Yoshkar Ola

Yoshkar-Ola is Different: “The Land of Ancestors” Festival and Gulag Museum (Russia, Mari El)

We have already shared our impressions on the major sights of Yoshkar-Ola, its debatable contemporary architecture and the ambivalent figure of the head of Mari El Republic Leonid Markelov. Yet, in addition to this major information the potential tourist should also know about two other unusual entertainments of Yoshkar-Ola: the annual “Land of Ancestors” festival (the nearest is taking place very soon – in June 2016) and the independent museum of Gulag situated in the center of the city.

“The Land of Ancestors” festival.

While the Gulag museum is not easy to be called the entertainment, “The Land of Ancestors” is definitely an amusement festival. This is a folklore celebration, every year dedicated to a certain type of handicraft. For instance, in 2015 the festival was dedicated to coopers. Yet, other handicrafts are also well represented. The guests always have an opportunity to buy various handmade souvenirs.



The tradition of holding the festival is relatively recent: it has been held for less than 10 years, yet, becoming more and more popular. The centre of the event is the stage, where the officials deliver their speeches and the folklore groups perform.

All kinds of folk costumes are presented here.
folk costumes

folk costumes

Some of them have been influenced by contemporary fashion, for instance, the lurid colours.
folk costumes

The participants offer different dishes of the Mari traditional cuisine.
Mari traditional cuisine

Mari traditional cuisine

Mari traditional cuisine

Those who want to sell their goods go for different types of commercials. For instance, this sapling seller set out the handmade crows with the short poems calling for patriotism and against evil America, Europe, and their money.

Gulag Museum.

Needless to say, that compared to these bright colors, the Gulag Museum gives a completely different impression. You may visit the museum on the appointment made in advance (phone 8(8362) 42-44-50, 66-00-03, mobile nr. +79024390003). There is no price for the ticket and the visitors decide themselves how much money to donate. The museum exists due to donations, volunteers and benefactors: the state does not help it and, more, tries to take away the building of the museum. Yet, this is the uniqueness of the Mari Gulag museum that, compared to other memorials, it is situated in the building which belonged to The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs working primarily for purges. Here, the suspects were interrogated and pushed to confessing their guilt in bertraying the Soviet people.
This truth, still uncomfortable for the state, concentrates on several tens of square meters. The place housing the museum is tiny, while there are many things for the display; that is why the museum does not make the impression of a usual exhibition – rather of a garage with rubbish.
Yoshkar-Ola-Gulag Museum

Yoshkar-Ola-Gulag exhibition

Yet, every subject and corner of the museum has its history, which will be told to you by the employee of the museum. One of the major stories is about the large burial of political prisoners found in Mari Republic and about the Mari people killed by the Soviet power.  political prisoners

Another infamous story is about the head of Mari department of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs A. F. Chernova, who made her career by the excellent results in solving the crimes. It is only later that many got to know that her methods of interrogation and investigation were extremely sadistic, and she got seven years of imprisonment for that. The museum exibits the average torture devices used by The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs in those times: these could have been used by Chernova too.
People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs

The torture cell, to which the person was place for several hours of days:

The imitation of plank bed, on which the prisoners slept in two layers in turns (while the rest was waiting on the floor for their turn), the toilet and the personal belongings of the prisoners:
Replica of prison


The museum does not only have the collection on the Soviet NKVD crimes, but also some historical valuables destroyed with the Soviet power: for instance, the mansion of Bulygin and the Tsarevokokshajsk graveyard: the monuments from the latter were used to construct some Soviet buildings.
Soviet NKVD

The visitors of the museum, unfortunately, may be very different. Once a visitor tried to steal this handkerchief embroidered in 1922 (the embroidery says: for the memory to Kolya from Nina 1922).
Yoshkar-Ola-NKVD museum

These are the contrasts of Yoshkar-Ola, and, unfortunately, only few people reach it, thinking there is not much to do there. We specially recommend to visit the Gulag museum in which you will see and learn really a lot.


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