44 Lenin Avenue

A researcher's journey to Siberia

Katorga Questions

Filed under: Ignatii Dvernitskii — Wilson Bell at 8:25 pm on Friday, August 25, 2017  Tagged , , , ,

Of the questions related to the murder of Ignatii Dvernitskii, many remain unanswered. For example, what was the fate of the two perpetrators, Gerasim Iurinov and Georgii Kuimov? The temporary military tribunal sentenced them to death, commuted to katorga. Katorga was the harshest form of punishment in tsarist Russia, after the death penalty. It generally involved exile and hard labour. Eastern Siberia, particularly the areas in the relative vicinity of Irkutsk, was the main area for katorga punishment in the late-Imperial period. The picture, below, is of katorga prisoners who worked near the Amur River in the Far East, sometime between 1908-1913, and is in the public domain from wikimedia commons.
Russian prisoners of Amur Railway
In any case, the two young men entered the katorga system in 1909, at nearly its deadliest point, mostly due to over-crowding. The number of katorga prisoners saw an “exponential” increase (Sarah Badcock, A Prison Without Walls? (Oxford U.P., 2017), p. 29) after 1905, reaching its peak population of 31,748 in 1912. The rate of death was at its highest in 1911 (67.4/thousand, roughly 3x that of the regular population) (Badcock, “From Villains to Victims: Experiencing Illness in Siberian Exile,” Europe-Asia Studies 65.9 (2013): 1720). Katorga sentences were rescinded in 1917/18, so it is possible, if they lived that long, that Iurinov and Kuimov went home at this time.
Reading Badcock’s excellent book, A Prison Without Walls?, I was struck by her description of one of the key katorga prisons at Aleksandrovsk, 40+ miles (a journey convicts made on foot) from Irkutsk. Aleksandrovsk was a prison camp on its own, but was also a transit prison for most katorga prisoners, who spent time there before going to even more remote locations (often by barge). It is likely that Iurinov and Kuimov spent at least some time at Aleksandrovsk. The description, below, is on page 33 of Badcock’s book:

“The area was hilly and not suitable for arable farming, and was surrounded by woodland, which provided the prison with timber for fuel and building materials. The prison resembled a small town; its workshops manufactured the prisons’ shoes, clothes, and underwear, and its gardens supplemented the prison diet with potatoes, cabbage, and greens. A two-story brick building faced the street, and housed thirty-seven general and twenty-one solitary cells. The cells were meant to hold 1,005 prisoners, but the actual numbers were often significantly higher. Situated within the prison grounds were a library, a church, a school, a maternity unit, a chapel, and bathhouses for the staff and for the prisoners. The prison orphanage cared for around one hundred children. There were church services on every holiday day, and a prisoners’ choir. The hospital was less than a mile away from the main prison, and separate building housed the kitchen, the bathhouse, and the laundry. The prison had its own farm and market gardens, all of which were worked by prisoners. The farm raised cattle and chickens and produced milk. The fields were split into seven-acre plots, growing rye, oats, corn, cabbage, potatoes, beetroot, and carrots. Part of this produce was used to feed the prisoners, and the rest was marketed and produced an income for the prison.”

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