[Reporter: Chris Brown] ♪ ♪ [Reporter] After all that Margarita Gracheva has endured it’s incredible she can smile or laugh at all. [Reporter] Margarita has written a book about how she ended up like this. Its distressing title is Happy without Hands [Reporter] She calls what happened to her “tragic” but really, it’s barbaric. On December 11, 2017, in a jealous rage her ex-husband chopped off both of her hands. [Reporter] She and her husband Dmitry had been married five years and had two little boys. Their life was happy at first .but he became increasingly suspicious that she was having an affair. This is him testifying in court. [Reporter] Margarita eventually told him his irrational behaviour was unacceptable. She wanted a divorce. He was furious. But that December morning, she had to ask him for a ride to get the kids to daycare. She couldn’t have imagined the sick plan he had come up with. He had previously scouted out a wooded area. And purchased an axe. He tied her up and attacked her, delivering 40 blows. First slicing up her leg and then severing and pulverizing both her hands leaving them in the snow. [Reporter] One hand was too damaged to be saved. The other took three operations to re-attach. Dmitry was sentenced to 14 years in jail but he could be out in as soon as six. Human Rights Watch claims there’s abuse in one in four Russian families. Advocates are trying to pass a new law to protect women but they’re facing incredible resistance in this deeply conservative country. Lawyer Alena Popova is one of Russia’s best-known women’s advocates There is not any legal definition about what is domestic violence. There is not any restraining order. So you can’t have a restraining order if you are victim of domestic violence. [Reporter] Popova has tried repeatedly to get Russia’s parliament to pass a tougher law but instead, legislators have done the opposite. Just weeks before the attack on Margarita, Russia decriminalized spousal assault. So it’s awful. It’s a catastrophe for anyone involved in this special topic of domestic violence. They call it traditional values. Like, it’s not violence, it’s our traditional value. It’s our authority inside our family. It means if I beat my kids, it’s just my authority as a parent. [Reporter] Conservative church groups have been the biggest obstacle to tougher domestic violence laws. [Choir sings] [Reporter] We visited Moscow’s Church of the Saviour Cathedral one night where some opponents were speaking out in the fiercest possible way. [Reporter] Many at the event equated punishing spousal assault with other “negative” western ideas Ultra-conservative leader Andre Kormulkhin compared it to gay rights or same-sex marriage. Saying they’re anti-Russian. [Reporter] Like a mindset out of another century Natalya Reutova told us when a man hits a woman, the woman likely deserves it. [Reporter] It’s tempting to think only a few crazies could really think this way. [TV host speaking Russian] [Reporter] Except that when Margarita Gracheva went on this mainstream Russian TV talk show some of the questions she faced demonstrated how victim-blaming is pretty standard here. [Reporter translating Russian host]
“Was there something you could have done that would have prevented this tragedy?” Asked the host. [Speaking Russian] [Reporter] A defence lawyer pressed her: “Maybe there was something behind this?” “Maybe you did have some kind of relationship with another man?” Gracheva told us such comments infuriate her but she stays focused on what matters now [Women speaking Russian] [Reporter] Such as figuring out her new German-made hand. ♪ ♪ [Reporter] Still only 27, she says she dreams of being in a happy relationship again. A friend who is a professional photographer did this glamorous photoshoot with her to help build her confidence. [Reporter] Her resilience is remarkable. But her fear persists. That when her husband gets out of jail and tries to get back in her life Russia still won’t have laws in place in place to protect her. Chris Brown, CBC News, St Petersburg.