Punitive Psychiatry in Ukraine: A Shocking Exhibition Was Opened in Kiev

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



The use of psychiatry when harshly punishing competitors, human rights violations in relation to orphans, murders, assaults, and overdoses of neuroleptics – these are the dazzling examples of what is in the photo exhibition [called “Psychiatry: industry of death” – ed] that was opened on September 5th in the capital of Ukraine. The organisers collected shocking treatment methods used in Ukrainian and foreign psychoneurological clinics and described how behind the closed doors of mental hospitals the fates of those who on paper “went crazy”, while in reality being a mentally healthy person, are being decided.

Assaults, intimidation, torture, being tied to beds, the use of electric current in the so-called treatment of patients – all of this is the everyday life of modern psychiatry. “A pre-trial detention center and a prison are simply holiday resorts in comparison with Ukrainian psychiatric hospitals. In prison I had a shower, a clean bed sheet every week, daily walks, and my own clothes. In the mental hospital that I was sent to for examination and forced treatment, I was allowed an ice shower for eight minutes, I received clothes from humanitarian aid, and fresh air in general wasn’t a given,” said Anatoly Rudenko.

Before landing in prison for imaginary tax avoidance, and later – also a psychiatric hospital, he had his own factories, successful business, and millions in income. Over 7 years he was obliged to prove his own capacity, and he was one of the few who succeeded to reach the European Court of Human Rights and to even receive compensation. His fight came to an end with a victory, although it will be extremely difficult to restore his health, killed by the compulsory application of neuroleptics.

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There are thousands of stories like Anatoly’s in Ukrainian clinics, however the system of judicial psychiatry is so closed that even lawyers sometimes have no access to their clients. This is what happened in the capital’s Pavlov hospital, where on August 6th, after long forced treatment, the patient Marina Dovgaya died. Over a week she was illegally held in Pavlov’s hospital, despite the fact that there wasn’t either consent to treatment or a ruling concerning her case.

“She was injected with psychotropic substances, which as a result led to the death of my client,” said the late Marina’s lawyer Vladimir Vinnik. According to him, he can’t still prove in court that the rights of the woman – who had a 13-year-old daughter – had been violated.

Similar cases are estimated to be in the hundreds. According to the organiser of the exhibition Anastasia Vilinskaya, human rights activists receive appeals from victims in Ukrainian mental hospitals daily.

For example, in 2016 the Sumy regional prosecutor’s office established that the bodies of 7 patients of a local psychiatric clinic had been illegally buried. In the indictment on this case it appeared that the chief doctor treated patients like they were defective members of society. More than 450 people were obliged to suffer from cold. And the death of 7 of them occurred because the temperature regulations in the hospital were violated. In 4 years, from 2013 to 2017, 93 legal proceedings were intiated in relation to the illegal placement of Ukrainian citizens in psycho-neurological departments. None of the persons involved in these affairs have yet been brought to trial.

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The organisers of the exhibition say that punitive psychiatry in Ukraine is a profitable business. After all, the clinic receives 75% of the pensions of every patient. Patients are supposed to receive the other 25% directly in their hands, however this money doesn’t reach them. Hunger, insanitary conditions, and violence – which are hidden away from foreign eyes –  reign in departments. After all, even law enforcement bodies, lawyers, and the controlling services of the Ministry of Healthcare often can’t see an objective picture of what is going on behind the walls of mental hospitals.

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