She grew up in a “difficult home,” as she put it. Her parents met while they were art students in Odessa, Ukraine. When Kravchenko was 3 and her sister was 5, they lost both their grandfather and father in a murder in a few short months. According to Kravchenko, their grandfather, a high-ranking commander in the Soviet army, was temperamental, belligerent and possibly mentally ill. He was killed when his assailant strangled him and set fire to his house. Ola’s mother, Tanya, was suspected of arson and spent nearly a year in Soviet custody. (According to Tanya, his body was exhumed and new evidence cleared her of the murder.) Soon after, Ola’s father’s body was found hanging from a tree in the forest. He was an impoverished artist in St. Petersburg, “extraordinarily talented” and “oversensitive” according to Tanya. No one knows how he died, although his friends later told her that they saw two men chasing him into the woods. Ola’s family moved in with Tanya’s mother. Four years later they immigrated to Israel, settling in Katzrin.
Kravchenko was difficult to fit in. She worked to get rid of her accent and avoided the children of other immigrants from Russia or Ukraine, who make up about a third of Katzrin’s population. She often left the classroom, disappearing into nature. The school repeatedly called her mother to find her. She clearly remembers the first time she heard voices. She was 17 years old and was driving home with her mother. “She started saying all these unpleasant things about me: that she didn’t want to take me home, that she was tired of taking care of me, that I find fault all the time.” But when Kravchenko looked at her mother, “her 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, they were always nasty,” she said. “They were indistinguishable from real voices.”
Around the same time, Kravchenko’s mother suggested that she try meditation, and she began attending classes with a charismatic Chilean-born guru named David Har-Zion. Kravchenko fell under his spell. A few months later, she moved in with a group of his followers. She slept on a yoga mat with dozens of people in a large hall. Members were forbidden to enter into relations with the outside world and were required to hand over their personal property to the group. According to her, she lived in “virtual slavery” for three years. Later, Khar-Zion fled the country, and Kravchenko suddenly found herself without a berth and alone. “I didn’t have any life skills,” she said.
When she was 20, she met Habani on the streets of Tel Aviv. She collected donations for Har-Zion’s group at the local market, and he helped his father run a clothing stand there. They began to take long walks on the beach together, smoke marijuana and talk about their past. He was 19 years old, well-read and self-confident, and he impressed her with his knowledge of Hebrew literature. He confessed to her that at the age of 17 he was placed in a psychiatric hospital outside of Tel Aviv. (The court later said it was due to a behavioral disorder.) Instead of alarming her, it “only brought me closer,” she told me. Six months later, she moved in with him. “I was completely his,” she said.
There were warning signs, but Kravchenko chose to ignore them. “The sex was brutal, but I was drawn to it.” By 2005, Kravchenko felt increasingly isolated. Returning home from work one evening, she spoke to a group of young people who frequented the square. She was offered vodka. The next thing she remembers, she woke up naked in her apartment, her body was in pain, and Habani was yelling at her: “What is this? What did you do?” Kravchenko doesn’t know the man who raped her and remembers little about that evening – “I’m having flashes of this guy,” she told me, “but when Khabani saw her, he kicked her in the head and stomach , dragged her into the bath and urinated on her. Khabani later told investigators that he “pissed on her” because he “enjoyed it.” did you urinate on her?” Khabani told him, “This is my own business, not yours.”
After that night, according to Kravchenko, Khabani became obsessed with her whereabouts. He wouldn’t let her socialize or go anywhere other than work without him. “I didn’t realize that I was being insulted,” she told me. “I still wanted to marry him, have children with him.” In 2006, they ran out of money to pay rent and had to move in with Kravchenko’s mother in Katzrin. Tanya was worried about how Khabani treated Kravchenko and tried to warn her daughter. But by that time, Kravchenko had lost her self-esteem. In an album from the time, she drew a female warrior with a sword thrust into her genitals. “I even bought myself a dog collar,” she said.