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Thursday, November 1, 2018

Stalin's railway of death: Haunting photos reveal the remains of a madcap train line that 300,000 gulag prisoners died trying to build in -50C temperatures (21 Pics)

  • New Zealand-based photographer Amos Chapple journeyed to derelict gulags in the Siberian wilderness
  • The unnamed sites are located next to the unfinished Salekhard-Igarka Railway, dreamt up by Joseph Stalin
  • Prisoners from the Soviet gulag system were forced to work on the project in brutal conditions
New Zealand-based Radio Free Europe photographer Amos Chapple ventured to several abandoned Russian gulags, where prisoners were forced to work on a madcap railway project dreamt up by Joseph Stalin. Above, an aerial view of the incomplete train line running through the wilderness
Stalin's aides knew the Salekhard-Igarka Railway, pictured, was a pointless scheme but dared not tell him
While researching the history of the line, Chapple said that he read 'incredible' survivor accounts of the inhumane conditions inside the gulags. In one testimony, a male prisoner described the punishment for attempting to escape, which involved being tied naked to a pole and left to blood-sucking mosquitoes
Heavy labour on the railway line, parts of which are in the Arctic Circle, was carried out by gulag prisoners, while most of the engineers were from outside the camps
A rusting barbed wire fence in one of the gulags can be seen in the foreground with a watchman's tower lurking beyond 
The above photo shows one of the gulag's punishment cells with a metal-lined door. One former gulag prisoner told Chapple that those who were consigned to the cells received 200 grams of bread and a cup of water per day
Chapple says with each winter the gulags get shabbier, with buildings succumbing to the weight of the snow
Chapple took this harrowing photo of rotting bunk beds in one of the gulags. Prisoners slept behind barred windows, watched by guards through a peephole
The Salekhard-Igarka Railway, which is located in northern Siberia, was the brainchild of Stalin. The aim was to connect Russia's Arctic waters with its western railway network and the nickel mines in the north with the Soviet factories in the west
One of hundreds of railway bridges built by prisoners to span the swampy terrain
A length of rail, which Chapple says was forged shortly before Lenin's Communists took power in Russia in 1917
A building within a gulag subsides into the boggy earth, with the timber support beams scattered at different angles
Chapple was accompanied by an armed huntsman into the wooded areas, as bears are known to frequent the region

A weathered sign on a crumbling exterior wall in one of the gulags. The camps were set up in 1917 by Lenin

The Salekhard–Igarka Railway, which is located in northern Siberia, was the brainchild of Joseph Stalin. His aides knew it was a madcap and pointless scheme, but dared not tell him. Prisoners from the Soviet gulag system were forced to work on the project, with bits of track installed across the country from 1947 until Stalin's death in 1953. Above, gulag prisoners working on a railway site in 1949

A hatch on one of the punishment cell doors, through which starving prisoners were dealt their meagre rations
Chapple says that some of the gulag remains, like this timber shack that once probably housed guards, have been maintained and are now regularly used by hunters
Chapple took a shot of one of the water-logged roads he traversed, with some kind of tipper truck ahead
In the winter Siberia is freezing cold, while in the summer, mosquitoes are rife. Chapple decided to visit in the autumn in a bid to make his expedition a little easier. Although he did encounter heavy rain
The hardy vehicle Chapple travelled in makes its way across the wilderness


The gulag prisons were designed to remove 'counter-revolutionaries' and other 'undesirables' - including gay men - from society by placing them in savagely inhospitable environments, and working them to death. Above, prisoners of the Vorkuta gulag seen in 1945

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