MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russians who leave the country and support Ukraine should be sent to a far eastern region known for its Stalin-era Gulag prison camps if they ever return home, according to the speaker of Russia’s State Duma lower house of parliament.
Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine and its subsequent mobilisation campaign prompted at least several hundred thousand Russians to leave their homeland, though it is unclear exactly how many.
More than a year and a half of war has made Russia a much shriller place: dissidents have been jailed; state television periodically discusses nuclear attacks on the West; and some politicians have suggested rather quixotic policies.
Vyachelav Volodin, the speaker of the Duma, told lawmakers on Tuesday that those who had left Russia and rejoiced at Ukrainian drone and missile attacks on their country should know that they were no longer welcome in their homeland.
“Those who left the country and committed despicable acts, rejoicing at the shots fired on the territory of the Russian Federation, wishing victory to the bloody Nazi Kyiv regime, should realise that no one is waiting for them here – but if they do come back, then Magadan will be provided for them,” Volodin said.
For Russians, Magadan is synonymous with the Gulag – a series of forced labour camps where Russians were used as slave labour under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
About 800,000 people are estimated to have passed through the camps of Magadan between 1932 — seven years before the city was officially founded — and the mid-1950s.
Overall, around 18 million people passed through the Soviet Gulag, which was immortalised by Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn – himself a survivor of incarceration there – in “The Gulag Archipelago”. His book was banned in the Soviet Union after its 1973 publication in the West.
The full Volodin remark was published on the Telegram messaging app by the State Duma’s press service.
The post elicited a mixture of resigned sarcasm, calls for Russian politicians to actually put their words into action, and also some humour.
One anonymous reply to the post on Telegram suggested that the Magadan region, a vast and sparsely populated area, might not cope with such an influx so the new arrivals should be put to work on building a new city.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Gareth Jones)