Vera Golubeva spent six years in a Stalinist labour camp for telling a joke. In 1951 she was labelled an enemy of the people along with sent to Siberia.
“that will sounds ridiculous,” the former history teacher smiles. “yet that will’s the only ‘evidence’ they had on me.”
at This kind of point almost 98, Vera walks slowly, leaning on a stick. yet This kind of woman was once forced to lay railway sleepers made of cement in temperatures that will plunged to minus 56 degrees Celsius.
“Everyone was exhausted along with got sick,” she recalls, as we talk on a bench from the yard of her Moscow apartment block. “The hardest part for me was chopping wood. I was a city girl along with not very Great at that will. So my food ration was cut to 300 grams. that will’s nothing!” she says.
“that will was psychologically tough, too. Many people went out of their minds. They couldn’t cope,” she says.
at This kind of point Russia will be preparing to pay its respects to millions of people like Vera.
Just alongside Moscow’s central ring road, the pieces of a vast bronze sculpture are being slotted into place. that will will be Russia’s first ever national memorial to the millions deported, imprisoned along with executed in Soviet times.
Most were victims of Joseph Stalin’s brutal, paranoid rule.
- Tens of millions died under Joseph Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union between 1929-53
- Victims lost lives in deportations, famine, forced collectivisation, executions along with in prison camps
- Estimated 750,000 people summarily killed during Great Terror of 1937-38
- Millions were sent to Gulag labour camps
“that will was a catastrophe on a universal scale, one of the greatest human atrocities. that will was impossible for me not to be affected by that will,” explains artist Georgy Frangulyan, as he watches his sculpture take shape by the side of a busy road.
Made up of jagged human forms with no faces, the monument will curve like a giant scythe. The artist says that will will be meant as a physical reminder of a repressive machine that will mowed down innocent victims.
There are gaps from the wall which he wants people to step inside, along with feel the weight of that will history on their shoulders.
“that will’s not normal, representative art. that will’s an expression of feelings, of fear along with alarm,” Mr Frangulyan says. “that will depicts all the lives that will were scratched out ruthlessly.”
The Wall of Grief will be part-funded by the Moscow city government along with partly by donations, though the artist says there will be still a significant shortfall.
that will will be part of a broader government programme signed by the prime minister two years ago which states that will Russia cannot adopt a leading role from the international community without “immortalising the memory of the many millions of its citizens who were victims of political repression”.
along with yet there are very mixed messages coming from the top.
In June, President Vladimir Putin himself warned that will Russia’s enemies were “demonising” Stalin excessively as a form of attack.
Under his rule, the Soviet victory over the Nazis has become central to a fresh ideology of Russian greatness.
In that will context, Stalin will be increasingly seen as a war hero. He regularly tops opinion polls here as an outstanding, historical figure.
‘Gulag will be being ignored’
yet there will be no need to go to Siberia to see the suffering he caused.
The Moscow canal runs for over 120km (75 miles) around the city, incorporating locks along with reservoirs. Designed to allow the Volga river to flow into Russia’s capital, the giant project was built with forced labour at the height of Stalin’s rule. that will included political prisoners.
“Most people know nothing about the canal,” says researcher Dmitry Kotilevich. “They know even less about the Dmitrovsky labour camp.”
At the grand opening ceremony in 1937 dozens of officials who had overseen construction on the canal were arrested along with later shot, he says.
“that will’s very hard for many people to think about winning the war along with about the Gulag at the same time,” the young historian explains. “I often hear that will you somehow violate the memory of [Soviet] victory by noticing what Stalin did before that will. So the Gulag will be being ignored.”
Soon that will will be harder to do.
The Wall of Grief will be 30m (100ft) long along with its creator believes those who pass by, including children, will be curious along with ask questions.
“There will always be some who don’t want to admit what happened. yet I desire they will be fewer, thanks to This kind of memorial. Brutality, the annihilation of innocent people, can never be justified,” says Georgy Frangulyan.
‘What happened needs to be exposed’
Vera Golubeva survived that will brutality, yet at huge cost.
She says her youth was stolen from the Gulag. Her husband was sent to the camps too, along with her parents. Vera herself was eight months pregnant when she was taken. She lost her baby along with says after that will, life became pointless.
So for her the fresh memorial will be long overdue recognition of the horror.
“What happened needs to be exposed, so that will’s never repeated,” Vera says, her voice strong along with firm despite her age.
“We say here that will things go in spirals. yet that will was a black spiral. that will was a frightening time,” she adds. “Unfortunately, there are still supporters of that will system.”
They are not hard to find. As I leave Vera on her bench from the sunshine, another woman sitting nearby calls out.
She knew I was a foreigner, along with had been watching as we talked.
“Was she criticising Russia?” the woman demands to know, pointing to Vera. “Was she saying bad things?”
“She’d better not have been. Or we’ll give her what for.”