Russia has a new Gulag

Russia has a new Gulag

Anne Applebaum writes:

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.

Today, a new version of that same Gulag system is being reconstructed, especially for Ukrainians. Journalists, war-crimes investigators, and specialized groups such as the Reckoning Project have already documented arrests, murders, prisons, and torture chambers in Ukrainian territories under Russian occupation. Slowly, it is becoming clear that these are not just ad hoc responses to Ukrainian resistance. They are part of a long-term plan: the construction of a sprawling system of camps and punishment colonies—a new Gulag. The Associated Press reported yesterday that it has evidence of at least 40 prison camps in Russia and Belarus, as well as 63 formal and informal prisons in occupied Ukraine, containing perhaps 10,000 Ukrainians. A few are prisoners of war:, a Russian prison-monitoring group, has evidence of Ukrainian soldiers in Russian prisons who arrive without proper papers or POW status. But most of the Ukrainian prisoners are civilians who have been arrested or abducted in occupied territory. [Continue reading…]

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