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The Siberian Times

New era with comfortable trains for prisoners sent to Siberia

By The Siberian Times reporter
18 February 2016

Tsarist inmates and Gulag victims were notoriously transported like cattle in packed carriages. Now it's different, as our pictures show.

The special carriages are now in use in Krasnoyarsk region for prison camp inmates sent to the Republic of Khakassia and Irkutsk region. Picture: GUFSIN in Krasnoyarsk region

These pictures highlight the start of a revolution in train travel for convicts sent to serve their sentences in Siberia, or those moved around within its regions. The special carriages are now in use in Krasnoyarsk region for prison camp inmates sent to the Republic of Khakassia and Irkutsk region. As prison trains go, this is 5 star, but it is not yet typical. 

'For the convenience of the passengers there is air conditioning, a staff call button, and environmentally friendly toilets,' explained a spokesman from the Krasnoyarsk department of the Federal Penitentiary System. 'For the first time systems for water and air disinfection are used.'

Designers boast that this special Trans-Siberian train has an improved layout and superior ergonomics compared with earlier jail wagons. Security and protection during the transportation of convicts is provided by sophisticated electronic controls, surveillance cameras, advanced communications and radio monitoring with a connection to Russia's GLONASS satellite system.

New coach


New coach


New coach


New coach


New coach


New coach

Designers boast that this special Trans-Siberian train has an improved layout and superior ergonomics compared with earlier jail wagons. Picture: GUFSIN in Krasnoyarsk region

For warders accompanying the convicts, conditions are also better. They have a comfortable 'resting place', a shower room, and a kitchen equipped with  a  microwave, electric cooker and a fridge. The first outing of the new train was on 16 February en route from Krasnoyarsk to Abakan. 

Krasnoyarsk region alone transports 100,000 prisoners and people held on remand each year. Trains carrying prisoners operate at least 17 times each month across an area that - in the past - was a key part of the punishment regime for both the Tsarist and Soviet authorities. 

Even today, prison transfers across Russia can take days, weeks and in some cases months. In 2013, jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova disappeared on 21 October en route to a penal colony. She only reappeared in Krasnoyarsk on 12 November after her 'etapirovanie' or 'inmate transfer'.

Valery Sergeyev, deputy director of the Moscow-based Center for Prison Reform, said the conditions on many trains remain primitive. A dozen convicts are often confined to a space that - on a regular passenger train - would accommodate four. The prisoners, en route to their jails, must take it in turns to sleep.

Wind the clock back to the Soviet era, and there are many accounts of the horrors suffered by convicts, many of whom were political detainees. 

Old coach


Old coach


Old coach

'The conditions on many trains remain primitive. A dozen convicts are often confined to a space that - on a regular passenger train - would accommodate four.' Picture: @funnyshots

One, Ayyub Baghirov, in Bitter Days of Kolyma, wrote: 'The terrible heat, the lack of fresh air, the unbearable overcrowded conditions all exhausted us. We were all half starved. Some of the elderly prisoners, who had become so weak and emaciated, died along the way. Their corpses were left abandoned alongside the railroad tracks.'

The website gulaghistory.org recalled: 'The train cars were cattle cars, or converted passenger cars called Stolypin cars. Prisoners suffered from viciously cold temperatures in the winter and unbearably hot temperatures in the summer. 

'Some prisoners, weakened by lack of food and sickness, died of exposure. The trains carried the prisoners to certain cities or regional centres. From there, the prisoners were often forced to walk the remaining distance to their camp. Others were put on a boat and shipped to their final destination.'

Prisoner Zayara Vesyolaya recalled her journey: 'They put us on in alphabetical order. I was third. The two best places, by the windows on the upper bed boards, were already taken, of course. 

'I use 'upper' to refer to their location, for there were no actual lower bed boards; people whose surnames came further down the alphabet had to find a space on the floor [...]

Soviet coaches


Soviet coaches


Departed to Siberia

So-called 'teplushka' - typical coach used for the transportation of convicts and soldiers in Soviet era. Latvian people deported in 1941. Deportation to Siberia. Pictures: Assem Tokayeva, thecelotajs.com, stormfront.org

'We waited for hours in the suffocating heat with the door securely closed, and it was only late in the evening that we finally moved off. We soon made a very unpleasant discovery: there was no slop bucket in the car, only a narrow opening in the wall opposite the door, into which had been fitted a tilting wooden trough made of three rough planks. 

'Since we were crazed with thirst and were given a mug of water only when there was a long halt, there was no way to flush it out. It was a real circus act to try to hit the trough while the train was bumping and swaying from side to side, and few managed it. One can well imagine what the floor around the trough was like within a couple of hours of setting off.'

Rafael S. Klein recounted: 'I'd confirm that normally there were 32-36 of us in a compartment (intended for 4 people).....and once between Perm and Kirov, luckily, the distance wasn't too big, a 12-hour ride, up to 42 people were put in a compartment, though, not adults. Troubled youngsters aged 12-to-14, mainly thieves, were literally squeezed in our compartments. People were packed like herrings in a tin. There were three or four of us under the bottom bed. Not to choke I somehow managed to double up next to the door: At least there was some amount of fresh air coming through the iron bars.'

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