Gulag: Living in the Gulag

Work in the Gulag

Reproduced from: Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor and the Struggle for Freedom


GULAG was the acronym for the Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps.

Gulag prisoners could work up to 14 hours per day. Typical Gulag labor was exhausting physical work. Toiling sometimes in the most extreme climates, prisoners might spend their days felling trees with handsaws and axes or digging at frozen ground with primitive pickaxes. Others mined coal or copper by hand, often suffering painful and fatal lung diseases from inhalation of ore dust. Prisoners were barely fed enough to sustain such difficult labor.


Balany (Logs, Inferior to a Horse)

“After eleven and a half hours of labor (not including time needed to assign a task, receive tools and give them back), Professor Kozyrev commented: ‘How far Man is still from perfection. Just to think how many people and what minds are needed to do a job of one horse.’”

“In this case the four incompetent workers were: Epifanov, who was until the Great Purge of 1937 a professor of Marxism-Leninism in the Academy of Mining in Moscow; Colonel Ivanov, a chief of a major Red Army division; Professor Kozyrev, director of research at the Pulkovo Space Observatory in Leningrad; and myself, a secret agent of the Comintern.”

Drawing and memoir excerpt by Jacques Rossi.

Courtesy of Regina Gorzkowski-Rossi.

In the eyes of the authorities, the prisoners had almost no value. Those who died of hunger, cold, and hard labor were replaced by new prisoners because the system could always find more people to replenish the labor camps.


Prisoners work at Belbaltlag, a Gulag camp for building the White Sea-Baltic Sea Canal .

From the 1932 documentary film, Baltic to White Sea Water Way. Courtesy of the Central Russian Film and Photo Archive.




Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

Built between 1931 and 1933, the White Sea-Baltic Sea Canal was the first massive construction project of the Gulag. Over 100,000 prisoners dug a 141-mile canal with few tools other than simple pickaxes, shovels, and makeshift wheelbarrows in just 20 months. Initially viewed as a great success and celebrated in a volume published both in the Soviet Union and the United States, the canal turned out to be too narrow and too shallow to carry most sea vessels. Many prisoners died during construction.


Prisoners work at Belbaltlag, a Gulag camp for building the White Sea-Baltic Sea Canal.

From the 1932 documentary film, Baltic to White Sea Water Way. Courtesy of the Central Russian Film and Photo Archive.


With such picks, millions of Gulag prisoners manually unearthed rocks and dug frozen ground during the massive Gulag projects in the 1930s and 1940s.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

Kolyma was a name that struck fear into the Gulag prisoner. Reputedly the coldest inhabited place on the planet, prisoners spoke of Kolyma as a place where 12 months were winter and all the rest summer. Kolyma was so remote that it could not be reached by an overland route. Prisoners traveled by train across the length of the Soviet Union only to spend up to several months on the Pacific coast waiting for the few months each year when the waterways were free of ice. Then, they boarded ships for their trip past Japan and up the Kolyma River to their gold-mining destination. Surviving Kolyma was more difficult than any other Gulag locale.


Prisoners mine gold at Kolyma, the most notorious Gulag camp in extreme northeastern Siberia.

From the 1934 documentary film Kolyma. Courtesy of the Central Russian Film and Photo Archive.


This shovel was found in one of the Gulag camps in remote Kolyma. It was one of many tools sent by the United States government to the Soviet Union during World War II. These items often found their way to the Gulag camps.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

From: Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor and the Struggle for Freedom

From Gulag History

Living in the Gulag


During their non-working hours, prisoners typically lived in a camp zone surrounded by a fence or barbed wire, overlooked by armed guards in watch towers. The zone contained a number of overcrowded, stinking, poorly-heated barracks. Life in a camp zone was brutal and violent. Prisoners competed for access to all of life’s necessities, and violence among the prisoners was commonplace. If they survived hunger, disease, the harsh elements, heavy labor, and their fellow prisoners, they might succumb to arbitrary violence at the hands of camp guards. All the while, prisoners were watched by informers—fellow prisoners always looking for some misstep to report to Gulag authorities.

Jacques Rossi, the artist who made the following drawings in the 1960s based on his memories, spent 19 years in the Gulag after he was arrested in the Stalin purges of 1936-37. He later published several writings, including his most important, The Gulag Handbook, in 1987 (published in English in 1989).


Layout of Barracks

Drawing by Jacques Rossi.

Courtesy of Regina Gorzkowski-Rossi.


Baraki (Barracks)

“The Gulag was conceived in order to transform human matter into a docile, exhausted, ill-smelling mass of individuals living only for themselves and thinking of nothing else but how to appease the constant torture of hunger, living in the instant, concerned with nothing apart from evading kicks, cold and ill treatment.”

Drawing and memoir excerpt by Jacques Rossi.

Courtesy of Regina Gorzkowski-Rossi.


Odinochka (Solitary Confinement Cell)

“A lesson to learn: How to distribute your body on the planks trying to avoid excessive suffering? A position on your back means all your bones are in direct painful contact with wood… To sleep on your belly is equally uncomfortable. Until you sleep on your right side with your left knee pushed against your chest, you counterbalance the weight of your left hip and relieve the right side of your rib cage. You leave your right arm along the body, and put your right… cheekbone against the back of your left hand.”

Drawing and memoir excerpt by Jacques Rossi.

Courtesy of Regina Gorzkowski-Rossi.


Soup Ration

Drawing by Jacques Rossi.

Courtesy of Regina Gorzkowski-Rossi.



“There is nothing you can do to protect yourself against cold.”

Drawing and memoir excerpt by Jacques Rossi.

Courtesy of Regina Gorzkowski-Rossi.


Typical winter overcoat worn by most of the Soviet population in the 1930s through 1950s. The coat is very similar to the type provided to Gulag prisoners.


Camp jacket of maximum security prisoner.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

Paika. “Ration.” Prisoners in the Gulag received food according to how much work they did. A full ration barely provided enough food for survival. If a prisoner did not fulfill his daily work quota, he received even less food. If a prisoner consistently failed to fulfill his work quotas, he would slowly starve to death.


Prisoners’ Eating Utensils

    1. plate  Dish from labor camp Stvor, Perm region, 1950s. Before the 1950s, camps did not provide dishes, and prisoners ate food from small pots.

    1. spoon.jpg  Portion of hand-made spoon from labor camp Bugutychag, Kolyma, 1930s. Spoons were considered a luxury in the 1930s and 1940s, and most prisoners had to eat with their hands and drink soup out of pots.

    1. pot.jpg  Pot made out of a tin can from a labor camp in Kolyma, 1930s. Such pots were made in the camp workshops by prisoners who exchanged them for food.

  1. mug.jpg  Camp mug from labor camp Bugutychag, Kolyma, 1930s. Originally manufactured as a kerosene measuring cup, this mug is unusually durable. It was probably stolen from the camp workshop by a prisoner to use as his personal mug.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.


Varlam Shalamov

Russian author who was imprisoned in the Gulag for more than 20 years. He wrote the celebrated Kolyma Tales, a series of short stories based on his life in the Gulag.

Courtesy of the International Memorial Society.

“Each time they brought in the soup… it made us all want to cry. We were ready to cry for fear that the soup would be thin. And when a miracle occurred and the soup was thick we couldn’t believe it and ate it as slowly as possible. But even with thick soup in a warm stomach there remained a sucking pain; we’d been hungry for too long. All human emotions—love, friendship, envy, concern for one’s fellow man, compassion, longing for fame, honesty—had left us with the flesh that had melted from our bodies…“

V.T. Shalamov, “Dry Rations,” from Kolyma Tales.


Prisoners’ daily bread ration.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.


Dokhodiaga (Goner)

Goners were extremely emaciated prisoners on the verge of death from starvation. Their presence constantly reminded prisoners of their potential fate if they failed to fulfill work quotas and thus were deprived of their full food rations.

Drawing by Evfrosiniia Kersnovskaia, former Gulag prisoner.

Courtesy of Evfrosiniia Kersnovskaia Foundation, Moscow.

Read more at Gulag History


Gulag: What were prisoners’ crimes?

Reproduced from Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor and the Struggle for Freedom (link)

What were their crimes?


The Gulag held many types of prisoners. It served as the Soviet Union’s main penal system: robbers, rapists, murderers, and thieves spent their sentences not in prisons but in the Gulag.

In addition, the Gulag held political prisoners, a group including not only real opponents of the Soviet regime but also many innocents caught up in the paranoid clutches of the Soviet secret police. Most prisoners were the victims of arbitrary and severe legal campaigns under which petty theft, lateness, or unexcused absences from work were punished by many years in these concentration camps.

Have you ever been late to work?

In the Stalin era, a person who arrived late to work three times could be sent to the Gulag for three years.

Have you ever told a joke about a government official?

In the Stalin era, many were sent to the Gulag for up to 25 years for telling an innocent joke about a Communist Party official.

If your family was starving, would you take a few potatoes left in a field after harvest?

In the Stalin era, a person could be sent to the Gulag for up to ten years for such petty theft.


Maria Tchebotareva

Trying to feed her four hungry children during the massive 1932-1933 famine, the peasant mother allegedly stole three pounds of rye from her former field—confiscated by the state as part of collectivization. Soviet authorities sentenced her to ten years in the Gulag. When her sentence expired in 1943, it was arbitrarily extended until the end of the war in 1945. After her release, she was required to live in exile near her Gulag camp north of the Arctic Circle, and she was not able to return home until 1956, after the death of Stalin. Maria Tchebotareva never found her children after her release.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.


Ivan Burylov

Seeking the appearance of democracy, the Soviet Union held elections, but only one Communist Party candidate appeared on the ballot for each office. Fear of punishment ensured that nearly all Soviet citizens “voted” by taking their ballot and ceremoniously placing it into a ballot box.

In 1949, Ivan Burylov, a beekeeper, protested this absurd ritual by writing the word “Comedy” on his “secret” ballot. Soviet authorities linked the ballot to Burylov and sentenced him to eight years in camps for this “crime.”

Courtesy of the State Perm Region Archive of Political Repression.


The “secret” voting ballot of Ivan Burylov showing where he had written the word “Comedy.”

Courtesy of the State Perm Region Archive of Political Repression.


Arrest of a so-called “rich peasant” in 1930. This peasant, Mikhailov, had attempted escape from a state-owned farm where he had been sent into exile.

Courtesy of the Central Russian State Film and Video Archive.


Trial of so-called “rich peasants” in 1929. Stalin’s drive to seize all private land in the 1920s and 1930s met significant resistance. Some victims were shot, some were arrested and sent into the Gulag camps, and many were exiled to remote parts of the country.

Courtesy of the Central Russian State Film and Video Archive.


Soviet Propaganda Poster

“Look Me in the Eyes and Tell Me Honestly:
Who is your friend? Who is your enemy?
You have no friends among capitalists.
You have no enemies among the workers.
Only in a union of the workers of all nations will you be victorious over capitalism and liberated from exploitation.
Down with national antagonisms!
Workers of the world unite!”

Courtesy of the State Perm Region Archive of Political Repression.

From Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor and the Struggle for Freedom (link)


Perm-36 Gulag Camp

Reproduced from Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor and the Struggle for Freedom (link)

Perm-36 Gulag Camp

perm.jpg The Soviets established Perm 36, called ITK-6 camp, in 1946 as a logging camp in the forested region of the Ural Mountains near the Siberian border. Here, prisoners cut down trees throughout the year and sent the lumber down river during the spring thaw to help rebuild Soviet cities damaged in the war. This camp was typical of thousands throughout the country.


Perm Region Camps, 1948-1953

About 150,000 inmates were imprisoned in more than 150 camps in the Perm region during the late 1940s. This made up about one-third of the total working population of the region.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.


Siberian Hinterland

To the east of the Perm region lies the vast Siberian hinterland.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.



A typical frame-saw used by the timber camp prisoners.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

Typical Day at the Camp

Daily Schedule of a Gulag Prisoner
Time Activity
6:00 AM Wake up call
6:30 AM Breakfast
7:00 AM Roll-call
7:30 AM 1 1/2 hour to march to forests, under guarded escort
6:00 PM 1 1/2 hour return march to camp
7:30 PM Dinner
8:00 PM After-dinner camp work duties (chop firewood, shovel snow, gardening, road repair, etc.)
11:00 PM Lights out


ITK-6 Camp (Perm-36)

ITK-6 Camp (Perm-36) in 1946. The camp had four barracks for 250 prisoners each, a punishment block (for prisoners who disobeyed the harsh camp rules), a hospital, outhouses, and a headquarters building. Drawing by Oleg Petrov.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.


Prison Plan of Perm-36

Plan of Perm-36 made by Lett Gunar Astra (in Latvian).

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

Reproduced from Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor and the Struggle for Freedom (link)

From: “Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor and the Struggle for Freedom”

Women in the Gulag

woman Women suffered greatly in the Gulag. Male camp employees, guards, and even other male prisoners sometimes raped and abused women. Some female prisoners took on “camp husbands” for protection and companionship. Some were pregnant on arrival or became pregnant while in the Gulag. Occasionally, Gulag authorities released pregnant women and women with young children in special amnesties.


Gulag women living in overcrowded, poorly heated barracks.

Courtesy of the International Memorial Society.

More frequently, mothers had little respite from forced labor to give birth, and Gulag officials took babies from their mothers and placed them in special orphanages. Often these mothers were never able to find their children after leaving the camps.


A drawing by Evfrosiniia Kersnovskaia, a former Gulag prisoner.

“The arrival at the corrective labor camp turned out to be the culmination of the humiliation. First we were made to strip naked and were shoved into some roofless enclosures made out of planks. Above our heads the stars twinkled; below our bare feet lay frozen excrement. An enclosure measured 3 square feet. Each held three to four naked, shivering, and frightened men and women. Then these ’kennel cages’ were opened one after the other and the naked people were led across a courtyard‘the camp version of a foyer‘into a special building where our documents were ’formulated’ and our things were ’searched.’

The goal of the search was to leave us with rags, and to take the good things ’sweaters, mittens, socks, scarves, vests, and good shoes’for themselves. Ten thieves shamelessly fleeced these destitute and barely alive people.

‘Corrective‘ is something that should make you better, and ‘labor‘ ennobles you. But ‘camp‘? A camp wasn‘t a jail. So then what on earth was going on? ”

Courtesy of Evfrosiniia Kersnovskaia Foundation, Moscow.


A drawing by Evfrosiniia Kersnovskaia, a former Gulag prisoner.

“The night search, the most degrading procedure, was frequently repeated. “Get up! Get undressed! Hands up! Out into the hall! Line up against the wall.” Naked we were especially frightened. “Among the blind, the one-eyed is king,” and next to them I was still a hero—for the time being. Our hair was undone. What were they looking for? What more could they take away from us? There was something, however: they pulled out all the ties that had been holding up the nuns’ skirts and our underwear.”

Courtesy of Evfrosiniia Kersnovskaia Foundation, Moscow. Translation by Deborah Hoffman.

From “Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor and the Struggle for Freedom”


Political Prisoners

Reproduced from Gulag: Soviet forced labor and the struggle for freedom (link)

Political Prisoners

cell.jpg In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Soviet government cracked down on the dissident movement. Several camps in the Perm region were transformed into the harshest camps for political prisoners. The prisoners were repeat offenders who had continued to criticize the Soviet government even after being released from prison. During the last years of the Soviet regime, the most prominent leaders and opposition activists from all over the Soviet Union were kept in these camps. Some of them perished there.


Vasyl Stus and His Grave

Poet Vasyl Stus twice received sentences for “anti-Soviet propaganda.” Nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1985, he died in Perm-36 on September 5 of that year.

This is the camp grave site of Vasyl Stus in 1988. Political prisoners who died in the camps were buried in the special camp cemeteries. Only the prisoner identification number on the tin plate nailed to the grave site’s post marks where his body lies. Friends and relatives of the poet tied the embroidered Ukranian towel to the post.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.


Perm-36 Barrack Cell

Perm-36 barrack cell where Russian writer Leonid Borodin and Ukrainian poet Vasyl Stus were kept.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.


Glass Vials

Glass vials to hold secret messages.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.


Sergei Kovalev

Ivan’s father, was one of the founders of the human rights movement in the Soviet Union and also a political prisoner at Perm-36.

Prison cell bar from the window of the Perm-36 solitary confinement cell in which human rights activist Kovalev and others were held for lengthy periods for violation of camp rules.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

grave In the late 1970s and 1980s, Perm-36 housed the only maximum security facilities for political prisoners in the entire Soviet Union. Perm-36 held repeat offenders—those who had already served sentences for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” and nonetheless sustained their political work after release. Repeat offenders usually served a term of ten years.

balis Balis Gayauskas

A former Perm-36 prisoner. One of the leaders of the struggle for Lithuanian freedom and independence, he spent two years in a Nazi concentration camp, thirty-five years in Soviet camps, and three years in exile. In 1978 Soviet authorities sentenced him to ten years in Perm-36 for two “crimes.” First, he translated Solzhenitsyn’s book The Gulag Archipelago into Lithuanian. Second, he maintained historical records of human rights activities and the Lithuanian independence movement. When Lithuania became independent, he became a member of Parliament and Minister of Security.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

levko.jpg Levko Lukjanenko

A former Perm-36 prisoner. One of the leaders of the struggle for Ukrainian freedom and independence, he spent twenty-five years in Soviet camps and three years in exile. In 1956 Soviet authorities sentenced him to death for “creation of an anti-Soviet organization” but revised the sentence to fifteen years in the camps. His “crime” was establishing an organization calling for a referendum on Ukrainian self-determination, activity in fact sanctioned by the Soviet Constitution. In 1978 he received a ten-year sentence in Perm-36 for leading the activity of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, a human rights organization. After his release he was the Ukraine Republic’s ambassador to Canada and a member of Parliament.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

leonid Leonid Borodin

Writer Leonid Borodin received two sentences in the political camps. After a camp term from 1967 to 1972, he received a ten-year sentence in Perm-36 in 1982. A winner of many prizes in literature, he is currently editor-in-chief of one of Russia’s leading journals.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.


Ivan Kovalev

Russian human rights activist, was editor of the underground human rights bulletin V and the Chronicle of Current Events. For his “anti-Soviet activities,” theKGB arrested him in 1981 and sentenced him to five years in the Gulag and five years of internal exile.

Courtesy of Ivan Kovalev.

At Perm-35, political prisoner Ivan Kovalev tried but could not fulfill his terribly demanding work quota. Camp authorities punished him even though the rules did not allow punishment if a prisoner was making his best effort. He then refused to work at all and was confined to the punishment cell continuously for 13 months on a severely reduced food ration. At the time, Soviet law dictated that prisoners could not be subjected to such conditions for more than 15 days. Because Kovalev was stubborn and because he had become an internationally recognized human rights activist, he eventually won his protest and no longer was forced to work.

Political prisoner Valerij Senderov also spent almost 13 months in the adjoining punishment cell to Ivan Kovalev for insisting on keeping his Bible. Camp authorities finally gave in to his demands as well.


Tatiana Osipova

Tatiana Osipova, Ivan Kovalev’s wife, was arrested in 1980 for similar “crimes.” She was an active and vocal member of the human rights organization, Helsinki Group. When her term was over in 1985, the authorities charged her with breaking camp rules and kept her there for two more years.

Courtesy of Tatiana Osipova.


Ivan Kovalev etched a secret love message to his wife, Tatiana Osipova, on a toothbrush so that he could get it past the camp guards. She sent him a toothbrush with her message one year later, after he too had been arrested and sent to prison.

“To my one and only husband. Be strong, my darling. I love you and miss you. Tusha”

“Tusha. I am crazy about you. Hold on there baby. I am here for you.”

Courtesy of Tatiana Osipova and Ivan Kovalev.

Reproduced from Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor and the Struggle for Freedom (link)


Death of Stalin

Reproduced from: Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor and the Struggle for Freedom (link)

Death of Stalin

funeral.jpg Josef Stalin died on March 5, 1953. The Gulag had reached its maximum size of more than three million.

Convinced that forced labor was inefficient and wasteful, Stalin’s successors immediately moved to curb the size of the system by issuing an amnesty that released over one million non-political prisoners. The political prisoners left behind in the camps engaged in a series of mass uprisings in 1953 and 1954, which contributed to the decision to reduce the size of the Gulag further.


Mass meeting held at a factory in Leningrad after Stalin’s death, March, 1953.

Courtesy of the Central Russian State Film and Video Archive.

The new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, despite his own personal involvement in carrying out Stalin’s terror, moved to ease Soviet repression. In addition to continuing the reduction of the Gulag’s size and curbing political repression, Khrushchev took limited but definitive steps to denounce Stalin in a 1956 declaration.

In 1962, this “thaw” went even further as Khrushchev authorized open discussion of the Gulag. He allowed Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to publish his novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in the journal Novyi Mir. This description of one typical day in a Gulag camp is read around the world to this day. The “thaw” in Soviet culture was only temporary, as Khrushchev was deposed in 1964 and the subject of the Gulag once again became a forbidden topic until the 1980s.

poster_detail Propaganda Poster, 1963.

“Our goals are clear. Our tasks are certain. Get to work, comrades!”

Khrushchev denounced Stalin and attempted to tie his own policies to the first Soviet leader, Vladimir Lenin.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.




Activists removing the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky from its prominent place in Moscow next to the KGB offices. Dzerzhinsky founded the forerunner of the KGB under Lenin and helped to establish the Gulag.  Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36. (Gulag History)

Read Dzerzhinsky’s biography here

Exposing the Criminal Felix Dzerzhinsky


“We stand for organized terror – this should be frankly admitted. Terror is an absolute necessity” – Felix Dzerzhinsky

Felix Dzerzhinsky (1877 – 1926) was a Jew and an infamous drug-addict and sadist, known for the mass terror he caused as head of the Jewish Cheka. Dzerzhinsky was born on the territory of the Republic of Belarus, Dzerzhinsky father was Jewish and his mother was of Polish origin. His family also spoke Polish and Yiddish. Most sources claim Dzerzhinsky and his family were Catholic due to his father falsifying nobility, trying to hide the fact he was Jewish. His father’s last name was Rubin (Other variations from different sources include Rutin, Rufin) which is a Jewish last name.

Before he became an infamous fiend, Dzerzhinsky was considering becoming a Jesuit priest. He later began to take to Marxist ideology and joined a Marxist group, the Union of Workers (Socjaldemokracja Królestwa Polskiego “SDKP”), in 1895. Dzerzhinsky became fluent in four languages: Polish, Russian, Yiddish, and Latin. Dzerzhinsky had worked in a book-binding factory, where he set up an illegal press. Dzerzhinsky was also a follower of Rosa Luxemburg (Jew).

Dzerzhinsky organized a shoemaker’s strike, where he was arrested for “criminal agitation among the Kaunas workers” and the police files from this time state that: “Felix Dzerzhinsky, considering his views, convictions and personal character, will be very dangerous in the future, capable of any crime.”

Dzerzhinsky subsequently became one of the founders of Social Democracy […]

Read more here


Reproduced from: Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor and the Struggle for Freedom (link)

Dissident Movement


Samizdat was the name for underground literature that opponents to the Soviet government secretly wrote and distributed within the Soviet Union. Intellectual opposition to Communist rule emerged in the 1950s and 1960s and formed into a human rights movement.

From the late 1960s, these “dissidents” systematically collected and attempted to publicize Soviet human rights violations and conditions in labor camps for political prisoners. This information circulated among intellectuals in typescript and handwritten samizdat bulletins. Frequently, dissidents sent samizdat materials to Western countries in hopes of publicizing the situation in the Soviet Union.

In 1973, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s samizdat book The Gulag Archipelago was published abroad. The book was a sensation, as it laid out for the world the history of the Gulag. Soon after, Solzhenitsyn was stripped of his citizenship and exiled from the Soviet Union. Soviet authorities constantly battled to stop the actions of human rights activists, arresting and imprisoning many of them.

solzhenitsyn (1).jpgAleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago was first published in France in 1973. Solzhenitsyn used the word archipelago as a metaphor for the camps, spread throughout the Soviet Union like a chain of islands.

Courtesy of the International Memorial Society.

alex solzh-bdr.jpg

“Russia & the Jews: 200 Years Together” (ArchiveOrg and banned chapters)

samizdat1 samizdat2 samizdat3 samizdat4

samizdat5 samizdat6 samizdat7 samizdat8

Examples of samizdat bulletins.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

Click on the images above to see the image in more detail.

The following is a translation of “Moscow Appeal,” a protest lodged by noted human rights activists against the repression of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for the publication of The Gulag Archipelago abroad.


…anyone who is acquainted with Solzhenitsyn’s book that aroused such anger among the USSR’s leaders, knows that his ‘betrayal’ lies in the fact that with breathtaking force he exposed to the whole world the monstrous crimes committed in the recent past in the USSR. Tens of millions innocent people: communists and non-communists; atheists and believers; intelligentsia, workers and peasants; people of different nationalities all fell victim to the terror that hid itself under the slogans of social justice.

We demand:

  1. publish GULAG Archipelago in the USSR and make it available to each person in the country;
  2. publish archival and other materials giving a full picture of the activities of the Cheka, GPU, NKVD, MGB;
  3. establish an international public tribunal for investigation of the crimes committed;
  4. protect Solzhenitsyn from persecution and grant him the possibility to work in his homeland.

We ask all mass media to circulate our appeal. We also ask all cultural, public, and religious institutions to establish national committees for collecting signatures under this appeal.

A. Sakharov, E. Bonner, V. Maksimov, M. Agurski, B. Shragin, P. Litvinov, Y. Orlov, priest S. Zheludkov, A. Marchenko, L. Bogoraz.

February 13, 1974

Samizdat. “Self-publishing.” Opposition intellectuals circulated their bulletins and manuscripts like those pictured above in small editions manually copied and retyped. Samizdat appeared in nearly every language of the Soviet Union.


Samizdat materials were created on such portable typewriters. Dissidents could not use larger typewriters because they were all registered by the KGB, the secret police.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

Using very thin paper and carbons, samizdat writers were often able to type eight to ten copies at a time. Many who received copies of samizdat materials themselves retyped additional copies for distribution to their friends. Participation in the creation and distribution of samizdat could result in imprisonment.


This map displays the locations of human rights violations in the Soviet Union as reported in the Chronicle of Current Events.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

Human rights activists managed to publish the Chronicle of Current Events, an underground samizdat human rights bulletin, continuously from 1968 to 1982 despite violent persecution of its creators and distributors in labor camps and forced psychiatric imprisonment. The Chronicle documented human rights violations throughout the Soviet Union.


With such radios produced in Latvia, one of the Soviet republics, people living in the Soviet Union could receive the signals of Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and the BBC. They could hear in their native languages news of the human rights movement and other forbidden subjects. Radio Liberty regularly broadcast reports from the Chronicle of Current Events. Radios produced in other regions could not receive the transmission of these signals.

Courtesy of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

Reproduced from Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor and the Struggle for Freedom (link)


The wisdom of Alexander Solzhenitsyn

VIDEO: The Gulag Archipelago and The Wisdom of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn



Danzig Baldaev: “Drawings from the Gulag”


drawings from the gulag cvltnation-mdf.jpg

From cvltnation

Note: ITL: “Ispravitelno-trudovoi lager'”, or, literally, “corrective labor camp“.

002 (1)-bdr.jpg

A prisoner who went on hunger strike is being forcefully fed through his nostril. According to laws of Soviet humanism, only those who had normal body temperature (36.6…37 C) could be shot.

003 (1)-bdr.jpg

“I am… English, French, American, Japanese, Italian, German and other spy…”

Preparations for freezing to death a thug who had lost his own life in card game.

004 (1)-bdr.jpg

“Sprinkle ‘im with holy water for a better afterlife. I’ll give him snow so bulls won’t walk into him too soon!”

In the Gulag, kingpins were privileged similarly to modern bureaucrats.

005 (1)-bdr.jpg

Repeatedly convicted felons were about 3 steps higher than “enemies of the people” in criminal hierarchy. They usually weren’t working, having small-time thieves as servants and work results from common inmates. Those felons helped to eliminate “enemies of the people”…

006 (1)-bdr.jpg

“Crushing the skull” of “enemy of the nation” who didn’t agree to give away his daily work results to thugs.

Somewhere inside one of the NKVD torture catacombs

007 (1)-bdr

By the order of the prosecutor general Vyshinsky, any methods were considered “good” to get the confession. NKVD staff used brutal tortures with pump, soldering iron, bottle (shoved into vagina and anus), rats (placed in the heated bucket under victim’s bare buttocks) etc.

Execution by the “court of thieves” sentence in one of ITL’s (Gulag abbreviation for labor penitentiary camps)


By administration’s connivance in Stalin’s camps thugs were murdering inmates with electrocuting, stabbing, hanging, decapitating, inserting red-hot crowbar into anus etc. Many of thugs had 10 and more so-called “tups” at their account.

“Sanitary shooting” of party and other staff by NKVD in national republics

009 (1)-bdr

During the epoch of Stalin, such mass executions were common. Party staff, political and other activists, artists were executed by center’s orders, which were issued like hunting licenses by species of animals – moose, saigas, arkhars, argali, bears… This was made regularly to prevent the rise of national dignity in distant parts of the USSR.


“After we’ll fuck this scoundrel’s ass through, he’ll be quick to remember how to make sabotage against Soviet regime and party in university with his cybernetics!”

0111 (1)-bdr

“Now it will be a lot easier for this Jewish Zionist to remember his global Yid-Mason plot membership!”

ITL administration is picking sex slaves from arrested family members of “enemies”.


Women “enemies of the people” were inspected naked before being sent to certain labor. Those who agreed to become sex slaves of administration were assigned to easy work. Others were either sent for logging and other heavy labor or put into cells and tortured with hunger.

A traditional Gulag joke for new arrivals – “give’em steam”

013 (1)-bdr

New arrivals who were waiting in so-called “septic” were watered with fire hose from guard tower, while the outdoor temperature was -30…-40 C. After several hours of more waiting, covered with ice, they were finally let inside – when the administration wanted to.

Wolf pits for “enemies of the people”.

014 (1)-bdr

During initial construction of the Gulag, political prisoners often were embarked in the middle of nowhere (-40…-50 C) and ordered to build the prison camp right at the spot. They did so at the daytime sleeping in such pits at nights. Hardly a quarter of those people managed to survive until spring…

015 (1)-bdr

Such mass murders had begun in 1920s in USLON (Solovetsk Special Camps Command) – the predecessor of Gulag. “Intelligentsia” always was an enemy of the stalinism. During 1930s, groups of “enemies” (mostly that “intelligentsia”) were deceitfully forced to go (or were transported) to the middle of wild steppe or tundra where they were shot with machineguns. Survivors were finished at the spot.


“Doctor, those inmates ain’t following the plan! Zero diet for ’em!”

(Slogan at the wall: “Women are the great power!” – I. Stalin)

In ITLs (corrective labor camps), “enemies of the people” were forced to do the hardest work – digging and logging. Most of exhausted women suffered the vaginal prolapse as a result of strain and starvation. Weakened and ill ones were finished off by deprivation of food.

With a purpose to inflict psychic trauma, “enemy” women and girls were stripped naked at interrogations.

017 (1)-bdr

Some perverts from NKVD loved to do this with young women and especially girls from “enemies” and “enemy family members” (“family member of the enemy” was an official reason for imprisonment – NvS). Neither oral nor written complaints had been reviewed by officials. Honest and principled State Attorney staff members were exterminated. The NKVD had unlimited right to take away any citizen’s life, while State Attorney Office became a puppet accomplice of NKVD with no own rights.

Inside the one of many NKVD prisons. “Enemy of the nation” is being dragged back to his cell after another 3rd grade interrogation.

018 (1)-bdr

With the most brutal and horrible medieval tortures, the NKVD was beating out of innocents completely absurd confessions like “spying for capitalist Antrantide”. Most of NKVD officers were just sadists – that was highly valued as “activism in fight against enemies”.

The order “Face the corner, arms at sides!” was often used at interrogations.


Interrogated “enemies” were standing at their feet for days without rest, food, water and sleep, suffering feet swelling. When the victims were falling down unconscious, they were swilled, beaten and forced to stand again. For their “efforts”, butchers were awarded and afterwards honorably retired at ages 50-60.

9 grammes – a communist ticket to “happy childhood”.


Because of overpopulation in special orphanages for “traitors of the motherland family members”, “enemy” childeren were executed in Tomsk, Mariinsk and Shimanovskaya railroad station, Central Isolation Cell of BAM prison camp. It was considered that after reaching the age of majority, they would become a threat to existing system.

021 (1)-bdr

In addition to 3rd grade interrogation, women were put into thug cells where they were brutally humiliated and gang raped. Afterwards most of victims committed suicide (hanged themselves, cut their veins, ate soil etc.)…

022 (1)-bdr

With hunger, diseases and slave labor, millions of “enemy” and “kulak” women were murdered by communists – diehard enemies of freedom, democracy and the entire humankind.

023 (1)-bdr

“Sending stiff to permanent Arctic Ocean settlement” – drowning of frozen inmate corpses in river ice holes (to avoid grave digging in permafrost).

Corpses of “enemies” are being thrown into “ammonal pits”.

024 (1)-bdr

“Ammonal pits” were dug out in permafrost soil with dynamite, toluene and ammonal explosions in different areas of USSR. Such pits housed up to several hundred corpses.

025 (1)-bdr

Bowl of slumgullion and 300 g. of bread were all the man could hope after working the entire day outside in the cold. Trying to get a fake satiety, prisoners boiled the bread in salted water. Swelling, tag on the foot and prison graveyard were the result. The inmates were saying that Gulag was worse than Nazi concentration camps.

026 (1)-bdr

“We have a plan to arrest 12 enemies! With this old goat professor, engineer and doctor woman we have only 10, so arrest two more from apartments on the 1st floor. Anyone, workers or kolkhozniks – that doesn’t matter, we have a number of 12. Go!”

The NKVD covered up the entire country with a thick web of informers called “stukach” (slang derogatory name) and “seksot” (official abbreviation for “secret employee”).

027 (1)-bdr

Secret web of delators was keeping the entire country in fear. Driven by envy, self-interest and other low instincts “stukachs” had no slightest conscience, shame or dignity. In their delations, they were falsely accusing everyone (family members, friends, co-workers, cell mates) of espionage, plots, anti-soviet propaganda and other crimes. The NKVD did no checks of those denunciations. Indeed, it promoted any perverted lie to forge good statistics and showoff trials upon “enemies”. So, the elite of nation was destroyed to achieve the stupidity and meanness.

Interrogation of “enemy children” about counter-revolutionary activity of their families.


The NKVD supported delation of parents by their own children. Collaborators were praised like heroes, but some of them were forced to cooperation through beatings. In the entire country there were a campaign of public parent renunciations. Children were forced to give public confessions for the mass media and condemn “spies” on meetings. Some teachers forced their pupils to write essays like “What do you (yourself, your father and mother) think about the arrest of Marshals: Tukhachevsky, Blukher, Egorov and others”. After giving such an essay for check, many pupils were deprived of their parents and sent to special orphanage camps.

029 (1)-bdr

Thugs are drowning “enemy of the people” in the barrel with feces “parasha”. This was made by unofficial order of ITL administration to scare other political prisoners.

030 (1)-bdr

For humiliation, this “intelligentsia” man was chained, provided with “pravda” newspaper and forced to defecate in his own bowl. Poster at the wall: “under the wise commandments of our party, soviet people will reach the peak of human happiness – the communism!”

One of brutal methods of beating out the confession from “enemy” was “cut off the oxygen”.

031 (1)-bdr

During interrogations, special NKVD goons called “hammers” and “axes” as well as investigators themselves often were wrapping victim’s head with a rubber bag. After a few times, victim suffered mouth, nose, ear bleeding…

Interrogating “enemies”, NKVD staff was using old russian strappado torture…

032 (1)-bdr

Legislated by Stalin and USSR Prosecutor General Vyshinsky, the interrogation of 3rd grade allowed to beat any confessions (about themselves and others) out of imprisoned “enemies of the people”. To stop the further tortures, many of prisoners were “confessing” the espionage, plots and diversions, or intentionally were choosing execution in the NKVD UFU slaughterhouse.

033 (1)-bdr

In Solovetsk special camp, prisoners were punished for “misbehaving” by sitting at the roost mounted in desecrated church. This was going on for hours and days. Those who fall down suffered so-called “fun” – brutal beatings with a noose around the neck. Such tortures were used in other Gulag prisons also.

035 (1)-bdr

Prison guards are selling “live goods” to thugs during the transportation. Women from Germany, Poland and Baltic states were “valued” especially and gang raped. Some kingpins had a “property” of 2-3 such women.

036 (1)-bdr
“Enemy” women are working out their “guilt” before “party and soviet people” in ITL.

037 (1)-bdr

Inmates are gathered for the roll call. Even dead and ill ones must present. Plan at any cost…

“Brigades, line up! Take each other’s hands! Warning – one step aside is considered an escape, guards open fire without warning! Band – play the march! First squad, onwards! Supervisor, come to me!”

A prison war between the “true thieves” and “bitches”.

038 (1)-bdr

After the government order that determined the punishments for theft and robbery up to 20-25 years, criminal world had been broken on two. To survive and get the sooner release some of felons agreed to work, while other “thieves in law” refused and continued following their old traditions, calling the collaborationists “bitches”- traitors of “thieves’ law”, thus starting a bloody feud. There were fights with 50 and more thugs killed, while Gulag administration was taking no serious actions about that.

039 (1)-bdr

“Hey you, jackals, slackers and goners, have your meal!”

Mad from hunger, some prisoners were scavenging the kitchen waste for food. But commies were still unable to break the humanity of priests, nobility, White officers and officials as well as those of “intelligentsia”, workers and peasants with a strong willpower and Faith.

Elimination of prisoners convicted with §.58 p.3 USSR criminal code (“enemy of the nation”), by UFU (Physical Elimination Command) NKVD.

040 (1)-bdr

UFU was a successor of the ChON (State CheKa Political Command Special Formations), with a purpose of eliminating the prisoners – ill, exhausted, resisting ones etc. and execution of capital punishments. In Northern regions, corpses were drowned in swamps or buried in “ammonal pits”.

-Lay down! Get up! Lay down! Get up! Lay down! I’ll teach you all to love our order and the soviet regime!

041 (1)-bdr

This was one of the most widespread methods of humiliation for “enemies of the people”. Prisoners were forced to lay down wherever the guards wanted – to snow, mud, or dirt. For disobedience, people were shot at the spot.

-Tighten my stump and I’ll haul ass for bandaging!

043 (1)-bdr

Thugs (mostly thieves) were practicing self-injury to avoid heavy labor. They chopped off their own fingers and hands, swallowed spoons, nails etc. therefore getting nicknames like “self-chopper” etc.

During the cult years, some brutes had “fun” with throwing “enemy” women to ant hills for “misbehaving”.

044 (1)-bdr

Young women that refused to have sex with Gulag butchers were thrown to ant hills or tied to trees “for ants and mosquitoes”. To let ants eat the victim from the inside, sometimes a pipe made of birch bark or hollow stem was inserted into vagina and legs tied spread. Often, female thugs were helping butchers to do this…

045 (1)-bdr

“Now tell me you educated bitch, how you were teaching this capitalist genetics pseudoscience in your academic department! Speak or you’ll breathe through your arsehole!”

Murder of a “calf” by thug during the escape from ITL.

046 (1)-bdr

Having no possibility to stock up on food in distant northern camps, getaway thugs often were taking inexperienced inmates with them – to kill and eat them on the way. In prison slang such victims were called “calf”. Even the approximate number of eaten “calves” is unknown.

Wives, sisters and daughters of “enemies” whose work results didn’t met the plan, were getting reduced rations.



Featuring over 130 drawings and texts by Danzig Baldaev – author of the acclaimed Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Volume I, II, III – this book describes the history, horror and peculiarities of the Gulag system from its inception in 1918.

Baldaev’s work as a prison guard allowed him to travel across the former USSR where he witnessed scenes of everyday life in the Gulag first-hand, chronicling this previously closed world from both sides of the wire. The drawings, made during the Communist period, form a devastating document, a haunting echo of the works of Varlam Shalamov and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.

With every vignette, Baldaev brings his characters to vivid life: from the lowest zek (inmate) to the most violent tattooed vor (thief), the practises and inhabitants of the Gulag system are revealed in incredible and shocking detail. He documents the contempt shown by the authorities to those imprisoned, and the transformation of these citizens into survivors or victims. This graphic depiction exposes the systematic methods of torture and mass murder of millions undertaken by the administration, as well as the atrocities committed by criminals on their fellow inmates.







The following is reproduced from Drawings from the Gulag


Biography of Danzig Baldaev


Danzig Baldaev


Danzig Baldaev was born in 1925 in Ulan-Ude, Buryatiya, Russia. The son of an ‘enemy of the people’, he was subject to repression in communist Russia and sent to an orphanage for children of political prisoners. After serving in the army in World War II, he came to Leningrad in 1948 and was ordered by the NKVD to work as a warden in ‘Kresty’ – an infamous Leningrad prison – where he started drawing the tattoos of criminals. His collection of tattoos were recorded in different reformatory settlements across the former USSR between 1948–2000. Danzig Baldaev died in 2005.

The first Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia was published in his lifetime (2004), the second and third volumes posthumously (2006 and 2008). A further volume of work Drawings from the Gulag was published in 2010. His drawings have been exhibited internationally as part of the Russian Criminal Tattoo Exhibition.

DB 1962.jpg.1200x800_q90

From fuel-design


This entry was posted in Anti-gentilism, Anti-goyism, Bolshevism, Communism, gallery, Gulag, USSR. Bookmark the permalink.

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