Whilst Ukraine is the furthest I’ve travelled in the former Soviet Union, it’s a part of the world that fascinates me. Hidden behind the Iron Curtain for decades, there is still a lot to be discovered. I’ve always had a fascination with tattoos, and my recent article on whore body art led me onto another topic: Soviet Russian prison tattoos.
From the bratva to the Russian star, prison tattoos in Russia are diverse and hold a variety of, often dark, meanings. But one particular niche grabbed my attention quickly. It’s the Russian criminal tattoos that centre around prostitutes, whores, cheating wives, and sluts.
“Girls and women who don’t have orgasms are godforsaken!”– The text of a Russian prison tattoo of a young prostitute in Saint Petersburg.
These crude and often misogynistic tattoos can be everything from offensive to jaw-droppingly beautiful in terms of art. Whilst I naturally don’t endorse what some of them say, I feel these unique forms of prison art must be preserved. So in this article, we’re going to explore:
- The dark stories and often morbid meaning behind Russian prison tattoos.
- The Soviet Russian tattoos of prostitutes working at a brothel in Saint Petersburg.
- Erotic Russian gang tattoos that symbolize all forms of vice.
Now, without further ado, let’s explore the dark world of the Vory v Zakone (Thieves in law) and their hidden codes symbolized through Russian prison tattoos. Davai!
9A brief history on the meaning of Russian prison tattoos
Throughout the Soviet Union, thousands of citizens were banished to the desolate corners of the USSR for crimes ranging from menial to severe. Condemned to years of hard labour in inhospitable environments, many defied the odds to survive.
Before Communism, it was common in Tsarist Russia for prisoners to be branded by the state according to their crime. A cross on the finger signified an army deserted whereas ‘Vor’ on the cheek signified a thief.
In the 1930s, Stalin’s Red Terror saw the population of Gulags skyrocket. With an influx of prisoners condemned for petty crimes, the practice of Russian prison tattoos was born to differentiate members of the Russian criminal underworld known as the ‘Thieves in Law’ who followed the ‘Thieves code’ from standard political prisoners.
“I’ve known a lot of whores in my life, both men and women. And in general, I’ve always found them to be good company, with a highly evolved sense of honour. A whore will never cheat you, they have too much integrity for that.”― John Boyne, A Ladder to the Sky.
From stars on the knees and military-style epaulettes to violent messages and celebration or condemnation of whores, the tattoos were extremely varied. Luckily, many of the most iconic were documented by one man rather than be lost to history.
Danzig Baldaev was a Soviet prison guard with a career spanning almost four decades. Over the years, he meticulously documented thousands of Russian prison tattoos by drawing the designs he saw on convicts and keeping detailed notes about the meaning of the art and the story of the person wearing it.
By doing so, this amateur ethnographer captured an insight into a dark and hidden world. of the almost tribal body art worn by Russian criminals. From crude art signifying a passive homosexual to tattoos worn by prostitutes of the era, many had an inherently sexual aura to them.
It’s those types of Russian prison tattoos we’re going to look at in this article.
8A gallery of Russian prison tattoos focusing on the whore
The first of Baldaev’s documented tattoos offers us a plethora of whore tattoos from the Soviet Russian prison system. My personal favourite is the bottom left, which was commonly known as the ‘the cheap whore tattoo’.
This example of a Russian criminal tattoo was widely exhibited by members of the Vory v Zakone. It shows a stereotypical Russian prostitute in fishnet stockings smoking a cigarette with her breasts exposed. She is sitting upon a Soviet Kopek coin to symbolize sex for sale.
7The Soviet Russian tattoos of prostitutes
Of course, it wasn’t just men who branded their bodies with images of whores and vice. Many female prisoners, who were often prostitutes, did so too. This leads us to the next incredible but morbid example of Russian prison tattoos.
The erotic prison tattoo shows a naked Russian prostitute relaxing on a man’s hand surrounded by bouquets of lavish flowers. This was inked into the lower abdomen of a young prostitute working in a brothel in Saint Petersburg.
The text below the young prostitute in the tattoo reads: “Girls, find yourself a generous hand. You’ll be fed, dressed, and entertained, and you’ll pay with your body.”
6Russian symbols for sex
Next up is an incredible work of erotic body art. Filled with various Russian symbols for this, this erotic prison tattoo was found on the left shoulder of a young female prisoner who was jailed for alleged hooliganism in the mid-1970s.
The erotic tattoo features various messages around an intensely erotic image of a naked Russian woman with a hairy pussy and large bare breasts. The tattoo was done by a fellow prisoner who was formerly an art student at a Moscow University.
Above her head, the Cyrillic text reads: “Gentlemen fuckers, sex is life!”. The text at the bottom reads: “Girls and women who don’t have orgasms are godforsaken!”.
Between her divine thighs is an erotic monogram spelling ‘LSS’. This is an abbreviation for “Lyublyu SuperSeks” or “I love super sex”.
5Female gangster tattoos common in the USSR
The following tattoo was enormously common amongst convict women throughout the 1970s and 1980s in the USSR. It depicts a female outlaw with two large breasts and equally large revolver pistols.
Often worn by younger women, it was used to demonstrate the anti-social behaviour of a woman. The fishnet stockings were worn by this female outlaw also make it appropriate for those women convicted of prostitution.
4An aggressive Russian criminal tattoo
This tattoo depicts a Russian prostitute with perfect tits holding the skull of a male victim. It was found on the stomach of a male prisoner at a correctional facility deep in the Irkutsk region of Siberia back in 1981.
The text below the woman bluntly states: “Men, don’t trust whores, they can drown you in their cunt!”. Unlike many of the criminal tattoos on this list, it has a rather detailed backstory.
The man who bore this Russian criminal tattoo was a convicted burglar. Before his arrest, he was keeping his stash at the home of his female lover. Fearing reprisals if caught, she and her family gave him up to the authorities. Clearly leaving him with a scathing animosity.
3Blunt Russian quotes about sex
This collection of, mostly, intensely erotic tattoos feature some rather blunt Russian quotes about sex. The most eye-catching is the proactive image of a Russian prostitute masturbating with a bottle of alcohol. No words are needed on that one…
The second most gripping design is that of a naked busty Russian woman lying on a Persian carpet. It looks as though she is awaiting something, and the text below her confirms it: “Dying for a hot fuck”. This was done in the 1970s at a prison camp in the Leningrad region.
Another beautiful tattoo with a grim backstory is the naked woman lying on a chained hand. This fishnet-clad woman with an exposed pussy and breasts was done in a Leningrad prison camp. The shackle is engraved with the penal code of the camp: “US-20/9”.
2Russian mafia tattoos for sex addicts
The following Russian mafia tattoos are all depicting women of the USSR. My favourite of the four is the body art on the top right. Featuring a grinning whore with a sordid grin, it will speak to the heart of every sex addict out there.
Either side of the crown worn by the queen of sluts depicted is the letters ‘SSMM’. This is an acronym that stands for acronym meaning “Super Seks Moya Mechta” which translates to super sex is my dream.
On the lower band of this erotic Russian Mafia tattoo are the words: “Eros, give joy to an insatiable one!”. Something that runs through my head after sometimes finding myself still unsatisfied after a gangbang…
1Erotic Russian gang tattoos
To round off, we have the holy grail of erotic Russian prison tattoos. Every one of these examples of body art focuses on sex, eroticism, vice, or prostitution. The meaning behind each varies wildly and is often intensely dark.
For example, the left of the centre row shows a woman with her legs spread to reveal a hairy pussy. Around her are the devil and a serpent. The prisoner who had this erotic body art done clearly felt that pussy had been the cause of his demise.
Interestingly, many of these tattoos were also issued as punishment. The one on the bottom right was a type often displayed by passive gay men in prison. The top left was punishment for the loser of a card game and reads: “Glory to the KPCC” (Communist Party of the Soviet Union).
My personal favourite is the bottom centre. This erotic body art features a busty Russian woman fucking her pussy with a cucumber. The text around here reads: “The food provision programme of the Communist Party is being fulfilled!”.
Wrapping up on Russian prison tattoos
To round off, the Russian prison tattoos in this article are an example of bygone erotic art. Rather than being lost to the sands of time, they were instead painstakingly documented by Danzig Baldaev for future generations to study.
Whether it’s the incredibly erotic tattoos sported by Russian prostitutes or the hate-filled tattoos branded on Russian men with a scathing animosity towards women, they are a vital part of history that should be preserved. No matter how confrontational it can sometimes be.
If your lust for sex in the Soviet Union is still thriving, then I have another article you’re bound to enjoy. Feel free to check out my salute to the Russian whore via 15 unseen retro Soviet porn photographs unveiling a range of lesser-seen USSR porn in all its glory.
Disclaimer – By my use of the word ‘whore’ and ‘slut’, I mean nothing derogatory. I view whores as women who have shaken off the chains of sexual repression and embrace their sexuality to its full extend. As a confessed whore myself, I mean it purely as a compliment. As Taylor Jenkins Reid said: “The word whore is something ignorant people throw around when they have nothing else.”