The Lubyanka building was the center of the Soviet political repressions before, during, and after the 1930s. It was the headquarters of the secret police starting in 1919 and remained so until 1991, and in addition to offices it contained a prison and numerous interrogation chambers. Most high-profile victims of the repressions (as well as many lower-ranking people) were interrogated inside the Lubyanka for some time before they were sentenced.
The building was initially built as the headquarters of All-Russia Insurance Company in 1898, but after the 1917 revolution it was turned over to the new Bolshevik government. The following year, the first Soviet secret police organization (called the VChK, or “cheka” for short) was formed under Felix Dzerzhinsky. A huge statue of Dzerzhinsky was erected on the square in 1958.
The headquarters of that organization was a few blocks away from the current Lubyanka building on Varsonofevsky Lane. As the secret police grew in size and influence, they moved into the larger, more elegant building at #2 Great Lubyanka Street.
Based on prisoner accounts, it was long believed that the infamous Lubyanka prison was located in the basement of the building. However, Ms. Golovkova explained to us that the prison was actually on the top floor, but because it was windowless, prisoners believed they were underground.
Soviet Chief Prosecutor A. Vyshynsky once said “confession is the queen of evidence,” and 1930s Lubyanka procedure operated under this assumption. Those accused of betraying their country would be held in the Lubyanka and interrogated until they confessed to the charges of which they had been accused. Once a person confessed, he or she would either be sentenced to a term in a GULAG camp or executed. Those who were sentenced to execution at the Lubyanka were typically either cremated at Donskoi Crematorium or buried at Kommunarka Polygon.
Today, the Lubyanka building contains the headquarters for the Border Guard Service, the Lubyanka prison, a KGB museum (which is closed to the public), and a subsection of the Federal Security Service of Russia (an organization roughly equivalent to the American FBI and CIA combined).
Lubyanka Square is home to an interesting array of buildings and objects: on the northeastern side is the Lubyanka building; to the northwest is Children’s World, the largest toy store in Russia; to the southwest is a major metro stop (the site of a 2010 terrorist attack); and on the southeastern edge is a small park with a memorial to those who died in the GULAG camps. In the center of the square is a round, grassy platform on which the Dzerzhinsky statue once stood, but the statue itself was removed in 1991 and placed in Muzeon Sculpture Park, where it stands today.