15.12.2003 | Maya Kriukova, a member of the board of the Kharkov oblast union of soldiers’ mothers

Who is the guilty?


On 3 June 2003 a trial was conducted in one of military units of the Kharkov oblast. Serviceman T., whose term of army service was ending, was accused of the humiliation and beating of young soldier Ivan P., who, as a result of this beating, had to undergo the surgical operation: his spleen was excised. According to Article 406 part 3 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, the court acknowledged T. to be guilty and condemned him to 2 years of the service in disciplinary battalion.

I, being a representative of the Kharkov oblast union of soldiers’ mothers, was present at this trial in the military unit and at the trial that took place in the court martial of the Kharkov garrison. I managed to talk with the condemned and his parents, as well as with the victim and his mother. We also sent a letter to the senior commander of the unit with the request to comment the situation. We asked the mother of the victim to write us the letter describing her opinion about the reasons of this incident. After the trial we met with the judge in charge of this case. We got the answers from all of them.

We learned that the victim had been enlisted to the army on 14 November 2002 by the Darnitskiy district of Kyiv. Before the mobilization, in June 2002, he got a cerebral trauma with the partial loss of hearing and haematoma in the right part of the head. The doctors of the medical institute, who examined Ivan P., advised him, according to the words of his mother, to be especially careful for at least six months. So the question appears: why the doctors of the recruiting commission ignored the recommendations of specialists and recruited the boy, who was half-deaf and did not recover from his trauma yet. We have many proofs of the fact that ill boys often become victims of «dedovshchina».

The mother of the victim points out in her letter that her son almost did not complain at the beginning of his service, although the situation was obviously not normal. «In winter the soldiers worked in boiler-house and tried to warm their bedrooms with a small stove. In spring they made a redecoration of the buildings, which, according to the words of battalion commander B., needed the thorough repairs… Later my son told me that they were not beaten at first, but the young soldiers (four boys) had to fulfill all dirty work». «After the order on spring demobilization the older servicemen began to apply not only moral, but also physical humiliations. When I asked my son why they had not complained to the officers, he answered that they were afraid and decided to be patient. Well, this patience resulted in the loss of spleen…»

The senior commander of the military unit wrote in his response to our letter: «This was the first case since 1994, when a serviceman from our unit was condemned for a crime according to this article of the Criminal Code. Besides, I want to inform you about some peculiarities of this criminal case. During the investigation of the case it was find out that on 11 April 2003 the victim was taken to the military hospital, where he underwent the surgical operation (ablation of spleen). On 14 April 2003 the head of the Kharkov military hospital informed me that the operation was probably caused by a trauma got by private P. After the operation the serviceman explained to his mother and to the investigating officer of the militia prosecutor’s office that he got the trauma during the fulfillment of some work. On 15 April a criminal case was started after this fact. Yet, the question appears: «Why did he lie to his mother and the investigator?»

On 18 April 2003, in the course of service investigation, private P. changed his evidence and told that the trauma was caused by two blows delivered by private T. on 5 April 2003. On the same day I started the criminal case after the fact of the violation by private T. of the rules of the relations between servicemen stipulated by army regulations (part 3 Article 406 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine). I reckon that this was a single instance, not typical for the unit. Besides, I do not deny the guilt of the officers of the unit. On 18 April 2003 I issued the order, according to which five officers were punished disciplinary, the documents on the dismissal of two officers of this unit were lodged, and the new commander of the unit was appointed. As you see, I took a rather strict measures».

During the talk with Sergey T., the accused, I tried to learn why he committed this crime, what motives he had. The arguments, which he adduced during the trial (such as badly washed crockery, dirty floor in the barrack, etc.), could not be a reason for the beating inflicted to the victim. Yet, I heard nothing that could justify his actions. He repeated almost verbatim the words of the victim, who said that the reason was the general situation in the army.

During the years of work in the Union of soldiers’ mothers we came across very different cases that occurred with boys in the army: we communicated with deserters; the youths, who served all the term being ill; the youths, who returned from the army as invalids. So, we drew the following conclusions:

1.  The ill youths recruited to the army cannot be the valuable soldiers. And, what is worse, they provoke other servicemen to the abnormal actions.

2.  «Dedovshchina» cannot exist in the units, where the servicemen fulfill their direct duties (but not the duties of unskilled workers or builders).

Both the victim and the accused, as well as the commander of the military unit are the hostages of the situation that has formed in our society. Young soldiers are practically ignorant of their rights and duties, do not know the Criminal Code and, alas, are almost illiterate (it is very difficult to believe that the letters, which we receive from soldiers, were written by the persons with high or even secondary education).

The commander of the unit has no money for the urgent reparations, so he makes the soldiers to fulfill these works instead of teaching them the military profession.

This story has a very dismal end: the 19-year-old youth almost became an invalid; the soldier, who had only good characteristics before the army, a sportsman, who dreamed to become a professional soldier, got into custody; several officers, who have families, became jobless.

«Prava ludyny» commentary. It is very easy to criticize the Ukrainian army, since every structure may be criticized under the conditions of the planned chaos that exists in our country. Our society is not reformed in any sphere except the political institutions, but everyone likes to waffle about reforms. Yet, nobody wants to do something.

However, although the qualitative reforms were not conducted in the army, it undergoes now the quantitative reform. The army is reduced. Every year the recruiting commissions decrease the number of the recruits. This fact should exert the positive influence on the quality of recruiting campaigns, since it seems to be not difficult to collect 2100 healthy and intelligent youths from, for example, the Kharkov oblast. Yet, this does not happen for some reasons (and not only in Kharkov). Is the army guilty of this situation? Of course, since military men manage the recruiting commissions. But are they independent? Here the problems become evident, which reflect the gloomy reality. If to abstract from the wish to criticize the army, then one would see that it is the society that is guilty in the problems of the army. The newspaper «Nasha armiya» of 16 May 2003 published interesting information about the recruiting campaign of 2002. The first place by the quality of the campaign is occupied by the Lviv oblast, where the recruits are examined not only by civil doctors, but also by military ones. The experience shows that they do not permit to recruit ill youths, at least they do their best for this. The army is not interested in the mobilization of ill boys, since lot of money is needed to liquidate the consequences. So, who is interested in this? Medicine? Civil power? When the discussion begins about the enlistment of ill recruits, everybody begins to criticize everybody. The army appears to be the guiltiest, although everywhere, except the Lviv oblast, the recruits are examined by civil doctors. The hospitals, in which the youths are examined, are also, as a rule, civil. So, the army completely depends on the professional level and conscience of the workers of the health protection system. Yet, this is only a part of the problem, since frequently the recruits are enlisted, who are drug addicts, have no secondary education, have the behavioral disorders, but are not registered either in psychiatric dispensaries or in militia. Only the educational establishments came across their behavioral disorders, and they had to present the corresponding characteristic to the recruiting commission. Unfortunately, the characteristics given by educational establishments are, as a rule, standard.

We also want to mention some prejudices that remained in our society since the Soviet times. One of these prejudices is that the army reforms people. This opinion prevails in all groups of population, even in most educated ones. We observed many cases, where the sufficiently educated parents (in one of the cases the mother was a lawyer, in another – a medical doctor) tried to conceal the behavioral disorders of their sons from the recruiting commission in order to send the boys to the army «for reformation». They came to the Kharkov oblast union of soldiers’ mothers to get the advise to which military branch it should be expedient to send their children. We did our best to dissuade them from these, to put it mildly, precipitate actions. Yet, how many mothers did not come to us for the advice?

Another prejudice, which is not less harmful both for the boys and for the army, is the idea that a youth, who did not serve in the army, is a defective person in the opinion of the society, that he, being ill, will not get a good job, that he will not be attractive for girls, etc. This prejudice is common, first of all, among the youths, and the recruits conceal from the recruiting commissions their heart diseases and spine problems, not to mention the enuresis, psychical disorders and other «shameful» maladies. And a commander of military unit gets a soldier with, for example, retrogressive amnesia or enuresis. It is obvious that army is not guilty in this case.

Here two «eternal» Russian questions arise: «Who is the guilty?» and «What to do?»

The answer to the first question is simple: our consciousness and lack of information are guilty first of all. Certainly, there are other guilty too: medical establishments, doctors, secondary and technical schools that did not inform properly the recruiting commissions. Yet, this is not all. In the countries, where the mass liability for military service exists, the strict informational system was created, and every link of this system has its own functions. For example, in Germany and Israel schools directly cooperate with recruiting commissions. Army signs a contract with a school for the preparation of some specialists needed by army. And the school is responsible (sometimes even in court) for rendering the untrue information about physical and psychical capabilities of the recruits.

And who is responsible in our country, when a youth ill with schizophrenia gets to the army and commits a crime there (such case occurred in 1995)? One cannot hope for anything good, if we would not improve the informational system on all stages of recruiting.

The representatives of the army and military justice, soldiers’ mothers and other interested persons must go to educational and medical establishments and to communicate with youths and their parents.

Recently one of Kharkov state officers declared that there was no dedovshchina in the Ukrainian army. At the same time, we have a number of the complaints against dedovshchina. The Ministry of Defense also confirms that dedovshchina is caused, first of all, by the bad quality of recruiting campaigns, because the boys are mobilized to the army, who bring there «the street laws».

We also want to add that the moral climate in a unit mainly depends on the unit commandment. In a unit, where the commander and officers fulfill their duties well, the number of the cases of dedovshchina is much less, although it is impossible to liquidate this phenomenon because of the above-listed reasons.

Everybody talks about the reform of the army: the President, MPs and army officers. They even established the year, when the Ukrainian army, in their opinion, will become professional. But how one can speak about a concrete date, if Ukraine still did not developed its Conception of safety? Who knows what strength of the army we need? The officials give different numbers: from 50 to 150 thousand. But it is impossible to conduct the reform having so many unknown quantities in the problem. Now we are trying to persuade the military and civil officials to start the dialog, in which the military will tell to the youths, their parents and teachers the truth about dedovshchina, load in the army, nourishment, etc. Maybe then the number of mothers and fathers, who, being unable to reform their children (who, most often, need the treatment), want to shift the responsibility to the shoulders of the officers, will decrease. And, maybe, the number of the doctors will decrease, who, answering the complaint of a recruit «I suffer from headache», indifferently say: «Everybody suffers». The quantity of ill soldiers in the army will diminish, as well as the quantity of the cases of dedovshchina, when medical establishments and schools will pay fines for their mistakes. And, maybe, if the recruits would be fined for the premeditated concealment of their deceases, the number of unhealthy servicemen would also become less?

It is extremely necessary to reform the army. We may not wait until in becomes professional. For this the rules of the conscription must be changed, since these rules were formed in the Soviet times and developed under the conditions of the Soviet army, the most numerous army (except the Chinese one) in the world. The money for army was not counted in the USSR. However, Ukraine must count the money. And our army is very expensive because of the great number of medical commissions that look for the youths, who want to dodge the army service, instead of looking for the healthy boys, who want to serve; because of the diseases of young soldiers, the dismissals in the first months of the service or periodical treatment in military hospitals (which is three times more expensive that in civil hospitals). The army reform is urgent, but before realizing the reform we must understand for what we need the army, what values it must protect and how many soldiers it needs, as well as how many servicemen our country is able to nourish and provide with clothes, give them flats and, later, pensions?

All these are questions not only to the power, but also to the entire society, since every unnecessary or sick soldier causes the waste of money of the taxpayers, and the society may not ignore this fact.

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