Icy welcome for Aleksei Navalny in the Arctic “hell” of Kharp

Prisoners at Penal Colony No 3 in Kharp. (Screenshot of video posted on VK page or Kharp Penal Colony No 3)

“Also I walked around in that yard. It is cold there! Like terror!” a former prisoner of penal colony No 3 in Kharp comments on a social media page.

“I remember those walks in only a t-shirt. Gruesome. I would not want anyone to sit locked up there,” another former inmate writes.

“It is hell,” a woman who recently got her husband released from the colony underlines.

A man, who served in the prison boiler room, says he “looked like a skeleton after six months.”

The prison yard in Colony No 3. (Photo: VK page for Kharp Penal Colony No 3)

The Kharp penal colony No 3 is one of Russia’s northernmost prisons. It is located on the Nenets tundra about 30 km from Labytnangi, the town built by Gulag prisoners during the Stalin era.

Kharp is a prison town. In addition to Colony No 3, it houses Colony No 18 where life-sentence criminals are imprisoned. While Colony No 3 is nicknamed the ‘Polar Wolf,’ the Colony 18 carries the nickname “Polar Owl.”

The ‘Polar Wolf’ has a statue of a wolf in front of the prison entrance.

The Polar Wolf in front of the prison entrance. (Photo: VK page for Kharp Penal Colono No 3)

More than a thousand prisoners are believed to be locked up in Kharp. Aleksei Navalny is now one of them.

After more than three weeks of unknown whereabouts, the jailed politician was this week found in Colony No 3.

Shortly after he arrived to Kharp after a 20 days travel from his former prison in Vladimir region, one of his lawyers showed up by the prison gate to meet the inmate.

In a long tweet, Navalny with humor describes his new place of confinement.

“Well, I now have a sheepskin coat, an ushanka hat (a fur hat with ear-covering flaps), and soon I will get valenki (a traditional Russian winter footwear). I have grown a beard for the 20 days of my transportation,” he writes on X.

Navalny argues that he looks a bit like Santa Clause. But he still has not seen any reindeer, only very beautiful shepherd dogs, he says.

“I can’t entertain you with stories about polar exotics yet because I haven’t seen anything outside of the camera. And outside the camera window, I can only see the fence, which is very close […]

I also went for a walk. The yard is a neighboring cell, a bit bigger, with snow on the ground. And I saw a convoy, not like in central Russia, but like in the movies – with machine guns, warm mittens, and felt boots. And with the same beautiful fluffy shepherd dogs,” he writes.

Since he returned to Russia after his poisoning by the FSB and recovery in Germany, Aleksei Navalny has gotten several prison terms. His total sentence now amounts to about 19 years.

Navalny is seen as the biggest hate-object of Russia’s dictatorial ruler Vladimir Putin, and the trials against him all fabricated and politically motivated.

Aleksei Navalny is not the first prominent prisoner in the far northern ‘Polar Wolf’ prison. In the years 2005-2006, Yukos co-owner Platon Lebedev, the partner of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was behind the bars.

And in 2017, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsev was sent to the prison as part of his 20 years sentence for his involvement in alleged “terrorist acts” in Crimea in May 2014.

Sentsev was release from jail in 2019 as part of a prisoner swap with Ukraine. He is today serving in the Ukrainian Army against Russian aggressors.

Related stories from around the North:

Russia: Russia’s Navalny describes harsh reality at ‘Polar Wolf’ Arctic prison, Reuters

Russia: Russia’s Navalny tracked down to ‘Polar Wolf’ prison in the Arctic, Reuters

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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