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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-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 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 Great Purge about twenty thousand inmates at a time were imprisoned in Butyrka. Thousands of political prisoners were shot after investigations.
Currently Butyrka remains the largest of Moscow remand prisons. Overcrowding continues to be a problem.
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 100 inmates in cells meant to contain 10 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 almost every inmate is a user, 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 of one with tuberculosis. The gasoline spared in this way is sold on the black market. 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.
- Andrei Amalrik, Russian historian and famed dissident during the 1960s. Author of "Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984".
- Fabijan Abrantovich, a well-known Catholic priest and a pro-independence activist from Belarus.
- Anna Abrikosova, a nun of the Dominican Order and prominent figure in the Russian Catholic Church.
- Władysław Anders, Polish general and prime minister.
- Isaak Babel, writer, killed in 1940.
- Walerian Czuma, Polish general.
- Felix Dzerzhinsky, Cheka founder.
- Vladimir Dzhunkovsky, Russian statesman.
- Blessed Leonid Feodorov, Exarch and reputed bishop of the Russian Catholic Church.
- Heinz Hitler, German dictator Adolf Hitler's favorite nephew died after several days of torture in 1942.
- Werner Haase, one of Adolf Hitler's personal physicians, died in captivity in 1945.
- Bruno Jasieński, Polish poet and futurist, killed in 1938
- Stanisław Jasiukowicz, Polish minister, tortured to death in Butyrki in 1946.
- Elena Karpuchina, the 1967 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Champion, born in 1951 and spend first 2 years living in Butyrki until her mothers pardon in 1953.
- Yevgenia Ginzburg, Russian writer and historian.
- Sergei Korolev, Russian rocket and spacecraft designer.
- Blessed Zygmunt Łoziński, Catholic bishop of Minsk.
- Walter Linse a German human rights lawyer kidnapped in the American Sector of Berlin in July 1952 executed 15 December 1953.
- Nestor Makhno, Ukrainian anarchist.
- Vladimir Mayakovsky, poet.
- Leopold Okulicki, Polish general, last commander of the Armia Krajowa, killed in Butyrki in 1946.
- Yemelyan Pugachev, pretender to the Russian throne and leader of a Cossack insurrection in 1773-1774.
- Varlam Shalamov, writer and soviet dissident. Wrote The Kolyma Tales.
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, famous Nobel Prize laureate, writer and dissident. Wrote The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
- Kazys Skučas, Lithuanian politician and general of the Lithuanian Army.
- Yevgenia Ginzburg, author of Journey into the Whirlwind and Within the Whirlwind and mother of the writer Vasili Aksyonov. In her books, she tells the incredible story of her arrest during the 1937 purges in the city of Kazan, where she worked as a leading member of the local Communist Party structures of Tartary.
- Mieczysław Boruta-Spiechowicz, Polish general and one of the leaders of anti-communist opposition in the 1970s.
- Elena Stasova, Russian communist.
- Léon Theremin, a pioneer of electronic music, the inventor of the theremin and an electronic eavesdropping bug.
- Sergei Tretyakov, Avant-Garde playwright during the 1920s. He apparently threw himself down a prison stairwell to avoid execution.
- Augustinas Voldemaras, once the prime minister of Lithuania, died in this prison after Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940.
- Avhustyn Voloshyn, former president of Carpatho-Ukraine, died in Butyrka in 1945.
- Jonas Žemaitis, Lithuanian general, head of the Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisan forces after WWII, shot to death in 1953 .
- Garig Basmadjian, (still speculated) famous art major. Still to be found. Last seen 1991 by Alexander Budilov.
- Sergei Magnitsky, famous lawyer.
- Rashid Khan Gaplanov, Education and Finance Minister of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.
- Aron Baron, Ukrainian anarchist.
- "КАПЛАНОВ РАШИД ХАН" [Kaplanov Rashid Khan]. Retrieved 2011-11-28.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Butyrka Prison.|
- Official site of Butyrka prison (Russian)
- Article of the political prisoner's department of the Russian mypeople.ru
- Article of Rossiskaja Gaseta (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)