Friday, May 11, 2007

Conscript Dies After Suspected Hazing

--from the St. Petersburg Times

By Galina Stolyarova
Staff Writer

A drafted soldier with less than a month to serve at his detachment at the village of Sertolovo near St. Petersburg died Saturday at the city’s Military Medical Academy from severe head injuries, apparently sustained in a hazing incident.

“The recruit was delivered to the hospital’s brain surgery ward in a coma on April 27 and died on Saturday night without regaining consciousness,” said Colonel Yury Klyonov, an aide to the chief military commander of the Leningrad Military District.

The recruit was named as Sergei Zavyalov, 23.

Zavyalov’s mother, Nadezhda Zavyalova, told St. Petersburg-based human rights group Soldiers’ Mothers that she had learned about her son’s death in a phone call from his detachment.

“They told me that Sergei fell and fatally struck his head,” his mother recalls. “It seemed contrived and unbelievable to me. I think he was killed and I am sure that it was deliberate. I am determined to find the people who did it and bring them to trial.”

Zavyalov last spoke to his mother by telephone on April 26.

The circumstances of Zavyalov’s injuries remain obscure.

Klyonov said the Leningrad Military Prosecutor’s office has promptly launched a criminal case and a fellow recruit had already been detained in connection with the death.

“We are carrying out our own investigation and we know that Sergei had been unconscious for some time; he had also been left without medical aid almost five hours before being sent to the Military Medical Academy,” said Ella Polyakova, chairwoman of Soldiers’ Mothers.

“It is beyond my understanding why no immediate effort was made to save his life.”

A native of Vologda, a small town in Northwestern Russia, Zavyalov was drafted in June 2005 and served in military detachment No.11255. His two years of conscription would have expired by the end of this month.

The Defense Ministry estimates that between 500 to 1,000 recruits die from non-combat-related causes each year in Russia.

But human rights groups contest official statistics and claim the actual number is as high as 3,000.

Ruslan Linkov, head of the liberal political organization Democratic Russia, said that the military authorities often try to “make a scape-goat of another recruit.”

“Look at all recent hazing scandals and you will see that officers routinely escape punishment,” he said. “It has become a trend. Recruits are more vulnerable and deprived than the officers and burdening them with full responsibility kills two birds with one stone: the corrupt system is protected, while the human rights groups and the relatives are presented with a nominal figure to blame.”

Polyakova is convinced Zavyalov’s death could have been prevented had qualified medical aid been provided to him earlier.

“It looks like either a tremendous neglect of human life, or an equally tremendous fear that Sergei, if he had survived, would tell a story nobody was going to like,” she said.

Polyakova pointed to the case of another St. Petersburg conscript, Roman Rudakov, who has been awaiting a partial intestine transplant at Moscow’s Burdenko hospital since mid-January.

Rudakov was kept in the emergency ward of military hospital No. 442 in St. Petersburg after doctors removed his small intestine on Sept. 30, 2006, following a severe beating to the abdominal area.

“In his letters home, Roman even contemplated suicide; he considered slitting his wrists so bad had the bullying become,” Polyakova said. “Information about the beatings which had been present in the original medical report was then mysteriously removed, and if his sister had not kept the original, we would never have been able to prove the fact that the beating led to the removal of the intestine. Worse, it took more than four months and the intervention of our organization before he started getting appropriate treatment.”

A rapid investigation into Rudakov’s case established that fellow recruit Maxim Lomonin was responsible for the beating. He received a three-year suspended sentence in the resulting trial.

However, no officer was punished or reprimanded in the case.

Linkov accused the military of being scared of publicity.

“They typically try to hush things up and therefore avoid, whenever possible, dealing with civil doctors because it would bring to light mishaps in treating and handling patients,” he said.

“Germany, France and Israel have offered to help with Rudakov’s operation but Russia has rejected all the offers.”

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