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PERM POLITICAL LABOUR CAMPS

23.11.2006

The first political labour camps in the Perm (at one stage Molotov) region of the RSFSR were set up still at the time of the Civil War. The construction of the Krasnovishersk Cellulose Plant in 1929 was the first time in the USSR that the forced labour of prisoners was used. By the 1930s there was already a whole network of camps in the region, in which tens of thousands of people, most of them imprisoned as “kulaks” [often only relatively better-off peasants], including from Ukraine, perished. In 1948 special NKVD camps were created in which those convicted under articles 54-1 – 54-10 of the Criminal Code of the UkrSSR (58-1 – 58-10 CC RSFSR) “counter-revolutionary activities” were held.  One of the divisions was Skal-Lag in the Perm region. There were more labour camps in the region than normal settlements, and more prisoners than civilian population.

In the 1970s-80s there were three camps near the city of Chusovoi, under the camp administration in the village of Skalny (“institution VS-389”), holding those convicted of “particularly dangerous state crimes”, i.e. for articles 64-72 of the CC RSFSR and their counterparts in the criminal legislation of the Soviet republics (articles 56 – 65 of the UkrSSR CC). During this period, these were mainly people tried for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” or “long-term prisoners” who were finishing their 25- or 15-year sentences received in the 1950s and 1960s.

The camp zones in Vsekhsvyatskaya (VS-389/35  or “Perm-35”) and Kutchino (VS-389/36 or “Perm-36”) were set up for holding political prisoners in 1972, with the first contingent arriving there in July from the Moldovian political labour camps.

According to estimates from ’Khronika tekushchykh sobytiy’ [’Chronicle of Current Events’ - CCE] No. 33, possibly much too low, in autumn 1974 around 100 prisoners were held in “Perm – 35”, and in “Perm – 35”, around 150.  In September 1975 political camp No. 37 was opened in Polovynka, holding around 50 prisoners (CCE, no. 38). In all, 995 people went through the Perm political labour camps. Information about their situation, and about their struggle to assert their rights, was regularly published in ’Chronicle of Current Events’, “News from the USSR” [“Vesti iz SSSR”] and “Bulletin of repression in Ukraine” [“Visnyk represiy v Ukraini”].

On 1 March 1980 a “special regime unit” was opened near the camp in Kutchino, and 32 prisoners were transferred there (one died on the journey) from the special regime camp No. 1 in Dubravlag (the Mordovian political labour camps, in Sosnovka, Mordovia). Here, in the strictest isolation and in extremely harsh conditions were held those whom the state labelled “particularly dangerous repeat offenders”, i.e. people convicted again for “particularly dangerous state crimes”.  According to figures from the Perm Memorial Centre for the Study of Political Repression, 57 people were held in the special regime unit, seven of whom, including Oleksa TYKHY, Yury LYTVYN, Valery MARCHENKO and Vasyl STUS, died.

From February 1987 the drawn-out process, at first with various conditions attached, of releasing the political prisoners began. By autumn 1988 this process was largely complete, yet the last prisoners of the Perm political labour camps were only freed in 1991.

Camps No. 35 and 37 were made into usual penal colonies, while camp no. 36 was liquidated. In 1995, through the efforts of the Perm branch of the “Memorial” Society, on the site of former labour camp No. 36 the “Perm 36” Memorial Museum to the Victims of political repression was established, later the Perm Memorial Centre for the Study of Political Repression, a branch of which is the museum in Kutchino.

 Based on material from „Memorial“, Moscow

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