This series was taken in the mental house of the photographer’s native town (Ukraine). Photographer stayed with the patients for a week, followed them throughout their daily activities and spent the night in the hospital. The topic of psychiatric disorders is hushed up in the society, and to have a mental patient in the family is often considered shameful. Not just in Ukraine, but in many parts of the former Soviet countries mentally disordered people as a rule become outcasts. Mental health services are much institutionalized and hospitalization rate is high. Clinical psychology, outpatient mental health services and social work in the Western sense is hardly available, especially in smaller towns, and psychiatrists have a low threshold for hospital admission. Most of the care given to the patients in specialized hospitals consists of simple exclusion of these patients from the society and using tranquilizers. They are rarely offered any occupation, let alone ergotherapeutic activities in these clinics and don’t have much to do. Living conditions in this particular provincial mental house were dire.
Essay by Stepan Rudik, photographer:
“… A human… Homo sapiens… What does it at all mean – a man of sense? Is it a person who lives in a system of moral norms, who is brought up by the society, who knows the culture and specifics of the land defined on the world map and limited by borders, and which is called a “state”, “motherland”? Is it a person who is able to follow the flow of time: seconds, hours, days and nights, months, and years? Is it the one who is able to plan the future life and contemplate on his/her current affairs, and moreover – to regret about the past which has passed, and destination unknown?
… When we see a person who is behaving inadequately, one of those whom the civilized countries hide away in mental clinics, we first of all tend to look down at him/her. Secondly, we don’t want to know their problems. We believe nothing like that will ever happen to us. We hide behind our blissful ignorance and indifference. We run away from what interferes with our habitual rhythm of life.
… It’s hard. It was very hard to be surrounded by so many mental patients – or ‘bozhevil’ny’ in Ukrainian (this Ukrainian word expresses very well the meaning, ‘bozhe’ means ‘God’, ‘vil’ny’ = ‘free’) - insane, otherwise-minded, secluded in stinking corridors and in tiny little rooms behind bars, and besides fenced off by five-meter high walls.
But I had my camera along with me. It was a sort of a picklock key, beyond time and space, and beyond understanding. It was a bridge for me, a linking chain. It helped me many times and rescued in different situations.
It is amazing what an effect a small piece of metal with little glasses in it can have! Of course, in the beginning everybody freaked out, they ran away from me, but on the second day they started to get used to me and to my camera.
… There is just one mental house in this little town with the population of 100,000 inhabitants. It is located in a former prison of NKVD (predecessor of KGB). One can see the building and the fence of the mental house from the windows of the town hospital, which is situated near by. Behind the mental house, separated by a few trees, there is the only maternity in the district and in town. On the right hand from the hospital, there is the town council (with the Lenin statue in front of it); on the left hand – the only town prison. Such a triangle. The mental house stands in the middle of it. As I was told by one patient, “the crème de la crème of the society have gathered in this house”.
… The time has stopped here. It is as if you have stepped out on the road side, out of the frameworks of the game.
… It is impossible to convey the smell, the light, the colour and those conversations, that environment, relations and energetic interaction.
I guess, if I would have spent a month there, they wouldn’t let me out, they wouldn’t save me. There is no treatment at all. A person is simply fenced off from the world, deprived of freedom (although there is a TV set, and relatives can see patients almost every day). They take some pills in the morning and in the evening, but there are no exercises – neither mental, nor physical nor emotional.
Men and women live on different floors and meet once a day during the walk. They scarcely communicate with each other, and if they start speaking, they do it all at the same time and everybody talks about his/her own things. They live for the day – right here, right now – and they think and talk the same way. They have neither tomorrow, nor yesterday.
… I got acquainted with three exceptional people there – an artist, a poet and a physicist. I cannot tell exactly what they were doing there. The only thing I can tell for sure – they are “heavenly free” (bozhe-vil’ny) or rather they are heaven-born free. They are not as loaded with the affairs as we are. I envy them in this freedom… Although they are in a confined space, their mind and their soul are far beyond conventional thinking. On the other side of reason…"