Liberated Russia becomes a giant domain of the insane

A middle-aged man, smart in a black overcoat and red velvet scarf but with an odd pudding-bowl haircut, waved as my car drew up outside the Home for Incurable Mental Patients in Yelets. Here was a rarity, a visitor. "I am Vasily Knyazev. I am a dissident," he announced.

The home's doctor, Stanislav Golipov, did not prevent Mr Knyazev from speaking out. On the contrary, he encouraged him to tell his story. "My wife betrayed me," he said. "She wanted to get her hands on my flat. So she put me in the mental hospital in Lipetsk [a nearby town]. I complained to the prosecutor, so the doctors falsely diagnosed schizophrenia and sent me here. There are other normal people in Lipetsk. I can give you lists of names. They have put me in the madhouse illegally. I am a normal person. I have higher education. I used to be a driver, first class ... Now I wash the floors and feed the cows."

Dr Golipov said afterwards: "Absolutely bonkers. He was violent to his wife. But he could be released if there was somebody to keep an eye on him. I have told him that if his brother comes to collect him, he can go. But the brother does not come. He's not a poor man. He brought several million roubles with him when he came to the home. But nobody cares about him."

Dr Golipov admitted that in Communist times political dissidents were neutralised in mental hospitals, although he said he had not personally been involved in the abuse of psychiatry. "It mostly happened in Moscow. I was just a provincial doctor."

Since 1992 Russia has had a law making it impossible to commit a person without proper medical evidence and a court order. "If someone is here," said the doctor, "it is either because he is a danger to himself or others . . . or simply because he has nowhere else to go." Conditions in the home were basic but no worse than in many provincial Russian hotels. Rooms were clean, and some Western medicines were available. The staff toilet was a hole in the ground, shielded by a metal box, in the middle of a field. But then in my hotel, the best in Yelets, a rat scuttled in the bathroom.

There were some severely handicapped people in the home. Yet on the surface, others seemed more or less normal. Pasha and Petya, in their twenties, were rejected by their parents and grew up in children's homes from where, aged 18, they were transferred to the mental home. "We call them `carnival children'," said the doctor. "The unwanted children of drunks." They were not very bright but could have lived in society if only anybody wanted them. Now they are hopelessly institutionalised. Petya said: "I had a family once but no one visits me. Who needs me?"

Dr Golipov said: "The whole of Russia is a giant lunatic asylum. But yes, my patients are madder in the sense that they lack commonly accepted logic; they suffer distortions of perception."

The home had a secure cell, for use if patients became violent but mostly they wandered freely. The most trusted ones were allowed to go into town to spend their state benefits, around pounds 7 a month.

A patient took me to one side and said the management stole food and clothes donated for the patients. They also shut patients up while they had drinking parties and made exclusive use of the sauna, which was supposed to be for the inmates, he said. It might be true; it might not.

The light was fading; the inmates had been shut up for the night. At an upper window they stood in a row, waving goodbye.

Once, freethinkers were locked up in Russian mental institutions, so they could not challenge the totalitarian society outside. Now, free spirits are no longer locked away. Instead, there sometimes seems to be little difference between the plight of the disoriented inmates, and the equally disoriented and poverty-stricken population out in the wider Russian world.

i100'Geography can be tough'
newsVideo targets undecided voters
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

DevOps Engineer - Linux, Shell, Bash, Solaris, UNIX, Salt-Stack

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: A fast growing Financial Services organisation b...

Trade Desk FIX Analyst - (FIX, SQL, Equities, Support)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + excellent benefits: Harrington Starr: An award-win...

DevOps Engineer - (Linux, Shell, Bash)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer - (Linux, Shell, Bash)DevOps Eng...

Retail Business Architect

Flexible for the right candidate: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: I have a fa...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis