Police in Romania have raided the intricate network of sewers in the capital city of Bucharest, where hundreds of people — including children — are believed to live.
The massive anti-drug operation, carried out earlier this week, followed months of surveillance, Channel 4 News reported, with officers detaining dozens of people for questioning on suspicion of trafficking.
"An entire generation of children has grown up in the sewers," according to an investigation carried out by ABC News last year — a tragic remnant of the destruction of Romania's Communist regime.
The underground community is said to be largely made up of children released from the country's infamous orphanages in 1989, who had nowhere to go but beneath the city streets.
Under Nicolae Ceausescu's regime, both abortion and contraception were forbidden and estimates for the number of children in orphanages "start at 100,000 and go up from there."
Still haunted by their early experiences in notoriously abusive conditions, these children — now adults — "remain on the fringes of society, addicted to drink and drugs," the BBC stated. Some have had children of their own.
Reporting from Bucharest this week, VICE's Max Daly reported on how Bucharest's drug-addicted community, many of them Roma, are "being left to rot."
"Death from drug abuse stalks this population," Daly wrote. "The Romanian government barely bothers to count the number of narcotic-related deaths."
On Tuesday, anti-narcotics officers and prosecutors who investigate organized crime went down into the sewers, where some alleged drug traffickers live, and also conducted searches in several nearby buildings.
Prosecutors said in a statement that the probe is centered on breaking up a drug trafficking ring with 23 known members, who were selling methadone, heroin, and other drugs.
Police also reportedly found paintings, televisions, drugs, and money in the sewers, but prosecutors have been unable to immediately confirm that information, according to the Associated Press.
Dozens were detained for questioning, including the 41-year-old suspected ringleader Bruce Lee, referred to as the "king of the sewers" and pictured above.
However, Lee's imprisonment is "likely to do little for the Bucharest's people of the tunnels," Channel 4 noted.
Follow Charlotte Meredith on Twitter: @chmeredith