Screams of torture of soldiers, a flood of cells, inhumane conditions, a regime of intimidation and murder. Inedible porridge, no contact with the outside world, and the days are marked with a homemade calendar written on a tea case.
That, according to a prisoner who was there, is what conditions look like inside Olenivka, the infamous detention center outside Donetsk where dozens of Ukrainian soldiers were shot to death in a horrific accident late last month while in Russian captivity.
45-year-old Ukrainian entrepreneur Anna Voroshiva gave a shocking account of observer Her time in prison. She spent 100 days in Olinevka after being detained in mid-March at a checkpoint operated by the pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.
She was trying to get humanitarian supplies to Mariupol, her city, which was besieged by the Russian army. The separatists arrested her and drove her in an overcrowded police van to the prison, where she was held until early July on charges of “terrorism”.
Voroshiva, who is now recovering in France, said she had no doubts that Russia had “cynically and deliberately” killed Ukrainian prisoners of war. “We’re talking about absolute evil,” she said.
The fighters were blown up on July 29 in a mysterious and devastating explosion. Moscow claims that Ukraine killed them with a US-made precision-guided missile. However, satellite imagery and independent analyzes indicate that they were obliterated by a powerful bomb that exploded from inside the building.
Russia says 53 prisoners were killed and 75 wounded. Ukraine has been unable to confirm these numbers and has called for an investigation. The victims were members of the Azov Battalion. Until their surrender in May, they defended Mariupol’s Azovstal Steel Plant, holding out underground.
A day before the explosion, they were taken to a separate area in the camp’s industrial zone, some distance from the bleak two-story concrete block where Voroshiva shares a cell with other female prisoners. A video clip shown on Russian state television revealed charred bodies and twisted metal bunk beds.
Russia did not want them to survive. I’m sure some of those killed in the explosion were actually corpses. It was a proper way to account for the fact that they were tortured to death.”
Male prisoners were regularly taken out of their cells, beaten, and locked again. “We heard their cries,” she said. Play loud music to cover the screaming. Torture happens all the time. The interrogators were joking and asking the inmates what happened to your face? The soldier replies: “I fell,” and they laugh.
It was a show of strength. The prisoners understood that anything could happen to them, and that they could easily be killed. A small number of Azov men were captured before the mass surrender in May.”
Voroshiva said that there was constant traffic around Olenivka, known as Correctional Colony No. 120. It is a former Soviet agricultural school, converted in the 1980s into a prison, and later abandoned. DNR began using it earlier this year to house enemy civilians.
The captives were arriving and leaving every day at the camp, 20 kilometers southwest of occupied Donetsk, according to Voroshiva. observer. She estimated that about 2,500 people were held there, with the number sometimes rising to 3,500-4000. There was no running water or electricity.
She said the atmosphere changed when about 2,000 fighters from Azov were taken by bus on the morning of May 17. Russian flags were raised and DNR colors removed. The guards were at first wary of the new prisoners. She said that they later talked openly about how they would brutalize and humiliate them.
We are often called Nazis and terrorists. One of the women in my cell was an Azovstal doctor. She was pregnant. I asked if I could give her my food ration. I was told, “No, it’s fatal.” The only question they asked me was, “Do you know any of the Azov soldiers?”
Conditions for the prisoners were bleak. She said that they were not tortured but that they received hardly any food – 50 grams of bread for dinner and sometimes porridge. “It was suitable for pigs,” she said. She suspected that the prison director had stolen the money for the meals. Toilets overflowed and women were not provided with sanitary ware. The cells were so overcrowded that she slept in shifts. “It was difficult. People were crying and afraid for their children and their families.” Asked if the guards showed sympathy, she said that an unknown person once left them a bottle of shampoo.
According to Voroshiva, the camp employees were brainwashed by Russian propaganda and considered the Ukrainians Nazis. Some of them were local villagers. “They blamed us on the fact that their lives were horrible. It was like an alcoholic saying he drinks vodka because his wife is not good.
“The philosophy is: ‘Everything is awful for us, so everything must be awful for you.’ Everything is very communist.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the explosion “a deliberate Russian war crime and the deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war”. Last week, his office and Ukraine’s Defense Ministry provided details of evidence they say points to the Kremlin’s guilt.
Citing satellite images, phone intercepts and intelligence, they said that Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group carried out the killings in cooperation with Vladimir Putin’s FSB spy agency. They point to the fact that a row of graves were dug up in the colony a few days before the explosion.
They claimed that the operation was approved at the “highest level” in Moscow. “Russia is not a democracy. An intelligence source said that the dictator is personally responsible for everything, whether it is MH17, Bucha or Olenivka. The question is: When will Putin admit his atrocities?”
One version of events Kyiv is examining is that the explosion may have been the result of in-service rivalry between the two wings of the FSB and the GRU. The Russian military intelligence negotiated Azovstal’s surrender with its Ukrainian counterpart, sources suggest – a deal the FSB might have been eager to destroy.
Soldiers should have been protected by guarantees that Russia gave to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross that the Azov detainees would be treated appropriately. Since the explosion, the Russians have refused to give international representatives any access to the site.
Voroshiva said the Red Cross was allowed into the camp in May. She said that the Russians took visitors to a specially renovated room and did not allow them to speak independently with the prisoners. “It was a show,” she said. “We were asked to size our clothes and were told that the Red Cross would distribute something. We received nothing.”
Other detainees confirmed Voroshiva’s version of events and said that Azov soldiers were treated worse than civilians. Dmitry Bodrov, a 32-year-old volunteer worker, told The Wall Street Journal The guards took anyone they suspected of misconduct to the camp’s disciplinary department to beat them.
He said they came out limping and groaning. Some prisoners were forced to crawl back to their cells. Another prisoner, Stanislav Hluchkov, said that an inmate who was regularly beaten was found dead in solitary confinement. Affiliates put a sheet over his head, put him in a mortuary truck and told fellow prisoners that he had “committed suicide”.
Voroshiva was released on 4 July. She said it was a “miracle”. The guards recited the names of those who would be released. Everyone listened in silence. My heart jumped when I heard my name. I packed my things but didn’t celebrate. There have been cases where people were on the list, then out, and then back.”
She added, “The people who run the camp represent the worst aspects of the Soviet Union. They can’t act well unless they think no one is looking.”
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