The Republic of Karelia

In Peter the Great's footsteps: A lost village in Karelia

Petrovsky Yam and its long history

14.11.2022 /// The aesthetics of abandoned villages in the Arctic are a particular kind of enjoyment, attracting many tourists decked out with camera equipment. People are willing to travel thousands of kilometres, climbing into the most difficult and often dangerous places to enjoy the ballet of entropy that fuses the works of human hands and nature together. The Petrovsky Yam settlement is one of those places. Getting there is difficult, but still some companies are willing to offer their ship for the tour.

The place is filled with history, dating back to the time of Peter the Great, but now lost in the dense Karelian forests.

In the first year of the 18th cen- tury, Russia entered the North- ern War with Sweden for the access to the sea. The grow- ing state urgently needed a convincing military victory. In August 1702, Peter the Great pulled off what was thought to be impossible. Together with two Guards regiments, he made it all the way from Cape Varde- gorsky on the White Sea to Lake Onega over dry land, using skidways, and delivered two frigates built in Arkhangelsk. In just eight days, the troops cov- ered the entire route of over 260 km. This surprise move helped Peter win his first major victory in the Northern War and capture the Swedish fortress of Note- burg (Oreshek).

The road laid through impen- etrable forests at the will of Peter the Great was dubbed Osu- dareva doroga (Czar’s Road). On 22 August 1702, the troops spent the whole day and night at where it crosses the Vyg River so that people could recover. In honour of this event, the Emper- or ordered a new settlement to be founded on the site of his biv- ouac and relocate several peas- ant families from nearby villages there.

At first, the new settlement was called Yam ('Staging post'). However, on 5 October 1879, at a village gathering, peasants unanimously decided to apply to the government for the name of the settlement to be changed to the self-explanatory Petrovsky Yam. Having received approval, they decided to immortalise the events that had started the set- tlement. Residents of Petrovsky Yam erected a cross to com- memorate the fact that 'Father Tsar Peter Alexeyevich who paved the way from the White Sea to Lake Onega, rested' there. Later on, in 1880, a church was erected on that site.

During the Great Patriotic War, military field hospital No. 2212 was located in Petrovsky Yam. On the night of 11–12 February 1942, it was attacked by a group of Finnish saboteurs. They threw grenades into the wards, and anyone who tried to escape from the burning buildings was shot, sparing neither the wounded nor the nurses. Among the dead was a relative of the poet Lermontov—the Red Army soldier Mikhail Lermontov. A total of 85 people were killed. During the raid, the wooden St. Peter's Church was also burnt down. After the war, Petrovsky Yam was a large logging settlement. But in 1978, rafting on the Verkhny Vyg was closed, and most residents moved to the Valday settlement.

According to the 1980 census, the population of Petrovsky Yam was only three. The 2010 census found no inhabitants at all and the settlement was abolished.

In 2008, a metal stele with a star on top was erected in Petrovsky Yam to commemorate the tragic events that took place here in 1942. At its foot is a plaque with the names of the victims of the massacre. In 2014, a monument to the dead medics and the wounded was erected at the site of the destroyed hospital, using public money.

Every few years, activists come to Petrovsky Yam to commemorate those who died in 1942 and to renovate the monument. The funds for this expedition are usually raised by enthusiasts themselves.

Tourist companies offer various excursions and eco-routes to Petrovsky Yam. The best way to get there is by boat or motorboat. The hiking route is accessible only to experienced hikers—the wilderness and remoteness from any populated areas require adequate preparation and equipment. Wading through rivers and swamps can be interesting but very difficult. The site features the aesthetics of an abandoned village in the Karelian backwoods, filled with a light-filled sadness and a long history. We recommend that you bring your camera, drone or any other filming equipment, as these shots will be truly unique.

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