Prisoners describe harsh treatment in Russian camp where blast killed dozens

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KYIV (NYTIMES) - Prisoners recently released from a Russian prison camp where an explosion killed dozens of Ukrainian soldiers late on Thursday have described torture and hellish conditions. Guards provided just enough food for prisoners to survive and meted out regular beatings, they say.

Stas Hlushko, 37, a civilian prisoner released on July 4 from the camp - Correctional Colony No. 120 - said the blast site was far from the barracks where hundreds of prisoners are being held.

He described how new inmates were beaten upon arrival.

"As prison guards explained to us, it's important for the prisoner to be humiliated at once," he said. "The torture of us civilians was not so bad as for soldiers."

He described how camp guards would create a "corridor" and force new prisoners to run the gauntlet as he was beaten with "chains, metal pipes and so on."

"One emergency service guy was put in our cell and for a day couldn't move," he said. "He was tortured with electricity."

The treatment of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians being held by the Russians has been a topic of growing concern. Russia has not provided a precise total of how many are being held, and the issue is further complicated because civilians are often held in the same camps as soldiers.

The Russians operate at least 18 "filtration centres" in eastern Ukraine and western Russia, according to a recently declassified US intelligence assessment.

Tens of thousands of people forcibly deported to Russia have passed through the centres, and those deemed to pose a high risk to Russia are taken to other detention centres where soldiers are also kept, according to witnesses and international observers.

Incidents of torture and inhumane living conditions at Correctional Colony No. 120 were described by several former prisoners and by family members of people still being held.

Vitaliy Sytnikov, a 35-year-old civilian who was arrested while trying to evacuate other residents from Mariupol in March, described a disciplinary cell known as "the pit."

"Almost every day, we heard the beatings of prisoners of war there," Sytnikov said, in a telephone interview.

He said that most of the people who were beaten were soldiers who had defended the Azovstal steel plant.

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Dmytro Lubinets, Ukrainian commissioner for human rights, said on Saturday that the government had "initiated a process" to return bodies of those killed at the camp to Ukraine.

He said that even before the blast, the government in Kyiv had asked that the Red Cross and other international experts investigate abuses of prisoners at the camp, where he said "thousands" of people were being held - civilians and soldiers.

"As far as we know, there were no other positive changes in the confinement conditions - there was nothing like that," he said.

"So there are many questions at the moment, but, believe me, we are doing everything we can and everything we have to do."

Fragments of what Russia says are US-made Himars rockets are shown after shelling at a detention centre in Olenivka, in Ukraine's Donetsk region, on July 29, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Michael Carpenter, US ambassador to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has issued a series of statements on abuses at Russian prison camps.

He said on Friday night that the explosion that killed the soldiers was the latest evidence of "barbaric, inhuman treatment of POWs by Russian forces."

A rally involving relatives of the soldiers who defended the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol is held in Kyiv, on July 30, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

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