A musician from Hampstead has emerged as the unlikely saviour of a 92-year-old Russian woman who got into trouble when her sheep wandered astray during a snowstorm.
The drama started last month, when Petka, one of a flock of sheep belonging to Alexandra Vdovina, was mowed down by a Ford Focus belonging to a local businessman from the Lipetsk region in western Russia. To add insult to injury, the businessman, Oleg Kuznetsov, then brought a lawsuit against the pensioner for damages to the car. Ms Vdovina was ordered to pay nearly £2,000 in costs, more than 10 times her monthly pension. According to Russian law, she was liable for the damage inflicted by the unfortunate sheep, as she had not kept it properly tethered.
The Russian pensioner, who was born when the last tsar was still alive and lives in a simple cottage with no telephone or indoor lavatory, was unable to pay, so bailiffs seized her £200 savings and remaining sheep. She said that she was so upset that she was unable to eat or sleep.
The village of Ilinka has been talking about nothing but the ovine saga for the past two weeks. Did the sheep really belong to the wizened old lady? Was the Ford Focus speeding? Would the remaining sheep be released on bail?
After the story was featured on Russian TV, the woman received several offers of financial help from concerned viewers, including one from the unlikely source of Hampstead. Francis Monkman, a composer and musician who has collaborated with the Shadows and Brian Eno, heard about the story on the English-language TV news channel Russia Today. He was so moved by the pensioner's plight that he offered to cover the costs of the fine.
"I hope you find a nice sheep to replace the other one, and I hope your life becomes happy again," said Mr Monkman in a recorded statement.
"Thank you so much for your help," said Ms Vdovina in a message delivered from her bed to Mr Monkman and Russian viewers who have also helped with financial donations. "May God bless you and give you many years of healthy life".
Her son said he would spend the money on the legal expenses and any left over would go towards a replacement sheep. He promised that he would keep it tethered in future.
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