American Prisoners at Russia’s ‘Fashion Colony’ Are Making Clothes

  • Russia’s IK-17 penal colony is known as a “Fashion Colony” in part for its brightly-painted exterior.
  • American prisoners held there say they face toxic work conditions and a lack of medical attention.
  • It is the likely destination for detained reporter Evan Gershkovich, the WSJ reports.

American prisoners in Russia’s IK-17 penal colony spend their days assembling clothes in toxic conditions and are regularly exposed to fungus and airborne fabric particles, a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed.

The prison is the likely destination for detained reporter Evan Gershkovich if he is convicted of espionage charges, the outlet reports.

IK-17 — known as “Fashion Colony” for its brightly-painted exterior meant to fool onlookers — is about 300 miles east of Moscow, in the Mordovia region of Russia, according to the Wall Street Journal.

If Gershkovich were to be detained at the fashion colony, he would join three known American prisoners already there: Jimmy Wilgus, Thomas Stwalley, and, most recently, Paul Whelan, an ex-marine detained in 2018, now serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges that he denies.

The United States has classified both Gershkovich and Whelan as wrongfully detained, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

Prisoners at IK-17 must assemble clothes for the Russian company Technoavia, using materials that can leave fungus on their hands. The investigation found that they also work without air filtration, forcing them to breathe in fabric particles.

A Technoavia spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that labor conditions are closely monitored by the state and that production processes are suspended if standards are not met. 

Inmates also have no access to doctors or dental care, leaving inmates without access to necessary medicine, Wilgus told the outlet. Similarly, Whelan’s brother, David, told the Wall Street Journal that dental problems are solved by extractions only. 

Prisoners and human rights activists also spoke to the outlet about the solitary confinement conditions. Wilgus told the Wall Street Journal he once spent 100 days in confinement, reporting that guards secure beds to the wall for extended periods and force prisoners to sit on the floor or on a bench for 16 hours every day. 

As Gershkovich awaits trial, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously on June 13 to issue a resolution demanding the journalist’s immediate release. Almost 40 U.S. Senators also wrote a letter condemning his detainment. 


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