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In the middle of the clear waters of the White Sea, in North-West Russia, one can catch a glimpse of the Solovetsky monastery and its impressive walls. It was founded in the 15th century and has taken its name from its surrounding isles. But in the soviet era, it has also hosted one of the most infamous USSR gulags. “To be sent to Solovetsky” has become a common Russian expression.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the archipelago has become a touristic destination renowned for its dachas and its rich taiga. Monks have come back to live in the cloister and revive the orthodox faith. Still, a few people are striving to keep the political memories of the islands alive.

The very name “Solovetsky” has become a striking symbol of the October Revolution consequences on Russia’s social organization. For more than five hundred years, the largest island has housed one of the most influential monasteries of the orthodox world. It used to be a knowledge centre as well as the economic lifeblood of the region and a masterpiece of sacred architecture. But in May 1918, a Red Army detachment requisitioned its wheat, profaned the monastery and deprived it of all its treasures, chased its monks and transformed its walls into what would soon become a prototype of the Soviet labour camps: a gulag.

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