Ukraine: Lukyanivska Prison – “Where People Are Kept Like Animals”

On April 2, 2012, the Ukrainian TV channel TVi aired Kostiantyn Usov's documentary [uk, ru] about living conditions and treatment of inmates at Kyiv's Lukyanivska prison (known in Ukrainian as Lukyanivsky SIZO, or remand prison), as well as widespread corruption among the facility's staff.

The film, which is available on YouTube, includes mobile phone footage made surreptitiously by a number of inmates over the past few months at the journalist's request.

Many of those who have already watched Usov's documentary were shocked by what they saw, to say the least.

LEvko of the English-language Foreign Notes blog wrote this in a post entitled, “The hell-hole that is Lukyaniv prison”:

The brave investigative journalist Konstyantyn Usov from TVi recently managed to smuggle several mobile phones into the notorious Lukyaniv investigative isolation unit where [ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko] was detained, and where [ex-minister of internal affairs Yuriy Lutsenko] is still being held. His nightmarish television documentary can be seen here….

The conditions in some of the cells are unimaginably bad…diabolical…don't watch it before going to bed…

Remember, the inmates shown have not been tried or sentenced – many may be innocent but may nevertheless be detained there for years….

It is difficult to accept that human beings can be so maltreated in a state institution in the capital city of a European democracy in the 21st century.. utterly and absolutely shameful. […]

Lukyanivska prison gained some international exposure last year, when ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko was placed there during her trial. The Guardian's Miriam Elder described the detention facility on October 16, 2011:

[…] Tymoshenko remains inside Lukyanivska, which functions mainly as a pre-trial detention centre. She shares a 15 sq m space with two other women, both awaiting charges on economic crimes.

There is a small window, covered with three sets of bars. There is no hot water and the thick walls of the 19th-century prison keep its interior cold and damp. Tymoshenko spends her days reading. […]

In December 2011, a leaked video showing Tymoshenko at the medical wing of Lukyanivska prison was aired on TV and shared on social networks in Ukraine. Reuters reported on December 15:

[…] The video clip was one of two aired on TV with the apparent aim of showing Tymoshenko was being well treated and living in conditions akin to those of a good hotel.


In the video, prison guards are actively helping the cameraman to shoot the film, even holding back a keyhole cover into the room for him.

The 51-year-old Tymoshenko, who was mostly covered by bed-clothes, was clearly unhappy at being filmed, though her words were not audible.

In another part of the footage, which showed a well-furnished room with a refrigerator, Tymoshenko can be heard saying: “I was being kept before in unacceptable conditions and I don't want you to show this false picture now.” […]

In his documentary, Kostiantyn Usov shows the Lukyanivska prison the way it really is, as a place where thousands of Ukrainians with no access to domestic or international media spend years living in overcrowded, subhuman conditions as they await their verdicts. He wrote this [uk] about the making of the film on his blog at Ukrainska Pravda:

Lukyanivsky SIZO. A place where people are kept as animals.

Lukyanivska prison is a facility of preliminary detention. To be staying in its dark cells isn't a punishment, but a preventive measure. That is, any suspect can be locked up here, and in contemporary Ukraine it absolutely does not mean that one has to be a real criminal.

[Lukyanivska prison] occupies the first place in the number of reports of cruelty, torture, inhuman living conditions and mysterious deaths in prison cells, and […] this is where the regime of [President Victor Yanukovych] has been [placing] its enemies – and this is why we have made it our goal to find a way to show people the real Lukyanivka. The real one, and not what they show to the select media.

We created our own network of agents inside the prison, in order to have our own people in every building, on every floor of the SIZO in a minimal period of time. From the [free outside], we [smuggled] mobile phones equipped with video cameras to each of our agents, and the inmates were sending us glimpses into their lives, little by little, 10 to 15 seconds at a time, for six months. […]

Usov has been receiving feedback on his film on his Ukrainska Pravda blog, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and elsewhere.

Many people praise Usov for his courage. On YouTube, user slafkorood wrote [uk]:

I can imagine what it took Usov and his team [to make this film], his work will never be in vain, he is a brave person, if only there were more people like him.

Many are concerned for the journalist's safety. On Facebook, Roman Plechun wrote [uk]:

Kostiantyn, aren't you afraid that “the regime” will come after you? I'd just like to understand how you found courage for this!?

YouTube user BenderZT wrote this [ru] about the main implication of the film:

A good phrase as [the film's] conclusion, that [Lukyanivska prison] is a micro-model of the country. Very sad to realize this…

Facebook user Yevgeny Titorchuk wrote [ru]:

[…] Hard to watch it and see all the horror and meaninglessness of the system that is indifferent to the human being. And the most terrible thing is that this system has been created by human beings and is being maintained by human beings too.

On Usov's Ukrainska Pravda blog, Facebook user Lyubomyr Drozdovskyy offered this explanation [uk] for the shocking cruelty of life at Lukyanivska shown in the film:

Actually, financial gain [of the prison staff] isn't the only reason for such horrible conditions at the SIZO. The other goal of the SIZO is to create conditions so unbearable that a person would be basically begging to be transferred to [the real prison], where the conditions are somewhat better after all. Say, there is someone whose case lacks any evidence needed to prove guilt, but [the authorities need to convict this person for their own benefit, to improve the statistics of solved cases, for example]. So they put this person into the SIZO, and after a few months of what in fact is torture, [he or she] is ready to testify against [him/herself], submit a self-incriminating statement, admit guilt completely – just to have a chance to get out of the SIZO, even if it means getting out to [prison].

In another comment on Usov's Ukrainska Pravda blog, user skilachi wrote this [uk]:

Almost everything is the way it was eight years ago. I still remember each of the 254 days [that I spent there]. […] Upon my release I wished for this: that every future employee of the [Ministry of Internal Affairs], prosecutor's office, court or any other entity that locks people up, had an “internship” for at least a few months at this facility prior to [assuming their positions in law enforcements and the judiciary]. Maybe then they'd view the use of preventive measures towards suspects and the accused differently. But this is just [wishful thinking]. To those who have been through this hell, my best wishes of health. To those who fail to avoid this, remember to always remain human beings.

There seems to have been no reaction from the authorities to Usov's film yet. The State Penitentiary Service of Ukraine, however, issued a statement [uk] through its press service on April 2, which reads like a “preemptive strike” type of message to journalists like Usov:

Kyiv SIZO – the most interesting facility for the mass media

Recently, there have been more and more information, commentaries and random stories appearing in the mass media about the work of the [Penitentiary Service] facilities. The majority of these stories comment on the conditions in which the arrested and convicted persons are being kept, as well as on the actions by the penitentiary facilities’ staff.

The analysis of the publications and [films] shows lack of competence and objectivity, and sometimes outright unhidden bias of the journalists […]. Due to this, [penitentiary service representatives] systematically refute the published information or provide additional commentary on it. […]

As for Lukyanivska prison's most recent international exposure, LEvko of Foreign Notes links to this Kyiv Post item on the April 3 meeting of Freedom House representatives with one of the SIZO's highest-ranking current inmates, ex-minister of internal affairs Yuri Lutsenko. LEvko writes:

[…] The Freedom House guys who visited Yuriy Lutsenko at the prison on Tuesday should check out [Usov's] video….After their visit: “The [Ukrainian] State Penitentiary Service stressed that the visitors noted that Ukraine took measures to bring conditions for detention and medical treatment for detainees in line with international standards.”

You f***ing liars…

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