Around Russia and other former Soviet countries, there are hundreds of memorials & monuments to the victims of Gulag and political repression. Only few of them, though, are known to the larger public. Most are situated in the very remote places, usually at the sites of the former Gulag camps, and it’s mostly local relatives of the victims who visit them. Such is the memorial of Sosnogorsk, a small town near Uhta at the arctic region of Russia. The pedestal on the huge metal candles has only three words in it: “Victims”, “Political” and “Repression”. Sosnogorsk, known as Izhma at that time, had a Gulag camp from the end of the 1930s until the 1950s. The prisoners were building railroads and doing forced labour in oil and gas fields around Sosnogorsk. Thousands of them perished in the harsh climate. Nowadays the town is half empty, but natural gas is still extracted from the ground. Gulag era is all but forgotten, and the only memorial to the victims is hard to find from the yard of a housing block at the edge of the town.
During Stalin’s purges, thousands of innocent people were taken twenty or so miles out of central Moscow, where they were shot and buried. Then they were forgotten. Some of the mass graves began to appear to daylight after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Butovo was the place to bury “common people” and priests, whereas “distinguished” dead were put into the grounds of former Donskoi monastery. Communarka was somewhere in between. Fallen politicians and members of intelligentsia were executed & buried there from 1936 to 1941. The area is now memorial cemetery, but nobody knows who lies where. Many “monuments” are nothing but Xeroxed portraits of the dead, duct-taped straight to the trees. But somehow that makes the place even more solemn – like some enchanted forest gone awry. This victim, named Markus Markovitis, died at the age of 33 in 1938.
Vorkutlag operated in the arctic city of Vorkuta from the 1930s until the 1960s. The camp was eventually closed after Stalin’s death and prisoners were released. However, most of them couldn’t leave Vorkuta, either because they were not allowed or because they had no means to do it, as the town is situated literally in the middle on nowhere. Thousands on former prisoners built their “new” lives just few miles from the place they had been imprisoned for years, and many continued almost the same work they had done in the camp, mostly mining. One of them was Anna Vasilevna Krikun. She survived over ten years of harsh climate and forced labour, for example road building and mining, in the Gulag camp of Vorkuta. Anna Vasilevna is now 94 years old and has been living in Vorkuta ever since 1950s when she was set free. She has seen the dismantling of Gulag and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Anna Vasilevna doesn’t seem bitter, just a bit lonely with her shy cat at the half-abandoned microraion of Vargashor in the middle on the tundra.