“Abandon all hope …”

For decades the killing fields of the Stalin regime remained unmarked and abandoned, the only clues to their presence being that all the trees were of the same age, unlike a natural forest or grove, and the distinctive outlines of the burial pits, though these were fast disappearing beneath the undergrowth …

People knew or felt they must avoid such places. Even the birds ceased singing there as Dmitriev noted on his solitary forays through the forested areas around  Karelia’s centres of population.

When the identity of one such site was confirmed, and the work of excavating the human remains with their bullet–drilled skulls began, reburying them with the respect they had hitherto been denied, the treetops of an otherwise still day were suddenly agitated by an abrupt and short-lived wind – as though the souls of those heaped in that accursed place could at last depart.

sandarmokh - guardian angel

The entry to Sandarmokh, 1998-2006

Today the entrance to Sandarmokh is marked by a massive boulder. Instead of Dante’s admonition “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!” it bears the simple exhortation from a later and shorter Russian poem, “People! Do not kill one another!”

When the funds have been secured, the original bas-relief “Guardian Angel with the Slain” (see above) will be restored. After eight years it succumbed to metal fatigue in the freezing northern winters, became detached and had to be taken into storage.