Region: Prison service accused of child neglect
Jailed mother brings case of 'mistreated' infant to Strasbourg
Posted: January 16, 2013
By Oksana Grytsenko
From The Kyiv Post
Little Denis Korneikov spent the first six months of his life behind bars. His mother gave birth to him after being put in a Kharkiv detention center five months into her pregnancy.
During that time, Denis shared all the miseries of life in custody with his mother and more. He had to live in a stifling cell that lacked ventilation. He traveled with his mother to court hearings and was left without any medical care for almost four months, his mother Viktoria Korneikova alleges.
"He had heart problems, bowel inflammation and a cough," Korneikova told The Kyiv Post, adding that she asked for a doctor but no medical care was given. Korneikova said she survived only thanks to frequent food deliveries by her mother.
The penitentiary service denied the allegations, saying babies and their mothers receive adequate conditions in detention centers. Officials say they are kept in special cells with hot water and given a special diet.
But Korneikova said while she was pregnant she was kept in a cell with 30 prisoners who didn't have enough beds so they had to take turns sleeping. After giving birth to Denis, she was given a basement room with small windows that had mold on the walls and lacked hot water.
Only after Korneikova filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg through her lawyer did Denis receive a medical examination during which a number of sicknesses were found. He was given treatment for the ailments. Ukraine is one of the top five complainants at the European Court of Human Rights, the court's chairman, Dean Spielmann, recently told Deutsche Welle.
After the complaint, Viktoria and Denis were transferred to a better-equipped cell. She was released on her recognizance in a November court hearing where she faced charges of assault. Her next court hearing is scheduled for February.
"On the day we took him [Denis] from prison, we couldn't wake him up. I told my mother, 'Look how long he sleeps in the fresh air,' " Viktoria said. "Then I saw a blush on his cheeks for the first time."
Gennadiy Tokarev, Viktoria's lawyer, said the conditions she suffered are a clear human rights violation.
"No matter who this mother is - and, moreover, her guilt hasn't been proved yet - there is a child who got into such circumstances where nobody was responsible for his health or even life," Tokarev said.
After the European court demanded an explanation from Ukraine on this case, the penitentiary service, prosecution and the Health Ministry prepared numerous responses, all stating that prison conditions were satisfactory.
"We made a special check. There was an investigation on the spot," said Igor Andrushko, spokesman of the State Penitentiary Service of Ukraine. "We received the official response saying the actions of our personnel toward this woman prisoner were legal."
That's not the case, said Yevhen Zakharov, head of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group.
"The doctors and the administrators of the detention center are all lying about what happened," Zakharov said. "We need to give evidence proving that everything was the way we are saying, which is very hard to do since she was kept in a closed institution."
The detention center provided the European court with Korneikova's statement that living conditions were good. However, she later retracted this statement, saying prison officials had forced her to write it.
Zakharov said Korneikova at least has strong evidence of mistreatment. After being checked by a pediatrician after his birth in May 2012, Denis was without medical supervision until September, evidenced by his empty medical record for the time period.
Tokarev said Korneikova also filed a complaint with the European court against the prison guards, who allegedly chained her hands and feet during delivery. Korneikova said she hasn't specified the compensation amount she will ask of Ukraine over this ordeal.
"Nothing would make up for the health losses my child and I have suffered," Korneikova said, adding that due to the difficult birth, her vision has become impaired.
The new mother is trying to arrange for her parents to have legal guardianship over Denis should she be sent back to prison. She does not want her baby to be sent to a state-run orphanage. Korneikova said she also fears reprisal by detention center officials if she is imprisoned again.
She also said her case is not unique. She said other women give birth in detention centers and suffer the same substandard living conditions.
"But being in the system, they are all too scared to complain," Korneikova said.
Oksana Grytsenko can be reached at email@example.com