Few people drove along the entire Kolyma highway, from which, in fact, the development of the Kolyma Territory began. Not so long ago I had a chance to drive along it, as they say, from and to – all two thousand and a half kilometers. From Yakutsk to Magadan.
Road on bones
Residents of the central regions of Russia, perhaps, even find it difficult to imagine that the federal highway can be asphalted by 10 percent, well, maybe a little more. And so it is completely unpaved. No, the road workers are working, of course, and reconstruction is underway, and parts of the asphalt are being laid. But in some places “Kolyma”, as our driver and guide said, is generally “impassable”. That is, it is practically impossible to overcome it on a passenger car. Especially in autumn and spring. In the Churapchinsky region of Yakutia, the route is such that cars and even trucks get stuck, fly off the runway – an accident after an accident. In summer, the impenetrable dust stands in a column.
But these are all flowers, the most dangerous thing is the clamps. How many cars crashed, how many people died on them – only God knows. Since the mid-2000s, the most dangerous sections of the territory of Yakutia have been eliminated, but still there are such that you pass with bated breath – if only it would carry.
However, the modern “Kolyma” is, of course, an example in comparison with what this road was before and especially considering how it was built.
I remember once in Ust-Nera (this is a village in Yakutia where gold is mined), the keeper of the local museum of local lore, Svetlana Zakusilo, said that the Kolyma road was literally built on bones. The prisoners who built it died from exhaustion, hunger, frost, and their corpses were laid at the base of the road. “Therefore, now drivers always drive on this road without their hats,” added the local historian.
Without hats or not, I can’t say, but the track is not easy and with heavy energy.
On the territory of Yakutia along the road, there are almost no pillars with an indication of kilometers from the time of the GULAG. They are cut down and taken to museums. But we still found one – standing, squinting, as a memory of terrible times.
And in the Magadan region, a local historian Vladimir Nayman, who has been searching for the cemeteries of Dalstroy prisoners for a long time and erects crosses in their place, told with what efforts the Kolyma highway was built. They had to carry out explosions in the rocky ground, the prisoners went down on ropes, hung on them, the explosives were laid in a frost of minus 40, they could not work for more than three hours.
This route was built for a reason – it was needed in order to get close to the deposits of gold, tin, tungsten, cobalt, uranium and so on, which are so rich in the Kolyma land.
The Soviet state desperately needed these resources before the war, and especially after it. Gold then, as now, was in value. It was possible to sell it abroad, and in return – to purchase the necessary machines and goods. All – on the rise of the country’s economy destroyed by wars.
Therefore, Dalstroy was organized, the main task of which was to master this harsh land in the shortest possible time, to give the country as much gold as possible and quickly. And first of all, the civilians and prisoners who arrived began to build the road.
They completed their task. By 1933, that is, literally in two years, the road was built from the Nagaevo Bay to 182 kilometers. And then – road construction did not stop almost until the liquidation of “Dalstroy” in 1957.
So the only highway that connects two large regions of Russia – Yakutia and Magadan – is a road built mainly by prisoners.
Shock tempos and total devastation
Settlements arose along the road, which developed at a cosmic speed. Production facilities, airports, car depots and so on were built at an accelerated pace, immediately – housing, social and cultural facilities, clubs, baths, shops. Machinery was brought here from all over the country, specialists came to work. It’s like a shock construction site, only in very harsh places.
Do you think these are fairy tales? Absolutely not. If today you wander through the remains of the villages along the Kolyma highway, take in the total devastation, collapsed houses with broken windows, time-worn old equipment, complete desolation and collapse, then you can see the features of the former very nice and pretty settlements.
Ust-Nera is a village in Yakutia, it is still warm, but after visiting it seems that time has stopped and you are in the midst of the 1990s – hopelessness reigns in the atmosphere, destroyed houses stand right in the center of the village and no one is cleaning them … Eerie rickety buildings, garbage dumps, dirt everywhere.
Artyk is once the fastest growing village in Yakutia, famous for its motor depot – practically nothing is left of it. A total dump, where the remains of houses and everything that was associated with human life are scattered.
Susuman is a city in the Magadan region, desolation, shabby houses. When we, embarrassed by dirty shoes, entered the hotel, the administrator told us: “What are you talking about! Come on in. We cannot walk the streets even without rain, and even more so with rain ”.
Sinegorye is a village in the Magadan Region. There are dozens of stone five-story buildings with broken windows. Not a single wooden house – only stone houses and completely empty. Instead of 12 thousand of the population at the end of the Soviet Union, Sinegorye today barely reaches two thousand. We lived in a sanatorium, which by some miracle still survived here and ate cottage cheese for breakfast, washed down with cocoa. Back in USSR, as they say.
Orotukan is a village where we were met by staggering and wandering people, whose goal is one – to drink.
You can describe these horrors further. But it is impossible to really talk about them, it must be seen and felt.
Forbes to help
Against this background, the settlement of Palatka stands out. What do you think? You will never guess – with its ostentatious luxury and beauty. There are smooth roads, excellent lighting, some kind of tulips in the form of street lamps. The names are full of: “Arbat”, “Dubai” and so on. You go and forget that you are somewhere in the depths of the Magadan region. And yes – in 2019, this village became the Russian record holder for the number of fountains per capita. Can you imagine? Here is such a wonderful village.
Why does he live so luxuriously? Because a Kolyma deputy and a businessman lives and works here, who in the same 2019 was included in the list of the wealthiest Russian civil servants and deputies according to Forbes. And his son at 34 in the September elections to the State Duma of this year became a deputy.
A very wealthy person in the Magadan region can do only one thing – the extraction of ores and sands of precious metals. Apparently, something falls into the village too.
In general, the fact that gold is mined mercilessly on the Kolyma land is evidenced not only by statistics (the Magadan region is in a solid first place in terms of the amount of gold mined in the Far East and in second place in the country, last year this figure reached 49 tons and it is growing annually), but also dug up land along the route. There is no living space here – these are either old dumps already overgrown with young growth, or fresh ones. Everything was dug up and more than once. And not even two.
It is difficult to say how much this land has endured and endured, but if you get distracted, go to the observation decks, the view opens up stunning. She is very beautiful – Kolyma. It is not her fault that she is so harsh, that there are so many natural resources in her and that people by any means pull out of her everything that is possible …
But it depends on what kind of people. There are very rich people, they are able to support entire villages, and they build fountains and put lanterns on the streets from the master’s shoulder, apparently so that from the windows of their very expensive cars there is something to see on the way to the office.
And the bulk lives on the brink of poverty.
We went to a store in Susuman. Tomatoes – 980 rubles per kilo, cucumbers – almost 700. An elderly woman stood in front. I thought: “What will he take?” It turned out to be half a loaf of white bread. Prices are exorbitant, gold miners get good money, and state employees and pensioners live from hand to mouth. Moreover, the Susumans do not have their own rich man – there is no one to put tulips on the streets.
The dream is to leave, and quickly
Needless to say now that the dream of almost every resident of the Magadan Region is to leave. And the faster the better. They are going: in 2019 there were 141 thousand people, in 2020 – 140 thousand, in 2021 – 139 thousand. Whoever you talk to, there is only one dream – to move to the mainland. They even go from Magadan, where the situation is even more or less normal, and there is no need to talk about other settlements.
You look at all this and, willy-nilly, you wonder: what about the rise of the Far East? Priorities, Far Eastern hectares, free ports, priority development areas – where is it all? Why is the Far East under the watchful eye of the state, but the situation is not changing and people are leaving?
And the worst thing is you know what? They no longer even have hope. Many (and these are not drunken scourges, but the heads of large enterprises) say so with a wave of their hand: “Yes, nothing will change.” They don’t care anymore. Although they were born and raised here, they do not associate their future with the Magadan Region.
Kolyma today is such a moment of truth. This is a way to look back at the history of our country and see, understand what happened to it and is happening.
Its emergency development is a difficult story with a mass of injustice, innocent death, pain and suffering. But this is also the construction of a new, light, these are people who were obsessed with the idea of creation. And now Kolyma is a dug land, from which all resources are pumped out every day and from which the indigenous people flee.
And the most amazing thing is that they don’t curse here Stalin… To the question – how do you feel about the personality of Stalin? – the people of Kolyma freeze. They say that the history of Kolyma is ambiguous. We must draw conclusions from it, think, and move on. Because there was both good and bad.
But the conclusions are, alas, not about the modern government. And what – again Stalin is to blame?