One day in mid-July Alexander Kupriyanov, a psychiatrist from the Russian city of Briansk, opened his email to find several video clips, sent to him anonymously. The grainy videos, with time stamps ranging from May to June 2017, show several residents in the Trubchevsk Psycho-Neurological Institution near Briansk chained by their wrists or ankles to beds, radiators, and other objects. While Kupriyanov isn’t willing to publicly share who recorded the videos, he was immediately convinced they were authentic: he told me he’s been hearing stories about mistreatment at this institution for years. Kupriyanov published the videos on YouTube, which quickly got picked up by several media outlets.

Screenshot of a resident in the Trubchevsk psycho-neurological institution in the Briansk region chained to a metal frame.

© 2017 Private

The Russian government’s response was swift – although not quite what Kupriyanov had hoped for. Last week authorities opened a criminal case but, according to Kupriyanov, investigators so far have mostly focused on finding out who recorded the video.

After the video was published, several former staff came forward, including on national television, with revelations so disturbing that it is impossible to hear them without tears. Two former nurses confirmed the practice of chaining people with psychosocial disabilities to their beds or radiators, including those believed to be suicidal. One former kitchen worker recognized the patients in the video. She said that staff regularly brought some residents to the dining hall chained to each other, and forced them to eat in handcuffs.

Former employees also said that the institution is severely understaffed, with one nurse responsible for 30 or 40 people at a time. One former nurse said that when residents were “unruly” they would be chained, forcibly sedated, or put in solitary confinement. “Others are practically immobile and the staff don’t want visitors to see them crawling around the grounds,” she added.

Former staff say chains and handcuffs were mostly used in wing five of the facility which, in a cruel irony, is known as the “Mercy Wing.”

Shackling is prohibited under Russian and international law, and Human Rights Watch has called for an absolute ban on shackling and other forms of prolonged restraint. Authorities should properly investigate these damning allegations and make sure that people in such institutions around Russia are treated with the dignity they deserve.