No place to live for Ukrainian female injecting-drug users: Eurasian Harm Reduction Network seek justice for Svetlana Eka Iakobishvili



In December 2013, – a young woman named Svetlana Mikhailenko died in one of the main cities of Ukraine. The official death certificate cited the cause of death as ‘AIDS’ which is one of the main causes of death amongst Ukraine’s injecting drug user community, despite being a preventable and treatable disease. Svetlana’s case is one of many that encapsulates government’s ignorance, police abuse and the vulnerability of women who use drugs and live with HIV/AIDS and/or TB.

Svetlana was diagnosed with HIV few years ago after she came out of prison, where she had served a sentence for her drug use. Pregnant at the time, and without a source of income, she was forced to leave the hospital and refused medical treatment. For seven years, she did not approach another medical clinic. Medical evidence shows that her HIV had progressed to AIDS. Svetlana had a co-infection of both Hep C and TB, constituting a complex medical condition that requires urgent medical attention and quality supervision.

However her story does not end here.

Svetlana was further detained and released a number of times in the run up to the detention of her partner during the autumn of 2013. She was first detained as a witness and was forced to testify against her partner and his drug use. She was kept in police detention, despite a lack of legal grounds and was physically assaulted even throughout her pregnancy.

Her interrogations went beyond legal regulations for witness testimonies and she was treated with cruelty and degradation.

Svetlana’s medical condition deteriorated following her stint in police detention. Against the advice of medical practitioners, law enforcement officials continued to take her into detention, where she was subjected to continual physical and psychological pressure and abuse.

Official documents issued by the government of Ukraine attribute Svetlana’s death to AIDS, hepatitis C and TB.

No further investigations or testimonials have been sought to determine whether her death could have been prevented.

The questions that need to be asked complex and underlie the systematic and gross violations of human rights of women who use drugs in Ukraine.

Why do these violations occur in the first place? Why do police brutally and at times fatally harm women who use drugs? Why do police ignore the advice of medical professionals, and disallow them to carry out their ethical and professional obligations. Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN), with the support of Levi Straus Foundation has campaigned on behalf of Svetlana and her loved ones to seek for justice. Street-based lawyers with the assistance of human rights experts have been able to investigate the case and established the links between police violence, denial of medical treatment and Svetlana’s death.

Svetalana’s death should not become a battlefield of legal and policy manipulations for the government of Ukraine.  Quite the opposite, lessons need to be learnt and shared, and those responsible for her death be held accountable for their wrong-doings. EHRN will be following up with the case and aim to take it up within national institutions as well as international institutions to assure justice for Svetlana and her loved ones.

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