Slavery, Starvation And Solitary: Inside Ukraine’s Rebel-Held Prisons

“About 5,000 people work without payment every day in order to preserve their life and health, to receive visits from relatives and not to die of hunger,” the report reads.

Soviet gulag style slave labor

Human rights campaigners in eastern Ukraine say slave labor camps are operating in rebel-controlled areas, according to a new report.

The Eastern Human Rights Group alleges that around 5,000 people held at the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) are subjected to solitary confinement, beatings, starvation and torture if they refuse to work without pay.

In Ukraine’s jails, people who work in prison factories often have their sentences reduced by a third. They are also offered a small compensation, which they can use to improve their life at prison.  

However, in 2014, conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine and the prison near the town of Krasny Luch ended up under the control of rebels. Immediately the conditions of the prisoners worsened drastically as their wages came to a stop, food quality deteriorated and anyone who refused to work was severely punished.

Some inmates are forced to make coffins, furniture or barbed wire while others ground flour and work in unsafe coal mines, the report alleges. Revenue from the sales of goods made by the prisoners — which totaled about 34 hryvnias ($1.3 million) in 2012 — is distributed among the LPR leaders.

Soviet gulag style slave labor

“About 5,000 people work without payment every day in order to preserve their life and health, to receive visits from relatives and not to die of hunger,” the report reads. “All this takes place for the purpose of enriching a certain group of people in the so-called LPR.”

People who refuse to work are sent to solitary confinement for 15 days, have their visiting rights revoked and are physically tortured. One inmate said he was left without any food or drink for three days in a bid to make him return to work. Another said he was forced to stand for eight to 10 hours per day in a courtyard which is cold in winter and hot in summer.

Relatives of prisoners pay a “fee” as high as 200 hryvnias ($7.70) per month to the LPR authorities so that they may let them work and not throw them in underground cells for an extended period of time.

Pavel Lisyansky, the director of the Eastern Human Rights Group, says there are about 15 such “correctional” facilities affecting another 5,000 inmates in another neighboring rebel-held region, Donetsk People’s Republic.

“It's hard to believe that we are witnessing slave labor in the middle of Europe in the 21st century. But this is happening, and something needs to be done,” Lisyansky said. “These people feel like they have been abandoned, and are without hope.

“The prisons are closed to visits from anyone except relatives. The Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies have no way of helping,” he added.

He has also criticized the Ukrainian government for failing to ensure people sentenced to jail by its courts and held imprisoned in rebel-held areas were not transferred to Ukrainian-controlled prisons.

Attempts to question the LPR officials over these allegations have been in vain.

Banner credit: Wikipedia, Luhansk People’s Republic

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