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On 26th of October 2023, the Gulagechoes Project will premier a Dmitry Omelchenko film entitled “Wardens’ Gardens.”
“Wardens’ Garden” is a unique film in which former prison officers reminisce about their work in Khony, Georgia in the last decade of the USSR. The film is inspired by studies of historical memory, its transmission and, in particular, the legacy of the Gulag, aspects of the spread of prison culture throughout the body of the former Soviet Union.
Khony was the location of five correctional labour colonies based on tea plantation that was just one piece of the vast penal monolith run by the Soviet prison system. The film tells the story of Tsulukidze ITK no.46 through the memory of the people who lived in and worked in the colony in the last decade of the Soviet era.
The film will premier on the 26th of October at the Aleksanteri Conference. After the premier, the film will be available on the Gulag Echoes Youtube channel.
BY DR. MYKHAILO ROMANOV
Pechersk District Court in Kyiv, Ukraine.
In Ukraine the arrest of prison officers for extortion is a “small victory for NGOs” reports Mykhailo Romanov in Part II of his blog.
In mid June 2023, an unprecedented event for the post-Soviet penitentiary system has taken place: two former heads of penitentiary institutions have been served with suspicion of committing a number of crimes, including torture of prisoners.
The State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) detained the former head and first deputy head of Berdiansk Correctional Colony No. 77 (CC:77). They are accused of creating a criminal organisation, extortion and torture. The Pechersk District Court of Kyiv imposed a two-month pre-trial restraint on both of them without the right to bail. Human rights activists have been raising the alarm about the situation in the colony since 2008.
“According to operational data, almost everyone who was sent to the colony was a victim of the alleged criminals. Currently, the investigators have collected documentary evidence of abuse of more than 30 victims. According to the SBI website, “The process of identifying the victims of the criminal organization is ongoing.”
The former head of the facility and his first deputy were notified that they were being investigated under part one of Article 255 (creation and management of a criminal organization) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (as amended by Law No. 671-IX of 04.06.2020), part 2 of Article 127 (torture), part four of Article 189 (extortion) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.
For five years, the suspects tortured the prisoners, law enforcement officials say: they suffocated them with a wet mattress, beat them with sticks on their heels and buttocks, twisted their arms, and put dirty needles under their fingers.
“At the same time, they extorted money from the victims’ families in return for not subjecting their relative to such torture,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said. He explained that the money was first handed over by the prisoners’ relatives to junior staff who then paid it into the accounts of the senior officers. They also would then withdraw the cash in parcels to the colony. Depending on the financial situation of the family, the criminals demanded different amounts – from 1000 to 100 000 hryvnias (25-2500 Euros).
The detention and serving of suspicion on the heads of penitentiary institutions is in fact an unprecedented event, as the penitentiary system in Ukraine is a rather inert environment that does not accept change but rather hinders any positive changes and reform interventions. The system remainspunitive in nature and still shows no signs of focusing on helping prisoners and their rehabilitation. In the vast majority of cases, all initiated changes in the field of execution of criminal sentences do not reach their intended recipients, are levelled and dissolved in the systemic and informal internal relations that have existed in this area for years.
 SBI detains former heads of Berdiansk correctional colony who brutally tortured prisoners to extract money from them (VIDEO) – State Bureau of Investigation (dbr.gov.ua) https://dbr.gov.ua/news/dbr-zatrimalo-kolishnih-kerivnikiv-vipravnoi-kolonii-berdyanska-yaki-zhorstokimi-katuvannyami-vibivali-z-uvyaznenih-groshi
 Former heads of Zaporizhzhia penal colony detained for torturing prisoners and extorting money from relatives to stop abuse https://www.gp.gov.ua/ua/posts/katuvali-uvyaznenix-i-vimagali-kosti-vid-ridnix-za-pripinennya-znushhan-zatrimano-kolisnix-kerivnikiv-koloniyi-na-zaporizzi
Members of the GULAGECHOES and Yugoslavian Penal Nationalism teams: Brendan Humphreys, Mikhail Nakonechnyi, Yury Sorochkin and Judith Pallot, attended the annual University of Tartu conference, War and Peace. What’s next for Eastern Europe and Eurasia? They were joined on line by Mykhailo Romanov from Kharkhiv who focused on the illegality of the filtration process in the occupied territories of Eastern Ukraine. Their panel was entitled “The Past, Present and Future of Prisons and Carcerality in Times of Peace and War in the Communist Successor States in Europe. “
They also chaired other panels and Professor Pallot took part in the keynote roundtable “Putin’s War. What future for Russia”, talking about how the penal-military complex in Russia constitutes an obstacle to progress towards a more democratic and peaceful society in the future. Members of the team also had the opportunity to visit one of the three new “Europrisons”, Tartu Vangla, which have replaced the inherited Soviet correctional colonies.
The University of Helsinki has conducted a Team Coaching Session for researchers of the GulagEchoes project. It involves brainstorming on career planning, setting goals and achieving them and finding methods to work together as a group. We have four more sessions ahead of us in the Fall.
By BRENDAN HUMPHREYS
GULAGECHOES has strong synergies with the Academy of Finland project “Yugoslavian Penal Nationalism”. In February 2023, Professor Judith Pallot, PI of both projects, accompanied Brendan Humphreys, lead researcher of the Yugoslavian project to Croatia on the invitation of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Croatia, or Republika Hrvatska. The Ministry arranged interviews with staff of the Directorate for Prisons and Probation and at the high security prison in Lepoglava. In this blog Brendan Humphreys writes about what he learned during the visit about the history prison reform in Croatia.
BY DR. MYKHAILO ROMANOV
In the first of two blog posts, Myhkailo Romanov, visiting fellow from Kharkiv, describes the impact of Russian’s war on the penitentiary system of Ukraine. In this post he focuses on the impact of the war has had on the penitentiary institutions on the country, including those that were stranded, together with their prisoners, by the rapid advance of the Russian army into eastern Ukraine but were subsequently liberated in September 2022. He describes what human rights defenders from the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) found in the liberated prisons.
It will be recalled that GULAGECHOES and the Yugoslavian Penal Nationalism projects applied successfully to the Academy of Finland for funding to bring a Ukrainian scholar at risk to the Aleksanteri Institute. As he is of conscription age, Mykhailo is only allowed out of Ukraine for short periods, so we are especially delighted that he has been able to make a second visit to the institute. Whilst here he will be working on a couple of co-authored articles on the different trajectories followed by the Ukrainian and Russian prison systems and on comparisons of wartime carceral practices in the Yugoslavian civil war and in the Russia war on Ukraine. He will also continue discussions on the treatment and fate of people seized by the Russian occupiers in Eastern Ukraine and takin g the opportunity to bring his findings to a wide audience.
Every year one of the keynote slots at the BASEES conference adopts an interview format. Last year, Judith interviewed leading BBC journalist Sarah Rainsford about her experience reporting form Russia and Ukraine. This year on April 1st 2023, it was Judith’s turn to be interviewed, by Sarah Badcock, about her experiences researching Russia over her forty-year career in area studies. The interview can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36jI_-3G5Cg
The BASEES conference moved this year from its normal venue in Cambridge to Glasgow. The core members of the Gulagechoes team travelled to Scotland to take up the opportunity to present the project’s findings to a larger than usual audience and to network with scholars from across Europe and further afield. We had formed a joint panel with Gavin Slade and Laura Piacentini’s UK-funded project “In the shadow of the gulag” with which gulagechoes has strong synergies. The title of the panel was “From Bamlag to Ukraine: intersections of Class, Ethnicity, and Nationality in the Context of Punishment 1930-2023”.
The session, which was chaired by new Gulagechoes team member Yuliya Brin, kicked off with Mikhail Nakonechnyi presenting the results of his work with the archival materials he has collected on the policy towards ethnic minority prisoners in Bamlag. Gavin Slade followed with a paper on decarceration and punitiveness in Russia today. Olga Zeveleva shifted the focus to outside Russia with her paper on the interconnections between ethnicity and class in prisons in the Baltic states which drew on the interviews she took with former prisoners in ‘Russian region’ in eastern Estonia. And Judith Pallot rounded the session off with a discussion of the various ways in which the Russian prison system has been reconfigured to support Russia’s war on Ukraine. There were good questions from the floor which could have continued had we not run out of time.