Illustrations: Stasya Sokolovskaya
Discussions on torture often leave the victims’ relatives behind-the-scenes — although they are the ones who at first spend sleepless nights trying to save a close one, and then haunt thresholds searching for justice. On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture MediaZone publishes stories of wives and mothers of five defendants of the “Committee for the Prevention of Torture” and their portraits by artist Stasya Sokolovskaya.
Liliya Lyapina: “They have their badges, and who are we?”
Liliya — the wife of Sergey Lyapin, who was tortured on 25 Aoril 2008 at the police department of Ilnogorskoye settlement of the Nizhny Novgorod region. The police officers apprehended Sergey when he was collecting metal scrap and demanded that he confessed of over a dozen thefts from garages — first he was tied up with belts and then tortured with electricity with electrodes attached to his fingers.
After the police department Sergey found himself at the hospital, and his wife, having submitted a complaint to the prosecutor’s office, insisted on judicial and medical expert examination which registered all the injuries. In 2014 the ECHR awarded Lyapin a compensation of 45 thousand euro. Only after that the criminal case on tortures was initiated, but the police officers whom he identified, never became defendants. The period of limitation in the case will expire soon.
About the incident. “You know, this period is like one lump, and it is very, very difficult to recall these details again. It was a shock, let us put it like that. A very big shock. Can you imagine, I have a three-months kid, three more children, mother-in-law — I need to hold them all together, to avoid panic. Although I was in great panic myself, and the worst of it was that I had no idea what was going on with Sergey. I did not tell anything either to kids or his mother, because I knew that if I show any panic, then the whole family will be in panic, absolutely all of them”.
About the husband. «At first he was in panic because of all this. We barely managed to get him out of it. Then some state of apathy started – to everything in general. Because one realizes that it is no sense to fight against the system. Our state allows only talking in one’s small circle to express one’s indignation. Trying as we could, we found it very difficult to get him out of this state.
His health deteriorated a lot, a hypertension started, terrible headache, too. His health damage turned into chronic diseases. Maybe because he kept repeating inside himself the way it should be according to the law, at the same time facing the fact that there is another law which rules and different people who decide whether it will be according to the law or not. When you watch TV, it shows people speak right words, but in real life it is totally different. It’s like one’s head against the wall. Useless”.
About the children. “Honestly, I’m always trying to forget it as a nightmare, because these reminiscences are not good at all. Fear for kids, you understand. That they can do something to the kids. Because they are reckless. During the search, they took away the baby carriage, so that I had to be with a one-month kid without a carriage for almost two months.
Then they brought the kids’ father to the search, they did not even uncuffed his hands — even when they changed his clothes, I gave him some clean clothes they did not uncuff him. What would be if the kids woke up to go to the toilet? Can you imagine the trauma they would have had? At that time, it was for them “papa has gone away”, “papa was somewhere”, we did not tell them anything. Because they don’t need to know that. If they get disappointed in our system at that age, how would they be able to live after?”
About the state. “Probably, the fact that no one cares about us in this state is the most horrible thing. Starting from this one begins to feel like a scum, to put it simply. Because the faith in our state is destroyed. Because the culprits are representatives of the state itself, the representatives of the law… who violate the law themselves and push forward their own laws.
Myself I don’t have any faith in our judicial system or law-enforcement agencies. None. Sergey have a faith in the Committee, that they would be able to achieve something. But what is the Committee against such a machine? I don’t think they would succeed either. These people on top have their badges, and who are we? Big deal — a social unit! The society can do without our unit. Though they say that every family is precious — it’s nothing like that. No-one gives a damn. Especially in our state. So there are a lot of disappointments. But, of course, I’m concealing it from the kids”.
Illustration: Stasya Sokolovskaya
Tamara Shestopalova: “I could not listen, I began to cry”
Tamara — mother of Anton Shestopalov, who was tortured at the District Police Department of the Sovetsky District of Nizhny Novgorod in May 2004. 17-year old Anton was beaten up, hanged on cufflinks – the police officers demanded that he confessed of raping his former classmate. The girl herself told that Anton had nothing to do with the crime. When her son was released from the police department, Tamara brought him for medical examination and started to write complaints to the Prosecutor’s Office.
The criminal case was initiated in 2006, but no charges were brought against the police officers: in 2014, the period of limitation expired. In March 2017, the ECHR awarded Shestopalov with 48 thousand euro.
About the incident. «He did not come on feet. He crawled back, on one foot. He told me: “Mom, don’t call the police, they told me there you have a broken multi-child family and your mother is a cleaning lady” (weeps). In general, they intimidated him. He started to tell me what was happening to him, and I could not listen, I started to weep. On the next day my cousin listened to him from start to finish. He said, “Tamara, I don’t know how he managed to endure all this, I didn’t sleep all night”. A grown-up man!
My child was crippled, he had brain concussion. He was hanged on cufflinks there. The good thing was that the day before we were working in the country side and he injured his hands there, and I bandaged them with elastic bandage. If not for the bandages, his hands would have been broken to the bone with cufflinks… They made him sit in some “butterfly” pose, put a blanket over him and jumped on him. These rascals were jumping on a kid! It’s outrageous, I’m sorry, but his buttocks were of black color. An imprint of a 45-size shoe on his chest. He could not go to the toilet, he was weeping. My son and I we drank valerian for a month, and both of us had trouble sleeping at night”.
About the son. «A child psychologist told me then than he was crippled big time — and I’m afraid that his return to the community would be difficult. He was afraid of all “Volga” cars of gray color. He left for the village and still lives there. Even when he comes here, he leaves home only in the company of two twin-brothers, Misha and Vanya, although he is older than them by four years. Now we almost never get back to these events and try to avoid talking about them, none of us at all”.
About the complaints. “I tell him, I’m not going to leave it like that, Anton. At first I didn’t even know what to start with, the first thing that came to my mind is to write this complaint to the prosecutor’s office. I started to look for the options, because I realized I would not be able to cope on my own. My sister helped me, she contacted the Regional Directorate for Organized Crime Control, and I kept writing complaints since they put grit in the bearings whenever they could. And by chance my sister accidentally saw the telephone number of the “Committee for the Prevention of Torture”, and came there with all the documents and explained the situation. They examined everything, and asked only two questions: “Did it really happen?” and “Will you go all the way?” I said, “Yes, it happened, and we will go all the way”.
About the investigator. “Investigator Sergey Nikolaevich Sokolov behaved and talked very badly. He intimidated, he threatened, he shouted. I tell him, “What, you already were preparing yourself for a higher rank? Sitting here like that if you were a hero. Captured a 17-year old lad, tortured him. He started to tell me about his Chechen campaign. I told him “Were you trading the same young lads there as my son?” Generally, we had a terrible talk. He was the one in charge of the rape case. I told him right away — it was you who make these lads torture him!”
About the police. “My attitude to the police is calm and adequate – different people work there, the police officers have their work, and my attitude is normal. But at first of course I felt insult and anger — I wanted to get rid of these negative emotions and direct them at the police officers, but not at any, but specifically at the culprits. I’m telling them, “I’m ashamed for your parents and your children. Because you won’t be able to raise normal kids. And ashamed of your parents because they bred such monsters as you. It’s not right. It’s simply not right to live like that”.
Illustration: Stasya Sokolovskaya
Yulia Krayushkina: “Who joins the police? Only the whimps”
Yulia is a wife of businessman Oleg Krayushkin. On 20 September 2012, he was beaten up in the Pavolvsky Police Department of Nizhny Novgorod, when the police officers demanded that he confessed of theft of the sawmill, which he bought some time before. Kayushkin was handcuffed and beaten up with truncheons at feet and heels.
He spent two months under house arrest, after that the sawmill case died out. It has not been completely closed till the present time, so Oleg cannot achieve the vindication. The criminal case on tortures was initiated against some unidentified police officers, but up till now no-one was brought to responsibility.
About the incident. “I got a tremendous help from a friend of ours. He gave me a piece of mind for keeping silence for a first day… and I simply did not know what to do. My husband was apprehended for no reason at all, he was sitting at the police department — for me it was a great fear, I was afraid to tell about it even to the friends. And so, a friend of ours started to look for lawyers to bring him at least under house arrest.
For the first night, I was sitting at home and trembling. I did not sleep, I did not do anything – did not eat or sleep. I simply did not realize what I should do and where should I run. Of course, I was in such a state that I was trembling. I did not mention anything at my work, simply asked for leave. They all asked me, “Has something serious happened? You have lost a lot of weight. For these two days, when he was there, I don’t know how much weight I lost, but a lot, I was trembling all the time”.
About the husband. “I saw him beaten all over. I heard him telling his friends how we was beaten up, who was beating him, he did not tell me, he told me I didn’t need to know that, so as to avoid additional stress. They beat him up in that basement — hit him with truncheons at his heels, kicked, it was terrible. I was listening and that sent shivers down my spine. A man is tied up and beaten up, just like that. I remember he had injured feet, they were of blue color. He had a lot of pain in his meniscus later, he was very nervous about it, he did not know what to do.
I insisted that he went to the doctor. A very good specialist did a surgery, my husband had to walk with a stick only for a day after. And then it was all right with the foot”.
About the threats. «They threatened me a lot after that. I work in a Pension Fund, they were near my work, and let us say, I go with my friends, in a mink fur coat, it was winter, and Nikulin (one of the police officers who beat Oleg up) tells me: “Is this fur-coat also stolen for you by your husband?” in the presence of my colleagues, this was very distressing.
And Nikulin used to come in the same way when Oleg was released under the house arrest. I told him, “You should come with the documents”, and he replied, “I can do anything”. I remembered this Nikulin forever. But now when he sees me, he nearly ready to sink through the floor. They see Oleg, too and they are hiding from him, as well. He turns away from them, crosses the road to go on the other side.
Last year we went to the doctor, and my mother and kids were at home. We have a little kid and he is afraid of everything. And so they arrived, it was already dark outside, and they started to make a lot of noise everywhere — it’s good that my mother timely shut the door, otherwise they would have stormed in. And then suddenly they disappeared”.
About the justice: “Oleg is prepared to insist on justice to prevail. I’m telling him all the time: there are many like you, but it’s only you who is suing them, fighting them. They consider themselves so unattackable, no one can touch them! But they themselves can beat everyone up for nothing. But we still want for the truth to prevail”.
About the police officers. “Shall I call them with a bad word? They have always been bad, and remain bad. Where are the good cops? They think they are forever, always will service the power, no matter who is in power. They are weak, nothing but wimps who can tie a person up the way they did to Oleg and then beat him up”.
Illustration: Stasya Sokolovskaya
Olga Dmitriyeva: ‘A person is cripped. And my soul is, too”
Olga is the wife of the assembler Aleksandr Dmitriev who was tortured on 8 March 2011 in the police department of the Sovetsky District of Nizhny Novgorod. The investigative officers demanded that he confessed of stealing the tools (he was celebrating a holiday with his family at the time of the theft). He was beaten up; his arms and feet were compressed — till his spine broke. In March 2017 on the second try the court passed a sentence with regards to Vadim Volkov and Aleksandr Sokolov, who got five years of jail time each.
When her husband was moved from the police department to the hospital, Dmitrieva immediately applied to the Department of Internal Investigations and submitted a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office, and invited the journalists from Seti-NN to the hospital — they recorded the beaten-up Aleksandr and the story he had to tell.
About what happened. “He was away for long. I was calling him repeatedly, but his number was unreachable. Naturally, I could not sleep for the whole night”. By the evening of the next day Alkeksandr, who had been previously taken to the court of justice, called and said that he was being transported home. “He was brought home, I went outside, it was already twilight in the March, in the street I saw five of these men, all of them in hats drawn upon their heads down to their eyes. A lot of curse words — and by the police officers! He is whispering: “Olya, they tore me limb from limb, I have troubles even standing, I’m beaten up all over”. Then he is taken away and put in the car: “Sasha, let’s go, we are going to release you now”. But it turned out they left him there for the second night to press on him further.
In the morning, he calls me: “Olya, they released me, how do I reach home? I can barely stand on my feet, I’m in pain. I even don’t understand where do I get the bus and get off it”. And I’m guiding him to the bus stop right over the telephone. And he barely managed, my son and I helped him get off this bus. The son was at his one arm, and I – at the other. We were passing the shop, where drunkards usually gather in the mornings, they even stopped talking, opened their mouths in amazement, watching as we went. When we came home I immediately checked his pressure. Dear God! I called for the ambulance straight away. To the hospital, urgently, he was in near-stroke condition. He was put to neurosurgery department, the doctor recorded everything”.
About the husband. ‘He was a healthy man, and within these six years he turned from a flourishing person into the old man. He barely walks, he has poor memory and it is deteriorating. He is very weepy – he watches a movie and weeps. This was never the case before. Nerve system is gone. His head is in bad shape, he is basically walking here and there like a half-wit. And with every year it is getting worse.
Since that time, he has had five strokes already. Recently he lost his speech, feet no longer move. I told him, “Let’s call the ambulance”, and his response was just ‘A-a-a-a”. I know that when the ambulance arrive they would tell him to go to hospital, and he wouldn’t go anywhere. And I made him lie down, gave him some water, and was near him all night and did not sleep… Now and then I used to touch him: still alive? Not cold? In the morning he awoke, feet were a lot better. People are surprised he’s still alive.
That’s it! The man was simply made a disabled. That’s him. And what about my soul, how they crippled it? Now I need to nurse him, and I myself have worn out my nerves in the past six years. My health is not the brightest one, and I have no health left myself”.
About the stone wall. “My husband knows that I’m his stone wall. And I had to pull myself together – for both of us. My friends wonder how I survived, they say a monument should be raised for me in my lifetime. His friends tell: our wives won’t go anywhere at all. And so, I tell everyone: never be afraid, against any force there’s always another force. There is the “Committee for the Prevention of Torture”, apply there and don’t be scared. They will help you there all right”.
About the children. “At least, the sons don’t add problems for us: they don’t drink, don’t smoke, they help us. But they need to sort out their own lives somehow. They cannot marry because of us. Because I’m alone for Aleksandr Ivanovich… I need to work, to take care of him, and who will feed? The son tells me, “Mom, how can we find someone when father is on you, and you yourself is not the healthiest one anymore? We will not abandon you”. So, the kids are sacrificing their own life.
The elder son is keen on the monasteries, it’s his line. According to him, one must pray and love his enemy, as it is said in the Bible. “Mom, I’ll be praying for you”. Well, it’s good. And the younger one is overemotional – since he was with us then, and he lived through all that!”
About the police officers. “Life is given by God, and only he can govern it. And they are commit atrocities. That was exactly what I said when I came to the Prosecutor’s Office: they were provided with authority in order to protect, and they are killing us instead. So much anger in me. Though the elder son teaches me that I should forgive my enemy… But I can’t forgive! Because of my husband, because of me, because of my family. I can’t forgive them and that’s it. Why did they intrude in our family? We did not touch them.
Others somehow gradually become conscious of what they did and acknowledge one’s guilt. But these never offered a single apology! Now they say in court: mother of one of them has a cancer, the wife of another one is pregnant, the third one’s mother and grandmother died. I realize that their parents were in distress. But when they warped another man’s life, did you think how people will live after? Have they thought of their mothers?”
Illustration: Stasya Sokolovskaya
Ludmila Mikheyeva: “Where is the state that crippled the man?”
Lyudmila is the mother of the State Traffic Safety Inspectorate Aleksey Mikheev who was tortured for several days at the Leninsky District Department of Interior of Nizhny Novgorod. Not being able to stand up to torture, he jumped out of the window and broke his spine, and cannot walk since then. The police officers demanded that Aleksey confessed on the rape and murder of the missing girl. In a few days after Mikheev was apprehended the girl returned home — all this time she spent at her friends’ place.
For 26 times the investigation issued refusals to initiate criminal proceedings on torture, nevertheless, in 2005 police officers Igor Somov and Nikolay Kosterin were convicted for 4 years of prison term. In 2006, the ECHR awarded Aleksey Mikheev 250 euro as a compensation. It was the first case of “The Committee for the Prevention of Torture”.
About what happened. “In that house, Alesha with a friend of his studied, and his mother, a doctor-oncologist, she called me and told me: “Alesha jumped out. He was brought to our hospital; the spine is broken. And it is terrible». I touched my head and all my hair remained in my hand. I shook my head and my hair fall with nothing left to comb.
I hurried to the hospital as I was – barefoot. At first I ran to the police department, and saw the broken window, his motorbike parked nearby, and a piece of hair on the ground – with a piece of flesh. I recognized his hair, and took it. I remember my grandmother told me that the flesh cannot be left behind – the birds might eat it, and it will be fatal. So, I took in my hand and ran. And the head of that police department comes out, and I ask him where they went — he said, “They took him to hospital 39, I’m going there”. I tell him, “Take me with you, I’m barefoot, where can I go like that on my own” No, ne shut the door and did not even talk to me.
Here’s the mother. No one noticed the mother in such a state, no one pitied her, no one even took her to hospital. And I ran back home barefoot, I came to my senses, I pulled myself together – there should not be any tears or anything like it. That’s how I learned what happened, that’s how it’s started”.
About the son. “He cannot be left alone even for five minutes. If he does not sleep I don’t sleep round the clock either, and that’s how it is every day for 20 years. If he sleeps – I sleep too. I even cannot leave him alone to go to the doctor to check my blood pressure because I have to sit in the queue there for a hour or two. He does not walk around the apartment, he does not eat, the only food he knows is this bag here with a cup. When it’s over, that’s it, no one would bring a glass of water.
This year we got terribly ill, very bad flue, from November to March, it was so bad we could not recover for a long time. And Alesha got paralyzed — his features were distorted, saliva dripping from the mouth, one eye would not close. He contorted his tongue — he could not either swallow or drink, saliva goes out, everything is falling from his mouth.
We started to look for treatment, mother reads books, that’s the one I bought, a good one, “God’s Drugstore”, it features folk-medicine recommendations for every disease. It’s full of clippings, it became thick, resembles a cabbage. Here’s another incarnation, mother-doctor”.
About tears. “Well, my motherly heart – no tears, no nothing. If you ask me whether he saw my tears for these twenty years? No. Never. Not a single time. And you won’t see them, I won’t show them. I cannot open my motherly soul to you the way you want me to. It is impossible and not necessary.
I did not have a single tear come out, even when I wanted to cry to free myself from this pain — but this is impossible. I don’t have any. They have dried up, like in a desert. I can go on endlessly about this. I could whine, complain, but it is no use. Why this, I’d better not. For if I tell everything my heart will fail, I’d have a stroke”.
About the state. “I’m an architect by my education, I worked, had good positions, I had everything. And it all came to such abrupt end. At my work, they told me that once such a thing happens it’s for life, so I should resign. No sick leaves for you, not anything. They said they had no use for such workers, that was all. And I was left with nothing. And the state does not care about us, still.
Why they took my son from me? Why the state is declared guilty, but no nurse or doctor was provided to take care of him? Who is taking care? His mother with her books and cabbage and pumpkin. Why do I have to go through all this? Where is the state that crippled the man? The state is very guilty, it was declared guilty of this situation. But all the burden is on the mother – nurse him, if you want. Does anyone care about him in our state? No-one”.
Illustration: Stasya Sokolovskaya