New translation explores life of Russian scientist and Gulag survivor

November 02, 2009

One of the most prominent Soviet Arctic scientists of the 1920s and 1930s, Mikhail Mikhailovich Ermolaev was a geologist, physicist, and oceanographer. After working in the Arctic for some 13 years, he was arrested by the Russian police force (NKVD), convicted on a trumped-up charge of "sabotage," and sent to the Gulag for ten years.

The original Russian biography of this fascinating man was written by Ermolaev's son, Sleksei Mikhailovich Ermolaev, and V.M. Diber. Translated from the original Russian and edited by William Barr, Arctic Scientist, Gulag Survivor: The Biography of Mikhail Mikhailovich Ermolaev, 1905-1991 (University of Calgary Press, 2009, $44.95) is a fascinating personal account typical of the experiences of so many Soviet citizens who were unjustly banished to the infamous Gulag. Because Ermolaev was part of a specialist team, the conditions he endured were better than most, with reasonably comfortable quarters and relatively adequate food. However, his story still clearly illustrates the brutality and inhumanity of the system.

After barely surviving a year of correctional hard labour in a lumber camp, Ermolaev was appointed to a sharashka, or professional team, which was charged with extending the railroad to the coal mines of Vorkuta in the farthest reaches of northeastern European Russia. Still later, he and his family were exiled to Syktyvkar and Arkhangel'sk. Remarkably, Ermolaev was eventually able to resume his academic career, ultimately establishing a new Department of the Geography of the Oceans at Kaliningrad State University.

Aleksei's recollections of his father's arrest and of the family's experiences while his father was in the Gulag, along with an excellent selection of family photographs, infuse Arctic Scientist, Gulag Survivor with a sense of immediacy and personal connection. Thanks to the expertise of William Barr, Ermolaev's story is now available in English for the first time.
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About the author: William Barr is a research fellow at the Arctic Institute of North America. A glacial geomorphologist by training, his major research focus is the history of exploration in the Arctic, a subject on which he has published extensively. In May 2006, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Historical Association for his contributions to the historiography of the Canadian North.

University of Calgary Press: The University of Calgary Press is a scholarly press that publishes peer-reviewed books that make a difference. The University of Calgary Press publishes in a wide variety of subject areas some of which are: public policy, Aboriginal and Metis studies, Arctic and northern studies, Canadian defence and strategic studies, and energy, environment and ecology. The University of Calgary Press is located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. For more information visit website at www.uofcpress.com.

Arctic Institute of North America: The mission of the Arctic Institute of North America at the University of Calgary is to advance the study of the North American and circumpolar Arctic and to acquire, preserve and disseminate information on physical, environmental and social conditions in the North. More information can be found at www.arctic.ucalgary.ca

Arctic Institute of North America

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