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Horrors of Ukrainian jails: Prisoners abuse and illegal factories

Author : 112 program Corruption League

Tuberculosis, HIV, tortures, 18-hour day, illegal production of Adidas, Nike, Puma bags, and corrupt procurement practices - this is how some penitentiary system facilities work in Ukraine
11:00, 8 October 2018

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Back in 2006, Ukraine’s government began reforming the penitentiary system. Minister of Justice Pavlo Petrenko promised to achieve the order in the system of prisons.

To reform the penitentiary service, a special person (out from the system) was assigned - Deputy Minister of Justice Denys Chernyshov. At the beginning of his bureaucratic career, Chernyshov frankly revealed the corruption schemes in the colonies. He said that officially unprofitable prison companies actually had huge shadow incomes. “Some people think that a colony is their private property and that they have received free laborers. This is wrong,” said Chernyshov. But illegal practices are still flourishing. And in 2017, Oleg Shepita, customs officer with a scandalous reputation, has replaced Chernyshov. Oleg Shepita has spent all his life working in the public service. But in June 2018, the deputy head of the penitentiary system Shepita bought from his mother Liusia Shepita a huge (1200 square meters) mansion in Kyiv and 10 acres of land. For altogether paid only 3,5 thousand USD. Although the real cost of such a mansion is few million dollars. Consequently, we became more interested in the Shepit family and found out that pensioner Liusia Shepita was a real multi-millionaire and a defendant in criminal proceedings. But the mother is an ordinary counterfeiter, she legally stands behind the schemes of her son, influential official Oleg Shepita.

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According to the judicial register information, in 2010, Liusia Shepita borrowed 537 thousand dollars and did not return them in time. According to the borrower, back in 2014, the Pustomytovsky District Court of Lviv Region seized all the property of the mother. But soon a part of the seized property, in particular, more than a hectare of expensive land near Kyiv, hundreds of square meters of the commercial real estate in the capital, and a few houses were sold. However, the court did not cancel the arrest.

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An elite suburb of Lviv, Konopnytsia village. In 2015, two of the luxurious mansions were illegally removed from arrest and sold. However, the real owners are still the Shepitas. The attendants confirmed that the official’s mom lives here.

Kyiv mansion has an even more astonishing story. In 2014, the court imposed an arrest on this house. But in 2018, again, with the help of a fake court order, the property was removed from the arrest. Oleg Shepita bought it from his mother and immediately sold it to a Lithuanian company for 45 thousand USD. That is, an official sold a huge mansion close to the city center, at a price of a one-room apartment! We called Oleg Shepita to comment on the situation, but the prison head ignored our request, and his mother did not want to talk either.

Related: Thug life in the Ukrainian prisons

Back in 2014, almost 130 thousand people were in the Ukrainian colonies and the remand centers. But after the amendment of the code of criminal procedure and Savchenko’s law (the law is amending part 5, Art. 72 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine; the Court counts the pretrial detention as a part of detention sentence, - Ed.), the number of prisoners decreased significantly. And now in Ukraine, there are 57 thousand prisoners. Consequently, the colonies began to close. The Ministry of Justice decided to sell prisons and detention centers, which do not work, to the developers. But instead of receipts in the budget, corruption schemes arose. Lviv correctional colony №48. In February 2018, the lockup was closed. This is a tasty morsel for businessmen - 12 hectares of land. But now the territory has not been sold to anyone. Our journalists decided to ask, what is happening with the jail now? According to the law, prisons that do not work are secure objects and must be protected. But the entrance to the territory is free; there are no signs of prohibition.

Related: Government to allocate $3,8 for every family of political prisoner

There must be a colony, but now a dress-making and tailoring establishment are located here. And employees do not show documents for entrepreneurial activity. A production facility for household appliances repair is also located here. As soon as the journalists asked the tenants about the contract, they jumped on the operator. The man says: he rents the premises legally, but does not show the documents.

During the day, dubious firms work here, and at night this is a perfect hangout place for alcoholics and drug addicts. The assistants of people's deputies, along with journalists, have the right to enter all the premises in the colony. But the administration has closed the accounting. Reporters called the police to figure out how this facility turned into a public thoroughfare and what the administration of the colony hides from the public.

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The Ministry of Justice spends over 14,3 million USD annually on purchases of fish and meat for prisoners. According to the documents, the colony received cereals, sugar, and flour from the state, but none of that was detected. An unpleasant odor could be felt in warehouses instead of food. The administrators say: there is no pork in the warehouses because the convicts have already eaten everything, however, the prisoners say the opposite.

The journalists found another batch of rotten meat in the boiler room. In addition to pork, convicts are to eat poultry. According to the documents, a month before our visit, the colony received almost 2 tons of chicken. The head of the canteen made an excuse, allegedly they ate the last batch just in the morning. We found several dozen cans of canned meat in the warehouses. But almost all of them were spoiled. Expired condensed milk was also there. Milk was spoiled. And the state paid 2,5 USD for each jar. Two brand new refrigerators were brought to the kitchen. They were bought for 2,53 thousand USD, that is, 1,26 thousand each. In one of the internet, store found exactly the same refrigerator for 393 USD. Refrigerators stand there, but they are empty. The same story is with a new stove. It was purchased for 1,1 thousand USD, and it costs only 438 USD in the internet store. However, we did not manage to find this stove in the colony. The employees explained it was taken for repairs.

Related: OSCE: Prisons of occupied Donbas do not differ from Ukrainian ones

Meanwhile, the administration of the Pervomaiska colony cruelly punish convicts who are trying to defend their legal rights. The convicts are throws in a punishment cell for “disobedience.” This is a tiny room where you have no opportunity to sit or lie down, so you have to stand up all day. The prisoners call a punishment cell “a pit.” Tortures of the convicts are almost every day practice. Wardens and superiors do not treat convicts like people but like powerless slaves.

Convict Mykyta complains: prisoners were fed rotten meat, and when he was outraged, the administration threw him "in the punishment cell." In addition, in order to humiliate the prisoners, the warders and the authorities force them to strip naked and then take pictures of them. "The first deputy [of the prison administration] brought me out; he said to take off my clothes. I undressed. I took off my pants, I stood. He took pictures of me, searches me," says Mykyta. In protest, Mykyta swallowed metal screws. By law, this is an emergency. In such cases, the administration is obliged to call the prosecutor's office. But the 117th colony, obviously, has its own laws.

If convicts suffer work injuries, the prosecutor’s office and the state labor department must conduct a special check. However, in order to avoid a scandal, the administration persuaded the prisoner to write an explanatory note that he himself had cut off his finger “for fun.” In return, the prisoner was promised to be released quickly. And as soon as the case was hushed up, the administration forgot about its promise. And when Vitaliy Luzan recalled this case and parole, he was sent "to the pit."

Related: Riot in prison: Ex-Tornado fighters could freely go in the streets

Mykola is another regular lock-up. Until recently, Mykola has been working in the woodworking workshop. “I worked 18 hours a day - from half-past seven until one in the morning. Seven days a week. And officially we worked until half past seven,” says Mykola. The convicts received no wages for this enormously hard work. On the other hand, he had to write off the wood on the sly, the processing of which is ordered by private entrepreneurs. There are no recidivists in the 117th colony. Only convicts are held here for the first time. But the administration makes ordinary convicts the embittered prisoners.

In 2006, Vadym Ismailov came to work as an inspector in the 25th Kharkiv colony. And on the first day, a young employee was shown how to “properly” rehabilitate the prisoners.

“I said that I was not ready to maltreat people, deliberately enter the bathhouse with five of us, jump down a convict’s mouth and loudly turn on the music, twist the genitals and put plastic bags on their heads,” Ismailov confessed. He did not hide: over time, he was forced to participate in tortures. We asked why the administration and the wardens maltreat the prisoners, Ismailov explained: "Sometimes it just pleases someone."

In 2009, Vadym Ismailov was dismissed from work in the colony. And when in 2016 the government started talking about the reform of the penitentiary system, Ismailov decided to return to the service. But he hastened to publicly talk about the prison lawlessness. He was never reinstated in the penitentiary system, but he began to receive threats.

This is the same 25th colony where Ismailov worked. There is one of the country's largest prison industrial zones on its territory. Back in 2016, our journalists, together with human rights defenders, discovered the underground production of bags of famous world brands. The existence of the illegal business was confirmed by the convict Oleg Enshin: “They sewed backpacks and sports bags. Adidas, Nike, Puma stickers were used. They made the convicts work double shifts,” Enshin says. The bags are still sewn here, but now without labels. The records indicate that every prisoner every day must produce about fifty backpacks. There are no documents about who ordered the bags. The administration justifies all these violations, allegedly they are made as part of an educational process.

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Metalworking is the largest production facility here. “Our core products are trailers and welding. We weld metal structures and cooperate with the Electrotyazhmash state plant,” says Eduard Rozhenko, the head of the Oleksiyivska correctional colony No. 25. Officially, the 25th colony produces almost 18 thousand USD each month.

Kharkiv zones are really notorious. A former prisoner tells horrible stories of torture: "They can take man’s genitals and start twisting." The guards loudly turn on the music so that the convicts could not hear their voices.

Related: Riot at Lukyanivska prison: four ex-Tornado fighters, two prison workers served charges

Convicts cut the metal and rivet the details. The representative of the administration could not explain could not tell what kind of the details were produced there.

Our journalists have found an illegal food production facility in Kharkiv 43rd colony. Room bay leaf is packed here. Almost a ton of products. Thousands of packs. Like a real factory. Kharkiv prosecutor's office opened criminal proceedings, but the case was hushed and closed.

And the worst thing is that sick people work in the production. "I have the fourth stage of HIV if I cut my hand and a drop of blood falls on a bay leaf... would you like to buy such a bay leaf? I am really afraid to get hurt," says one of the convicts.

One of the HIV-infected women tells that she recently cut her veins in the workplace. This is a kind of protest for the convicts.

“The administrative officer of the colony came up and hit me in the face. I cut my hands, all the leaves were covered with my blood, it was just everywhere,” says Iryna Luzenko, one of the convicted.

Bottles for AIDS therapy are lying at the workplace. Patients with tuberculosis are involved in the production.

Related: Justice Ministry fires Lukyanivska Prison staff, - people's deputy

This is Inna, our journalists found her in a tuberculosis dispensary. Recently, she, suffering from open-lung tuberculosis, packaged products on the Chernihiv prison.

“I needed to work. I had no parcels, no assistance. We worked from seven in the morning to four. And then we applied for additional work,” says Inna.

Officially, these prison facilities are unprofitable, and in fact, they generate huge illegal profits. This is a major scheme in which prison administrations, local law enforcement officers, and high Kyiv officials are involved.

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada is planning to create a special commission to investigate all the corruption schemes of the Ministry of Justice and the penitentiary system in particular.

In 2016, the government disbanded the State Penitentiary Service as a center of corruption. on the plus side, they created a new body, the Penal Service, and subordinated it to the Ministry of Justice. But in fact, only the sign has changed. Ukrainian prisons are still a slave labor place.

Read the original text at 112.ua.

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