Alexei Navalny: Inside Putin’s sadistic ‘Polar Wolf’ gulag where political opponent perished

Deep inside the Arctic Circle sits the sadistic “Polar Wolf” gulag, where Alexei Navalny ended his days in an icy “purgatory”.

As temperatures nudge -30C, and with the winter sun never rising, inmates are ordered outside for morning roll call wearing just flimsy clothes.

A former prisoner said on social media: “I remember those walks in only a T-shirt. Gruesome.

“I would not want anyone to sit locked up there.”

When warmer spring weather comes, plagues of biting mosquitoes and lice swarm over the convicts.

If any of the men flinch, the whole group is hosed down with water.

The barbaric prison regime was Russian opposition leader Navalny’s final punishment for defying Vladimir Putin.

It was announced on February 16 that the 47-year-old had died in the hellhole, where beatings and electric shocks are routinely meted out and those deemed to have broken the rules are thrown into solitary confinement.

There can be few more brutal or desolate prison colonies on Earth.

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was imprisoned at a nearby colony, said: “The second you cross the threshold they make it clear that you have arrived in purgatory.

“You have no rights, and complaining to anyone is pointless.”

And an unnamed lawyer insisted: “Conditions there are extremely harsh because the special regime is essentially legalised torture.”

Little wonder, then, that following Navalny’s death the UK has sanctioned six officials who run the jail, including its head, Colonel Vadim Konstantinovich Kalinin.

They are banned from British shores and will have their assets frozen.

‘Savage ritual’

It is claimed that Navalny — who had been jailed on charges including fraud and extremism, which he denied — was likely killed with a punch to the heart, a technique once taught to KGB special forces operatives.

Yet the pitiless regime at the colony had already destroyed his health.

A prison train holding the anti-corruption activist pulled into the town of Kharp last December.

Built by prisoners during the blood-soaked rule of Soviet despot Joseph Stalin, Kharp — population 6,400 — is the home of FKU IK-3 penal colony, nicknamed Polar Wolf.

Few creatures could thrive in this bleak landscape, where dark pine forest meets the frozen Arctic tundra.

Navalny’s chief strategist Leonid Volkov posted on X/Twitter: “It is almost impossible to get to this colony, it is almost impossible to send letters there.

“This is the highest possible level of isolation from the world.”

Having already survived poisoning with a nerve agent in 2020, Navalny’s transfer from a penal colony near Moscow had taken 20 wearisome days.

The prisoner of conscience would have likely passed the large statue of a giant grey wolf as he entered the prison camp.

Former jailbird Mikho Khulilidze, who served time in Polar Wolf on kidnapping charges, told of a savage welcoming ritual for new convicts.

The former inmate revealed: “When prisoners enter the colony they are taken to the bathhouse.

“When a person undresses and goes to wash, the water is turned off and people in masks come in and start beating him.

“They beat me with batons and fists on my buttocks, my head, my face, my ribs.”

Navalny’s new “home” was a tiny cell — the view from his window a towering wire fence he could just make out in the 24/7 darkness of an Arctic Circle winter.

Like the other prisoners, he would be allowed just 30 minutes of exercise outside every day and two visits a year.

Yet on Boxing Day — shortly after his arrival — Navalny sent out a cheery social media message through his lawyer, saying: “I’m your new Santa Claus. I now live in the Arctic Circle.

“I don’t say, ‘Ho-ho-ho’, but I do say, ‘Oh-oh-oh’ when I look out of the window, where I can see a night, then the evening, and then the night again.”

New arrivals in Polar Wolf are often quarantined — officially for hygiene reasons — which serves as an early warning of the cruel conditions.

Former inmates say the jail is designed to make prisoners feel “completely hopeless” and crush “any rebellious spirit”.

“If a person misbehaves in the minds of the prison authorities, and they want to punish him, they can just lock him up in this [outdoor] cage . . . lock him up and leave him overnight.

“And it’s understandable that a person would just freeze and die.

“Then they would take him into the infirmary and make it look like he died in his sleep of heart failure.”

Meanwhile, another prisoner who worked in the jail’s boiler room said on social media that he “looked like a skeleton after six months”.

On New Year’s Day, Navalny gave a further glimpse of his life behind bars — saying through his lawyers, in his jovial manner: “It goes like any other day: Wake-up is at 5am, bedtime at 9pm. So for the first time since I was six years old I just slept the entire New Year’s Eve.

“Overall, I’m pleased. People pay money to celebrate the New Year in an unusual way, but I did it for free.”

In early January he posted a picture on the Telegram app of his tiny, concrete-walled exercise yard, which was just 11 steps long and three steps wide.

With temperatures plummeting, he wrote jauntily: “It has not been colder than -32°C yet. Nothing quite invigorates you like a walk in Yamal at 6:30 in the morning.”

Joking about a scene in 2015 film The Revenant, in which Leonardo DiCaprio shelters in the carcass of a horse, he added: “I don’t think that would have worked here.

‘Demons and devils’

“A dead horse would freeze in 15 minutes. We need an elephant, a hot fried one.”

Solitary confinement is used to punish those who have committed trumped-up offences of the most trivial order.

In late January a Navalny aide said the campaigner had endured ten days of isolation for “incorrectly introducing himself” to a guard.

It was his 25th stretch in solitary since he was jailed in February 2021 — 283 days in total.

A year earlier Navalny told how he was forced to share a cell with a prisoner suffering severe mental health problems.

He said there are “many videos online about people who believe that they are possessed by demons and devils” and that his new cellmate was “very similar”.

The disturbed man was said to let out “a growling, guttural scream . . . He yells for 14 hours during the day and three hours at night”.

At a previous prison, Navalny had shared a cell with a “homeless tramp” who had “serious problems” with hygiene.

He said: “If you live in a cell, and some person lives at arm’s length from you 24/7, and you are both one or two metres from the toilet 24/7, and the toilet is a hole in the floor, maintaining hygiene is of fundamental importance.

“A prisoner who is problematic in this sense will instantly make your life unbearable.”

Navalny was convinced the two cellmates were put there deliberately. Professor Robert Horvath, a specialist on Russian politics, said. “This system often uses other prisoners as a weapon.”

Navalny was just 47 but his state-sponsored torture had aged him beyond his years.

Gaunt and haggard, he was physically broken, but his spirit remained undimmed. Then came the news his supporters worldwide had been dreading.

Authorities at the Siberian penal colony claimed he had collapsed following a walk and suffered “sudden death syndrome”.

Activist Vladimir Osechkin believes assassins delivered the “one-punch” technique to snuff out Navalny as the Russian presidential elections approach.

The exiled dissident said: “I think they first destroyed his body by keeping him out in the cold for a long time and slowing the blood circulation down to a minimum.

“Then it becomes very easy to kill someone, within seconds. It is an old method of the KGB’s special forces.

“They trained their operatives to kill a man with one punch in the heart. It was a hallmark of the KGB.”

Navalny’s body was finally returned to his mother Lyudmila eight days after his death.

His wife Yulia had accused Putin of forcing Lyudmila to agree to a secret funeral in an undisclosed location, or have her son’s body forever entombed in the jail. But she refused.

Now Yulia has vowed to continue her husband’s “fight for a free Russia.”

Polar Wolf may have taken her heroic husband’s body but he never let Putin have his soul.

This article originally appeared in The Sun and was reproduced with permission

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