Sukhanovskaya Special Prison

Address: 21 Petrovskii Lane, Vidnoe 2, Moscow region

Sukhanovskaya Prison (“Spetsobekt No. 110,” “Sukhanovka,” “Torture Cottage”) was a secret political prison located in the former St. Catherine’s Monastery.

Sukhanovskaya Special Prison. Photo: Memorial Society Photo Archive

Sukhanovskaya Special Prison. Photo: Memorial Society Photo Archive

After the revolution, an agricultural artel (a freely formed labor commune) was organized on the monastery's grounds with the help of the Krasnostokskii Convent’s nuns. This was one of the most common ways to preserve Orthodox communities. Only by declaring themselves labor communes could the monks prevent the looting of the monastery. Reliable information about what happened in the monastery during the first half of the 1930s does not exist. According to one theory, there was a prison for juvenile criminals who had been sentenced to short terms. However, this does not seem plausible since a children’s colony was located two kilometers away from the monastery.

According to the general reconstruction plan of Moscow and the Moscow region, approved in 1935 by the Council of People’s Comissariat, the land of Sukhanovo was leased to the USSR Architects’ Union. It became one of the most famous suburban holiday homes. Some monastery buildings were rebuilt and livestock was raised on the monastery's territory.

On November 23, 1938, the People’s Commissar of the NKVD, Lavrentii Beria, issued a request for the establishment of a new prison on the premises of the former St. Catherine’s (Sukhanovo) Monastery. The hasty organization of the new prison was connected to the new wave of purges of NKVD organs, which was organized after Nikolai Yezhov had fallen into his successor’s disfavor. Among the first prisoners of Sukhanovka were Nikolai Yezhov and the writer Isaac Babel, who was acquainted with Yezhov’s wife. Prominent military officers, diplomats, Party officials, public figures, and foreign citizens were also imprisoned there. 

At the beginning of 1949, the architect Miron Merzhanov worked in the Sukhanovskaya Prison on the MGB sanatorium project. After finishing a sanatorium project in Sochi, Merzhanov was sent to the Marfinskaya sharashka, which was located on the outskirts of Moscow. Merzhanov continued to work there. The sanatorium complex was closed down in 1954, but at the end of 1951, Merzhanov was transferred from Sochi to the Krasnoyarsk transit prison, where he became the head architect of the project Kraiproekt. Merzhanov was released in 1954 and fully rehabilitated in 1956.

Prisoners were kept in complete isolation from each other and they were constantly monitored by guards. As a rule, investigations lasted no more than two weeks. Walks and mail deliveries were not guaranteed. Various forms of torture were used: “belts,” standing for several days in knee-deep water, sitting in a barrel of ice water, confinement in hot isolation cells, gas torture, and so on.

At the beginning of the Second World War, the Sukhanovskaya Prison was evacuated. Yet as the front line moved further away from Moscow, the prison was re-opened. By mid-1941, the Sukhanovskaya Prison became a remand prison for the Office of Special Departments. From the end of 1942, so-called war criminals were imprisoned there. Executions presumably occurred in the Sukhanovskaya Prison throughout the years of its existence, and after the end of the war they were carried out on a larger scale. According to unconfirmed reports, a crematory may have existed on the territory of the spetsobekt in order to incinerate the corpses of executed victims.

After the arrest and execution of Lavrentii Beria in 1953, the Sukhanovskaya Prison was converted into a hospital prison. Since the mid-1960s the former prison area was used by the police. It became the Learning Center of the Main Department of Internal Affairs (GUVD), and a police station was built nearby.

During the last years of the Soviet Union, the territory of the former spetsobekt once again functioned as a monastery. In 1992, the first church service was held at St. Catherine’s Church. Currently, all three churches have been restored. Also, a new church has been built there and St. Catherine’s Monastery remains open.