NKVD Cell, Tomsk, Siberia

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NKVD Cell

While many of the Gulag camps have been accidentally or deliberately destroyed after they ceased to operate at 1960s, some punishment cells and transit prisons belonging to the camp system have survived, mostly because they are built of stone. At the sizeable city of Tomsk in Siberia, one former NKVD prison is still standing, and it has been preserved as a museum. The prison is situated in damp cellar, the cells are small and there are only the bare necessities. At the inner court of the red brick building there was an execution site.

Camp Railroad, Vorkuta, Russia

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Camp Railroad

This piece of track is part of the long railroad that skirts around arctic Vorkuta. It was originally built to serve the lagpunkts surrounding the city. At 1940s Vorkuta was essentially a Gulag town, with dozens of labour camps scattered in the harsh tundra. They were mostly mining camps, and the railroad connected all of them, providing the camps and hauling the coal away. The railroad was used also after the dismantling of Gulag in the 1960s as the mines continued to operate with free Soviet citizens working in them. Now the camps are gone, most of the mines are closed and the microraions around them are reduced to mere ghost towns. But the wound of the railway still stretches there, a solemn unintended memorial for the hundreds of thousands who suffered here in vain.

Unknown Victim, Kommunarka, Moscow

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Unknown Victim

It seems an ordinaty tract of forest by a new highway at Kommunarka, some fifteen kilometres south from central Moscow. But behind the rotten fence crowned with rusty barbed wire one can spot trees with photographs or printed portraits of the victims. The area became a secret execution place at the end of the 1930s. At least 16 000 people were shot & buried there. Most of them were notables, like politicians and officers of the army. The forest belonged to the dacha of Genrikh Yagoda, head of the NKVD, and when he was ousted at 1937, the new leader, Nikolai Yezhov, decided to turn the place to a mass-grave. Yagoda himself was soon buried there. Some of the victims will remain nameless forever. At 1940 the area was sealed, and it was opened only after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now there is a small monument and a new church at Kommunarka graveyard, but otherwise the memory of the thousands of victims is fragile, duct taped to the trees, eaten by time.

Statue of Poet Viktor Savin, Syktyvkar, Komi Republic

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Statue of Poet Viktor Savin

Syktyvkar, the capital of Komi Republic, was important city in the “opening up the north”, meaning the Soviet Union’s project to penetrate to the arctic regions during the 1930s. This was done mostly with the forced labour of Gulag prisoners. Prisons and camps abounded in and around Syktyvkar. The father of Komi literature, poet Viktor Savin, was one of the many members of intelligentsia who perished in the camps. He joined the communist party after the revolution as a young man, and wrote poems praising Lenin and Stalin. Apparently this wasn’t enough, as he was thrown into Gulag during the Great Terror. Savin was pushed from camp to camp, and eventually he died at 1943 in Tomsk region. Now Savin has a statue in the central Syktyvkar, but Gulag is not mentioned in the memorial plaque.