Our Five-Year Anniversary Workshop 26th-27th March 2024, Christ Church, Oxford

From PI Judith Pallot: 

Five years ago in early February 2019, we had the launch workshop for my ERC Horizon 2020 GULAGECHOES (no 788448) in the Aleksanteri Institute, the University of Helsinki.  It was a great event with participants from Russia, Romania, Kazakhstan, the UK, France, Sweden, and Finland.  Very soon after, the contract carefully negotiated over many months between Helsinki and the Higher School of Economics St Peterburg for the Russian leg of the field work was vetoed by Moscow, then COVID-19 struck putting major obstacles in the way of planned fieldwork which included recent permissions for interviews in prisons in all the case study countries. This was then followed by Russia’s unforgiveable war on Ukraine which had, and continues to have, practical impacts on the project and incalculable personal impacts on team members. Despite all of this we have produced results – perhaps not under all the headings we intended – and are looking forward to the project’s final workshop planned for the end of March.  That we have results to showcase and have been able to attract some of the leading specialists in post-communist penality to participate in the workshop, is testimony to the commitment to the project and resilience of the GULAGECHOES team of post-doctoral and contracted researchers, some featuring in the picture below and others of whom joined later.

Carceral Practices: A Theme at the Aleksanteri Conference, 2023


In this brief blog piece, PI Judith Pallot highlights the project’s role in the recent Aleksanteri Conference.

The 22nd annual Aleksanteri Institute Conference was held on 25-27th October in Helsinki. Its theme was Decolonising the Global East: legal choices, political transformations, carceral practices. GULAGECHOES and the Academy of Finland, Yugoslavian Penal Nationalism projects were co-sponsors of the conference and members of the research team (Olga Zeveleva, Mihkhail Nakonenchnyi and Brendan Humphreys), on the programme committee. The projects organised two plenary sessions with international participants. The plenary panel “Carceral Practices” discussed the placing of the former communist countries’ prisons in the global penal system. The speakers were Dominique Moran, professor of carceral geography from the UK, Alan Barenberg, leading gulag historian from the USA, Kreshimir Petkovic, specialist on the western Balkans, and Petru Negura, specialist on Moldova. The plenary round table “From Prisons to Organised Crime”, took place in the Think Corner and it brought together two experts with rather different views to debate the role of prison subcultures in the Russian Federation; Gavin Slade from Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan and Rustam Urinboyev from Lund University, Sweden.

Dominique Moran discusses her research contributions to the field of Carceral Geography
Rustam Urinboyev and Gavin Slade discuss at the conference’s final plenary session.










In addition to the two plenary sessions, we organised four other panels on carceral practices with fifteen participants from Finland, Germany, Sweden, the UK, Georgia, USA, Ukraine, Croatia, and Moldova. These examined Carceral Dilemmas in Central Asia and Russia´s Muslim Peripheries; Mythmaking, Terror and Memory in the gulag; Decentering Histories of Carcerality and Penality in the Global East; and Labour, “Life” and Repression in Carceral Spaces in the Global East.

Other penal theme events were organised during the conference. We were fortunate to be able to display an exhibition of prison art from Russia titled, “Attention, Prison! This an exhibition of posters created by incarcerated youth in Russian juvenile colonies based on their personal experience. This exhibition was produced by The Center for the Promotion of Criminal Justice Reform, Russia. It is the oldest human rights organization that works with the issues of incarceration, criminal justice, and the execution of sentences.
Delegates also participated in a workshop on prison art run by Free Translation, a multi-disciplinary project showcasing international works by persons affected by imprisonment.

The conference also was chosen for the premier of the film project of GULAGECHOES. “Wardens’ Gardens” is based on the research of Costanza Curro and Vakhtang Kekoshvili in Khoni, Georgia, and utilizes interviews conducted for the project with former prison officers who worked in correctional colonies in Khoni. The interviewees discuss the specific features of the late Soviet prison system in one of the national republics. The film was followed by a discussion and lively question and answer session led by Dr. Curro.

Warden’s Gardens premiered at the Aleksanteri Conference. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbyypWdr9lk

Film Premier: Wardens’ Gardens

On 26th of October 2023, the Gulagechoes Project will premier a Dmitry Omelchenko film entitled “Wardens’ Gardens.”

“Wardens’ Garden” is a unique film in which former prison officers reminisce about their work in Khony, Georgia in the last decade of the USSR. The film is inspired by  studies of historical memory, its transmission and, in particular, the legacy of the Gulag, aspects of the spread of prison culture throughout the body of the former Soviet Union.

Khony was the location of five correctional labour colonies based on tea plantation that was just one piece of the vast penal monolith run by the Soviet prison system. The film tells the story of Tsulukidze ITK no.46 through the memory of the people who lived in and worked in the colony in the last decade of the Soviet era.

The film will premier on the 26th of October at the Aleksanteri Conference. After the premier, the film will be available on the Gulag Echoes Youtube channel.

The Impact of the War on Ukrainian Prisons, part II update


Pechersk District Court in Kyiv

Pechersk District Court in Kyiv, Ukraine. 

In Ukraine the arrest of prison officers for extortion is a “small victory for NGOs” reports Mykhailo Romanov in Part II of his blog.

In mid June 2023, an unprecedented event for the post-Soviet penitentiary system has taken place: two former heads of penitentiary institutions have been served with suspicion of committing a number of crimes, including torture of prisoners.

The State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) detained the former head and first deputy head of Berdiansk Correctional Colony No. 77 (CC:77). They are accused of creating a criminal organisation, extortion and torture. The Pechersk District Court of Kyiv imposed a two-month pre-trial restraint on both of them without the right to bail. Human rights activists have been raising the alarm about the situation in the colony since 2008.

“According to operational data, almost everyone who was sent to the colony was a victim of the alleged criminals. Currently, the investigators have collected documentary evidence of abuse of more than 30 victims.  According to the SBI website, “The process of identifying the victims of the criminal organization is ongoing.”[1]

The former head of the facility and his first deputy were notified that they were being investigated under part one of Article 255 (creation and management of a criminal organization) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (as amended by Law No. 671-IX of 04.06.2020), part 2 of Article 127 (torture), part four of Article 189 (extortion) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

For five years, the suspects tortured the prisoners, law enforcement officials say: they suffocated them with a wet mattress, beat them with sticks on their heels and buttocks, twisted their arms, and put dirty needles under their fingers.

“At the same time, they extorted money from the victims’ families in return for not subjecting their relative to such torture,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said[2]. He explained that the money was first handed over by the prisoners’ relatives to junior staff who then paid it into the accounts of the senior officers.  They also would then withdraw the cash in parcels to the colony. Depending on the financial situation of the family, the criminals demanded different amounts – from 1000 to 100 000  hryvnias (25-2500 Euros)[3].

The detention and serving of suspicion on the heads of penitentiary institutions is in fact an unprecedented event, as the penitentiary system in Ukraine is a rather inert environment that does not accept change but rather hinders any positive changes and reform interventions. The system remainspunitive in nature and still shows no signs of focusing on helping prisoners and their rehabilitation. In the vast majority of cases, all initiated changes in the field of execution of criminal sentences do not reach their intended recipients, are levelled and dissolved in the systemic and informal internal relations that have existed in this area for years.

[1] SBI detains former heads of Berdiansk correctional colony who brutally tortured prisoners to extract money from them (VIDEO) – State Bureau of Investigation (dbr.gov.ua) https://dbr.gov.ua/news/dbr-zatrimalo-kolishnih-kerivnikiv-vipravnoi-kolonii-berdyanska-yaki-zhorstokimi-katuvannyami-vibivali-z-uvyaznenih-groshi

[2] Former heads of Zaporizhzhia penal colony detained for torturing prisoners and extorting money from relatives to stop abuse https://www.gp.gov.ua/ua/posts/katuvali-uvyaznenix-i-vimagali-kosti-vid-ridnix-za-pripinennya-znushhan-zatrimano-kolisnix-kerivnikiv-koloniyi-na-zaporizzi

[3] Business on blood: the leadership of the notorious Berdiansk colony No. 77 was detained https://khpg.org/1608812369

Members of GULAGECHOES and Yugoslavian Penal National Teams Present at University of Tartu Annual Conference

Members of the GULAGECHOES and Yugoslavian Penal Nationalism teams: Brendan Humphreys, Mikhail Nakonechnyi, Yury Sorochkin and Judith Pallot, attended the annual University of Tartu conference, War and Peace. What’s next for Eastern Europe and Eurasia? They were joined on line by Mykhailo Romanov from Kharkhiv who focused on the illegality of the filtration process in the occupied territories of Eastern Ukraine.   Their panel was entitled “The Past, Present and Future of Prisons and Carcerality in Times of Peace and War in the Communist Successor States in Europe. “

They also chaired other panels and Professor Pallot took part in the keynote roundtable “Putin’s War. What future for Russia”, talking about how the penal-military complex in Russia constitutes an obstacle to progress towards a more democratic and peaceful society in the future.  Members of the team also had the opportunity to visit one of the three new “Europrisons”, Tartu Vangla,   which have replaced the inherited Soviet correctional colonies.

GulagEchoes Team Attends Team Building and Relaxation Session

The University of Helsinki has conducted a Team Coaching Session for researchers of the GulagEchoes project. It involves brainstorming on career planning, setting goals and achieving them and finding methods to work together as a group. We have four more sessions ahead of us in the Fall.

Lepoglava: Towards an Alternative History of Incarceration in Socialist Yugoslavia?


GULAGECHOES has strong synergies with the Academy of Finland project “Yugoslavian Penal Nationalism”.  In February 2023, Professor Judith Pallot, PI of both projects, accompanied Brendan Humphreys, lead researcher of the Yugoslavian project to Croatia on the invitation of  the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Croatia, or Republika Hrvatska. The Ministry arranged interviews with staff of the Directorate for Prisons and Probation and at the high security prison in Lepoglava. In this blog Brendan Humphreys writes about what he learned during the visit about the history prison reform in Croatia.

Continue reading “Lepoglava: Towards an Alternative History of Incarceration in Socialist Yugoslavia?”

The Impact of the War on Conditions in Ukrainian Prisons


Oleksiivska Correctional Colony No. 25 in Kharkiv: allegations of torture were received by the KHPG in 2020

In the first of two blog posts, Myhkailo Romanov, visiting fellow from Kharkiv, describes the impact of Russian’s war on the penitentiary system of Ukraine.  In this post he focuses on the impact of the war has had on the penitentiary institutions on the country, including those that were stranded, together with their prisoners, by the rapid advance of the Russian army into eastern Ukraine but were subsequently liberated in September 2022. He describes what human rights defenders from the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) found in the liberated prisons.

Continue reading “The Impact of the War on Conditions in Ukrainian Prisons”