Incapacitating, soul-crushing beatings for all, or "welcome to the unit, son"

"On elders." A letter home.

"On elders." A letter home.

Last week, in a post associated with October 1, army draft day in Russia, I talked about the widespread phenomenon of “dedovshchina,” the “rule of the elders” that subjects recruits to beatings, hazing, robbery, enslavement and murder from their superiors. It is a serious blight on the army, one that drives morale down to literally suicidal levels and deprives it of  some 100,000 potential recruits who do anything they can to get out of serving in such an abusive institution. Army officials claim it’s in decline; everyone else insists otherwise.

As if to prove everyone right, news emerges today, five days after draft day, that, on September 2, 16 recruits in a St. Petersburg unit were severely beaten by three drunken superiors.

The superiors jammed into the recruits’ tent in the middle of the night, beat the recruits “till morning,” and then demanded money from them, saying they’d come back and cripple them if they didn’t pay up the 3,000 rubles (about $100). One of the draftees, a 23 year-old named Vladimir Romanov escaped. He went to see Soldiers’ Mothers, an anti- “dedosvshchina” advocacy group, who helped him write a complaint to the military prosecutor and turned Romanov over to his father.

As they drove up to the house, they found Romanov’s commander waiting with four other soldiers. The soldiers grabbed Romanov and dragged him into their waiting car, in the process breaking his thumb and landing a blow on Romanov’s father. When the car took off, the elder Romanov gave chase, but lost control and crashed into the house. They were both taken to the hospital.

No criminal investigation has been opened to look into the matter.

What’s more, it turns out that this unit, 02511, has become famous for its “dedovshchina” craftsmanship. Romanov’s comrade suffered a concussion and a broken jaw on the night of the 2nd, but was forcibly returned to his unit. (He was soon returned to the hospital, where he remains today.) Two weeks ago, a 19 year-old draftee was hospitalized. He was found unconscious and diagnosed with “gasoline poisoning.” In June, a 25 year old from unit 02511 committed suicide. The contents of his suicide note have been hushed up. That same month, another recruit escaped, complaining of repeated and severe beatings. In Kamenka, the town where the unit is stationed, the son of a military officer was beaten unconscious on his way from school.

Soldiers’ Mothers has long accused the military of denying soldiers the right legal recourse and, indeed, the military prosecutor’s office has not yet decided to open a criminal investigation. Apparently, it is still looking for evidence of the 16 beatings.

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