How to Leave the “Library”: Former Prisoners of Mariupol Spoke About the Horrors of the Secret SBU Prison

The contacts from electric welding connected to the genitals, torture with a chainsaw, a night in a hole with corpses — it is difficult to believe that this is not a horror film, but real derision that the citizens of one country – Ukraine – subject each other to in the 21st century. RIA Novosti began a cycle of publications on the basis of documents and testimonies concerning what happens in Ukrainian secret prisons where fighters of the DPR, as well as those who are only suspected of having sympathy for “separatists”, find themselves.


In March in Moscow, in the press center of MIA “Russia Today”, the former Lieutenant-Colonel of the SBU Vasily Prozorov told journalists about the secret prison at the airport of Mariupol — the so-called library. Those who experienced these prisons supplemented and confirmed Prozorov’s information.

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Lieutenant-Colonel of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) Vasily Prozorov at a press conference in the International Multimedia Press Center MIA “Russia Today” in Moscow on events in post-Maidan Ukraine

“When I saw the photos (that were shown by Prozorov) of this corridor on TV, my hair stood on end. These plastic doors … I sat and whispered: ‘Mother, and here is my cell,” remembers the female resident of Mariupol Tatiyana Ganzha.

“The corridor is lit up, many plastic doors branch away from it. I understood that this is the refrigerator … A horrifying place,” she continues.

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Prison corridor at the airport in Mariupol

Ganzh spent ten days at the Mariupol airport and did not think that she would one day see her prison from the outside, moreover on TV. She was a member of the Communist Party of Ukraine, which is nowadays prohibited. She participated in protest meetings in Mariupol, and then also in the referendum of May 11th concerning the future of the Donetsk region. In October 2014 she was arrested by “Azov” — Tatiyana did not know that she was on black lists as a horrible separatist.

“I spent exactly ten days at the airport — from October 30th to November 8th in the evening. There, in one cell, there are even notches,” she remembers. In order to not go crazy and to somehow be guided in time, the prisoners etched lines on the walls of cells to mark the days spent in torture chambers. In the same place Tatiyana made out seven or eight little elephants on a wall — this is how creative nature counted days in prison, in such a peculiar way. Already being free, Ganzha, discussing little elephants with fellow sufferers, met the person who drew them — Nataliya Myakota.

“It turns out that I was in your cell and saw these elephants,” she told Nataliya.

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Documents Of Tatiyana Ganzha

Ganzha described what was going on in the airport as “real hell, a place of death”.

“It’s impossible to convey all the horrors. The bridge of my nose was beaten, and my left ear does not hear. Indeed, it is very difficult to remember this. I cannot retell everything… But the UAF solider, a very young guy, who accompanied me to the toilet along that corridor told me that two days prior to my arrival a young girl was beaten to death here, she was also called Tatiyana,” she remembers.

The torturers constantly threatened Tatyana with a hole or a ditch where the bodies of the dead were thrown. Or either hinted that soon she will be joining them, or promised to subject her to psychological torture: when a living captive is thrown to those who are dead.

“As far as I understood from their conversations, there was some ditch that is filled up with lime,” specifies Tatiyana.

When asked how many are buried there, she answered: “Too many. People vanished without a trace, already before my captivity … I heard that there are also too many who were buried at an agricultural base. The tally is in the hundreds, but this is purely my opinion”.

Conclusion of the forensic-medical commission

Only on November 8th 2014 was she taken away from the airport to the SBU — for investigative actions. She was released for an exchange between Ukraine and the DPR on December 26th 2014. Since then she lives in Donetsk in one of the hostels for refugees from Ukrainian territory. Her house in Mariupol was plundered by “Azov”.

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“Azov members took away everything from my house (in Mariupol) – the heating system, windows, doors,” added Ganzha. Prozorov also said that members of “voluntary battalions” sent home as a trophy any household appliances, up to microwaves with the dried-up sandwiches inside.


Olga Seletskaya was detained on August 29th 2014 in the city center. Also by “Azov”. She spent 24 hours in a secret prison. The next day she was transferred to the SBU. The protocol was issued on August 30th, and according to the document Seletskaya was allegedly taken from a bus in a suburb of Mariupol.

“No documents were drafted up there (at the airport). They make threats, they can bring your family, your husband, your children, and torture them in front of your eyes. They intimidate, they break people morally and physically. But when they bring you to the SBU — they draft up documents … As if you had just been detained. For example, in my case I was allegedly taken from the bus. And where I was 24 hours prior is unknown. As if I vanished in time, as if I disappeared,” said Seletskaya.

According to her, one of the methods of torture most popular with the torturers is to sink them in a barrel or to torture them with a wet rag. The rag is put on the face of a lying person and water is slowly poured on it. The person starts to choke.

“Water enters the lungs, and you faint. They were interested in information about weapons and where money is,” she specifies.

Olga remembers the call signs of two torturers – Butcher and Doctor.

Documents of Olga Seletskaya

“They were insidious tortures. I had the possibility to also communicate with other victims. As we were called — ‘books’. And the place of our detention — ‘library’. I was told about brutal tortures, about what happened there … I saw many people in the SBU basement who also experienced Mariupol airport … These people had been very strongly beaten and crippled. I heard that there were those who did not return after being interrogated,” she testifies.

Prozorov’s press conference made an indelible impression on her too — she recognized both the former employee of the SBU and prisoners whose photos he showed.

Vasily Prozorov, Sergey Krivonos

“I remember the person in this photo. I saw him in exactly the SBU building. When our interrogations took place. I am sure that it is him,” specifies Seletskaya, going through Prozorov’s photos.


Prozorov was recognized also by the journalist, well-known in Donetsk, and editor-in-chief of the “Municipal Newspaper” Elena Blokha. On August 2nd 2014 she was detained at a checkpoint near the village of Mangush in the suburb of Mariupol: the journalist, with her son and the driver, went to Crimea via the usual road, without thinking yet that the road is controlled by “Azov”, and that Blokha herself has long been on black lists for impartially covering events in Donetsk.

Elena Blokha

“I was stupefied when I saw Prozorov’s press conference — after all, he participated in my detention! I very well remember it,” said Elena in a conversation with the correspondent of RIA Novosti, not hiding her emotions.

She described those events and also her impressions from the airport in the book “90 days in captivity”, which, however, still exists only in electronic form. The author, without knowing yet that Prozorov is one of “ours”, calls him “a bulldog’s snout”.

Business card of Vasily Prozorov

“One from the group of capturers — a quite strong man of average age with a bulldog’s face — whipped out in front of my eyes his SBU ID card, having said that everything is good, that it is necessary to just go with them … Half an hour later we arrived at the airport of Mariupol. They drove me up to the territory through several checkpoints, where there were barriers not only from sand bags, but also anti-tank hedgehogs with barbed wire. At the checkpoints there were armed men in masks and they let us pass only after our security guards showed their ‘ID cards’. In principle, for the residents of Donetsk, fighters in camouflage long ago stopped to be a surprise. But these ones were especially aggressive. We were met with hospitably at the airport either. There was already a whole unit of men dressed in camouflage uniforms and balaclavas. The shouting and blows were heard from the building of the airport, it sounded like someone was being beaten up”.

Elena Blokha against the background of a poster

“Upon arrival one of the seniors of the group that accompanied us exchanged words about something with someone in camouflage of a business look for a long time, but with a paunch (it was immediately seen that he was the chief!)… It was heard that ‘a bulldog’s snout’ and a big-belly cannot come to an agreement on something. One said that here is a sensitive site and we do not belong here, and another promised that it won’t be for long,” describes Blokha concerning her impression of the airport.

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She even managed to get into the notorious refrigerators where prisoners were kept: “Indoors, 3х1.5 meters in size, with white tiles (it is similar to a warehouse), there was only one chair on which a girl with a pale face sat. ‘Do not close, please!’,” she begged, addressing a young guy.

“’Put up with it. You must be strong,’ he floutingly tenderly answered and tightly closed the door. It became absolutely dark and very stuffy. Apparently, there wasn’t any ventilation”.

The cellmate of Blokha reported to her that she had been taken two times “for execution”, in an attempt to obtain a “confession” from her that she is a saboteur of the DPR: “They promised me to immediately bury me in an entrenchment, and that nobody will find me if I do not agree to work with them,” said Yuliya, breathing heavily.

The son of Blokha also had enough impressions — he was taken to the men’s cell, where there were eight more people.

SBU employees

“According to my son, some of them were strongly beaten. On one of them it was even visible how his broken ribs were sticking out, another had broken legs… Who these people are and what happened to them after, I do not know, I can only guess. But one thing was clear: these guys indeed may be missing, as was the case with many who end up in the captivity of such ‘voluntary’ battalions. It should be noted that ‘Right Sector’ members and national battalions subjected Mariupol to repression especially strongly. After all, Mariupol was one of the first to recognize the creation of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” concludes Blokha.


The events at Mariupol airport and in other secret prisons in Ukraine (and the self-proclaimed republics), constantly fell into the sphere of attention of the UN Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and were documented in the reports of the mission.

UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine with representatives of the LPR at the “Stanitsa Luganskaya” checkpoint

As the head of the mission Fiona Frazer reported to RIA Novosti, in five years “several hundred cases of arbitrary detention and/or detention without communication with the outside world, as well as violations and abuses connected to this in the field of human rights (such as torture and ill treatment) by both the government of Ukraine and the armed groups of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, were registered”.

The OHCHR also documented 16 cases of arbitrary detention and/or interrogation of persons on the territory of the airport of Mariupol. “All of them are dated for 2014, 2015, and first half of 2016. The shortest term of detention was several hours, and the longest was one month,” Fraser noted.

She also added that the OHCHR did not obtain data about the “library” after 2016, however will RIA Novosti will publish in the future a document proving that the prison existed at least until the end of the 2018.


As was reported to RIA Novosti by the Prosecutor General’s Office of the DPR, its Investigation department is looking into 9 criminal cases initiated upon signs of Part 1 of Article 427 of Criminal Code of the DPR (“Use of prohibited means and methods of warfare”).

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The Prosecutor-General’s Office of the DPR received complaints from civilians concerning ill treatment by the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine against the civilian population. All 9 complainants suffered due to the illegal actions of SBU employees, who used torture against suspects during interrogation: electrical shocks, suffocation with cellophane, and water boarding.

As the head of department of investigation into crimes against peace and the safety of mankind of the Investigation department of the Prosecutor-General’s Office of the DPR and senior adviser of justice Aleksandr Vladimirovich Potapenko, investigative actions care currently underway for the purpose of identifying SBU employees who are involved in torturing the civilian population.


Here is a reminder about what was described by Vasily Prozorov at a press conference: at Mariupol airport a secret prison — “library”, which contained “books” – such a cynical name was given to captured DPR militiamen and ordinary citizens, suspected of separatism, has existed for a long time. Here they were tortured for the purpose of beating out “confessions” and also to just get revenge for the UAF’s defeats at the frontline or to implement their sadistic inclinations. Prisoners were kept in two disconnected refrigerators — they seemed to be suitable since there was no furniture inside them, and the doors could be closed hermetically, without letting even the heat enter.

During a press conference Prozorov showed photos of nine prisoners from the “library” — persons of different ages, from a teenager in a khaki t-shirt, which, perhaps, is the reason he was detained, to two elderly men. But all of them had the traces of strong beatings. RIA Novosti found those who identified some of the “books”.

According to Prozorov, somewhere on the territory of the airport there were also secret burials of those who did not endure the torture or were simply killed by sadistic supervisors.

Fighters of the notorious “Azov” battalion, under the wing of the SBU, managed the secret “library” — as a rule, “Azov” members did all the dirty work, and SBU employees documented the “confessions” of prisoners.

We will immediately make a reservation: there isn’t a lot of proof from that side; they need to be collected literally a fragment at a time. Ukraine still hasn’t ripened enough to investigate its own war crimes, although the change of president gives some hopes.

This evidence base includes the results of a forensic examination – that the “books” were held both in captivity and after the exchange, already on Donetsk territory. Some of them spent several months in hospital after captivity. Four DPR militiamen who have spent nearly five years in the Mariupol pre-trial detention center even managed to achieve the initiation of a criminal case by the military prosecutor’s office of the Mariupol garrison upon the facts of torture (there will be a separate article about this).

Militants of the “Azov” battalion

One more important piece of proof — the mismatch of dates in the documents of prisoners. Several days passed, sometimes even weeks, between the actual detention and the official documentation. At the same time, their capture was often recorded on the videos of the “Azov” battalion, and even in the press releases of the SBU. Prisoners spent the subsequent “grey” interval being tortured — this is how they were prepared for official interrogation by the SBU, softening them up. The torturers tried to extract from prisoners any information that could be useful for further developments — the names of other “separatists” and the tasks that they received from Donetsk.

There is a lot of information about events in secret prisons in the reports of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission. In addition, RIA Novosti found two more former employees of law enforcement agencies of Ukraine whose testimonies about secret prisons were not published earlier.

Lastly, one more curious piece of proof about the existence of a secret prison at the airport and also the attempts of the SBU to hide it is in a document of the SBU. In the next article RIA Novosti will speak about it in more detail and will publish the document.

Ollie Richardson and Angelina Siard

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