The Cliffs of Kolpashevo

The cliffs of Kolpashevo
The cliffs of Kolpashevo (credit:

The website RuNet Echo is a highly recommended resource for those wishing to learn a bit about contemporary Russia and Russians. A project of Global Voices Online, the site aims to “expand and deepen understanding of the Russian language Internet (RuNet) and related online communities” by providing English translations of popular Internet content published in Russian.

RuNet contributor Kevin Rothrock has recently passed along a “must read” piece posted to Facebook by the journalist and publisher Sergey Parkhomenko (pronunciation: Par-kho-MYEN-ko). The post recounts the not-too-long-ago efforts of the residents of Kolpashevo (pronunciation: Kol-PAH-shevo), a small town of 20,000 “souls” situated along the high banks of the Ob River in Siberia’s Tomsk Oblast’, to come to terms with the tragic legacy of Stalinist culture and civilization.

Parkhomenko writes:

The [river] makes a turn at Kolpashevo, and every year it “eats away” a few feet of a sand cliff there, inching closer and closer to the homes on streets named after Lenin and Dzerzhinsky [the founder of the Soviet secret police forces]. This is how it’s been for as long as anyone can remember, and everyone in town is used to it.

On April 30, 1979, exactly one day before May Day, the Ob’s waters knocked down another six-foot chunk of sand from the riverbank. Sticking out from the newly exposed wall were the arms, legs, and heads of people buried there. A cemetery at least several yards wide had been exposed. The people had been packed in and layered tightly. The top layer of bodies were decayed almost completely, while the lower layers were very well preserved, mummified in pure sand. It’s said that you could easily see the clothes they were wearing, and in some cases you could even make out the faces. There were men and women of different ages, and there were children. All in civilian clothes.

What follows is both harrowing and disturbing if, alas, not surprising to those familiar with Soviet history. Rothrock acknowledges that Parkhomenko’s story is not without detractors. All the same, it is a gripping reminder of the horrors that accompanied “socialist construction” and the difficulties involved in confronting its past.

Read the whole piece HERE.