The world's tackiest tombstones

Looming above a hundred grey headstones in a Russian cemetery, tacky monuments like these - with the tomb's incumbent and his faithful sports car etched onto the stone - appear on the horizon. Read more...


Traditional Russian cemeteries mostly host unpretentious monuments. A small headstone featuring the name, birth and death dates of the deceased, as well as a small photo, is usually considered sufficient to cherish their memory. But around 15 or 20 years ago a new kind of monument started popping up amongst these modest graves. The newcomers are big - up to three metres high, and made of expensive black granite. They bear not names, but monikers. The figures sketched onto the headstones are uncommonly young, mostly in their forties, but often in their twenties. They look bold, wear thick gold chains and keep their hands in their pockets. The portraits are often accompanied by pictures of foreign cars. These new tombs can be found in any cemetery in Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. They contain the remains of thousands of gangsters, who died in criminal wars that followed the collapse of Russian communism.

Mafia members' headstones in Dneproptrovsk, Ukraine

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"These architectural and sculptural monsters symbolize revolution"

Journalist and writer Andrey Konstantinov is the general director of the Agency for Journalistic Investigations and author of the non-fiction bestseller "Gangster Petersburg".

I don't think that gangsters and "bratki" ("Mafiosi") having luxury tombs is a phenomenon unique to Russia. You can find similar tombstones in former Yugoslavia and Latin America for example. I believe the style originates from the ancient concept of afterlife. Basically, there's almost no difference between the tombs of Chinese emperors who were buried together with their slaves, concubines, steeds, and warriors, and the Russian mafia of the "Great Criminal Revolution" era [early nineties], in whose graves mourners put the keys of their Mercedes, their mobile phones, bottles of vodka and other "luxury items".

Whenever there's a revolution the old world collapses and history starts anew. It all started back in the Mesozoic era. We know that the first animals (i.e. dinosaurs) were giant, and then they gradually got smaller. So, everything starts with monstrous sizes.

At the beginning of the nineties Russian gangsters wore huge gold chains and had huge biceps. But then, the dinosaurs became extinct, and now you'd have to be really lucky to see something like that in the street. So, there's no real difference between the huge constructions of architectural genius [Vladimir] Tatlin and the ugly mafia monuments in a cemetery somewhere in Togliatti. All these architectural and sculptural monsters symbolize revolution, and when the revolution is over, we return to normality. Ugliness dies out gradually. If you looked at the recent monument constructed for Jam, a high-ranking Vladivostok bandit, you would agree that it's a real piece of art. Such a monument (if you forget about its meaning) is good enough to grace a city square."