I bend my fingers. At least I think it. They do not curl, or even feel. The truck hits another chunk of hard ice, throwing me and the rest of my comrades to the floor. An old man does not get up when the rest of us resettle ourselves.
“He is dead,” says a young doctor, after examining him. The physician earned his imprisonment for helping those who Stalin left to die. He turns to me. "Do you know where they are taking us?"
Poor man. Poor us. Should I tell him we will most likely die building this road linking the eighty or so gulags--the prisons for peasants and political dissenters like myself? That we have been rounded up to work the gold and platinum-rich mountains of Siberia for Stalin's economic plans?
I keep quiet. Already this frozen Kolyma Highway is called the Road of Bones for the dead bodies bulldozed into the road's surface. I close my eyes and pray for my people.
The character riding in the truck represents those who became a statistic from the 1930's until 1946. One will die for every meter of the 1900 kilometer road. Hundreds of thousands of victims will be frozen to death, worked to death, or murdered. The prison camps closed in 1954, and in 1956 many of the prisoners received a general amnesty by Nikita Khruschev. Read the history here.
Today there is a brighter note, but no less frozen. This beautiful slide show portrays the enduring power of the human spirit and exemplifies the lives of this determined people who make their home in Oymyakon, the coldest inhabited place on earth.