Права Людини в Україні. Інформаційний портал Харківської правозахисної групи
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12.12.2001 | O. Kryzhanivska, Kyiv
The right to a fair trial

Frightful stories from the present day Kyiv GULAG


The more convicts complain, the more praises the warden gets. Prisons exist for flops of the society to make their life miserable. Then the everyday life become unbearable for a prisoner, then it is much easier to question him.

Andrey Kudin. ‘How to survive in custody’

One day before her arrest former vice-Prime-Minister Yulia Timoshenko caustically remarked that she has the packed suitcase and awaits for a long imprisonment. Ms Timoshenko would not joke in such a way, if she knew what awaits her.

On 13 February the prosecutor’s office sent Timoshenko to the Lukyanivska prison of Kyiv, a rather notorious establishment – the center of torture, psychological pressure and other pleasantries both in the Soviet times and today, after ten years of the independent Ukraine.

The nasty state of health of that came to Timoshenko after her arrest pushed to the footlights the state in Ukrainian prisons, and this picture appeared to be ugly.

In spite of the bragging speeches of Ukrainian state figures about the improvement of the conditions in the penitentiary establishments, many citizen continue to associate them with the notorious Soviet GULAG.

Both convicts and human rights protection organizations say that Ukrainian penitentiaries remain centers of violating human rights. They say that the attitude of the prison personnel to convicts almost have not changed since the time of Stalin’s terror. They also say that, like in the old times, prisons remain a tool of political repressions.

Forced confessions

The opaque legislation of Ukraine is the other tool – according to the operating laws, militia has the right to send people to a prison only on the basis of a ‘strong suspicion’, without any court decision. This ‘strong suspicion’ played the decisive role in bringing Timoshenko on the bad side of the prison bars. And she was not the first in this sad list.

‘In Stalin’s epoch all was simpler. The hypocrisy and cynicism of the current situation is now called ‘democracy’, said Andrey Kudin, the author of the book ‘How to survive in custody’. He said: ‘The logic of the current regime is similar. Everybody not loyal must be found and removed’.

Kudin is 36-years-old, he is a Doctor of Philosophy (not a Ph.D.). Now he is specialized in human rights protection. In 1997 he was arrested because of the letter from his acquaintance, who affirmed that Kudin was mixed in a hired murder. Kudin was acquitted by the court and his arrest was acknowledged as illegal. But what was done, was done.

Kudin was released from Lukyanivska prison in February 1998 with the cerebral trauma so grave that he was acknowledged an invalid of the second group (out of the 3 groups. – Translator’s note). He said that the trauma was the result of numerous beatings by militia officers, who tried to batter the needed testimony out of him.

Kudin asserted that in reality everything was much more complicated. Later it became known that he had never been officially accused of any crime. A week after his arrest the Parliamentary Committee of fighting corruption and organized crime came to the conclusion that the actual reason of his arrest was the desire to press upon his farther Viacheslav Kudin, a member of the National Council in charge of radio and TV broadcasting. This Council allocates time and frequencies for various private radio and TV channels.

According to human rights protection affirm that arresting people and then forcing them to give false evidence is the usual practice in Ukraine. Tatiana Shpak, the wife of Sergey Shpak, who is kept in the Lukyanivska prison, said that her husband became another victim of this practice.

‘My husband kept his hunger-strike during half a year protesting against his arrest grounded on the evidence obtained under torture’, she told. -- ‘He could not walk and his teeth fell out. Sergey was given only one glass of water per day. No medical aid was given to him until I complained to the authorities’.

Sergey Shpak was accused of robbery. He terminated his hunger-strike last October and now he is expecting the trial in the Lukyanivska prison. His wife complains that all the evidence against him was faked by investigation officers.

Prison conditions

Kudin’s book ‘How to survive in custody’ analyzes in details the Ukrainian punitive system. The book contains pieces of advise how one must behave at the moment of the arrest, what to answer and what not to answer during interrogations. The book describes various methods of torture and degrading treatment, which militiamen use in order to get the needed testimony from the detained. Kudin wrote this book during his stay in the Lukyanivska prison.

Kudin wrote: ‘In cold seasons all the convicts sleep in their upper clothes because the temperature in cells rarely exceeds 5 degrees C. Awful anti-sanitary conditions, absence of ventilation, fresh air and day light result in various illnesses’.

The authorities deny that in the treatment of convicts is so bad. They say that last year the convicts handed only one complaint. According to the information from the ombudsperson’s office, the inspection held in the middle of February showed that the conditions in the Lukyanivska prison were normal.

Kudin’s book, however, informs the reader that the people, who inspected the prison, were shown the same cells for window dressing, ‘with standard spoons and linoleum on the concrete floor’. Other people, who know actual conditions in the Lukyanivska prison, also ridicule this misinformation.

‘They perhaps are joking. Exactly so as 10 years ago the conditions in this prison serve for degrading inmates’, said Stepan Khmara, a former dissident and the head of the anti-President Ukrainian Conservative party, who stayed in the Lukyanivska prison for nine months since October 1990.

Another inheritance of the GULAG system in the Lukyanivska prison is solitary incarceration cells, where the convict spent up to 15 days.

‘The cell is a cold cubicle with a concrete floor and a berth, which is permitted to occupy only for 8 hours at night. All the remaining time the prisoner must stand or move. Any attempt to lie on the floor threatens to get pneumonia’, told Evgen Dikiy, the head of the human rights protection organization ‘Helsinki-90’. Conditions in Ukrainian prisons are lagging far behind the world standards, reckons Dikiy.

Organizations that control, how human rights are observed, say that the Lukyanivska prison does not satisfy even the minimal UNO rules, to say nothing about the more requiring rules recommended by the Council of Europe.

‘Since 1917 not a single prison in Ukraine has been built’, Dikiy said, ‘The treatment of convicts in the Lukyanivska prison has not improved enough since the days of the Russian Empire. The only advance is that a cell intended for 8 people now contains not less that 18’.

Some statements by Dikiy are doubtful. Stepan Tkachenko, an ombudsperson’s speaker said that that the upkeep conditions in the Lukyanivska prison have actually improved during several recent years.

‘First, metallic window shields, which blocked the sunlight, have been taken off, hot water has been served, bare plank beds have been exchanged for usual beds’, said Tkachenko. – ‘The nutrition expenditures for one convict have been increased from 17 kopecks to Hr 2 per day’.

Yet, even Tkachenko confessed that the upkeep conditions are still lower that the standard. He confirmed that the prison might be used in order to break the spirit of quite innocent people.

‘This is typical, when people are thrown to prisons rather because of a suspicion than hard facts. People stay in preliminary prisons for several years, and then it becomes clear that they are innocent. These people will leave the prison quite with a broken spirit. They will never be like before’.

Tottering laws

On paper the Ukrainian law forbids such punishments, and, theoretically, a court must consider a case within two months. In practice, people wait for a court decision even during four or five years.

Tkachenko makes excuses that courts are overloaded and under-financed. Skeptics add that politics is often involved. They say that the arrest of Yulia Timoshenko, the most implacable foe of President Kuchma, confirms this statement.

Last-year arrest of the top officials of the ‘Slavianskiy’ bank that worked with the money of the enterprise ‘The United Energy System of Ukraine’ headed by Timoshenko is also considered by many as a witch-hunt. The bank president stands in a prison awaiting for trial during more than a year.

Dikiy reckons that the principle ‘Guilty until proved otherwise’ is a Soviet one.

‘This was a tradition since Stalin’s times. Officers in charge simply do not know how to investigate an affair, if the accused is not in captivity’, Dikiy says.

Timoshenko’s chances to be released in the near future looks dubious. Lukyanivska prison has already harmed her health.

According to a message of ‘Ukrainska Pravda’ of 27 February, Viacheslav Peredriy, a professor of RAND institute of nutrition, said that Timoshenko was examined in her cell and her health was acknowledged very poor. He refused to give any details, explaining that he himself was unwell after his visit to the prison.

General Prosecutor’s office more than once negated the information that Yulia Timoshenko’s health is poor.

© KPnews. com 2000

‘Kyiv Post’, 7 March 2001

PL commentary. In general, agreeing with the article from ‘Kyiv Post’, it must be noted that, contrary to skeptics, the upkeep conditions in some preliminary prisons (especially in new ones) have become a little better, and the conditions in penitentiaries have considerably improved in the recent years. Unjustified restrictions in sending and receiving letters and parcels have been cancelled, an opportunity to phone to one’s relatives has appeared, clerics of various confessions have the right to visit penitentiaries, convicts have got the right to possess the Bible, the penitentiary personnel contact with public organizations, although the proper level of openness has not been reached yet. This optimistic correction is justified, since all penitentiaries in the article are called ‘prisons’, although in Ukraine there are only three prisons and they are used for keeping the most dangerous hardened criminals. The bad conditions are mainly due to insufficient financing. In fact the food for a convict costs from 8 to 30 kopecks per day – is it possible to nourish one for such a sum? The more so, the financing is planned according to the capacity of a penitentiary, and the latter is always overcrowded by 2-4 times. It should be also noted that the representatives of human rights protection organizations must be more accurate and objective in their assessments. Errors in one figures give birth to distrust to others. And Evgen Dikiy’s statement that no prison has been built in Ukraine since 1917 is a blunder. Only during the independence several preliminary prison and penitentiaries were built in Ukraine. In the Soviet times many penitentiaries were built to keep the limitless flow of criminals, which increased by tens or even hundreds times compared to those of the czarist times.

As to torture, degrading treatment and psychological pressure, they actually happen even before starting the case or during investigation. The latter is especially frequent in ordered cases with a political lining, as in the mentioned ‘Slovianskiy’ bank affair or Yulia Timoshenko’s case. Some obstacles to the lay of things are may appear after the introduction of the new norms on detainment and arrest. They were mentioned in the previous article. Yet, until now the Parliament has not adopted the law with President’s comments. Secondly, the efficiency of the law depends much on the law-application practices.

As to release of Yulia Timoshenko, we believe that not all the i’s are dotted after the decisions of the Pecherskiy district and Kyiv city courts.

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