Memorialization of Steplag’s Heritage

Steplag was a camp for political prisoners within the boundaries of Zhezkazgan city in Kazakhstan. In 1954, the Kengirskoye uprising took place there. It was described in the novel GULAG Archipelago by A.I. Solzhenitsyn.

Steplag’s prisoners built a mineral-processing plant, a thermal power station, residential houses, and a dam of the Kengir Water Reservoir. Starting from 1948, prisoners had been working in coal mines and were engaged in developing manganese deposits.

The GULAG History Museum and the Memory Fund analyzed the integrity of the material heritage of the Steplag’s 3rd camp facility in order to further specify the strategy and technology of its conservation.
Supervisor – Konstantin Ilyich Maslov, a restorer having PhD in art history; restorer – Vadim Romanovich Sabirov.

The work is done with the support of:
- Kazakhmys Corporation
- the Administration for Culture, Archives, and Documentation in Karaganda Oblast;
- the Center for Preservation of the Historical and Cultural Heritage in Karaganda Oblast;
- the Zhezkazgan Museum of History and Archaeology.

In November 2018, the Museum and the Fund conducted an aerial surveys of the camp’s facilities, including the set of camp administration buildings, ruins of the canteen, the medical station, and barracks as well as the historical wall separating the female and male zones.

The unique fragments of paintings discovered on the walls of the camp canteen under the later layers of paint were documented. These paintings might get completely destroyed within the next few years unless restoration works are done.

The discovered compositions called Rudnik and Mineral-Processing Plant serve as unique evidence of the work imprisoned artists had done. There no artwork comparable to these wall paintings from the 1950s left on the territory of the former USSR. And it is still possible to preserve this piece of art.

The GULAG History Museum and the Memory Fund prepared offers on turning Steplag’s heritage into a memorial.