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12 Dance 1
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The sea is roaring. Magadan. the Kolyma capital is on the way.
Seven hundred kilometers oI taiga. and no settlements. Cars do
not go there. deer hardly walk. (Ryabkov 15)
It seemed as iI we had been Ilying Ior hours over rigid. Irozen tundra. No matter
which way I strained. I could see nothing but wispy. white-capped mountaintops. As
I glanced below. I caught a glimpse oI the iagged ice. which iutted out oI the chilly
ocean piercing the air. Over the intercom. the rugged. Russian voice warned us that
we were landing. Even though I could Ieel the pressure dropping in the cabin I could
scarcely make out the negligible spot oI land where supposedly the pilot was to land
the plane. Closing my eyes and clenching my Iists. I lay back.
We touched the cold concrete and taxied to a complete stop. My heart was
pounding like a bad migraine. Severing the tension the pilot again came over the air.
'Welcome to Kolyma. where the hands are cold and the hearts are warm.¨ I gingerly
exited the old soviet-era plane and glanced around at my surroundings. Not one sign
oI civilization greeted me. The mountain ranges rolled outward Ior eons.
accompanied with an equally endless white blanket oI snow. There was an eerie
Ieeling oI solitude. conIinement and heartache in the air. AIter a three-hour plane ride
directly north Irom the port-city Vladivostok. I had Iinally reached the region they
call Kolyma.
I knew very little about Kolyma but I soon discovered that she houses a rich.
yet complex. tapestry oI history interwoven with diIIerent threaded degrees oI austere
and vile travesty. Kolyma is a unique. rich land that is brimming with precious
minerals and other natural resources. It is a mecca Ior the talented and giIted although
they don`t live there by choice.
Despite the rich resources in both land and people. Kolyma was the pre-
appointed place Ior millions to suIIer in hard labor camps and die during Stalin`s
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tyrannical regime. Sadly. what Kolyma and her capital Magadan are most inIamous
Ior are those deadly camps that annihilated the lives oI so many.
As the locals would chime. 'this is the place where there are twelve months oI
winter and the rest oI the year is summer.¨ As history would state. this is the place to
which millions were exiled . . . and killed. Here I would spend the next eight months
oI my liIe. Ironically. it was here. in this dark. oppressed region that I learned about
light and truth.
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The labor camps oI Kolyma have leIt a stark impression on the world that cannot be
wiped clean. Its history has indelibly aIIected its people entirely. with very Iew
exceptions.
One oI those exceptions lives in Magadan. the capital oI Kolyma. which has a
population oI approximately 100.000 people. The main street. Lenina. dissects the
small city directly down the middle. At the brow oI one oI Magadan`s hills runs a
street called Kolinina. There. in home number twelve. apartment thirty-eight. lives a
woman with her adopted daughter and granddaughter. Their names are Nionila.
Masha and Nilochka
1
and they live in the most humble oI areas. They represent the
characteristic Kolyma people who are tested. and spiritually and emotionally
downtrodden. I met them on a September evening in the year 2001.
We were out on the streets and in the apartment complexes contacting people
who would be interested in talking about God. when we passed an apartment
complex we had already been in beIore. As we passed a staircase leading into home
number 12. I Ielt the strongest impression to enter again and contact the people
inside. The very nature oI the prompting was conIusing and contradictory to what we
had already learned Irom experience. As a missionary. oIIicially named an Elder
2
.
and out oI respect to the people. we never entered complexes in which we had
recently been. To walk into that complex again would be setting the stage Ior
disaster. not to mention the possibility oI appearing aggressive and ignorant. Even so.
the inevitable pangs oI ignoring such a strong impression to enter house number 12
were unbearable.
Within ten minutes oI entering the complex. we met Nionila. She was a single
mother who maintained a Iamily and supported their needs by working laborious
construction on concrete buildings in the wild taiga. Her adopted daughter could only
hear out oI one ear and they did not have enough money to Iinance any kind oI
treatment. When we walked into their apartment. we noticed that they had no T.V.

1 Diminutive expression oI Nionila
2 An 'Elder¨ is an ecclesiastical name in the Church oI Jesus Christ oI Latter-day Saints to
denote someone with the authority to preach oI Christ
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and no wallpaper. They had a Iew items oI Iurniture including one desk. which was
empty.
Today. Iour years later. in addition to scant Iurniture atop that once empty desk
stands two Iramed pictures that symbolically Iill the entire apartment. One is oI
Christ and the other is oI Nionila`s baptism into the Church oI Jesus Christ oI Latter-
day Saints. From these pictures emanates a light that is beginning to warm the
heatless apartment.
Adhering to the communist regime. the concentration camps punished people
who believed in God and to this day. many people don`t. Due to that spiritual
oppression on the people and because oI the Kolyma camps. the living conditions are
very harsh. There is not much hope in the city oI Magadan.
This eerie history once encapsulated the Iamily oI Nionila. Masha and
Nilochka. but now they have broken Iree and Iound ioy. Their ioy is in the gospel oI
Jesus Christ. The change I have seen in them has strengthened my Iaith. I had never
seen Russians happier than they were then.
The history oI Magadan`s past is overIlowing with depression. despondency
and inhumanity. However. when it seems as iI the entire city is in a dark. downward
spiral. Nionila continues to pray and turn to God Ior light at the end oI a Iourteen-
hour workday when her boss reIuses to pay her. She stands as a pillar oI light and
example Ior the oppressed. 'There is no chance. no Iate. no destiny that can
circumvent. hinder or control the Iirm resolve oI a determined soul¨ (Stephen R.
Covey). The human soul is powerIul and Nionila has a determined soul.
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Nionila is not the only one exempt Irom the eIIects oI Kolyma`s ruthless conditions
and history. Interestingly. the most isolated branch in the Church oI Jesus Christ oI
Latter-day Saints is located in the capital Magadan. with the closest body oI members
being a reclusive three-hour plane ride away. Yet. because oI their servitude and
Iortitude. the members oI the Magadan branch might as well live in Salt Lake City.
Utah where there are thousands oI Church members Raisa is one oI those members.
Two months aIter we had met Nionila I remember one particular winter`s
morning as we walked about one mile through a terrible blizzard until we Iinally
arrived at a woman`s hut. The woman`s name was Raisa. She was in her mid Iorties
and had been a member oI the Church Ior three years. She invited us in graciously.
and we sat down in two rusty. decrepit chairs. As I looked around. I could not help
but think that Deity had abandoned this woman. Her rooI was caving in Irom the
latest snowIall. with nothing but a wooden post holding it up. There was no sign oI
Iood anywhere. not even a single potato. Cockroaches could be seen on the bare
wooden Iloor scurrying Ior warmth amidst the winter`s Iury.
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Despite these bleak conditions. I summoned the genuineness to ask her how she
was doing. She replied. 'I am doing well.¨ Almost immediately aIter she replied. she
posed an anxious question. 'Elders. did you bring my Ensigns
3
?¨ I quickly answered.
'Raisa. oI course we have your Ensigns.¨ Never beIore on my church mission had I
ever been asked that question. We had grown accustomed to tireless. gentle
persuasion in order to motivate others to read Church material such as the Ensign.
However. that exact morning. thankIully I placed a Iew Church magazines in my
rucksack.
What proceeded struck me. Seldom in Russia. did I ever see the Iace oI genuine
happiness and gratitude to the level I saw that very day in Raisa. AIter giving her the
two Ensigns. she taught me a proIound and eternal principle. She proclaimed.
'Elders. I have nothing as Iar as the world is concerned.¨ She then paused to raise
both Ensigns and exclaimed. 'But I have everything I need to live with my Heavenly
Father someday.¨ As she looked deep into our eyes. I clenched my warm knit cap in
one hand and in the other hand I Ielt the worn wrapper Irom a recently eaten candy
bar.
Shortly thereaIter. while my companion and I leIt her little hut. I began to
ponder on Raisa`s words. I could not help but think oI Isaiah`s writing. 'But they that
wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as
eagles; they shall run. and not be weary; and they shall walk. and not Iaint¨ (Isaiah
40:31).
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History states that. 'The Soviet Empire oI Stalin`s day is a world hard Ior most oI us
to imagine. Seldom has any nation endured such a massive. selI-inIlicted genocide.
And seldom. iI ever. has a maior country kept so high a proportion oI its own people.
and those oI countries it dominated. in prison¨ (Gardach and Glesson. ix Foreword).
The ghastly memory oI Kolyma still haunts Russia to this day.
A monument dedicated to the millions oI innocent people who were killed
stands IiIty-Ieet high atop a hill overlooking the city oI Magadan. The Russians call it
the 'Mask oI Sorrows¨ ('MACKA CKOPFH¨). The monument is made oI a large
stone ediIice whereupon a large Iace is carved. The contorted Iace has tears running
down its leIt check. Each tear represents yet another Iace upon which more tears in
the Iorm oI Iaces run down their checks. The monument stands as a silent reminder
that at some time. in the history oI Kolyma. a people were once Iorgotten and
destroyed. The ingrained memory oI the cold cruelty oI the Iorced labor camp system
will Iar outlast the stone monument.

3 An 'Ensign¨ is the title oI a monthly Church oI Jesus Christ oI Latter-day Saints` magazine.
which contains articles about Christ
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Nevertheless. iI you were to turn your back to the 'Mask oI Sorrows¨ and
wander down the snowy hill and then across the street. you would Iind Nionila`s
apartment complex. iust a Iew hundred yards Irom the mask. Continuing deeper into
the wild taiga. you would see a meager lean-to that Raisa calls home. Each morning
as Nionila and Raisa rise Irom their beds and welcome a new day they get on their
knees and pray to thank their God Ior the blessings they have.
Magadan. Magadan. Magadan! A wonderIul symbol oI trouble
and Ioul. May be. not Ior misIortune but Ior luck the Iate once
gave it to me. (Anatoly Zhigulin. a political prisoner)
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