Russians for their support.

“When I was in prison I did not feel like I was outside my homeland…I want to express my deep gratitude to all Russian people… to the Russian government, the President and the Russian Embassy in Switzerland,” Kaloyev said.

His brother Yury Kaloyev was one of the first people to greet him. He said it was hard for him to describe his feelings at the moment he embraced his brother again.

“I’m glad that he’s back in his homeland. This is the greatest happiness for our family. All the relatives and friends, and all our countrymen, are very happy”, Yury Kaloyev said.

Now that he is back in his homeland, The North Ossetian has a chance to rebuild his life. 

But his actions are likely to continue to polarise public opinion. Was he just a calculating murderer, freed from prison far too quickly? Or was he as much a victim as the man he killed?

Revenge tragedy

Kaloyev has been in a Swiss prison since 2004, convicted of killing Peter Nielsen, an employee of air-traffic control company Skyguide, who he felt was responsible for the death of his wife and their two young children.

Monument on the grave of Kaloyev's family
Monument on the grave of Kaloyev's family

On 1 July 2002 a Russian passenger plane collided with a DHL cargo plane over southern Germany, killing 71 people, including 49 children.

Peter Nielsen was the only air traffic controller on duty at the time of the accident. Kaloyev tracked him down to his home in Switzerland, where he stabbed him to death.

Public opinion

The case attracted widespread sympathy in Russia. Kaloyev was known to have been almost mad with grief after losing his family. 

Earlier this year his lawyer managed to convince Swiss courts he had acted under diminished responsibility.  His prison term was reduced on appeal to five and a quarter years. 

But last Thursday he was freed. Switzerland’s highest court said he had served two thirds of his sentence with good behaviour and was no longer a danger to society. 

The ruling came just months after four Skyguide employees were finally found guilty of negligence and manslaughter.

It was originally reported that Kaloyev would be heading straight to his North Ossetia home.  But he told reporters at the airport he'd be spending some time in Moscow with his brother.

He was issued with special travel documents in Switzerland that allowed him to leave the country without a passport.