Expedition Kazakhstan: In the footsteps of gulags and Soviet repressions

Soviet terror left an indelible mark on today's Kazakhstan. Over a million Kazakhs died as a result of the famine, and millions more were deported to the inhospitable steppes there from the whole of the former Soviet Union. These repressions also affected hundreds of Czechs and citizens of Czechoslovakia.

The ubiquitous traces of labor camps and Soviet repression are still preserved in the magical Kazakh landscape and in the memory of local residents. Our Gulag.cz team set out to document them and also tried to find out how the local residents deal with the dark past. The two-week expedition took place in November 2021. The results of the entire expedition are available on a separate website https://expedicekazachstan.cz/en, where you can find, for example, 3D models and panoramic images of the remains of the camps and objects from the Gulag, stories of victims of repression or also comparative images of current satellite photos with CIA spy footage from the 50s-60s 20th century and other unique materials acquired during the expedition.

In addition to the documented places and stories, we filmed the documentary film Step and Frost (https://expedicekazachstan.cz/en/page/film) on the expedition.

Kazakhstan was home to at least 11 Gulag camp administrations with hundreds of individual camps from the 1930s to the end of the 1950s. Over a million people passed through them, and millions more ended up in exile in Kazakhstan. Tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives as a result of these repressions. We visited only three locations associated with this history - women's camp Alzhir near Astana, Karlag near Karaganda and Steplag near Zhezkazgan.

Less than 20 kilometers west of the Kazakh capital Astana lies the small town of Akmol, formerly Malinovka. It housed one of the largest all-female Gulag camps in the entire USSR – the Akmolinsk camp of women traitors (in Russian, Akmolinskij lager women of the izmennikov family), abbreviated ALZHIR. We visited the local museum, we tracked down the fates of Czech women prisoners and we also managed to document two original barracks, which have remained unnoticed until now.
More here: https://expedicekazachstan.cz/en/page/alzir

The Karlag camp complex spread over an area of approximately 230 by 140 kilometers northwest of Karaganda and included up to 200 individual camps (including the Alzhir women's camp). However, Karaganda, after which it was called, was not its administrative center. This was the small town of Dolinka, in which there are still many remains of Karlag - the headquarters building, the prison barracks of the women's camp, a children's cemetery and a museum that prepared for us an exhibition about the Czech victims of Karlag. We visited Dolinka, roughly 50 kilometers from Karaganda, three times during our expedition.
More here: https://expedicekazachstan.cz/en/page/karlag-denik

A unique place to commemorate the victims of repression in Soviet Kazakhstan is the memorial complex near the city of Spassk near Karaganda. Gulag and prisoner of war camps were located there, and today there are 30 memorials to victims of repression from different countries and nations.
More here: https://expedicekazachstan.cz/en/page/karaganda-spassk-karabas#spassk

The next destination of our expedition was the city of Zhezkazgan, where the central Steppe Camp, or Steplag, was located. There, too, in May 1954, the important Kengir Uprising of Gulag prisoners broke out. The results of our documentation of these places can be found here: https://expedicekazachstan.cz/en/page/zezkazgan


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