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Full Circle

Day 18: Magadan

Magadan, Eastern Russia 
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Ivan on his way back to the Gulag site.
Michael Palin - Full CircleIvan Ilych points down at the raw scree-covered slopes below us.

'I know there is uranium there,' he says, 'because nothing else grows.'

Ivan sits close up to the window, staring out, preoccupied. We're heading for the camp at Butugychag. He has not been back to the Gulag since he was set free in 1946. Watching him reach down into a pocket, pull out a neatly-folded blue handkerchief and dab at his brimming eyes it's hard to imagine him as the 'young and dangerous boy' the secret police arrested in Moldova at the age of twenty. He's still a handsome man with a broad, strong face, bright eyes, quick to smile, and a thatch of silver hair peeping out from beneath a thick woolly hat. He lost his left arm in a prison accident and he walks slowly and stiffly. Yesterday was his eighty-first birthday.

One hundred and fifty miles north of Magadan we land on a silent hillside strewn with cracked and broken fragments of rock. On the surrounding mountain slopes the tracks and low walls of the abandoned mine workings are still visible.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 18
  • Country/sea: Eastern Russia
  • Place: Magadan
  • Book page no: 37

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