In the summer of 1929, 160 kilometres beyond the Arctic Circle and on the right bank of the Yenisey River, a group of Russian farmers who had fallen victim to Soviet collectivisation were deposited on the shore from several barges. Were there hundreds of them? Perhaps thousands? Who knows? They are all buried there. It is said that nearly all of them died during the winter – the strong men of Siberia, along with their wives and small children. Even if there was any registration of this tragedy at that time, then nothing is left today. Those were the days when Stalin’s idea that “if there is a man, there is a problem; if there is no man, then there is no problem” was in full swing. The first victims of famine, fold and disease were buried not far from the tents and wooden huts in which people lived. Their graves are long gone, because an entire city, complete with a massive wood processing industry, was built on top of their bones. This was the first result of industrialisation in Russia’s polar regions. This is the city of Igarka.
The film will tell the story of Laima Āriņa, who was deported to Siberia on June 14, 1941, and her daughter, Naģežda, who was born in a concentration camp in Igarka. It will be about the little girl’s friend Anatolijs Taurenis, who stayed in Igarka after Naģežda returned to Latvia. She rents a room here and sells Latvian souvenirs.
In the autumn of 2007, Naģežda joined a film crew to go to Siberia, find Taurenis, walk along the pathways of her remembered childhood and adolescence, and talk about how her parents met and fell in love while captives of the Soviet system.
It will be the story of Igarka, which was built upon the bones of Soviet prisoners, a city in which many deported Latvians once lived.
Igarka is collapsing. It is as senseless in its death as it was when it was built. Buildings are falling apart even in the supposedly fancy parts of town. People are fleeing Igarka, they flee from the ghost of evil and destruction. Those who remain have no work. Most drink themselves to death.
There is little historical information about the way in which more than 15,000 people in Latvia were arrested in a single night and shipped off to Siberia. Men were sent to concentration camps where they died of famine or were shot. Mothers struggled to protect the lives of their children. Some people went into hiding.
There is a Russian song which suggests that this was a “holy war”. Mendacious propaganda led to the deportees being attacked as fascists. At the lower reaches of the Yenisey River there is a place called Agapitova, which is known as Death Island. Sixty Latvian mothers and children found themselves there. Only six of the children survived.
We are aware of the global historical facts, but the destinies of individuals can be entirely unexpected.
In July 2006, the film crew used its own resources and those of sponsors to travel to Krasnoyarsk and then on to Igarka. This small city, which may soon be gone entirely, has a local museum, and the film crew hoped to find people who remembered the tragedy of Agapitova, perhaps those who survived as children and still live in Siberia. They now view their sufferings of the past as nothing more than the caprices of nature: “Well, the war began. The winter was cold, and many people died, but other than that it was OK.” The environment and the different ideology created different thought patterns, and so it is a false hope that eventually the country will apologise, that it will understand and appreciate what happened then.
The island at Agapitova is not just a location where a true tragedy occurred. It is a place which absorbs the chauvinism of a major country toward representatives of small nations – representatives who will feel the consequences of gross injustice for generations, perhaps not even realising that this is so.