The AP reported that thousands of Ukrainian civilians are held in Russian prisons and subjected to systematic torture and slave labor. Government documents reveal Russia’s plans to build many more despite refusing to acknowledge detainments.
An all-formats investigative and storytelling team of Lori Hinnant, Hanna Arhirova, Vasilisa Stepanenko, Peter Hamlin, Evgeniy Maloletka, Mark Vancleave, Marshall Ritzell and Michael Biesecker invested months of work into unmasking details of the abuse, which some have characterized as a new gulag in Russia.
Interviews with dozens of people, including 20 former detainees, along with ex-prisoners of war, the families of more than a dozen civilians in detention, two Ukrainian intelligence officials, and a government negotiator led AP journalists to first confirm what the world has long suspected: Ukrainian civilians, by the thousands, did not simply vanish last year; they were captured and subjected to abuses that may constitute “crimes against humanity” according to international law.
What’s more, Moscow has no apparent plans to stop. A Russian government document obtained by The Associated Press dating to January outlines plans to create 25 new prison colonies and six other detention centers in occupied Ukraine by 2026.
The reporters deftly handle the harrowing details of captivity, humanizing the story for a world audience two years into the wearying war. Vignettes include the note smuggled into a prison in a bag of crushed eclairs; the woman who trudges around building a Russian trench in boots five sizes too big; the loose-hanging coat that shows how much weight a prisoner has lost.
Supporting the clear public service value of this critical reporting is an all-formats package including illustrations, a map, and photography that include details of prison sites sourced over the course of the war and touching portraits of Olena Yahupova, a survivor who shares her story.
The bulk of the reporting was by Hinnant, Ahrirova and Stepanenko, assisted by Maloletka, who also took photos. Vancleave and Ritzel produced the video, while Hamlin supplied illustrations. Biesecker sourced a key satellite photograph and helped pinpoint a mass grave.
The story was one of AP’s top stories of the week, with 131,000 page views and more than 200 views by customers in AP Newsroom. Atlantic writer and author Anne Applebaum, who has long chronicled repression in Russia, Ukraine and the former Soviet Union, cited AP’s reporting in a longer piece for her magazine.
For a deeply investigated and humanizing public service story replete with rich, moving details, the team of Hinnant, Arhirova, Stepanenko, Hamlin, Maloletka, Vancleave, Ritzel and Biesecker are AP’s Best of Week — Second Winner.