Conditions in Vladimir Prison Where Shcharansky Will Be for 3 Years
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Conditions in Vladimir Prison Where Shcharansky Will Be for 3 Years

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Anatoly Shcharansky will spend the next three years of his life in Vladimir Prison, which is described by the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry as “the most notorious” jail in the Soviet Union. If he survives that ordeal he will be sent to a harsh labor comp for another 10 years.

The Soviet Jewish activist was sentenced July 14 on a charge of treason to three years in prison and 10 years in a “strict regime” labor camp. The SSSJ today released what it termed “a chilling insight into Vladimir Prison’s daily routine,” which was provided by Vladimir Bukovsky, a recent inmate of that prison who is now in the West. According to the release, Bukovsky wrote:

“The normal cells in Vladimir have iron screens on the window so no ray of light can penetrate into the room. The cells are of different size: some have three men, some five, and some 10 in the same cell, locked up throughout the day except for a half hour for exercise. Exercise takes place in a small courtyard, like a room without a roof. Only those in the same cell may exercise together.

“The walls of the cell are made of rough concrete so they cannot be written on, and are damp. There is a heating system but part of the punishment is to keep it deliberately low, even in winter. The guards shove food through a trap door. Some cells have no toilet, only a bucket or just a hole in the floor. All the stench from the sewage system returns to the cells, which have no proper ventilation system.


“Conditions are worse in the punishment cells. You are kept in solitary confinement in a room about 2-1/2 square meters. The only light is from a small bulb in a deep niche in the ceiling. At night you sleep on wooden boards raised a few inches from the ground with no mattress or blankets or pillow. You are forbidden warm clothing.

“Often there is no heating at all in winter. It is so cold you can’t sleep at all, and have to keep jumping up and run around your cell to keep warm. At 6 a.m. your wooden bed is removed and there is nothing for you to do the rest of the day–no newspaper, books, pen, pencil or paper–nothing.

“In solitary, prisoners get a specially reduced diet. This happened to me in Vladimir in 1976 after (Soviet President Leonid) Brezhnev had signed the Helsinki Agreement. On alternate days I had nothing to eat or drink except a small piece of coarse black bread and some hot water. On the other days I had two meals–in the middle of the day some watery soup with a few cabbage leaves, some grains of barley, sometimes two or three potatoes, which were black and bad. In the evening I had gruel made from oatmeal or some other cereal, a piece of bread and several little fish, which were rotten and however hungry I was I couldn’t eat them.


“The appalling conditions in Vladimir means that almost everyone there suffers from stomach ulcers, liver and kidney diseases, or heart and vascular diseases. You are allowed to send out one letter a month but the prison authorities can deprive you of that right. If prisoners try to describe their state or health or the lack of medical help in prison, their letters are confiscated.

“Essential medicines are often not available. For example, they have no blood bank. I remember a man named Kurkis who had a perforated ulcer and died. There was no blood available for a transfusion. He lay bleeding for 24 hours and then expired.”

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