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26 September 2018

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Holy Spring of Iskitim

Author: Jeanmarie Rouhier-Willoughby

July/Aug 2014
Religion & Spirituality
Page 54   ( 6 pages)

Summary: Outside the Siberian city of Novosibirsk a spring commemorates victims of a Gulag crime. Or does it?


It was colleagues in Novosibirsk that first told me about the spring at Lozhok. I was immediately drawn in by the legends surrounding the place.

The spring is reputedly sacred because on its site Gulag guards executed 40 monks and priests. The intersection of faith and Gulag history was intriguing, and my experiences there so compelling, that I have returned every year since to follow the spring’s development.

I first visited the holy spring in Lozhok in May 2007, during a research trip in Akademgorodok, a university town and research center on the outskirts of Novosibirsk, a Siberian city of one million and the geographic center of Russia. My friends and I arranged to meet the parish priest, Father Igor Zatolokin, at the Church of the Life-Bearing Spring in Iskitim. He had promised to give us a tour of the spring and sites associated with its history after that day’s Sunday mass.

On the way to the church, we seemed to be traveling backwards in time, peeling away layers of Soviet and Russian history as we drove. Early in the morning, we left Akademgorodok, with its post-WWII university and research institutes offset by glitzy contemporary architecture and fancy stores. On the way east, we passed through Berdsk, on the shore of the Ob Sea reservoir, the product of a Soviet-era hydroelectric dam project. Berdsk was once dedicated to Pioneer camps, where children from the surrounding area spent their summers swimming, hiking and playing. Now the waterfront features brick dachas, luxury homes, and a boat yard on the bay for yachts and motorboats alongside the Soviet paneled apartment buildings.

We entered the vast plain between Berdsk and Iskitim, a Soviet-era factory town known locally by the denigrating rhyme, snizu griaz, sverkhu dym, eto gorod Iskitim (Mud underfoot, smoke overhead, that’s the city of Iskitim). The road was flanked by huge agricultural fields interrupted by clusters of Soviet-era buildings, especially apartment blocks in a poor state of repair alongside old wooden workers’ barracks (now apartments) and a random mix of factory and residential areas. Soviet signs bore faded propaganda slogans surrounded by frail, rusty frames.

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