war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Torture, drugs & forced psychiatric treatment: Soviet-style abuse of Russia’s Ukrainian prisoners

Halya Coynash
The trial of Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk whom Russia is accusing of fighting in Chechnya 20 years ago has been adjourned, with the court ordering that Klykh undergo psychiatric assessment. Klykh’s behaviour suggests that psychotropic drugs may have been applied, and it is imperative that independent psychiatrists are involved in the examination.

   Klykh (left) and Karpyuk  (Klykh is demonstrating torture scars)

The trial of Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk whom Russia is accusing of fighting in Chechnya 20 years ago has been adjourned, with the court ordering that Klykh undergo psychiatric assessment. Klykh’s behaviour suggest that psychotropic drugs may have been applied, and it is imperative that independent psychiatrists are involved in the examination. 

On Jan 18, the Supreme Court in Chechnya suspended the trial and ordered that Stanislav Klykh undergo psychiatric assessment.  If Klykh is found to be mentally unfit, it would, his lawyer asserts, place his ‘confessions’ in question.  So, however, would the torture that both Klykh and Karpyuk have consistently said was the reason for their grotesque testimony.  The authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre has analysed the men’s testimony and the prosecution’s indictment and found multiple grounds for questioning the charges and concluding that the men ‘confessed’ under duress. 

This new development is therefore unexpected and very disturbing.  A decision by Russian psychiatrists finding him unfit could result in the ‘case’ against him being separated, and he himself subjected to forced psychiatric treatment. 

Although Klykh’s lawyer has told journalists that her client’s behaviour aroused concern from almost the beginning of the trial, mention of this has only emerged now.  Memorial HRC reports that at the first hearing scheduled after the New Year break on Jan 13, Klykh behaved very strangely.  “He shouted, stamped his feet, uttered incomprehensible and senseless phrases, shook the bars, knocked on them, and so forth.”  He could not be calmed down, and in the end an ambulance was called. 

The ambulance medics said that Klykh needed to be examined by psychiatric specialists.  They also found that the 41-year-old had raised blood pressure. Asked by the prosecutor whether the latter could be caused by drugs, the medics said that this could not be excluded. 

Before the ambulance was called, the judge also demanded that the SIZO [remand prison] provide the assessment apparently drawn up after an examination of Klykh on Jan 12 by a psychiatrist, neurologist and neuropathologist.  This, when it arrived, stated that Klykh had been “diagnosed with demonstrably blackmail behaviour”, whatever that may mean.  .

Klykh’s lawyer Marina Dubrovina, however, reports that at the end of November she applied for an examination of her client by a psychiatrist, neurologist and neuropathologist, since Klykh had alleged that during the torture, psychotropic substances had been used.   The results of this ‘examination’ were received on Dec 21, 2015.  They stated that Klykh had been examined by a psychiatrist and neurologist, that during the examination Klykh had made no complaints and that the medical specialists had found nothing wrong.  Klykh told his lawyer that the ‘examination’ had been perfunctory – a doctor had tapped a hammer on his knees, waved something around and left.  In talking with a Kommersant correspondent, Dubrovina also mentioned an occasion when Klykh became hysterical and said that he had received notification that his father had died.  He calmed down only after the lawyer was able to contact his mother who confirmed that his father was in good health. 

Klykh’s strange behaviour continued during the hearing on Jan 18.  He also complained of receiving telephone calls from different people in his cell and said that his cellmates had beaten him up.

Dubrovina herself is convinced that the behaviour is linked with unlawful methods used by the investigators to beat out confessions, as well as ill-treatment from cellmates.  The Kommersant correspondent notes that the prosecution’s version is that Klykh is either on drugs or is suffering from lack of them.

In either case, serious questions must be raised.  Klykh has been held in Russian custody since August 2014.  He was held totally incommunicado for the first 10 months, and then had access only to his lawyer.  Illicit drugs not used by the investigators have to be provided by somebody and cost money to buy. 

Psychiatrist Robert van Voren says that the behaviour could be the reaction to having had drugs administered which had now been discontinued.  They could however also be a reaction to the 10 months of total isolation and 18 months in Russian detention.  A reaction psychosis, he points out, coupled with panic attacks, would explain the increase in blood pressure.

None of this, he stresses can be a reason for declaring him unaccountable and sending him to a psychiatric hospital.  

The situation now is deeply worrying.  If Klykh is found mentally unfit, he could be sent for forced treatment, and his case separated out.  Since his condition now would not mean he was not accountable at the time of the alleged actions, Russia would continue to hold him.  His behaviour certainly gives grounds for suggesting that he has been administered psychotropic drugs.  He is, however, totally under the control of the Russian authorities who would have no interest in admitting their use.  

Dubrovina asserts that the case against Klykh is based on ‘confessions’, which would have to be discarded if he were found mentally unfit.  In fact, there would be no way of proving that he was unfit when he gave them. 

If anything, the sudden dramatic indications that Klykh is not fit to stand trial would help Russia since this attempt at a ‘Ukrainian nationalist show trial’ is going seriously wrong. 

Memorial HRC has demonstrated that the case against Klykh and Karpyuk is based on the investigators’ cynical disregard for historical fact, let alone substance to the charges.  Memorial’s analysis confirms that there is no evidence that the atrocities that the men are supposed to have committed, together with Ukraine’s current Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and other Ukrainian political figures, ever took place. 

Both men’s assertion that all testimony was given under severe torture is backed by the scars they still bear. 

As reported. the Russian prosecution claims that Klykh and Karpyuk were members of the Ukrainian nationalist organization UNA-UNSO and that at the end of 1994 and beginning of 1995 they were part of an armed formation of the self-proclaimed Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and fought against Russian federal forces.  Karpyuk and Klykh, however, are accused of killing at least 30 Russian soldiers and other crimes, and face sentences of up to life imprisonment. 

In fact, Klykh was at the time of the impugned crimes taking university exams in Kyiv, and Karpyuk was looking after his dying mother.  All of this is easily proven, however Russian courts have thus far demonstrated indifference to alibis and other evidence proving innocence in its prosecution of Ukrainians held prisoner. 

Memorial has pointed out that over half of the men whom Karpyuk and Klykh are supposed to have killed died in fighting elsewhere, and not, as the indictment claims, by gunfire.  It believes that a large part of the indictment has been written purely to set the jury against the two defendants and asserts atrocities that never took place. 

Details can be found here:  Tortured for the Wrong Confessions: Russia’s ‘Ukrainian Nationalist’ Charges Demolished

Russia’s ’Ukrainian Nationalist’ Show Trial: No Bodies, No Proof, but Good ’Confessions’

This case is an especially damning indictment of Russia’s treatment of Ukrainians held hostage and willingness to extract any ‘confessions’ through the use of torture.  The incredible allegations made by the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin about supposed atrocities committed by Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and other Ukrainians in Chechnya aroused mirth on the Internet.  There is little humour in a situation where men, held without lawyers or contact with their families, entirely under Russian control, will confess to anything just to stop the torture.  

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