Tupolev's sharaska TsKB-29 of NKVD in Omsk (1943)

Sharashkas (singular: Russian: шара́шка, [ʂɐˈraʂkə]; sometimes sharaga, sharazhka) were secret research and development laboratories operating from 1930 to the 1950s within the Soviet Gulag labor camp system, as well as in other facilities under the supervision of the Soviet secret service. Formally various secret R&D facilities were called "special design bureau" Russian: особое конструкторское бюро, ОКБ and similar terms. Etymologically, the word sharashka derives from a Russian slang expression sharashkina kontora, ("Sharashka's office"), an ironic, derogatory term to denote a poorly-organized, impromptu, or bluffing organization, which in its turn comes from the criminal argot term sharaga (шарага) for a band of thieves, hoodlums, etc.[1])

The scientists and engineers at a sharashka were prisoners picked by the Soviet government from various camps and prisons and assigned to work on scientific and technological problems. Living conditions were usually much better than in an average taiga camp, mostly because of the absence of hard labor.

The results of the research in sharashkas were usually published (if published at all) under the names of prominent Soviet scientists without credit given to the real researchers, whose names frequently have been forgotten.[citation needed] Some of the scientists and engineers imprisoned in sharashkas were released during and after World War II (1939–1945) to continue independent careers; some became world-renowned.


On May 15, 1930, the Supreme Soviet of the National Economy and OGPU issued a secret circulaire "Об использовании на производстве специалистов, осужденных за вредительство" ("On the use in production of specialists convicted of wrecking"). It ordered the use of "engineers-wreckers" to "eliminate the consequences of wrecking" and to provide them with the necessary literature, materials and devices for this.[2][3] It also said that "the use of the wreckers must be organized in such a way that their work was carried out on the premises of the organs of OGPU."

In 1930 Leonid Ramzin and other engineers sentenced in the Industrial Party Trial were formed into a special design bureau under the Joint State Political Directorate (OGPU), which was then the Soviet secret police.[citation needed]

In July 1931, the OGPU seized control of the Intercession Convent [ru] in Suzdal and the following year created a special prison laboratory (known as the Bureau of Special Purpose or BON) where around nineteen leading plague and tularaemia specialists were forced to work on the development of biological weapons. Colonel Mikhail Mikhailovich Faibich, a specialist in typhus, was the first director of BON. The laboratory was in operation until 1936, when the scientists were transferred to a Red Army microbiology facility on Gorodomlya Island on Lake Seliger.[4]

In 1938, Lavrenty Beria, a senior NKVD official, created the Department of Special Design Bureaus at the NKVD USSR (Отдел особых конструкторских бюро НКВД СССР). In 1939, the unit was renamed the Special Technical Bureau at the NKVD USSR (Особое техническое бюро НКВД СССР) and placed under the control of General Valentin Kravchenko [ru], under Beria's immediate supervision. In 1941 it received a secret name, the 4th Special Department of the NKVD USSR (4-й спецотдел НКВД СССР).

In 1949, the scope of the sharashkas significantly increased. Previously the work done there was of military and defense character. The MVD Order No. 001020 dated November 9, 1949 decreed installation of "Special technical and design bureaus" for a wide variety of civilian research and development, particularly in the "remote areas of the Union".[5]

The 4th Special Department was disbanded in 1953.[citation needed]

Notable sharashka inmates

Main page: Category:Sharashka inmates


  1. ^ Compare: Словарь русского арго
  2. ^ Lev Lurye [ru], Leonid Malyarov, Лаврентий Берия. Кровавый прагматик, 2015, ISBN 5977507534, p.24
  4. ^ Rimmington, Anthony (2018-11-15). Stalin's Secret Weapon: The Origins of Soviet Biological Warfare. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-092885-8.
  5. ^ "Приказ МВД СССР об организации "шарашек", a Memorial webpage (retrieved January 2, 2014)