Prisons and torture houses of Donetsk: Izolyatsiya factory


Location icon 3 Svitloho Shlyakhu Street, Donetsk, Ukraine

One of the largest places of detention in Donetsk is a former insulator factory. Since 2010, it served as premises of ‘Izolyasiya’ non-profit non-governmental foundation, which organized art and educational projects.

The seizure

On 9 June 2014, armed representatives of the so-called ‘DPR’ seized the former factory, its surrounding territory and bomb shelters to allegedly store humanitarian aid from the Russian Federation. Roman Lyahin, a spin doctor who led the seizure, calls himself the head of the central election commission of the self-proclaimed republic. According to ‘Izolyatsiya’ Foundation, the ‘DPR’ immediately installed a sniper on top of the plant’s slag-heap.

On 10 June, the premises with expensive equipment were looted, but there was no response to the Foundation’s crime report from the law enforcement bodies. Instead, representatives of terrorist groups only confirmed that the premises and territories of the factory were seized to their benefit and refused to return the Foundation’s property.

In July, the ‘DPR’ punitive committee and the Russian battalion Vostok were based on the factory’s territory. The media started reporting that there were prisoners held and interrogated at the factory. Families of the prisoners later confirmed these reports. Since then, the former insulator factory has served as a base for gunmen training, a prison, an execution spot, and a storage facility for stolen vehicles.

In October 2014, Lyubov Mykhaylova, founder of ‘Izolyatsiya’ Foundation, told Radio Svoboda that there were over a hundred prisoners on the territory of the former factory.

Testimonies of former prisoners

Dmytro Potyekhin, a blogger from the capital, spent 48 days as a prisoner at the former factory. According to ‘Chetverta Vlada’, Dmytro found several types of premises for hostages.

These included a room for 5-6 persons,a cold and damp bomb shelter where most prisoners were held, a basement and the factory’s cash offices in the administrative building, as well as storage unit in one of the sections. These premises were dirty, without ventilation, damp, without temperature regulation or access to daylight, water, and toilets. People smoked inside. There was artificial lighting but you were not allowed to shut it off on your own. There was also a sort of solitary confinement - a muggy room without access to daylight or fresh air.

After his release, Dmytro created a layout of the factory for the SSU. On the layout, places of detention are marked with red dots, places where forced labor took place - with blue dots, and places of interrogation are marked in green.

In an interview with Hromadske TV, he said that the gunmen had not used physical violence against him. According to the former prisoner, he was following the terrorists’ orders and did not resist. One of the people who interrogated him called himself an FSB (Russian State Security Service) officer.

Dmitriy Potyekhin commented on the conditions of imprisonment on the territory of the former insulator factory:

‘Usually, they treated people in a very cruel manner during and after the arrest. Later they gave a chance to sort of rehabilitate and show re-education. Possibly, for those who were doing it violence was an instrument to train people. The result of this training of a detained person who, sometimes, spent a long time in prisons, was cooperation with the ministry of state security of the ‘DPR’. Consequently, some detainees became prison guards’.

In an interview with ‘Krayina’ magazine, Dmytro Potyekhin said:

‘They transferred a woman named Maya to our ‘cash office. She was the local mini-oligarch re-selling metal. They wouldn’t let her go out to the bathroom. On the third day, I asked them to help her. They let her go there. For that, they transferred me to the so-called  lux suite - the worst cell in ‘Izolyatsiya’. It was 2 by 3 meters long and 10 meters high. The only ventilation was a crack under the door. There were Soviet posters about work safety and the harm of alcoholism. Half-darkness. The cell was packed with people; [there were] five rows of bunks for sleeping. I took the fifth tier. There were mostly drug addicts. We were not allowed to go out to use the bathroom at all. We made bags from posters. We packed the shit in those bags. We agreed on a schedule for using water, since there were 10 people and very little water on the bottom of the bottle. We drank in turns’.

An official Facebook page of Aydar batallion has a post from 27 December 201 about an exchange of a military prisoner from the ‘DPR’ for from Aydar batallion. One of them, Mykhaylo Lyko, spent over a month as a prisoner in the occupied territory of Donetsk region, including the former insulator factory. He was often beaten, particularly at night, and after the release doctors found multiple injuries to internal organs.

The food situation was bad: prisoners sometimes spent several days without being fed. The militants shot another prisoner, whose name is not mentioned, in the feet.

Conditions of detention

The cells where prisoners stayed were hot. Making conditions worse was used as a form of torture. For instance, prisoners were rarely allowed to leave if they needed to urinate. If someone could not hold it and urinated right in the cell, this person was transferred to the ‘glass’ - a room remodeled from a former shower room. It was a place with walls covered in ceramic tiles (1 x 0.8 meters), wooden plank beds, and no light.

There were pregnant women and elderly men and women among prisoners. Their condition did not render easier conditions but led to harsher abuse by the gunmen. For instance, prisoners were held in common rooms for men and women or in a solitary narrow room with ceramic tiles and wooden plank beds without natural light. Prisoners did not receive any medical aid, and all medication delivered with the relatives’ letters was confiscated.

The guards forced prisoners to perform hard labor. Prisoners were making food and cleaning the yard from morning until evening without breaks. The prisoners were forced to suffer from starvation and thirst. For food, they only gave stale bread for prisoners to break their teeth and a smelly wash with noodles.

Prisoners were severely beaten with hands and metal rods on the territory of the former factory. The beatings were systematic, with intervals. In addition, [they] poured water on the victim so s/he would not lose consciousness. When a male prisoner was beaten, his hands were tied beforehand. The gunmen were also intimidating prisoners and performing mock executions.

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