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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'5-Star' Prison Blocks Open in Ukraine

KIEV -- Two prison blocks described as "five-star" facilities have opened in Ukraine, the first of several that are to be built in what officials said is an effort to raise conditions to European standards.

But as Ukraine cracks down harder on corruption, a growing number of wealthy convicts may also welcome the VIP upgrade.

A renovated 180-inmate prison opened Monday in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk offering three cells, for up to 10 convicts each, equipped with modern toilets, washbowls and television sets for inmates willing to pay 116 hryvna ($22) per day, said Oleksiy Shcherbatov, an Interior Ministry spokesman in Dnipropetrovsk.

"That's less than a double-room in a three-star hotel," Interior Minister spokesman Yury Smirnov told Interfax.

The price, however, is out of reach for most of the 198,000 prisoners in Ukraine, where the average monthly income in last year was 377 hryvna ($71).

A similar eight-cell block recently opened in Kharkiv, another eastern city, that can hold some 200 prisoners, according to the daily Sehodnya, which called the new facilities "five-star" cell blocks.

"Nowhere [else] are prisoners given bedsheets, [and] now they have soft mattresses with white linens, pillows and blankets," Pavlo Yanenko, deputy head of the Interior Ministry in Kharkiv, was quoted by Sehodnya as saying.

Similar prison blocks are under construction in Kiev and four other major cities, Shcherbatov said.

Officials said the new facilities are designed to bring Ukraine's decrepit prisons into compliance with the European Human Rights Convention -- a task Interior Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Zarubitskyi said "will certainly take time."

However, one European prison expert said there are no prisons in Europe where inmates can pay for better facilities.

The expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the facelift aims not only to upgrade facilities to meet European standards but also to take advantage of greater numbers of rich convicts to generate revenue for the government.

Ukrainian officials said money from the relatively swank cellblocks is earmarked for inmates' needs.

Smirnov said the Interior Ministry needs more than 200 million hryvna ($38 million) per year to keep prisoners in suitable conditions, Interfax reported.