views updated


Lefortovo is a historic area in the eastern part of Moscow, on the left bank of the Yauzy River, named for the Lefortovsky infantry regiment, commanded by Franc Yakovlevicz Lefort, a comrade of Peter the Great, which was quartered there toward the end of the seventeenth century. In the 1770s and 1780s the soldiers occupied sixteen wooden houses. Nearby were some slaughterhouses and a public courtyard, where in 1880 the Lefortovo military prison was constructed (architect P. N. Kozlov). At the time it was intended for low-ranking personnel convicted of minor infringements. St. Nikolai's Church was built just above the entrance to the prison. Over the next hundred years several new buildings were added to the prison complex.

In tsarist times Lefortovo was under the jurisdiction of the Main Prison Administration of the Ministry of Justice. After the revolution it became part of the network of prisons run by the Special Department of the Cheka. In the 1920s Lefortovo was under the OGPU (United Main Political Administration). In the 1930s, together with the Lubyanka Internal Prison and the Butyrskoi and Sukhanovskoi prisons, it was under the GUGB (Central Administrative Board of State Security) of the NKVD (People's Commissioner's Office for Internal Affairs) of the USSR. Suspects were tortured and shot in the former church of the prison, and tractor motors were run to drown out the awful sounds. With the closing of the Lubyanka Internal Prison in the 1960s, Lefortovo attained its present status as the main prison of the state security apparatus. In October 1993, Alexander Rutskoi and Roman Khasbulatov, the organizers of the abortive putsch against Boris Yeltsin, were held in the Lefortovo detention isolator (solitary confinement) of the Ministry of Safety (MB) of the Russian Federation. In December 1993 and January 1994 the Lefortovo isolator passed from the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Safety to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). By the end of 1994 the FSB again created an investigatory administration, and in April 1997, after an eight-month struggle between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB, the isolator was again transferred to FSB jurisdiction.

The three-tier complex of the FSB's Investigative Administration, unified with the prison, is located adjacent to the Lefortovo isolator. According to the testimony of former inmates, there are fifty cells on each floor of the four-story cellblock. As of 2003 there were about two hundred prisoners in Lefortovo. The exercise area is located on the roof of the prison. Most of the cells are about 10 meters square and hold two inmates; there are also some cells for three, and a few for one. Lefortovo differs from other Russian detention prisons not only in its relatively good conditions but also for its austere regime. The inmates held here have been arrested on matters that concern the FSB, such as espionage, serious economic offenses, and terrorism, rather than ordinary crimes.

See also: gulag; lubyanka; prisons; state security, organs of


Krakhmalnikova, Zoya. (1993). Listen, Prison! Lefortovo Notes: Letters from Exile. Redding, CA: Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society.

Georg Wurzer