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A maximum security museum Russia's only Gulag memorial shuts its doors. A photo series

Meduza

The museum Perm-36 is the only building complex from the Stalinist Gulag still standing in Russia today. In the Soviet era, many dissidents found themselves between its walls: Vladimir Bukovsky, Sergey Kovalev, and hundreds of other political prisoners. For almost 18 years after the collapse of Communism, the building was independently operated as a museum by a nongovernmental organization. In 2014, however, officials decided to reclaim it for the state, seizing control from Perm-36. On March 2, 2015, after months of failed negotiations with the local government to keep the prison open as a public museum, Perm-36 announced its own dissolution. Meduza presents a photo series by Maxim Sher on this most unique museum. 

The road from the Pem-Chusovoy highway toward the town of Kuchino, where Perm-36 is located.
The road from the Pem-Chusovoy highway toward the town of Kuchino, where Perm-36 is located.
Photo: Maxim Sher
A guardhouse with administrative offices and rooms for meetings. Upstairs: living quarters. To the right: the entrance gate and barbed-wire fence.
A guardhouse with administrative offices and rooms for meetings. Upstairs: living quarters. To the right: the entrance gate and barbed-wire fence.
Photo: Maxim Sher
Multiple-rowed fencing.
Multiple-rowed fencing.
Photo: Maxim Sher
A 'shmonalovkva': a building located between the barracks and work area, where inmates were searched for illegal possessions. (Remodeled.)
A 'shmonalovkva': a building located between the barracks and work area, where inmates were searched for illegal possessions. (Remodeled.)
Photo: Maxim Sher
A prisoner barracks from the 1940s and 1950s, built for 250 inmates.
A prisoner barracks from the 1940s and 1950s, built for 250 inmates.
Photo: Maxim Sher
The interior of the prisoner barracks. (Remodeled.)
The interior of the prisoner barracks. (Remodeled.)
Photo: Maxim Sher
The window of an isolation cell (a “ShIZO”).
The window of an isolation cell (a “ShIZO”).
Photo: Maxim Sher
A power saw.
A power saw.
Photo: Maxim Sher
A 'red corner' of the prisoner barracks. Here, inmates composed letters home.
A 'red corner' of the prisoner barracks. Here, inmates composed letters home.
Photo: Maxim Sher
A room for short visits.
A room for short visits.
Photo: Maxim Sher
A room for longer visits.
A room for longer visits.
Photo: Maxim Sher
A peephole leading into an isolation cell.
A peephole leading into an isolation cell.
Photo: Maxim Sher
A row of trees that violated regulations requiring the entire prison grounds to be visible. The trees were planted during the 1953-1972 period, when many former high-ranking officers from the NKVD-KGB and MVD were imprisoned.
A row of trees that violated regulations requiring the entire prison grounds to be visible. The trees were planted during the 1953-1972 period, when many former high-ranking officers from the NKVD-KGB and MVD were imprisoned.
Photo: Maxim Sher
A guardhouse in the prison’s maximum security zone, located 500 meters (about 550 yards) from the main prison grounds. The only one of its kind in the late Soviet period, this maximum security zone was established in 1980 and was meant for repeat offenders of political crimes.
A guardhouse in the prison’s maximum security zone, located 500 meters (about 550 yards) from the main prison grounds. The only one of its kind in the late Soviet period, this maximum security zone was established in 1980 and was meant for repeat offenders of political crimes.
Photo: Maxim Sher
The entrance to the guardhouse in the maximum security zone.
The entrance to the guardhouse in the maximum security zone.
Photo: Maxim Sher
The prisoner barracks in the maximum security zone. The fence on the left further obscured the view from the barred windows.
The prisoner barracks in the maximum security zone. The fence on the left further obscured the view from the barred windows.
Photo: Maxim Sher
The “exercise yard”—three cubicles, each two meters by two meters (about 3.5 square feet), covered with a barbed wire ceiling and flanked by an upstairs balcony for guards.
The “exercise yard”—three cubicles, each two meters by two meters (about 3.5 square feet), covered with a barbed wire ceiling and flanked by an upstairs balcony for guards.
Photo: Maxim Sher
A view from inside the “exercise yard,” with the guard balcony visible.
A view from inside the “exercise yard,” with the guard balcony visible.
Photo: Maxim Sher
A watchtower in the maximum security zone.
A watchtower in the maximum security zone.
Photo: Maxim Sher