Category Archives: Siberia


Now there’s a surprise! Sent to Archangel in 1918, at the end of the First World War and during the Bolshevik Revolution, the troops landed in a foreign country and a civil war that they did not understand. Unable to know who was a baddy they arrested anyone who appeared suspicious and quickly filled the city’s prison. A concentration camp was then set up on the island of Mudyug, 45 miles down river, with the first inmates building their own prison camp. Over a quarter of the 1000 prisoners died from disease, hunger and torture. The camp became known as Death Island by the locals.

mudyug camp

One man who learnt from his time as a prisoner at Mudyug was Mikhail Kedrov, a prominent Bolshevik who was sent to Archangel after the October revolution, and later became a fanatical regional head of the Cheka – the secret police. He went on to set up a number of death camps in the North including a 17th Century convent where over 3,000  people were imprisoned and killed. Many were White Army officers and sailors from the Kronstadt naval fortress near Finland who had rebelled against the Bolsheviks, but others had nothing to do with the military. Some were clergy, some were ordinary people who for some reason had been labelled “counter-revolutionaries”.


With thanks to Lucy Ash and the BBC magazine.



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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Dlugi Most, Long Bridge in SiberiaSamples of letters smuggled out of the Soviet labour camps have gone on display in Moscow. Urszula was not so lucky. I am not aware of her sending or receiving a single letter during her 10 year sentence. Even after she was released to the settlement of Long Bridge in the Siberian taiga a parcel sent by her sister was “returned to sender”. That is why we still have the address label pictured here. I am not sure how Urszula’s sister knew her address, but I do know that Urszula’s British friend in Long Bridge, Jane Wilton who had been married to a Russian aristocrat, was visited by her Russian daughter – messages travel in mysterious ways in these circumstances.

Some of the samples displayed at the exhibition are heart renderingly beautiful.

Letter sewed with a fish boneThis piece of cloth sent by Kozlov to his wife and daughters must have taken many days to embroider using a fish bone and thread taken from his socks.

The full article maybe read in The Siberian Times at


Klavdia Novikova and Yasaburo Hachiya

Klavdia and Yasaburo

This is a beautiful love story. When Yasaburo Hachiya was released from the gulags in the 1950s he was sent to a resettlement camp where he met Siberian Klavdia Novikova. Klavdia was worried about the implications of having a relationship with a foreigner convicted of espionage and moved away to eastern Siberia. Yasha followed her, and soon they wed,  having a long and happy marriage. ‘There were no men like my Yasha,’ she boasted. ‘Local women envied me: he did not drink or smoke.’

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union Yasha discovered that his Japanese wife Hisako was still alive and had spent 51 years faithfully waiting for him. Klavdia insisted that he return to Japan, organised a passport and divorced him so that he would qualify for a pension. With mixed feelings he returned to Japan in 1997. He called Klavdia every week and begged her to visit, which she eventually did. The two wives embraced and wept, words were not necessary.

Urszula had a similar experience. Released at the end of her 10 year sentence she met a Japanese man on her journey into eternal exile. She and Kacuya fell in love and lived together in the remote settlement of Dolgiy-Most. Following Stalin’s death Kacuya was given permission to return to Japan and Urszula insisted that he must return to his wife. Urszula was released a year later and made her way to the UK. With the help of the wife of the Japanese Ambassador in London, who she met at a knitting group, Urszula made contact with Kacuya via a newspaper advert. However Urszula’s story did not have such a happy ending. Once they both knew each other was well, Kacuya, or maybe his wife, wanted no more contact.

More details and photos can be seen in The Siberian Times.


Memorial to deported Poles

Memorial to deported Poles, Warsaw.

When one’s grandmother writes about a horrific experience that lasted 16 years, 20 years after it happened, all from memory with no notes, one has to wonder if there are errors. I am totally confident that Babusia wrote honestly and without exaggeration, but have no proof of how accurate it is – until today. A very helpful guy, a member of the Kresy-Siberia Discussion Group found a testimony in the Hoover Archives describing the same deportation journey from Rawa Ruska.

Teresa Underka wrote, “On the night of the 12 to the 13th of April the NKVD came with guns. The family packed and were taken to the station. They were put on wagons. Everyone thought it was going to be the end of them. It was dark, airless and tight; so tight that it was impossible to move. They sat locked up at the station all day. The train left in the evening and got to Lwow the next morning. Here they were told to transfer to other wagons. There were 82 people in the wagon. It took 2 weeks to get to Alga in Aktyubinsk Oblast.”

Urszula Muskus wrote, “It was 10 past midnight … it was 13 Apr 1940 … packed by 4am … lorry to the station …wagon doors slammed shut … 50 in wagon … set off after nightfall … arrived outside Lwow 11am next day … moved to larger wagon on wide tracks … 85 crammed into the wagon … 13 days after we had set out our train arrived at Alga.”


Office file of the Social Welfare Department, 1941-1944, Polish Embassy in USSR This document is hand written in Polish.


Gulag guard tower

Gulag guard tower. All photos courtesy of

In 1947 Joseph Stalin demanded a railroad built across the taiga of northern Siberia to reach Russia’s far eastern territories. Thousands of gulag prisoners died building 700km of track before it was abandoned in 1953 following Stalin’s death. Sixty years ago everyone left leaving many personal belongings behind and, being hundreds of kilometers from the nearest settlement, much has remained intact. This area is in Krasnoyarsk Krai, the same province and about Rusting steam engine.1000km north of Dolgiy-Most where Urszula was sent into eternal exile in 1952. Urszula crossed the River Biryusa, a tributary of the Yenisei, to work a summer season in the taiga. The short warm summers herald hordes of mosquitoes followed by 8 months of freezing temperatures.

This project recording the abandoned gulags is led by Abandoned rails.Stepan Cernousek and supported by The photos are excellent, but living in the Highlands of Scotland with a 0.5mbps broadband speed somewhat slow to load. This is positively metropolitan compared to Turukhansk!