The Great Terror, 1937-1938

Over sixteen months (August 1937-November 1938), more than one and a half million people were arrested in the USSR and sentenced in their absence by regional tribunals — the extra-judicial troika (“three member commissions”), dvoika (“two member commissions”), and Special Board — or by the Military College of the Supreme Court in Moscow. No defence was offered.

Half of those arrested were sentenced to death. They were shot and buried all over the Soviet Union in killing fields like Krasny Bor and Sandarmokh in Karelia, discovered and investigated by Yury DMITRIEV. The others were sent to the Gulag for up to ten years of forced labour.

For a long while the concurrent Show Trials in Moscow of leading Old Bolsheviks (1936-1938) led many in the Soviet Union and abroad to believe that this unprecedented bloodshed was linked to a “purge” of the Communist Party. Archival research since the late 1980s has shown that the vast majority of those arrested and shot or imprisoned were picked up according to regional quotas, issued by the NKVD in Moscow.

Read more …

Head of Museum’s disbanded Gulag section threatened with eviction

Attempts are being made to turn OLGA BOCHKARYOVA out of the accommodation transferred into her private ownership in 2011 by the Solovki Museum administration.

Bochkareva, Olga

Olga Bochkaryova

On 1 January 2016, the Gulag section at the museum was disbanded and its head, Olga Bochkaryova, was dismissed from her post. Тhe present museum director, Vladimir V. Shutov, who is, simultaneously, Father Superior of the Solovetsky Monastery [as Archimandrite Porfiry], has now asked the courts to declare the 2011 agreement null and void. The case is being examined by the Maritime district court  of the Arkhangelsk Region. A decision is expected on Monday, 19 February. Bochkaryova is being represented by defence attorney Marina Agaltsova.

Since 1988, Olga Bochkaryova has researched the history of the Solovki special purpose camp and run the museum’s section about the Gulag. She created a permanent exhibition about the camp (and prison) in one of the former camp barracks in Solovetsky town. Over the years she has provided advice and information to relatives of those imprisoned in the camp and helped them track down documents concerning their loved ones.

The coalition of human rights activists
16 February 2018

Russia – Past, Present and Future


“As Russia marks the centenary of the October Revolution, President Vladimir Putin has urged the society to end discord over the Soviet era,” reported the TASS news agency[1] on 21 December 2017.

“This year, the centenary of the October Revolution, we have been seeking to encourage the society to abandon confrontation, to see themselves as a single society and realize that we are continuing our common centuries-long history,” Putin told a session of the Council for Culture and Art.

“Whether we like certain years or not, but there was everything there – bad things, but also a lot of good things that should not be forgotten,” he said.

[Excerpt …]

Johnson’s Russia List
2017-#239, Friday, 22 December 2017, Item 1


Nikita Petrov (Memorial)

Every spring, buses covered in portraits of Joseph Stalin appear on the streets of Russian cities. His face replaces ads for cell phones, soft drinks, laundry detergent, and cat food. With each passing year, the dictator gets more handsome and more glamorous; a portrait of him in his gorgeous white generalissimo’s jacket has become especially popular. He casts his stern gaze on the citizens, as if to say, “Remember me? I’m here, I didn’t go anywhere – and don’t you forget it!”  Continue reading

Deaths on the White Sea Canal, 1931-1933

According to official figures, during the construction of Belomor, the White Sea Canal, 2.24% of the prisoners in the BelBaltlag camp complex died in 1931 (1,438 persons), 2.03% died in 1932 (2,010 persons) and in 1933, due to famine in the USSR and the rapidly approaching deadline to finish the project, 10.56% of the prison workforce died (8,870 persons).

Working on White Sea Canal (Wiki)

Building the canal (photo, Wikipedia)

Seventy years later, in August 2003, Yury DMITRIEV discovered a large burial ground of BelBaltlag prisoners near the 8th lock on the White Sea Canal. The following year volunteers under his direction cleared the area and found more than 800 graves.


After work on the canal was completed on 4 August 1933, over twelve thousand prisoners were released and terms of imprisonment in the camps were reduced for a further 59,516 inmates of the White Sea-Baltic camp complex. Six major OGPU officials were decorated with the Order of Lenin for their management of the construction work (G.G. Yagoda, M.D. Berman, I.L. Kogan, Ya.D. Rappaport, S.G. Firin and N.A. Frenkel), as were two amnestied engineers,  Zhuk and Verzhbitsky.

Excerpt from Russian Wikipedia

Profil_White_Sea_Canal (19 locks)

The Canal’s 19 locks, from Lake Onega (W) to the White Sea (E)

See also Anna Yarovaya, “The Badgers’ Hill graveyard”,
7×7 – Horizontal Russia, 29 September 2017 [R]

The Stalin Canal

In May 1933 the head of OGPU, Genrikh Yagoda, reported to Stalin about the state of the project. Construction was completed on 20 June 1933, and the canal was named in honour of Stalin. On 25 June it opened for water-borne traffic and the steamboat “Chekist” travelled along the canal from one end to the other.

In July 1933 Stalin, Kliment Voroshilov and Sergei Kirov — People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs and Party boss of the Leningrad Region, respectively — travelled along the new man-made waterway in a cruiser. Privately, it was said, Stalin was dissatisfied with the canal: it was narrow and no more than 3.65 metres deep at the time.

White Sea Canal (Pyotr Belov)

The White Sea Canal (Pyotr Belov, 1985)

The “White Sea Canal” brand of cheap Soviet papirosy (cigarettes with a cardboard filter). The words “smoking is bad for your health” can just be made out, upside down, to the right of the rent in the packet.


Solovki, the Special Purpose Solovetsky Camp, was the first permanent concentration camp of the Soviet regime. (Its Russian acronym SLON spelled “Elephant”.)

Solovetsky Islands (map).png

Set up in 1923 on a group of islands in the White Sea, it began with a mixed population of left-wing political opponents of the Bolsheviks (Anarchists, Socialist Revolutionaries) and criminals. Its purpose and the changing nature of the Soviet regime can be easily seen by comparing lists of its prisoners over three distinct periods.

The inmates of SLON

The 1920s

In the 1920s many of those sent to Solovki were released back into society, but often then arrested and imprisoned (or exiled) a second time.

The First Five-Year Plan, 1928-1932

At first a prisoner on Solovki, Naftaly Frenkel became a leading cadre in the security services during the First Five-Year Plan.

The mass shooting on Solovki in 1929 described by Dmitry Likhachov (a key episode in Marina Goldovskaya’s 1987 film The Solovki Regime (Власть Соловецкая) was a sign of the harshening regime.

The mid-to late 1930s

Many of those on Solovki later in the 1930s fell victim to Stalin’s Great Terror and were shot, either in autumn 1937 at Sandarmokh or on Solovki in February 1938.

Re-classified as a high-security prison in 1936, becoming STON (or “groan”), Solovki was closed in 1939.


Solovetsky Monastery, 2013