Human genome program author was Norillag prisoner
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Human genome program author was Norillag prisoner

July 05, 2022

A young, promising scientist Alexander Bayev was a researcher at the USSR Academy of Sciences’ Biochemistry Institute, and was preparing his Ph.D. thesis when in 1937 he was arrested and accused of counter-revolutionary activities. The court sentenced Bayev to ten years in labor camps.

#ARCTIC. #SIBERIA. THIS IS TAIMYR. First, Alexander Bayev was sent to Solovki, and in 1939 he was transferred to Norilsk. Here he first ended up in the fifth camp department: he worked on earthworks, dug trenches in the permafrost under the plants foundation.

Then the camp authorities used him as a doctor, as there was a lack of them in Norilsk. Bayev spent the winter of 1940 in the camp department of the Bear Creek mine. The only doctor at the mine, he lived in a tent set in snow.

Then Bayev was sent as chief physician to Norilsk-2, where, on the orders of Avraamy Zavenyagin (the Norilsk combine head at that time), a sanatorium for sick prisoners was organized. The diagnoses were scurvy, dystrophy, beriberi, tuberculosis. Nobody wanted to recover – it meant returning to hard work again.

Here is how Baev himself later recalled this:

“The regime was almost sanatorium – my patients did not work, they breathed clean air, no one treated them bad: the people came to life in a week or two. Abram Agranovsky, an inspector, visited us, and he clearly did not want to leave us, especially since the food was also supposed to be very good. And my boss even allowed me to fish. No, not with a fishing rod, but with a cord. Meter pikes were hard to catch, but smaller ones were usually my trophy. I had to spank across the tundra, through the swamps, far away to the lakes…”

In the fall of 1940, Bayev was appointed doctor of a hospital for civilian workers at the combine. He moved into the category of ‘unconvoyed’ and, continuing to be listed in the fifth camp department, lived at the hospital in a small closet, next to the hospital kitchen.

In the hospital where there were not enough doctors, Bayev was in charge of the therapeutic, children’s and infectious diseases departments, an X-ray room, and a children’s dairy kitchen. He gave anesthesia and assisted in surgical operations. Organized and biochemical laboratory. Bayev drew well and painted the children’s ward walls with Russian fairy tales scenes.

The fame of the new doctor quickly spread throughout Norilsk. The authorities gave him the command to patronize the high authorities families. Gratitudes, awards, a commemorative box from the combine head Alexander Panyukov’s wife rained down. And as an apotheosis – a reduction in the camp term by three years “for excellent work and exemplary behavior”.

In 1944, Bayev was released for work during the war, but without the right to leave Norilsk, and he continued to work as a doctor. In 1947, thanks to the petitions of academician Orbeli, Bayev still defended his Ph.D. thesis at the Institute of Physiology of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Leningrad, but he was still forbidden to work in big cities. Then there were a second arrest and an eternal exile to Siberia. But after complete rehabilitation, Alexander Bayev became an academician, author and head of a research program for the human genome study.

In the History spot previous publication we told that Panyukov, Zavenyagin’s successor as the Norilsk combine head, at first did not understand metallurgy at all.

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Text: Svetlana Ferapontova, Photo: Nornickel Polar Branch archive

July 05, 2022

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