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Two Ukrainian women who had been taken prisoner by the Russians spoke about their experiences in Russian captivity to the Media Initiative for Human Rights (MIHR).
According to MIHR, there is only one detention facility that Russia has allocated exclusively for women: Correctional Colony No. 9 in the city of Valuiki, Belgorod Oblast.
The winding path to Russian prison
Olena and Kateryna (names changed for security reasons) were taken prisoner in April 2022. They spent some time in the village of Yelenovka. There, they were kept in a cell for six women that actually held 30. They were subsequently transferred to Pre-trial Detention Center No. 2 in the city of Taganrog, Rostov Oblast, which prisoners have called the worst of all places where Ukrainians are kept. There, Olena and Kateryna were kept in the same conditions as men: without personal hygiene products, without proper medical care, and subjected to physical and psychological violence. They were then moved to Correctional Colony No. 9 of the city of Valuiki.
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In Colony No. 9, prisoners are housed in barracks, which are called “sections.” They are divided into cells designed for 8-22 people. Inside, there are bunk beds with mattresses, pillows and linens.
“The beds were old, like we once had in the barracks, but it’s still more comfortable than sleeping on a solid iron bed welded to the floor,” says Kateryna.
A routine of bullying
An integral attribute of bullying in all Russian prisons is the requirement to sing the Russian anthem, during which prisoners are forced to do push-ups or squats.
Women are taken to the dining room to eat. On the way there, prisoners are often harassed. They are required to run to the dining room, and if the guards are unhappy with how quickly they move, they put batons in front of them. Anyone who touches a baton is immediately beaten.
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“You get hit; you fall. And everyone behind you falls too. Very often, the women would fall, fly through the door, and after this, we end up not having any time to eat, because they give us just five minutes. They didn’t care whether the food was hot or not, whether we had eaten or not. These were only our problems,” says Kateryna.
There is a TV in the dining room. The prisoners are allowed to watch only one channel, Russia-24, and are given 30 minutes to watch every day. The women spend the rest of the day in their cells. Prisoners are forbidden to sit on their beds, so they had to stand or walk around the room. They were only allowed to sit on chairs, of which there were not enough for everyone.
You could take showers only once a week: “There were more than 60 women. They gave 10 minutes for a shower, and 1-2 bottles of shampoo for everyone. Someone had time to wash their hair with shampoo, the rest washed themselves with soap, which had a strong stench,” the former captives explain.
The Russians exerted strong psychological pressure on the prisoners. Olena says that the guards were dismissive of them, using derogatory words and laughing at them.
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“They kept saying that Ukraine no longer exists, that Russian banks had opened everywhere, and that our president had fled to Poland. We also watched Russian news, so it was very difficult for our morale,” adds Kateryna.
There was no proper medical care in the women’s colony No. 9 in Valuyki. Olena notes that although doctors came and gave some medicines, their attitude towards the prisoners was extremely hostile.
Prison garment factory
Correctional Colony No. 9 hosts a garment factory, where Russian female prisoners work. It was there that captured Ukrainian women crossed paths with Russian convicts. Factory work is voluntary. Since the work is paid, many of the Ukrainian women and Russian inmates opted to do so.
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“As prisoners of war, we had the right to humanitarian aid, but we earned money for toilet paper, toothpaste, or any other hygiene products by working in the factory,” says Kateryna.
Communication between the captives and regular inmates was forbidden. No one would try to break this rule, as the Russian inmates were afraid of Ukrainian women.
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“One of the convicts tried to run away from us. She was doing some work outside, but when we stepped out, she abruptly turned around and began to run away,” Kateryna recalls.
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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine
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