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'We Mustn't Live In The Stone Age': Russian Authorities Probing Claims Of Coerced Sterilization In Yekaterinburg

A Russian regional rights ombudswoman has said there were 15 cases of coerced sterilization of women at a state-run assisted-living facility between 2006 and 2016. (illustrative photo)
A Russian regional rights ombudswoman has said there were 15 cases of coerced sterilization of women at a state-run assisted-living facility between 2006 and 2016. (illustrative photo)

A man broke down in tears as he told a national television audience that his wife died after being sterilized under duress while living at an assisted-living facility in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.

A woman on the same program said that she was browbeaten by doctors at the same state-run residence into giving up her baby for adoption, and then coerced into undergoing sterilization.

The rapidly unfolding scandal involving allegations that at least 15 female residents of the Uktussky Residence were sterilized under coercion reached the national stage on October 21 when the Rossia-1 television channel ran an hour-long segment featuring several alleged victims and experts.

Appearing on the state TV talk show Andrei Malakhov Live, one Uktussky resident, Lyudmila Guseva, and one former resident, Anna Bakhteyeva, recounted being threatened and intimidated into undergoing sterilization by doctors who insisted the facility in the Ural Mountains city could not accommodate mothers with children.

"I didn't understand what they were talking about," Guseva said. "And I didn't know it would be with me my entire life."

Involuntary sterilization without a court order is illegal in Russia.

In another alleged case featured on the Rossia-1 program, an openly weeping former resident of the facility, Andrei Bogdanov, told of how his wife, Natalya, also a former resident, was coerced into accepting sterilization and later died. He claimed she suffered from severe abdominal pains after the operation, which he believes caused or contributed to her death.

'Under Duress'

Another former resident, Tatyana Volkova, said that in 2015, when she was 20, Uktussky Residence officials coerced her into giving up her daughter for adoption, telling her that if she did not she would either be put out on the street or sent to a psychiatric hospital. After her daughter was taken from her, Volkova said, she was sterilized under duress.

Health and law enforcement officials in Sverdlovsk Oblast, where Yekaterinburg is located, have opened investigations into the allegations, which stem from the period from 2006 to 2016.

Regional rights ombudswoman Tatyana Merzlyakova (file photo)
Regional rights ombudswoman Tatyana Merzlyakova (file photo)

After meeting with administrators of the Uktussky Residence and local officials on October 20, Sverdlovsk Oblast human rights ombudswoman Tatyana Merzlyakova told journalists "there were old cases" in which female residents were coerced into undergoing sterilization.

"When we met with the first deputy social-policy minister [of Sverdlovsk Oblast], I said that this was a crime since it was done under duress," Merzlyakova told journalists. "They have their point of view that everything was done legally. But I believe we must not live in the Stone Age. These days there are dozens of other ways of preventing pregnancy. This practice needs to be a thing of the past."

'A Crime Was Committed'

The regional edition of the newspaper Argumenty I Fakty quoted Merzlyakova on October 20 as saying there were 12 such cases dating to 2006-12 and three in 2016 at the facility, which houses people with special needs and the elderly.

"Since then there have been no cases," she said.

On October 21, the local affiliate of REN-TV broadcast a report saying that six female residents of the facility had signed statements claiming they had been coerced into being sterilized and that their statements had been submitted to local prosecutors.

"Such crimes must be investigated and the statute of limitations for them is very long," lawyer Yury Yemelyatdinov told the channel. "The main thing is to state affirmatively that a crime was committed."

The scandal erupted on October 17, when the Telegram channel Baza published a video statement by Guseva, who said she had been forced to undergo sterilization under the threat that she would be transferred to a psychiatric hospital where conditions were supposedly "unpleasant." The video briefly shows a blurry document dated 2008.

The video was accompanied by a text saying that "more than 10" women had undergone similar coerced procedures. "Several" of the women reportedly came to the Uktussky Residence directly from orphanages because they were not given the subsidized housing for which they were eligible.

"These women with special needs were taken into the residence because they were not able to get housing because of long lines of people awaiting [subsidized] apartments," the report claimed, without providing further evidence.

On October 19, Baza published a second video featuring Bakhteyeva and her husband, Vladimir Bakhteyev.

They state that in 2016, Bakhteyeva, then an Uktussky resident, was coerced into having an abortion and being sterilized, even though the couple was in the process of getting married.

The couple has since been able to secure the subsidized apartment that Bakhteyeva was eligible for and she has left the Uktussky Residence.

On October 20, State Duma Deputy Oksana Pushkina, deputy chairwoman of the Committee on the Family, Women, and Children, called the videos "heartbreaking" and said she had asked the federal Prosecutor-General's Office to "keep the situation under its control."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service