KOLYMA: IN THE SHADOW OF TIME
The project title quotes Varlam Shalamov’s poem. Shalamov is the author of “Kolyma Tales”, a prisoner of Dalstroy*, who could both convey the majesty of Kolyma’s wilderness and the horror of Stalin’s Gulag. How did Kolyma change since Shalamov’s time, in more than 50 years; what hides “in the shadow of time”?
The first thing we think of when we hear “Kolyma” is the years of the Stalin’s repressions. It still bears some scars of the past, the age of brutal development, costing the lives of thousands of Gulag prisoners. Though most of the camps and mines left almost no trace to be seen today, the nature still vividly remembers the history and those hundreds of thousands of souls who worked here and also those who never came back.
Today not many locals can still remember the Dalstroy period, the majority of Kolyma residents were born and grew up in a new reality. Today’s Kolyma suffers mainly from disrepair and abandonment, as not only the Gulag’s remnants are fading away but also the infrastructure built in the 60’s and 70’s is gradually coming to ruin. Settlements and towns fade away one by one. A typical for Kolyma story: factories close, people first lose their jobs, then the lights go dark, next central heating runs cold, forcing them into conditions impossible for normal life. People are left with no choice but to leave their homes. The population of Magadan Region shrank by two thirds, since the 90’s.
But in spite of all the social shocks of the 20’th century, in spite of all the scars that Kolyma still bears, Kolyma lives, but lives its own life, in the shadow of time.
*Dalstroy (Russian: Дальстро́й) was an organization set up in 1931 by the Soviet NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB) in order to manage road construction and the mining of gold in Kolyma using forced labor of prisoners. Over the years, Dalstroy created about 80 Gulag camps across the Kolyma region.
Reproduction of “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci in a repair shop at Utinka gold mine, 2016.
“Vector” is a gold mining company engaged in the extraction and exploration of placer gold deposits in the Yagodnoye district of the Magadan Region, 2020.
The Magadan Region is Russia’s leading gold mining area. Kolyma produces about 24.5 tons of gold annually. Previously in USSR state was mining for gold, but now the third party contractors do all the job, however they are obliged to sell all gold to the state.
Most gold deposits are located far from populated areas, no one permanently lives there, for the organization of production, the rotational method of servicing production is traditionally used. The gold mining season lasts from March to November. Miners live in shift camps; the usual working day is twelve hours; the work week is six days.
The valley of Myakit river, 2015.
Old bridges on Obryvisty stream, Kolyma Highway, 2014.
Girl hangs laundry for drying, Yagodnoe, 2014.
Belichya, 2014. In the 1940s-50s on this site was the hospital for prisoners.
Worker at the old boiler house, Orotukan, 2016.
Ice rink in Yagodnoe, 2015.