Three hundred years ago St. Petersburg was founded on the land populated by the Finno-Ugric people. It was called Ingermanland. The land and the native people were often referenced in Russian classic and ancient literature.
When Joseph Stalin came to power in the USSR, 80% of the population in some parts of Leningrad (a Soviet name for St. Petersburg) region remained Finnish. Stalin feared the mythical threat that they would support Finland in World War II. Before the war began, «Russian Finns» were mostly deported to Siberian GULAGs. Most of them died. Then German troops invaded the region, and many of the remained Ingermanlanders came to be in Nazi concentration camps.
With the «Khrushchev thaw», Russian Finns were allowed to return from their exile to Leningrad region. After the collapse of the USSR, Finland opened the border to the ethnic Ingermanlanders — Izhora, Ingermanland Finns, Vod, Vepses and Karels — granting them citizenship. Many left Russia, but there are those who stayed, and my project is dedicated to them. They say that their homeland is here.
For the Finno-Ugric people, the family, home and memory of their ancestors are sacred things. They are strongly connected to their native land and nature. The strength of their tribal memory fascinates me.
My family also suffered from Stalinist repressions, and I have some Finno-Ugric roots, although not Ingermanlandish. That’s why I feel connection to their story.
Silence — the name of the project — means oblivion. Many historical facts related to Ingermanlanders, especially the repressions, are not widely spoken about in Russia.