A half-hour’s drive outside the regional center, a town called Karaganda, sits Dolinka, a hardscrabble village that once was a key part of the KarLag system. The KarLag was the Karaganda portion of the notorious GuLag camp network that once dotted the backwaters of the USSR. At its peak, the KarLag was home to 75,000 exiles, people imprisoned at various times from 1931 to the 1960s. Now, Dolinka exists as a collection of rough shed-type houses and former KarLag barracks and buildings. In it serves as a memorial to that dark era in Kazakhstan’s history.
We met a woman whose parents were sent here — her father because he was a German in the Ukraine and Stalin in WWII saw Germans as a Fifth Column, and her mother because, at 18, she told someone German sewing machines were better than Russian ones. That apparently unpatriotic sentiment earned her five years in prison.
The photos of a developed town below, including the towering Lenin, are from Karaganda. In a sign of how times have changed, a headquarters of Arcelor Mittal, the world’s biggest steelmaker, sits at the top of the street that is home to the Lenin statue and its logo looms high above Lenin. Mittal is very active in Kazakhstan. The photos with a ramshackle look, including shots of videographer Megan Plouzek and photographer Megan Nichols, are from the rural village of Dolinka. Click on each photo to see it in full.