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«For the harm to the Soviet Collective Farm System.» The case of the sunken wheel

Gregory Putilov

The "Black Raven1" took a simple country boy named Grisha (shortened from Gregory) Putilov on a night of the sorrowful 1938: people from NKVD2 preferred to work in the dark. Therefore, no one saw the desperate tears of Grisha’s mother, who stood petrified in the middle of the poor, rundown hut. No one could, and did not dare to appreciate the absurdity of the situation, because the newly revealed “enemy of state” was only fourteen.

Grisha was eleven years old when his father died in 1935. At that time the family had five children, and the mother wore another one under her heart. Grisha’s youngest sister was born when the father already passed away.This family was a regular family among others in the village of Usanovka. They lived in poverty and starving and worked in the kolkhoz like everybody else.
Grisha also worked: his job was to deliver water to other workers. Being a teen he had a very vague understanding ofpolitics. It all started with a simple childish prank.

Some needed repair wagons were dumped close to the smithy. Grisha with his friend Fedka Borisov were running and rolling one of the fallen wagon wheels, which slipped from kids hands and rolled down into the river; seemingly by Murphy’s law.

Gregory Putilov

A village policeman was passing by according to the same law. "Why do you spoil the kolkhoz property?" - He was indignant.

Well…. Grisha and Fedka were taken to the district police station... They were scolded but soon released, and the whole situationwas forgotten.NKVD recalled about the two friends later during the winter. They were arrested on January 24, 1938. Gregory found himself in the prison of the town of Kungur (1,600km away from his home), where he was puzzled about his guilt to his native Soviet power for eight months.

As per the paperwork presented to the boy in August 1938, he was sentenced for five years for a formidable political article 58-7,11 of the Soviet Criminal Code for "harming the collective farm system by disabling the national property and organizing illegal group gatherings".
Until the age of sixteen Grisha was serving a sentence in the child labor colony. Compared to the hunger and poverty in his home village the life in the colony seemed bearable as boys at leasthad a guaranteed food rations.

Then Grisha Putilov was sent to a GULAG3 camp in Arkhangelsk close to where another communist project was erecting the new town of Molotovsk.

Gregory still remembers the barracks with double bunks made from thin round logs. On such adubious bed where a padded jacket wasused as a blanket, a hat used as a pillow, after an infinitely long day of work the disenfranchised prisoners collectedwith emaciated bodies. In each barrack there were a hundred people. There they grew numb from the cold in the morning, but still got up and wereforced to work in order to get a ladle of water-like soup with a couple of floating grains. The epidemic of typhoid fever started in the camp one day, and people started to die every day.
- In the morning, they carried the bread ration, - remembers Gregory
- If someone noticed that their bunk neighbor is already dead, they tried to keep quiet about it and making everybody think his neighbor is asleep… In that case, this prisoner would get a piece of bread for his deceased neighbor and only after that would he report his death.

Grisha was slowly getting used to the nightmare campexperience and tried to find something good in it: "People around are very respectable and cultural. Soif I am in prison now maybe the whole country is in camps as well”. He was absolutely serious thinking so...

In 1941 Gregory Putilov was transferred from Arkhangelsk to Ukhta (1150 km west into Siberia). Rumors spread quickly in the camp. It is said that Sergei Korolev4 was imprisoned in one of the barracks in Ukhta camp previously, but in 1941 the famous scientist was taken to back to Moscow communist government still required his talent during the war with Germany.

'We were kept worse than cattle,' says Gregory. 'The orderlies in barracks were appointed from criminals as guards distrusted the political prisoners. The morning command sounded: "Wake up without the last one." The last one was shot. I saw that guards killed those who were behind or slightly stepped aside once. No one asked about those killed. No graves were dug in the winter. In the spring when the snow melts, the corpses were floating down the river like a raft timber.'

Gregory believes that he was born under a lucky star. Many times death was very close… Especially scary was 1943. Prisoners, weakened by starvation, were sent to the logging sites. The required norm of production was incredible - everyone had to make five cubic meters of firewood.

You would get 700 grams of bread and a pot of watery soup for this. But only few were lucky to achieve such productivity. Grisha was saved by the fact that he was sent to an isolation ward because he was not able to perform to the required productivity. And in the isolation ward - oh happiness! - they gave the same amount of bread, and for those who were screamed at the logging site. Later, Gregory learned that out of 38 men who were transferred with him from one camp division to another, only six survived.

From the isolation ward Grisha was sent with a geological group, formed from the same political prisoners. They were surveying landfor the future road from the base camp towards Kamenka camp division. Hands wouldcramp from severe frost so that it was difficult to holdthe leveling rod and the theodolite. People were so weak from the hunger that even talking was hard for them. They were six guys there: young, muzzled, and innocently convicted.

Once atheft occurred at the base camp. Most likely, it was a matter of hands of criminals. But guards accused political prisoners instead. As a punishment, they brought all six boys out into the cold of the night and left them there until the morning. At the morning only four of them were ready to work: two others died and their stiffened bodies were left lying in the snow.

One day during 1943 one of the camp guard bosses saw Grisha at the camp and said, "you should of been released already, shouldn't you?" At that time the boy already stopped counting days. All these years writing letters home were not allowed, and hisfamily did not know anything about him. He was released without the right to leave the area and was sent to work on an oil field.

At that time Gregory wrote the first letter to his mother. Oil was needed for the war, and the miners were given exemption from the army.

Once again, fate brought Grisha to an extraordinary personality: one of the mine mechanics was a political prisoner Jasminov. The famous chemist was kept in jail for a dozen years already. Before the prison he had numerous trips abroad. This fact was used as a reason to jail him. Accused of espionage, he was arrested on his wedding day.

Jasminov told the miners that once he was taken to Moscow from the camp. He hoped that it was because his case will be reviewed again. But the other order was given: to organize a project to destroy the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. After the explosion of the temple, which the project author did not see, Jasminov got back to the camp.
Gregory was able to return to his village only in 1946. His older brother, a staunch member of the Komsomol returned from the WWII at the same time.

'It’s ok,' consoled his brother 'you will start a new life all over again, we still recognize you.'
A year later, Gregory married agirl from his village. The stigma of "enemy of the people" pursued Gregory for many years, despite his hard work as theforeman for the tractor brigade. But after almost any issue with the machines, a KGB man wouldinterrogatehim and always said: "You, Gregory, don’t forget about your past!"

Gregory moved to the city of Togliatti (Russian south) when he retired. He lives in a small house, and says that he had a lucky life because he met good people. His health, however, is not as good as he wanted to. Affected by the years he spent in the camp, and that one day, when he worked at the mine. He was the only survivor. Again - born under a lucky star.

In 1989, Gregory went to Perm (town in the middle of Russia) to apply for rehabilitation. To his great surprise, a KGB officerhanded him a thick file contained tons of documents that grew around theinadvertently sunk wheel. From this case Gregory learned that until 1964 he was under KGB surveillance. And his drinking buddies watched him and reported on every his step to theKGB. However, Gregory does not hold a grudge against these men, he believes that there are more good people in this world. Rather, it was more. He saw these people while in the camp....


  1. Black Raven is a slang name for the car used for arrest and transportation of prisoners.
  2. NKVD - The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, was a law enforcement agency of the Soviet Union that directly executed the will of the Communist Party. It was closely associated with the Soviet secret police, which at times was part of the agency, and is known for its political repression during the era of Joseph Stalin.
  3. GULAG is an acronym of the Russian words meaning Chief Directorate of Camps. Thus was named the government agency that administered the main Soviet forced labor camp systems during the Stalin era.
  4. Sergei Korolev was the lead Soviet rocket engineer and spacecraft designer in the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s. He is considered by many as the father of practical astronautics.


Source: The Case of the sunk wheel: app. A. Tarasova // Political Repressions in Stavropol-on-Volga in the 1920-1950-ies: To remember ... - Togliatti: Center Inf. technology, 2005. - P. 204-207

The file stored: Perm State Archive of Contemporary History f.643 / 2 op.1 d.26867 sheet 1

Перевод: Boris Gutkin