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Children of Stalin's victims and jailers bury ghosts of past in Siberian village

Updated : April 05, 2019 07:39 PM IST

More than half a century after Josef Stalin's prison camps closed, descendants of inmates and guards of one have found peace with each other by confronting their village's dark past.

Founded as a labour camp in 1937 during Stalin's Great Terror, in which hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens were executed and many more locked up, the village of Tugach is home to the descendents of those forced to toil there and those who ran the facility.

Undernourished prisoners, frostbitten in winter and feasted on by flies in summer as they felled wood, died at a rate of up to 8 percent at camps in the area from disease, dysentery and other problems stemming from their bad conditions.

Tugach, a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's sprawling Gulag prison labour system, was closed in 1957 after Stalin's death, but some people saw no choice but to remain as they had little money, had lost contact with family and friends, and bore the stigma of being a former inmate.

In the decades after its closure, unmarked graves where prisoners had been buried at night were left untouched.

Relations were tense between the descendants of the prisoners, who saw the camp as a place of horrific political retribution, and those of the jailers who viewed it as a legitimate facility that administered genuine justice.

The situation began to change a decade ago when some of Tugach's 600 residents set about creating a museum to chronicle its past, a cathartic process that sparked discussion and transformed the mood.

A visitor leans against a cross near an abandoned cemetery on a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions outside a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A visitor leans against a cross near an abandoned cemetery on a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions outside a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
Lidia Slepets, 66, a resident of a Siberian settlement founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, shows a photograph of her parents while posing for a picture at her house in Tugach southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 30, 2018. The photograph shows Lidia's father, a former inmate of the Kraslag prison camp Gerasim Bersenyov (L), who married Anastasia Gaidaichuk (R), then a widow of a camp guard. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
Lidia Slepets, 66, a resident of a Siberian settlement founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, shows a photograph of her parents while posing for a picture at her house in Tugach southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 30, 2018. The photograph shows Lidia's father, a former inmate of the Kraslag prison camp Gerasim Bersenyov (L), who married Anastasia Gaidaichuk (R), then a widow of a camp guard. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A woman walks inside a barrack constructed by inmates of the Kraslag camp on the eve of a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions in a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging site and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A woman walks inside a barrack constructed by inmates of the Kraslag camp on the eve of a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions in a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging site and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A visitor examines an inmate's aluminium plate inside a barrack constructed by prisoners of the Kraslag camp on the eve of a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions in a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging site and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A visitor examines an inmate's aluminium plate inside a barrack constructed by prisoners of the Kraslag camp on the eve of a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions in a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging site and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
People attend a ceremony at an abandoned cemetery on a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions near a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
People attend a ceremony at an abandoned cemetery on a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions near a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
Valentina Markova, a teacher of history at a local school and descendant of an exiled inmate, visits an abandoned cemetery on the eve of a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions near a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
Valentina Markova, a teacher of history at a local school and descendant of an exiled inmate, visits an abandoned cemetery on the eve of a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions near a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A man points at Tugach village on the original map of the Kraslag prison camp at a school museum on the eve of a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions in a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging site and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A man points at Tugach village on the original map of the Kraslag prison camp at a school museum on the eve of a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions in a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging site and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A woman visits an abandoned cemetery on a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions near a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A woman visits an abandoned cemetery on a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions near a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
Local resident Vera Lazareva, 66, resident of a Siberian settlement founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, and her grandson Grigory, 13, show photographs of their late relatives while posing for a picture at a house in Tugach southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 29, 2018. The photographs show guard of Kraslag prison camp Pavel Yarg (R) and inmate Fyodor Chuchko. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
Local resident Vera Lazareva, 66, resident of a Siberian settlement founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, and her grandson Grigory, 13, show photographs of their late relatives while posing for a picture at a house in Tugach southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 29, 2018. The photographs show guard of Kraslag prison camp Pavel Yarg (R) and inmate Fyodor Chuchko. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
People gather at a viewing platform near a former dam, that was built and used by inmates for timber transportation, on a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions near a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
People gather at a viewing platform near a former dam, that was built and used by inmates for timber transportation, on a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repressions near a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
An aerial view shows a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
An aerial view shows a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A local resident walks past a private Soviet-made caterpillar cross-country vehicle in a street of a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A local resident walks past a private Soviet-made caterpillar cross-country vehicle in a street of a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
Pupils run outside a school building constructed by teachers' and students' own efforts in a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
Pupils run outside a school building constructed by teachers' and students' own efforts in a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A boy walks past portraits of well-known Soviet actors before a needlework lesson at a community centre on the eve of Mother's Day in a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A boy walks past portraits of well-known Soviet actors before a needlework lesson at a community centre on the eve of Mother's Day in a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
Local resident Vera Lazareva, 66, descendant of an exiled inmate and resident of a Siberian settlement founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, fills a bucket with potatoes at a cellar of her house in Tugach southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
Local resident Vera Lazareva, 66, descendant of an exiled inmate and resident of a Siberian settlement founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, fills a bucket with potatoes at a cellar of her house in Tugach southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
Local resident Alexander Lazarev, 69, pumps water from a street well in a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
Local resident Alexander Lazarev, 69, pumps water from a street well in a Siberian settlement, which was founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, Russia November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
People take part in celebrations of Maslenitsa, also known as Pancake Week, which is a pagan holiday marking the end of winter, in a street of a Siberian settlement founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
People take part in celebrations of Maslenitsa, also known as Pancake Week, which is a pagan holiday marking the end of winter, in a street of a Siberian settlement founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A girl runs before the beginning of a performance on the occasion of Maslenitsa, also known as Pancake Week, which is a pagan holiday marking the end of winter, in a street of a Siberian settlement founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
A girl runs before the beginning of a performance on the occasion of Maslenitsa, also known as Pancake Week, which is a pagan holiday marking the end of winter, in a street of a Siberian settlement founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
People take part in celebrations of Maslenitsa, also known as Pancake Week, which is a pagan holiday marking the end of winter, in a street of a Siberian settlement founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
People take part in celebrations of Maslenitsa, also known as Pancake Week, which is a pagan holiday marking the end of winter, in a street of a Siberian settlement founded as a logging camp and part of the Soviet Union's Gulag prison labour system, Tugach, southeast of Krasnoyarsk, March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
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