Ukrainian psychiatrists appeal for help to prevent political abuse of psychiatry

September 3, 2014

Appeal to the world psychiatric community

The history with the Ukrainian air force officer Nadezhda Savchenko has acquired a psychiatric aspect. Detained by Russian secret services on the territory of Ukraine, she was illegally transferred to Russia and by a decision of a Russian court sent to the Serbski Institute (currently the Federal State-budget Institution «State Scientific Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry named after Serbski» of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation) to undergo a forensic psychiatric evaluation.

As a air force pilot on duty and a officer of the Ukrainian army, she regularly underwent medical check-ups, among them psychiatric ones. The mental health of Ms. Savchenko was before never subject to any doubt. This is confirmed both by relatives and fellow officers. On basis of this we can assume that the motive to send the Ukrainian officer Nadezhda Savchenko for psychiatric examination is her courageous behavior in a Russian court.

We, Ukrainian psychiatrists, remember the recent history of declaring healthy people mentally ill behind the walls of the Serbski Institute in Moscow. We also know about new cases of political abuse of psychiatry in the Russia of today. The authoritarian political regime in Russia is able to use the «psychiatric cover up» also in the case of Nadezhda Savchenko.

We urgently ask you to pay attention to this case. And to put pressure, both personally and within the framework of the work of national psychiatric associations, on the Russian authorities, who continue the practice of psychiatric repression in their country.

We, psychiatrists, have the obligation to terminate this practice. Otherwise, to the list of victims of abuse of psychiatry for political purposes who were “determined” mentally ill in the Serbski Institute in the USSR (Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Valeriya Novodvorskaya, Anna Mikhailenko, Vladimir Bukovsky, Pyotr Grigorenko, Leonid Plyushch and hundreds of other dissidents) the name of Nadezhda Savchenko can be added.

Signed by the following Ukrainian psychiatrists:

Tatyana Almashi (Zakarpatiya)

Anatoly Voloshchuk (Odessa)

Semyon Gluzman (Kyiv)

Yuri Zakal (Lviv)

Vitalyi Zakladnyi (Poltava)

Lesya Kosovskaya (Ternopil)

Angela Levitskaya (Chernovtsy)

Igor Martsenkovsky (Kyiv)

Sergei Mikhnyak (Lviv)

Irina Pinchuk (Kyiv)

Oleg Chernysh (Lutsk)

Vladimir Shkrobot (Ternopil)

Sergei Shum (Kyiv)

Vladimir Yashchenko (Chernigiv)


The case of Nadezhda Savchenko

Last week, a court on the Russian city of Voronezh held the first hearing the case of Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian citizen accused of murder. The case did not attract much international attention, even though the circumstances of Ms. Savchenko’s arrest and continued detention deserve worldwide attention and condemnation.

Under not yet fully clear circumstances she was detained, probably by agents of Russia’s secret services, kidnapped and taken to Russia, where she suddenly reappeared in the pre-trial prison in Voronezh. Protests by the Ukrainian government did not have any effect, and last week the court started hearing her case.

During this first session Ms. Savchenko appeared strong, determined, and as one of her first statements declared that the former leader of Ukraine Yanukovich was now gone and that she believed that soon Russia’s leader Putin would be gone too.

In the old Soviet tradition, such statements are apparently seen as a sign of a possible mental illness of instability, and thus the court decided to send her to the Serbski Institute for a psychiatric examination.

Over the past years, more and more people in Russia have been sent to psychiatric hospital for political reasons, or have been discredited by having a psychiatric diagnosis put on them. There is no doubt that in this case the Russian authorities plan to do exactly the same: to discredit Ms. Savchenko, to have her declared as suffering from some mental health problem and then see how the world will respond.

On that response much depends. In the case of Russian citizen Mikhail Kosenko, earlier this year, the international response resulted in him being released from forced hospital treatment, in spite of the fact that the Serbski Institute had declared him not only as mentally ill but also as a danger to himself and his environment. His treating psychiatrist disagreed, had the courage to appeal against the decision and with international pressure mounting Kosenko was sent home.

We hope you will help us accomplish the same in the case of Nadezhda Savchenko.

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