Kolyma – Roads of Bones

Kolyma - Roads of Bones
dir.Stanislaw Mucha/Germany, Russia/2017/86 min

Kolyma, aka the “Road of Bones” or the “Trail of Death”, is a 2,000-km-long highway that stretches through the deepest Russian North-east and was built under Stalin’s rule from 1932 to 1953. Due to the discovery of significant gold deposits, a total of 160 labour camps were established along the Kolyma route. Millions of people built them and lived there under the most dreadful conditions. More than three million of them lost their lives in doing so. Without time for burials, corpses were left by the side of the road, merely covered with a thin layer of soil. Some of those bones are still there today. Probably the longest cemetery of the world.

Kolyma was the epicentre of the Soviet prison camp system, known as the “Gulag”, of a severity similar to Auschwitz. Yet it was never acknowledged or addressed in public discourse. Due to the remote location and compounded by the Artic climate, the history of Kolyma was previously concealed under a shroud of silence. And now the time is running short for survivors or their direct descendants to tell their story firsthand.

This is a matter of great concern for Stanislav, not to a small measure because of his connection through his own grandfather, who himself survived the hell of Kolyma: He wants to go to Kolyma and trace the lives of those living there, tracing the footsteps of the prisoners in the Land of Gold and Death. Can one love there today, or laugh or be happy? How to give birth and raise kids? How to earn money, sing or die? Many encounters with personal stories create an image of contemporary Kolyma – mirrored against the past, which seems to be irrevocably frozen into the region.

The city of Magadan marks the entrance to the hell of Kolyma and the starting point for the film. The last stop is the city of Jakutsk, which is in winter the coldest city in the world. The Kolyma route passes through about 50 villages built by the Gulag prisoners. They are god-forsaken, god-fearing villages and towns, where people are still prospecting for gold in the permafrost soil, and where the actual God is Stalin. The film team will travel repeatedly along the Road of Bones in four seasons and create great cinematic footage.

In his own distinctive way, Stanislav Mucha focuses on a piece of history that has hitherto hardly been treated and thus creates an irretrievable time document. This documentary film will appeal to a well-travelled cinema audience with a focus on Eastern Europe and Russia.


  • projection time:
    86 min
  • country/year:
    Germany, Russia/2017
  • director:
  • pictures:
    Enno Endlicher
  • production:
    TAG/TRAUM Filmproduktion GmbH & Co. KG
  • selected festivals and awards:
    2017 – DOK Leipzig

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