The only one of its kind in Russia, the museum in Palochka village in the north of the Tomsk Region opened this August. It is devoted to the memory of over 7,000 forced settlers from southern Siberia who died there in 1931-1933. Partly funded with grants from the presidential administration, it faced fears of closure recently until a crowdfunding campaign raised enough to pay for its prohibitive heating costs.
From mass burials to a museum
In 2018 two local women Irina Yanchenko and Gulnara Koryagina found mass burials of “special” settlers on the outskirts of the village (population 297 in 2017). Archival documents revealed that in 1931 “kulaks” had been brought there from the Altai Region up the River Ob on barges. Two years later only 700 of the 7,800 settlers remained alive: the rest had died from the backbreaking work, from starvation and sickness.
It was then that Irina and Gulnara decided to create a Centre in Remembrance of the Dekulakized in their village. They won a presidential grant for “the Living Memory of the 1930s”. Helped by detectorists and archaeologists from Tomsk they established the borders of the burial area and tidied it up.
“The Pit: the Path of the Special Settlers”, a TV2 documentary (68 minutes)
The Centre opened on 22 August, occupying half the ground floor of the village’s former school. In addition to the items on show at the new museum a tour round the area was organised for visitors, taking in 23 buildings that have survived since the 1930s. The story of the unique museum was told in “The Pit”, a new film made by the independent TV2 news agency in its Anthropology of Terror series. Among those attending the opening were staff from the Tomsk Regional Museum and descendants of the forced settlers from the Altai Region.
The Simakhin Family in 1917 and the fate of its members after deportation to Palochka
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Travelling almost every week the 340 kms southwest to Tomsk in order to search through the archive of the regional police information centre, Irina and Gulnara had established the names of 1,214 families resettled in Palochka by the day the museum received its first visitors.
The onset of winter
When the centre opened it contained clothes, personal belongings and items of everyday use that the “dekulakized” peasants brought with them to Palochka. There is also an archive and a library. With the onset of the cold weather, however, Yanchenko and Koryagina encountered unforeseen difficulties.
Gulnara Koryagina and Irina Yanchenko
The money allocated to cover the museum’s running costs was not sufficient even to pay the electricity bills. This was entirely due to the electric stove that the local authorities and safety inspectors had obliged them to install. Previously, they had relied on a home-made stove cobbled together by a local welder but it did not meet safety standards. To add to their woes, organisations (as opposed to private individuals) pay a higher tariff for electricity. In October they already owed 46,000 RUR. By early December that debt had risen to 90,000 RUR. Yet if the heating was turned off during the winter the premises and the exhibits would both suffer damage.
The museum founders appealed to the authorities in Palochka and in the Tomsk Region but neither offered to help. The centre was registered less than a year ago and could not yet hope for any official grants. “When we were beginning to contemplate this project,” added Yanchenko, “we took notice of a March 2016 presidential decree. It announced that those engaged in acts of remembrance, preserving the memory of the repressed and caring for mass burials would receive support from the State. We believed that document.”
The Centre in Remembrance of the Dekulakized,
Palochka village, Verkhneketsky district
As a last resort the museum founders turned to the Planeta crowdfunding platform to raise the RUR 130,000 the Centre will need to survive the winter. In mid-December they had one third of that sum. Reports about the museum in the region’s media and online led to a boost in donations. After they paid off part of what they owed, the supplier Tomskenergosbyt promised not to cut off electricity any time soon. “A woman from the electricity company was astonished that the local administration is not helping in any way since they are responsible for the building,” says Yanchenko.
She and Koryagina contacted President Putin during the 17 December phone-in and press conference. He has not responded. In the end, the museum found enough support to survive and pay its heating costs this winter without help from local, regional and federal authorities. As of 28 December the museum had raised over RUR 140,000 through crowdfunding.
The Simakhin Family in 1917
from left to right (see photo above)
Daughter Anisya; wife Maria Vasilyevna, died of dysentery — place of burial unknown; son Kostya on his mother’s knees — escaped from Palochka and travelled across Siberia to Sakhalin; son Nikolai, died in 1931-1932 during their first year of exile — place of burial unknown; son Fyodor, perished after arrest in 1937; father Nikolai Afanasyevich.