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Gulag Railroad – The Remains Of Stalin’s Dead Road Project Lie Forgotten

Work of dissidents, criminals and other unwanted individuals all for nothing…

Photo: Amos Chapple | RFE/RL

In Russia’s arctic wilderness, the remnants of one of the Soviet Union’s most tragic gulag projects now lies largely forgotten. The railroad would have connected Russia’s arctic waters with its western railway network writes RFE/RL. Most records relating to the gulag — the brutal network of forced-labor camps for dissenters, criminals, and other perceived threats — remain secret.

But it’s likely that Stalin, spooked by the incursion of Nazi submarines into the Arctic during World War II, wanted the railway in place as a means of supplying a planned naval port. The railway also would have connected northern nickel mines to Soviet factories to the west. Check these incredible photos made by photo-journalist Amos Chapple.

Ruins of Josef Stalin’s abortive “Transpolar Mainline” railway.

Photo: Amos Chapple | RFE/RL

A rotting railway bridge in the Siberian outback

Photo: Amos Chapple | RFE/RL

A guard’s watchtower in autumn forest

Photo: Amos Chapple | RFE/RL

Prisoners were split into gendered barracks. 

Photo: Amos Chapple | RFE/RL

A punishment cell for prisoners

Photo: Amos Chapple | RFE/RL

Near a labor camp, one of hundreds of the railway’s bridges, built to span the swampy terrain.

Photo: Amos Chapple | RFE/RL

Sinking further into the forest under the weight of each winter’s snow.

Photo: Amos Chapple | RFE/RL

A survivor recalls the hopelessness of escape. “Where to run — there were just swamps and midges! 

Photo: Amos Chapple | RFE/RL

For camp survivor Snovsky the biggest tragedy was the project’s futility: ”Tens of thousands of human lives for nothing. For me, the saddest thing was that it was for nothing.”

Photo: Amos Chapple | RFE/RL

Punishment cells with metal-lined doors. 

Photo: Amos Chapple | RFE/RL

Getting to the camps today is difficult outside of winter.

Photo: Amos Chapple | RFE/RL

But the biggest threat to survival, according to another former prisoner, came from the brutal winters, which frequently dropped below -40C.

Photo: Amos Chapple | RFE/RL

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