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These haunting pictures show the modern remains of Stalin’s notorious ‘Railway to Nowhere’ built on the bones of some 300,000 Gulag prisoners who died constructing the notorious 785-mile track.
Ghostly relics of rusting steam engines and bent, contorted rails just below the Arctic Circle remain as a monument to the iron ruler’s folly.
Gulag convicts were used as slave labour in temperatures that plummeted below -50C in winter, while in summer they were plagued by vicious mosquitoes.
There are no gravestones but either side of twisted rails and tumbledown wooden bridges lie the remains of the hundreds of thousands who perished building a line that even Stalin’s aides knew was a madcap scheme, but dared not tell him.
Communist rulers abandoned Project 501, as it was known, soon after he died in 1953, even though it was only 40 miles short of completion.
The line, far to the north of the famous Trans-Siberian track, was planned to link Salekhard - a town straddling the polar circle - with the obscure village of Ikarka, envisioned by Stalin as a new deep-water port giving the megalomaniac tyrant control of the Arctic Ocean.
In doing so, it was to link two of Siberia’s great rivers - the Ob and the Yenisei, respectively the seventh and fifth longest in the world.
Described as “outstandingly and deliberately senseless”, the notorious ‘Railway to Nowhere’ was built under a cloak of Soviet secrecy.\
Some 120,000 convicts - many of them political prisoners - laboured on the track at any one time, women as well as men.
Remarkable archive footage from the Stalin era shows the harsh conditions they faced on the "Railroad of Death".
Today - flanked by the rotting remains of cruel Gulag camps - it is “one of the most shocking museums in the world” and an unofficial necropolis where the corpses of the fallen lie buried.
Convicts were taken there by cattle trains, including thousands from the Baltic republics, eaten up by Stalin in the Second World War.
Others came in appalling conditions by water in summer.
A survivor from this hell recalled 600 mainly young women prisoners - emaciated, half-naked and bald - jammed into the hold of a ship, en route to the sinister camps serving this railway.
“It was impossible to tell where one pair of buttocks ended and another set of breasts began,” read the grim account.
The scene was likened to a Medieval painter’s evocation of the Last Judgement.
Some Gulags had facilities where children of female convicts were kept separately, with mother’s barred from seeing their toddlers if they failed to meet the harsh labouring targets.
“Among those forced to live - and often die - here were talented engineers selected to find ways to build a railway on permafrost, across multiple streams and rivers, in a harsh Arctic climate,” reported The Siberian Times, which revealed the collection of pictures.
Most of the work was done manually, with spades and wheelbarrows rather than heavy machinery.
“Often whole parts of a newly-built rail track sank into swamp in the summer heat.”
In winter the threat to life for the slave labourers was the severe, unyielding cold.
It was “difficult to understand how they survived in 50 below zero,” said one researcher, pointing to the thin walls of their barracks.
In summer - with 24 hour daylight - convicts suffered from incessant mosquitoes described by one survivor as “a tortuous mob - there were more of those beasts in the air than raindrops in a thunderstorm.
“When you waved your hand in the air it would become bloody with dead mosquitoes.”
Lyudmila Lipatova, former director of the Salekhard city museum, said Russian historians estimated the numbers who died building this rail link at 300,000, but exact figures will never be uncovered.
“We haven't really looked that hard,” she admitted candidly.
“Some things you don't want to know.”
Former inmate Lazar Shereshevsky said: "The main causes of death were working accidents, disease and illness."
Scurvy was a major killer.
So, too, was cold, exhaustion and overwork.
Most bodies were buried without coffins, with only a number tag tied to their remains.
Many of the camps have been destroyed by forest fires, with little more than the barbed wire remaining.