8.7 The fate of dissenters declared mentally ill

Issue 8 : 30 June 1969

In the course of July three court hearings [see 9.3] are expected which will involve the ordering of compulsory measures of a medical nature.

A panel of forensic psychiatry experts from the Serbsky Institute in Moscow has pronounced Victor Kuznetsov, whose arrest the Chronicle [see 7.3] has already reported, insane. Kuznetsov was charged under article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code, and the inquiry into his case is being conducted by KGB organs. The panel of experts was headed by Professor D. R. Lunts, who is known to have headed the “politicals” department of the Serbsky Institute as early as the beginning of the fifties.

This department is now called the “special diagnosis department”, and Lunts has retained his post as director of all diagnoses connected with political cases. He was the expert who, in 1963, declared Vladimir Bukovsky insane and, in 1967, sane. He once also declared Alexei Dobrovolsky insane, but in 1967 Dobrovolsky, the only person whose testimony was used to build a case against Yury Galanskov, was pronounced psychologically normal (the charges against Alexander Ginzburg were not supported even by Dobrovolsky’s testimony). Under the direction of this same Professor Lunts, P. G. Grigorenko was declared insane.  It was Lunts, too, who was the expert who “established” the insanity of Natalya Gorbanevskaya and Victor Fainberg, participants in the demonstration of 25 August. It is difficult to point to a single one of these cases in which the results of the diagnosis could be said to be justified on scientific and medical grounds. Experience makes it clear that each decision is taken at the KGB level, and Professor Lunts only has to wrap it up in the form of a medical conclusion.

In Riga Ivan Yakhimovich and Ilya Rips – who tried to burn himself to death – have been declared insane.

The Chronicle has so far given only scanty and, in some respects, inaccurate information on Rips [see Chronicle 7.13, item 1]. Ilya Rips is 20, and will not be 21until December 1969. Before his fifteenth birthday he was one of the winners of the International School-children’s Mathematics Olympiad, and while still sixteen he finished school and became a student of the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics at Riga University. For the whole of his studies he was a holder of a Lenin scholarship, and was the pride of the University. His diploma thesis, according to his teachers, could have served, as it stood, as the basis of a higher Doctoral dissertation. On 10 April he was assigned to a very good post in the Physics Institute of the Latvian Academy, of Sciences. On 13 April he went and stood on Freedom Square with a placard saying I PROTEST AGAINST THE OCCUPATION OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA, and set fire to his clothes, which he had previously soaked in petrol. Some sailors who happened to be passing quickly put out the flames, but gave the young man a vicious beating. Fortunately his burns were only slight. Rips’ university friends came to the hospital where he had been taken and offered themselves as blood donors. According to unconfirmed rumours, repressive measures were taken by the University against these students.

A charge was brought against Ilya Rips under Article 65 of the Latvian SSR Criminal Code (the equivalent of  Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code). It is extremely difficult to classify Rips’ actions under any article whatsoever of the Criminal Code. That is probably why the article on “anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation” was chosen: in the first place, its formulation is the most vaguely-worded, and in the second place, it ensures the minimum publicity – for a start, it requires a defence lawyer with a security pass. Apart from the fact that he attempted to burn himself to death, Ilya Rips is not accused of anything. On the contrary the inquiry itself established that Rips’ sole point of disagreement with Soviet policy was over a single action of the government – the sending of troops into Czechoslovakia. In these circumstances, to prove his guilt under article 65 of the Latvian SSR Criminal Code – that is, to prove his intent to undermine the existing system – would be too difficult. It is far easier to have Ilya Rips isolated as “insane”, since the judges, following established practice, will regard the ordering of compulsory measures of a medical nature as a pure formality, without examining either the essence of the case or the essence of the diagnosis.

Following this model the conclusion of the diagnostic team  – “he must be considered insane and put in a special psychiatric hospital for compulsory treatment” – almost certainly means that Victor Kuznetsov, Ivan Yakhimovich and Ilya Rips will find their way into a prison psychiatric hospital.


The Special Psychiatric Hospitals admit persons who have committed serious crimes (brutal murder, rape, thuggery///) and are not answerable for their actions, being in a mentally disturbed state. They are therefore exempt from trial. Apart from this, it often happens that in order to isolate a person from society, he is declared insane, even if the investigators cannot prove him guilty of committing a serious crime but are nevertheless convinced of his guilt. His period of internment in the hospital is not determined by a court, and may drag on for any length of time at all. Alongside those who are genuinely ill, perfectly healthy people are sent to these hospitals on account of their beliefs. In this way they are deprived of the right to defend themselves in court and are held in conditions considerably more severe than those existing in today’s prisons and camps.

The first “hospital” of this kind was already in existence before the war [see 10.10], in Kazan. There is still a special department for politicals there, dating from that time. After, the war, a special colony was created in Sychevka, in the Smolensk Region, and chronically disturbed persons are even now being sent there, among them those politicals, who, in the opinion of the KGB and the management of the special hospitals, are the most dangerous. People who land in this colony are reduced to a condition of complete mental collapse. In 1952 a special hospital was opened in Leningrad, the address of which is 9 Arsenal St, Post Box US-20, building 5. In 1965 another one was opened in Chernyakhovsk, in Kaliningrad Region, in a building which was formerly a German convict prison, address Post-box 216, building 2. In 1966 one was opened in Minsk [Belorussia], and in 1968 another in Dnepropetrovsk [Ukraine].

All these institutions have the following features in common: political prisoners, although of sound mind, are kept in the same cells as seriously disturbed psychiatric patients; if they will not renounce their convictions they are subjected on the pretext of treatment , to physical torture, to injections of large doses of Aminazin and Sulfazin, which cause depressive shock reaction and serious physical disorders; the regime is the same as for closed prisons, with one hour’s exercise a day. Sometimes sodium aminate, a strong narcotic, is administered by injection, to weaken the patient, and after the injection he is interrogated. The staff consists of orderlies recruited from MVD forces, their uniforms concealed by white overalls, male nurses chosen from among the criminal prisoners, also in white overalls (thieves and recidivist thugs), and lastly the senior and junior medical personnel, many with officers’ shoulder-straps beneath their white overalls. The brick walls surrounding these prison hospitals are even more impressive than those of any other kinds of prison.

The most terrifyingly arbitrary regime prevails at the Sychevka and Chernyakhovsk hospitals, where the sick patients, and the politicals with them, are the victims of daily beatings and sadistic humiliations on the part of the supervisory personnel and the nurses, whose rights are absolutely unlimited. For instance, in the spring of 1969 the patient Popov was beaten to death in the Chernyakhovsk hospital, and in the medical record it was stated that he had died of a brain haemorrhage.

From 1956 to the end of 1964 N. I. Samsonov, a Stalin prize-winner and a geophysicist who worked in the Arctic, was interned in the Leningrad hospital. He had written a letter to the Central Committee of the CPSU criticising some of Stalin’s theoretical propositions.

The following politicals are at present in the same hospital: Nikolai Danilov and Yevgeny Shashenkov of Leningrad, the Moscow architect Oleg Smirnov, and a good number of others.

At present Victor Fainberg is being kept in the same hospital. The authorities decided against putting him on trial, evidently because after his beating up on Red Square on 25 August 1968 he had lost all his front teeth and had concussion. Fainberg has been given the diagnosis – cynical even for institutions of this sort – of “schizo-heterodoxy”. He was informed of this by the doctors who are “curing” him. The following politicals are at present in the same hospital: Nikolai Danilov and Yevgeny Shashenkov of Leningrad, the Moscow architect Oleg Smirnov, and a good number of others.

Former teacher G. Forpostov is being kept in the Chernyakhovsk hospital, for attempting to cross the Soviet-Polish border to live in his native Poland. Until July 1968 the same hospital held the radio operator of the tanker “Tuapse”, Ivankov, who asked for political asylum in the United States, and was later deceived into returning to the Soviet Union. From the moment he returned he has been shut up in prison psychiatric hospitals, and the doctors tell him quite openly that he is in for the rest of his life. The most remarkable thing about this case is that the repatriation department of the U.S. State Department has a letter from the Second Secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Washington, guaranteeing that when Ivankov returned to his homeland he would not be subjected to any repressive measures or persecution. While he was in Chernyakhovsk hospital Ivankov used to tell the other patients and politicals about his tragedy, and for this he was punished with Aminazin and Sulfazin injections in gigantic doses. In July 1968 he was transferred to the hospital of similar type in Dnepropetrovsk.

Prisoners in special or strict-regime camps who feel they can no linger bear the terrible conditions, sometimes try simulating madness – and some of them succeed. But when they get to a prison psychiatric hospital they immediately realise that it is far worse than the severest camps. Some even beg the doctors on bended knee to ”’let them out back to the camp”. People who manage to get out of these “hospitals” are given a special type of identity document, like ex-prisoners. Those who persistently refuse to admit they are ill, on the whole, have hardly any hope of regaining their liberty.