Wooden pole of a prison barracks, Vorkuta, Russia

Wooden pole of a prison barracks

Although Vorkuta is situated in the mainland Russia, it feels like an island, so far it is from anything and everything. There aren’t even roads leading to the town, and one has to get there by train or via air. Nice place for a labour camp, the Soviet Union probably thought. From mid-1930s until 1960s hundreds of thousands of inmates, many of them political prisoners, lived and died in inhuman arctic conditions, and worked in the coal mines of Vorkutlag, one of the most dreaded Gulag camps in the entire Soviet Union. As Vorkuta lies north of the tree line, all the wooden building material had to be hauled from the south, and the cells of the prisoners were often makeshift and shabby. The ruins – or mere relics – of the wooden barracks remain in the tundra around modern Vorkuta. The old supporting poles of the buildings stick out from the permafrost like weird monuments, and as the years have gnawed the wood, the surface often looks like a memorial plaque with indecipherable but very real writing in it.

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