Friday, January 27, 2006

Hazing Incident

Hazing costs soldier his genitals and legs
Russian army recruit brutally beatenMilitary promises full investigation
Jan. 27, 2006. 01:00 AM
MICHAEL MAINVILLE
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
MOSCOW—On New Year's Eve, as Russians across the country celebrated their most important holiday of the year, 19-year-old Pte. Andrei Sychev of the Chelyabinsk Tank Academy was tied to a chair by his fellow soldiers. For the next four hours Sychev's colleagues, including some of his superiors, took turns beating and kicking him repeatedly in the legs and groin.
There was nothing unusual about what happened to Sychev — the demoralized Russian armed forces have long been plagued by bullying and brutal hazing. Seven other conscripts were beaten the same night. But for some reason, Sychev was unable to get medical attention for three days, and gangrene set in.
To keep Sychev alive, doctors were forced to amputate his legs and genitals.
The Russian Prosecutors' Office revealed details of the case this week, and yesterday military investigators arrived in the Ural Mountains city Chelyabinsk, 1,900 kilometres east of Moscow, to begin a large-scale investigation into hazing at the academy. News agencies said eight servicemen — including officers — were detained.
Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov initially played down the incident, telling Ekho Moskvy radio "there is nothing serious there," but later vowed a full investigation. "We won't cover anything up," he promised.
The incident set off a fresh wave of criticism of a brutal military system that promotes intense hazing and abuse and often leads to killings, suicides and desertions.
"In over 20 years of service as a prosecutor, I haven't seen a more cynical crime ... and more heartless treatment of servicemen by commanding officers," Chief Military Prosecutor Alexander Savenkov told the Interfax news agency.
Authorities also failed to notify Sychev's mother, Galina, until after his first amputation. "Why didn't anyone tell me: `Come here, your son is in grave condition'?" she asked.
Sychev, unable to speak, scribbled the name of his most cruel tormentor on a piece of paper, his mother said.
Prosecutors said one of the detained servicemen, Sgt. Alexander Siyakov, had been charged with abuse of power. The chief of the military's General Staff, Col.-Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, said he was outraged by the crime and promised to punish officers in charge of the academy.
But military experts and activists for soldiers' rights doubt this latest incident will lead to any real changes.
"The military is falling apart and every year it gets worse and worse," says Valentina Melnikova, from the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers. "But the people in charge don't want changes, they don't want to create a normal military because they benefit from the way things are."
According to official statistics, 16 soldiers died of hazing last year, and the defence ministry says 276 servicemen killed themselves.
But Veronika Marchenko, head of the Mothers' Rights Foundation, an army victim support group, estimates 3,000 soldiers die every year from non-combat-related injuries, with more than half of them killed during hazing or driven to suicide to avoid it.
At the system's heart is the brutal code of dedovshchina, or "the rule of the grandfathers." New recruits are routinely beaten and abused by older soldiers, called grandfathers (dedy).
"Our army is like a gulag, where a person is treated like a slave and the life of a soldier doesn't mean anything," Marchenko says.Russia's top brass has for years been vowing to reform the military by shifting the balance between conscripts and contract troops. But Marchenko says few in the upper ranks are truly interested in switching to a professional army. Most, she says, retain the Soviet-era mentality that military strength can be measured in the number of soldiers. And ending conscription — all Russian men between 18 and 27 must serve two years in the armed forces — would also deprive many officers of a lucrative source of income, she contends.
"It's common for conscripts to be hired out as cheap labour," she says. "The officers don't want changes ... it would take money out of their pockets."

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