The AtlanticThe Atlantic

Russia has a new Gulag

By Anne Applebaum

14 Jul 2023 · 3 min read

informed Summary

  1. A new version of the Soviet-era Gulag system is being reconstructed, particularly for Ukrainians, writes Anne Applebaum. Journalists, war-crimes investigators, and specialized groups have documented arrests, murders, prisons, and torture chambers in Ukrainian territories under Russian occupation.

In 1978, Bohdan Klymchak walked out of the Soviet Union and asked for political asylum in Iran. Klymchak was Ukrainian, born near Lviv. In 1949, his family had been deported to Khabarovsk, in the Russian Far East, after the arrest of his brother as a “Ukrainian nationalist.” In 1957, Klymchak himself was arrested for “anti-Soviet agitation”; even after his release, he remained under constant surveillance. After he escaped across the border, and after the Iranians sent him back, Klymchak wound up in a camp called Perm-36, one of the last large political prisons in the Soviet Union. He remained there until 1990, as one of the last Soviet political prisoners.

In the three decades since Klymchak was freed, a lot has happened. Perm-36 became a thriving museum and site of remembrance, receiving tens of thousands of visitors, including groups of schoolchildren, every year. In 2014, it was shut down again. Russian ex-prisoners and historians published memoirs and histories of the Gulag, held conferences, created exhibitions, made documentaries. Then, over the past several years, their organizations were banned, and their leaders were exiled or ignored.

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