The Perm Krai is harboring the only Russian museum on the history of political repressions. It is located right in the territory of the former camp for political prisoners.
In the Soviet era lots of free-thinkers and liberals, among them writers, scientists, and human rights activists endured atrocities of this labor camp near the Chusovaya River. Many of the prisoners perished under severe conditions.
The Perm-36 camp lasted for a record-breaking long time – till 1988. It was the last of Russian camps for political prisoners to be closed. By the time of closing the Perm-36 camp had two departments: particular treatment and tight security sections.
The history of the political prison camp in Kuchino Settlement of the Chusovsky District dates back to 1946. At first the prisoners’ man-power was used for timber felling.
In 1954 the camp’s profile was changed. Till 1972 the Soviet law enforcement agencies staff condemned for crimes were imprisoned there. Since lots of them perfectly knew the security system of such institutions, the camp security was multiplied to close out the possibility of escapes. The territory was enclosed with additional fences.
In the 1970s the camp was adapted for restraint of dissidents. In the Soviet period free-thinkers were treated as the biggest danger and therefore it was not by mere chance that the camp in the outskirts of the Kuchino Settlement was selected. It had maximum security against possible escapes and guaranteed full isolation from the outside world.
In 1972 dangerous special criminals started to be imprisoned in the camp; previously they were restrained in colonies of the Mordovian ASSR.
In documents the camp was now recorded under the BC-389/36 abbreviation. Human rights activists and dissidents nicknamed it Perm-36 after the last figures.
In 1980 a particular treatment section was opened there. It was used for “recidivists” - those people who, having stayed term for “political crimes” were condemned again. Majority of them were the most honest and freedom-loving USSR citizens, for whom democratic principles were of vital importance. These were the people who stood up for our rights and freedoms. These were the people claimed by the Soviet regime to be “especially dangerous criminals”.
Quite a number of outstanding personalities, such as Vladimir Bukovsky, Sergey Kovalev, Yury Orlov, Valery Marchenko, Nathan Scharansky, Gleb Yakunin, Levko Lukyanenko, Balis Gauskas and others served their sentence here. Not all of the dissidents survived. For example, the well-known Ukrainian poet Vasyl Stus (according to many experts he was the greatest Ukrainian poet of the second half or even the entire 20th century) was lost there.
The particular treatment section was arranged in the former building of a wood-processing shop. The cells were always locked. The management of Perm-36 camp made all possible things to completely isolate these prisoners from others.
The idea of founding a GULAG museum there appeared in 1992. It took four years to prepare the museum for opening. In 1996 the Perm-36 political repressions history museum admitted its first visitors.
Collapsing prison barracks were reconstructed and exhibits of the GULAG museum were displayed there. Some lost camp construction elements, such as fences, towers, signal-alarm constructions, and engineering communications were recreated anew.
The area of the tight security section has the barrack of 1946, a penal insulator, a medical unit, a bath station with laundry, the headquarters, and a water tower kept intact.
Visitors of Perm-36 can also see an avenue of trees planted by prisoners in 1948.
In the operating unit of the tight security section one can see workshops, a shop floor, a saw mill, a stokehole, a diesel power plant building, etc.
Perm-36 is the only GULAG camp that has remained till date as a memorial. Here one can get a clear picture of the conditions that political prisoners – the so-called prisoners of conscience – were condemned to in those severe years. Especially stunning is the impression produced on visitors by the so-called “walking ground” that the political prisoners were allowed to sometimes. It is a 2 square meter premise covered with a barbed wire on top!
In 2004 the World Monuments Fund included Perm-36 into the list of 100 especially protected monuments of world culture. A procedure on including the museum into the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites is presently under way.
The Pilorama (Saw Mill) International Forum has been annually held in the territory of the Perm-36 museum of political repressions since 2005. It is a venue for meetings with well-known people, film screenings, exhibitions, and concerts. The entrance to the festival events is free. Thousands of people visit the forum every year.
At the same time Pilorama is subjected to criticism and attacks by the former prison wardens of Perm-36 and some social pro-Stalinist movements. They claim that the forum organizers intentionally exaggerate the hardships of the political camp imprisonment “for anti-Soviet propaganda” and ignore, according to them, prison documentation and evidences of jailers.
It should be noted that lots of the prisoners were the so-called chasteners that during the Great Patriotic War served to the fascist Germany, for example, the Vlasovites, and other helpers of the Nazis. However, the camp is more known for its political prisoners.
It is possible to pre-order a dinner in the camp territory. But it will be more convenient to bring the food with you. One can stay overnight in a hotel at the museum territory (after phone booking).
The museum is open for visitors daily from 10 am till 5 pm. Monday is a day off.
Not far from Perm-36, in the Chusovoy town there is another well-known sight - the ethnographic complex Museum of River Chusovaya History.
How to Get to Perm-36 Museum?
The Perm-36 political repressions history museum is located at the address: Kuchino Settlement in Chusovoy District of the Perm Krai.
On can get there by car on the route Perm – Kachkanar. 30 kilometers before reaching Chusovoy town turn to Kuchino Settlement. It is at the distance of 120 kilometers from Perm.
It is also possible to reach it by any bus running from Perm to the town of Chusovoy. One should get down at the turn to Kuchino Settlement and walk two kilometers to the museum.
One can reach the Chusovoy town by local train and from there take a regular bus to Kuchino.
Author: Vera Ivanova