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Ukraine: Prison Conditions Generate Shock

  • Roland Eggleston

Strasbourg, 28 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A report prepared for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expressed shock at the conditions endured by prisoners awaiting execution in Ukraine.

The report was drawn up by a Lichtenstein politician, Mrs. Renate Wohlwend, who visited three prisons in Ukraine last November. They were in Donetsk, Simferopol and Khmelnitsky. She was allowed to visit the death row cells in all three places and talk to prisoners in Donetsk and Simferopol. However, the inmates she wanted to meet in Khmelnitsky signed a paper saying they did not want to meet her.

In her report, Mrs. Wohlwend said she was "shocked by the inhumane and degrading conditions on Ukraine's death rows, as well as by the secrecy surrounding the death penalty and executions in the country."

She said that according to the regulations of the Ministry of the Interior, prisoners on death row may not leave their cells except to have a shower. They are not permitted to exercise in the corridors or in the courtyard. They are permitted one short visit a month by no more than two relatives. There is no limit to the number of letters which are written or received, but these are censored. Death row inmates wear special clothing (usually black).

In the report to the parliamentary assembly, Mrs. Wohlwend commented separately on each of the three institutions she visited.


"There were 36 death row inmates. Two of these were kept in single cells, the rest in double cells. I saw a double cell, extremely small. It had one bunk bed, one other bed, an open toilet, one wash basin with cold water and one electric light which was switched on day and night. There was some fresh air through a ventilation system, but no daylight, and practically no room to move around. Inmates are allowed to shower once every 10 days and read books from the prison library. They are awoken at 0500. They are given three meals a day through the hatch. They are constantly watched through a peephole in the door, allowing them not a minute's privacy. The inmate I spoke to had lived in these conditions since November 19, 1992.


"There were 28 death row inmates, all kept in double cells. The cell I saw was a double cell of acceptable size but with not a single piece of furniture. There were only three concrete platforms in the concrete floor which served as beds, and a rather dirty open toilet with cold water flowing into it constantly instead of a wash basin. There was a shuttered window through which fresh air could get through, and an electric light which was left on day and night. Inmates are allowed a hot shower once every five days and to read books and magazines of their choice. Security seemed a little less tight.


"There were six death row inmates, all of whom were kept in single cells. The (empty) single cell I was shown was of acceptable size, had two bunk beds and was adequately furnished. It had a wooden floor and there was an open toilet and a wash basin. There was a shuttered window through which some fresh air filtered, but no daylight. Inmates are allowed a shower once a week and are allowed to read books, newspapers and magazines. It was my impression that some pressure had been exerted upon the three inmates who had declined to meet with me and that they were afraid.

"The mother of one of the inmates I wanted to visit, whom I met outside the prison, corroborated this impression on the spot. She also sent me a letter some days ago once again expressing her fear that her son had been prevented from meeting me. This mother was also afraid that her son was being denied medical aid and alleged that he was tortured by repeated five-minute beatings by masked men."

Mrs. Wohlwend's report also criticized the manner in which executions are carried out in Ukraine and the secrecy which surrounds them.

She wrote that if the president rejects an appeal for mercy, the Ministry of the Interior is instructed to carry out the death sentence. "In practice a special unit of the Ministry of the Interior (called "the convoi") arrives at the prison where the prisoner is held. The prison governor is then obliged to turn over the inmate to the convoi (apparently without prior notification of either the governor or the inmate). The inmate is then transferred to an unknown destination where he is shot dead."

The report says the whole procedure is shrouded in secrecy. It says that the state committee on secrets, chaired by a deputy minister of the interior, has declared the following data to be state secrets: "information on management, conditions and supervision of places of imprisonment, including corrective medical institutions and other punitive institutions where sentenced people work (Article 4.47 of the list of data considered as State secrets of the Ukraine).

"Information regarding executions, the organization of the execution and burial, the place of execution, the place of burial and the people who have carried out the execution. (Article 4.48 of the same list)."

Mrs. Wohlwend's report to the parliamentary assembly says: "in conformity with these rules, relatives of executed prisoners are not informed where their sons, husbands or fathers are buried, which I consider an affront to human dignity."