Kharkiv. Its one point four million inhabitants make
it the second-largest city in Ukraine. Once an important Soviet industrial center
and armaments producer, Kharkiv is now a victim of the economic crisis. Everyday criminality has been growing due
to poverty and lack of opportunity. Younger and younger people are turning to
theft and drug dealing as the only way to earn money. The prisons: overcrowded. And the lack of economic opportunity is reflected
in the recidivism rate. Seventy percent of all released prisoners
go back to jail at some point. Those sent to prison for the second or third
time end up here: In Colony 100. Ukraine’s answer to repeat offenders and
dangerous, hardened criminals. Prisoners who live by their own rules. If you don’t act like yourself, they’ll
make you pay for it. Total isolation for the worst criminals in
the whole country. Serial murderers and child abusers. Locked in a tiny cell for life. Many with no hope of ever being released. A prison full of inmates who have nothing
left to lose. “My job is to keep them from killing themselves.” Caught in a system that knows no mercy. Permits no misbehavior. Strictly enforces the law. And comes down hard on anyone trying to escape. Welcome to Colony 100. The prison for hardened criminals. Six a.m. Today another transport brings five new inmates
to the prison for hardened criminals. A twelve-man committee of guards, doctors,
and psychologists meets the prisoners. “Number one!” “Number two.” “Men. First I’ll explain the punishment for not
following the rules.” Every new arrival goes through the same procedure. “Who are you?” “I’m Alexander Alexandrovich. Born in 1975. I’ve done time in Colony 63, and most recently
in Colony 309.” “Okay. Take your things and go to the gate. Line up at each line you see on the ground.” Since they’ve all been to prison before,
all five men know the rules that are in force in all Ukranian prisons: stand still at white
lines, hands behind your back, and look at the ground. But they also know… Colony 100 is different. It is the best known and most notorious of
Ukraine’s 170 detention centers. It is a legacy of the Soviet Union. Even now, the inmates repeat horror stories
of torture and murder. Thirty years after the fall of the Soviet
Union, the prison does not look much different. The somber architecture combined with barbed
wire and high walls still has a depressing impact on every visitor. Colony 100 is divided into two zones. The main part is for repeat offenders. Strict discipline and work in the prison’s
factories are meant to help these hardened criminals regain their freedom some day. The other part is a prison within the prison. The maximum-security wing for those serving
life sentences. It houses Ukraine’s worst criminals. Like every morning, Sergey, a guard, reports
for duty. According to Ukrainian law, the inmates of
his wing will never pass through these doors again. In Ukraine, a life sentence really means for
life! The prisoners in this building stay here. Until they die. “The people in my maximum-security wing
have been given the heaviest sentence possible. They are especially dangerous. They are guilty of truly awful crimes like
murder, rape, and child abuse…” “Take this man. He raped two small girls and then brutally
murdered them.” “And this is Serenko. He’s serving a life sentence for a similar
crime. He and his friends kidnapped two girls and
raped them for two weeks.” “And this
is Kozachenko’s cell. He’s in for killing four people. He was a fireman. He used his job to kill four people in cold
blood. The men incarcerated here are extremely dangerous.” Ukraine does not reconsider cases after a
minimum sentence has been served. The chance of parole: zero. Two inmates once filed a petition to be transferred
to another cellblock. Both requests were rejected. No one locked away in this wing has ever left
it alive. The prisoners live in two- or three-man cells,
with other murderers. Locked up together, in a space of just twelve
square meters. For the rest of their lives. The guards monitor the cells around the clock
with cameras. They have to make sure that the inmates don’t
kill themselves. Several have tried. Thus the signs on the door note level of aggressiveness
and suicide attempts in addition to the inmates’ names and personal details. Today we’ll meet the most dangerous of the
prisoners. Six-fifteen. In the “normal” wing of Colony 100, the
main part, the new arrivals have to be processed. This includes a shower and a thorough medical
examination, and above all a search of their few belongings. “Time to check your things. The first three: go to the table and empty
your pockets. We’ll search it all.” Drugs, knives, guns. There is nothing the guards at Colony 100
haven’t found. And this despite the fact that the inmates
here ought to know better. “It’s nothing new for me. I’m used to it. But I’m curious what it will be like in
this prison. I mean, I’ve got to live here four years
and one month. Alexander is still playing it cool… “Maybe I can get out early, if I behave. I’ve got to try to get in with the guards.” Indeed, he only has a chance at early release
if his guards are happy with him. But there’s often no rhyme or reason to
that, as we’ll see… It’s time for Mihael Vuganov [Mich-ah-el
Vu-ga-noff] to begin his shift. Although he is surrounded by murderers and
rapists, he and the other guards are unarmed. The danger of the inmates getting control
of a gun is too great. “I have to cross the main yard to get to
my sector. You can see everything from here. The maximum security wing is straight ahead. To the left are the guards’ offices. And the administrative wing is to the right,
behind the high walls.” Mihael begins his shift by waking the inmates
of Sector Four. A wing for inmates who have committed mid-level
crimes. A guard monitors this wing of the Colony day
and night. There is a huge fence, but otherwise the prison
looks like a normal apartment building at first sight. In contrast to the maximum-security wing,
the inmates here do not live behind bars. The door to the building even stands wide
open. For this part of Colony 100 uses a different
strategy – a much more insidious one. “Hi. Anything special?” “No. All quiet last night.” The idea: self-monitoring. The inmates have responsibilities and keep
tabs on each other. If anyone steps out of line, the whole group
is punished for it. A cruel system, and unforgiving of any mistakes
made by the handful of hardened criminals detained here. Eight men share 16 square meters. They work, eat, sleep – in one room. Whoever loses the group’s respect has a
hard time of it. Andre Zaike [An-dray Zai-ka] knows this well. He’s been in Sector Four for three years. “We’re not a family. We don’t care for one other like at home. You’re always with your cellmates – never
alone. That’s why I’m sometimes happy I get to
work here. It’s almost like being in a factory on the
outside. And you can tune out a bit during lunch. Otherwise… yeah. The worst is when I’m overcome by a yearning
for freedom.” Walls painted purple, lace curtains. Sector Four almost seems cozy. But appearances are deceiving. Inmates in this part of the Colony also bear
the full brunt of the Ukrainian justice system. Only here, it’s not the criminals who have
bars on their windows, but the guards! “Our cell blocks are secure. There’s no hope of escape. Even if someone managed to get out of the
block, he’d still be standing here. In the middle of the prison. And then he’d have to get out on this side. Right through the administrative building. But it’s protected by bars and fences. Colony 100 is one of Ukraine’s most secure
prisons. There are three administrative buildings and
a cafeteria in the middle of the compound. A huge steel plant on the east side. And next to the maximum-security wing is the
main section: nine cell blocks for “normal” inmates. Like in Sector Four, they live in individual
apartment buildings surrounded by barbed wire and walls. If a prisoner tried to break out, he would
still find himself right in the middle of the prison. The whole compound is surrounded by a wall
with several layers of NATO barbed wire. If a prisoner actually managed to get over
or under it, he’s still be in “no-man’s-land.” A ten-meter wide zone with no way in or out. Armed guards posted in six towers monitor
this narrow strip of land around the clock. In the case of an escape attempt, the guards
are ordered to shoot. No one has ever managed to break out of Colony
100. And the prisoners know that something else
is waiting for them on the other side of the walls. The most powerful weapon in the fight against
escape attempts: the special canine unit. Specially trained dogs with only one goal:
to immediately take out prisoners in any conceivable situation. “Freeze!” Seven o’clock. The guards are still searching the new arrivals’
belongings. This is the third time Alexander Alexandrovich
has been sent to prison. This time for unauthorized possession of a
firearm. “Four years! I don’t understand why I’ve been sentenced
to four years and one month. Why such a harsh sentence? Last time I only got one month for possession
of drugs. Alexander doesn’t get it. But one thing is clear: the more often one
is convicted of a crime in Ukraine, the harsher the sentence. And he neglects to mention an important point:
Alexander was arrested with a loaded pistol in front of a supermarket. The medical examination is meant to answer
three questions. What is the prisoner’s general state of
health? Does he have track marks from shooting heroin? And is he smuggling drugs in his bodily orifices? It is not rare for doctors to find drugs in
the anus. Eight-thirty. For the inmates of Sector Four, that means:
they can get some exercise in the yard. When the guard opens the gate to the yard,
the inmates go back to monitoring themselves. They are supposed to go to the cafeteria,
and no one watches the group on the way. One of Andre’s cellmates is in charge. He occupies the highest rung on the group’s
hierarchy. Only an inmate who has been inside for a long
time and has won the respect of both prisoners and guards can assume this responsibility. The hierarchy also has an impact on jobs. Every prisoner has to work. Victor and his fellows work in the prison’s
steel plant. They’re lucky. The prisoners who work in the cafeteria are
also high up on the hierarchy. Other inmates aren’t as lucky. The hierarchies have their own rules. Earning respect behind bars is all that matters. The life one lived on the outside simply doesn’t
matter anymore. “If you want to know, you can ask other
people what they’re in for. What they used to do for a living. And if you don’t care, you don’t talk
about it. But we mostly know why we’re all here. It’s no secret.” The worse one behaves in prison, the worse
the job. The worst of the worst end up here: on the
bathroom cleaning crew. But every job, no matter how bad, is a diversion. Those serving life sentences only wish they
were that lucky. Eight o’clock in the maximum-security wing. Like everyday, the guards check on the most
dangerous inmate. The blackest of the black sheep. The guards observe a strict rule when checking
on inmates: they never enter a cell in which more than one inmate is present. Thus one must be briefly moved. This one prisoner is so unpredictable that
he has to walk to the bars backwards and have handcuffs put on. Only then do Sergey and his colleagues go
in. “No. Go to the window.” Rusha Hudoli [Roo-sha Hoo-doli] is the most
heavily guarded inmate in Colony 100. He was convicted of murdering 29 people – Men,
women, and children. The motive: greed. He’s been living in his two-man cell for
four years. “We sew bags to pass the time. I also have a television that gets several
channels. There are the beds. Mine is the top bunk. Here’s a table where we talk and read, and
our dishes are in there. This is how we live. Back there is the toilet. Yeah, this is our life.” His time in prison has visibly affected Hudoli. Outwardly, he seems to have made peace with
his sentence. He paints a nice picture of his situation. “It’s not actually that small for two
people. It’s okay if we stow the bags under the
bed. And when one of us is on the toilet, the other
is right there, but at least there’s a little door. Sure, I regret what I did, but I can’t change
it. I’m being punished justly for my mistake,
and I regret it. I wouldn’t do it again. So, what else do I do? We play chess. We read. And I sleep a lot.” Prisoners serving life sentences must stay
in their cells twenty-three hours a day. They only get one hour outside – if the
guards feel like it. They spend this hour either in the yard or
in a room for visits. Whatever they do, one decisive thing is always
the same: the loneliness is oppressive. Theoretically, every prisoner in the maximum-security
wing can file a petition every few months to have visits from relatives. For a bit of normalcy in a bleak world. But Hudoli hasn’t filed a petition in a
long time. No one comes to visit him. “My sister and my mother send me a poem
or packages sometimes, but no one comes. Except for a couple religious people who come
to talk to us.” Alone in the room for visitors. To which no one comes. Men like Hudoli have nothing more to hope
for in the maximum-security wing. The fact is: with his criminal record, Hudoli
will never be released. Colony 100 is prepared for escape attempts
of every kind. Every few weeks, a special unit even trains
on site at the prison for the eventuality of a hostage crisis. “Pay attention, boys. Listen up. Today’s special operation is delicate. We’re dealing with a hostage crisis. We’ll divide into three groups: group one,
a sniper, a team to storm the building, and a blockade team. We’ll split up when we get to the crisis
zone. Take your positions. You know what you have to do. Sniper, go immediately to the roof and get
ready. Right face!” The operation is only a drill, but actual
guards and prisoners play the parts of hostage-takers and hostages. In this case, four prisoners have used a shiv
to get control of a getaway car and overpower a guard. The special unit’s mission is to end the
crisis without incurring great losses. “The storm group has taken cover ahead. The snipers are in position.” “Ready.” “Go.” “Hands behind your back, out of the car. Don’t move. Get out. Faster, faster, go, go, go.” Indeed, the mission is accomplished within
a few seconds. “That was very good. We disarmed them. Everyone in the car was neutralized.” The hostages: freed. The inmate with the knife: dead. The driver is also dead. The others were wounded. Of course, this was only a drill, but it is
no coincidence that it took place in broad daylight at the prison. “The operation went very well. Fast and effective. The hostages were freed. We do this here at Colony 100 because the
prisoners here are capable of anything. They should see how we work. Right outside their cell doors. And the exercise cannot be ignored. Guns firing blanks can be heard all morning
across the prison yard. 11 o’clock, and no one had heroin in their
anus. All of the new arrivals passed the medical
examination. But Alexander Alexandrovich knows that the
most difficult part lies ahead. Inmates don’t simply go to their cells in
Colony 100. They must prove themselves first. And the cell block they are put in determines
where they will work in the prison. And that, in turn, reflects where they are
on the hierarchy. Do you understand? Now you’re in quarantine. You’ll stay here for two weeks. Understood? Now we’ll discuss the details with you individually. Two weeks of intense observation will decide
whether Alexander’s four years in prison will be agony or not. The first thing: an interview with the head
of the quarantine area. “What’s your name?” “Alexander Alexandrovich.” “Date of birth?” “March 11, 1975” Then questions are asked about relationships,
job-training, education, social contacts, and previous jobs. It all goes into the assessment. “After a prisoner arrives, we fill out this
file. There are ten sections in quarantine, and
each one has a chief guard. The file is given to him, and he keeps it
during the prisoner’s entire stay. Everything is recorded: behavior, doctor’s
visits, psychological evaluations, etc.” Now at the latest, the prisoners understand
that isolation and monotony are the principles of their confinement. Alexander and the others are not allowed to
leave the quarantine hall for two weeks. It is a highly stressful situation, and they
are observed by the guards around the clock. “I was in quarantine in another prison once. But that’s because I was sick. This is different, harsher. You have to behave very well in these two
weeks. After that, they split us up. They interrogate us the whole time, and then
they decide. We are closely observed, and we have to adjust
quickly and get used to the situation. Then we see what happens.” We’ll see more later about how Alexander
fares and whether he gets into a good sector. Till then, the door stays closed for 14 days. 11:30 a.m. Andre and his cellmates spend the
morning in the cold amidst drab concrete. Their shift in the prison’s steel plant
doesn’t begin for a half hour. Till then they hang around and use exercise
equipment to keep fit. “I can only do a couple of exercises. Free weights and machines aren’t allowed. So I train like this. Easier exercises like push-ups and pull-ups
are okay, but that’s about it.” There did use to be weights and other sports
equipment in Colony 100. But then one prisoner felt betrayed by another
in his group. He beat his head in with a dumbbell. The attacker ended up hear: in the “karza.” The hole. That’s what the prisoners call the old isolation
cells from Soviet times in the prison’s basement. “These are our punishment cells. They’re for prisoners who don’t do what
they’re told.” We put them in this room. But never for more than 14 days. No one could take more. The prisoner spends 23 hours a day here. We decide when he can come out for an hour.” There is a hard metal slab for a bed. It can be folded down during the day to give
the prisoner a little room. A sink, a pit toilet. And: total isolation from the outside world. No one wants to be sent to the karza. But every now and again, one of the prisoners
is forced to spend a few days here. Even Andre had to go the hole once at the
beginning of his prison term. He was allowed out after three days. And since then he has never gotten in trouble. He even managed to work his way up to foreman
in the prison’s steel plant. About 200 prisoners work in the plant in three
alternating shifts. Officially they work a maximum of eight hours
a day, five days a week. Whether cooking, sewing, distributing food,
or welding in the steel plant: work is not merely required in the colony; it is also
the only way to earn a little money. The prisoners can make up to 50€ a month. “It’s damn hard work. Very tiring. But you get used to it over the years. And what else should I do? I’m in a position of great responsibility
here. I have to monitor and train everyone, make
sure they’re working properly, doing everything right. It’s my responsibility. Lots of the money earned goes right back to
the prison in return for cigarettes. But Andre saves as much as he can, in order
to have a small reserve when he is released. He doesn’t want to slide back into the vicious
cycle of poverty, unemployment, and criminality. For the prison, the steel plant is a threefold
blessing. First, the prisoners have something to do. Second, they can cheaply do all the steelworking
the prison itself needs. The inmates weld their own gates and bars. But the biggest advantage: the steelworkers
earn money for the prison. The stadium where Metalist Kharkiv, a first-tier
soccer team and a Europa League hopeful, plays was built entirely from prison steel. Lots of money that the prisoners themselves
will never see. One p.m. Lunch time in the maximum-security
wing of the maximum-security prison Colony 100. A plate of stew, a piece of bread, a pickled
fish. Most of the small amount of money the lifers
earn by sewing is traded to the guards for cigarettes. They’ll never have the chance to spend money
on the outside anyway. After lunch, the serial murderer Rusha Hudoli
is allowed to spend half an hour outside in the yard. Here, too, the prisoner remains in solitary
confinement. The yard is composed of isolation cells. Barely bigger than a half-garage. A small space, but lots of time to think. “I was born in Ukraine, went to school,
and did my military service. Everything seemed to be going well. I had a wife. I started a family, and we had a daughter. Well, and then… then the murders happened. That’s what brought me here. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t like it. It just kind of happened. It started with something small. It was an accident, I lost control. I was in a fight. It was like self-defense. And then it happened. Suddenly I was a murderer. And once you’ve committed murder, nothing
else matters. You can just keep killing people. One thing leads to another. You can no longer control yourself. And you can’t go back and undo it. It’s happened. He hasn’t seen his daughter since he entered
prison. No one has visited him for months. But that is going to change soon… Two weeks later. The big day has finally come for Alexander
Alexandrovich and the other new arrivals. They have spent 14 days in quarantine, where
they were observed and studied. A commission will now decide their fate in
prison. “They’re splitting us up according to
physical constitution. I hope I get to join the steelworkers. I’m good at welding. I hope they send me there. I think that’d be best. “I’m Alexander Alexandrovich, born
in 1975.” “Commission, what’s your assessment?” “He has no medical problems.” “Psychologically, he is very stable. He can do any kind of work.” “Any social contacts? Yes, with his sister.” “What else can I say? He has behaved perfectly in our Colony. He follows the rules. And he is socially compatible. His sister visits him regularly.” Which section of the prison for hardened criminals
will Alexander be sent to? More on that later. Colony 100, maximum-security wing. The mass murderer Rusha Hudoli has not spoken
to anyone but his cellmate for four weeks. His family has forgotten him. No visitors for months. No one who wants to talk to him. That will change today. A psychologist visits Colony 100 once a month
to speak with the prisoners serving life sentences. Most of them welcome the opportunity. It is a bright spot in their totally isolated
world. “Don’t you want to study something? Maybe do an academic degree?” “No, that’s too hard for me. I couldn’t do it. And it doesn’t make any sense. I just want to keep sewing my bags. Do work with my hands. It’s good for me. I don’t need anything else.” Hudoli can speak with the psychologist once
a month. In another cellblock, Alexander is waiting
for the commission’s decision. “You’re going to the second zone, Sector
Four. Take him away.” Sector Four: the steelworkers. Just what Alexander was hoping for. Now it’s important to keep a straight face
in front of the guards and the other prisoners. Expressions of joy could easily be interpreted
as weakness. Alexander doesn’t betray his thoughts until
he’s in the hallway: “Great. Now I’ll do my best and do what I can. At least I don’t have to sit around under
observation anymore. Life has a little more meaning again.” Another goal: to be accepted by his cellmates. The experienced prisoner knows how to achieve
that. “It’s very strict here, but I’ll probably
be able to handle things in the cell. I can’t wear a mask, though, or pretend
to be someone I’m not. That would be fatal. It’s like in real life. No one likes it when someone else lies or
is untruthful. Just that here, such mistakes are punished
immediately.” Almost everyone in Alexander’s cell works
in the steel plant. Time will tell if the other men in his new
group cell will accept him or not. It won’t take long. Four p.m. Alexander starts his new job as
a welder right on his first day after quarantine. Five days a week, eight hours a day, he must
do what his foreman tells him to do. Andre is not a bad foreman to have, but of
course Alexander doesn’t know that yet. The 52-year old does everything he can to
please his 36-year-old foreman. “On the whole, it’s okay. There are hardly any jobs in Ukraine. Here I can take care of myself. Without being a burden to my family.” Shortly after 5 p.m. Hudoli’s time speaking
with the psychologist is almost up. “How do you envision the rest of your time
here?” “I don’t have any goals. I live day to day. I want to grow old. Then we’ll see.” Like many of the inmates in the maximum-security
wing, Hudoli no longer wants anything out of life. He has given up. “My job is to keep them from killing themselves. I try to keep them as psychologically stable
as possible. That’s my role here.” In 31 days, the murderer will once again sit
opposite him. Just to have someone to talk to. Until then, Hudoli will remain in his cell. Thirty-one days in which nothing exciting
happens except on television. Thirty-one days alone with his thoughts. Thirty-one days in which new prisoners arrive
daily at Colony 100, the prison for hardened criminals. Some will never leave.