Yurga is one of those nondescript medium-sized Russian cities that at the Soviet era were centered around one or two industries, which were the main reason for the existence of such cities. Here it was machine building. Lying at the heart of Siberia, Yurga was also a good place to situate some prisoners of Gulag and especially POWs during the war. The inmates at Yurga camp built the armament plant No.75 and also did forced labour there at the 1940s. Later the factory was converted to civilian use. Near the factory there is a small memorial with monuments for German POWs and Soviet prisoners, and a fence that has a simple but touching message on behalf of the victims: “In the name of the living to remember the dead.”
Living with her cat in a small khrushchovka flat at the half-abandoned Severnyi microrayon in the arctic city of Vorkuta, Anna Vasilevna is happy. She is over 90 years old and spent fifteen years in Gulag at 1950s and 1960s. After her imprisonment, she has lived for decades less than ten kilometres from the place where she worked in a forced labour brigade, digging permafrost ground. Anna Vasilevna gets no monetary compensation for that. She has her memories from childhood in Crimea before she was arrested, her cat & her icon on the bedroom wall.
For a small town at Russian far north, Ukhta has a sizable theatre building. The reason is that during 1950s huge Gulag camp of Ukhtizhimlag was situated at the edge of the town. Most of the prisoners were doing forced labour in Soviet oilfields or mines, but some of them were ordered to build a theatre. The commander of the camp was a theatre enthusiast, and he wanted to have the best ever Gulag theatre troupe and theatre building. One could say he succeded, as prisoners of the camp included, among others, a famous soprano, a dancer from Bolshoi theatre and a well-known Soviet film actor. They were forced to perform for the commander and townspeople in the huge theatre built with forced labour. The building still stands in the middle of Ukhta as a reminder of its Gulag past. After the collapse of the Soviet Union it was converted into a church and the lyre on the pediment was changed to an orthodox cross.
Wide new highways now embrace the Kommunarka wasteland, just outside of Moscow, but inside the fences reigns an eerie peace. Around here was the mansion of some top officials of NKVD until 1937, when they began to use the area as an execution site. For many years, first throughout the Great Terror and then during the World War II, NKVD shot and buried at least 14 000 people in Kommunarka, including, for example, the entire government of Mongolia. Eventually the area was closed and long fence was built alongside its borders. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the mass grave came to the light, and later orthodox church of Russia claimed it. Nobody knows how many people are still buried there and who they are. There are few monuments to commemorate them, but the most telling memorial is the rotten fence that has shielded for decades the stories and the names of the innocent victims of the purges.