Ukraine’s re­pres­sive and cor­rupt prisons strug­gle on, un­re­formed

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OKSANA GRYTSENKO [email protected]

All peo­ple are equal to the fe­male guard at the en­trance door to Kyiv’s Lukyanivsk­y de­ten­tion cen­ter: from within her glass-fronted guard booth, re­in­forced with metal bars, she barks com­mands at vis­i­tors — rich and poor, im­por­tant and in­con­se­quen­tial alike.

The cap­i­tal’s main prison, com­monly called “Grandpa Lukyan,” and its gruff guard, sym­bol­ize the coun­try’s un­re­formed, re­pres­sive pe­nal sys­tem. Built in the 1860s, the prison has out­lasted the Rus­sian Em­pire and the Soviet Union, and has been handed down, un­re­pen­tant, to in­de­pen­dent Ukraine.

Its for­mer in­mates in­clude ex-Prime Min­is­ter Yu­lia Ty­moshenko, cur­rent Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Yuriy Lut­senko, both of whom were im­pris­oned by the cor­rupt regime of for­mer Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych. The head of the State Fis­cal Ser­vice Ro­man Nasirov was held there in March on cor­rup­tion charges be­fore be­ing re­leased on bail.

For a cen­tury and a half, thou­sands of pris­on­ers have lan­guished be­hind its thick iron bars, suf­fer­ing from bru­tal treat­ment by guards, poor liv­ing con­di­tions, and an in­hu­mane crim­i­nal sub­cul­ture.

And most of those be­hind Grandpa Lukyan’s walls, are, tech­ni­cally, in­no­cent, says Denys Ch­ernyshov, deputy jus­tice min­is­ter, who is in charge of the pen­i­ten­tiary sys­tem.

“Sixty per­cent of peo­ple here have not been con­victed, they’re just un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. They’ve not been found guilty of any­thing. They’re just like you and me,” says Ch­ernyshov.

“So how can we keep these peo­ple in such hor­ri­ble con­di­tions?!” he adds while in­spect­ing the prison on Aug. 1.

Ch­ernyshov says he wants to im­prove con­di­tions in coun­try’s prisons via re­forms that started in 2016 af­ter Min­istry of Jus­tice took con­trol of them.

But not much progress has been made, other than chang­ing the names of the state pen­i­ten­tiary bodies.

Ch­ernyshov says the min­istry lacks the funds needed to ren­o­vate crum­bling prison build­ings and hire more pro­fes­sional guards.

Prison cru­elty

In the yard of the Lukyanivsk­y de­ten­tion cen­ter, a large white Cau­casian Shep­herd Dog barks at strangers. The guards ad­vise peo­ple not to get too close — they say it once al­most tore the arm off a guard.

The guards speak about this as if there was noth­ing un­usual about it — just or­di­nary prison life.

Va­leriy Bu­nak, the head of the de­ten­tion cen­ter, re­calls that in Jan­uary one de­tainee beat a prison guard with an iron bar so severely that the guard was left with a dis­abil­ity.

A video from a cam­era of Lukyanivsk­y de­ten­tion cen­ter, which can be found on YouTube, shows de­tainees hold­ing down an­other pris- oner and cut­ting off part of his ear, also in Jan­uary.

And it’s not just in Kyiv that there is such vi­o­lence in the prison sys­tem: On Aug. 19, dozens ral­lied by Odesa de­ten­tion cen­ter in protest at the beat­ing of de­tainees, which al­legedly started af­ter a woman guard was found bru­tally killed and dismembere­d on Aug. 17, al­legedly by a de­tainee.

The Odesa Oblast prose­cu­tion started an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the case, post­ing pho­tos of one de­tainee with signs of in­juries from a beat­ing on his back, chest, and arms.

Since 2012, Ukraini­ans won 39 cases in the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights, com­plain­ing about the tor­ture and abuse they said they had ex­pe­ri­enced in the coun­try’s prisons.

And in 2016, the pros­e­cu­tors opened the first crim­i­nal case in Ukraine’s his­tory against a prison guard for al­leged tor­ture of a con­vict, ac­cord­ing to the jus­tice min­istry — a guard of Shyryayevs­ky colony in Odesa Oblast il­le­gally placed a con­vict in a pun­ish­ment room, pros­e­cu­tors claimed. The case, how­ever, was closed later the same year.

Hu­man rights ac­tivists say the lives of de­tainees and con­victs be­came bet­ter af­ter par­lia­ment passed a new Crim­i­nal Code in 2013, which short­ened the prison terms for most crimes and al­lowed more de­tainees to be re­leased on bail.

As a re­sult of the changes, the num­ber in­mates of Ukrainian prisons de­creased from al­most 147,000 in 2013 to some 60,000 now. The num­ber of de­tainees of Lukyanivsk­y de­ten­tion cen­ter shrank from up to 4,000 in the 2010s to some 2,500 now.

But the mon­i­tors of the Na­tional Pre­ven­tive Mech­a­nism, a civil mon­i­tor­ing group of the de­ten­tion cen­ters formed un­der the of­fice of om­budswoman Va­leriya Lutkovska, re­ported in 2016 that abuse in de­ten­tion re­mains high.

In Zamkova colony in Kh­mel­nyt­sky Oblast, the mon­i­tors met four con­victs last year, who cut their arms in protest against threats they said they were re­ceiv­ing from guards.

Bad con­di­tions

The guards and de­tainees of the Lukyanivsk­y de­ten­tion cen­ter call its build­ings by the names of the state lead­ers at the times of their con­struc­tion. They in­clude “Katenka” called af­ter Rus­sian Em­press Cather­ine II, “Brezh­nevka” af­ter the Soviet leader

Leonid Brezh­nev, and “Kuch­mivka” af­ter for­mer Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Leonid Kuchma.

The num­ber of de­tainees in prison cells varies dras­ti­cally, from just two or three in some, to up to 20 de­tainees in oth­ers. But mold and dirt can be seen in al­most all the prison cor­ri­dors.

Many prison build­ings are now closed, hav­ing gone with­out re­pair for decades. The re­pairs made to many prison cells are mostly funded by “char­ity do­na­tions” from the de­tainees who are kept there, prison head Bu­nak said.

Hu­man rights ac­tivists say con­di­tions are worse in the tem­po­rary hold­ing cells where pris­on­ers wait to be taken to court or other prisons. The small non-ven­ti­lated cell rooms are freez­ing in win­ter and bak­ing hot in sum­mer. Pris­on­ers can be kept there for hours with­out fresh air, or ac­cess to wa­ter or a toi­let.

In the prison kitchen, the chefs ges­ture at un­pleas­ant sub­stances boil­ing in three large pots. They con­tain soup, por­ridge and a chicken sauce for the de­tainees.

In 2017, the food bud­get for prisons is 40-per­cent un­der­funded, Ch­ernyshov’s spokesman Yuriy Maslak said. Ac­cord­ing to the jus­tice min­istry’s num­bers, only about $10 is spent by the state on food for each pris­oner per year. Most pris­on­ers sur­vive on food brought to them by rel­a­tives.

Money mak­ing

The de­tainees cook their food for them­selves in their cells, which have their own small elec­tric stoves. The prison also has an on­line shop, where the rel­a­tives can order prod­ucts for the de­tainees, though for in­flated prices.

Cats freely walk around the Lukyanivsk­y de­ten­tion cen­ter and some­times sneak into prison cells. De­spite the de­tainees be­ing pro­hib­ited from hav­ing pets, the guards usu­ally turn a blind eye to this.

A for­mer de­tainee told the Kyiv Post that pris­on­ers can have their own cell phones (pro­hib­ited by prison rules) if they “ne­go­ti­ate” this with a guard for about $20. The for­mer de­tainee asked not to be named due to the stigma con­victs com­monly suf­fer in Ukraine.

De­tainees may also ask the guards to move them to a bet­ter prison cell, and pay for it via their rel­a­tives or lawyers, the for­mer de­tainee said.

While the guards deny these claims, Maslak said that such cases “may oc­cur due to the mea­ger salary of the prison work­ers.”

Out­dated medicine

Lukyanivsk­y’s med­i­cal build­ing is as shabby and run-down as the rest of the prison. Ser­vices are lim­ited as the prison hos­pi­tal lacks doc­tors, good medicines, and has med­i­cal equip­ment from the 1960 to 1980s. Coun­try­wide, about 90 per­cent of prison hos­pi­tals need to­tal ren­o­va­tion, jus­tice min­istry data shows.

“Many de­tainees see doc­tors for the first time here,” said Alla Parkhom­chuk, the hos­pi­tal’s ex­ec­u­tive head, adding that many de­tainees are drug ad­dicts.

Ev­ery fifth con­vict in Ukraine has HIV, and about 60 per­cent of them have hep­ati­tis C, statis­tics from med­i­cal jour­nal The Lancet show. About 75 per­cent of new cases of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in Ukraine also oc­cur in prisons.

Ch­ernyshov said the prison hos­pi­tals now sur­vive thanks to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, and Malaria, which sup­plies them with all of their anti-tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and HIV drugs. The In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross also pro­vides aid.

He is, how­ever, skep­ti­cal about cur­rent pro­pos­als to place prison hos­pi­tals un­der the con­trol of the health min­istry. He said civil­ian medics would be un­pre­pared for the dan­gers of treat­ing con­victs.

Clos­ing prisons

Olek­sandr Matviyenko, who has worked as a guard at Lukyanivsk­y de­ten­tion cen­ter since 2002, said many new work­ers quit af­ter just a few days. It is a tough job, and comes with a mea­ger salary of only $115 per month.

Maslak, Ch­ernyshov’s spokesman, said the min­istry plans to vet the coun­try’s 30,000 prison guards, as was done with the po­lice, and raise their salary to at least $300 per month.

He said prison guards are now re­ceiv­ing train­ing from Nor­we­gian and Cana­dian spe­cial­ists at a spe­cial school in Bila Tserkva in Kyiv Oblast. “We want to have guards who don’t just beat peo­ple with trun­cheons, but who are pro­fes­sional psy­chol­o­gists in­stead,” he said.

The min­istry also plans to close about 20 out of some 150 prisons this year, as many of them are prac­ti­cally empty.

Ch­ernyshov said the min­istry is look­ing for an in­vestor to con­struct a new prison out­side Kyiv. As part of the deal, the in­vestor will gain the ter­ri­tory of the cen­trally lo­cated Lukyanivsk­y de­ten­tion cen­ter to re­de­velop. But since the new project would cost some $60–70 mil­lion and will take a min­i­mum of seven years be­fore re­turn­ing a profit, it’s a very hard sell.

“We don’t have any such in­vestors in Ukraine,” Ch­ernyshov said. ”And for­eign in­vestors are skep­ti­cal, con­sid­er­ing our in­vest­ment cli­mate, and the war.”

A guard walks along the cor­ri­dor of the Lukyanivsk­y de­ten­tion cen­ter in Kyiv on Aug. 1. All of the cen­ter’s build­ings are in a poor state or re­pair, and some are so di­lap­i­dated that they are out of use al­to­gether. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

Denys Ch­ernyshov, deputy min­is­ter of jus­tice, (L) talks to Va­leriy Bu­nak, the head of the Lukyanivsk­y de­ten­tion cen­ter, dur­ing an in­spec­tion of the prison in Kyiv on Aug. 1. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

Work­ers wash fish that is to be served to de­tainees of the Lukyanivsk­y de­ten­tion cen­ter in Kyiv on Aug. 1. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

A prison guard shows a cell on the roof, where the de­tainees of the Lukyanivsk­y de­ten­tion cen­ter may en­joy the fresh air, on Aug. 1. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

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