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Two Ukrainian political prisoners in occupied Donbas in critical condition

December 21, 2021 5:39 pmby Anastasiia Lapatina
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Ukrainian political prisoners, Olena Piekh (L) and Igor Nazarenko have faced torture while serving fabricated sentences in prisons of the occupied territories of Donbas. The Ukrainian government said on Dec. 20-21, 2021 that both Piekh and Nazarenko are in critical condition and require urgent treatment. (Courtesy)

Two Ukrainians imprisoned by Russian-led militants in the occupied Donbas, Igor Nazarenko and Olena Piekh, are in critical condition, according to Dec. 20-21 statements by Ukrainian Parliament’s Commissioner for Human Rights Ludmila Denisova.

The cases against both of the Ukrainians are politically motivated, the ombudsman said.

Nazarenko and Piekh are just two of hundreds of Ukrainian political prisoners confined in occupied Donbas. 

As of April 2021, there were 280 Ukrainians in prisons in the Russian-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Most suffer from torture and are kept in inhumane, unsanitary conditions. 

Aside from the Donbas, 76 Ukrainian political prisoners were kept in Russia and 33 in Crimea as of February, according to Denisova.

Nazarenko is chronically ill, with a lung disease that requires regular preventive therapy. Lack of heating and unsanitary conditions in his prison can exacerbate the illness, Denisova said on Dec. 21. According to Nazarenko’s relatives, he is seriously sick, probably because of Covid-19. He has recently lost considerable weight and hasn’t received any medical care. 

Piekh needs urgent hospitalization due to knee and hip joints osteoarthritis, which developed after Piekh was tortured, according to Denisova’s Dec. 20 statement. Piekh also has varicose and chronic thrombophlebitis, which can lead to trophic ulcers and gangrene. Moreover, Piekh suffers from hypertension, severe epilepsy, angina, and visual impairment, and cannot move without a cane.

Denisova called on the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ukraine to pay an urgent visit to Nazarenko and Piekh, also asking the coordinator of the humanitarian working group within the Trilateral Contact Group Charlotte Relander to get personally involved to help Nazarenko and Piekh. 

Nazarenko 

Nazarenko, 48, was kidnapped by Russian-led militants in October 2017, when he was working as a surgeon at a hospital in occupied Donetsk. His location was unknown for a few days, until the militants came to his home with a search, accusing him of terrorism. 

Two years later, Nazarenko was sentenced to 11 years in maximum-security prison for alleged spying. He was also subjected to physical and psychological torture, according to Denisova. 

Piekh

Piekh, 50, was arrested in August 2018 in occupied Horlivka, Ukrainian news outlet Novynarnia reported. After searching her apartment, militants handcuffed Piekh and kept her outside in the sun for five hours, eventually putting a sack over her head. 

Over the next three months, militants tortured Piekh to make her plea guilty of high treason, according to Novynarnia. Denisova said that Piekh was given electric shocks and strangled with a plastic bag. Russian-led forces screwed screws into her knees and twice staged mock executions.

The torture was so unbearable that Piekh attempted a suicide by cutting her arms, according to Novynarnia. She survived -- militants just wrapped her arms in cloth and left her without proper medical care. 

In March of 2020 Piekh was sentenced to 13 years of confinement for high treason. 

“My mother was sentenced to 13 years for a Ukrainian passport,” her daughter, Izabella, told Novynarnia.

“She has Ukrainian documents, lives in Ukraine and just loves her country. She has never done anything criminal.”

The treatment of Nazarenko and Piekh “violates not only Ukrainian law but also international law, including the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the Rules of War, the Additional Protocols to the 1977 Geneva Conventions and the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,” Denisova said. 

Anastasiia Lapatina
Author: Anastasiia Lapatina

Anastasiia Lapatina is a national reporter at the Kyiv Independent. She previously worked in the same role at the Kyiv Post and has focused on politics and human rights, publishing stories about Crimea, Donbas, and Ukrainians in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Syria, and Gaza. She’s currently finishing a BA in International Relations at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

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