Inside Lefortovo, the Russian jail holding journalist Evan Gershkovich

For many years, Lefortovo jail has been an emblem of oppression and management in Russia, particularly for individuals who dare to problem energy. It is inside these partitions that American journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested in March, stays detained, awaiting trial on espionage expenses — which he, the White House and Gershkovich’s employer, the Wall Street Journal, strongly deny.

Evan Gershkovich seems in courtroom in Moscow on April 18. (For The Washington Post)

Lefortovo serves as a pretrial detention middle. Still, prisoners can spend years there. Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, was at the jail for 2 years earlier than being convicted on expenses of espionage and is now serving 16-year sentence at a penal colony.

Based on descriptions from inmates, attorneys and jail screens, together with letters and sketches, in addition to documentaries and photographs of Lefortovo, The Post constructed a portrait of what life is like inside the jail.

Ivan Safronov, a Russian journalist serving a 22-year sentence in Krasnodar for treason, spent over two years in Lefortovo, from 2020 to 2022. In a letter to The Post about his time there, he wrote, “the purpose is to isolate a person, to ‘freeze’ them in order to get confessions from them.”

Aerial view of Lefortovo Prison

Diagram exhibiting the Ok form of the jail and its cells alongside the K’s wings

Diagram highlighting the slender corridors the place prisoners are allowed to stroll

Lefortovo was inbuilt the late 1800s, throughout Tsarist rule, and it lies on the jap fringe of the capital.

The yellow-walled, four-story constructing was inbuilt the form of the letter Ok. Former inmates describe a facility designed to instill worry, isolation and despair.

In the corridors outdoors the cells, all sound is muted by outdated, worn carpets.

“They are not for beauty or for pleasing the eyes of prisoners but so that steps do not break the utter crypt-like silence, one that is oppressive and makes your ears ring,” wrote Valentin Moiseyev, a Russian diplomat who was accused of espionage in 1998 and spent 3½ years in Lefortovo, in his memoir “How I Was a ‘South Korean Spy.”

During Soviet rule, a KGB wing was added to the compound and was later occupied by its successor agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB). In the early 2000s, Lefortovo was reassigned from the FSBto the Ministry of Justice because of the Council of Europe requirement that prohibits investigative bodies from operating prisons.

But in reality, only a door separates the FSB from the prison, according to a state television documentary about the facility.

Safronov recalled that detainees are allowed daily walks on Lefortovo’s roof, confined to restricted train yards. Russia’s penitentiary service laws say the walks final an hour. A central radio system is commonly turned on to blast music throughout the compound — one other method to make sure the prisoners can’t hear one another, a guard informed the documentarian.

After an preliminary 10-day quarantine, prisoners are transferred to the cells the place they’re both saved alone or joined by as much as two cellmates.

Each almost an identical cell, in response to archival plans obtained by Memorial, a Russian human rights group, and confirmed by sketches by Alexei Melnikov, a member of Moscow’s Public Monitoring Commission — a company that paperwork the remedy of prisoners, is roughly eight sq. meters, no bigger than 85 sq. ft.

A small, barred window with restricted pure gentle might be opened utilizing a particular lever, permitting prisoners to see a part of the sky.

The rest room presents little privateness. A tiled half-wall separates it from the nearest mattress in the cramped cell.

There can also be a sink, a fridge and at the very least one wall cupboard for storing meals bought from the jail retailer or delivered by members of the family. A desk and chair are bolted to the flooring. And there’s a TV, which solely broadcasts state channels.

Moiseyev wrote in his memoir that in his time in Lefortovo, an officer appeared into the peephole each two or three minutes.

Detainees go away their cells just for walks, interrogations, medical checkups or courtroom hearings. They are allowed to take showers as soon as per week, Safronov informed The Post.

Former inmates and attorneys who visited Lefortovo describe it as a Soviet time capsule, with shabby flooring, thick oil paint on the partitions, portraits of Felix Dzerzhinsky, who created the Soviet secret police equipment, and the odor of mud and outdated papers.

[Russia’s Lefortovo prison is a relic of Soviet control that never left]

Lefortovo served as one in all the foremost websites utilized by the secret police throughout Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge in the Nineteen Thirties. It turned a spot of violent interrogations, torture and executions.

Psychological Pressure

Lawyers, jail screens and up to date inmates interviewed by The Post stated that they had solely learn of bodily abuse in Soviet-era accounts about Lefortovo, and haven’t skilled it themselves. It’s the psychological stress that defines the torment of prisoners there.

“In Lefortovo, its well-established regime and the behavior of the staff suppresses you; from the very first minute, they make it clear that you are nothing, that you are alone here and completely at the mercy of this prison, and that the way out of it is possible only through complete submission to the system that it serves,” Moiseyev wrote.

In his memoir, Russian dissident and author Eduard Limonov describes how detainees are escorted from their cell to one in all the interrogation rooms to the sound of the ominous, metallic clicks. Prison guards snap their fingers or use particular steel clickers to warn everybody round to clear the path. The prisoner should not be allowed to see one other prisoner in convoy on their method via, Limonov wrote.

“Though they are not beaten, prisoners find themselves in harsh conditions where the possibility of any communication between cells is ruled out,” Melnikov stated.

Safronov wrote in his letter to The Post that it took him six months to regulate to life inside Lefortovo.

“The rules of entry into this prison are also the toughest out of all Moscow detention facilities,” stated Vadim Prokhorov, a distinguished Russian lawyer who steadily visited his shoppers there, describing how he’s totally checked by jail authorities coming out and in of Lefortovo.

Prokhorov defined that there are nearly six rooms in the compound allotted for conferences with prisoners, hardly sufficient for the 200-300 individuals held there on common, most of whom are a part of high-profile circumstances and want frequent communication with their authorized groups.

“I’m sure this is done on purpose,” the lawyer stated. “Scarcity and deficit are always beneficial to the officials within a totalitarian system.”

According to Prokhorov, in 2016 attorneys created a draw — numbers in a bag that supply a sure time slot — that may assure them entry to their shopper at the very least as soon as each different week.

An outdoors view of Lefortovo jail, the yellow-walled, four-story constructing positioned on the jap fringe of Moscow. (Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)

Contact with the outdoors world

While prisoners are restricted from interacting with anybody however their cellmate, attorneys and the jail guards, they’re able to ship and obtain letters. These letters, as in any penitentiary establishment in the world, are learn and censored.

Technically, telephone calls are allowed however prisoners should file a petition, and authorities then evaluate and finally have the proper to veto requests.

“Since I did not admit guilt, I got only one phone call during my two years in Lefortovo,” Safronov wrote.

Lefortovo is reported to have a very good library. Books are routinely checked to make sure that there aren’t any notes or messages in the margins.

Gershkovich’s attorneys stated he’s preserving himself busy whereas at Lefortovo.

Following a courtroom look in mid-April, lawyer Tatyana Nozhkina stated Gershkovich stays upbeat and in good well being. He spends his time watching culinary packages on TV, exercising and studying Russian classics, together with Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”

Salman Raduyev, a Chechen separatist commander who was distinguished throughout the First Chechen War, is pictured in a Lefortovo cell quickly after his arrest in 2000. (Itar Tass/ Associated Press )
About this story

The visualizations of Lefortovo’s interiors are based mostly on sketches supplied by jail monitor Alexei Melnikov, archival plans published by Memorial, one in all the oldest civil rights teams in Russia, and accounts from former inmates and attorneys who visited the jail. The measurement of the room and placement of furnishings fluctuate barely from cell to cell.

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