The Ukrainian response to Sykes: Prisoner hierarchy and self-rule—power, legitimacy, and dynamics


Although the political and economic bankruptcy of the erstwhile Leninist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe has triggered radical societal transformations, the effect on daily prison life remains largely uncharted. This semi-ethnographic study, one of the first of its genre in the region, documents a prisoner hierarchy in post-Soviet Ukraine. Originating in the slums and prisons of the Russian Empire and solidifying in communist gaols and labour camps, the Ukrainian prison underworld continues to evolve. In this article, I argue that the post-independence shifts in penal policies and prison practices, combined with changes in prisoner demographics, have been altering the Ukrainian prisoner power structure. I contend that while functional and deeply institutionalized, the prisoner hierarchy is facing serious challenges, not least a legitimacy deficit, and I discuss the potential repercussions for internal power dynamics and prison order.

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