The animated documentary is based on the true story of Kostya Proletarsky, a drug user and HIV activist who died as a result of mistreatment and torture at a Russian prison. The animation features original audio interviews with Kostya and his mother Irina, and aims to commemorate Kostya and many others who have not survived prisons around the world.

The documentary film has been screened at 7 film festivals around the world, and won the main prize at the 65th Hungarian National Independent Film festival and the Madrid Film and Human Rights Film Festival in 2020.

Production of the animated documentary was supported by AFEW International.

In July 2020,  in Amsterdam, AFEW International together with Mainline and Poppy: Drugs Museum Amsterdam screened this documentary. The event was held within the ‘Dutch Drugs Stories’ Expo and welcomed activists, civil society members and policy makers in the field of eastern European drug policy.

About the movie

On 19 June 2009 Kostya Proletarsky, a drug user and HIV activist, died of tuberculosis meningitis at the Botkin Hospital in St. Petersburg, Russia. His death was the result of three years of mistreatment and torture at the prison facility No. 4 in Karelia, Russia. In the prison camp, Kostya was denied the right to continue his HIV medication. Inmates were regularly beaten and tortured.

Trigger warning: torture. As punishment and to teach them ‘who’s the boss,’ guards often spilled 30 litres of bleach mixed with ammonia onto the floor of the closed cell, to suffocate people. For giving someone the address of the HIV clinic in St. Petersburg, Kostya was punished severely. Guards put a gas mask on his head, with 1.5 litres of ammonia attached to the bottom. These are just a few examples of the cruel and degrading treatment he and his fellow inmates had to suffer.

Upon Kostya’s release in 2008, harm reduction and human rights expert Anya Sarang, president of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation recorded an audio interview with Kostya in the hospital, in which he provided testimony of the horrors occurring at the prison camp.

The Rights Reporter Foundation used this original audio recording and an interview they recorded in 2009 with Irina, Kostya’s mother, to produce the animated documentary film. They worked on it for 3 years with Lili Rontó, an acclaimed Hungarian graphic artist, who hand-drew the 30 minute animation, frame by frame. The music was also produced by Lili Rontó and the director, István Gábor Takács.

“In Russia, where science-based drug treatment is barely available, imprisonment becomes the main “solution” to the problem of drug dependency. But these institutions don’t cure. Instead, prisons kill.” Says Anya Sarang, who also narrates the animation film. “During the 12 years since Kostya’s death, the situation in Russia has not improved. Criminalization of people who use drugs, law enforcement industry, conservative ideology and the brutal suppression of the civil society have doomed the effort to halt the HIV epidemic impossible. In 2009, when Kostya died, there were around 80 harm reduction programs all over Russia, today we can count them on the fingers of one hand. Russia remains the leading country in Europe and in the world in the rise of HIV infection, AIDS, drug-resistant tuberculosis, hepatitis C and overdosis, while quality healthcare, HIV and drug treatment remain inaccessible, especially for the people who need them most. ARF has to continue our work despite the threats, because if we stop, people will lose not only help, but also hope.”

“The drama of Kostya and Irina touched me deeply, because it shows very clearly what is wrong in our societies when it comes to dealing with drug problems.” Says István Gábor Takács, director of the film. “Drugs can be harmful, but the policies to punish people who use drugs are deadly. And the tragedy of mothers of people with dependency all around the world is that they very often have nowhere else to turn for help but to the states, which instead of offering help, support and treatment, punishes their children, which very often leads to their deaths. With our short animation documentary we would like to show, that those people who use drugs, that are locked up and tortured, not only in Russia, but in many countries around the world, are in fact our own children and loved ones.”

You can watch it online here.

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