Discover the Hidden History of Medvezhyegorsk

The town of Medvezhyegorsk started as a small village sometime in the 1600’s, and even though the existence of the village was known for many years, it was only given the official status of "town" in the year 1916. Today, the town is still very small, with an estimated population of approximately 16 thousand residents. Medvezhyegorsk is located in the Republic of Karelia and its name, when translated, means 'Bear Mount' or 'Bear Hill'.

Medvezhyegorsk is a picturesque town with many water features, such as the White Sea-Baltic Canal that runs past the town and Lake Onega. The Murmansk Railway that travels through the town is a vital part of its transportation system, together with the Medvezhyegorsk port. In 1997, a horrific and tragic part of the town's history was uncovered in a clearing now known as Sandormokh. Amongst the stunning birch trees of the Karelian Forest, a secret mass grave has laid hidden since 1937. It has taken students and researchers sixty years and a deathbed confession to find this location.

It might not seem like it today, but by 1936, Medvezhyegorsk was a destination in Russia where only the elite of Stalin's gulag forces were sent, as it was known for having the best opera house in the country. The Karelian Forests were also a great source of lumber, and an even better place to hide the atrocities that followed. Here, at Sandormokh, nine thousand Russians lost their lives. They were forced to dig their own graves and were then executed in cold blood. This terrifying discovery, no matter how gruesome, has brought a sense of dignity to the victims and a form of closure to the families left behind. For future generations, this site will stand as a reminder to the cruel and unnecessary loss of life that was suffered throughout the rule of Stalin, and will hopefully discourage the next leaders of the country not to repeat history.

As a tourist destination in Russia, Medvezhyegorsk does not overflow with extravagant attractions, but has a few noteworthy sites that are worth looking into. The Wooden Orthodox Shrine is a beautiful architectural wonder of the times and the small town also has a fascinating museum. The art school in Medvezhyegorsk, was founded by Burin Lev Nickolaevich, in 1975, for the encouragement and enhancement of the talent of the youth. Nickolaevich’s work is displayed in many museums and galleries across the country. Another natural attraction lies approximately fifty kilometers outside the town. Suavjarvi Lake is a unique body of water, as it is a crater that was created an estimated 2 400 million years ago. As one of the oldest impact craters on earth, its sixteen-kilometer diameter and three kilometer width makes it the most impressive.

The town is extremely small, and the population numbers are on the decline. But it is a location that is filled with many memories, hardship, tragedy, loss and victory. Visitors will love the simple and quiet way of life that is found in Medvezhyegorsk, with its breathtaking views and lasting impressions.


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