Ostensibly nothing discerns the sleepy city of Medvezhyegorsk from other similar towns in Karelia at the western edge of Russia. But at the end of the main street one comes across huge, bulky building that seem totally out-of-place. Built at the 1930s, it served as the headquarters of the BelBaltLag, the same Gulag camp that built the famous Belomorkanal, or White Sea-Baltic Sea canal, still flowing lazily some twenty kilometres to east. Prisoners doing forced labour were living in tents or mud-huts by the canal, but the officers & managers of the camp and the guests – including the famous writer Maxim Gorky – used this building, which also served as a hotel. It was magnificent place with more than hundred rooms, two restaurants and even a spa! The contrast to the conditions of Gulag was just grotesque. The huge building stands in the center of Medvezhyegorsk, a bit worse for wear and half-empty, but still sturdy & proud. It has become an unintended memorial to the excesses and absurdities of the Soviet Gulag.
Rudnik was not just one part of the town of Vorkuta, it was the place where the entire camp city began. In 1931 first miners, most of them Gulag prisoners, came to the area surrounding Vorkuta river and established a new mine – and a new Gulag camp. In ten years it grew to be one the most notorious places in the Soviet Union. The first shaft, where the forced laborers toiled, was situated right beside Rudnik. When Vorkuta grew, Rudnik evolved to be a microrayon that housed free population: geologists, prison guards etc. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the entire area was slowly abandoned, and Rudnik became a ghost town, carrying the memory of the Gulag in the discarded buildings.
One of the most symbolic – and controversial – buildings in central Moscow is the former headquarters of the Soviet Union’s People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, known as the NKVD. The building, left one in the photograph, served at the end of the 19th century as an office for Russian insurance company. After the revolution Cheka, the first secret police of the Soviet Union, took the place over, and converted it into a headquarter of horrors for the illegal interrogations, purges and the Gulag. It was in use through all the different titles of the Soviet state security apparatus, like KGB. During the glasnost period it was suggested that the building should be converted into a museum of political repression. This never happened, and the Russian security service FSB still accomodates it. The Victory Day was approaching at the time of this photo, and that is why the huge red star is standing on the traffic island – in the same place where the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the architect of political repression in the Soviet Union, stood for decades.