Ukrainian political prisoners tortured in occupied Donbas

By: Lane Johansen

Since Russia began its hybrid war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, countless civilians have suffered, including the over 280 Ukrainians in prisons in the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Donbas. There have been numerous reports of torture and inhumane conditions in these prisons, especially in the infamous Izolyatsia prison in Donetsk.

Before Russian occupation, the prison was a factory turned into an international charity foundation known as “Izolyatsia: Platform for Cultural Initiatives” that hosted art exhibitions. The building is now described as a “concentration camp,” with the underground structures of the factory building used as prison cells and inmates subjected to brutal forms of torture, including waterboarding, electric shocks, mock execution, and rape.

Lyudmyla Denisova, the Commissioner for Human Rights in Ukraine, issues daily reports via Facebook about conditions in these makeshift illegal prisons in Donbas. Most recently, she has warned about the critical health condition of political prisoners Ivan Yatskin and Grigory Sinchenko, noting that the detention and torture of these civilians violates international law (i.e., the Geneva Conventions) and are therefore considered war crimes.

Earlier this month, the Kyiv Independent reported on two Ukrainian political prisoners in Donbas who are in dire health conditions: Igor Nazarenko and Olena Piekh. According to Nazarenko’s relatives, Igor Nazarenko suffers from a chronic lung disease, has lost considerable weight, and has been denied any medical care. Denisova reported on December 20 that Olena Piekh developed knee and hip joint osteoarthritis after torture – including electric shocks, two mock executions, and screws nailed into her knees – and cannot move without a cane; Piekh also suffers from severe epilepsy, angina, hypertension, and visual impairment.

Nazarenko was sentenced to 11 years in a maximum-security prison for allegations of espionage. Piekh was sentenced to 13 years of confinement for high treason; her daughter says the real reason was “for [possessing] a Ukrainian passport.”

Aside from the 280 Ukrainian prisoners in Donbas, 76 Ukrainian political prisoners were kept in Russia and 33 in Crimea as of February of this year. The number has since increased.

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