“Absolute evil”: inside a Russian prisoner of war camp where dozens of Ukrainians were burned | Ukraine

Screams of tortured soldiers, overcrowded cells, inhumane conditions, a regime of intimidation and murder. Inedible gruel, lack of communication with the outside world and days marked with a home calendar written on a tea box.

According to the prisoner who was there, these are the conditions in Olenivka, a famous detention center near Donetsk, where dozens of Ukrainian soldiers burned down in a terrifying episode late last month in Russian captivity.

Anna Woroszewa – a 45-year-old Ukrainian entrepreneur – delivered a shocking report Observer your time in prison. She spent 100 days in Olenivka after being detained in mid-March at a checkpoint run by the pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in eastern Ukraine.

She tried to deliver humanitarian aid to Mariupol, her hometown, besieged by the Russian army. The separatists arrested her and drove her in a packed police van to the prison, where she was held until early July on charges of “terrorism”.

Now, recovering in France, Voroshheva said that Russia undoubtedly had “cynically and deliberately” murdered Ukrainian prisoners of war. “We are talking about absolute evil,” she said.

Fighters were blown up on July 29 in a mysterious and devastating explosion. Moscow says Ukraine killed them with a US-made precision-guided Himars missile. However, satellite images and independent analyzes suggest that they were destroyed by a powerful bomb detonated from inside the building.

Russia says 53 prisoners were killed and 75 injured. Ukraine was unable to confirm these figures and called for an investigation. The victims were members of the Azov battalion. Until the capitulation in May, they defended the Mariupola Azovstal steelworks, staying underground.

The day before the explosion, they were moved to a separate area in the industrial area of ​​the camp, some distance from the dirty two-story concrete block, where Vorosheva shared the cell with other female prisoners. A video 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 already corpses. It was a convenient way to explain the fact that they were tortured to death, she said.

Prisoners were regularly removed from their cells, beaten, and then re-locked. “We heard them scream,” she said. “They played loud music to drown out screams. Torture happened all the time. Investigators joked about this and asked prisoners: “What happened to your face?” The soldier replied, “I have fallen,” and they laughed.

“It was a demonstration of strength. The prisoners understood that anything could happen to them, that they could be easily killed. A small number of the Azov boys were captured prior to the mass surrender in May. “

Voroshieva said that there was constant traffic around Olenivka, known as Correctional Colony No. 120. A former Soviet agricultural school, it was transformed into a prison in the 1980s and later abandoned. The DNR started using it earlier this year to accommodate enemy civilians.

Prisoners arrived and departed daily to the camp, 20 km southwest of occupied Donetsk, said Voroshheva Observer. She estimated that about 2,500 people were held there, and that number sometimes rose to 3,500-4,000. There was no running water or electricity.

The atmosphere changed when some 2,000 Azov fighters were brought in on the morning of May 17, she said. Russian flags were raised and DNR colors were removed. The guards were initially wary of the new prisoners. They later spoke openly about their intention to brutally humiliate and humiliate them, she said.

“We were often called Nazis and terrorists. One of the women in my cell was Azovstal’s nurse. She was pregnant. I asked if I could give her my food ration. I was told, “No, she’s a killer.” The only question they ever asked me was, “Do you know any Azov soldiers?”

The conditions for the prisoners were gloomy. She said they weren’t tortured but hardly got any food – 50g of bread for dinner and sometimes porridge. “It was suitable for pigs,” she said. She suspected that the warden was sucking money for meals. Toilets overcrowded and women were not given sanitary facilities. The cells were so full they slept in shifts. “It was difficult. People cried, they were worried about their children and families.” When asked if the guards ever showed sympathy, she said an anonymous person once left them a bottle of shampoo.

According to Vorosheva, the camp staff were brainwashed by Russian propaganda and the Ukrainians were labeled Nazis. Some were local peasants. “They blamed us for making their lives horrible. It was like an alcoholic saying he was drinking vodka because his wife sucked.

“The philosophy is, ‘Everything is terrible for us, so everything should be terrible for you.’ It’s very communist.

The President of Ukraine, 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 gave details of the circumstantial evidence that they believe points to the Kremlin’s guilt.

Relatives of the Azov battalion soldiers protest in Kiev after the explosion in the Olenivka prison
Friends and relatives of the soldiers of the Azov battalion protest in Kiev after the explosion in the Olenivka prison, which killed several dozen prisoners of war. Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP / Getty Images

Citing satellite photos, intercepted telephones and intelligence, they said Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group had committed the killings in collaboration with Vladimir Putin’s FSB spy agency. They indicate that a few days before the outbreak in the colony, a row of graves had been dug.

They claim that the operation has been approved at the “highest level” in Moscow. “Russia is not a democracy. The dictator is personally responsible for everything, whether it’s MH17, Bucha or Olenivka, ”one interview source said. “The question is when Putin will admit his atrocities.”

One version of the events Kyiv analyzes is that the outbreak may have been the result of intra-service competition between the Russian wings of the FSB and GRU military intelligence. Sources suggest that the GRU negotiated the surrender of Azovstal with its counterpart in the Ukrainian army – an agreement that the FSB may have broken.

Soldiers should be protected by guarantees given by Russia to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross that Azov prisoners will be properly treated. Since the outbreak, the Russians have been denying international representatives access to the site.

Voroshiev said that the Red Cross was admitted to the camp in May. She said that the Russians took the guests to a specially renovated room and did not allow them to talk to prisoners on their own. “It was a show,” she said. “We were asked to enter the size of our clothes and were told the Red Cross would give something away. Nothing reached us.

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Other detainees confirmed the version of Voroshheva’s events and said that Azov’s soldiers were treated worse than civilians. Dmitry Bodrov, a 32-year-old volunteer, said: Wall Street The guards took anyone they suspected of misconduct to a special disciplinary section of the camp for beatings.

They left limping and groaning, he said. Some prisoners have been forced to crawl back to their cells. Another inmate, Stanislav Hlushkov, said that the regularly beaten prisoner had been found dead in solitary confinement. The paramedics put a sheet over his head, loaded him into a morgue van, and told fellow prisoners that he had “committed suicide.”

Voroshiev was released on July 4. It was, she said, “a miracle.” “The guards read the names of those who were about to be released. Everyone listened in silence. My heart skipped a beat when I heard my name. I packed up but didn’t celebrate. There have been cases where people were on the list, left and then came back ”.

She added: “The people who run the camp represent the worst aspects of the Soviet Union. They could only act well when they thought no one was watching.

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