Human rights activists in eastern Ukraine say they have evidence that slave labour camps reminiscent of Soviet gulags are operating in rebel-controlled areas. A newly published report alleges that 5,000 people in the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic are held in solitary confinement, beaten, starved or tortured if they refuse to carry out unpaid work.
Alexander Efreshin had a good job and a steady girlfriend when one night, five years ago, he was out drinking beer with friends and came across a parked minibus with an open door. He climbed in, started the engine and drove a short distance. A friend then poured lighter fluid on the passenger seat and set it on fire.
Both were arrested, and at the age of 24 Efreshin was shattered to receive an eight-and-a-half year sentence for robbery and arson.
In Ukrainian prisons people who work in the prison factory have their sentence reduced by a third, so Efreshin agreed to work, sustained by the thought that he would be out in less than six years. He received a small payment in return, which he spent on improving his food ration.