The BBC News told the story through an eyewitness, Lyudmila Lipatova, who survived the brutal years 1947–1953 when a third of the 300,000 slave laborers sentenced to work on the railroad perished due to weather, starvation, or brutality of the guards.
The story is horrific in the Stalin style. The same dictator who ordered soldiers into minefields to clear them for the motherland certainly had no conscience when rounding up bodies to work his grand scheme for a thousand-mile railway to link eastern and western Siberia. Russian men and women could be accused of crimes for the flimsiest of reasons, or no reason whatsoever, their fate doomed to hard labor in camps in temperatures of –50°C in winter, continuing the work in deep snow, and insufferable heat and mosquitoes in summer. Merciless guards would sometimes strip naked workers who were less than cooperative and tie them to posts to leave them to the onslaught of the mosquitoes, a torment Lipatova called “worse than any torture instrument.” The article includes rare photographs. One haunting portrait is of a beautiful young woman who was sentenced to the railroad when she was accused of embezzlement for no fault of her own: rats had eaten bank notes in her employer’s safe.
The railroad was never finished, and the fate of the prisoners was largely forgotten–till now. Lipatova, now in her 70s, is determined to keep their story alive. Sixty years later, the current regime is considering reviving the “Railroad of Bones” project, hopefully, this time, more leniently for the construction workers….
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