Russia blamed in clinic fire deaths

AFP-JIJI

A fire that killed 36 patients at a dilapidated wooden psychiatric facility has exposed Russia’s failure to move on from the old Soviet system of punitive psychiatry used against political dissidents.

Two staffers and 36 patients — apparently too sedated or disorientated to escape from their mass dormitory with barred windows — perished in the fire, which broke out Friday.

National rights ombudsman Valery Lukin reiterated a call for “urgent measures to be taken to ensure real transparency in places where mentally ill people are being held.”

Human rights activists say most of these facilities in Russia were built in the Soviet period when the main construction aim was to provide isolation and direct observation of the patients. The government has failed to modernize these units, complained the president of the independent psychiatric association, Yury Savenko, in Saturday’s Moskovsky Komsomolets daily.

Moscow’s rights ombudsman, Alexander Muzykantsky, reported last year that in many cases patients were spending 10 to 20 years in overcrowded hospitals intended for diagnosis and initial treatment, simply because there was nowhere else for them to go.