European Memories

of the Gulag

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Places  OF RESETTLEMENT

Within a few hours, the deportees left the farmhouse or the town flat where they lived and were loaded onto cattle wagons. They stayed there for a long, uncomfortable journey to places of whose location and nature they knew nothing.
When they arrived, there was often nothing planned for permanent settlement. They were crowded into huts, the buildings typical of the Soviet prison world and also of workers’ accommodation. Some of them lived in houses abandoned by their former occupants, who had themselves been purged or had moved elsewhere. Some were abandoned with nowhere to live but an old cowshed and had to quickly build zemlyanki {half-buried temporary shelters to protect against the cold} which they learnt about from the locals. In this way they managed to get through the winter before they could build more permanent housing or try to rent a room or part of a room from local people. 
After a few months, the new villages of huts built with outdated tools and temporary materials – cement replaced by moss – appeared in the Siberian landscape. Over the years these resettler villages developed: houses replaced huts, and schools, culture clubs, canteens, etc. appeared.
When they moved out in the late 1950s some villages were deserted and the resettler cemeteries are the only memorials of these purges.
See MEDIA
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“Nationalities” living together

“We got used to it, but at the beginning Siberia seemed so dismal, grey and inhospitable. Then, in the spring, the same fields became so green and beautiful, and we had also got to know the people. You get used to things… the locals… our Russian neighbours… and there was more than one nationality. You see, the Russians were a minority in the village. The village was large. When a son left for the army, he never came back, but settled in town and did his best to help his mother, brothers, etc. to leave. And all who could moved to the towns. The Volga Germans were the majority in the village. They were very friendly to us and we got to know them well. They were Catholic too. Then… in town… until 1953… There were also the Kalmuks who were friendly. Very friendly. They were decent people, not bad. There were other peoples too, Chuvash, Ukrainians… but most were Lithuanians and Germans. The Lithuanians lived and got on well together.”

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Travels of the Ruzgys family

In May 1948, the Ruzgyses, a Lithuanian farming family, were arrested near Šiauliai and deported. After travelling two weeks, the resettler train arrived in Buryatia in Eastern Siberia, south-east of Lake Baikal. Small groups of resettlers were put in open trucks on a narrow-gauge railway and allocated to various villages. The territory was settled by the resettlers along these railways which ran up the valleys of the Yablonovy mountains. The Ruzgys family and fifteen other families were taken to the hamlet of Khutor, which had twenty or so houses. The resettler families moved into four of them.

Before the early arrival of the Siberian winter, the resettlers quickly built a new hut village, Moigua, in the taiga, extending the narrow-gauge railway to the north-east.

The village only lasted a few years, until all the forest in the valley was felled. A new village was built in another well-wooded valley that offered several years of work. Life in this village, Khara-Kutul, populated largely by Lithuanians, was more comfortable: larger houses, basic amenities and services. Of the three villages Rimgaudas Ruzgys lived in, it is the only one that still exists. The Lithuanians moved from being itinerant settlers to residents who could at last take the place over.

Rimgaudas had a great “advantage” over the other resettlers. He was a “free man” because his parents had managed to change his date of birth to make him one year younger. But this free man’s “advantage” turned against him. Adult resettlers were not called up to the army, but Rimgaudas had to leave the village to do his military service in the Soviet Army. He was sent to Khabarovsk on the Chinese frontier. At that point his family moved to Novoilinsk village, their last destination in Siberia before they were set free and could leave, in 1956-1957.

In 1960, after three and a half years’ military service, Rimgaudas Ruzgys returned to Lithuania and settled in Vilnius. In the early 1960s, his parents, brother and sister also moved to Vilnius because they could not return to the family house, now occupied by other people.

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Early days in Khutor

Rimgaudas Ruzgys describes his early days living in Khutor village

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Building a village

Rimgaudas Ruzgys describes the building of Moyga village 

“The place was called Moyga. As usual out there, they had only built a few huts, but everyone had to be housed. So they dumped three or four families per room, as many as they could. In the middle of the room there was a barrel with holes in it and a chimney coming out to heat the inside a bit.

The door had no hallway, it opened directly outside. When we started heating in winter, it was about –40°C outside, bitter cold. Inside, the walls were of unseasoned wood and the water condensed and ran down them; you had drops falling on your head. We had no floor because there was no sawmill.

So we had to make floor planks by splitting logs. We split the logs into planks, which we used to make a sort of floor. The same for the ceiling: we had to cover it up a bit and we used that type of plank. We took great pine logs, two or three metres long with no branches because they were easier to split. We put a layer of earth on the floor to make it warmer. When they built the huts, they didn’t dig any foundations. They built on tree stumps or posts. Instead of foundations, we piled up about a metre of earth against the sides up to the windows so the cold would not get in from below. That’s how we spent our first winter.”