Neppovo is a village about 100 km away from Saint-Petersburg where one of the regional lunatic asylums is situated. It is also one of the two in the region where the farm-yard is to be found.

The patients of the asylum work four hours a day, two in the morning and two in the evening. And for many of them life in the asylum turns into daily hard labour. In the timetable it is called "work therapy".

Patients work in the laundry, help in the canteen, fulfill all kinds of work on the territory: water flowers, work in the fields, tend sheep and cows, clean the pigsty, etc. They are also to do all the work in the quarters while the frequent occupation of the personnel is tea drinking.

The patients get money for some of the jobs they do, but they earn very little and the sum depends on the brigadier, the woman responsible for the work. They also see and taste very little of the products of their labour, horns and hoofs, as they say. And meat goes to the brigadier, the head of the territory or somebody else.

Thus, they live deprived of practically all human rights having no opportunity to leave, even for the weekends to see their relatives, and punished for bad behaviour – an attempted escape or unwillingness to work – by several days in a cell.

Many of them have lived there for about 20 years but there are those who are slightly older than 20 years old and they fully realize that they are imprisoned for the rest of their lives. They know they are inmates and there is no way out. They are disabled more by the system itself than by nature.

One of the girls once told me: "We know practically nothing of ourselves. They [the doctors] know everything of us. And we are just to live, to work and to go to the bathhouse from time to time. Free people don't live like that, do they?"

The doctors and staff prefer not to see and notice the humble life and problems of the patients. At the same time they continue to repeat that the asylum is a resort for the patients. Do they pretend or sincerely believe it to be true?


Photography and video: Sasha Demenkova