POY RJI | Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute

Category: World Understanding Award


Antonio Faccilongo / Getty Images Reportage


Daniele Volpe / Freelance
“Ixil Genocide”


Anastasia Rudenko / Freelance


Salvatore Esposito / Contrasto
“La Forza del Silenzio”



According to the official statistics of 2013, there are more than 1354 mental houses for adults in Russia and more than 150 000 people live there. Estimated over 50 000 patients of asylums, called “Internat” in Russia, come from orphanages for mentally disabled children. After reaching the age of 18 they must have a psychiatric re-examination and if the conclusion is that the examinee is able to provide for themselves, they have to be let free and be provided with accommodation from the government; but in reality the reexamination is absent. The intellectual disability of persons who arrived from orphanage for mentally disabled children is in fact often associated with educational neglect, the lack of proper training and education and the lack of rehabilitation programs. This is very close to phenomenon called over-diagnosing that appeared in Soviet psychiatry and was widely spread. About 70 percent patients of asylums are just persons with reduced intelligence and we can only be hypothesizing about how many of them have been over-diagnosed.

Limited interior space, overcrowding, poverty due to corruption, lack of privacy due to the sexual division of the institutions and the prohibition of expression of patients sexuality is a small list of how to describe the life in an asylum. The patients often use the term "at liberty" to describe the life outside of the institution.

Since 2012, I tried to get access to more than 40 asylums and got to less than 10.