Staunton, April 30 – In a 15,000-word report, Novaya gazeta journalists Yelena Kostyuchenko and Yury Kozyrev report about the tragic circumstances in which some 177,000 Russians are now kept behind bars in psychiatric prisons, places from which few once incarcerated will leave before their deaths.
The two journalists spent two weeks in one of these facilities as the pandemic was lifting. (While it was in full force, the situation in these facilities was truly horrific. They were almost completely closed off from the outside world. Staffs worked two-week long shifts. And many inmates got sick and died (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/04/30/internat).
Many of the stories are typical of mental health institutions around the world where people are warehoused after being abandoned by family members and where their rights are violated because they have no one to appeal to or because any appeal they do make is almost certain to be turned down by higher officials or the courts.
But some of the problems they saw were unique to or at a minimum worse in Russia. According to one doctor, for 1,000 patients, he needs 5,000 staffers but after ongoing optimization, he has 40. As a result, those confined in these places aren’t treated but rather confined, something testified to by the large number who try but fail to escape.
Because pregnancies are not allowed and yet happen, the women involved are first forced to have abortions, medical personnel say; and then the women are sterilized so that they won’t become pregnant again. The journalists also found massive corruption because the officials manipulated the numbers of inmates in different categories to get the most from the state.
Conversations with the patients, the two journalists recount in this moving human document, led them to conclude that “when humanity disappears, only the state is left;” and for those in these institutions, the power vertical consists of the doctors and staff. They have all the power and the patients have none. Some try to help but many aren’t interested in that.
The facility the two journalists visited was an average one, neither among the worst nor among the best, staff and patients agreed. But even it was an indictment of the system, a special circle of hell, in which “every 826th Russian spends his life and ends it there as well.”
Appended to the article is perhaps the most important piece of information of all – a complete list of all such facilities in Russia’s regions and cities (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/04/30/psikhonevrologicheskie-internaty-rossiiskoi-federatsii).