Monday, November 17, 2008

Andrei Sychyov and Abuse in the Russian Army

BOULDER, Colorado -- Andrei Sychyov was a 19-year-old conscript in the Russian army serving on a base outside of the city of Chelyabinsk on New Year's Eve, 2005. That night, he and seven other soldiers were subject to a night of beatings and torture by their compatriots that was so brutal and vicious that Sychyov eventually had to have both his legs and his genitals amputated.

For nearly a week after his brutal torture, in which he was forced to sit on his haunches for hours on end while junior officers beat him, he received no serious medical attention despite suffering from several shattered bones. When he was finally taken to a hospital in the city, gangrene had already consumed most of his legs, and they had to be removed.

Russian officials initially tried to keep a lid on the Sychyov incident, and the then defence minister Sergei Ivanov dismissed the allegations of abuse in the army. Eventually, one of the young man's doctors passed information about his condition along to a local human rights group, and the story gained national attention. One of his torturers, Alexander Sivyakov, was sentenced to four years in prison, while two other men received one year of probation.

Sychyov still requires a great deal of medical care, and the Russian government has agreed to pay his expenses. However, his sister, Marina Muffert, recently wrote a letter to the defense ministry, claiming that her brother's care was sub-standard. Sychyov was recently transferred to a hospital in Moscow, where he was supposed to receive a reconstructive operation that would allow him to have children. Muffert claims that Ivanov promised that Sychyov would receive this operation, but his successor has reneged, and doctors have refused to perform it. She said, as quoted on,
In the papers, government officials call us unscrupulous extortionists. Hey, they gave you money for healthcare, an apartment and such, what else do you want? But I am not ashamed. If the leaders of this idiotic country cannot bring order to it, then I am not ashamed. I just want happiness for my brother.
Life in the Russian army is bleak, as conscripts endure horrific day-to-day conditions. In addition to inadequate food, housing, equipment and medical care, these men are often forced to do manual labor unrelated to their duties, like building summer homes for senior officers. Hazing, like that Sychyov was subjected to, is commonplace, and soldiers often die from beatings or other tortures. Some are even forced into becoming sex workers. In 2004, 50 soldiers were forced to stand out on a runway in their summer uniforms in January while their plane refueled in the Siberian city of Magadan; one died, and the rest were hospitalized, some suffering from severe pneumonia.

Unable to cope with these stresses, many men resort to suicide - official statistics put the number at nearly 350 in 2007. The suicide rate of the Russian army is twice that of the American army; this even though the US has seen a steady rise in suicide cases since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly half of all soldiers' deaths in Russia are the result of suicide, far outstripping combat fatalities or accidents. Many young men find ways to get around their military service, either by continuing their education or by bribing draft officials, usually leaving the poorest and least educated members of society for the army to take.

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