‘Word of the New Martyrs.’ Letters from the White Sea-Baltic Canal

11 May 2023

Source: Perm Centre for Historical Memory

In a video project about the persecution of the Church in the 20th century, students read letters from those who suffered at Solovki and the White Sea-Baltic Canal, in Kemi, and those who were shot at Sandarmokh. It is a way of conveying memory through a word, a place, a person.

Solovki, Kem, White Sea–Baltic Canal, Sandarmokh. Each of these words brings to mind thousands of people, those who were victims here. Today there are pine trees, stones, small villages and water. In some places – crosses. 

We rarely remember these people. Even less often their wives, children, friends and parishioners. Those who have been waiting. Waiting despite the times of cruelty. Despite sickness and hunger. Despite life going on around them. Waiting for those whom it was sometimes dangerous to even mention.  

Prisoners of Solovki Special Camp and Belbaltlag (White Sea-Baltic Camp). Some of them are forgotten forever, some live on in the memory of grateful descendants, and some are glorified as saints. They tried to live in chains: they broke stones and adapted to a “barracks” life, sawed firewood, read books and wrote letters. 

We want to read these letters on the banks of the White Sea-Baltic Canal: in Medvezhyegorsk, Segezha, and Uroks, in Nadvoitsy and Sosnovets, in Morskaya Maselga, on the hills between and in Kem. Read with students of St. Tikhon Orthodox University and the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. We consider it important to give these young men and women, the future of the Russian Church, the opportunity to delve into the stories of the New Martyrs, to “live through” them. Students will help out on the set and become the voices of the project – they will read the letters of the heroes of our graduating classes in the places of their imprisonment or execution.


In the “Word of the New Martyrs” project, we, employees of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University, young researchers and concerned individuals, are making documentaries about courageous people who remained faithful to Christ and His Church during a cruel period in history, when trust so often ended in betrayal; honesty, in a prison term; and speaking of God led to suspicion of counter-revolution.  

Our team travels to different regions of Russia, makes documentaries and oversees educational activities. We have already visited Yaroslavl, Dmitrov, Kirov and Syktyvkar, Glazov, Arkhangelsk and other cities and villages. The episodes filmed in St. Petersburg, the Komi Republic, Kirov and Udmurtia were made thanks to your support. 

In 2022-23, our project was supported by the Presidential Grants Fund. This allowed us to continue the project up until the bloody year of 1937. However, grant funding does not apply to regional filming, as the main protagonists of that time were in exile or in camps far from the capitals – including today’s Karelia. Here, working with the students, we want to film episodes about the priests Vasily Nadezhdin, Roman Medved, Anatoly Zhurakovsky, Hieromonk Varlaam of Sacerdotus and Bishop Athanasius Sakharov. We also plan to make a full-length film about the martyrs, the places where they suffered and those people who live there today.

Our other dream is to install a memorial plaque for the laity, priests and bishops who were shot in Sandarmokh. There, not far from Medvezhyegorsk, 6,240 people whom we know by name were secretly murdered and buried. Since 1997, when this graveyard was discovered, the memorial complex created in its place has been regularly filled with commemorative signs – plaques, crosses, even portraits on gravestones. They are put up by the relatives of the murdered, ethnic and religious communities, concerned individuals. One of the plaques bears the name of Anatoly Zhurakovsky, who will be the hero of one of our graduating classes.

It will take about 450,000 roubles to meet our goals. The project is non-profit, and is carried out with the participation of the Living Tradition Foundation for the Development of Science, Education and Family, as well as the Presidential Grants Foundation. All funds raised will be used to pay for the film crew, scientific consultants, housing, meals, travel expenses and film production.

We would appreciate your support, whether financial or by providing us with information!

Tell your relatives, whether close or distant – it is with them that we shall work to preserve the memory of history and learn from its examples. If everything works out well for us, then the first episode, filmed in Kemi, will be released in June.

Translated by Tyler Langendorfer

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