From 1918 to 1987, Soviet Russia operated a network of hundreds of prison camps that held up to 10,000 people each. When Stalin launched his infamous purges in 1936, millions of so-called political prisoners were arrested and transported to the gulags without trial. The first wave of prisoners were military and government officials; later, ordinary citizens—especially intellectuals, doctors, writers, artists, and scientists—were arrested ex nihilo. At the camps, many prisoners were executed or died from overwork and malnutrition. The death rate often hovered around 5 percent, although in years of widespread famine, the mortality rate could be as high as 25 percent. Historians estimate that as part of the gulag, Soviet authorities imprisoned or executed about 25 million people. “That sum is unfathomable,” Katia Patin, who produced the film about Golubeva, told me. Golubeva’s story is part of a powerful oral-history series called Generation Gulag, which Coda Story created to better understand the gulag experience. “We made a point of not relying on numbers to tell the story of the gulag,” Patin said. “Instead, we focused on individual stories as a way of capturing the gulag’s massive scale, as well as the ripple effect set in motion when the Soviet machine of repression bore down on a single person.” For full story click here.
“It was our first interview shoot for Coda Story’s Generation Gulag series and we were running late. Irina Verblovskaya, 86, was expecting us but our film crew couldn’t find her tiny green cottage hidden in a forest about half an hour outside St. Petersburg. Our minivan cruised down narrow roads until we got out and walked through the birch forest, stopping at almost identical cottage homes to ask for directions. When we finally pulled up to the right one, Irina made it clear how very late we were: “Why are you here?” she asked, raising her hands up and she walked towards us across the lawn. “What are you doing here now? Where were you 10 years ago?” Were we too late? This was our first question at Coda when we began thinking about tracking down the remaining Gulag survivors. Why were we doing this now?” Read full story here and click on the word “here” below each photograph in the story for a link to a video interview with the photograph subject.