GHOSTS OF THE SIBERIAN GULAG ALONG THE OLD KOLYMA HIGHWAY
In the Soviet Union from 1932 to 1953, millions of victims of Soviet repression were sent to forced labor camps in Siberia, where they constructed the Kolyma Highway across the frozen ground of the coldest inhabited regions on earth. Untold numbers of them died and were buried along the route; prisoners said there was one body for each log cut down to clear the forest. Some of these half-forgotten places are now abandoned and being reclaimed by nature. Over long stretches the ruins of the road are traversed only by the occasional convoy of trucks and motorcycles.
Across European Russia and the Ukraine, arbitrary purges and arrest quotas separated families forever. Many never returned from the roads leading north. Inmates were forced to build their own jails and dig their own graves. The human toll is impossible to calculate. After more modern highways were built the Road of Bones was little travelled, and parts of it fell into disrepair. In the last five years, it has become popular with adventure travelers and long-distance motorcyclists drawn by the challenge of the frequently impassable route through the Verkhoyansk Mountains in extreme weather. In January 2010, young native Siberian photographers Bolot Bochkarev, Ajar Varlamov, and Nastya Borisova said to each other “Why not visit the world’s coldest place in the coldest period of time?” Images in the exhibition include excerpts from the visual diary of their midwinter journey to Oymyakon, the world’s coldest settlement, known as the Pole of Cold.
Bolot Bochkarev, a journalist living in Yakutsk, is the founder of eYakutia.com, AskYakutia.com, and the international online community project Cold United.
Nastya Borisova works in magazine publishing and lives in Yakutsk.
Ajar Varlamov, a newspaper advertising agent, travels widely throughout Siberia.