A sizeable component of Ukraine’s defense forces is made up of women. They protect the nation with men, and they run the risk of being captured.
The Media Initiative for Human Rights (MIHR) heard from two Ukrainian women who had been held prisoner by the Russians about their experiences there.
According to MIHR, Valuiki, Belgorod Oblast’s Correctional Colony No. 9 is the only detention institution designated in Russia only for female inmates.
THE CONVOLUTED ROUTE TO THE RUSSIAN PRISON
Olena and Kateryna (names altered for security reasons) were seized in April 2022. They stayed in the village of Yelenovka for a while. They were housed there in a cell designed for six women but holding thirty. They were then moved to Pre-trial Detention Center No. 2, which detainees have described as the worst detention facility for Ukrainians, in Taganrog, Rostov Oblast. Olena and Kateryna were confined in the same conditions as men there: without access to personal hygiene items or basic medical treatment, as well as being abused physically and mentally. After that, they were transferred to Valuiki’s Correctional Colony No. 9.
Prisoners are kept in barracks in Colony No. 9, which are referred to as “sections.” They are separated into cells that may hold 8 to 22 individuals each. Bunk beds with mattresses, pillows, and linens are present within.
“The beds were old like we once had in the barracks, but it’s still more comfortable than sleeping on a solid iron bed welded to the floor,” says Kateryna.
The necessity to sing the Russian anthem while being made to perform push-ups or squats is a fundamental component of bullying in all Russian prisons.
The dining room is where women are brought to eat. Prisoners frequently face harassment on their journey there. They must sprint to the dining room, and the guards will wave batons in their direction if they don’t move quickly enough. A baton is used to beat anyone who touches it.
“You get hit; you fall. And everyone behind you falls too. Very often, the women would fall, fly through the door, and after this, we end up not having any time to eat, because they give us just five minutes. They didn’t care whether the food was hot or not, whether we had eaten or not. These were only our problems,” says Kateryna.
There is a TV in the dining room. Only one channel, Russia-24, is permitted for the convicts to view, and they are given 30 minutes per day to do so. The remainder of the day is spent by the women in their cells. Prisoners were forced to stand or wander about the room because they were not allowed to sit on their mattresses. They could only sit in chairs, and there weren’t enough of them for everyone.
You could take showers only once a week: “There were more than 60 women. They gave 10 minutes for a shower and 1-2 bottles of shampoo for everyone. Someone had time to wash their hair with shampoo, the rest washed themselves with soap, which had a strong stench,” the former captives explain.
The detainees were subjected to intense psychological pressure by the Russians. Olena claims that the guards laughed at them, used nasty language toward them, and were dismissive of them.
“They kept saying that Ukraine no longer exists, that Russian banks had opened everywhere, and that our president had fled to Poland. We also watched Russian news, so it was very difficult for our morale,” adds Kateryna.
In Valuyki’s women’s colony No. 9, there was no adequate medical care. Olena observes that although doctors visited and provided some medications, they had a very antagonistic attitude toward the detainees.
PRISON CLOTHING MANUFACTURING
Russian female inmates labor in the textile factory located in Correctional Colony No. 9. It was there that Russian convicts and captured Ukrainian women met. Work in factories is optional. Many of the Russian and Ukrainian prisoners chose to participate in the task since it is compensated.
“As prisoners of war, we had a right to humanitarian aid, but we earned money for toilet paper, toothpaste, or any other hygiene products by working in the factory,” explains Kateryna.
It was not permitted for the captives and normal prisoners to communicate. Due to the Russian inmates’ fear of Ukrainian ladies, no one would attempt to violate this regulation.
“One of the convicts tried to run away from us. She was doing some work outside, but when we stepped out, she abruptly turned around and began to run away,” Kateryna recalls.