Each town has its own secrets, history, facts and, importantly, memories and stories of old-timers. Whether it is fiction flavored with fantasies or real events – nobody knows. However, to believe them or not, it’s up to everyone.
More than a hundred years ago in Chernivtsi, far away on the outskirts of the town, a specialized institution was built. Within its walls, people with mental and psychiatric disorders were kept. A spacious complex with five buildings and a garden for walks, surrounded by a strong wall, appeared in 1902. On April 16 that year, the relevant commission approved a finished complex and actually opened its door for population’s needs.
It was already the third hospital for mentally ill in Chernivtsi, by the way, it still works today. The first mental hospital appeared in 1833. It was built at the expense of citizens’ voluntary donations. However, it couldn’t provide for all the needs of the population and after half a century, in 1886, a new mental asylum was built. Back then construction works were headed by the director of local craft school Joseph Laitsner. The new building was designed for 50 beds.
However, that wasn’t enough. In those times a number of insane people in Chernivtsi, as well as in whole Bukovyna region, unfortunately, was increasing. Therefore, in ten years after construction of a new hospital, it was decided to create a large medical complex far away from the city.
Today, fenced asylum borders with children’s polyclinic, school, kindergarten, church, shopping malls, and office center. However, all this active and vivid life is teeming on the other side of a thick wall. Inside of it, life is completely different. It has its own secrets and stories.
They tell all sorts of stories about that fenced territory. When I was looking for different and interesting information about abandoned buildings in Chernivtsi, I was advised to pay a visit to one almost ruined house on the territory of the mental hospital. It no longer performs its intended functions. Instead, it became a meeting place for local youth. Those were kids, who told me strange stories about people who were treated here once. Those people died and their ghosts are now wandering along the corridors of buildings and alleys of the park. They say that their silhouettes appear out of nowhere, and like a mirage, they fade away in the darkness of the night.
A fiction of young imagination? Does it have any basis?
Later locals, who saw Chernivtsi in the interwar period, told me that methods of treatment in that asylum were similar to pure torture. Bloodletting, cauterization, treatment with hunger, vinegar, laxatives, leeches, cold water, etc. As for the active use of straitjackets and tied to beds patients – it was common practice. Back then these methods were a norm, today they scare you. However, the imagination, with such a set of bloody and painful therapies, can easily create an image of horrors that could have taken place within the walls of a mental hospital. Of course, not all mentally ill people could withstand such a treatment. And maybe their souls are really stuck between the worlds and they are wandering around this place.
One elderly man told us an equally frightening story. It tells us about people whom the communist regime considered to be particularly dangerous, so, they tried to hide them from the population. Thick walls of the “loony bin” were exactly what they needed. Doctors were forced to treat ideologically unconscious people, who were, in fact, conscious and healthy, as ordinary patients of a mental hospital. And they treated them. Sometimes even intensively. Unfortunately, not everyone managed to return to the usual life after an intensive therapy. Not everyone managed to keep his life as well.
Also, they say that in Soviet mental hospitals experiments were made on such “unreliable” people. To hide their medical tests, patients were secretly moved by tunnels, which were dug under the hospital. And there are a lot of such tunnels there. Although today they are closed and nobody uses them.
Asylum in Chernivtsi is enveloped in interesting stories and unsolved mysteries. Whether it is possible to meet ghosts of former patients here; whether it’s possible to hear the desperate cries of tortured people, or it’s all fiction and fantasies – it’s up to you to believe.
It’s quite interesting that when I made a photo of my son, who was looking from a window on the second floor in one of the former buildings of the mental hospital. On the picture, another silhouette appeared next to the child. You can’t see it in the other photos. Perhaps, it is a ghost from the past. Perhaps, it wants to tell us something.
The text is based on materials by Antonina Vyshnevska
Photo by Antonina Vyshnevska