Bratsk (Russian: Братск) is a city in Irkutsk Oblast, located on the Angara River near the vast Bratsk Reservoir.
Although the name sounds like the Russian word for ‘brother’ (‘brat’), it actually comes from ‘bratskiye lyudi’, an old name for the Buryats. The first Europeans arrived in 1623, intending to collect taxes from the local Buryat population. Permanent settlement began with the construction of a fortress in 1636 at the junction of the Oka and Angara rivers. Several wooden towers from the 17th-century fort are now exhibited in the Kolomenskoye Estate, Moscow.
If nothing else, Bratsk remains testimony to the capabilities of the former Soviet regime.
During the Second World War industrial activity in Siberia increased, as Soviet industry was moved east of the Urals. After the war’s end, development slowed as resources were required in the rebuilding of European Russia. In 1947, the Gulag Angara prison labour camp was constructed near Bratsk, with capacity for up to 44,000 prisoners for projects such as the construction of the railway from Tayshet to Ust-Kut via Bratsk (now the western section of the Baikal Amur Mainline).
The city’s development began to accelerate with the 1952 announcement that a dam and hydroelectric plant would be built on the Angara River. The 4,500-megawatt Bratsk hydroelectric plant was built between 1954 and 1966, bringing numerous workers, but drowning the historic town of Bratsk. Other industries here include an aluminium smelter and pulp mill.