Lefortovo Prison was well-known during the Stalinist period as a particularly nasty place for political prisoners. While some Moscow political prisons were under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Office of the NKVD (secret police), Lefortovo was run by the Central Office of the NKVD, meaning that it held foreigners and prisoners from all over the Soviet Union. If they confessed to the allegations against them, most of these prisoners would be executed and either buried at Kommunarka Polygon or cremated at the Donskoi Crematorium.

Lefortovo Prison today. Photo: exzk.ru

Built in 1881 as a military prison for low-ranking officers, it was transferred to the newly-formed secret police in 1918 following the revolution and used for political prisoners. While many lost their lives here during interrogations in the 1920s and 1930s, executions did not frequently take place in the building itself until the early 1940s under the new head of the NKVD, Lavrentii Beria.

Lavrentii Beria, head of the NKVD 1938–1945. Image: Lidia Golovkova

Lavrentii Beria, head of the NKVD 1938–1945. Image: Lidia Golovkova


Even after the great terror, the prison continued to be used for important political prisoners. President Boris Yeltsin’s political enemies were held here in 1993 after an attempted coup, and today it is used mainly for corrupt government officials and oligarchs. Because the prison is still operational, it remains shrouded in secrecy and is impossible to visit (this is essentially true even for relatives of prisoners; there is extremely tight security). If you still want to go, it is located in the northeastern region of Moscow known as Lefortovo, and the nearest Metro station is Aviamotornaya on the yellow line.