Find out more about the Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Illustration: Stasya Sokolovskaya.
Debates over torture often overlook victims’ relatives, who spend sleepless nights trying to save their family members and then spend years in the offices of officials in pursuit of justice. MediaZona publishes the stories of wives and mothers of five defendants of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture.
Liliya Lyapina: “They’ve got their uniforms, and who are we?”
Liliya is the wife of Sergei Lyapin, who was tortured at the police station of Ilyinogorskoe village in Nizhny Novgorod on 25 April 2008. Police officers detained Sergei as he was gathering unclaimed scrap metal. They demanded that Lyapin take the blame for more than a dozen thefts from local people’s garages. First, they tied him up with belts, then, they tied wires to his fingers and tortured him with electric shocks.
After the police station, Sergei ended up in hospital. His wife Liliya, after registering a complaint with the prosecutor’s office, was able to get a warrant for a forensic medical exam, an official record of his injuries. In 2014, the ECHR awarded Lyapin 45,000 euros in compensation. Only then was a criminal case for torture opened, but the police officers (whom he was able to identify) have not been charged. The statute of limitations will soon run out.
The events. “You know, that period of time feels like one solid lump, and recalling all this in detail again is very, very difficult. It was a shock, let’s say that. A huge shock. Can you imagine? You have a one-month old child, and three other kids, and your mother-in-law, too — and you need to hold them all together so that they don’t panic. Even though you’re incredibly panicked yourself, and what was happening to Sergei – that feeling of uncertainty... I said almost nothing to the kids or to his mother, for that matter. Because I knew that if I started to panic, that would be it. The whole family would panic, absolutely all of them.”
Her husband. “At first, he was in a state of panic. We were just about able to get him out of it. Then, he fell into a kind of apathy towards everything. Because you understand that fighting the system is pointless. The only thing you can do is talk about it among yourselves, let off some steam — that is as far as the state will let you go. We were trying to shake him out of it, it was very hard to get him out of that state.
Illustration: Stasya Sokolovskaya.And his health was ruined, he had terribly high blood pressure, terrible headaches.
He lost his health. Now it’s all become chronic. Because, maybe, he was thinking it over in his head, mulling it over, how it would have to have happened by the law, but no— there is a different kind of law, different people who decide whether to follow the law or not. When you watch the TV, you think: yes, they are saying all the right things, doing all the right things, but real life is completely different. It’s like knocking your head against a brick wall. It’s pointless.”
Her children. “Honestly, I’m always trying to forget that part. Like a nightmare, because these are not good memories.
You fear for the children, you know? What can they do to the children? Because these people are mad. When they searched our home, they took away the baby stroller – for almost two months, I had a baby in my arms and no stroller.
During [the search], they brought their father to where the kids were, they didn’t take the handcuffs off — even when he was changing into fresh clothes that I gave him, they didn’t take the handcuffs off.
What if the kids had gotten up to go to the toilet, if they had woken up? Can you imagine what sort of trauma that would be? Now, it’s just ‘Dad went on a trip’, ‘Dad was somewhere else’, we don’t really tell them anything of substance. Because they shouldn’t know this. If, at their age, they lose all faith in our system, how will they live on?”
“What if the kids had gotten up to go to the toilet, if they had woken up? Can you imagine what sort of trauma that would be?”
The state. “Probably the scariest thing was that we were completely unwanted in this state. That’s why you start feeling like... like you’re in the toilet, to put it simply. You may consider our faith in the state shot. Because these were representatives of the state, representatives of the law. Who break the law themselves and who write their own laws.
Personally, I have no faith in our judiciary, in our law enforcement. None whatsoever. Serezha just believes in the Committee, that they can get something done. But the Committee, on its own, against all this machinery of the state? I don’t think it can. They have their uniforms, and who are we? Just a ‘family unit’, big deal! There’s plenty of other families around. Everyone says that every family is precious, not even close! No-one gives a crap about anything. Especially in our country. So it’s a whole jumble of disappointment. But, of course, I never tell the kids of my disappointment.”
Tamara Shestopalova: “I couldn’t listen, I would start crying”
Tamara’s son Anton Shestopalov was tortured at the police station of the Sovetskii district in Nizhny Novgorod in May 2004. Anton, 17, was suspended by handcuffed arms and beaten so that he would confess to raping a former classmate. The girl herself said Anton had nothing to do with the crime. When her son was released from the station, Tamara took him for a medical examination and started writing complaints to the prosecutor’s office.
The criminal case was not opened until 2006, yet none of the policemen were ever charged; the statute of limitations ran out in 2014. In March 2017, the ECHR awarded Shestopalov 48,000 euros.
The events. “He did not walk home. He crawled back. My child crawled back on one leg. He told me: ‘Mom, don’t call the police, because they told me there that we are a large single-parent family and that my mother works as a cleaner’ (she cries). They really frightened him. He would start telling me about it and I couldn’t listen, I would start crying. The next day, my cousin listened to his story from start to finish. He told me: Tamara, I don’t know how he survived all of this, I couldn’t sleep all night. And he’s a grown man!
“He did not walk home. He crawled back. My child crawled back on one leg. He told me: ‘Mom, don’t call the police’
My child was maimed, he had a concussion. They suspended him by handcuffs. Thank goodness we had gone to the countryside the day before and he had pulled the muscles in his arms, so I had put some elastic bandage around them. Were it not for that bandage, they would have cut him to the bone... They put him in some kind of ‘butterfly’ position, covered him with a blanket, and jumped on top. These goons jumped on top of a child! That’s just, I’m sorry, his posterior was black all over. A footprint on his chest, a jackboot, size 10½. He couldn’t go to the toilet, he cried. We were taking valerian root for a month, both of us, we didn’t sleep nights.”
Her son. “A child psychologist told me: they really did a number on him, I’m afraid that the return to society will be difficult. He flinched any time he saw a grey Volga car, he was afraid of them. He moved to the countryside and still lives there. Even when he comes here – I have two other sons, twins, Misha and Vanya, and if he needs to go somewhere, he takes them with him every time. Even though he’s four years older than them. These days, we don’t dwell on it and try to never bring it up. Not me, not him, not the boys. No-one.”
Illustration: Stasya Sokolovskaya.
The complaint. “I said: ‘Anton, I won’t let this go.’
At first, of course, I didn’t even know where to begin; the first thing I could think of was to write that complaint to the prosecutor’s office. My sister was helping me, she got ahold of someone at the district Directorate for Organised Crime, and I kept writing these complaints, because they kept trying to derail me. And then my sister saw the phone number for the Committee for the Prevention of Torture on TV, by chance.
I went there with all of the documents and explained the situation. They only asked me two questions: “Is this real?” and “Will you stick with it to the end?”. I said: yes, this happened and we will go all the way.”
The investigator. “The way Sergei Nikolaevich Sokolov, the investigator, spoke to me was a disgrace.
He threatened me, he tried to intimidate me, he shouted at me. I said to him: ‘What is it, sweetheart? Have you made holes in your shoulder straps for the promotion in advance? Why are you sitting here like you’re already a hero?‘ They took a seventeen-year-old boy and tortured him. He was banging on the table: ‘When I was in Chechnya!’ I said: ‘Were you selling kids there, like my kid, is that it?’ Anyway, we had some horrible conversations with each other. Sokolov was the investigator on the rape case. I told him straight away: you forced those youngsters to torture my child!”
The police. “I am ok with the police, I have a balanced view, people are different. Police officers have their job, no, I am ok with that. But at first, of course, I was bitter, furious. I really wanted to take my anger out on them, but not on just any criminal investigators, these specific ones. I told them: I am ashamed for your parents and your children. Because you will not be able to raise normal kids. And I am ashamed for your parents that they have raised such monsters as yourself. This can’t go on. People just can’t live like that.”
Yulia Krayushkina: “Who goes to work in the police? Only sissies”
Yulia is the wife of Oleg Krayushkin, an entrepreneur. On 20 September 2012, he was beaten at the Pavlovsky police office in Nizhny Novgorod in order to extract a confession that he had stolen a power saw, which he had earlier bought. Krayushkin was handcuffed and beaten with nightsticks on his legs and heels.
He spent two months under house arrest, at which point the investigation into the power saw tailed off. Officially, it has never been closed, so Oleg has not been able to get his record cleared. The criminal case for police torture was not opened until a year had passed, but there were no named suspects and no-one has been charged to date.
The events. “A friend of ours really helped me. He told me off for not saying anything for the first 24 hours... but I simply didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know why they arrested my husband... And the fact that he was sitting there at the police station. That was such a frightful thing. I was afraid to even tell my friends about it. And then that friend started looking for attorneys, to get him out, even if under house arrest.
Illustration: Stasya Sokolovskaya.
But the first night I was just sitting at home and trembling.
I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat anything, I didn’t do anything. I had no idea what to do and where to go. Of course, I was in such a state that I was trembling all over. At work, naturally, I wouldn’t say anything, I just asked for time off. They were all saying to me: did something serious happen to you? You’ve lost a lot of weight. Over those two days... because he was there for two days, I don’t even know how much weight I lost. I was shaking constantly.”
Her husband. “I saw him bruised all over. I overheard him describing to his friends how they had beaten him and who had beaten him – he wouldn’t tell me, he said I didn’t need to know any of this. So that I wouldn’t worry again.
They had beaten him in the basement — they had been hitting him on the soles of his feet with those sticks, kicked him; terrible stuff. I was listening to this and my skin was crawling. They just tie people up and start beating them. I remember how his feet were all mangled, blue all over.
His meniscus was really sore afterwards, in his knee. That was very nerve-wracking for him, he didn’t know what to do. I got him to go to the doctor. This one really skilled doctor operated on him, he only walked with a walking stick for maybe a day after the surgery. After this, his leg was fine.”
The threats. “They were threatening me for a long time afterwards. I work at the pension fund, they would hang around my workplace and, let’s say, I’m walking alongside my friends, it’s winter, and I have a mink fur coat on, so Nikulin [one of the policemen who had beaten Oleg] says to me: ‘Did your husband steal that for you, too?’ Right in front of my colleagues, that was very unpleasant.
“Oleg wants to get justice for himself. I’m always saying to Oleg: they have so many victims like you, but you are the one going to court against them, fighting them”
And that same Nikulin was constantly coming down here, when Oleg was under house arrest. I told him: you must come with the correct papers, and he replied: ‘I’m allowed to do anything.’ I’ll remember that Nikulin person my whole life. But now, when he sees me, he tries to blend into the walls. When they see Oleg, they hide from him too. They turn away, they cross the road.
Last year, we went to see the doctor and my mother was at home with the kids. Our little one, he’s really afraid. And these guys came, it was dark out, and they started making a racket all over the place – luckily, my mom locked the door in time, or they would have broken in. And then just like that, they were gone.”
Justice. “Oleg wants to get justice for himself. I’m always saying to Oleg: they have so many victims like you, but you are the one going to court against them, fighting them. So now they steer clear of him, because he’s not sitting on his hands. They think themselves untouchable, like no-one could do anything to them! They are the ones who are supposed to be beating everyone up, hitting them, tying them up. But we still want to get justice.”
The police. “Do you want me to call the police a bad word? They’ve always been bad and they’re still bad. Show me the good policemen! They think they’ll be here forever. That they’ll always work for those in power, whoever that is. They’re subhumans. Weaklings. Who goes to work in the police? Only sissies, who can tie up people, like they tied up Oleg, and beat them.”
Olga Dmitrieva: “They made this man an invalid. Can you imagine how they crippled my soul?”
Olga’s husband Aleksandr Dmitriev, a construction worker, was tortured at the police station of the Sovetsky district of Nizhny Novgorod on 8 March 2011. The investigators tried to force him to confess to stealing tools. (At the time of the theft he was at a family celebration.) He was beaten with his hands and legs tied together with a rope until his spine broke. In March 2017, the court (on its second attempt) sentenced police officers Vadim Volkov and Aleksandr Sokolov to five years in prison each.
When her husband was sent to the hospital from the police station, Dmitrieva immediately went to the Internal Investigations Directorate and registered a complaint with the prosecutor’s office. She also invited journalists from a local TV station, Seti-NN, to visit the hospital, where they filmed Aleksandr’s injuries and his story.
The events. “I waited for him, and waited, and waited. I called him, called him again, but his phone was off. Of course, I didn’t sleep that night – naturally. The next evening, Aleksandr, who had already been taken by the police to the magistrate court, called to say that they were taking him home.
“He was a healthy guy, but over these six years he’s turned from a man in his prime into an old man”
They brought him here, I go outside, it’s getting dark because it’s March, there were about five of them, all wearing those hats pulled over their eyes. So much swearing – and those were police officers! He whispered to me: ‘Olya, they’ve left no place untouched, I can hardly stand, they’ve beaten me black and blue.’ They took him and put him in the car: ‘Let’s go, Sasha, we’ll let you go now.’ Turns out, they kept him another night. To batter him again.
The next morning, he called me: ‘Olya, they’ve let me go, how do I get home? I can’t stand, I’m sore all over. I can’t even think of where I need to go and which bus to get on.’ So I guided him to the bus stop over the phone. Somehow, he got back, we plucked him off that bus with our son. My son supported him on one side and I was on the other. We were walking past a shop, where a bunch of men gather in the morning to have a drink, they even stopped talking as we walked past, they just gaped at us. When we got home, I took his blood pressure – and oh boy! Right away, I called the ambulance and we sped to the hospital, he was on the verge of a stroke. They admitted him to the neurosurgery unit. The doctor made a record of everything.”
Illustration: Stasya Sokolovskaya.
Her husband. “He was a healthy guy, but over these six years he’s turned from a man in his prime into an old man.
He can hardly walk, his memory is all but gone and getting worse. He gets tearful – he would watch a movie and cry. That’s not how he was. His nerves are shot. He was beaten on the head, he walks like a half-wit. With each year, it gets worse and worse.
He’s had, what was it? Five strokes since then. Recently, he had an attack: he couldn’t talk, his legs went numb. I was telling him: ‘Let’s call an ambulance’, and he was just like: ‘Ah-ah-ah’.
I knew that if I called an ambulance, they would tell him to go the hospital and he wouldn’t do it. I put him to bed, gave him a glass of water, and little by little... I didn’t sleep the entire night. I reached over once and touched him to see if he was alive, if he was turning stiff...
In the morning he got up, his legs got better. People are amazed he’s still alive.
That’s it! They just made the man an invalid. That’s just him. And can you imagine how they crippled my soul? I need to look after him, my nerves are jangling after these six years. I’m not the healthiest person myself, I’ve lost my own health.”
His rock. “My husband knows I’m his rock. But I had to take control, both for him and for myself. Others say: Olya, how did you even survive, they should put up a statue to you. His friends are saying: our wives wouldn’t lift a finger. And I tell all of them: never be afraid, against every force there’s a greater force. There’s the Committee against Torture, you can ask them, and don’t be afraid. They will help you very well.”
The children. “On the bright side, our sons don’t add to our troubles, they don’t drink, they don’t smoke, they help out. But they need to get their own life on track. They can’t get married because of us. Because on my own... I need to work and I need to look after Aleksandr Ivanovich, who would support us? My son says: mom, how can we find anyone to be with if you’re looking after dad and your own health isn’t that great anymore? How can we abandon you? The children are sacrificing their lives.
“When you were wrecking a man’s life, did you ever stop to think how it affects others? Did you think of your own mothers?”
The older one is all about monasteries, that’s his thing. He’s all about prayers, you need to pray, mom, love thy enemy, as it is written. Mom, I will pray for you. Well, that’s nice. But the younger one is anxious – he was with us then. He went through it all!”
The police. “Life is given by God, and the Lord alone has the power of life and death. But they’re like wild animals. This is what I said when I went to the prosecutor’s office: they were given power to protect us, but they don’t protect us, they are killing us. I am so angry. My older son is telling me, mom, forgive thy enemy. But I can’t forgive! I can’t forgive them my husband and I can’t forgive them myself. Or my family. I just can’t forgive. Why did they intrude on our family? We did nothing to them.
Others arrive at some kind of realisation, they admit their guilt. These ones didn’t even say they were sorry! That’s how they were in the courtroom: this one’s mother has cancer, that one’s wife is pregnant and he’s buried his mother and grandmother. I understand that their parents were worried about them. But when you were wrecking a man’s life, did you ever stop to think how it affects others? Did you think of your own mothers?”
Liudmila Mikheeva: “Where is the state that made him into a cripple?”
Liudmila is the mother of Alexei Mikheev, a traffic police officer who was tortured for several days at the Leninskii district police station in Nizhny Novgorod in September 1998. Unable to take it any longer, he jumped out of a window, breaking his spine. Since then, he has not been able to walk. The police officers demanded that Alexei admit to raping and killing a young woman who had gone missing. Several days after Mikheev’s arrest, the woman came home — she had been staying with friends.
Investigators refused to open a criminal case for torture twenty-six times, but in 2005, police officers Igor Somov and Nikolai Kosterin were finally sentenced to four years in prison each. In 2006, the ECHR awarded Alexei Mikheev 250,000 euros in compensation. This was the first case taken up by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture.
The events. “That house over there, this is where Alyosha [Alexei] was studying with a friend, and the friend’s mother is an oncologist, she called me and said: ‘Alesha jumped out of a window. They took him to our hospital, his spine is broken. And it’s bad.’ I grabbed my head, like this, see? And I had no hair left. All my hair was in my hands. I couldn’t let go. Once I shook it off — all my hair fell out. Nothing left to brush.
I ran to the hospital as quickly as I could, barefoot. First, I went to the police station and I saw all this broken glass, I saw his motorcycle, and a clump of hair – this little clump with meat at the base. And I could see that it was his hair. I took it in my hand. My grandmother used to say that you shouldn’t [leave it there] — if birds eat it, that would be mortal. The meat must not be eaten. I took it all in my hand and ran on. The chief police officer went outside, I asked him where they went — he said, to the hospital, hospital 39, I’m going there now. I asked him to take me with him because I was barefoot, how could I go like that? No, he shut the door and didn’t even talk to me.
Illustration: Stasya Sokolovskaya.
So that was his mother. No one noticed his mother in that state, no-one had any pity, they didn’t even take me to the hospital. So I ran home again, barefoot, I came to my senses and I thought: I need to pull together – there must be no tears, no nothing. That’s how I found out, that’s how it began.”
Her son. “He can’t be left alone for five minutes.
If he’s not sleeping, I don’t sleep for days at a time either – and that’s been a constant for 20 years. If he goes to sleep, I sleep, too. Even if I need to go the hospital for a check-up, to take my blood pressure, spending an hour or two in the queue there, I can’t leave him.
He can’t walk around the flat, he can’t eat, his only food — here’s a suitcase with some pap. When it’s gone, that’s it, there’s no-one to give him a glass of water.
This year, we were really sick, a really bad flu, from November until March. It was so bad, we just couldn’t get over it. And Alyosha was paralysed — he was all twisted, like this, dribbling, cross-eyed, his eye wouldn’t close. His tongue was all contorted — he couldn’t swallow, couldn’t drink, dribbling out of his mouth, nothing stayed in.
We were looking for treatments, and I was reading books, I bought this one, it’s very good, called God’s Pharmacy, for each illness they have folk recipes. I’ve stuffed it with clippings now, it’s fat like a cabbage. So there you go, a mom and a doctor. That’s another role I play.
The tears. “Well, I’ve got a mother’s heart: no tears, no nothing. Ask him, over 20 years, has he seen me cry? No. Never. Not once. And you won’t see it either. I won’t show you. I can’t open up the maternal soul in the way that you want. It’s impossible and unnecessary.
“Well, I’ve got a mother’s heart: no tears, no nothing. Ask him, over 20 years, has he seen me cry? No. Never. Not once. And you won’t see it either. I won’t show you”
I haven’t shed a single tear. Maybe I even want to cry to get rid of this pain – but it’s impossible. I don’t have any. They dry up like in the desert. You could talk about this for hours. You could cry, you could complain, but it’s pointless. Why do it, it’s unnecessary. If I talk it about it so much, my coronary will crack, the heart will give out.”
The state. “I’m an architect by education, I worked, I had good jobs, I had it all. And that’s how it ended. At my job, they told me that something like this was for life – they told me to hand in my notice. No medical leave, nothing. We don’t need workers like that. And that’s it. Nothing left. And the state doesn’t need us. Even now.
Why did they take my son away from me? Why has the state been found guilty but hasn’t given us even a doctor to take urine samples all day? Nothing. Who’s looking after him? Mom, with her grimoires, her cabbage, and her pumpkins. Why was I saddled with all of this? Where is the state, which made him into a cripple? The state is very, very guilty, it was found guilty in this case. But everything was hoisted onto me – if you’re up for it, look after him. Does anyone need him in our state? Not. A. Single. Soul.”
Translation by Alexander Iosad. We are grateful to Stasya Sokolovskaya for the use of illustrations.