Sunday, 7 February 2010

Another little example of In-depth researching...

One more problematic researching task for "The Vanavara Protocol" involved locating the NKVD killing ground of Kurapaty, in Brod woods to the north of Minsk. The reference "Brod woods" is used twelve times in the body of the novel... "Kurapaty" is used only twice. So; I needed to establish place names for the accuracy of the following passage:

"If they were to do anything, then it was certain that their next car ride would be a one-way trip in the back seat of one of their own "Black Ravens."A one-way trip out to Brod Woods in the forests north of Minsk.
A few kilometres to the north of Minsk; to the left of the Lahoj highway, there was a village called Zialony Luh. Two kilometres north of the village, in the forests to the south of the Zaslauje Road, they shot people... both men and women; who were brought there every day and every night on trucks, or in the sinister "Chyornye Voronki." For these victims, it was a one-way trip and the inescapable Nagan, or Tokarev bullet in the nape of the neck.
On the hills there was an area known locally as Kurapaty… an old stand of conifers, surrounded by broadleaf trees and thickets. Some hundred or so, verst of this coniferous stand had been surrounded by a fence, more than three metres high, made of closely fitting, overlapping, wooden planks, surmounted with barbed wire. Outside the fence were guards and dogs. The people were brought there along the gravelly, cobbled road that ran from the Lahoj highway to Zaslauje. The local villagers called it the "Road of Death."


The villages have long since disappeared... either under the Minsk Ring road, or have been swallowed up by the city. Zialony Luh... the village mentioned in the novel is now a suburb of Minsk.
Googling "Kurapaty" turned up over 70,000 references. "Brod woods" returned nothing.
"Zialony Luh" returned 72 results... mostly from the same article by  Zyanon Paznyak and Yauhen Shmyhalou... "Kurapaty-Daroha Smertsi"... "Kurapaty, the Road to Death."

Eventually, I found a possible lead from a Google Image search for "Minsk Maps."
On an obscure Russian forum website I discovered a detailed map of Minsk dating from 1933...

The road running straight up the illustration and curving sharply to the right is the Lahoj highway. The wooded area at the centre top of the illustration is Kurapaty, otherwise known as Brod woods. The small road bisecting the wood approximately two-thirds up its length is the route of the present Minsk Ring road.The road running across the top of Brod woods is the Zaslauje Road.
The small road running from the Lahoj highway to the Zaslauje Road passes the village of Zialony Luh before it turns to the north to pass east of Brod woods. This road is the gravel road the villagers called  the "Road of death".
The execution transports followed this track up to the little road that follows the line of the modern Minsk Ring road. Here they turned onto it for the last half-kilometre or so, to reach the killing grounds.

A very useful find! At least the passage was now accurate. Had I not discovered this particular map; I would have had to rely on my own deduction by interpreting the description in the passage onto a Google Earth Satellite image:

I have added the labels for clarity of location... and the pale line going diagonally across the image is an aircraft contrail caught by the satellite imaging system!

A poignant confirmation to the  location was found in a Kurapaty memorial site. It pinpoints the position of discovered remains in the surviving fragment of  the dreadful Brod Woods:

And, just to finish off; and again, to offer a cautionary word that what you find is not necessarily what you are searching for; here is a segment of the same location, taken from a modern Minsk map. (Again; the labels have been added for clarity of location.)


You might think that all this is a tad obsessional for a very small, and insignificant part of the story. I couldn't agree more!... but, as I said before; there is always Someone out there ready to pick your baby to pieces; especially if it is a historical work set within living memory.

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