The Paper Village

It was 1951, and the Soviet Union was attempting to improve the face it presented to the world. One PR-boosting move enacted that year was the construction of a model Ukrainian town—not only to demonstrate how well life in the Soviet Union was going, but how well they treated their assimilated peoples. The irony that this tactic had been tried before, the “model ghetto” of Theresienstadt, by Nazis presumably fell on deaf ears.

The government began surreptitiously rounding up citizens from various corners of the Ukraine, unified only by a nebulous concept of “looking right.”  People were kidnapped from cities and remote villages alike. Children were grabbed on the way home from school, men were forced to board government cars at gunpoint. All detainees were shipped to a remote region in the Opillia Uplands. There, they were forced to live together in rough barracks as military forces had not yet finished construction on the model village. A censured memo coming from within the government called it a “city of paper bricks.” Indeed, not much effort was put into construction, and the houses were built of untreated lumber and lacked any insulation or modern facilities.

Construction finished by late September of 1952, by which time most detainees had been homeless for a year. Once construction was completed, the town was decorated for a festival and the residents turned loose upon it. After starving in undecorated barracks for so long, the detainees were able to provide many joyous photo-ops for photographers. The photo shoot lasted for approximately 3 days, after which it is generally assumed the government agents executed the entire village as they were never returned to their homes. No physical evidence of their demise has been recovered, and most documents referring to this project have been expurgated. The village façade still stands, uninhabited.

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Filed under fiction, microfiction

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