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Butyrka prison

Butyrka prison, 2010
Butyrskiy penitentiary castle (historical model)
Butyrka prison, 1890s

Butyrskaya prison (Russian: Бутырская тюрьма, tr. Butýrskaya tyurmá), usually known simply as Butyrka (Russian: Бутырка, IPA: [bʊˈtɨrkə]), is a prison in the Tverskoy District of central Moscow, Russia. In Imperial Russia it served as the central transit prison. During the Soviet Union era (1917-1991) it held many political prisoners. As of 2022 Butyrka remains the largest of Moscow's remand prisons. Overcrowding is an ongoing problem.


The first references to Butyrka prison may be traced back to the 17th century. The current building was erected in 1879 near the Butyrsk gate (Бутырская застава, or Butyrskaya zastava) on the site of a prison-fortress which had been built by the architect Matvei Kazakov during the reign of Catherine the Great. The towers of the old fortress once housed the rebellious Streltsy during the reign of Peter I, and later on hundreds of participants of the 1863 January Uprising in Poland. Members of Narodnaya Volya were also prisoners of the Butyrka in 1883, as were the participants in the Morozov Strike of 1885. The Butyrka prison was known for its brutal regime. The prison administration resorted to violence anytime the inmates tried to protest.

Its famous inmates include the influential revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, the Russian revolutionary Nikolay Bauman, and the founder of the KGB Felix Dzerzhinsky. During the February Revolution, the workers of Moscow freed all the political prisoners from the Butyrka. Following the October Revolution, Butyrka remained a place of internment for political prisoners and a transfer camp for people sentenced to be sent to the Gulag. During the Great Purge, about twenty thousand inmates at a time were imprisoned in Butyrka. Thousands of political prisoners were shot after investigations. Later, prominent political prisoners included the writers Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Yevgenia Ginzburg.

Living conditions

Varlam Shalamov notes in one of his tales, that the Butyrka is extremely hot in summer; Eduard Limonov, in his drama Death in the Police Van, emphatically agrees. He says that, with the collapse of the Soviet regime, overcrowding has become a real issue; there are more than one hundred inmates in cells meant to contain ten people. Most of these people are politically unreliable subjects from the Caucasus. Since epidemics are a problem, the wardens try to fill cells entirely with people with AIDS, or with tuberculosis; however, this does little to curb the problem, since many inmates are drug users, and there is at most one needle per cell. Moreover, inmates are brought to the tribunal in overcrowded police vans, so that healthy inmates are exposed to tuberculosis.

Butyrka has its own slang: the wardens are called "menti" (Russian: менты), the inmates "patzani" (пацаны), and to take drugs is "vmazatsia" (вмазаться). The word "khuy" (хуй) is used profusely. On a lighter note, television has been allowed since 1995.

Notable inmates

Coordinates: 55°47′04″N 37°35′38″E / 55.78444°N 37.59389°E / 55.78444; 37.59389

This page was last updated at 2022-09-04 02:23 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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