Solidarité Ukraine
INED Éditions. Sound Archives, European Memories of the Gulag

The forest – forced labour and calming presence


Men and women were given rough forestry work to do: felling, cutting trunks into logs and flotation. Prisoners and special resettlers were used in forestry kolkhoz.

Siberian nature and environment became integral parts of daily life. The elfin cedar (Pinus pumila) described by Varlam Shalamov in The Kolyma Tales is one of the most common shrubs in the taiga. Its strange shapes fascinated the resettlers.

The forest and its inhabitants inspired the resettlers. Valli Arrak drew a number of “Siberian emotions” during her exile to illustrate the Siberian environment. Once photography became common in the USSR, many photographs taken by the resettlers, during their exile or later journeys to Siberia, bear witness to the intense feelings aroused by living surrounded by the forest.

The forest was present even in private homes. The resettlers retained a strong attachment to decorating their rooms. Flowers and foliage were used in quantity to beautify the “huts”. Wood was a material used to make various objects. The resettlers quickly learnt craft skills in order to make full use of this inexhaustible resource.