By Mohanad Hage Ali
Across long, empty hallways where walls turned grey after failed attempts to paint them white, echoes of Soviet nurses’ footsteps intensify as they approach the sleeping hall of Michel Abou Rjeili and several other “patients”. The footsteps were an early warning sign for the anticipated injection, “enough to sedate an elephant”, Abou Rjeili recalls his vivid memory of this 1983 Ukranian psychiatric ward, where the word “patient” was often synonymous to “political dissident”.
Michel, then a student at Kiev’s State Theatre Institute, suffered a nervous breakdown after learning that both his parents, Fouad and Zmorroud Abou Rjeili, were among hundreds of civilians killed in a massacre in their hometown Bhamdoun at the peak of Lebanon’s Civil War. When admitted, a psychiatrist interrogated him “KGB style”, asking “no questions on the reasons behind the nervous breakdown”. After three months of injections, Abou Rjeily’s condition grabbed the attention of a visiting Lebanese Communist Party “comrade”. Checked out, he escaped Ukraine and the Soviet Union “for good”.