Monthly Archives: March 2015


Tatiana in London 2015While in London last week I had an emotional meeting with Tatiana. In 1955 Tatiana travelled with her mother to Dolgiy-Most to meet her grandmother Jane Wilton for the first time. Tatiana was 17 years old. Jane, born in England, had been imprisoned in 1937, the year before Tatiana was born, accused of being a British spy after her husband, a Russian aristocrat, was shot. Following her release from prison she, like Urszula, was banished to the remote settlement of Long Bridge in the taiga.

Tatiana arrived in Kansk, east of Krasnoyarsk, after a five day rail journey from Moscow. Being September the daily bus service to Dolgiy-Most was cancelled because mud made the roads impassable so, following a three day wait, they organised a lift in a vodka delivery truck for the final 120km. They carried with them as much rice, flour, clothes and bedding as they could carry in order to trade and sell to fund the two month stay. Urszula was a close friend of Jane’s and was the main helper in selling the goods so Tatiana met Urszula once or twice a week during her stay.

This visit was after Kacuya had been allowed to return to Japan and Urszula was lodging in a cabin with a man who collected tree sap. Tatiana remembers that Urszula worked as a cleaner, probably in a public building like a school or hospital. When I asked Tatiana if Urszula had a dog, she exclaimed “Yes! A dog always followed Urszula, but I didn’t know if it was hers.” I assume that this was her faithful hound Mamataro.

Dolgiy-Most, Krasnoyarsk, Siberia

Front from left, Jane Wilton, Tatiana’s mother Irena, Urszula. Second row right, Tatiana. 

The amount of food on the table is interesting and some of them look quite happy. It suggests that conditions had improved by the autumn of 1955. Is Tatiana making “bunny ears” or victory signs? I look forward to seeing the rest of the photos that she has in Poland.

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Are Urszula and the 18 million other prisoners who suffered in Stalin’s gulags being cleansed from Russian history and replaced by those fighting for independence in Eastern Ukraine? Recent events would suggest that this is what Putin is attempting.

Perm-36 gulag

Perm-36 gulag

Perm-36 situated in the Ural Mountains is the only surviving gulag which was opened as a museum. In the Stalin era it housed up to 3000 prisoners, but following closure it became a museum in 1996. Now the local authorities have taken back the site from the museum committee and removed all references to Stalin’s crimes. Viktor Shmyrov who was the director, says, “The new authorities have totally changed the content. Now it’s a museum about the camp system, but not about political prisoners. They don’t talk about the repressions or about Stalin.”

He continued, “The takeover by the Perm authorities is less about a rehabilitation of Stalin than a connection with the political situation in the country. We are already seeing the creation of a Stalinist-type state – enormous power is concentrated in the hands of one man. Under President Vladimir Putin there is no need now for repressions – the people have become obedient. The political system is returning to totalitarianism.”

Donetsk and LuhanskOn the other hand a new museum is opening in St. Petersburg dedicated to the nationalist Novorossiya project, the exploits of the pro-Russian separatist battalions in eastern Ukraine. These are based in Donbass and Lugansk.

The term “Novorossiya” is used to refer to territory near the Black Sea, which Russia seized from the Ottoman empire in the 18th century, and has been employed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to stir nationalist sentiments in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.