By Alexander Motyl

Jan 25, 2023


Why Is Putin Building Correctional Colonies in Ukraine? The Russian government issued an important, though little noticed, decree on January 23 ordering the construction of 27 “correctional colonies” and “correctional centers”—or penitentiaries–in the four Ukrainian territories Russia illegally annexed last year.

Twelve such colonies are to be set up in the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic, seven in the self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic, three in the occupied Kherson province, and two in the occupied Zaporizhzhia province.

The decree also foresees the construction of three “correctional centers,” one in the DNR and two in the LNR.

The “main goal” of the correctional colonies is “the carrying out of a criminal sentence in the form of deprivation of freedom.”

In turn, the main goal of the centers is “the carrying out of a criminal sentence in the form of forced labor.”

The pre-war population of the DNR was about 2.2 million; that of the LNR—about 1.5 million. All of Kherson province had about 1 million, and all of Zaporizhzhia province had about 1.6 million.

Consider that at least half of the DNR/LNR population has fled, been resettled, or killed in 2022, and that many of the residents of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces have either fled, if they lived in the Ukrainian-controlled parts, or were killed or resettled if they lived in the Russian-controlled parts.

So, whereas the total population of these four regions was about 6.3 million, the present population is no greater than half—say, 3 million.

Twenty-seven new correctional facilities—in addition to those that already exist—for such a small population are quite an addition to Russia’s punitive capabilities in the occupied territories. Clearly, the new facilities are not intended to combat crime, if only because many criminals have been convinced to serve as cannon fodder in the Wagner mercenary group.

The intent must be political: to terrorize what remains of the extant populations in these regions, to eradicate all traces of a Ukrainian national identity, and to destroy all conscious Ukrainians. In a word, to bring the GULAG to Ukraine—which is so much easier than bringing Ukraine to the GULAG.

Annihilation therefore awaits all Ukrainians who have the bad luck to remain in Russia’s occupied territories.

Western analysts and policymakers who believe that territorial concessions to Russia must be part of any peace deal should think twice.


Author Biography: A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, including Pidsumky imperii (2009); Puti imperii (2004); Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires (2001); Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (1999); Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism (1993); and The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929 (1980); the editor of 15 volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism (2000) and The Holodomor Reader (2012); and a contributor of dozens of articles to academic and policy journals, newspaper op-ed pages, and magazines. He also has a weekly blog, “Ukraine’s Orange Blues.”