Wednesday, May 4, 2016



The Salvation Army, active in Russia since 1992, is launching an attack on one of the country's most conservative institutions: the prison system.

Using a novel approach that combines preaching and listening, music and drama, the Salvation Army is currently storming two Moscow prisons and has received invitations to advance on others.

Moscow SA corps’ Sergeant Major Mikhail Gavrilov, a bearded, bespectacled man in his 40s, is helping lead the assault. He presents his message three times each week to members of Moscow's infamous, crowded Butyrka prison and Prison No. 5 for juveniles. Of his present mission, Gavrilov said, "I feel in my soul that this is the final point of my career -- and the highest."

For more than a century, the Salvation Army has inspired such missionary zeal. Founded by William Booth in 1865, the Christian Mission started as an evangelical group preaching to the poor of East London; soon afterward, it adopted the name Salvation Army, reflecting both its crusade to combat godlessness, despair and poverty as well as its quasi-military structure, which ranks ordained ministers as "officers" and lay members as "soldiers."

Active in Russia before the October Revolution, the Salvation Army was banned by the Soviet regime in 1922. The Army currently operates in more than 100 countries, where it provides disaster relief, operates family and homeless shelters, and offers career counseling and drug rehabilitation….
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The Army’s committed work among Moscow’s prisoners was reestablished in 1992.  

In March 1992, a Russian female lawyer visited Captain Sven Ljungholm the Army’s recently appointed Commander in Moscow on its return to Russia, and sought financial support from TSA for her work among the prisoners who sit innocently imprisoned without judgment and a trial. Over the course of several years this lawyer involved herself in several cases of prisoners and even assisted in some being released, but now the money had run out.

Ljungholm expressed interest in her project and promised to give thought to how the Army might assist but asked if he could first accompany her into the prison to personally inspect and learn about the condition of the infamous prison complex.

A visit to Butyrskaya Prison in Moscow was arranged and the first visit to the seriously overcrowded Butierka Prison was made in April 1992, and the Army’s formal prison ministry quickly followed.

In the center of Moscow, along one of the broad streets leading to Red Square is the historic "Butyrskaya" Maximum Security Prison. Butyrka Prison is essentially a pretrial detention center, houses 6,000 inmates, some of whom spend years in the institution awaiting a formal hearing and trial. Cells were built to house 30 prisoners but cells often hold more than 100 inmates.

The residential apartment buildings surrounding the Butyrskaya Prison are literally just a backdrop or more correctly said a camouflage. And its mid-town location secret has been kept for more than six decades. The prisoners imprisoned here have only been able to guess that the prison is located in Moscow, but not that it’s but a stone’s throw from the Kremlin and the shops on fashionable Leningradskaya Boulivar extending north from Red Square.

Trams, buses and cars move slowly on the heavily traveled street, as pedestrians pass unaware that they are but 20 meters from the building housing inmates from across the former Soviet Union.


Butyrskaya Prison was built in 1792, but "built into" a so-called compound sometime between 1920 and 1930. The uniqueness of this prison is that Muscovites know of its existence and that it’s located somewhere in Moscow - but not where!

In all these decades they have heard about Butyrskaya and parents have warned their children with, "if you do not behave, you'll be taken to Butyrskaya!"

Built directly east of the Kremlin, Moscow’s historic fortress and the center of the Russian government, Red Square is home to some of the country’s most distinctive and important landmarks. Its origins date to the late 15th century, when the Muscovite prince Ivan III (Ivan the Great) expanded the Kremlin to reflect Moscow’s growing power and influence.  Butierskaya Prison was added to the public marketplace vicinity two centuries later.

Today Red Square houses the ornate 16th-century St. Basil’s Cathedral, the State Historical Museum and the enormous GUM Department Store, as well as a modernist mausoleum for the revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin. During the 20th century, the square became famous as the site of large-scale military parades and other demonstrations designed to showcase Soviet strength.

Many Russian cities built kremlins, or fortresses, to protect themselves from invaders. The original Kremlin in Moscow was a wood structure built in the 12th century north of the Moskva River. Prince Ivan III ordered the area now known as Red Square cleared of its slum or shantytown. Ivan the Great, as he was known, built the Kremlin into its most splendid form yet, bringing in Italian architects to build new fortified stone-walls and structures, including the crimson color of its numerous buildings.

Contrary to popular misconception, Red Square’s name is completely unrelated to the color of the Kremlin walls or buildings, as well as to the Communist Party’s association with the color red. From the 17th century onward, Russians began calling the square by its current name, “Krasnaya Ploschad.” The name is derived from the word krasnyi, which meant ‘beautiful’ in Old Russian and only later came to mean red.

On Red Square’s southeast end, built in 1554, is the structure known as the Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed (or simply St. Basil’s .With its plethora of domes, towers, cupolas, spires and arches, St. Basil’s remains one of the most recognizable, photographed and iconic buildings in Russia.

Captain Kathie Ljungholm -
Imagine our joy when we were the first to be permitted into the 200 year old jail in Moscow.  Butierkskaya Prison.  It had a modern facade on one of the most well traveled streets in Moscow, built to intentionally obscure the notorious institution; entry was by police order or government sealed invitations only! 

Sven Ljungholm shares; “On our 2nd visit we went in with a Russian Bible for each cell (each prisoner received a personal Russian Bible just 8 months later) and the USA Salvation Army publication the War Cry - in English. It was all we had available to us in the early months of our return. The inmates didn’t care! There were pictures and drawings, in colour, including a photo of my wife, Captain Kathie Ljungholm. They’d been denied all reading material. On our next visit we were surprised to see that Kathie’s photo was posted in many of the cells. She was their “pin-up” girl, in full uniform and bonnet! We were both thrilled!

As we left we saw some workers passing in the dark corridor – (no functioning overhead lights) with what we assumed was the dirty water from cleaning the floors. Russians cleaned all government building floors using cold water and the same rags until they disintegrate. Soap or cleaning agents simply weren’t made available. So, it was dirt being swept around in a never-ending cycle.

Not dirty water at all! 
Kathie learned it was soup, to be served, one bowl with one dark piece of Russian bread each - lunch.  
 We returned regularly bringing much needed supplies. 

These cells measured 20 x 30 feet with one light bulb, or none at all, dangling from a cord, with naked cords on each side of the one that was lit. A tiny window about 18” x 18” was near the cell’s ceiling- caked with filth and grime, admitting virtually no light.

They crowded the prisoners into the cells cramming in twice the allocated double-birthed bunk beds. Sixty and more inmates shared the 30 beds making it necessary that they take turns sleeping. Strung criss-cross style across the cells were clothes lines on which were hung the prisoners’ wet clothes, having been washed, without soap, in cold water in the small sink next to the toilet. The lone toilet had no seat, no toilet paper nor any type screen offering privacy.

End Part One

Sven Ljungholm

From the book; Return to Russia with Flags Unfurled, Kathie and Sven. Will be available summer 2016

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