No announcement yet.

Forgotten Gulags

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Forgotten Gulags

    Gulag grave hunter unearths uncomfortable truths in Russia
    Alec Luhn in Sandormokh
    Thu 3 Aug 2017 01.00 EDT

    Supporters of Yury Dmitriyev say he is being held as a political prisoner by a state that would rather forget Soviet repression

    The pine trees creak and rustle ominously beneath even the faintest breeze, as if the vast forest between Lake Onega and the Finnish border remains reluctant to give up its dark secrets.

    The secret police brought 6,241 gulag prisoners to these woods during Joseph Stalins Great Terror in 1937-8, put them face-down in pits dug in the sandy soil, and shot them in the back of the head with a revolver. As their remains decayed, the earth above each mass grave sank into the ground.

    It was these pockmarks in the forest floor that helped Yury Dmitriyev and other members of Memorial, Russias oldest human rights organisation, find this site at Sandormokh in 1997. It is one of the largest mass graves in the former Soviet Union.

    With Memorial, the 61-year-old gulag grave hunter from nearby Petrozavodsk has dedicated much of three decades to the effort to return the victims of Soviet repressions from state-sponsored oblivion, publishing several books of names, dates and locations of executions since the discovery.

    For our government to become accountable, we need to educate the people, Dmitriyev said of his efforts to uncover details of Soviet repression.

    But not everyone wants to remember this forgotten history, especially amid Russias current patriotic fervour. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said in June that excessive demonisation of Stalin has been a means of attacking the Soviet Union and Russia, and several branches of Memorial have been declared foreign agents in recent years.

    For the first time in two decades Dmitriyev will miss the annual day of remembrance at Sandormokh on 5 August. Arrested in December and charged with taking indecent photographs of his 12-year-old adopted daughter, which he denies, he is being held in custody during the ongoing trial. He faces 15 years in prison if convicted.

    An expert in sexual disorders has said the photographs are not pornographic, and Memorial and others argue that Dmitriyev is a political prisoner hounded for exposing a side of history that complicates the Kremlins glorification of the Soviet past.

    He is supported by his adult daughter, who said he took the photographs to document the childs improving health in case social services attempted to remove her. The girl had been malnourished when Dmitriyev and his wife took her in, age three, and according to Dmitriyevs lawyer, the photographs were stored in a folder called childs health. Each had a note about her height, weight and general health and many were taken ahead of social worker visits.

    More than 30,000 people have signed an online petition calling to restore legality and justice in his case. Meanwhile, state media have run smear pieces painting Dmitriyev as a paedophile and Memorial as anti-government subversives.

    Like in the period of the Great Terror, when political reprisals, murders, extrajudicial executions became the norm of Soviet life, so today persecution, arrests, beatings at rallies, the closing of independent organisations have become the norm of life in Russia, said Irina Flige, the director of St Petersburg Memorial, who discovered Sandormokh with Dmitriyev.

    The majority thinks that the regime can do anything with an individual for the sake of its own interests.

    Located near the Solovetsky islands, the birthplace of the gulag, the Karelia region in north-west Russia is where tens of thousands of prisoners were shot or died digging the infamous White Sea canal for Stalins first five-year plan. As an aide to a regional official, Dmitriyev first began searching for their graves after being summoned to deal with remains uncovered by an excavator at a military base in 1988.

    Soon he began trying to identify victims of the mass executions, which were carried out covertly. During the brief period when secret police archives were opened up in the 1990s, Dmitriyev managed to read thousands of execution orders into his tape recorder. He could then try to match each group of skeletons he found to a specific order.

    It was Fliges long search for the disappeared Solovetsky etape, a group of 1,111 prisoners including many leading political, cultural and religious figures from across the Soviet Union, that led them to Sandormokh. Following hints from the testimony of the executioner Mikhail Matveyev, Flige, Dmitriyev and Veniamin Iofe discovered the telltale pockmarks in the woods on the road to the White Sea canal and began digging.

    It wasnt just bones but the bones of people I knew, whose children I knew, Flige recalled.

    Today, wooden posts stretch hundreds of yards back into the woods at Sandormokh with photographs and names of victims.
    The local authorities initially backed the memorial, helping build an access road and a chapel and sending representatives to the day of remembrance on 5 August. But last year, for the first time, no government or church officials attended.

    The political temperature at Sandormokh has been rising since at least 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea. The Ukrainian delegation, typically the largest, skipped the ceremony that year, and in a speech Dmitriyev condemned Russias support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

    He also suggested the Russian government was failing to fully acknowledge its predecessors crimes, a controversial stance amid the continuing surge of patriotism and Soviet nostalgia. Stalin monuments have popped up in several towns across the country, and the late dictator topped a survey in June for most outstanding person of all time. Last summer, state media began reporting the unfounded claim that Sandormokh actually holds Soviet soldiers killed by the Finns.

    In November state television accused Memorial of helping those who aim to destroy the Russian state after it published information on 40,000 Soviet secret police officials and Dmitriyev reportedly received angry phone calls about his own participation in the project.

    Dmitriyev was unexpectedly arrested the next month after an anonymous source tipped police off that nude photographs of his adopted daughter Natasha were stored on his computer.

    Dmitriyevs adult daughter, Yekaterina Klodt, told the Guardian that her father, who had always obsessively documented human remains with photographs and measurements, had taken the shots to show Natasha was healthy in his care. Adopted himself as a child, Dmitriyev had trouble receiving permission to adopt her from an orphanage in 2009, and he wanted to document that the underweight child was regaining her health, Klodt said. He also grew worried after one of her teachers raised a furore over ink stains on the childs skin she mistook for bruises.

    Lev Shcheglov, the president of the National Institute of Sexology in Moscow, testified at the trial that the photographs could not be considered pornographic or abusive. The prosecution is pushing ahead with the case, which also includes charges of perverted acts and illegal possession of a firearm, namely the barrel of a 60-year-old hunting rifle Dmitriyev found, according to his lawyer.

    Dmitriyevs real crime, his supporters believe, is his criticism of the government and work with activists from geopolitical foes including Poland and Ukraine to commemorate their countrymen at Sandormokh.

    Russia doesnt need this now, said Anna Yarovaya, a journalist for news site 7x7. Were searching for enemies everywhere, including abroad, but for him, everyone was a friend.

    Книги памяти России
    Поминальные списки Карелии, 19371938: Уничтоженная Карелия.
    Возващённые имена

    Books of memory of Russia
    Memorial lists of Karelia, 19371938: Destroyed Karelia.
    Returned Names


    В XX веке на просторах России погибли и пропали без вести во время войн, революций и репрессий миллионы граждан. Наших соотечественников и иностранных подданных. Спустя долгие десятилетия имена погибших и пропавших без вести возвращаются к нам в Книгах памяти. Подробнее о проекте


    In the 20th century, millions of citizens died and went missing in the expanses of Russia during wars, revolutions and repressions. Our compatriots and foreign nationals. After many decades, the names of the dead and missing are returned to us in the Books of Memory. More about the project

    06.03.2019 Презентация двухтомной библиографии Александра Солженицына в РНБ
    05.03.2019 Ко дню памяти Анны Ахматовой
    01.03.2019 Найдено кладбище заключённых Вятлага. Давно пора рассекретить все тайные места массовых казней и погребений
    25.02.2019 Посвящается жертвам политических репрессий Геленджика и Геленджикского района. Редкая Книга памяти
    Все новости

    03/06/2019 Presentation of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's two-volume bibliography in the NLR
    03/05/2019 To the day of memory of Anna Akhmatova
    03/01/2019 Cemetery of Vyatlag prisoners found. It is high time to declassify all secret places of mass executions and burials
    02/25/2019 Dedicated to the victims of political repression of Gelendzhik and Gelendzhik district. Rare Book of Memory
    All news

    Там де ╓ Укра╖нц╕, там ╓ Укра╖на!

    Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp

  • #2
    THE GUARDIAN Shaun Walker in Yagodnoye
    Thu 29 Oct 2015 08.51 EDT
    Perm-36, in the Urals, was a Gulag for political prisoners from 1946 until its closure in 1988. It became a museum, but was reportedly forced to close after months of government pressure. Photograph: Rex

    Many Russians regard the horrors of the forced labour camps as a necessary evil during a difficult period of Soviet history

    Ivan Panikarov has spent the past two decades living with the Gulag: his small two-room apartment in the town of Yagodnoye is filled with artefacts from the camps. Rusting tools, handcuffs and photographs of prisoners cover the walls of his living room, while stacks of boxes in the hallway contain transcripts of interrogations taken down in meticulous purple handwriting.

    Yagodnoye feels like the end of the earth, and in many ways it is. In the heart of the Kolyma region, one of the coldest inhabited places on the planet, it is an eight-hour drive from the regional centre of Magadan, which itself is a seven-hour flight from Moscow.

    There was almost nothing here before the 1930s, when geological surveys showed extraordinary deposits of gold and other metals in the area, and Joseph Stalin ordered it conquered, mainly using the labour of prisoners, sent there in their thousands. Kolyma was the harshest island of the Soviet Unions Gulag archipelago, and the region became a byword for the horrors of the Gulag camp system. Even by conservative estimates, more than 100,000 people died while working, and 11,000 were shot in Kolyma alone.

    In todays Russia it is not fashionable to delve too deeply into Gulag history, and 60-year-old Panikarovs collection is one of just two museums devoted entirely to the Gulag in the whole country. Indeed, even Panikarov himself has a somewhat surprising view of the Gulag system.

    We should not have one-sided evaluations. People fell in love in the camps, people got pregnant; it wasnt all bad, he says, attributing negative information about the camps to a western campaign against Russia. It was fashionable to say bad things about the USSR. Now it is again fashionable to insult Russia. We have sanctions against us. The west looks for negative things.

    Там де ╓ Укра╖нц╕, там ╓ Укра╖на!

    Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


    • #3
      Russia's Gulag camps cast in forgiving light of Putin nationalism Pt 2

      Panikarovs views on the Gulag are part of a larger trend. With the Soviet victory in the second world war elevated to a national rallying point under Vladimir Putins presidency, the forced labour camps, through which millions of Soviet citizens passed, are seen by many as an unfortunate but necessary by-product. In many museums and in much public discourse, the Gulag is not ignored completely, but is contextualised in a way that plays down the horror and pairs it with the war, suggesting the two come as a package.

      Panikarovs fascination with the Gulag began when he moved to Kolyma in 1981 to work at a goldmine, and started hearing stories from former prisoners, even though public discussion of the Gulag was then forbidden.

      In 1989, when Mikhail Gorbachevs perestroika unleashed a wave of interest in the darker pages of the Soviet past, Panikarov managed to persuade the local KGB chief to lend him a map giving the locations of the hundreds of Stalin-era camps in the region, information that was still classified as top secret. In return, he agreed to investigate the fate of the KGB chiefs grandfather, who had been in the camps.

      After he got the map, he began to drive to old Gulag sites and pick up things he found: prisoners clothes, working implements, occasionally stacks of documents. Over time, his horror has turned to acceptance.

      It was a cruel system, but if you think about it, how else would you get this gold out of the land? he asks, surveying the ruins of Elgen, a labour camp for women, where the barracks and barbed wire are still visible, but which bears no monument or plaque detailing its past. If we hadnt mined all the gold during the war years, maybe we would not have defeated the Nazis.
      Ivan Panikarov by the ruins of the Elgen labour camp for women. Photograph: Shaun Walker

      As well as petty criminals, hundreds of thousands of people were sent to the Gulag for political offences, often minor or imagined. After the war, there were mass deportations from the newly conquered territory in the Baltics and western Ukraine.

      Evgenia Ginzburg, a Bolshevik party member from Kazan, was sentenced to hard labour in the region and spent several years at Elgen. She wrote of miserable work during the freezing winters, and of summers plagued with the merciless Kolyma mosquitoes, which she described as bloated, repulsive insects that reminded one of small bats.

      Olga Gureyeva, from a village in western Ukraine, was arrested at the end of 1945 after the Soviets took back the region from the Nazis. Aged 16 at the time, she was arrested with her family for supposed Nazi collaboration and, after repeated beatings during interrogation, sentenced to 20 years of hard labour. After being crammed into cattle trucks and moved between various Siberian camps, she was sent by boat from Vladivostok to Magadan in 1948, a 10-day journey with hundreds of prisoners squeezed in the hold.

      Now 87, and living in a small apartment in Magadan, Gureyeva is stooped, almost blind, and unable to say what happened to her without tears. Her stories are a litany of horrors: the filthy clothes, the clouds of midges, the permanent chill in the barracks, eating grass to stave off hunger, and the perverted guards who would line the women up naked in the washroom and inspect them.

      My best friend died chopping wood in the cold one day. I remember: she was next to me, she lifted up the axe, it stayed in the air for a minute, and then she just collapsed, dead, she says.

      Few Russians know of such stories. In Magadan, Larisa, a 40-year-old history teacher who did not want to give her surname, says she believes the Gulag was a necessary side-effect of a difficult period of Soviet history. Was there a military threat from Germany? There was. Were there spies in the country? There were. There was no time to decide who was guilty and who wasnt. We should remember the innocent victims but I think it was all necessary.
      Winter in the Magadan region in the 1950s. Olga Gureyeva remembers: My best friend died chopping wood in the cold one day. Photograph: Foto Soyuz/Getty Images

      Larisa says she teaches her students one lesson about the Gulag, in which she typically divides the blackboard into two parts. On one side she puts the military and industrial achievements of the Stalin period, and on the other, the unfortunate side-effects, and lets the students decide for themselves whether the repression was justified.

      The theme is not completely ignored. On Thursday, a trickle of Muscovites came to a small monument close to the Lubyanka, the former headquarters of the NKVD and still home to modern Russias FSB security services, to take part in an annual ritual, reading out the names of those who were shot in the city. A new monument is planned to victims of political repression in the capital.

      Galina Ivanova, deputy director of a new Gulag museum that will opens in Moscow on Friday, says how the Gulag is remembered in different cities is largely down to individual museum directors. You can either put up a big portrait of Stalin and note goldmining achievements, or you can put up death rates and haggard faces. Unfortunately, more often its the former.

      In Magadan, a large monument in the style of an Easter Island head, the Mask of Sorrow, was unveiled in the 1990s outside the city centre, but elsewhere in the town, clues as to the citys traumatic past are well hidden.

      The regional governors office is inside the former NKVD headquarters; the regional parliament is the former prison and interrogation centre. Neither is marked with any kind of plaque, while at Nagayev Bay, where hundreds of thousands of prisoners disembarked ships before being dispatched to various camps, there is a monument that reads simply: This is where the construction of the city of Magadan began in 1929.

      One of the regions few Gulag memorials is an obelisk of roughly hewn stone in an unmarked clearing off a side road, close to an execution site where the NKVD secret police executed hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people in 1937 and 1938. Someone has recently adorned the monument with Victory Day flags, a touch that appears to turn them from tragic victims to heroic martyrs.

      In Magadan, a region heavily subsidised by Moscow during communist rule but wrecked by the market economy, part of the reason for whitewashing the Gulag is a general nostalgia for the Soviet period. In the new reality, the population of Magadan region has dropped by more than half, and many settlements turned into ghost towns as they became economically unfeasible. Elgen, the modern settlement adjoining the Gulag ruins, housed more than 2,000 people at the end of the 1980s. Now, it is inhabited by one couple who run a meteorological station.

      There are not many people left who remember the Gulag period, but there are plenty of people who remember the 1970s, and remember that things were a lot better than they are now, says Sergei Raizman, head of Magadan Memorial, which promotes memory of the Gulag.

      The desire to forget the dark past is strong. People find it very hard to deal with, says Raizman. They dont want to think about it. Its normal if your grandfather fought at the front, or if your grandfather was a hero of Soviet labour. Its not normal if they were in the camps. People get angry when you raise the Gulag theme, and in the past two years, the events in Ukraine and the increase in nationalism have only made this aggression more pronounced.

      Former Soviet Gulag camps

      When Gureyeva was released in the mid-1950s, she was advised never to speak about her ordeal. Even her son did not know she had been a prisoner. He found out when he was banned from travelling to East Germany during his military service because his mother had been an enemy of the people. It was only in the 1990s that she began to speak about her camp years, but now, again, people have little interest in revisiting the horrors of the past.

      Young people need to hear about it, you need to tell them the truth, she says. But people dont want to remember now.

      Там де ╓ Укра╖нц╕, там ╓ Укра╖на!

      Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


      • #4
        Bears, vodka and Harry Potter: The hunt for Stalin's forgotten gulags in Siberia
        ABC NET Robert Burton-Bradley 17 Nov 2018, 2:17pm
        The gulag hunters (L to R): leader Stepan Cernousek, Pavel Blazek, David Tethal and Martin Novak.

        Complete read w/photos
        Last edited by Hannia; 12th March 2019, 06:43.

        Там де ╓ Укра╖нц╕, там ╓ Укра╖на!

        Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp