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‘Dirt, decay, and bitter cold’ Ukrainian volunteers held captive for more than 100 days describe harrowing conditions inside ‘filtration’ prison near Donetsk
In late March, Russian forces detained 32 Ukrainian volunteers who had been providing humanitarian aid to civilians in the besieged city of Mariupol. The captives were sent to a “filtration” prison in Olenivka — a village located inside the Kremlin-controlled “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR), where captured Ukrainian troops from the Azovstal steel plant were also reportedly imprisoned. More than 100 days later, on July 14, 31 of the volunteers were released for unknown reasons. Since then, at least four of them have spoken to journalists: Hanna Vorozheva, Kostiantyn Velychko, and Stanislav Hlushkov gave a press conference in Warsaw, and Yevhen Maliarchuk gave an interview to Current Time TV. Meduza summarizes their stories here.
Before the February invasion, Hanna Vorozheva worked as a party planner in Mariupol. Kostiantyn Velychko was an IT specialist, Stanislav Hlushkov worked in international transport, and Yevhen Maliarchuk was an entrepreneur. After Russia began waging a full-scale war against Ukraine, they all became volunteers, working to deliver food and medicine to Mariupol residents and evacuate civilians from the besieged city.
According to Kostiantyn Velychko, he was detained along with Hanna Vorozheva and Stanislav Hlushkov after Russian soldiers stopped their bus at the last checkpoint on the way out of Mariupol. (Yevhen Maliarchuk did not explain the circumstances surrounding his capture in the interview with Current Time TV.) Despite the fact that the volunteers had the necessary ID badges and documents, the Russian soldiers sent them to the village of Nikolske, where they were handed over to combatants from the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) for interrogation.
The interrogators accused the volunteers of “evacuating people for money” and smuggling Ukrainian soldiers out of Mariupol. “[They claimed that] we were giving [them] our documents so that some servicemen, including ‘Azov’ fighters, could leave Mariupol and get to the territory of Ukraine,” Hlushkov recalled.
Following the interrogations, he and the other volunteers were sent to Correctional Colony No. 120, a defunct prison in Olenivka — a village outside of Donetsk — that the Russian side has used to hold Ukrainian captives since the start of the war.
“At almost every stage we were moved around blindfolded,” Velychko explained. “They wrapped our eyes and hands with scotch tape and put bags over our heads. We were led around facing the floor, like terrorists. If we didn’t sit the right way, stand the right way, or our escort didn’t like something, they beat us. If I sat the wrong way, they beat my legs. If I lowered my hands, they beat my arms.”
Vorozheva described the prison in Olenivka as an abandoned facility that included several two-storey buildings. According to the volunteers’ estimates, the building where they were held had 19 cells, designed to hold a maximum of 100 people. At one point, however, it held nearly 800 prisoners. The prison guards referred to the building as “the pit.”
“The correctional colony in Olenivka was mothballed before us. It was opened specifically to organize a ‘filtration camp.’ At first, there weren’t many prisoners. And then large convoys started arriving from the Ilych plant, then from Azovstal [two factories in Mariupol that Ukrainian soldiers used as strongholds]. There were around 3,000 people on the grounds of the [prison] colony at the same time,” Maliarchuk said.
According to Vorozheva, the prisoners were “surrounded by dirt, decay, and bitter cold every second.” In some of the cells, people had to take turns sleeping on the concrete floor due to overcrowding. Many of the prisoners were ill, but there were neither doctors nor medicine. Even those with broken bones weren’t given painkillers, Vorozheva said. She herself suffered injuries to the inside of her cheeks after the wire came off her braces, and resorted to smoking cigarettes to try and relieve the pain.
The prison didn’t have enough food. According to Vorozheva, during the first weeks, the prisoners were given 150 grams (5 ounces) of bread per day, along with “boiled pasta [and] a certain amount of sprats.” Maliarchuk said he lost roughly 15 kilograms (33 pounds) while in captivity.
There was also a shortage of drinking water. The prisoners were supposed to be given 150–200 milliliters (5–7 ounces) each per day. Sometimes they were given access to untreated water, but there wasn’t enough of that either. The sewage system wasn’t functional and the women weren’t provided with sanitary pads. Some of Vorozheva’s cellmates were pregnant.
Later, the volunteers learned that the conditions in the other barracks were better than in “the pit” — in other parts of the camp, the prisoners could “sleep lying down, not sitting up, and also breathe [fresh] air.” The prisoners were told that they could be moved out of “the pit” if they obtained office equipment and building materials for the prison camp. The prisoners were allowed to call their relatives to give them shopping lists. Which is how their families finally received confirmation that they were still alive.
The prisoners were also forced to do all of the work around the camp. According to the volunteers, some of the captives were beaten and tortured. “We’ve seen what these people do with prisoners. Unfortunately, I can’t give the details, because I worry for the safety of those people who remained in the colony. But there was torture more severe than that inflicted on us,” Hlushkov said.
According to Hlushkov, the head of the prison, Sergey Yevsyukov, “obviously has sadistic tendencies.” “Yevsyukov […] in my personal opinion, is one of the most terrible executioners running this entire camp. [He] repeatedly told us that we’d be there for at least 10 years,” Hlushkov recalled.
At first, the volunteers were told that they’d be released after 30 days (according to DNR law, one cannot be detained for more than a month without a trial). But an order to “re-arrest” them was simply drawn up at the end of every month. The volunteers don’t know why they were finally released. Hlushkov assumed that it was thanks to the efforts of their relatives, who appealed to officials in Ukraine, the DNR, and Russia.
“One fine day, several officers came to our cell and started calling out surnames, then there was a team with [our] things ready to go. We thought that we’d simply be transferred to another place, as had happened before,” Maliarchuk recalled. “In the end, we were summoned, forced to sign protocols [stating] that we had no complaints, and just released. They opened the gate and said ‘You’re free’.”
According to Hlushkov, after they were released, the volunteers escaped “through Donetsk” — they got out of the DNR thanks to “caring people.” Their friend, a fellow Ukrainian volunteer named Serhiy Tarasenko, is still imprisoned in Olenivka. “We need to join forces and help him,” Maliarchuk underscored. “In addition to Tarasenko, there are many other civilians there. There’s no logic in that place, there’s no operating procedures. How do they detain [people]? For what? Why do they release [people]? Why not? No one knows. No one explains anything.”
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