Leonid Plyushch is a Ukrainian mathematician, publicist, literary critic, dissident, and member of the Initiative Group for Human Rights and the Foreign Mission of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. Since 1968, he has been persecuted by the Soviet government. In 1973, he was imprisoned in Dnipropetrovsk Special Psychiatric Prison. Under pressure from the international community, he was released in 1976 and emigrated to France. After his release, he wrote an autobiographical book called “History’s Carnival: A Dissident’s Biography.” Analyzing his life from post-war childhood to falling into the grip of Soviet punitive psychiatry, the author presents a portrait of a whole generation of the “Sixtiers”. The passage given here demonstrates the system of Soviet punitive medicine from the inside, as recorded by the person who managed to defeat it.


Memories of a dissident Leonid Plyushch about the Dnipropetrovsk psychiatric prison, 1973-1976

Leonid Plyushch
Leonid Plyushch. History's Carnival: A Dissident's Autobiography, еd. and translated by Marco Carynnyk. New York, 1979. Р. 311-313.
Original language:

Ordinary day

I slept under the influence of tranquilizers and frequently would be awakened by shouts. Orderlies were beating a patient for insolent behavior. The patient would cry out that he wanted to go to the lavatory, but the orderlies would not permit it because he had no food to give them. A nurse would come running.

“lvanenko, why are you being disorderly?”

“I want to go to the lavatory!”

“To smoke again!” the nurse would snap.

“No, to piss.”

“Don’t use foul language! You’re lying, you want to smoke.”

If the nurse was kind, she would add, “All right, let him go. But make sure he doesn’t smoke. His fingers are filthy with nicotine stains.”

Someone would be loudly singing an obscene song.

Another patient would sing an even more obscene one just as loudly. I could not avoid hearing the obscene doggerel, songs, and arguments or the stories about sexual escapades. “We dash into a Finnish village,” one patient would relate. “Not a soul anywhere. Then I see a woman hiding. I pull out my pistol and point it at her. ‘Lie down!’ I tell her. She lies down.”

Then came all the details of the rape.

I would listen with interest because the patient was an excellent storyteller.

His stories had a plot and revealed a good deal about the psychology of the people involved. He was particularly fond of relating how he had murdered his wife.

Tolya would go into a delirium. He would often start with a song, then proceed to screams and curses. His delirium involved rhymes.

“Constitution, tution, tution, tution. Prostitution, tution, tution, tution … ”

For some reason everyone treated Tolya well.

If he was not tied down when a fit came over him, he would head for the window to smash the glass or to the lavatory to break whatever came to hand. Then orderlies and guards would be summoned to tie him down, but he would continue to rhyme. “Tolya, tolya, olya, olya, olya. Medicine, medicine, dicine, dicine.” The deliriums would last for hours. Tolya would be given injections and would gradually calm down. Sometimes he would have a delirium during the night, and then I couldn’t sleep until it was over.

Occasionally I was called out for interrogation. The questions were always the same: what had I written, why had I written it, and why had I not thought about my family? “If you are to be released, you must help us understand your illness,” Kamenetskaya said during one such interrogation. “Write an autobiography for us. Explain what motives led you to become involved in anti-Soviet activities.”

“Is this to be a kind of confession, an intellectual autobiography?”

“Precisely. Don’t be afraid. It’s important for you yourself. You don’t have to write about your friends or your relations with women. You’re a Freudian, and yet for some reason you’re embarrassed to speak about this.”

“Now, that’s exactly what I shall not write about because I consider it my personal affair. And I shall hardly write a confession. I can’t be certain that it won’t be used by the KGB.”

“No, I’ve already explained to you that it’s for the psychiatrists and not the KGB,” Kamenetskaya insisted. “The KGB doesn’t interfere in our business.”

“All right, I will think about it.”

“Do that. It’s important for you to realize the error of your views. And the sooner we can cure you of them, the sooner you can return to your family. We are not asking you to reveal the anti-Soviet secrets of your democratic-nationalist movement.”

I returned to the ward and told the other politicals about the proposal. Such proposals, I learned, were made only to political prisoners who were widely known. Those who wrote confessions were then interviewed by the doctors and forced to prove in writing that their ideas were senseless, illogical, and utopian. The recantations were accompanied by humiliation, and there were cases where such statements of self-abnegation were shown to relatives. Even then the KGB waited for a year or two before permitting the political to be released. Some political prisoners would write confessions without being asked to do so, but they were usually genuinely ill. Such confessions were the butt of jokes among orderlies, nurses, and doctors.

“Well, Ivanov, wouldn’t you like to address the country on television?”

“No, Nina Nikolayevna, I was a fool.”

“And now you’re not a fool?”

“No, I’ve been cured.”

“Are you certain that you’ve been cured?” ”

Yes. I’m no longer interested in politics.”

“And do you read newspapers?”

“Only the sports news.” An interest in sports was taken as a sign that the patient had been cured of politics.

After my talk with Kamenetskaya I remembered my discussion with Vladimir Dremlyuga on Pavel Litvinov’s birthday and my desire to write about what brings people to reject the Soviet system. All right, I thought, I shall have to write a confession of a child of these times when I leave the psikhushka.


Worked on the material:
Research, comment

Ivanna Cherchovych

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