Epaulette - Mark of distinction for some merit.
Virgin Mary - Wearer has been a thief/criminal from their early days or protection from some misfortune.
Stars have 2 meanings:
1.Otritsala.Who not working for administration of prison and does not comply with their laws.
2.Vor v zakone.
Beetle symbolize a pickpocket. The acronym ZhUK (literally “beetle”) stands for Zhelayu Udachnykh Krazh (“May your theft be a success”). Tattooed on hands, as well as other parts of the body.
Churches - The number of dome towers (cupolas) indicates either number of prison terms or number of years of the sentence.
Tiger - Aggression towards police officers.
Sailing Ship - Guest-thief.
Spider within a Web - Can indicate a drug addiction. It can also mean that the wearer is a thief. If the spider is shown moving upwards it means the wearer is still an active criminal, if the spider is moving downwards it means that the wearer is intending to leave the thief’s way of life.
Setting sun - This tattoo is usually accompanied by birds flying over the horizon. It represents freedom.
Cat symbolizes luck and caution, and the acronym KOT-Korennoy Obitatel Turmi(literally “cat”) stands for Native Prison Inhabitant. The cat is also the symbol of a pickpocket. At one time, a bow tie was forcibly added to the picture of the cat’s head on pickpockets who had broken the thieves’ code and sided with the cops or prison authorities. Now, however, cats with bow ties have become common, and there is no stigma attached to the bow tie.
Cat with keys - Thief home.
Crucifix - Criminal avtoritet.
Eyes on the upper/middle torso they literally mean that the wearer is keeping their eyes open.
Eyes on lower backside - That is to show that the prisoner is used for sexual gratification.
Stalin and Lenin Considered sacred, so inmates would tattoo the faces over their hearts and vital organs so guards would not hit or shoot them in that spot of the body. Nowadays these tattoos are rarely used.
Lenin is symbol of vor. Lenin is The leader of the October Revolution - Vozhd Oktiabrskoy Revolucii - vor.
Stars on knees - It means you bow to no authority.
Bells - Literally signifies that the wearer will serve his full given sentence, from “bell call to bell call”.
Swastika/nazi symbols - are a sign of rebellion against Russian prison authority. Doesn’t literally mean that the wearer is a nazi sympathiser.
Runes - One who does not confess, also tattooed as sign of rebellion to authority, again not usually associated with the Nazi symbol.
SS - Sovranil Sovest' - Preserved the conscience.
SER - Svoboda Eto Ray - Freedom Is Paradise.
SER in english is Sir.
BARDAK - Knife, woman, drugs, alcohol etc. This is what is killing us.
Bat - Night thief.
Bull - Means cruelty and rage. Prisioners with this tattoo are bulls and fighters (who make the physical execution on the orders of the vor v zakone).
MIR - In russian is peace or world but here MIR mean Menia Ispravit Rasstrel - Execution will reform me.
BARS - Bey Aktiv Rezh Suk - Beat Active Cut Bitchs.
Knife in shackles - Committed a crime in places of deprivation of liberty.
Rose - Ruined youth.
A monk writing in a book with a quill pen is a “scribe,” a criminal who is dexterous with a razor, knife, or a sharpened coin. Often, a pickpocket who is extremely skillful at surreptitiously slitting open pockets, handbags, etc.
In russian argot quill is knife,write is cut.
The knife in the neck - Owner of tattoo someone cutted.
Joker - Player of gambling games.
WOLF - VOLK - Voru Otdishka Legavomu Krishka.I had many problems with the translation.VOLK is Thief's Break Heat's Done for or something like that.
Manacles - One manacle 5 years of prison.
Pirate - Robbery.
Rose and knife - Blood for treason.
Sight - Shoot chekist, but dont miss.
On the right breast abbreviation Zoloto(Gold) - Zapomni, Odnazhdi Liudi Ostaviat Tebia Odnogo - Remember, one day people will leave you alone.
The meaning of the Scorpion tattoo was unknown till just recently, when a few meanings came to light in the comments section of the Russian blog. I decided to put them all together so people can pick the one that fits them best.
The meanings of the Scorpion:
2.Special Forces tattoo. If the claws are open then the owner has seen combat.
3.Did Box-time (time in the hole)
4.Drug-Addiction. Stinger up-means still using. Stinger down means "I quit".
5.Scorpion in optical sight - Owner has seen combat (Chechnya).
If more meanings come to light, I will add them here.
LHVS - Legavim Huy Voram Soboda - To trashcops the dick, to thieves freedom.
Another meaning of LHVS it's just joke - Lublu Halvu Varenie Sahar - I like halva, marmalade, sugar.
Bear - Medvezhatnik - Professional safecracker.
Medvezhatnik from word Mevded. Medved in russian is Bear. In russian argo Medved is Safe.
VEK - Vsio Eto Konec - That is the end. VEK in Russian mean Century. During 50s of the 20t century VEK tattoo often appeared on the bodies of the condemned to death prisoners as there was no shooting execution followed by several convoy guards then. In those times a prisoner was simply taken to questioning. He was led with his head down through the all, a deathman followed him and shot in his head. VEK - Vsio Eto Konec.