The Canals of Stalin’s Slaves

Riding south toward St Petersburg we have come abreast of Lake Ladoga, famous as the escape for 1.3 million during the Nazi’s siege of Leningrad (as it was named then) in WW2. When the winter comes and it freezes around here, the lake freezes as well and this provided the ice road route out of the back of town for starving Russians to escape. As well the ice road provided the way in for supply trucks bring in the food and clothing that the Allies convoys to Murmansk had shipped in across the Barents Sea. Those convoys had a strong Kiwi contingent – as the plaque in Frank Kitts park Wellington, commemorates.

But even more chilling was encountering the canal dug by Stalin’s slaves in the early 1930’s that joins the White Sea to Lake Ladoga and then into the Baltic at St Petersburg. The canal these days looks as peaceful as one of those in the South of France that everybody dreams of punting along. But its past is far more sinister with the tens of thousands of political prisoners dying as they laboured to build it. As we looked into its dark waters, it was that memory that resonated most.

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