The 411 sites in this select directory are distributed across six of contemporary Russia’s eight federal districts: over a third are in the Northwest, a quarter are in Siberia.
WORK IN PROGRESS (October 2023)
Work continues on the English version of the website.
= It is possible to turn back to the original Russian text of each entry and any hyperlinks it contains via [Original texts and hyperlinks] at the top of the Bibliography & Sources section of every site. Links to the earlier Virtual Gulag website will be added when its reconstruction is complete.
= Captions and dates for the many photographic illustrations have been added. Click on photos on this website to see the entire image: the preceding Virtual Gulag website often contains more photos from a given site and a fuller description of each image. Some sites have several photos or illustrations; over forty lack any such visual dimension.
= Statistical information for each region (and occasionally for the specific location) is being calculated from Memorial’s unique online database and entered in the section on Books of Remembrance.
(For an overview of the contents of this website, see Those Who did Not Return.)
A number of abbreviations and various forms of shorthand have been adopted on this site. Take, for example, the way different population centres are referred to.
Following current Russian practice urban population centres with more than 50,000 inhabitants are treated as a separate category. Their names are written in capital letters and they are invariably referred to on this website as CITIES. The names of urban population centres with between 12,000 and 50,000 inhabitants are written lower case and they are invariably referred to as Towns. In both cases, the population centre is termed “город” in Russian (and its total number of inhabitants refers to the most recent figures – not, say, to the 1930s when many of these settlements came into existence or began to expand rapidly).
A settlement (посёлок) with up to 12,000 inhabitants, of a “rural” [пст] or an “urban type” [пгт], is consistently referred to here as a settlement. Villages are identified as such.
The Special Settlements, created from the early 1930s onwards to accomodate successive waves of deportation, are usually abbreviated “ss”.
Special settlement is a literal translation of the Soviet neologism («спецпоселение»).
Where feasible the names of such settlements are represented by simplified and abridged titles, e.g. Ichet-Di ss [11-137]. A great many of these settlements are today uninhabited; in some cases they are “non-existent”, i.e. no traces of the former buildings remain.
Their involuntary inhabitants («спецпоселенцы») are described not as “special” but as “forced” settlers. During the 1930s there were as many if not more inhabitants of the Soviet Union’s special settlements as in the camps. The deportation of forced settlers (men, women and children) to these new locations and their enforced residence there was another form of captivity, also supervised by the OGPU / NKVD.
Some of the sites described in this resource are indeed classic killing fields, where both mass execution and mass interment took place. In other cases, it has not been confirmed that both shooting and subsequent burial occurred at the same location. As the late Arseny Roginsky pointed out, the contemporary euphemism “firing range” is misleading in this respect.
To provide greater clarity in such matters the following shorthand descriptions of sites have been consistently applied throughout “Russia’s Necropolis”. An example is offered in each case:
1. “Execution & burial site” – Sandarmokh [10-09], a classic killing field in Karelia;
2. “Burial of the executed” – Kommunarka [77-14] on the outskirts of Moscow. It has not been confirmed that victims were shot there as well;
3. “Burial of the executed & prison dead” – at the Vagankovskoe graveyard [77-03] in Moscow. The remains of such victims lie concealed among the civilian dead of towns and cities;
4. “Reburial of executed / deceased prisoners / forced settlers” etc. – the Dubovka Memorial Complex [36-01] near Voronezh;
5. “Burial ground of Gulag prisoners” – Letnerechenskoye settlement [10-03] in Karelia;
6. “Graveyard of forced settlers / deportees” – Vokvad special settlement [11-55] in Komi.
A distinction was made during the 1930s-1950s between penal colonies for those who had committed relatively minor offences, e.g. Burial ground of Colony No 1 [21-05], and corrective-labour camps where those with longer sentences were held.
The penal colonies came under the Regional (Republican) NKVD. The corrective-labour camp systems, such as Belbaltlag, were part of the Main Administration for Camps (or GULag): the administration had headquarters in Moscow where it was subordinate to the People’s Commissariat (NKVD; or Ministry, MVD) of Internal Affairs.
[C] – Annual event, e.g., “The Feast of Russia’s New Martyrs and Confessors”, at the Tesnitsky Woods [71-01], Tula Region;
(c) – event held “from time to time”, e.g., Commemorative Services at Soloneshnoe village [22-16], Altai Region;
* – other types of appropriate contemporary use , e.g., Zablagar village [38-25], Irkutsk Region (Ceremonial events AND Excursions) or the city of BIISK [22-06] annual Ceremonial Event AND Cultural / Educational Purposes, Excursions, Burial Ground / Commemorative Site. If neither a Ceremonial Event or other appropriate use is indicated there is No Information about a site (5 entries), it is Unused (41 entries) or used wholly for Commercial Purposes (25 entries).
nk – certain information is “not known”, e.g., Spornoe outpost [49-20], Magadan Region;
(s) – ceremonies performed several times a year, e.g., BARNAUL [22-03], Altai Krai.
The Regions on the home page of this site are organised not in Latin alphabetical order but according to the administrative status of five types of territorial division within the Russian Federation.
The eight larger Federal Districts (okrug) of which they each form a part follow in brackets. The regions in each group are listed in the order of the 36 letters of the Cyrillic alphabet (A, B, V, D – Kh, Sh, Shch, Ch, Ya):
1. 21 Republics (Adygea to Chuvashia);
2. Six large Regions or Krai (Altai to Khabarovsk);
3. 49 Regions or Oblast (Amur to Yaroslavl);
4. The federal cities Moscow and St Petersburg;
5. Five Autonomous Districts (AO Jewish to Yamalo-Nenets);
6. and Chechnya.
“We have lived through so very much,” wrote Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago (1973, Vol. 2: Part 2), “and almost none of it has been described and called by its right name” (quoted in Toker 2000, p 119).
Nazi euphemisms – the “Final Solution”, ‘special’ unit – are today widely familiar and we know what they were trying to conceal. Whether introduced for that purpose or not, the euphemisms that disguise and obscure the crimes of the Soviet regime still beset readers and researchers every step of the way: “kulak” and “dekulakisation”; “special settlers” and special settlements; the Great Purge and “political repression”. Historians who for years have worked to understand and write a truthful history of these atrocities have interpreted, decoded and, in many cases, begun to replace such misleading terms. Instead of dekulakisation some have suggested “depeasantisation”; instead of the Great Purge most have gladly embraced Robert Conquest’s “The Great Terror”; in place of the “victims of political repression” (the victims of politically-motivated repressive measures) they refer to “victims of political terror” (Memorial).
Throughout this website there has been a conscious attempt to avoid euphemisms and to use or, in some cases, to coin alternative, less evasive descriptions. For example, the numerous Books of Remembrance follow official terminology and distinguish between those repressed «в уголовном порядке» (conviction for criminal offences) and the many repressed «в административном порядке» (as an administrative measure). It seems simpler and clearer to describe the first as individuals shot or sent to the camps; the second as members of families, communities or entire nations deported to other parts of the Soviet Union.
(partially revised October 2023)