war crimes in Ukraine

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Elks, crocodiles, and other brutes in army barracks

T. Pocheptsova, Cherkassy
’In the army he will get more sense’, parents used to say long ago. The parents thought that the army would temper their sons and make them really manly men. Now the attitude to the army has abruptly changed. Both the boys and their parents do their best to dodge the army service. They know that the boys in the army will freeze and starve, will be humiliated and beaten. Recently in a trolleybus I overheard the talk of two university freshmen, who told each other how to dodge the army service. Although they will have to serve in five years, after the graduation from the university, they were very much interested in the topic. They discussed one of the popular methods: to lose weight to such a relation between the height and weight, that they will be considered dystrophics. They knew all the needed constants.

Who knows whether these boys will dodge the service, but, in general, many people learned this art. According to the statistics only 6% of boys get to the army (theoretically, we have the universal military duty). This 6% elite consists of those who have no money, no influential friends and no inventive mind. Certainly, they are not the healthiest.

I had no great wish to serve in the army, - told Aleksey, one of those 6%, who knows the army life not from the yarns.

I had to stop my education in a college and give 18 months of my life for letting other people make a manly man out of me. The criteria have changed, now a manly man is a man, who has a job, a family, for which he could provide, and not a scarecrow in a long greatcoat and rubberized tarpaulin boots, who is educated by kicks. Before the army I heard a lot about dedovshchina, but thought that it would be easy to survive the first half-year.

I understood what is army in the first morning of the service, when we were made to run three kilometers in our notorious high-boots. The first half-year I was hungry all the time because the best part of my ration I had to give to ’deds’. I even night-dreamed of butter and white bread. But most of all I suffered from the permanent humiliation. Deds forced the ’greenhorns’ to do all the dirty work. Dedovshchina is encouraged by officers, and that is why it is fruitless to fight with this phenomenon. It is true that now some control appeared and officers are afraid to lose their jobs. Nonetheless, deds never work and punish greenhorns for everything and most frequently just because they are in the blue mood. In the evening in the barracks some of deds usually begin the torture: ’I am not sleepy. Hey you, come here and set down your forehead’. And then he will slap on the forehead as strong as he can. It is humiliating and shameful and painful too. In order not to leave black and blue bruises, they bind the head with a wide soldier’s belt and beat on the belt. This joke is called ’to beat an elk’. When I demobilized, I had a nightmare: how they ’killed the crocodile’ with me. I woke up in perspiration.

What is ’to kill a crocodile’? - I asked. Aleksey was amazed with my ignorance.

One stands on all fours across one’s bed, and deds kick him in the bottom. If you fall from the bed, the procedure is repeated.

As to the money, the soldier’s pay (Hr 10.15 per month) is immediately taken by deds and then they will ask you for a smoke. One is lucky to have a spare cigarette. Otherwise you will have to climb on the fence of the unit and ask for a cigarette from passersby.

Brief leaves from the barracks were expected at first like holidays, but later it turned to a kind of punishment. The reason is that every greenhorn, leaving the barracks, must bring gifts to deds. They are simple things: cigarettes, soap, safety blades, but greenhorns have already given their money to deds.

To pass the winter was the most difficult. I was cold all the time. It was cold in the barrack, but our commanders always found some pretext to drive us out. If it was snowing, they draw us to clean the road, and so we cleaned it until the snow stopped. Then we were driven to make snow curbs along the road, or to load the snow on trucks and unload it several meters farther. And that lasted all the winter.

I remember my birthday. It was celebrated according to the tradition. At breakfast all the platoon gave me their ration of butter (30 servicemen by 10 grams) and I, the happy hero of the day, had to eat a plateful of butter. Dedovshchina is an old deep-rooted custom and it has its unexpected variations: on the 50th day before the demobilization order (for deds) greenhorns change roles with deds. The most popular joke is to make a ded to clean greenhorn’s boots or make deds fulfil other degrading services. But one must not be carried away because the next day all will return to the proper places.

Unfortunately, the army really makes young men invalids, physical and moral. It happens rather frequently when parents send to the army their healthy and strong sons who return, being invalids. It happens that the army experience marks the boys for many years after the service: they turn to drinking or drug-taking, some suffer from obtrusive fears.

Nonetheless, one must not omit the fact that some positive changes have become noticeable: dedovshchina is decreasing. Ivan S. Shevchenko, the deputy of the military prosecutor of the Cherkassy garrison, pointed out that the cases concerning dedovshchina are 2.5 times less than 5 years ago. The reason is that now mainly boys from the country serve in the army, and they are, as well known, more hard-working and less belligerent. The second is that most of soldiers serve not far from their homes. The third reason is that in a typical military unit the number of officers is about three times more than that of soldiers.

Every year about 300 - 400 servicemen perish in the Ukrainian army. The fears of recruits before dedovshchina remain to be well-grounded. The distribution of roles making dedovshchina was once brought from prisons when the incarcerated were recruited to the army. The punishments and ’jokes’ of deds are quite similar to those in prisons.

Turning pages of criminal cases that are considered in the military prosecutor’s office, one cannot help thinking that this is an encyclopedia of cruelty and violence. In 1990 the military prosecutor’s office of the Cherkassy garrison considered a case concerning dedovshchina. Some soldiers were working in the canteen. A ded ordered a greenhorn to wash up the crockery faster and better. Being not satisfied with the results the ded beat the greenhorn, then knocked him down and raped repeatedly. The victim tried to run away, being pursued by his tormentor. Fortunately some officers appeared and saved the boy. You may easily imagine the physical and psychological state of the victim. It is possible to multiply the number of such examples by very many times.

The fear before dedovshchina is only one reason, which makes recruits dodge the service. The last but not the least reason is brutal and unnecessary lack of comfort.

PL commentary. There are efficient measures of self-defense from dedovshchina, which must be known by the young soldiers’ parents.

If you have received a letter from your son, in which he complains on dedovshchina or hints at serious disorders of his health or mood, try, as fast as you can, go to your son’s military unit in order to see what is happening with your own eyes. If you have not such an opportunity, turn to the local Union of soldiers’ mothers and turn to the oblast military commissariat, where they must have an officer in charge of protecting rights of servicemen. It you cannot go to the above-mentioned organizations, write a letter to the political department of the Ministry of Defense. The address is: The political department, 6 Povitroflotskiy Ave., 03168, Kyiv; also write to the address: V. Artomonova, the head of the Union of soldiers’ mothers of Ukraine, 2 Sofiyivska St., Kyiv, 01001. But bear in mind that your presence in the unit is the best way to influence the situation.

If you come to the unit and see that dedovshchina is present, write at once to the prosecutor’s office of the garrison. You must write a complaint concerning dedovshchina and add a request to transfer your son to another unit. You must know that, according to Directive No. 115/337 of the Ministry of Defense of 28 January 1993, which regulates the transfer of servicemen after a written complaint at dedovshchina, your son has the right for the transfer. If after the written complaint your son is not transferred to another unit, it is a sufficient reason to turn to the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine.

If you see that further staying in the unit can threaten the life of your son, we advice to take him to the prosecutor’s office personally and insist on the immediate transfer of him to another unit, simultaneously writing the complaint, pointing out that the disregard of Directive No. 115/337 will lie on those who refuse the transfer. Inform the commander of the unit and the main military prosecutor of the garrison that you are forced to turn to the Union of soldiers’ mothers, to the Ministry of Defense and to mass media.

If your son escaped from his military unit and appeared at home, explaining his act by abusing his rights, including dedovshchina, do not waste time and immediately contact your oblast military committee and military prosecutor’s office of the garrison where your son served. You must make sure that your complaints are fixed. In your applications to the prosecutor’s office and oblast military committee insist on the transfer of your son to another military unit, referring to the above-mentioned Directive. Remember that escaping from the unit under the conditions, when the life, health and dignity of your son are threatened, is not a punishable crime. The very fact that he turns to the prosecutor’s office excludes his responsibility according to Article 241 (desertion), yet, if a week or two passes, then the criminal case by Article 241 may be started, and then it will be more difficult for you and your son to prove his innocence.

If, after turning to the local military prosecutor’s office, your son will be arrested - do not be afraid, this does not mean that a criminal case is started against him. His arrest is a basis for the urgent turning to the Minister of Defense, to the Main Directorate of education and to the General Prosecutor of Ukraine. In any case you must immediately contact the local Union of soldiers’ mothers.

Some more advice:

collect letters from your son, especially if they anticipate trouble;

if your son, who escaped from his unit, has visible injuries, immediately turn to the trauma department of your district hospital, get a certificate, and only after this turn to the military prosecutor’s office and insist on having forensic medical expertise.

Telephone of the Cherkassy oblast Union of soldiers’ mothers is 45-38-91.

Telephone of the Kharkiv oblast Union of soldiers’ mothers is 14-31-47.

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