January 16, 2023 independent media «Meduza»* has published a story about camp «Perm 36» and the history of the memorial museum on its territory. The story «An especially dangerous criminal» is centered around the biography of the Ukrainian philologist Vasyl Ovsienko, who spent more than 13 years in Soviet prisons for his love of Ukrainian language and culture.
Presently, in time of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, a history of the Ukrainian struggle for national independence and freedom obtains new significance. The author of the article, journalist Kristina Safonova mentions Ukrainian “Sixtiers”, Ukrainian underground magazin Ukrains’ky visnyk (Ukrainian messenger), illegally published in 1970th, as well as Ukrainian Helsinki Group — Vasyl Ovsienko was a member of it. The special attention in the article is paid to the story of the camp «Perm 36», where Ovsienko served his third term as a political prisoner.
“Camp zone was divided into two parts: one for inmates of the cell block, the other for inmates who were allowed out into the yard. Ovsienko belonged to the first category. His barracks was surrounded by a three-meter fence. “Apart from this fence, you could see nothing from the cells except — if you stood on a stool — the tops of trees half a kilometer away in the woods,” Vasyl Ovsienko said.
He recalled that the cells were small, “with a raised toilet in the corner. It’s psychological torture. They re-educate you into human cattle.” No wonder, he said, that almost every prisoner had intestinal problems. The cells always stank, and there were sometimes water shortages.
The author of the article tells not only about the history of the camp «Perm-36», but as a parallel to Vasyl Ovsienko life story, she also describes a history of the museum that was founded on the territory of the former camp. A significant place is given to the reflections of the founder of the Memorial center of history of political repressions «Perm 36» Viktor Shmyrov.
As he told, researchers have confirmed that Perm-36 is the only surviving complex of buildings from Stalin’s Gulag. It remains almost fully intact, though it’s been damaged by weather and by local residents who scavenged window frames and roof slate for their homes.
“When I realized that I had a rare monument in front of me and that it would disappear in a few years if I didn’t take it, everything was decided right away,” Shmyrov said. “I didn’t think”, he continues, “that I’ll focus on it. I was sure that my task is to give impetus, and after that I would return to my science, to my Middle Ages and doctoral theses. But things went differently”.
The article also tells about the present situation in the museum: about guides who are giggling when they tell that the local people tried to give some food to the prisoners and about camp buildings decaying without repairing and restoration.
The full text of the article can be found here: https://meduza.io/en/feature/2023/02/01/an-especially-dangerous-criminal
*Recognized as a foreign agent and an undesirable organization on the territory of the Russian Federation