Solovki: From the Orthodox Asceticism… (Part 1)
What Soviet Newspapers Do You Have?

Solovki:… to the Gulag and Back (part 2)

Today, you can read the second and last part of our article about the Solovetsky Islands. In our first part, we were telling you about the life on these islands under the care of the monastery.

The monastery during the Soviet period

However the rise of pilgrimages came to an end in the early 20th century, when the new Soviet authorities decided to close the monastery buildings to turn them into Соловецкий лагерь особого назначения or СЛОН (Solovki Special Purpose Camp).

At first, prisoners were still entitled to certain privileges like receiving mail or newspapers. But after 1927, the conditions of detention in the camp hardened.

Very soon, prisoners were deprived of almost everything. Food rations were at their lowest, healthcare was non-existent, work became almost inhuman, guards acts of gratuitous cruelty increased and summary executions became a normality. It was not unusual for guards to throw prisoners from the steepest slope of the mountain, and let them die a painful death, due to the multiple of fractures.

The labour camp of Solovetsky was considered as “the mother of the GULAG” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The word ГУЛАГ is an acronym for Главное Управление Исправительно-трудовых Лагерей (Chief Administration of Corrective Labour Camps).

The labour camp of Solovetsky was closed in 1939, and prisoners transferred to other camps in the East of Russia. A cadet school was opened to train young volunteers during WWII.

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The revival of the Solovetsky Islands

Nowadays, the monastery regained its original activity. About 40 monks live and work there. Каждое лето остров заполняется лагерями трудников (in summer the island is filled with volunteer camp workers) who come here to help to the renovation of the monastery.

Непростые климатические условия (the difficult climatic conditions) due to its location close to the Arctic Circle делают сообщение с островами очень сложным (render the communication with the island very difficult) from October to mid-May. Thus the best time to visit the islands is in summer, ideally between mid-June to mid-August, if you don’t fear the dreadful mosquitoes.

You can get a train from Moscow, Leningrad Station to Kem, a city on the shore of the White Sea, and thence catch a ferry, or if you’re in a hurry, catch a plane to Arkhangelsk and then the ferry.

The island has became a major tourist centre and expensive yachts arriving from Europe take shelter in its port while groups of foreign tourists visit the monastery and make a trek on the Sekirnaya Mountain the highest point of the main island with its 107 meters. Unfortunately, the beauty of the site is saddened by the heavy memories of the atrocities committed here at the time of the Soviet camps.

In 1992, the Cultural and Historic Ensemble of the Solovetsky Islands became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Евгения Плещунова