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‘We don’t need your children here’ Resident of assisted living facility in Yekaterinburg blows whistle on forced sterilizations

Source: Meduza
Uktussky Assisted Living Facility

On October 17, the news outlet Lampa Yekaterinburg published a video on social media of a woman talking about the forced sterilization of residents at the Uktussky Assisted Living Facility on the outskirts of Yekaterinburg — a state institution that houses elderly people and people with disabilities.

“I’m Lyudmila Guseva. I live in an assisted living facility where girls were sterilized. I would have liked to have a family and have a child, but now I can’t have children [...] A doctor came to me at five o’clock in the evening and said: ‘Lyusya, [you’re] going to have an operation.” They said: ‘If you don’t have the operation, you’ll go to a psychiatric home.’ They stab [people] there, it’s very bad there. I didn’t want to live in bad conditions [...] That’s how they ruined us all. They sterilized [us]. Now we can’t have children [...] If a person behaves badly, if he doesn’t obey, they say to him: ‘Let’s go to the hospital to do tests and stuff’ and under false pretenses [take him] to another facility, to a psychiatric home,” the woman in the video says. 

Lampa also released a photo of Guseva’s medical records, which show that she underwent surgical sterilization in 2008, in the gynecology department of Central City Hospital Number 20 (the paperwork doesn’t say where the hospital is located, but presumably it’s in Yekaterinburg). Guseva told Lampa that she was forced to consent to the operation.

“I started to ask, why do I [need] an operation if I’m not sick? She started to explain what it is. […] Chief physician Angelina [Anatolyevna] asked: ‘Do you want to have children?’ I say, I don’t want to yet, I don’t have a boyfriend, I’m not ready! But if I meet [someone] then perhaps something will work out. Then they started to pressure me: if you give birth, where will you and your child go?! We don’t need your children here. They’ll take them away from you! And so we aren’t allowed to have children and are sterilized. They’ve already taken away children from those who dared to give birth. They’re forced to sign a waiver and give up the baby — under threat of being transferred from the care home to a [psychiatric institute],” Lyudmila Guseva continues.

According to Lampa, more than ten women from the assisted living facility have been sterilized. Lampa journalist Andrey Kazantsev told Lenta.ru that his outlet spoke with six of them. Both Lenta.ru and the Telegram-based news outlet Baza reported that one of the facility’s residents died after being subjected to forced sterilization; according to her husband, she complained of abdominal pain prior to her death. 

The right to choose

The Sverdlovsk Region’s Human Rights Commissioner, Tatyana Merzlyakova, and the regional Social Policy Ministry stated that they will verify Lyudmila Guseva’s reports. The ministry stressed that there have been no previous complaints about forced sterilization from the Uktussky facility. Law enforcement officers visited the care home on October 18 and took a statement from its deputy director, Anastasia Pokidysheva. 

Pokidysheva told the news outlet 66.ru that Lyudmila Guseva has been living at the facility for more than 10 years, working as a cleaner. About two weeks ago, she went on vacation and they haven’t been able to reach her since. According to Pokidysheva, the facility’s residents only undergo medical procedures at the recommendation of doctors from the institution’s assigned hospital, Yekaterinburg Hospital Number 20. The assisted living facility itself only provides first aid. 

“We’re at a loss over the release of such a video.We’re trying to get information from the medical workers who worked here earlier, because the team has changed, and [we’re trying] to make a request to the hospital, if they’ll answer us. Because we are different departments — medical and social. They have their own rules, their own bosses. Then we’ll find out how this happened — with consent or not,” Pokidysheva said. 

According to the facility’s director, Irina Verkholantseva, 11 female residents of full mental capacity and four other disabled women from the institution have undergone sterilization procedures voluntarily since 2006. Guseva’s personal file includes a medical certificate confirming a sterilization procedure carried out “for medical reasons” in 2008. The Uktussky facility doesn’t know what these medical reasons were, only the doctors have this information, Verkholantseva said, as quoted by Znak.com. 

“Everyone knows how doctors work: first, people in such situations are always presented with alternatives. A person has the right to choose. After that, the person gives informed consent in written form. Therefore, there’s no talk of coercion. But to what extent people understand the [consequences]...This needs to be investigated. We will be guided by facts only,” Verkholantseva said.

The director also added that this is the first time questions about forced sterilization have been raised during the year that she’s been working at the facility. Verkholantseva described Guseva as “good, calm, smiling, and good-natured girl, who embroiders icons with beads.” They still haven’t been able to get in contact with her. 

‘This isn’t a joke’

The Uktussky Assisted Living Facility was established in 1967. It is designed to accommodate 336 people and is currently at capacity. According to the institution’s website, the majority of the people living there are elderly. 

Lampa reported that the facility also takes in orphans who have health problems; usually those with “slight developmental delays.” The outlet underscores that such people are considered mentally capable; assisted living facilities take them in because they’re too old to live in orphanages, but have yet to be provided with social housing. In exchange, they pay 75 percent of their pensions to these institutions.

Boris Vakhrushev ran the Uktussky Assisted Living Facility for 20 years, until his death in 2015. Then, retired Colonel Andrey Popov took over as director. He came in conflict with the facility’s residents, who complained particularly about the increased cost of services. Meduza didn’t find any complaints about forced sterilization. Popov, who no longer works at the facility, told the outlet Podyom that this couldn’t have happened. 

“Before a procedure they go through two commissions, if I’m not mistaken, the district and the regional, where they confirm their decision. Any kind of medical intervention takes place only after that. That’s how it used to be. […] It seems to me that this is completely far-fetched, from the realm of fantasy. I don’t know about any cases of [deaths], either before me, or after, or at the time of my job. This isn’t a joke. It’s not so simple: once or twice the assisted living facility decided to sterilize three or four [people]. I’m 100 percent sure that the client’s consent is there. Otherwise there’s no way,” he said.

Lawyer Yulia Fedotova told the news outlet Yekaterinburg Online that forced sterilization can only be carried out on a person considered legally incapacitated. This decision must be made by a court at the request of their legal guardian. If forced sterilization is carried out on a competent person, it could be considered grievous bodily harm or abuse of official authority, Fedotova explained.

We won’t give up Because you’re with us

Story by Olga Korelina

Translation by Eilish Hart

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