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Butyrka prison


Butyrka prison

Butyrka prison, 2010
Butyrka prison, 1890s

Butyrka prison (Russian: Бутырка, a colloquial term for the official Бутырская тюрьма, Butyrskaya tyurma) was the central transit prison in Tsarist Imperial Russia, located in the Tverskoy District of central Moscow, Russia. Currently Butyrka remains the largest of Moscow remand prisons. Overcrowding continues to be a problem.


  • History 1
  • Living conditions 2
  • Famous inmates 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


The first references to Butyrka prison may be traced back to the 17th century. The present prison building was erected in 1879 near the Butyrsk gate (Бутырская застава, or Butyrskaya zastava) on the site of a prison-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 every time the inmates tried to protest against anything.

Among its famous inmates were the influential revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, a Russian revolutionary Nikolai Bauman, the founder of the KGB Felix Dzerzhinsky (who was one of the few individuals to stage a successful escape from the prison), and the writers Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Yevgenia Ginzburg.

During the February Revolution, the workers of Moscow freed all the political prisoners from the Butyrka.

After 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.

Living conditions

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 avails little, 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 a healthy inmate may breathe the same air as one with tuberculosis. The Butyrka has a peculiar slang: the wardens are called "manti", the inmates "patzani", to take drugs is "smazatsia", i. e., to oil oneself. The word khuy is used profusely. On a lighter note, television has been allowed since 1995.

Famous inmates


  1. ^

External links

  • Official site of Butyrka prison (Russian)
  • Article of the political prisoner's department of the Russian
  • Rossiskaja GasetaArticle of (Russian)
  • A list of prisons in Moscow (Russian)
  • BBC report about Butyrka prison at Johnson's Russia list
  • Unofficial website of workers of The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (Russian)
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