Prisons and torture houses of Luhansk: Regional state administration

05.04.2016

Location icon 3 Heroyiv VVV Square, Luhansk, Ukraine


Luhansk Regional state administration was seized on 29 April 2014. Several thousands of pro-Russian activists, chanting 'Russia! Russia!’ stormed the building at Heroyiv VVV Square. Law enforcement officials did not resist. Russian flag was put over Luhansk Regional state administration (ODA).

At the ODA, separatists established a military command office. The bottom, semi-basement, floor was turned into a prison where dozens, even hundreds of people were dear at the same time. Some prisoners spent months there. Though ODA did not become as infamous as Luhansk SSU, almost all prisoners, mostly political ones, were subjected to physical violence, including cases where some of them were crippled.

Prisoners

According to witnesses, there were several premises at the state administration, where dozens of prisoners could be detained simultaneously. Men were held separately from women. Also, civilians did not see the military prisoners.

… as far as I understand, they brought military prisoners and took them away. They were not kept there long. They closed all cells when they brought military prisoners, and tool them down the hallway when nobody could see them…

However, there are reports about cases of detaining military prisoners at the ODA. For instance, in June, Vgorode journalist reported about two tank crew members of the National Guard captured during fighting near Metalist village (Nadiya Savchenko was captured on the same day there). They were brought to Luhansk Regional administration. However, journalists were denied access to them.Also, there is information about detention of Yuriy Kryzhbersky, Aydar fighter, at the regional administration.   

According to one of the victims, there was constant shift of prisoners - new ones were brought, and others were taken away, released or transferred to another place. Majority of them were locals detained for consuming alcohol, violating curfew, pursuant to a complaint from relatives or neighbors, or those who were 'indigenous' the wrong place’ or whose face armed people didn't like.

I had an impression that they had to fulfill a task, those on duty. Try had to catch people, and it didn't matter who they caught. They would detain a person for a week, make him work, put pressure on him and humiliate him, and that was it.

There were also many people who were detained at Luhansk ODA on charges of pro-Ukrainian sentiment or supporting Ukrainian army. Among these, there was a 74-year old woman, half-deaf, who was called 'the Right Sector's fire coordinator’ (see more information about her in Testimonies section).

Former prisoners also said that OSCE representatives visited the regional administration. Then, prisoners working upstairs were hid in the basement from observers ('Well, the OSCE people had friendly chats with these…’)

People were released because their detention term expired (if it was set - many people were detained for unidentified periods of time), the ransom was paid, or during prisoner exchange. There are also reports about people whose life ended at Luhansk ODA.

The premises at ODA basement

Many people were detained in the storage room. Since it was used for storing office equipment, the room was quite spacious, with acceptable humidity and temperature. There were no windows but people could turn on the light. Ventilation was possible through opening the door.

I think the room had about 20 square meters, and there was also another room where we didn't even go. We took some styrofoam from there and put it under our heads when sleeping. The room where we ended up was a storage of computer equipment; there were monitors on shelves, some sort of binding equipment, a large machine, couple of desks, there was cardboard on the floor, large computer boxes, and that was where we were sleeping.

People also lived in the boiler room. According to descriptions, it was a large room 15 meters long and 5 meters high with a boiler in the middle. There were also cabinets and desks, but no beds. People slept on cardboard, chairs, desks, underneath the desks, in cabinets etc. From 30 to 50 people were detained there simultaneously.

One prisoner said that there was no electricity in the room during the day. Fifty people who were detained there at the time were left without light since the boiler room also had no windows.

Women were detained at the archive room. There was trash, passport templates, record books. People put mattresses on plastic countertops for sleeping. They also used cabinet shelves for sleeping. Later, some people brought bedding from forced work, but it had flees.

Another basement looked like a former kitchen or dishwashing room because it had a table with a sink. The room had a barred window facing the ODA courtyard. There was no artificial light. The room had 12-13 detainees. One prisoner said he was sleeping on the windowsill, others - on the floor or table. They put water bottles under their heads. He also remembers that one woman was detained there together with men.

Some prisoners were thrown into the fridge. Though it was not functioning, it was very cold. Prisoners had to lie on tiles. The fridge was air-tight, and there was only enough air for several hours. There was no lighting. Prisoners in this room, sometime during several days, received no water or food; they were not even taken out to the toilet and had to go at the place.

One of the prisoners also talked about the ‘journalist’s room’ in the center of ODA basement, in the south-eastern section. It was a room where he was beaten and ‘interrogated’. Another witness, a woman, said she was taken to an office with a sign ‘Special Ops Unit of Russia’ where she could call her family (based on personal will of one of the guards, in general, calls were forbidden).

Life in the basement

Prisoners say that they filled up bottles with water for drinking at the toilet when guards took them there. In general, there were plastic bottles in the cells for urinating during daytime. Some interviewees said that they were taken out in the morning, others mentioned that it happened in the evening, after the meal. One of the female detainees said that, at first, they were convoyed to the toilet, and later it was possible to just leave the cell, tell the guards you were going to the bathroom, and go on your own.

Prisoners were fed once a day - at 10 p.m. They were taken to the cafeteria. Prisoners brought food to the cells for those who could not walk. Prisoners have different opinions about the quality of food, probably, because it changed over time. However, they say that the meals were not suitable for the sick ones and the working prisoners.

At 10 p.m. every day, they gave a plate of dry porridge and a piece of bread. There was no fat, oil, or hot water. Before feeding, they used to beat us in the cell or in the corridor so our ‘appetite is better’.

Instead of walks, prisoners were taken for forced labor. There are reports at there was a ‘census’ of men at 2 a.m., where they were taken out to the corridor. Women were not woken up because the female guard reviewed the list in the evening.

Forced labor

Head of the militia units took people from ODA to use them for forced labor. The prisoners were taken for the so-called ‘nationalization’, for instance, to sort and load goods from raided supermarkets and storage houses. Many were used to unload arms and ammunition brought by trucks (‘went to unload mortar shells in Krasnodon, Molodohvardiysk, and Sukhodol’), according to some interviewees, from Russia.

Prisoners were used to clean the premises and the territory, as well as perform housekeeping tasks, such as working in the kitchen or washing. They were taken to the airport to clear the debris. They were forced to take furniture out of Imperial hotel and put them in ODA offices. In addition, prisoners were taken to help take bodies from the municipal morgue after a power outage; the bodies were buried in mass graves.

At the ODA, we were loading documents into bags, as far as I understand, the documents concerned the Party of Regions. Then, we took them to the courtyard where they were burnt. I took out approximately 100 bags every day.

Prisoner used for forced labor were either the ‘disciplinary’ ones (according to testimonies from other places of detention, locals were often detained for additional labor), or those who had been in detention over a certain period, for instance a month or more. Prisoners had fears relating to this, since the fate of those who were ‘untakeable’ (prisoner who were not taken for forced labor) was uncertain:

There was another tool for psychological pressure. Not everyone was taken for work. Going for work was a sort of privilege. You belong to a certain category. If you were ‘untakeable’, it meant that you… your situation was bad.

Since prisoners were not taken outside for other reasons, forced work gave them an opportunity to be outside. People were happy to have a chance to stretch, even if the work was indoors:

In the laundry room,  the window was wide open, and one could see the street. Well, not the street but the courtyard of this administration. Anyways, you could see the trees and a piece of the sky.

In addition, there was a possibility of being fed additional time at work. There were also cases where only those who had worked that day received food (of course, then prisoners divided food among everyone).

Torture and interrogations

According to testimonies, almost all detained men who ended up at the ODA were beaten. In addition, some women were also beaten. Treatment of ‘political prisoners’, looters, and those accused of rape, was particularly cruel. It could lead to broken bones, brain damage, damage to internal organs, notwithstanding bruises and cuts. One man was hit on the head so hard, that he could not speak and started speaking normally only a week later.

There were people stabbed with knives, with gunshots to their legs… There were so many that I couldn’t understand at first that they were all limping in the same manner. The knees were shot, severely damaged from beatings. They were all subjected to this treatment upon arrival.

There is probably no need to say that there was no proper recording of interrogations, prisoners were not informed about their rights or receive access to a lawyer. Meaningless questions were often asked during interrogations.

Murders and executions

At least one interviewed prisoner of Luhansk ODA reported that he was an eyewitness of deaths resulting from torture.

When I was in Luhansk, they killed two people in my presence. One of them was from the Right Sector, they broke his head with an assault rifle.

There were also indirect reports, rumors, about an alleged execution of a guard who supposedly had raped his underage sister.

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Contacts

The Secretariat of the Coalition «Justice for Peace in Donbas»
04060, Kyiv, Ryzhska str., 73 G