Ukraine sentences ‘chief butcher’ of Russian-controlled Izolyatsia secret torture prison to 15 years
The Shevchenkivsk District Court in Kyiv a curious move following Kulykovsky’s high-profile arrest in Kyiv on 9 November 2021. Denys Kulykovsky [‘Palych’] to 15 years’ imprisonment for his role in torturing Ukrainian hostages at the notorious Izolyatsia ‘concentration camp’ in occupied Donetsk. The sentence passed on 3 January 2024 was viewed by some as insufficient but was that sought by the prosecutor. The verdict and sentence are, of course, still subject to appeal, however Kulykovsky’s role at Izolyatsia is not in dispute, and was graphically described in the testimony of 22 former hostages held and tortured at Izolyatsia. Indeed his role was even acknowledged by the fake ‘prosecutor’ of the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [‘DPR’] in
Although the ‘DPR’ statement avoided any mention of Izolyatsia, its assertion that Kulykovsky had been “a former employee of the republic’s penitentiary institutions” was a damning admission of guilt. Russia and its proxies in occupied Donbas had, since 2014, denied the existence of Izolyatsia and the other secret prisons where Ukrainian hostages were held prisoner and savagely tortured. Izolyatsia, a former factory had, until Russia’s military aggression in 2014, served as a vibrant art and cultural centre, run by the Izolyatsia Foundation. It was seized by Russian / Russian-controlled militants in June 2014, and used both as a military base, and as a secret prison where civilian hostages were tortured, both to extract supposed ‘confessions’ and, according to Stanislav Aseyev and other former hostages, for the torturers’ ‘entertainment’.
Kulykovsky’s trial at the Shevchenkivsk District Court began in August 2022. All parties agreed that the hearings (but not the announcement of the verdict) should be behind closed doors, due to the horrific details of torture and ill-treatment described. We know enough, however, from the accounts given by Aseyev, Halyna Haiova, and other former hostages, as well as from Oleh Horbachov, the lawyer representing Aseyv, of the kind of testimony which the court would have heard. Kulykovsky was the ‘commandant’ of Izolyatsia from late 2014 until the beginning of 2018, and took part, especially when drunk, in issuing orders to beat, torture or starve hostages, or in committing such crimes himself.
Stanislav Aseyev, a Donetsk writer and blogger, was held prisoner in ‘DPR’ for 31 months, with 28 of these at Izolyatsia. In his words, Kulykovsky was not merely in charge of Izolyatsia, but, “for his own satisfaction, took part around the clock in torturing, raping and ill-treating people. At night he would get drunk, open cells and, in the best instance, beat prisoners, including women.”
Other hostages, such as nurse Halyna Haiova, held prisoner for 18 months, have reported that their torturers appeared to do it for fun.
This is only one of the important links between such testimony about Izolyatsia and the torture chamber – prisoners that the Russian invaders have created and used in all parts of Ukraine that have fallen under Russian occupation. Very many of those who were held prisoner by the Russians also report that these war crimes seemed to give the perpetrators ‘pleasure’.
Kulykovsky is now 39 and originally from Donetsk oblast. He had worked in Ukraine’s penitentiary service before the military conflict, and then joined the Russian and Russian-controlled militants. He headed the Izolyatsia prison from 2014 until February 2018. He was officially removed in January 2018 for excessive brutality, however former hostages believe it was due to financial conflict with the Russian ‘handler’ Vasily Viktorovych Yevdokimov, known as ‘Lenin]. While Moscow continued to claim that the events in the proxy ‘republics’ were ‘a Ukrainian civil war’, there is considerable evidence that Kulykovsky’s immediate superiors were from Russia’s FSB [state security service].
The charges against Kulykovsky were of human trafficking (Article 149 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code); creating a terrorist gang or organization (Article 258-3); creating unlawful militarized or armed formations (Article 260); involvement in a crime committed by a group of people (Article 28) and violation of the laws and practice of war (Article 438). The last of these charges is effectively the only possibility under Ukraine’s current Criminal Code of prosecuting people for war crimes, and it remains woefully inadequate.
The court rejected the charge of human trafficking (Article 249) but found Kulykovsky guilty of all other charges. The 15-year sentence is counted from 9 November 2021, with the court also ordering confiscation of his property.
It remains unclear exactly how (and why) Denys Kulykovsky was able to live, untouched, in Kyiv from 2019. It was, almost certainly, thanks to Aseyev that he was finally arrested on 9 November 2021, with the SBU [Ukrainian Security Service] only then reporting the crimes of which Kulykovsky was accused. On 12 November 2021, Kulykovsky himself spoke of the methods of torture used and of how a person known as ‘doc’ to the hostages, whom he named as Stanislav Simonov, both took part in torture and revived victims if the torture went too far. Kulykovsky also stated that Russian FSB officers were present during the so-called ‘interrogations’, and that such officers mainly worked with Yevdokimov.
Shortly after the final court debate, Oleh Horbachov called this trial “a test for Ukraine which will demonstrate the country’s ability to bring key war criminals to justice”. It also demonstrates that Russia’s widespread and systematic use of torture wh international bodies have repeatedly noted since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine did not begin in 2022, but back in 2014. There remain as many as 300 Ukrainian POWs and civilian hostages, taken prisoner before 2022, many of whom were also tortured at Izolyatsia.