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Ukraine: Harm Reduction Activists Disturbed by Police Actions

At the very end of January 2011, the Interior Minister of Ukraine [ru] in an interview, called for increasing control over the substitution therapy programs. After this interview, according to the harm reduction activists’ reports, police started to pay special attention to the Methadone sites in various regions of Ukraine. The police visited the sites and requested detailed information on the patients including their HIV status. In many cases the patients were also requested to fill out questionnaires with fairly provocative questions.

A line to the Methadone Site, Kiev, Ukraine

A line to the Methadone Site, Kiev, Ukraine

The blog of the Association of Substitution Therapy Advocates of Ukraine [ru] posted a report by Talina Vyshynskaya concerning about this increased police activity taking place in different regions of Ukraine. She wrote [ru]:

В прошлую субботу, поздно вечером, квартиру к одной из клиенток Полтавского сайта ЗПТ посетили двое сотрудников ОБНОНа и довольно хамски, настоятельно предложили женщине написать заявление о том, что программа ЗПТ не только не помогает, а, наоборот, вредит здоровью. И обязательно указать, что после того, как больная стала на эту программу, она полностью погрузилась в уголовную жизн, то есть, для того, чтобы получить очередную дозу наркотиков, жила от преступления к преступлению. И перепуганная женщина, под давлением со стороны милиционеров таки написала бы все, что от нее требовали, если бы в это время из другой комнаты не вышла ее мать и не подняла шум, защищая свою дочь. Наткувшись на сопротивление, доблестные стражи порядка не стали настаивать на продолжении разговора, а повернулись и ушли прочь. А если бы рядом с больной никого не оказалось? Все могло бы закончиться тем, что из нее сделали бы преступницу, которая к тому же оговорила бы ни в чем не повинных людей.

Late at night last Saturday, the apartment of one of the clients of the Poltava substitution therapy site was visited by the representatives of the Department of Anti-Drug Trafficking and urged her to sign a form claiming that the substitution therapy program not only did not help her, but on the contrary, is bad for her own health. And also to mention that after she had become a patient, she appeared in a criminal environment and committed crimes to receive a dose of drugs. Under pressure from the policeman, the scared women would have signed everything if her mother did not intervene and started yelling in order to protect her daughter. After meeting this resistance, the police officer was not eager to continue the conversation and just went away. But what if nobody was around? She might have been accused of crimes that she did not commit and might have slandered innocent people.

Another activist from Poltava, social worker Roman reported that a police car had been parked next to the site where another patient was invited for a conversation. This is how he described his experience of being questioned by the police:

Предлагают сесть и дают бумажки, а там – отнюдь не анкета, а «объяснение» с номером статьи, которая грозит мне за дачу ложных показаний (информации). Далее – вопросы: паспортные данные, информация о судимости, а в конце – несколько вопросов о терапии, мол, каково мое отношение к ней, кто дал направление, есть ли положительные результаты, какую дозу препарата и как часто я принимаю. Но больше всего меня возмутил вопрос о наличии ВИЧ-статуса! Ведь эта информация почти во всем мире считается конфиденциальной!

I was offered a seat, and was given a piece of paper, but in fact it was not a questionnaire, it was an “explanation” that I would face a criminal prosecution if I provide false information. Then I saw the questions: my passport number, information about my criminal records, and at the very end a few questions about the therapy, my attitude towards it, who referred me to the program, whether there any positive results, how big my dose is, and how often I receive it. But I was most outraged by the question about my HIV status. This information is considered confidential all over the world! …

The blogger Pavel Kutsev also reacted to the police attempts to receive the information of HIV status of the patients. In the interview, the Interior Minister stated that the police are collecting information on HIV status of the patients to check whether the therapy is prescribed to the ‘right people’, those who do not have any chance for rehabilitation through other programs. Pavel was sarcastic about the police's ability to evaluate a decision that should be made by medical personnel. The situation reminded him the Soviet past where the communist government fully controlled the private lives of citizens. He posted on his blog [ru]:

At the Methadone Site, Kiev, Ukraine

At the Methadone Site, Kiev, Ukraine

Надо понимать, что сугубо медицинские аспекты, как то – болен ли человек, нуждается ли в лечение, в каком и даже в каких дозах должен принимать лекарства (!) как и положено в совке определять будут не люди в белом, а человеки в сером. Ну, разумеется же – глупо было бы обнародывать всю информацию полученную из истории болезни (влоть до ВИЧ статуса(!!!) где-то ещё, как не у себя в архивах МВД, СБУ.. .Даже не могу , и нет особого желания ещё о чем-то продолжать. Разве отмечу. Теперь опять… опять сначала… работа предстоит немалая. …

As I see it, from now on, the decision regarding purely medical issues, such as whether a person is sick, whether he needs treatment, and what kind of treatment should be prescribed should be made not but people in white robes, but by people in grey uniforms like it was in Soviet Union. And of course, all the information from one's medical card including HIV status should be stored in the Interior Ministry and Security Service archives… I do not even want to continue this topic. I just want to say that… it seems that we need to start our work from the very beginning…

Although in some regions this ‘opinion poll’ among the substitution therapy patients went fairly peacefully, Ukrainian harm reduction activists proactively reacted to the unlawful actions of police. The Association has helped the patients who suffered from these actions submit their claims to the prosecutor's offices. The Association also asked for support from international organizations including UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Health and the Authorized Human Rights Representative in Ukraine [ru].

At the end of her report Talina Vyshynskaya expressed her surprise over the actions of police. She wrote:

Нам совсем понятна политика МВC, если учесть некоторую статистику. Известно, что даже при очень скромных подсчетах нелегальный наркобизнес благодаря программам ЗПТ в Украине теряет более 43 млн. долларов в год. Казалось бы, это совпадает с концепцией правоохранительных органов – противодействие нелегальному обороту наркотиков. А значит, и наезды на сайты ЗПТ – это очень странно.

I do not understand the policy of the Ministry of Interior. It is widely known that based on even rough estimations that substitution therapy helps to reduce the illegal turnover of drugs in Ukraine in approximately 43 million USD per year. So it looks like it is coincides with the concept of law enforcements – to prevent illegal drug trafficking. In this regards, these raids on the Methadone sites look even stranger.

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