27.06.2006 | Natalya Bimbiraite, Kherson

Paid torture in a special detention centre


For over a year, summer and winter, Yury Kniazhinski took part in almost all pickets near the building of the Kherson Appeal Court. On 19 May he also stood in a picket on Svoboda Square. He was protesting about Anatoly Ivanishchuk continuing as Chair of the Appeal Court, since his tenure had ended back in March.

On 20 May a judge of the Suvorovsky District Court, V. Palkova ordered that Kniazhinski be imprisoned for 15 days “for petty hooliganism”.

Yuri appealed against this decision to the Appeal Court. 6 civic organizations and 3 Kherson regional media outlets sent telegrams of protest to the President of Ukraine, the Human Rights Ombudsperson, the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Acting Chair of  the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor General.  Everyday in support of Yury Kniazhinski a picket was held near the local state administration and the prosecutor’s office.

The Appeal Court, represented by S. Lobodzinsku, First Deputy Chair, upheld the ruling of the Suvorovsky District Court, although their Honours V. Palkova and S. Lobodzinsky must have understood that they were trying a man purely for having publicly expressed his opinion, a right guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine.

Whether the letters and pickets “broke through” the bureaucratic machine, or the judges’ conscience finally stirred, 10 days later Ms. Palkova ordered that the sentence be reduced from 15 to 10 days, the reason being the poor health of Yury’s parents. In fact her Honour did not have the right to reconsider the case, especially since neither the Appeal Court nor the prosecutor’s office had questioned the ruling Yet, how many Kherson judges obey the law? If they did so, there would not be any pickets, and citizens would not set themselves alight in protest at judges’ arbitrary rulings…

For 10 days in the special detention centre, Yury’s relatives had to pay 150 UH. The receipt says: “in payment for the Ruling of the Suvorovsky District Court”. So, must we pay now for court rulings? Or did they take money “for their services”? it proved impossible to find out since the police learned of it only from our publication: Oleg Khudyakov, deputy head of the town police called us and asked with surprise, where we had got information about money.

This is what Yury told us about the “services” of the detention centre. 

Bucket for humiliation

I was put in cell No. 5. There were four beds – three on the first level and one – on the second. The walls were a foul grey colour, it really got to you. They’d taken out the glass from the window and used some glass tiles that let in a bit of light, but you couldn’t see out. The experienced prisoners were glad that it was summer, because in winter, they said, the temperature in the cell was the same as outside. The “chandelier” was made of a metal sheet with small holes made by a nail, with a light bulb behind them. There was no toilet or wash-basin in the cell, just a bucket with a lid in the corner without any partition. The most private things in front of everybody – horribly humiliating, not to speak of being unhygienic.

Privileges “on the palm”

After Serhiy Kirichenko yelled into a loudspeaker that Kniazhinsky was supported by a Deputy the guards for some reason nicknamed me “Deputy”.  I even got some privileges: the best place in the cell – “on the palm near the window” (the bed on the second level), where the stink from the bucket wasn’t so bad. I also got sheets, even if they were grey and used. The other inmates had no sheets at all, only mattresses and blankets. The mattresses are never changed, so a new inmate gets a whole “collection” of germs from previous “colleagues”.

During my stay in the detention centre 11 people passed through the cell. Seven of them, sentenced to administrative arrest said that they were there because of a drunken brawl in a café, two – for buying poppy straw, and one – for inflicting serious bodily injuries that caused death.

Like in the GULAG

Walks and contact with the outside world were prohibited, as were any printed matter (newspapers, books, etc.). Every morning I made marks on the wall so as not to lose track of time, since my watch, mobile, together with money and other things, had been taken away on the first day. I got everything back later.

At 6 a.m. we were led to the toilet for 1-1.5 minutes. During this time we had to do everything and to carry out the bucket. (After that, until the next morning you either hold on or use the bucket in front of the others). In the lavatory we filled 2 litre bottles with water. Once the day was especially hot, and the water finished soon. We asked the guards to fill it again, but they said: “Later”. This “later” came in five hours…

Day without food

During the first day I got no food at all, they said that I wasn’t’ registered yet, and that they started to feed prisoners only after 24 hours. For some reason, a parcel brought by my brother on the first day wasn’t accepted. On the third day, 22 May, I got the first parcel – food and clean clothes. The “official” nourishment was the following: a glass of “tea” (light-yellow liquid, not very sweet, but hot) in the morning and evening. There was also a lot of brown bread with some kind of gluey stuff, but “old-timers” advised us not to eat the “glue” or we’d get sick. For dinner we got a soup (2-3 bits of potatoes and a small leaf of cabbage) and mush of unknown origin – something like a yellowy-brown cake, without any butter or fat. I don’t think the dishes got washed since there were food remains in them.


You were allowed to work – to make cement walkway slabs. The work was voluntary, 10 cigarettes “Polyot” were given for one day’s work. My cellmates returned covered in cement. I found out there was no shower in the centre and didn’t go to work..

On the sixth day a guard asked: “Do you feel like some air?” It turned out that it was necessary to load the slabs from the cellar to a car. I loaded 200 slabs into a car with a private registration number, it took 40 minutes. Then I was taken to the cell again.

There were several shocking moments. For the first time I saw, how a man banged his head against the door. He walked around the cell, then stopped for a moment and rushed at the door... He fell down, the guards took him away, and he didn’t come back.

I also saw addicts with withdrawal symptoms. Their groans and convulsions were terrible.

Once I helped to carry food to other cells and saw a punishment cell – dark and really damp  without a window. There was a low concrete slab instead of a bed and no mattress.”

The European Court has objections

Yury’s story was commented on by Mykola Hrinishak, a lawyer of the Foundation of Charity and Health, coordinator of the project “Campaign against torture and ill-treatment in Ukraine” in the Kherson region.

Article 3 of the European Convention of human rights reads: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Ukraine ratified this Convention in 1997, and from then on was bound to observe the norms of the Convention and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. What Yury went through in the special detention centre, would be viewed by the European Court as a flagrant violation of human rights.

For example, in the case “Dugoz v. Greece” (2001) the Court noted that there was no fresh air in the cell, convicts were not allowed walks, there was no hot water, etc. The Court found such conditions to be degrading, and taking into account all violations of the norms of the Convention, ordered the state to pay Dugoz compensation of 5 millions of Greek drachmas (about 14500 Euros). And in the case “Poltoratsky v. Ukraine” (2003) the Court ordered Ukraine to pay 3 thousand euros in compensation to the claimant since he was kept in a cell with an open toilet and other bad conditions.

Yury Kniazhinsky also intends to lodge a complaint with the European Court, and, undoubtedly, he will win this case. If there are a large number of such cases, the Government may well finally have to bring such detention centres into some semblance of conformity with European standards. Otherwise the European Union will remain a very long way off.


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