Updated at 15:27,23-09-2020

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures

The Guardian

Photographer Irina Popova’s new book documents her trip inside a controversial Soviet-era workhouse for substance abusers – where most inmates get drunk to celebrate their release

A strange hybrid of rehab and prison, Belarus’s Labour Treatment Profilactorium for the Alcohol and Drug-Addicted is a Soviet-era programme still used as part of the country’s penal system.

Men and women with substance abuse issues can be incarcerated here for extended lengths of time, despite committing no crime.

Here, the inmates are photographed during their obligatory labour sessions, removing copper wire from its protective plastic.


Irina Popova is the first photographer to be granted access to one of the sites, and documented her trip for a new photobook, Welcome to the LTP.

The first Labour Treatment Profilactoria appeared in the USSR in 1967, in what is now Kazakhstan.

An inmate cooks food for cattle as part of his ‘treatment’

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures


Citizens are sent to the so-called LTP by order of the regional courts for a period of six months to two years. Their decision is final, with no right to appeal.

Human rights activists in the Soviet Union called the LTP part of the Soviet “punitive psychotherapy” system.

A line for bread during lunch. The consumption of food is strictly regulated per person

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures


After the collapse of the USSR, the LTP system was abolished in most former Soviet republics. In 1993, Boris Yeltsin eliminated all the labour treatments centres in Russia.

For inmates, life in the LTP is surrounded by signs, instructions, regulations and rules. An man washes his hands before dinner, under the sign ‘Save the water, close the tap’

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures


At present, LTPs remain in operation only in Belarus, Turkmenistan and the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic.

Men take a break from manual labour

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures


In Belarus there are eight functioning LTPs, each housing about 1,600 people, with only one of them specifically for women. The main treatment is manual labour – and camomile tea.

Identity cards for each inmate are kept in special boxes. These contain all the essential information: term served, labour prescribed, and where the inmate goes for obligatory work hours

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures


Guards at the entrance of the unit that receives new inmates. Mosaics and paintings cover the walls of the institution’s buildings.

All the murals are ordered by special commission as part of a propaganda program. They are meant to help raise the spirits of the men inside, but Popova says they create an absurdist and authoritarian environment

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures


Eduard Goroschenya (nicknamed ‘Bedya’) reads an old newspaper clipping, his only source of information about the outside world.

Goroschenya is said to be a former local mafia boss in Bobruisk, and is now serving his sixth two-year term in the LTP. He has returned each time within a matter of days

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures


The residential area is comprised of a dormitory with beds, an educational work room, locker room, laundry room, medical unit, clubhouse and a barber shop.

The door of the isolation cell (a place for severe punishment)

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures


The director of Labour Treatment Profilactorium No.1 in Belarus shows Popova a list of the inmates. He preferred to remain anonymous

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures


Men during their obligatory labour ‘treatment’ – washing the walls of the factory building.

Most of the incarcerated men do unqualified labour without the possibility to study or improve their skills

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures


Men eat soup in the canteen during the lunch break. The calorie intake of each detainee is highly regulated, and all consumption is checked

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures


A man stands in front of a wall, waiting for his obligatory work hours to pass.

The messages on the wall detail the exact times of allowed breaks along with the pointed warning: ‘Forbidden to sit on wood’

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures


Only 5% of the people detained in the LTPs actually stop drinking. Popova found that many of the men released get drunk to celebrate on the very day they get out

An inmate of LTP celebrates his freedom.

Welcome to the LTP is available from Dostoevsky Publishing

Inside Belarus's 'rehab prisons' for alcoholics – in pictures


All photographs: Irina Popova