Two Cent Bridge Kotlas - Waterville Area
Sister City Connection
P.O. Box 1747
Waterville, ME 04903-1747
Write to Us
Street in Kotlas

Home > About Kotlas > History > Gulag > Sleigh Driver

The Sleigh Driver's Tale

Below is the testimony of a teen-age boy, Aleksandr Dmitrievich ("Sanka") Chernykh, who was conscripted to drive a sleighful of deportees to a crude settlement in the deep woods.

You try to forget, but it's impossible. You keep remembering, remembering, remembering. . . . It was 1930, winter, school vacation at the 7-year school. And he, Sanka Chernykh, set out for home from Limenda [a district of Kotlas]. To rest? Sure, what kind of rest there! You're 13 or 14 years old? That means working at your kolkhoz [collective farm], "The New Path", taking your orders for an assignment! One time they sent the lad and another schoolboy, Arkashka Shiryayev, as well as an adult, Aleksei Petrovich Melentyev, to Kotlas. Why? "When you get there they'll tell you." They got as for as Zhernakov, and there they [Sanka, Arkashka, and Alexei Petrovich] were halted. "Wait for your orders." They waited and waited. It was getting boring. Maybe they should go back? That somehow wouldn't do. Soldiers were blocking the road.

It was getting dark already, ten o'clock or eleven, when the sound of the wheels of a freight train shook the rails. Two steam locomotives hissed, let out puffs of steam, and stopped. And Red Army soldiers immediately rushed up to the wagons with rifles. "Get out, don't dilly-dally!"

And half-undressed — they had on only light summer clothing — people began to jump down to the ground, like out of the frying pan into the fire, into the snow, into the frost. . . . Children were crying, old women moaning, old men spilling out curses. They [the soldiers] quickly sorted them all out; the women and children were put into carts. The men ("Can you move?") formed into columns, and they started marching, marching, marching. . . .

"Two of the guards picked me," Aleksandr Dmitrievich relates, "they had sabers and revolvers. They had their eye out, undoubtedly for a sleigh. But what kind of a sleigh was it, if the horse was completely worn out in the legs, barely ran. And so we rode, not hurrying."

And where was there to hurry to?

The people walked slowly, with a sense of doom, not knowing, not understanding where, why, or for what. We passed by Solvychegodsk. At Zabolotye we stopped. Night in the outdoors — a break was needed. The guards put their sabers in the sleigh — why should people start idle chatter? — and they spread the people out into the courtyards for the night. "I wanted to throw out these sabers and head for home, but I caught myself just in time. Dawn had barely broken when they gathered everybody up and set out again for Kharitonovo. And deeper, deeper, into the backwoods. ("What kind of place this was, I have no idea"). But there was a settlement there: barracks, dug-outs with double bunks.

"My fellow workers unloaded and went home, but the soldiers didn't let me go: 'you'll take us back.' I took them, how could I get out of it!." At dawn we caught sight of Zabolotye. And coming toward us — oh, what a horror! — carts loaded with bodies. One of the riders stops, picks up a dead body from the road, throws it across the sleigh like a birch block, and goes on farther. "Oh, and there were so many who had fallen," the narrator goes on, "some completely unclothed, some with only their outer clothing removed. How many people perished from hunger and cold at this halting place! When we went from Zabolotye to Pozdyshev, from Pozdyshev to Sol'vychegodsk, on both sides of the sleigh there were corpses, corpses, corpses. . . ."

The seventy-six year old veteran from the village Kharikovska in the Pacheozersk village Soviet couldn't hold himself back; he told his story. He had tried to forget, but it didn't work. And how could anyone forget something like that?

N. Valeryev, Dvinskaya Pravda, Dec. 15, 1992

This article was originally published under the title "It's Impossible To Forget."