Editors note: This article is published as an expression of the authors conclusions and work, and doe not necessarily represent the opnion or policy of the GNPHR. We welcome comments on this post and engagement by psychologists in active discussion and dialogue of the responsibilities and concerns of the global community of psychologists.
Russian Psychologists and Psychology Groups Supporting Genocide against Ukrainians: Evidence from the Official Russian Psychology Publications
Oksana Yakushko, PhD, ABPP, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Dr. Yakushko is a member of Ukrainian diaspora in the USA, a licensed psychologist and psychoanalyst, scholar, speaker, and consultant based in Santa Barbara, California. She is a Co-Founder of the Cathexis Psychological Group.
When Russia engaged in a full scale armed invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many across the global community—governments, citizens, businesses, and professional groups—denounced Russian aggression. They also engaged in systematic recognition that beyond the Russian government (i.e., Putin) lies a nation of Russian individual citizens and groups that are responsible for the destructive actions of their elected officials and their country’s military.
Many international psychology and mental health organizations suspended or revoked membership of Russian Federation psychology groups from their ranks as a denouncement of war and a sanction. Despite such actions, general confusion remains about whether or not Russian psychologists, both as a group and as individuals, should be held responsible for the actions of their government. Moreover, psychologists worldwide, like all global citizens, are targets of continued Russian misinformation and propaganda campaigns, including denials of their atrocities, misrepresentation of past and present day historic realities (i.e., Ukrainians as “Nazis”), and confusion about the intent of their violence (e.g., is it “denazify” Ukrainians, expand “imperial” boarders ala-“Peter the Great,” cleanse the world of “woke” influences such as the LGBT+ community, or to “fight NATO” in Ukraine?). Yet, at the same time, there was a call for support for Russian psychologists, claiming they, individually and collectively, shared the values of the world community of psychologists of peace, dignity and human rights. In this article, we show that at organizational and individual levels, Russian psychology is complicit in the aggression and human rights violations perpetuated by the Russian Federation.
The War in Ukraine as Genocide
As numerous human rights groups have documented, Russian aggression has been marked by an enormous number of horrific violations of every international law and human rights in Ukraine. Organizations that are dedicated to the study and prevention of genocides have been clear that Russian war against Ukraine constitutes a genocide. The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, a key international group with a focus on documentation and prevention of genocides, released several reports (2022, 2023) which unequivocally state that Russia is committing genocide against Ukrainians. Both their 2022 and 2023 reports document that Russia has repeatedly publicized their genocidal intents and plans against Ukrainians, and then subsequently engaged and continues to engage in numerous genocidal patterns of “destruction” such as
- Mass killings
- Deliberate attacks on shelters, evacuation routes, and humanitarian corridors
- Indiscriminate bombardment of residential areas
- Infliction of life-threatening conditions including “destruction of vital infrastructure,” “attacks on health care,” “destruction and seizure of necessities, humanitarian aid, and grain,” and depravation of Ukrainians leading to life threatening conditions
- Rape and sexual violence as weapons of war
- Forcible transfer of Ukrainians
- Numerous other documented atrocities
Among key strategies that confirm that the Russian war against Ukrainians is a genocide, according to the Wallenberg Centre scholars, are “direct and public” Russian government assertions that
- deny Ukrainian identity
- engage in “accusations in a mirror” (i.e., a form of incitement to genocide involving acclaims that victims are a threat, for example Russian claims that Ukrainians are somehow committing “genocide” against the Russians)
- dehumanize Ukrainians including Russian claims that they are “denazifying” the entire nation of Ukrainians to whom they refer as subhuman and “satanic” targets of their planned destruction
- construct Ukraine and Ukrainians as an existential threat to all of Russia
- condition Russian audiences to “commit or condone atrocities”
The Role of Psychology and Psychologists
Global media and international responses to these atrocities typically focus on the responsibility of the Russian government and its network of state-supported propaganda channels. However, less emphasized is the significant involvement of Russian psychologists and Russian psychology organizations in promotion and justification of genocide against Ukrainians. The evidence is abundant and can be easily accessed (albeit often only in Russian language) online.
The leading group of Russian psychologists is the Russian Psychological Society, which claims at this moment (Fall of 2023) that it is an active member of the European Federation of Psychologists’ Association (EFPA). Notably, the EFPA site unequivocally states the RPS is no longer a member of EFPA. In fact, the EFPA, like many other international psychological organizations, almost immediately stopped relations with the RPS. However, on the site of the RPS, EFPA’s membership along with false claims of numerous other international organization collaborations continues to be represented as current and ongoing. This persistent endorsement is not an omission in website update since it appears to be continually updated. Markedly, within the same webpages for the Society are numerous descriptions of group and individual contributions to genocide against Ukrainians.
Specifically, the Society webpages allude to war (never using an accurate term) with misnomers such the “special military operation” or “challenging times.” However, the Society’s leadership, members, publications and efforts all appear to systematically uphold Russian aggression against Ukrainians. Among the most blatant forms of support for war is the inclusion of the Russian Minister of Defense who is responsible for its military actions and military atrocities in Ukraine—general Sergei Shoigu and Putin’s leading government member— as one of Society’s “honorary members.” A salubrious page dedicated to Shoigu as a honorary member of the main Russian psychology organization shows no evidence of his training or involvement with practice of psychology. Moreover, S. Shoigu’s daughter—Y. Shoigu— a psychologist, is listed as holding key leading positions within the Society. She is noted as employed in leadership roles by the Russian government, and her published scholarly works appear to focus on Russian para-military groups (members of the Russian “Ministry of Emergency Situations”) which have been implicated in maintaining terror on occupied Ukrainian territories and honored/paid off by Putin for their particular role in zones where Ukrainians are typically killed, tortured, and terrorized (e.g., see Y. Shoigu, 2022 article on her work with this Ministry).
Among the Russian Psychological Society’s most active sections (judging by the volume of their publications and listed actions) is its Military Psychology division. In their lengthy account of accomplishments at the end of 2022 (after a full year of armed invasion efforts in Ukraine), the division enumerated their successes in supporting the Russian military. Specifically, they listed such accomplishments as development, research and applications of “social-psychological mechanisms of influence on the societal social behavior frameworks of large social groups,” “ensuring psychological resilience of members of the military groups,” “examination of the impact of participation in military actions on military members, especially those involved in the “Special Military Operation” [war against Ukraine],” “examination of info-psychological technologies of influence…,” and “study of the phenomenology of extremism.” The salutary report of this Russian psychology division listed 18 scientific peer review publications by Russian psychologists that were dedicated to these “Military Psychology” efforts. They also celebrate that supposedly over 80 Russian psychologists volunteered their work in efforts to prop the Russian military and its efforts. Among their enumerated war efforts were the development of online and social media groups to promote “resilience” of military members who are committing atrocities in Ukraine, with titles such as the “Active Warzone Psychology” and so forth. Their psychological campaigns, with focus on Russian war against Ukraine, carry titles such as “About Bravery. About Duty. About Love.” And not the least of these efforts was Russian psychologists’ development of the “All-Russia Psychological Written Test”—a kind of written examination of adherence to correct Russian ideology, history, and creed given to all Russian citizens but especially its active military members. In this 2022 report, the Russian Psychological Society hails this Exam in ALL CAPS as a form of “ENLIGHTENMENT” toward such goals as “the Great Victory” along with bigger trust in Russian psychologists and their profession. The webpages of the Russian Psychological Society contain numerous discussions of this “test” as well as its implications.
The Russian Psychological Society’s Military Psychology division is not an only active section and group in relation of promotion of war against Ukraine. Its individual leaders and members, such as M. M. Reshetnikov, have published, presented, given interviews, and promoted genocide against Ukrainians (following the above Wallenberg Centre criteria). Reshetnikov is highly publicized psychologist and psychoanalyst in Russia and internationally (including repeated stress on his nomination for the Nobel prize in the past and his numerous highest academic awards). He also openly boasts of being part of the leadership within Soviet military psychiatry, which has been documented as having carried out atrocities toward Soviet dissidents and all dissenting groups in some of the most horrific examples of psychiatric torture (see Holder, 1977 for one example of Soviet psychiatric acts, including toward Ukrainian dissidents). Since 2014 and the initial invasion of Ukraine, Reshetnikov’s publications offer near nonsensical recounts of history with conclusions that Ukrainians have become perpetual “Nazis” which must be eliminated by force, including by destroying the “Kiev regime” and so forth and so on. Again, Reshetnikov’s support for the war, dehumanization of Ukrainians, his psychological justifications of the aggression, mirror every definition of what constitutes genocidal intent and its rationales. Notably, Reshetnikov is listed as one of the members of the Presidium (Leadership) of the Russian Psychological Society.
Numerous other examples of Russian psychologists’ supporting war against Ukraine abound and can be found, openly, on the world wide web. For instance, psychoanalytic practitioner Napreenko cites the RT (Russian Television) calls to murder “every Ukrainian child” but states that these are merely examples of the symbolic psychological order, presence of which can help Russians grow psychologically (i.e., this symbolic “Real” is in fact not factual or valid, relegating the ongoing murder, torture, deportations, and terrorism against Ukrainian children merely as a “fantasy”). Another stunning evidence of atrocities can be found in English -language based peer review articles by Russian Federation psychologists. Considering that Russians have been abducting Ukrainian children from occupied Ukrainian territories since 2014, the 2020 article by psychology scholars Konstantinov and Mali, who are based in Penza (Russia), on the “adaptation” of Ukrainian children is disturbing. In this article, Konstantinov and Mali report using numerous tests to compare the “Russian” and “Ukrainian” children (Ukrainian children are identified as having experienced a “forced migration”). Their findings repeatedly and vociferously stress that “forced migrant” Ukrainian children were found (via their psychological testing) to “have manifestations of low mood, fear, strangeness, sense of instability, and aggressiveness” (p. 282). Ukrainian children’s “aggressiveness” is especially emphasized as a key feature of this group of children, in contrast to supposedly “Russian” children who are reported as not possessing “aggressiveness” or “strangeness.”
Western publications have occasionally published individual articles and “letters” from Russian psychologists such as I. Kadyrov (2022). In these letters, which are written in English and directed at Western audiences, Russian psychologists decry how hard it is for them to be individually censured for their government’s war, how they feel “hated” by Ukrainians, how much they love their own Russian children, how much they “feel for” and “support” Ukrainians. In these publications there is limited evidence of their recognition and response to the facts of Russia’s ongoing open hatred of Ukrainians or that Ukrainians are being murdered daily at the hands of the Russian military (e.g., Belokoskova-Mikhaylova, 2022; Ozerova, 2022). Open and direct denouncement of the Russian colonial and imperial genocide (past and present) by these Russian psychologists, including toward their colleagues who are directly involved in promoting the war, is absent. Still, justifications for including “good” Russians and Russian psychologists in international and Western forums often stress that they (probably) do not know or understand what is occurring (unlikely since their media celebrates destruction of Ukrainians and their psychology groups are involved in war efforts). Another justification is that they are afraid and are secretly holding anti-Putin positions while just trying to survive by keeping their heads down.
Although these justifications are understandable, one wonders what standards of accountability do we hold ourselves as psychology professionals and citizens? Are we willing to accept that as psychologists it is acceptable to remain silent, quiet, and “neutral” while known atrocities are being committed? What then is the moral or ethical culpability in regard to such knowledge?
Moreover, cultural collective guilt that some psychologists may carry for their own governments or their ancestors’ atrocities may be projected and not owned in relation to this war. For instance, in a recent international talk given at an International Psychoanalytic Association online event a German psychoanalyst, describing her difficulties with acknowledgment and reparations of her ancestors’ atrocities toward Jews, expressed her solidarity with and concerns for the Russians, who will supposedly live with the burden of guilt and reparations toward Ukrainians. She, like most other promoters of “good Russians” or “good future Russians” narratives among psychologists, are usually entirely silent about the fact that as they are speaking/presenting/writing while Ukrainians are being murdered, tortured, deported, raped, bombed, terrorized, and stressed because of the current ongoing and daily Russian aggression against them.
Therefore, as the Wallenberg Centre report calls: genocides and atrocities require a collective and active response. Russian aggression must be stopped, and not by telling Ukrainians to accept Russian occupation, violence and colonization. Instead, international psychologists who are genuinely committed to human rights must maintain an active censure and response to Russian psychologists—those who are actively supporting the aggression and those who are silent about it. Locating and responding to evidence of Russian psychologists’ work in service of genocide against Ukrainians is one such key task. Continued organized censure of Russian psychology organizations such as the RPS is also important. For instance, in response to this review of the RPS activities in relation to its continued self-misrepresentation as an internationally recognized group, the European Federation for Psychologists’ Association (EFPA) released a new statement re-affirming its policy of no collaboration with the RPS. Another key effort in supporting Ukrainians is to be involved with international response to dire Ukrainians’ need for military support against a brutal military invading force, to lack of Ukrainians’ access to adequate physical and mental health, to international commemorations of Ukrainian victims of violence and human rights violations, to truth-telling about the genocides against Ukrainians (past and present), and to a unified voice against all forms of unjustified aggression (military, technological, informational-propagandist, political, cultural, ecological, economic, and nuclear). Global psychologists for Human Rights can become leaders in continually naming, witnessing, addressing, and prosecuting (with international authorities) of all those responsible for genocide against Ukrainians.
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Kadyrov, I. M. (2022). Letter From Moscow. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 103(4), 550-557. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207578.2022.2092324
Konstantinov, V. V., & Mali, N. A. (2020). Adaptation of forced migrant children in general educational institutions: A case study of primary school-aged children from Ukraine. RUDN Journal of Psychology and Pedagogics, 17(2), 273-287.
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