Joseph Stalin’s deadly railway to nowhere

“She got 10 years hard labour for that supposedly political crime,” explains Lyudmila, “but what did it have to do with politics?”
Image caption Nadezhda Kukushina (right) was sent to work on the railway after rats ate money in her employer’s safe

Lyudmila has many such stories. At the Salekhard museum where she used to be the director and now a retired senior researcher, she shows me a picture of a young woman with dimpled cheeks and curly brown hair.

Nadezhda Kukushina was a book-keeper at a state enterprise in Ukraine. When rats got into the safe and chewed up some banknotes, she was accused of embezzlement and sent to work on the railway.

Other prisoners had already endured German prisoner-of-war camps. When they eventually returned home to the Soviet Union, the authorities branded them traitors and sent them to the Arctic.

According to some estimates 300,000 prisoners were enslaved on the project and nearly a third of them perished in the process.