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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tracking Khodorkovsky

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Hey, do you happen to know, are they bringing Mikhail Khodorkovsky your way? Pity the prison official who hears this question and the many prison officials who have heard this question over the last couple of days.

Is he in the Moscow region? By law, this is where he should be serving his sentence -- this is where he lives -- but the prison officials here seem to be the only ones certain that they have been spared the misfortune of watching after the country's most famous prisoners.

Is he in Nizhny Tagil in the Urals? This was the first lead, appearing on the Internet on Monday night, more than 24 hours after he was taken from the pretrial detention center. This was a witty suggestion: The Nizhny Tagil colony is generally reserved for members of the police and prosecutors' offices who have been convicted of crimes involving corruption or brutality. They would have made lovely company for the former oligarch to be sure. But the colony is also known for better-than-average living conditions. No such luck.

Is he in Perm? Syktyvkar? The Yamal Peninsula? These three locations were floated throughout the day Tuesday: It seemed Khodorkovsky was making his way north as the day progressed. By around 6 p.m. he had crossed the Arctic Circle -- not literally, mind you, for these prison trains tend to move slowly -- but in the media coverage. Then, there was nowhere to go but east.

Wednesday morning brought two more news items. Siberian prison officials said he might be coming their way. But they are not expecting him on Kamchatka.

This will probably go on for a while. Upon arrival at his destination, Khodorkovsky will be placed in a transit prison, where he will be quarantined for 10 days. Then he will be assigned to a colony, which will notify his family of his whereabouts. If the colony does this by snail mail (as opposed to telegram), it is likely to be three weeks or so before Khodorkovsky has an address.

Meanwhile, we will have an opportunity to become better acquainted with this country's geography, particularly its Far North, as well as probably the Far East. Tuesday night, I found myself leaning over a globe with my partner and a friend. We were tracing a potential route from the Yamal Peninsula to Chukotka. Ours, you will agree, was an inspired choice of location: That way Khodorkovsky would be placed in the care of his one-time partner and more fortunate rival, Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich.

I can see a board game in the offing: Travel the gulag with Mikhail Khodorkovsky. It would look a bit like the Board Game Monopoly, and it would offer invaluable lessons in geography, history and the facts of Russian life. The Trans-Siberian Railroad. The South Urals Railroad. The Perm Railroad. Go to Jail. Go to Jail. Go to Jail.

The market for such a game could be considerable. Take all the people following the news about Khodorkovsky because they are politically aware, information dependent or just curious. Add all the people who feel like they too could end up in Khodorkovsky's shoes -- which is to say, all the entrepreneurs of this country. Now add the families of the million or so people who are in Russian prisons and detention centers at any one time. It's plain to see: The board game would be a profitable venture, if a politically risky one.

The publisher would just have to learn to live with two things: the fear of being taken down the same path as Khodorkovsky and the thought that today, like any day, there are thousands of people in this country who don't know where their loved ones are because in 2005 the state still thinks it has the right to move people around like anonymous cattle. And there is one thing that becomes perfectly clear from prison officials' inept responses to queries about Khodorkovsky's whereabouts: usually, no one even asks.

Masha Gessen is contributing editor at Bolshoi Gorod.