Woman Makes Rare Prison Break

In a repeat of one of the few successful prison escape schemes in Russia's recent past, a young woman escaped from Moscow's Butyrka prison by disguising herself as a friend who was due to be released, prison officials said Friday.


According to a report in Moskovsky Komsomolets that came out Friday, a young woman referred to by the pseudonym Natalia Sorokina escaped July 4. "Sorokina," 25, whose real name is being withheld by investigators, has been on the lam ever since, police spokeswoman Lydia Lankina said.


"Sorokina," who had served two years of a five-year sentence for assault, pulled off her escape by masquerading as Veronika Vorona, 19, a cellmate incarcerated for petty fraud, Moskovsky Komosmolets reported. In the months leading up the escape, the two women became friends and began to dress and wear their hair alike, with "Sorokina" even adopting a cosmetic mole on her cheek to match Vorona's natural one.


On July 4, Vorona's six-month term ended. After lunch, a warder called out Vorona's name. With Vorona's consent, "Sorokina" answered and followed the guard through two checkpoints, where she was asked questions about her case, her birthdate, etc. Having answered satisfactorily, she was released.


Later in the day, the real Vorona yelled at a passing guard through her cell door, demanding to be released. According to the MK report, she made no attempt to hide the fact that she had helped "Sorokina" escape, believing that she would be released anyway. Investigators thought otherwise and charged her with conspiracy to escape, a charge with a five-to-eight year sentence.


The Butyrka escape was only the fifth in its 225-year history, according to Maria Gordeyeva of the Butyrka Managerial Department. She said that the July 4 break was "forbidden" as a topic of conversation, but she did confirm that it had taken place.


"It happened, and there have been repercussions," she said, without elaborating.


Russian prisons, particularly those in large cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, are very secure but also notoriously overcrowded. According to prisoner advocate Valery Abramkin, the bait-and-switch method of escape is effective because prison conditions are so bad that prisoners' looks are hard to gauge after an extended sentence.


"Six months in a place like Butyrka will completely change your appearance," he said. "Even your own mother would have trouble recognizing you, much less an investigator looking at your file."