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The Yale-Hoover Series on Stalin, Stalinism, and the Cold War

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Hoover Institution
Stanford University
Stanford, California
New Haven and London

Copyright © 2014 Yale University and the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Jr.
All rights reserved.
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10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For Abby

The shape of contemporary man and the world in which he lives
takes on other features when seen from Vorkuta.
—Bernhard Roeder, Katorga

Acknowledgments ix
List of Abbreviations and Glossary xiv
Map xvi
Introduction 1
1. From the Margins to the Home Front:
Vorkuta as an Outpost 15
2. Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta:
A Camp and City at War 56
3. In Search of “Normalcy”:
Vorkuta during Postwar Stalinism 88
4. Vorkuta in Crisis: Reform and Its Consequences 120
5. The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta:
Forging the Company Town 161
6. From Prisoners to Citizens?
Ex-prisoners and the Transformation of Vorkuta 198

viii Contents
Epilogue 231
Appendix A: Prisoner Data Set 251
Appendix B: Non-Prisoner Data Set 271
Appendix C: Production Data Set 277
Notes 279
Index 323

During the decade in which I have been working on this project, I
have amassed a considerable number of personal, professional, and
intellectual debts. The research and writing of this book were gener-
ously funded by a number of fellowships and institutions, including
the Council on Library and Information Resources, the Eurasia Pro-
gram of the Social Science Research Council with funds provided by
the State Department under the Program for Research and Training
on Eastern Europe and the Independent States of the Former Soviet
Union (Title VIII), the University of Chicago, Auburn University, and
Columbus State University. I wish to express my special thanks to the
Offi ce of the Provost, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Depart-
ment of History at Texas Tech University, which funded and supported
the fi nal stages of research and manuscript preparation. I, and not the
organizations listed above, am solely responsible for the opinions and
content expressed herein. During my undergraduate and graduate studies I had the good for-
tune of working with exceptional teachers and mentors. At Carleton
College, Adeeb Khalid and Diane Nemec Ignashev provided me with a
strong foundation in Russian history and language, respectively. Both
saw me through my fi rst attempts to examine the history of the Soviet
Gulag. At the University of Chicago, I was privileged to work with a

x Acknowledgments
remarkable group of PhD advisors, each of whom had a profound effect
on my development as a scholar. Ron Suny provided valuable advice
in framing this project. Michael Geyer provided a steady stream of off-
the-wall ideas, encouraging me to stretch conceptual limits. The late,
great Richard Hellie taught me the value of quantitative methods and
the (University of) Chicago Manual of Style . He was a constant source
of encouragement throughout my graduate career. Sheila Fitzpatrick
was an incomparable teacher and PhD advisor. From her I learned not
only the ins and outs of Soviet history, but also the craft of research.
Her advice, probing questions, and good humor helped shepherd me
through my time at the University of Chicago and beyond.
The research for this project was carried out at numerous libraries
and archives in Chicago, IL, Cambridge, MA, San Marino and Stan-
ford, CA, USA; London, England; and Moscow, Syktyvkar, and Vor-
kuta, Russia. Although they are too numerous to mention here, I wish
to express my gratitude to all the librarians and archivists who assisted
my research. June Pachuta Ferris, the Slavic bibliographer at the Uni-
versity of Chicago, facilitated my research by acquiring large amounts
of print and microfi lm materials, in addition to supporting my fellow-
ship applications. Dina Nikolaevna Nokhotovich at the State Archive
of the Russian Federation patiently answered my many queries. The
staff at the Vorkuta Museum-Exhibition Center plied me with manu-
scripts, photographs, and tea during my visit there, for which I will be
eternally grateful. Thanks especially to Galina Vasil’evna Trukhina and
Galina Vasil’evna Spitsyna for their assistance and hospitality. I owe a
special debt of gratitude to the staff at the Hoover Institution Library
and Archives at Stanford University, who facilitated the completion of
critical research in the book’s late stages.
Many friends and colleagues in Russia gave freely of their time and
expertise to help shepherd me through life and research in Moscow
and the Komi Republic. In particular, I wish to thank Al’bert Efi mo vich
Bernshtein, Olesya Aksenovskaia, Evgeniia Alekseevna Khaidarova,
Andrei Kustyshev, Vladimir Nikolaevich Mastrakov, Kostia Meshche-
rikov, Nikolai Alekseevich Morozov, Khristina Petkova, Anatolii Alek-
sandrovich Popov, and Mikhail Borisovich Rogachev. I owe a particu-
lar debt to the anonymous interview subjects who patiently discussed
diffi cult chapters of their past with me. Semyon Samuilovich Vilensky
and Liudmila Sergeevna Novikova in Moscow played a particularly

Acknowledgments xi
important role in helping this project see the light of day. They shared
with me not only their considerable expertise, but also their friendship
and hospitality.
This book has benefi ted greatly from feedback that I received at
various conferences and workshops at the University of Chicago, the
University of California-Berkeley, the University of Birmingham, the
University of Manchester, the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian
studies at Harvard University, the Havighurst Center of Russian and
Post-Soviet Studies at Miami University Ohio, The Hoover Archives
China-Russia Summer Workshop, and various meetings of the Inter-
national Council for Central and East European Studies, the Mid-
west Russian History Workshop, and the Association for Slavic and
East European and Eurasian Studies. Special thanks are due to Klaus
Gestwa, Yoram Gorlizki, Mark Harrison, Michael Jakobson, and Amir
Weiner for providing key feedback at important stages of this project.
Paul Josephson read and gave helpful advice on the epilogue. Marc
Elie gave freely of his considerable knowledge on all things relating
to ex-prisoners and the Gulag under Khrushchev. Tim Johnston, Rosa
Magnusdottir, Jenny Smith, and Ben Tromly helped make a long stint
in Moscow bearable. Wilson Bell has proven to be a good friend and
a generous colleague ever since we met and discovered how much our
work overlapped. Lynne Viola has been a constant source of sensible
advice and a tireless champion of this project. The anonymous read-
ers for Yale University Press read the manuscript carefully and offered
useful criticism and advice. Whatever fl aws remain, their insights have
resulted in a stronger, more readable book.
The University of Chicago served as an incomparable environment
in which to develop my ideas and present my research. Comments and
criticism received at the Russian Studies and Modern European His-
tory Workshops profoundly infl uenced this book’s development. In
particular, I wish to thank Josh Arthurs, Edward Cohn, John Deak,
Mark Edele, Emma Gilligan, Rachel Green, Charles Hachten, Cameron
Hawkins, Steve Harris, Brian LaPierre, Tania Maync, Mie Nakachi,
Chris Raffensperger, Oscar Sanchez, Andrew Sloin, and Ben Zajicek.
The history department at Auburn University gave me a temporary
home after leaving Chicago. At Columbus State University, I was wel-
comed by faculty, staff, and students alike. Special thanks are due to
Patty Chappel, Alice Pate (now of Kennesaw State University), and John

xii Acknowledgments
Ellisor for their friendship and support during my time there. Numer-
ous friends and colleagues at Texas Tech University have helped make
West Texas my home (in a real and a scholarly sense) since I arrived
in 2009. I wish to thank all my remarkable colleagues in the history
department for making Texas Tech an exceptional place to work. In
particular, Aliza Wong provided excellent advice on reframing my dis-
sertation as a book, and Randy McBee ensured that I had the time and
resources to complete this project. Peggy Ariaz, Nina Pruitt, Mayela
Guardiola, and Debbie Shelfer in the department offi ce were patient
with my many requests. My Russian Studies colleagues Erin Collopy,
Tony Qualin, and Frank Thames provided stimulating discussions over
Wednesday night margaritas.
Parts of chapter 1 fi rst appeared in the articles “Tiede ja asuttaminen
varhairsessa Gulagissa,” Idäntutkimus (Finnish Review of East Euro-
pean Studies) 4 (2010): 33–45, and “‘Discovering’ Vorkuta: Science and
Colonization in the Early Gulag,” Gulag Studies 4 (2011): 21–40. Parts
of chapters 1, 2, and 4 fi rst appeared in the article “Prisoners without
Borders: Zazonniki and the Transformation of Vorkuta after Stalin,”
Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 57, no. 4 (2009): 513–34. Parts
of chapter 6 fi rst appeared in the article “From Prisoners to Citizens?
Ex-Prisoners in Vorkuta during the Thaw” in The Thaw: Soviet Soci-
ety and Culture in the 1950s and 1960s (University of Toronto Press,
2013), 143–75. I am grateful to the publishers for their kind permission
to reprint parts of these articles here.
The process of transforming the manuscript into a published book
has been a smooth one thanks to the staff at Yale University Press.
Vadim Staklo, now of George Mason University, guided the project
from proposal to manuscript. William Frucht, Jaya Chaterjee, and
Margaret Otzel took up the reins and made sure the book proceeded
quickly through fi nal submission and production. Mary Petrusewicz
copyedited the manuscript with great care. I am especially thankful to
Paul Gregory, the editor of the Yale-Hoover Series on Stalin, Stalinism,
and the Cold War, for his encouragement, support, and timely advice.
Thanks to Bill Nelson for preparing the map.
Finally, I wish to thank my family for their patience, love, and sup-
port during the long journey this book has taken. My mother, Judy
Cole, and my brother, Michael Barenberg, provided love, support, and
advice throughout the process. My wife, Abby Swingen, has shared

Acknowledgments xiii
every step of the process with me. She has gone far beyond the call of
duty, not only supporting me through ups and downs, but also reading
many successive drafts of all parts of this book with care. Her insights
and advice helped bring a fresh perspective to the many questions and
problems that arose. This book is dedicated to her. Ruby, our daugh-
ter, has also played a key role in helping this book see the light of day.
Ever since she arrived on the scene, she has been a sustaining source of
laughter, love, and inspiration.

Abbreviations and Glossary
Counterrevolutionary Prisoner convicted under Article 58 of the Soviet Criminal Code.
Gorispolkom City Council.
Gorkom City Committee of the Communist Party.
ITR Engineering and technical workers.
Katorga Hard-labor regime.
Katorzhnik Prisoner subject to a hard-labor regime.
Komi ASSR/Republic Komi Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, known
as the Komi Republic.
Komsomol Communist Youth League
Kulak “Fist.” Term for so-called rich peasants tar-
geted for expropriation, arrest, and/or exile
during collectivization.
KVU Vorkutaugol’, Vorkuta Coal Mining Trust.
KGB Committee on State Security.
MinIust Ministry of Justice.
MUP Ministry of Coal Industry.
MVD Ministry of Internal Affairs. Succeeded

Abbreviations and Glossary xv
NKVD People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs.
Succeeded OGPU.
Northern Pechora Rail line connecting Kotlas and Vorkuta.
main line
Obkom Oblast’ Committee of the Communist Party.
OGPU Unifi ed State Political Administration.
Okruzhentsy The “encircled.” Refers to Red Army soldiers
captured by the enemy during the Second
World War.
Orgnabor Organized recruitment.
Pechora krai Territory in the area of the Pechora River and
its basin.
Politotdel Political Department. Communist Party orga-
nization in a Soviet corrective labor camp.
Rechlag River Camp. “Special” camp located in Vor-
kuta, 1948–1954.
RSFSR Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic
Severnyi krai Northern Territory, 1929–1937.
Sevpechlag Northern Pechora Camp, 1940–1950. Camp
dedicated to building the northern portion of
the Northern Pechora main line.
Sovmin Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union. Suc-
ceeded Sovnarkom.
Sovnarkom Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet
Ukhtpechlag Ukhta-Pechora Camp. Created from Ukhta
Expedition in 1931. Reorganized into smaller
camps in 1938.
Vorkutlag Vorkuta Camp. Created as Vorkutpechlag
(Vorkuta Pechora Camp) in 1938. Became a
“corrective labor colony” in 1960.

Map of Northwestern USSR with Transportation Routes to Vorkuta. Copyright
© 2014 by Bill Nelson.
St. Petersburg (Leningrad)
Konosha Kotlas
Ukhta (Chib’iu)
Nar’ian Mar
Khal’mer-lu N
0 200 300 km 100
100 200 mi
Pechora River
Usa River
Existing rail line Northern Pechora Main line, completed in 1941

A mine is an iceberg. Scholars maintain that an iceberg shows only one-
fi fth of its mass, whereas four-fi fths are insidiously hidden underwater.
—Unnamed Soviet writer, as quoted in Valentin Griner, Poslednye dni bab’ego leto
ON 21 DECEMBER 1961, the Vorkuta city council (Gorispolkom)
made a decision that starkly changed the landscape of one of the Soviet
Union’s largest Arctic cities. On that day, the council passed a resolu-
tion calling for the removal of a monument to Stalin from its pedestal
in Moscow square, one of the city’s central public spaces (fi gure 0.1).
After the bronze statue was carted away, it was replaced by a monu-
ment dedicated to former Leningrad party chief Sergei Kirov, which
had been located in a square a few blocks away.
1 Now Kirov would
stand on the square at the intersection of Moscow and Miner streets,
at the very heart of the city, surrounded by its architectural jewels,
examples of Stalinist neoclassical style. After presiding over the square
for nearly two decades, Stalin disappeared from public sight, presum-
ably to be stored at the city’s metalworking factory before being melted
down at a later date. The decision to remove the Stalin monument did not come out of the
blue, nor was it the result of local initiative. It was part of the process
of de-Stalinization that marked the reign of Stalin’s successor, Nikita
Khrushchev. The removal followed the decisions of the Twenty-second
Party Congress that had taken place in Moscow in October 1961. At
the Congress, Khrushchev renewed the criticism of Stalin that he had
begun fi ve years earlier in his so-called secret speech at the Twentieth

2 Introduction
Party Congress. 2 Stalin’s body was soon removed from the mausoleum
on Red Square, where it had been lying in state with Lenin since 1953,
and buried beside the Kremlin wall nearby. Although the new burial
site was public, it was a clear ritual demotion. In the following months,
streets, factories, even entire cities that had been named after Stalin
were renamed. Monuments to the leader around the country were re-
Figure 0.1. Stalin Monument, Moscow Square, Vorkuta, 1958. Photograph cour-
tesy of Vorkuta Museum-Exhibition Center.

Introduction 3
moved. Thus, swapping Stalin for Kirov in Vorkuta was a local mani-
festation of a national campaign.
Just as Khrushchev’s renewed criticism of Stalin during the Twenty-
second Party Congress was meant to establish a new, stable, post-
Stalinist order, Stalin’s removal from his place in Vorkuta’s main square
was intended to mark a new beginning. 3 Indeed, the event appears to
be an important dividing point between two very different incarna-
tions of the city. Vorkuta’s fi rst life was as one of the deadliest parts
of the Soviet Gulag, a network of prisons, camps, colonies, and exile
settlements that was an integral part of the Soviet system. 4 The camp
in Vorkuta was established at the beginning of the 1930s as a tiny,
remote outpost on the banks of the Vorkuta River, the fi rst attempt to
systematically exploit the extensive reserves of the Pechora coal basin,
the largest coalfi eld in European Russia. By the late 1930s and early
1940s it had become one of the fastest-growing and deadliest prison
camp complexes in the Soviet Union. Driven by a seemingly limitless
supply of prisoners and a boundless hunger for coal during wartime
and postwar reconstruction, the Vorkutinskii lager’ (“Vorkuta camp,”
better known as Vorkutlag) and its twin Rechnoi lager’ (“river camp,”
better known as Rechlag) saw approximately half a million prisoners
pass through their gates by the middle of the 1950s. The Vorkuta camp
complex held those considered to be the Soviet Union’s most danger-
ous criminals in some of the most brutal conditions in the Gulag. Even
according to the Gulag’s own records, which tended to underestimate
mortality, at least twenty thousand prisoners died there between 1942
and 1954. 5
But Vorkuta was not just a prison camp complex. It was also a Soviet
company town. Offi cially incorporated in 1943, by the time of Stalin’s
death ten years later there were roughly as many people living in the
city as in the camp complex. When Stalin’s monument was removed in
December 1961, the city already had over 183,000 residents, making it
the largest city in the Komi ASSR. 6 The citizenry, which consisted not
only of former prisoners and exiles but also of young recruits from all
over the Soviet Union, worked to support what had become a signifi -
cant source of coal for northwestern Russia. By 1965, the area’s mines
were producing just over 12 million tons of bituminous coal per year. 7
In 1975, the largest coal mine in Europe, Vorgashor, with a projected
annual output of 4.5 million tons of coal per year, was completed. 8 By

4 Introduction
this time, Vorkuta had become a desirable place for those seeking social
mobility, as various subsidies and bonuses made it possible to secure a
comfortable retirement after a relatively short working career. The city
itself became something of a Soviet showpiece: as a thriving industrial
city in the tundra, Vorkuta came to embody the Soviet Union’s stunning
achievements in settling the Far North.
These two incarnations of Vorkuta are often treated as separate enti-
ties. Take, for example, the 2001 Encyclopedia of the Komi Republic,
where “Vorkuta” and the “Vorkuta camp of the NKVD-MVD SSSR”
are given separate entries whose content does not overlap whatsoever. 9
On some levels, such an approach makes a great deal of sense, since
the city of Vorkuta and the camp complex were, on paper at least,
completely separate, with different “residents” and institutions, and
occupying different geographical spaces. 10 Further, the two periods of
Vorkuta’s history were separated by momentous political, social, and
economic changes. Such changes included the renunciation of mass ter-
ror, the release of millions of prisoners from the Gulag, and the fun-
damental transformation of the Soviet Union’s prison camp system.
The removal of Stalin’s monument in December 1961 was indicative
of a series of upheavals and reforms after Stalin’s death in 1953 that
transformed Vorkuta in signifi cant ways. The Vorkuta of 1961 hardly
resembled the city even a decade earlier.
Yet there were signifi cant continuities between the two incarnations
of Vorkuta as well. People, institutions, and practices all provide con-
nections between these two periods, reaching across seemingly im-
permeable boundaries. Although tens of thousands of prisoners left
Vorkuta after their release from the camps in the 1950s, never to re-
turn, thousands of others remained as workers in the new company
town. Many became long-term city residents. Indeed, by the turn of
the twenty-fi rst century there remained a small but signifi cant group of
former prisoners living in the city. There were institutional continuities
as well. The coal mining trust that was responsible for the manage-
ment of Vorkuta’s mines from the 1950s until the 1990s was created in
the 1940s to operate alongside the prison camp complex. Although its
organization, personnel, and place within national bureaucratic struc-
tures changed signifi cantly in the 1950s, much nevertheless remained
the same in the way that it operated on the ground. There were also sig-
nifi cant continuities in social practices that bridged the chasm of post-

Introduction 5
Stalin-era reforms. The structure of families, neighborhoods, and la-
bor collectives retained infl uences from the camp complex for decades.
Thus, both continuity and change marked Vorkuta and the experiences
of its residents from the 1930s until the late Soviet era.
This book examines the social and economic history of Vorkuta from
the founding of the fi rst prison camp outpost on the banks of the Vor-
kuta River in the early 1930s until the fi rst decade of the twenty-fi rst
century. In doing so, it attempts to reassemble its fragmented history. It
examines the experiences of various groups that made up the popula-
tion of the city over its eighty-odd years of existence, including pris-
oners, exiles, former prisoners, Gulag offi cials, Komsomol volunteers,
demobilized soldiers, and free migrants. Whenever possible, the stories
of these groups are told through the lives of individuals. The narrative
of Vorkuta in the twentieth and twenty-fi rst centuries is also one of
how the Soviet Union (and post-Soviet Russia) sought to exploit natu-
ral resources of its vast hinterlands. The project of turning the Pechora
coal basin into a major mining center began as an exercise in internal
colonization, with prisoners and exiles serving as involuntary settlers. 11
Although development strategies shifted signifi cantly over the ensuing
decades, enthusiasm and commitment for transforming one of the most
extreme natural environments in all of Russia into a modern Soviet city
did not wane. It was not until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991
and subsequent economic reforms that the city’s continued growth and
very existence came into question.
By examining Soviet history through the story of one particular camp
complex and city, this book provides a ground-level perspective of
many of the most signifi cant processes and transformations that took
place during the Soviet era. Such an approach has both advantages
and disadvantages. Focusing on a relatively small geographic area al-
lows one to be more ambitious chronologically, so that Vorkuta can be
examined in the broad sweep of Soviet and post-Soviet history. While
scholarly monographs often put the year 1953 near the beginning or
end of a narrative about the Stalin or post-Stalin eras, here the death
of Stalin is placed in the middle. This allows one to closely examine
threads of continuity and change across the Stalinist and post-Stalin
divide. In so doing, this study offers new insights into the grand, sub-
tle, and often unexpected ways that Stalin’s death changed, or did not
change, the lives of Soviet citizens. Further, the local focus allows one

6 Introduction
to discern phenomena and processes that are easily overlooked when
examining national or regional histories. This is particularly true, for
example, when analyzing the fate of ex-prisoners after Stalin’s death. It
is diffi cult to understand how they adapted to civilian life in the Soviet
Union without understanding locally embedded social networks and a
broad range of informal social practices. As local studies by historians
such as Stephen Kotkin and Kate Brown have shown, examining the
history of a single city or place can lead to profound insights about the
nature of the Soviet experience. 12
There are, of course, serious limitations to what one can learn from
a local study. Vorkuta, after all, was only one of tens of thousands of
Soviet cities. Further, there are elements of its history that make it ex-
ceptional, including its remote location and extreme natural environ-
ment, the fact that its settlement began in the Stalin era, and the close
ties of its history to the rise of a vast system of forced labor. Clearly,
Vorkuta cannot be considered a typical Soviet city. Nevertheless, some
of the very characteristics that make it exceptional also make it very
useful to study, as they make certain phenomena easier to recognize
and understand. For example, Vorkuta was built in the remote tundra
that had never been settled, part of a large area where Nenets reindeer
herders brought their stock during summer migration. 13 Thus, the loca-
tion makes it a good case for examining how Soviet leaders sought to
transform space through colonization and forced labor, but also reveals
the limitations in what the state could accomplish toward this end. The
story of Vorkuta is, on the one hand, the story of a particular place. Yet,
when properly placed in the broader context of Soviet history, it can
reveal a great deal about the nature of the Soviet Union that is easily
overlooked in larger-scale studies.
In addition to problematizing the temporal boundaries between the
Stalin and post-Stalin eras, this book reexamines the nature of space
and identity in the Soviet Union, particularly in the many parts of the
Soviet Union where the Gulag played an important role. As such, it is
part of the new wave of scholarship arguing that the Gulag was more
closely connected to Soviet society than was previously thought. Until
the 1990s, most scholars of the Soviet Gulag tended to follow the ap-

Introduction 7
proach advanced by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his landmark work The
Gulag Archipelago. For him, the Gulag was another world, separated
from the rest of the Soviet Union by “all kinds of walls and fences made
of rotting wood, rammed earth, bricks, concrete, iron railings.” 14 Once
someone passed from freedom to imprisonment, from one world into
the other, there was no opportunity to cross back to the other side, at
least not until one was released once and for all. They were, in a sense,
two different realities that did not overlap. As is clear from the title of
his grandiose work on the Gulag, if not always from the details related
within its pages, Solzhenitsyn defi ned the relationship between the Gu-
lag and Soviet society using the metaphor of the archipelago: Soviet
prison camps and exile colonies were islands separated from the main-
land of Soviet society. This metaphor of the Gulag as an “archipelago”
has had a remarkably long life, and has been a fundamental assump-
tion of many works on Soviet terror and imprisonment ever since. 15
However, over the past two decades new approaches and new sources
have led scholars to reexamine the nature of the Gulag and its place
in Soviet society. Once access to the Soviet archives improved signifi -
cantly in the late 1980s and early 1990s, researchers began to discover
details about life in the Gulag that had not been so apparent previously.
For example, access to offi cial statistical data from the Gulag revealed
that 20–40 percent of the total population of camps and colonies were
released every year, even at the height of Stalinist terror. 16 This led his-
torian Golfo Alexopoulos to conclude that the Gulag operated on a
“revolving door” system of frequent arrests and frequent releases. 17
The discovery of the enormous scale of the system of “special settle-
ments” for de-kulakized peasants has led historians like Lynne Viola to
expand the conceptual boundaries of the system, demonstrating that
such settlements (what Viola calls “the other archipelago”) made up
one of the key institutions of the system. 18 Making extensive use of new
kinds of sources, such as individual prisoner fi les and the records of the
“cultural-educational department,” Steven Barnes has argued that the
Gulag was an institution thoroughly imbued with Soviet ideology that
was seen to play a fundamental role in the construction of a Soviet civi-
lization. Rather than simply serving to isolate perceived enemies and
provide slave labor, he argues that the overarching purpose of the Gu-
lag was to reclaim society’s margins whenever possible, and to exclude
and destroy those determined to be irredeemable. 19 Wilson Bell and I

8 Introduction
have both noted the presence in camp records and memoirs of frequent
contacts between prisoners and non-prisoners, leading to arguments
that the borders between the inside and the outside of the Gulag were
far more permeable than previously thought. 20
This book argues that the Gulag was closely connected to Soviet
society at large. In fact, it demonstrates that it was an integral part of
that society. Rather than treat the camp and the city as separate entities,
this work examines the Gulag town as a whole, emphasizing economic
connections and social relationships in particular. Whereas much work
on the Gulag emphasizes the clear distinction between the world of
the “zone” ( zona ) and the outside, this book problematizes the notion
that barbed wire and other barriers made the world of the city and
the world of the camp spatially distinct. 21 The territories occupied by
Soviet prison camps were not always enclosed. Particularly in the early
life of camp complexes, there were few physical barriers between the
zone and the outside. Borders were frequently moved, and spaces could
be easily redesignated. Even well-established and clearly delineated bor-
ders were regularly crossed by both prisoners and non-prisoners, both
as a result of everyday practices in the Gulag and extraordinary privi-
leges given to certain prisoners. Thus, spatial relationships in the Gulag
town were far more complex and unstable than previously thought. 22
The same can be said about social relationships, status, and iden-
tity. Permeable borders allowed personal relationships to span the
barbed wire, whether between coworkers, friends, family members, or
sexual partners. Despite the existence and enforcement of regulations
designed to limit such relationships, they were in fact a systemic and
integral part of the Gulag. Following the work of Russian sociologist
Vladimir Il’in, this book argues that the population of the Gulag town
was part of a complex social hierarchy where one’s place was deter-
mined by a wide range of factors. 23 As was the case throughout Soviet
society, social status was to a large degree ascribed by the state. 24 But
other factors, including informal social relationships and local authori-
ties’ willingness to sidestep or ignore offi cial regulations, meant that
offi cial hierarchies were subverted in signifi cant ways. In practice, the
majority of non-prisoners living in Vorkuta occupied a position in the
social hierarchy that was in many ways indistinguishable from most
prisoners. It was even possible, though rare, for prisoners to occupy
a signifi cantly higher position in the social hierarchy than most non-

Introduction 9
prisoners. Hierarchies of political, economic, and social status certainly
existed in the Gulag town, and the gap between how those on the top
of the hierarchy and those on the bottom lived was enormous. Never-
theless, social status was far more complex and nuanced than a simple
division between city residents on the one hand and prisoners on the
other. Thus, this book seeks to reconceptualize the nature of identity
and status within the Gulag and in the communities that surrounded
camp complexes.
One of the implications of this approach to status and identity is that
the straightforward distinction between “free” workers ( vol’nonaemnye )
and prisoners ( zakliuchennye ) that one often encounters in archival
documents and memoirs, and in much of the historiography of the
Gulag, falls short of being able to describe the social intricacy of camp
complexes and their surrounding communities. Rather than divide the
population of the Gulag town into “free” people and prisoners, this
book seeks to place individuals and groups along a continuum of status
ranging from those on the one end who had the most freedom of move-
ment and access to goods and services to those on the other who had
the least. 25 This method follows the conclusions of historians Sheila
Fitzpatrick and Donald Filtzer, who separately argued that “free” la-
bor could hardly have existed under Stalin, particularly from 1940 un-
til 1953. 26 Thus, rather than distinguish between “free” and “unfree”
people I use the terms “prisoners” and “non-prisoners” throughout
this book. Even these categories oversimplify an incredibly complex
social structure, as individuals and groups within these categories were
ascribed a wide spectrum of political, social, and economic statuses.
However, the primary fault line running through the population of
Vorkuta city was between those who were incarcerated and those who
were not.
In 1943, at the height of the Second World War, Vorkutlag director
Mikhail Mal’tsev initiated the process of having the small settlement
of non-prisoners that grew beside the camp offi cially designated as a
city. While at fi rst the community existed more on paper than it did
in physical space, it grew steadily while remaining closely intertwined
with, and heavily dependent on, the camp complex. But over the course

10 Introduction
of the 1950s, the city began to acquire its own political and economic
institutions, housing, and public spaces. At the same time, the camp
complex shrank considerably, as mass prisoner releases and a radical
shift in Soviet penal policy left Vorkutlag only a fraction of its former
size. Thus, the company town rose where the Gulag town had once
stood. The second half of this book examines this transformation that
began in the 1950s, extended into the heyday of the company town
during late socialism, and concluded with its near collapse in the fi rst
two decades of post-Soviet Russia.
What defi ned Vorkuta as a Soviet company town? Like its counter-
parts in other parts of the Soviet Union and even in the United States,
it was shaped by a utopian vision bent on creating a rationally planned
environment that would alleviate many urban ills and result in a happy,
productive community. 27 Thus, in the 1950s, copious attention was
paid to rebuilding the city along a rational plan, with broad boule-
vards, comfortable parks, and functional, modern buildings. Yet, as in
the case of other Soviet company towns, the realization of the ambi-
tious vision of planners was complicated by chaos, shortages, and the
usual ineffi ciencies of the Soviet command economy. 28 Further, the new
city was built alongside remnants of the camps, including barbed wire,
watchtowers, and the ubiquitous low-slung, dilapidated barracks. Al-
though the plan was to replace camp construction with new buildings
erected using the most advanced methods and technologies, the reality
was that camp barracks built in the 1940s remained in use until the
1990s. The physical legacy of the camps was diffi cult to escape.
The same was true for the institutional framework of the Gulag town.
Camp chiefs and managers from the top to the bottom of the political
hierarchy in Vorkutlag had spent decades exercising virtually unlimited
authority over prisoners and exiles. Arbitrariness, cruelty, and violence
were a reality of daily life in the city. Personnel and practices did not
change overnight, and much of the way that the company town was
run, and the way that citizens were treated, was strongly infl uenced by
precedents set in the 1930s and 1940s. Former camp offi cials retained
a signifi cant presence in all major city institutions well into the 1960s.
This continuity of personnel reinforced and magnifi ed many tenden-
cies of the typical Soviet company town that were observed by Wil-
liam Taubman. 29 In cities dominated by a powerful industry, factory

Introduction 11
management played an outsized role in local politics, often wielding
authority over the city party committee ( Gorkom ) that usually ran lo-
cal affairs. Such was the case in Vorkuta, where the coal mining trust
Vorkutaugol’ (KVU), which had been created in the 1940s as an arm of
the camp complex, would dominate local politics well into the 1990s.
As Pavel Grebeniuk has demonstrated in the case of Magadan, the cap-
ital of the Kolyma region in northeastern Siberia, the legacy of forced
labor weighed heavily on the evolution of cities and regions dominated
by the Gulag long after Stalin’s death. 30
The fact that Vorkuta remained a company town also played a key
role in determining the fate of the city’s large population of ex-prisoners.
Because the needs of production tended to be considered a fi rst-order
priority, this had a signifi cant effect on ex-prisoners’ prospects for suc-
cessful reintegration into Soviet society after release. Former prisoners
in Vorkuta faced legal obstacles, discrimination, and prejudice just as
they did elsewhere in the Soviet Union. 31 Some had adopted opposi-
tional worldviews that signifi cantly hindered their prospects of reinte-
gration. Indeed, it is diffi cult to deny Miriam Dobson’s conclusion that
“although all former prisoners were expected to become law-abiding,
hard-working citizens, many of them were under constraints that made
this almost impossible.” 32 Yet former prisoners starting new lives for
themselves in Vorkuta in the 1950s had advantages that could work
against offi cial discrimination and ambivalence. After release they were
able to continue making use of social networks they had built while
prisoners, networks that helped them secure scarce resources such as
good jobs and housing. In fact, because of changes in penal policy af-
ter Stalin’s death, thousands of prisoners had actually obtained jobs
and housing before they were even released. Further, the shortage of
skilled labor created by the release of tens of thousands of prisoners
in the shift of Vorkuta’s mines and industries to non-prisoner labor
meant that many former prisoners were actually in high demand, so
much so that managers were willing to sidestep and subvert offi cial
policies of discrimination in order to maintain their workforce. This
study suggests that company towns like Vorkuta were in fact places
where many former prisoners successfully reintegrated themselves into
Soviet society. Thus, this book serves as a corrective to the historiogra-
phy on the reintegration of former prisoners into Soviet society, which

12 Introduction
overwhelmingly argues that former prisoners remained on the margins
of Soviet society after Stalin.
In reconstructing the history of Vorkuta as a Gulag town and a com-
pany town, this book relies on a wide variety of published and unpub-
lished sources. Foremost among them are materials from the former
archives of the Communist Party and Soviet state at the local, regional,
and national levels. By utilizing material produced by a wide range
of individuals and institutions, this book attempts to reconstruct the
complex relationships among the various actors who played a role in
Vorkuta’s history. The Vorkuta local history museum proved to be a
valuable resource containing unique artifacts, photographs, and manu-
script sources that help illuminate a variety of issues. Local newspapers,
particularly Zapoliar’e (The polar north), the city newspaper founded
in 1952, were useful for following the construction of the city and the
everyday concerns of citizens. Wherever possible, I have made use of
personal narratives in order to fi ll gaps in the archival record and to
provide balance for the state-centric view that archives often provide.
Thus, this book makes extensive use of published and unpublished
memoirs written by prisoners and non-prisoners at various stages in
the Soviet and post-Soviet era. Finally, I had the good fortune to be
able to collect oral histories of former prisoners, family members, and
other residents of Vorkuta. This material has been particularly valuable
in humanizing the overall story that this book tells.
The fi rst three chapters of this book explain the rise of Vorkuta as
a Gulag town. Chapter 1 examines the growth of the Vorkuta camp
complex from the fi rst discovery of coal in the summer of 1930 until
1942, when the nominal completion of a rail line linking Vorkuta to
Moscow made it an important part of the Soviet home front in the
Second World War. It examines how Vorkuta was transformed over the
course of the 1930s from a project of internal colonization into a camp
for the Soviet Union’s most dangerous prisoners. By the beginning of
the war, Vorkutlag had become one of the Soviet Union’s largest camp
complexes, yet was threatened by mass starvation. Chapter 2 examines
the development of the Gulag town during its period of most rapid
expansion, from 1943 to 1947. At this time, the camp was a place of

Introduction 13
mass death, with the highest mortality rates in its history, but also a
place of privilege, as the camp director doled out patronage to prison-
ers whose skills were particularly valuable. In the midst of a desperate
war effort, the city of Vorkuta was founded, its fi rst public spaces were
created, and architectural showpieces were built. Thus, as the Gulag
town expanded, many of the foundations for the future company town
were put into place. Chapter 3 follows the transformation of Vorkuta
during late Stalinism from 1947 to 1953. With the most intense pe-
riod of expansion over, now local authorities attempted to establish
a degree of “normalcy” among both the prisoner and non-prisoner
populations. Such “normalcy” meant not only increasing the size of the
non-prisoner population, but also isolating the camp complex’s most
dangerous inmates. Yet rising tensions between camp and city popula-
tions meant that instability continued, and seemed to be growing on
the eve of Stalin’s death.
Chapters 4–6 address Vorkuta’s rapid transition from a Gulag town
into a company town. Chapter 4 explores the crisis created by Stalin’s
death and the reforms that followed from 1953 to 1955. In particular, it
focuses on two manifestations of this crisis: a large-scale prisoner strike
that broke out in the summer of 1953, and an administrative struggle
for control of Vorkuta and its mines precipitated by attempts to trans-
form the Gulag. As local authorities waited for the future of the Gulag
to be decided in Moscow, they took advantage of new opportunities
to allow tens of thousands of prisoners to live outside the camp zone,
thereby alleviating administrative gridlock and setting the stage for the
recruitment of prisoners once they were released from the camps. After
it was determined in August 1955 that Vorkuta’s mines would rely pri-
marily on non-prisoner labor, the process of transforming Vorkuta into
a company town, which is the subject of chapter 5, began in earnest.
This transformation involved recruiting thousands of new workers to
replace departing prisoners, building urban infrastructure and housing,
and rebuilding many of the area’s mines. Although this “second birth”
of the city dragged on for much longer than envisioned by planners, by
the middle of the 1960s a new social and economic equilibrium had
been established. But it was not only new recruits who became city
residents, as tens of thousands of prisoners remained after their release.
Chapter 6 examines the fate of these ex-prisoners in Vorkuta. Using
individual stories and employment data, it argues that Vorkuta was a

14 Introduction
place of successful reintegration for many former prisoners. Despite the
many obstacles that they faced, local conditions allowed ex-prisoners
to establish new lives for themselves.
The epilogue examines how the new equilibrium established during
late socialism was severely disrupted by perestroika and the Soviet col-
lapse, when Vorkuta became one of the centers of a strike movement
pushing for economic and political reforms. Reforms and neglect in the
1990s quickly transformed Vorkuta from a showcase of Soviet success
into a cautionary tale of Soviet failures. Public memorialization of the
Gulag, which fi nally became possible during perestroika, also became
entangled in the Soviet collapse and post-Soviet crisis. As the epilogue
demonstrates, Vorkuta has a tenuous existence in the post-Soviet era,
and the legacy of the Gulag continues to shape the city in the twenty-
fi rst century.
Overall, this book aims to free the Gulag from Solzhenitsyn’s meta-
phorical “archipelago.” The study of the Soviet system of forced labor
is important in its own right, not least of which because it helps honor
the memory of those who suffered and died in it. Yet it is also impor-
tant to recognize that the Gulag did not exist in isolation from the rest
of Soviet society. As much recent scholarship has shown, it was a fun-
damental part of the Soviet system, linked politically, socially, economi-
cally, and ideologically. Examining Vorkuta as a Gulag town and as a
company town facilitates the exploration of such linkages. In so doing,
this book aims to produce new insights about the place of forced labor
in the Soviet system under Stalin, and its legacies in the post-Stalin and
post-Soviet eras.

1 From the Margins
to the Home Front
Vorkuta as an Outpost
IN AUGUST 1930, Georgii Aleksandrovich Chernov, a geology student
who had recently graduated from Moscow University, made a remark-
able discovery. As part of a summer expedition to hunt for coal in the
Russian Far North, he and a small group had struggled their way up
the Vorkuta River for two weeks. At the end of a long day Chernov
climbed up one of the banks of the river. There, literally under his feet,
he found a large seam of coal. By the time he left that summer, he had
found a total of fi ve thick, easily accessible seams of what appeared to
be extremely high-quality coal.
1 Following up on his discovery, Cher-
nov returned the following summer with a group of thirty-nine “min-
ing engineers of Ukhta.” In 1931, these men began building the fi rst
permanent settlement and the fi rst coal mine in what would later be-
come the city of Vorkuta, above the Arctic Circle in one of the most
remote areas of European Russia.
This narrative of discovery, which was told in a series of early 1930s
publications and further elaborated by Chernov himself in a 1968
memoir, failed to acknowledge the most important detail of the dis-
covery of coal in Vorkuta: beginning in the summer of 1931, the de-
velopment of coal mining and the construction of settlements was part
of the emerging system of prisons, camps, colonies, and settlements
that would come to be known as the Gulag. The thirty-nine “mining

16 From the Margins to the Home Front
engineers of Ukhta” who arrived in Vorkuta were in fact prisoners sent
from the Ukhta Expedition, a prison camp that had been established
in 1929 to colonize and exploit the resources near the town of Chib’iu
(later Ukhta). This camp, which would be renamed Ukhto-pechorskii
lager’ (Ukhtpechlag), soon became a massive prison camp complex
that stretched throughout an enormous hinterland in the northeastern
corner of European Russia. 3 The area surrounding the coal discovery
on the banks of the Vorkuta River became a place of hard labor, suffer-
ing, and death for thousands of prisoners and exiles.
This chapter examines Vorkuta during the fi rst decade after the
discovery of coal and the initial attempts to establish a prison camp
complex. It is the story of an outpost, a far-fl ung settlement separated
from cities and transportation networks by hundreds of miles. Over the
course of the 1930s development of the area and its coal mines would
proceed in fi ts and starts with a varying degree of attention and over-
sight from Moscow. In the early 1930s especially, Vorkuta, like many
sparsely settled areas of the Soviet Union, was seen as a potential site
of colonization by the Soviet state. The colonizers, by and large, would
be prisoners sent from points south and west. Under the leadership of
police chief Genrikh Iagoda, which lasted throughout the fi rst half of
the decade, there were plans for these colonists to remain on site after
the expiration of their sentences, reformed and reforged, the new per-
manent settlers of a Soviet hinterland.
Yet after an initial fl urry of activity and investment in the early
1930s, the prison camp expanded little until the fall of 1936, when a
large wave of prisoners arrived. As more and more former members of
opposition movements within the Communist Party were arrested in
the wake of the murder of Sergei Kirov in 1934, Vorkuta was fl ooded
with prisoners convicted of “counterrevolutionary” crimes. Dramatic
increases in the prisoner population continued in 1937 and 1938 as
prison camps across the Soviet Union were overwhelmed by arrests
made under the auspices of the “mass operations” of the Great Terror.
The small but growing camp complex in Vorkuta was subject to all
of the other major effects of the terror: overcrowding and worsening
living conditions, mass executions intended to permanently eliminate
alleged enemies of the Soviet state, and administrative reorganization
as a result of bloody purging of the Gulag and NKVD bureaucracies.
By 1940 Vorkutlag was not only an independent camp complex with

From the Margins to the Home Front 17
nearly thirty thousand prisoners; it was considered to be a strategic
priority, as Stalin and NKVD chief Lavrentii Beriia imagined that the
camp would soon supply virtually all of the coal for the north of Eu-
ropean Russia. With the outbreak of hostilities with Germany in June
1941, the camp would be thrust into the desperate struggle of total war,
with terrible consequences for its prisoners.
Georgii Chernov’s fateful expedition that discovered coal on the
banks of the Vorkuta River in August 1930 was not a fl uke. It was, in
fact, only one highlight in a decades-long effort to hunt for precious
natural resources in a region known as Pechora krai. After 1936 this
area was located mostly within Komi ASSR (today, Komi Republic),
but at the time it was contained within the sprawling administrative
unit known as Severnyi krai (Northern Territory). Pechora krai takes
its name from the Pechora River, a major river system that dominates
an area of taiga and tundra. Until the 1940s, it was one of the most
sparsely populated parts of European Russia. The native peoples who
lived there, the Komi-Izhemtsy and Nentsy, hunted, farmed, and herded
reindeer. Expeditions by Russians to study the geography and geol-
ogy of the region, as well as to characterize and categorize the native
peoples, began in the nineteenth century, and the fi rst known map was
published in 1846. 4 Russian interest in exploration and settlement in-
creased somewhat with the discovery of coal deposits in the nineteenth
century, although regular expeditions did not begin in earnest until the
decade before the revolution. The fi rst group of Russians to come to
Vorkuta itself predated the Russian Revolution, when an expedition
from Moscow University traveled some 90 kilometers up the Vorkuta
River to map its upper reaches in the summer of 1913. They did not
report discovering anything of note, however. 5
The systematic exploration of Pechora krai did not begin until the
1920s. It is closely associated with a geologist who taught at Mos-
cow University, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Chernov, Georgii’s father.
Aleksandr Chernov had visited the area in 1902, 1904, 1917–18, and
was convinced by what he and others had found that the Pechora
River basin contained massive coal deposits. 6 Beginning in 1921, and

18 From the Margins to the Home Front
continuing throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, Aleksandr Chernov
led yearly expeditions to the region. At fi rst these expeditions were
modest, including only a handful of geologists and local guides. 7 But
in 1924 they became considerably larger due to funding from both the
Geological Committee, a major state agency responsible for geologi-
cal exploration operating under the auspices of the Supreme Economic
Council, and by the regional Executive Committee. For the rest of the
1920s, small groups fanned out across the tributaries of the Pechora
River during the summer to hunt for coal. Each year the expeditions
went farther afi eld, to areas that were increasingly remote and diffi cult
to access. They found signifi cant coal deposits in several places, but
nothing of the quality and quantity to justify major development. That
is, until the summer of 1930, when Aleksandr Chernov’s son Georgii,
who had begun participating in his father’s expeditions in 1923, made
his promising coal discovery on the banks of the Vorkuta River. This
river, which fl owed west and south into the Usa River, was barely navi-
gable along its entire length by rowboats even during the brief summer
months of high water. Yet it was on its banks, after nearly a century of
speculation and a decade of systematic exploration, that a large source
of high quality coal had fi nally been located in Pechora krai. 8
The discovery of a promising coal deposit in Vorkuta came in the
midst of the fi rst fi ve-year plan, in an atmosphere of extraordinarily
aggressive industrial expansion and brutal war in the countryside. As
other historians have noted, the creation and rapid expansion of the
Gulag system was intimately connected to industrialization and collec-
tivization, twin processes that created both an insatiable demand for la-
bor and a simultaneous pool of potential forced laborers. 9 It was within
this context that high-level state and party offi cials had begun discuss-
ing the possibility of using forced labor to colonize remote regions of
the Soviet Union like Pechora krai. In July 1929 the Sovnarkom had
passed a resolution calling for the creation of corrective labor camps
to hold prisoners with sentences of over three years, under the supervi-
sion of the OGPU. This resolution is notable for at least three reasons.
First, it specifi cally mentioned Ukhta, an area not far from Vorkuta, as
the site for a new “corrective labor” camp. This would lead to the cre-
ation of the so-called Ukhta Expedition, soon renamed Ukhtpechlag,
the camp that Vorkuta would become a part of for most of the 1930s.
Second, the resolution explicitly stated that the new camps would be

From the Margins to the Home Front 19
created “in order to colonize” remote regions. Last, the goal of colo-
nization was connected to the exploitation of natural resources. 10 The
idea of using forced laborers as colonists to exploit natural resources
was given another boost in April 1930, when Genrikh Iagoda, who
was then deputy chief of the OGPU (and later went on to run it and
the NKVD), wrote a memo arguing that prisoners and “kulaks” should
be used to colonize the North. 11 Thus, Chernov’s discovery of coal in
Vorkuta came at a particularly fortuitous moment when colonization
for the purposes of exploiting natural resources was on the mind of top
Soviet offi cials.
By the spring of 1931, the idea of using prisoners to colonize Pechora
krai had landed on the agenda of the Politburo. On 20 March 1931
Stalin ordered the Supreme Economic Council to investigate the idea
of extracting coal in the Pechora basin. 12 On 15 April the Politburo fol-
lowed up, passing a resolution calling for the systematic exploitation
of coal to begin that year under the supervision of the Party Committee
for Northern Region and the OGPU. 13 This Politburo resolution rep-
resents a key turning point in the history of Vorkuta. Now, signifi cant
resources would be devoted to creating a permanent settlement on the
banks of the Vorkuta River in order to mine its coal. The fact that the
OGPU was given joint authority and responsibility for this coloniza-
tion project would fundamentally shape the future of this new outpost.
It meant that the vast majority of the “colonists” who would settle the
region would be prisoners and exiles. Thus, this resolution not only set
in motion the establishment of what would one day become the com-
pany town of Vorkuta, but it also led to the creation of one of the most
infamous prison camps in the Soviet Gulag.
The fi rst 39 prisoners, sent from the Ukhta Expedition, arrived that
summer from Chib’iu (Ukhta), after an arduous journey on river and
land that took several weeks to complete. 14 Prisoners and supplies con-
tinued to arrive in a steady stream during the short summer season, so
that by November there were already 2,009 prisoners. 15 Exploration,
scientifi c study, and initial mine construction continued frantically dur-
ing the brief Arctic summer. 16 Construction of a permanent settlement
on the banks of the Vorkuta River proceeded, although it was greatly
delayed by a lack of construction supplies, which had to be brought
in from a great distance. By September, the end of the fi rst summer
season, prisoners had built a bread bakery, a bathhouse/laundry, and a

20 From the Margins to the Home Front
storehouse. 17 They had also begun work on a brick factory. On paper,
the new colony on the banks of the Vorkuta River now had a sizable
prisoner population, an offi cial geographical designation, the “Usa sec-
tion of the Ukhta Expedition,” and an administrative center, known as
Rudnik. In practice, however, the colonists were now completely cut
off from the Soviet “mainland,” engaged in a struggle for survival that
would claim thousands of lives.
During this fi rst winter Vorkuta was plunged into a state of crisis
that would last throughout much of the next decade. With virtually
no supplies to build barracks or any other kind of permanent shel-
ter, the prisoners spent the winter living in dugouts cut into the steep
river banks that they covered in sod. The winter was an extremely cold
one, with temperatures regularly falling below –50° C. Food supplies
lasted only until April. 18 No offi cial records of mortality seem to have
been preserved in the Soviet archives, but there is little question that
hundreds of prisoners succumbed to sickness, exposure, and starvation
during that fi rst winter. Here, at one of the geographic margins of the
Soviet Union’s vast territory, the yawning chasm between the utopian
visions of Soviet leaders and the actual capacity of the state to carry out
these visions became apparent, with tragic consequences. 19
Uninterested or unaware of the tragedy unfolding on the banks of the
Vorkuta River, Stalin and the Politburo remained enthusiastic about the
prospects of mining the region’s coal. In March 1932 the Politburo once
again considered the issue of coal mining in the Pechora basin, “in view
of the necessity of creating our own coal center in the Soviet north.” 20
After hearing the report of a commission charged with investigating
the possibilities of further development, the Politburo passed another
resolution that allocated resources and set targets for coal production.
Acknowledging the signifi cance of the coal discoveries, the resolution
called for coal mining to be carried out “in complex with the develop-
ment of the industrial strength of the Pechora region. . . .” Surveying
work was to be completed by 1 October 1932 and three mines were to
be sunk that year. By 1933, the Pechora region as a whole (including
two other mines) was expected to produce 300,000 tons of coal. The
resolution also called for a rail link to be built between Vorkuta and
the Usa River, which would allow coal to be shipped by boat down the
Pechora River system and eventually to Arkhangel’sk. Work in Vorkuta
was to proceed apace regardless of desperate straits in which the colo-
nists found themselves.

From the Margins to the Home Front 21
By the summer of 1933, it was abundantly clear to local and regional
authorities that the extremely diffi cult conditions that had existed dur-
ing that fi rst winter of 1931–32 had not improved. An unforgiving
natural environment, chronic shortages of food and building materi-
als, and poor planning all contributed to making prisoners’ chances of
survival marginal at best. A particularly damning analysis of the situ-
ation was provided by Usa section head Danilovskii to Iakov Moroz,
the chief of Ukhtpechlag. Of a total of 2,852 prisoners, “colonists,”
non-prisoners, and exiles in the section, Danilovskii estimated that as
many as two-thirds were too ill to work. Even though only one-third
of the prisoners were offi cially recuperating from illnesses in medical
facilities, this was simply because there was insuffi cient room to house
them. Conditions in the medical barracks were so poor that hundreds
of prisoners chose to continue working rather than “recuperate” there.
Scurvy, what Danilovskii referred to as the “scourge of the Usa sec-
tion,” wreaked havoc on a population left almost entirely at the mercy
of the elements. Living in tents and dugouts in Arctic conditions with
an inadequate diet, it was diffi cult to see how any prisoner could sur-
vive long. In 1933 alone, 686 prisoners died, nearly one out of every
fi ve in the section. 21 This fi gure undoubtedly underestimates the total
number of deaths, since prisoners who died during transportation in
and out of the camp would not have been counted, nor would prison-
ers who were released but did not survive long afterward.
The same report reveals that even those prisoners who survived went
through a cycle of working for brief periods, falling ill, and then be-
ing sent elsewhere to “recuperate.” Prisoners declared healthy enough
to work in the mines would arrive in Vorkuta and last perhaps two
to three weeks of hard labor underground before being evacuated to
points south. Factoring in the twelve- to sixteen-day journey (one way)
that it took to get from the nearest settlement to Vorkuta, prisoners
were typically away for three to fi ve months before returning to Vor-
kuta for another few weeks of work. Prisoners were sent to two dif-
ferent sites to recuperate: Ad’zva (400 kilometers away) and Vorkuta-
Vom (200 kilometers away), and the journey itself, by boat or on foot,
took a terrible toll. Prisoners frequently arrived in Vorkuta already in
a weakened state, without adequate clothing or footwear to survive
the extreme Arctic conditions. One group sent from Chib’iu (Ukhta) in
May 1933 serves as an example. Of the 141 prisoners sent in a convoy,
fi ve froze to death in the early part of the journey, and 26 were left at

22 From the Margins to the Home Front
another camp section because of their weakened state. Of the 105 pris-
oners who fi nally arrived, only 20 were fi t for physical labor. 22 Over the
course of a typical two-month period, the entire prisoner population of
Vorkuta turned over, whether because of death or transfer. Such high
rates of turnover had a devastating effect on productivity. Over the
course of 1933, Vorkuta’s mines produced a total of only 6,000 tons
of coal, some 2 percent of the 300,000-ton quota set by the Politburo
the previous year. This was less than 10 tons of coal per prisoner who
lost his life that year. The contrast between the paltry production fi g-
ures and the number of lives destroyed in order to produce the coal is
The appalling conditions in Vorkuta in the early 1930s led Usa sec-
tion chief Danilovskii to conclude that the majority of prisoners were
being treated as expendable human “refuse.” 23 Such an observation
clashed directly with offi cial Soviet penal policy in the early 1930s,
which called for prisoners to be “reforged” through corrective labor.
Indeed, in the early 1930s Soviet public discourse often trumpeted not
only the achievements made through Gulag labor, such as the construc-
tion of new factories or infrastructure, but also the potential of such
projects to reform criminals and reclaim them as “new Soviet men.”
The quintessential example of this was the White Sea Canal project,
which was celebrated by a team of writers in a lavish volume edited
by the writer Maksim Gorky, among others. 24 As Steven Barnes has
demonstrated, the notion that the Gulag was a place to “reclaim the
margins” of Soviet society is important to understanding both the the-
ory and practice of the camps. 25 But as the conditions in Vorkuta in
the early 1930s suggest, shortages of food and other essential supplies,
brutal working conditions, and extreme natural settings often rendered
notions of reforming prisoners moot.
Alongside the high mortality rate among the majority of prisoners,
a hierarchy of privilege emerged within the camp. In keeping with the
policy of “colonization,” specialists whose talents were particularly
valuable for the exploitation of natural resources formed the core of
a group of “colonists” ( kolonizovannye ). The status of this group re-
sembled that of permanent exiles, in that they were not guarded like
regular prisoners, even though they were not allowed to leave the area.
Colonists were given the opportunity to build their own houses in ar-
eas that were located separately from prisoners. They were strongly

From the Margins to the Home Front 23
encouraged to summon their families to live with them, and the camp
paid their families’ travel costs, which would be deducted over time
from the colonists’ wages. 26 Colonists made up only a small propor-
tion of the population of the Usa section, typically under 5 percent. On
1 January 1933, 79 belonged to the category; a year later, there were
201; by 1 January 1935, they numbered 122. 27 Much of the elite of
the Usa section belonged to this status group, including engineer A. E.
Nekrasov, who was section chief. 28 Thus, colonists came to represent a
distinct, elite status group within the prisoner population.
In addition to the colonists, the Usa section had other categories of
residents that enjoyed relative privilege. A small number of “special set-
tlers,” likely “de-kulakized” peasants who were swept up by the repres-
sive apparatus during collectivization, were attached to the camp. At
the beginning of 1934 there were 72 of them, whereas by the beginning
of the following year, there were 119. Non-prisoner camp employees,
who occupied the highest rung in the local hierarchy, numbered only
76 in 1934. The everyday lives of such employees were undoubtedly
more comfortable than the majority of prisoners, given the fact that
they were accorded priority for food and were not required to carry out
backbreaking and dangerous physical labor in the mines. Nevertheless,
the lines between the status categories of those present in Vorkuta in
the middle of the 1930s were fl uid and ill defi ned. Although prisoners
lived in separate housing from the other categories of residents, there
were no borders or barriers between prisoner and non-prisoner spaces.
There were few guards in the camp to regulate prisoner movement,
let alone prevent escape. Over the course of 1934, 472 prisoners at-
tempted escape from the camp, well over 10 percent of the prisoner
population. Although the majority of the escapees were later detained
(419), security was clearly not a particular concern of the section ad-
ministration. 29 Rudnik was so remote and isolated that it made little
sense to waste precious resources and manpower on guarding prisoners
who had nowhere to run.
Malnutrition, disease, overwork, a lack of suitable housing, escapes,
and constant transfers in and out of the section meant that the pris-
oner population of this outpost grew little in the middle part of the
1930s. According to offi cial camp records, there were 2,009 prison-
ers in this section on 1 November 1931. 30 Fourteen months later, on
1 January 1933, there were 2,936 prisoners in the section. A year later,

24 From the Margins to the Home Front
on 1 January 1934, this fi gure had risen to 4,408. But the population
dipped again over the course of the following year, falling to 3,309
on 1 January 1935, not far above what it had been just after the fi rst
signifi cant wave of prisoners had arrived in November 1931. 31 Clearly,
the camp section was struggling to maintain a stable prisoner popula-
tion and would not see any sustained increase until 1936.
The extreme remoteness of the Usa section presented a huge chal-
lenge for the offi cials charged with keeping it supplied with food, con-
struction materials, equipment, and healthy prisoners. There were only
two routes to the camp, both of which could be completed only during
the summer when rivers were thawed and had suffi ciently high water.
There was a river route from Chib’iu (Ukhta) that was rarely used be-
cause the journey was particularly arduous and time consuming. 32 The
preferred route involved travel by water from Arkhangel’sk, a major
city that was well integrated into the national transportation network.
First, goods (and people) were shipped from Arkhangel’sk to Nar’ian-
Mar across the White and Barents seas. At Nar’ian-Mar, they were
transferred to barges that traveled up the Pechora River to the mouth
of the Usa River. Because the Usa was not as deep, goods were trans-
ferred again to smaller barges. The fi nal 65 kilometers from the mouth
of the Vorkuta River (Vorkuta-Vom) to the Usa section headquarters
in Rudnik had to be completed over land because the Vorkuta River
was too shallow for anything more than a rowboat to navigate. From
July 1933 to August 1934 prisoners worked to build a narrow gauge
railroad to connect Vorkuta-Vom to Rudnik, signifi cantly shortening
the overall journey. However, even after the completion of the railroad
the journey was time consuming and unreliable because it relied on the
rivers being navigable and ice free, and on the railroad being cleared of
snow and ice. 33 Fyodor Mochulsky, a non-prisoner offi cial who com-
pleted a journey in 1940 from Moscow to Abez’, the administrative
center of the nearby Sevpechlag (Northern Pechora camp), relates in
his memoirs that it took him forty-fi ve days to complete the journey,
which did not include the fi nal leg from the Usa River to Vorkuta. 34
Transportation would remain the most signifi cant bottleneck in Vor-
kuta’s “colonization” well into the 1940s.
Despite the attention that had been devoted in the Politburo to col-
onizing the area around Rudnik and to establishing productive coal
mines there, little progress had been made by 1935. The Usa section

From the Margins to the Home Front 25
remained the most remote and inaccessible outpost in the peripheral
and sprawling Ukhtpechlag system. Mine construction proceeded at a
snail’s pace, and precious little coal had made its way to points south.
The population of the camp hovered near the three thousand pris-
oner mark, not far above where it had stood before the fi rst winter of
1931–32. Although new prisoners were sent to the camp each summer,
they were hardly enough to replace the hundreds of prisoners who
became severely ill or died each winter. In short, by all appearances the
Usa section was well on its way to becoming another forgotten and
abandoned Gulag project of the 1930s and 1940s. 35
Mikhail Davidovich Baital’skii was only fourteen years old when the
Russian Revolution broke out. This did not prevent him, however, from
fi ghting in the Civil War as a volunteer near Odessa. A true believer in
the Bolshevik cause, he joined the Komsomol in 1920 and became a
party member in 1923. 36 As a journalist in the small town of Artemovsk
in Ukraine, he became increasingly disenchanted with the rise of Stalin,
joining the anti-Stalin opposition within the party. He was arrested for
the fi rst time in 1929 for his oppositional activities. After a short term
in prison in Kharkov, he was released after signing a statement renounc-
ing his support of the opposition. 37 Baital’skii then returned to work
as a journalist, fi rst in Astrakhan and then in Moscow. In 1936, how-
ever, he was arrested once again and imprisoned in Moscow’s Butyrka
prison. 38 After his case was investigated, he was convicted to fi ve years’
imprisonment in a labor camp for “counterrevolutionary Trotskyite ac-
tivity.” That summer, he was transferred to Vorkuta, where he would
serve the fi rst of two long periods of incarceration. 39
Mikhail Baital’skii was one of thousands of prisoners who were sent
to Ukhtpechlag in the summer and fall of 1936. Whereas Ukhtpechlag
as a whole had held 21,750 prisoners on 1 January 1936, by 1 Janu-
ary 1937 this number had already increased to 31,035; by the follow-
ing year, it would rise again to 54,792 prisoners. 40 In Moscow, the
show trials of 1936 were the leading edge of a new wave of repres-
sion against suspected members of the former opposition. 41 Tens of
thousands were arrested, many of them sentenced, like Baital’skii, to

26 From the Margins to the Home Front
fi ve years for “counterrevolutionary Trotskyite activities.” Most were
sent to one of two camps, Ukhtpechlag in Komi ASSR and Sevvost-
lag (“Northeastern camp”) in Kolyma. 42 The result was the increasing
“politicization” of Ukhtpechlag—that is, an increasing percentage of
its prisoners had been convicted of “counterrevolutionary” rather than
conventional crimes. In the fi rst half of the 1930s the camp had held
a fairly small number of “counterrevolutionary” prisoners, but by the
end of 1937 they made up nearly half (48.2 percent) of the prisoner
population. This was nearly three times the average in Gulag camps as
a whole. 43 The Usa section held a particularly large proportion of such
prisoners since its geographical isolation made it a logical destination
for those considered to be the Soviet Union’s most dangerous criminals.
This change in the prisoner population of Vorkuta would turn out to be
a lasting one: although the prisoner population would change in many
other important respects in the next twenty years, the presence of a
large proportion (if not a majority) of “counterrevolutionary” prison-
ers would be a constant, setting it apart from all but a handful of camps
that were designated for the most dangerous “counterrevolutionaries.”
Among the thousands of new prisoners sent to Vorkuta beginning
in 1936, there were hundreds of avowed Trotskyite prisoners like
Baital’skii who shared a common ideological orientation and opposi-
tion to the Stalinist order. Many thought of themselves as “political”
prisoners, a category that had been recognized in imperial and early
Soviet prisons, but had been abolished by the adoption of a new crimi-
nal code in 1926. 44 These prisoners, who were generally concentrated
in only three camp points (including Rudnik), immediately began to
organize opposition to the conditions to which they were subjected. In
early October 1936, a group of prisoners presented the administration
with a formal statement of protest ( zaiavlenie ). Signed by seventy-three
prisoners, it described in detail the conditions to which the self-avowed
“political prisoners” ( politzakliuchennye ) had been subjected, including
starvation rations, overcrowded and fi lthy housing, and the insistence
that all be subjected to heavy physical labor rather than be allowed to
work in their specialty. Combined with the fact that they had been sent
to Vorkuta, a “deadly place even for genuinely healthy people,” it was
clear to them that their prospects for survival were practically nil. 45
The statement concluded by making a number of demands, including
adequate rations, permission to work in one’s specialty, an eight-hour

From the Margins to the Home Front 27
working day and regular days off, the establishment of “normal” living
conditions including the isolation of “political prisoners” from the rest
of the prisoner population, reasonable medical care, and permission
to subscribe to central publications. If such conditions were not estab-
lished, the prisoners threatened to begin a hunger strike at 10:00 a.m.
on 18 October. 46 What the prisoners were demanding, in essence, was
that the camp administration acknowledge their status as “political”
prisoners and extend to them a special regime that political prisoners
had often enjoyed in imperial and early Soviet prisons. 47
However, the administration in Vorkuta categorically refused to rec-
ognize the special status of the Trotskyites. Refusing to back down, the
prisoners began a hunger strike on 18 October that would last nearly
four months. Although it is not known how many prisoners partici-
pated in the strike, it was a coordinated effort that involved prisoners
in at least three different parts of the Usa section of Ukhtpechlag. 48
Initially there were 128 participants, but by 28 October the number
had grown to 231. Three months later, on 1 February 1937, there were
still 148 prisoners refusing food. Then, in the fi rst two weeks of Febru-
ary the number of strikers declined rapidly, from 95 on 6 February to
19 on 9 February. By 13 February 1937, the administration considered
the hunger strike to be over. 49 As can be deduced by the overall length
of the strike, none of the prisoners refused food for its entire length.
Rather, they would refuse food for two to three weeks at a time, ap-
parently adhering to a coordinated schedule. 50 The camp administra-
tion periodically transferred the prisoners to camp clinics to recover,
force-feeding them through tubes if necessary. Given the length of the
hunger strike, the poor health of many of the participants, and the ex-
tremely diffi cult living conditions in which the strike took place, there
were fatalities, although the exact number is not known. At least three
deaths can be confi rmed based on archival documentation and mem-
oirs, although the actual number of deaths was probably considerably
higher. 51
Despite the heroism of its participants, such a strike had little hope
of accomplishing any of the goals set out in the declaration that the
Trotskyites had presented to the camp administration in October 1936.
Given the rapidly expanding size of the population of the Usa section,
the fact that two hundred to three hundred prisoners were not working
had little effect on overall economic plans. Further, since 1926 prison

28 From the Margins to the Home Front
and police offi cials had consistently refused to recognize that the cat-
egory of “political prisoners” actually existed, and no longer bestowed
special privileges vis-à-vis other prisoners. Thus, the strike appears to
have ended in February not because the administration agreed to the
prisoners’ demands, but because the “fi ghting spirit” of the strikers had
begun to wane after such a long and grueling ordeal. 52 It is possible
that some small-scale, temporary concessions were made to appease
them. 53 In the end, the hunger strike did not result in a major disrup-
tion of the operation of the camp, and in the aftermath of the strike
camp authorities noted only minor infractions of the camp regime by
the Trotskyites. 54
Major changes in the lives of prisoners did take place in 1937, but they
did not come as a result of the hunger strike. Instead, they came as a re-
sult of the launch of one of the largest police operations in the history of
the Soviet Union. The so-called mass operations of 1937–1938, as they
came to be called, began with the dissemination of order no. 00447 on
30 July 1937. Authorized personally by Stalin, and signed by People’s
Commissar of Internal Affairs Nikolai Ezhov, the order called for a vast
operation to arrest various “anti-Soviet elements” living in the midst
of Soviet society, including former kulaks, former prisoners and exiles,
members of oppositional political parties, and common criminals. The
order established quotas for the number of arrests to be made in each
region of the Soviet Union, including the number to be sentenced to
long terms of incarceration and those to be shot. As historians studying
the “mass operations” have pointed out, a distinguishing characteristic
of this operation was that regional and local authorities were granted
greater autonomy to investigate, convict, and punish those swept up in
the operation than was the usual practice before and after the Great Ter-
ror. 55 Although the initial order specifi ed that the operation was to be
completed within four months, it lasted over a year, ending only in No-
vember 1938. As provinces and localities, with the blessing and encour-
agement of the center, “overfulfi lled” the quotas established in order no.
00447, the number of victims expanded far beyond what was specifi ed in
the initial order. These “kulak operations,” in addition to the “national
operations” against Poles, Koreans, ethnic Germans and other national
minorities, would later come to be known as the Great Terror. 56
The “mass operations” launched by order no. 00447 caused an enor-
mous increase in the population of the camps and colonies. Of the ap-

From the Margins to the Home Front 29
proximately 1.6 million people who were arrested over the course of
1937–1938, approximately one half were executed and one half were
given long sentences in prison camps. 57 According to offi cial data, the
population of all Gulag camps increased from 832,881 at the beginning
of 1937 to 1,317,195 at the beginning of 1939, an overall increase of
nearly 40 percent in only two years. 58 The Usa section of Ukhtpechlag
was no exception, and its population continued the rapid increase that
had begun in 1936. While there were only 3,866 prisoners on average
throughout the fi rst quarter of 1937, by 1 October 1937 there were al-
ready 6,549 prisoners in the section. 59 By the beginning of April 1939,
six months after the “mass operations” had been wrapped up, there
were 16,096 prisoners in the entire Vorkuta camp complex. 60 While
some of this increase is no doubt attributable to the reorganization of
Ukhtpechlag into a number of smaller entities (see below), it is clear
nevertheless that the Great Terror caused the prisoner population held
in Vorkuta and its environs to increase three- or fourfold.
The rapid growth of the prisoner population caused a corresponding
deterioration of living conditions in the camps. As the infrastructure
of existing camps strained to accommodate the rapid infl ux of new
prisoners, high rates of sickness and mortality became all too common-
place. 61 Ukhtpechlag was singled out for having some of the worst con-
ditions. Because the construction of barracks could not keep pace with
the infl ux of new prisoners, 40 percent of the prisoner population lived
in tents. There were not enough shoes and warm clothing to go around,
and the camp had only half of its needed supply of each. Inspectors
sent to the camp in the winter of 1937–38 described conditions there
as “exceptionally appalling.” According to their report, sanitary condi-
tions had become so bad that some sections had become “havens of
infectious disease and mass death. . . .” 62 Following so quickly on the
heels of a signifi cant increase in the camp population in 1936, the in-
fl ux of prisoners due to the “mass operations” of 1937–1938 brought
living conditions throughout Ukhtpechlag to their worst levels since
the early 1930s.
The Great Terror also led to arrests and executions throughout
Ukhtpechlag because prisoners themselves were a target of the “mass
operations.” The Gulag was assigned its own quotas for arrests and
executions, 10,000, which was divided among individual camps. 63 In
Ukhtpechlag, the “mass operations” began after a coded telegram was

30 From the Margins to the Home Front
received on 8 August 1937 that established the number of prisoners
to be arrested and investigated, as well as the procedure for carrying
this out. 64 Although the initial quota for Vorkuta and Ukhtpechlag is
unknown, reasonable estimates suggest that it may have been as high
as 2,000 prisoners. 65 In any case, the quota was far exceeded in opera-
tions that lasted until late 1938. In all, 2,614 prisoners were convicted
(in absentia) by the “troika” that met in Arkhangel’sk to decide the fate
of suspect prisoners. 66 The operations in Ukhtpechlag were not aimed
solely at “counterrevolutionary” prisoners, as they made up only half
of those convicted under order no. 00447. 67 In fact, of the fi rst group of
597 prisoners whose cases were referred to the “troika” on 4 Novem-
ber 1937, only 105 were charged with “counterrevolutionary” crimes. 68
As the operation continued, however, charges were increasingly made
against “counterrevolutionary” prisoners. In particular, it seems that
local authorities used the opportunity presented by the “mass opera-
tions” to eliminate those suspected of connections to the hunger strike
that had ended earlier that year. 69
Once convicted by the “troika,” prisoners were transferred to a spe-
cial punishment subsection at the “brick factory” camp point located
on the banks of the Iun’-Iaga River, some 30 kilometers from Rudnik.
In order to accommodate the sudden infl ux of prisoners, they were
held in tents. 70 Most of the killing was carried out on only two dates,
1 and 30 March 1938, when 524 prisoners were shot. 71 These particu-
lar executions were overseen by E. I. Kashketin, an NKVD offi cer who
had been sent to Vorkuta in January 1938 with the apparent task of
uncovering and eliminating Trotskyites in the Vorkuta prisoner popu-
lation. 72 Indeed, many (though not all) of the prisoners executed on
those dates were associated with the Trotskyite opposition, including
Trotsky’s former personal secretary, I. Poznanskii. 73 As Kashketin later
reported, prisoners were led out in groups of up to 60 to the desig-
nated execution location, where they were then shot by camp guards.
Afterward, “all useful camp property” recovered from the victims was
inventoried, packed up, and held in the “brick factory” camp point for
later use. 74 It is unclear what was done with the victims’ bodies, and
they have never been found. 75 In all, approximately 2,500 prisoners
were executed throughout Ukhtpechlag under the “mass operations,”
604 of them in Vorkuta. 76 Despite the fact that virtually all of those
arrested under order no. 00447 were shot in isolated locations, rumors

From the Margins to the Home Front 31
of what took place at the brick factory and other execution sites spread
among the rest of the prisoner population, rumors that would have
signifi cant consequences in the early 1940s.
Against the backdrop of the “mass operations,” Ukhtpechlag was
reorganized, a process that would have a signifi cant long-term effect on
the development of Vorkuta and of Komi ASSR as a whole. At the same
time that it was expanding during 1937–1938, Ukhtpechlag was bro-
ken into more discrete geographic chunks. Ostensibly this was carried
out at the request of Ukhtepchlag’s longtime director, Iakov Moroz. In
a report to his superiors in the Gulag dated 2 November 1937, Moroz
argued that the camp needed to be broken into smaller, independent
units. Now that it held nearly sixty thousand prisoners and occupied
a territory greater than 700,000 square kilometers, it had become too
complex to be managed by a single administration. Further, the camp
was engaged in a diverse array of economic activities, including the
extraction of coal, oil, radium, asphalt, gas, and also railroad construc-
tion, not to mention agriculture in auxiliary farms. For Moroz, who
had been under fi re for some months, this was likely a last-ditch effort
to save his job, even if it meant becoming the chief of a somewhat
smaller camp. 77
In the midst of the considerable expansion of the prisoner popula-
tion and while the “mass operations” were still under way, the NKVD
began to explore Moroz’s proposal. On 10 December 1937 the NKVD
ordered that the process of splitting the camps into smaller entities get
under way by sending inspectors to Ukhtpechlag. 78 After six months of
work, Ukhtpechlag was split into four independent camps on 10 May
1938. One of these was the Vorkuta-Pechora camp (known by its acro-
nym Vorkutpechlag, later Vorkutlag), which was centered in what had
once been the Usa section. The new camp was to fulfi ll the functions
of “mine construction, coal extraction, and the construction of barges
on the Pechora River.” 79 Rudnik, the settlement on the banks of the
Vorkuta River, was now the administrative center of a sizeable prison
camp complex that occupied the northeastern corner of Komi ASSR.
Like the thousands of prisoners who died in Ukhtpechlag during the
Great Terror, Iakov Moroz did not live to see the results of the reorga-
nization. The inspectors who were sent to the camp in January 1938
in connection with the reorganization “uncovered” illegalities and ir-
regularities in the camp’s operation, which were used as a pretext for

32 From the Margins to the Home Front
his removal. 80 Moroz was arrested on 4 September 1938 and executed
on 20 or 21 January 1940. 81 He was one of many camp directors to fall
victim to the Great Terror. 82
Despite the signifi cant changes that took place in 1936–1938, much
about Vorkutlag remained in the same state as it had been in the fi rst
half of the 1930s. When Vorkutlag’s fi rst director, Leonid Aleksandro-
vich Tarkhanov, and his deputy, Vasilii Petrovich Sokolov, arrived in the
fall of 1938, they were struck by just how little had actually been built
there. Sokolov described the camp in the following manner just after
his arrival in October 1938: “We lived in quasi-summer tents. . . . The
administration was housed in a single-story, dilapidated building. The
other half of the building was occupied by the bathhouse and laundry,
so the building was damp and cold—we worked without taking off
our coats. The entrance to mine no. 1–2 (later mine no. 8) and the
electrical station, a small building with repair shops, another building
occupied by geologists, and a pump house were located within an area
of 200 meters. This was all that had been built on the left bank [actu-
ally the right bank of the Vorkuta River]. On the right bank [actually,
left] stood a two-story building, wooden barracks, two tents, and a
primitive pile driver hung over the ‘kapital’naia’ mine.” 83 These few
buildings were all that existed of what would soon become the center
of one of the largest and most notorious prison camp complexes in
the Soviet Union (see fi gures 1.1 and 1.2). Although there were some
sixteen thousand prisoners being held in Vorkutpechlag when Sokolov
arrived, they were spread out over a large geographic area and engaged
in a wide range of economic activities. Only a few thousand prisoners
were mining coal.
Although it was no longer part of the camp complex that had cov-
ered some 700,000 square kilometers, the geography of newly sepa-
rate Vorkutlag was still vast and sprawling. Most camp sections were
located along rivers: the Usa (which is over 500 kilometers from its
mouth at the Pechora River to the mouth of the Vorkuta River) and on
parts of the Pechora River, an enormous area stretching hundreds of
kilometers. The continued reliance on river transportation meant that
Vorkutlag was organized on an east-west axis, with Arkhangel’sk serv-
ing as the “mainland” city through which goods and people fl owed in
and out of the camp. 84 Not only were permanent camp sections estab-
lished all along the route, but whenever the entire route was navigable

From the Margins to the Home Front 33
thousands of prisoners were transferred from other work (including
coal mining) in order to move goods. Communications between sec-
tions had to be done by radio or courier, neither of which was reli-
able considering the frequency of bad weather. 85 Vorkutlag was so geo-
graphically dispersed, and communications between camp sections so
slow and unreliable, that during this period it was divided into regional
units ( railag ).86 The result was that Vorkutlag remained a vast, sparsely
populated camp at the end of the 1930s, with little regional or national
economic signifi cance.
Not only did Vorkutlag remain geographically dispersed, but also
little effort had been made to separate camp sections from the sur-
rounding non-prisoner settlements. Many of the camp divisions had
not been surrounded by barriers to prevent escape and to limit inter-
actions between prisoners and non-prisoners. To put it in the offi cial
language of the time, many parts of Vorkutlag had not been “zonifi ed”
( zonirovano ), thereby separating the inside of the camp, or zone, from
Figure 1.1. A street in Rudnik, ca. 1936. Photograph courtesy of Vorkuta
Museum-Exhibition Center.

34 From the Margins to the Home Front
the outside. According to Gulag regulations, camp sections were to be
rectangular in shape and isolated from the surrounding area by some
type of fence. 87 However, this particular rule was honored in the breach
in Vorkutlag. In the summer of 1939, even the camp section in Rudnik,
the administrative center of Vorkutlag, had not yet been enclosed with
barbed wire, although there were guard towers surrounding the zone. 88
In 1940, only half of the forty camp sections that made up the sprawl-
ing Vorkutlag system had been enclosed and therefore “zonifi ed.” 89
Although the slow pace of “zonifi cation” was partly due to a severe
shortage of barbed wire and other material, separating prisoners from
non-prisoners was clearly not a high priority for the camp administra-
tion. 90 Further, the camp’s remoteness made the possibility of a success-
ful escape unlikely.
The lack of divisions between camp sections and non-prisoner settle-
ments was further underscored by the continued lack of a separate “ci-
vilian” administration to govern the non-prisoner population. Unlike
the usual Soviet practice of governing the populations through institu-
tions of party and state, in Vorkuta camp offi cials wielded authority
Figure 1.2. A view of Rudnik from across the Vorkuta River, ca. 1936–1937.
Photograph courtesy of Vorkuta Museum-Exhibition Center.

From the Margins to the Home Front 35
over the entire local population, regardless of one’s status as a prisoner
or non-prisoner, party member or non-member. Party members were
guided and disciplined by the camp’s “political section” ( politotdel )
rather than by a city or district-level party committee. Municipal and
district authorities, weak as they often were in the Stalin-era Soviet
Union, were wholly absent in Vorkuta. Although a civilian construc-
tion trust called Vorkutstroi had been established when the Vorkuta
camps were spun off into Vorkutlag in May 1938, at this time it was
little more than a euphemism for the camp administration itself. 91 Al-
though the relationship between camp and civilian institutions would
become more complicated in the coming years, by the end of the 1930s
local authority was concentrated in the hands of the new Vorkutlag ad-
ministration, which answered directly to Moscow, rather than Ukhta,
the old center of Ukhtpechlag.
In the spring of 1940 Leonid Aleksandrovich Tarkhanov, the direc-
tor of Vorkutlag, was summoned to Moscow. There he met personally
with Stalin, Beriia, and Viacheslav Molotov to discuss the future of
Vorkuta. Upon his return, he announced to his subordinates, “Vorkuta
is now going to be a construction project like Belomor, Noril’sk, and
others. . . . This task was assigned by Comrade Stalin himself.” 92 As Sta-
lin and Beriia had made clear to Tarkhanov, Vorkuta was soon going
to be a massive coal-mining center that would serve the entire Russian
Northwest, including the city of Leningrad and the Northern Fleet.
Two joint Politburo and Sovnarkom decrees in May and July called
for vastly increased investment in Vorkutlag and correspondingly fan-
tastical production targets. By 1948, Vorkuta was expected to produce
25 million tons of bituminous coal. 93 This would amount to one hun-
dred times the amount of coal that Vorkuta produced in 1940, and
over 5 percent of all of the bituminous coal produced by mines across
the Soviet Union in 1940. Vorkuta would never come close to meeting
this fantastical fi gure in the 1940s, nor even by the 1980s when coal
production reached its apex. 94 Nevertheless, these targets demonstrate
that Stalin and his inner circle intended Vorkuta to become the largest
coal-producing area in European Russia. This attention from Moscow
was indicative of a renewed emphasis on maximizing the industrial

36 From the Margins to the Home Front
output of the Gulag, a trend that was further reinforced in Febru-
ary 1941 when responsibility for the economic management of many
camps was spun off from the central Gulag administration itself into
specialized subunits. 95 As a mining camp, Vorkutlag was subordinated
to the Department of Fuel Industry, an entity that was itself soon ab-
sorbed into the Chief Administration of Camps for Railroad Construc-
tion (GULZhDS). 96
The focus on extracting coal to supply the Russian Northwest led to
further geographic concentration of the complex and continued reori-
entation of its regional connections. In May 1940 barge construction
on the Pechora River, located several hundred kilometers away from
Rudnik, was spun off into Sevpechlag, a new camp whose primary
function was railroad construction. 97 On 17 November 1941 construc-
tion and mining activities in Inta, a smaller mining region to the south,
were split away into yet another independent camp (Intlag), further
narrowing the focus of Vorkutlag’s mining activities to the area sur-
rounding Rudnik. 98 In order to simplify its structure, the various re-
gional divisions of Vorkutlag were eliminated as well. 99 The Vorkutlag
complex still sprawled across hundreds of kilometers, but its economic
and geographic boundaries were now better defi ned. Further, in Octo-
ber the “worker’s settlement” of Vorkuta, the offi cial designation for
the non-prisoner spaces in and around Rudnik, was annexed by Komi
ASSR from the Arkhangel’sk region. 100 This decision was an important
step in the reorientation of Vorkuta toward Moscow to the southwest
rather than Arkhangel’sk to the west, and was likely connected with
planned transportation links. This change also created the fi rst admin-
istrative links between Vorkuta and the Komi capital of Syktyvkar, al-
though these were weak throughout much of the 1940s.
The tenuousness of the transportation links between Vorkutlag and
Arkhangel’sk remained a signifi cant bottleneck to the expansion of coal
production. The sea/river/narrow-gauge railroad route from Arkhan-
gel’sk remained an extremely unreliable way to transport prisoners
and supplies into the camp, and coal out of it. Work on the Northern
Pechora main line, which was intended to connect Vorkuta to the na-
tional rail network via Kotlas, began in 1938. 101 However, the prison
camps that had been set up to build the 1,560-kilometer line had made
little progress by 1940. But in connection with the planned expansion
of Vorkuta, in May 1940 N. A. Frenkel was put in charge of an acceler-

From the Margins to the Home Front 37
ated construction program. Frenkel, one of the most experienced (and
infamous) offi cials in the Gulag, had been deeply involved in running
a number of Gulag camps and projects, including the construction of
the White Sea Canal and the “Baikal-Amur main line.” 102 The NKVD
ordered that 135,000 able-bodied prisoners be transferred to the two
camps that were building the Kotlas-Vorkuta portion of the rail line,
Sevpechlag and Sevzheldorlag. Although the main line was set to offi -
cially open along its entire length in July 1944, the short-term goal was
to “open temporary movement of trains along the whole length of the
main line in December 1941 in order to deliver no less than 2 million
tons of bituminous coal from Vorkuta to the Northwest and central
regions of the USSR in 1942.” 103 In fact, the Northern Pechora main
line did open temporary service on time, although large coal shipments
were not possible until 1943. 104
In order to meet the fantastical goals set by Stalin and Beriia, Vorkut-
lag would need many more prisoners. Whereas the camp population
had grown considerably in the years 1936–1939, in 1939–1940 the
population leveled off somewhat, reaching a level of 16,509 prisoners
as of the beginning of 1940. Thereafter the population began to in-
crease fairly swiftly: at the beginning of 1941, there were 19,080 pris-
oners; on 1 July, there were 27,393 prisoners; and by 1 January 1942,
28,588 prisoners. 105 Thus, the prisoner population nearly doubled in
two years. Most of the increase came during the fi rst six months of
1941, and most of the new prisoners were Polish citizens who were ar-
rested after Soviet forces occupied eastern Poland in 1939. 106 Although
7,805 Polish citizens would be amnestied from Vorkutlag on 12 August
1941, just after the German attack on the Soviet Union, the overall
population of Vorkutlag did not decline from year to year, suggesting
that the amnestied prisoners were quickly replaced by others. 107
A snapshot of the prisoner population on 1 January 1942 dem-
onstrates that it was somewhat different from the average for Gulag
camps and colonies. Continuing the trend that began in 1936, prison-
ers in Vorkutlag were much more likely to be serving time for “counter-
revolutionary crimes,” 50.3 percent versus 29.6 percent for the system
as a whole. 108 As had been the case since 1936, Vorkutlag would con-
tinue to be among the camps where those considered to be the state’s
most dangerous criminals would be sent. Aside from a handful of pris-
oners who were serving sentences of under three years and a few who

38 From the Margins to the Home Front
were serving sentences of over ten years, the prisoner population was
evenly split between those serving sentences of between three to fi ve
years and those serving fi ve to ten years. 109 Although the percentage
of Russian prisoners in Vorkutlag was close to 60 percent, which was
nearly identical to the Gulag average, a few national groups were over-
represented in the camp population, including Jews and Poles. 110 This
was likely the legacy of the thousands of prisoners who had been sent
from eastern Poland in 1940. Although many had been amnestied in
1941 in order to join a new Polish national army being formed to fi ght
the Germans (the so-called Anders’ Army), many remained in the camp.
The number of non-prisoners in Vorkuta also increased rapidly be-
ginning in 1940. Whereas Vorkuta had a non-prisoner population of
approximately two thousand on 1 January 1940, by 1 January 1943,
this had grown to 6,500 people. 111 Because there was virtually no set-
tled indigenous population in the area, all of these non-prisoners were
connected to the camp complex in one way or another. Some of them
were camp offi cials who had been sent by the USSR NKVD from other
parts of the country or who came from within Komi ASSR. There were
now several hundred members of the camp militarized guards, who
were frequently transferred from other camps or recruited from urban
centers in central Russia. 112 But as had been the case in the 1930s, the
majority of the non-prisoner population in the early 1940s came from
the ranks of ex-prisoners.
More than half of the non-prisoners living in Vorkuta in the early
1940s had at some point been imprisoned in Vorkutlag or a nearby
camp. 113 One such former prisoner living in Vorkuta after release was
Vladimir Vasil’evich Zubchaninov. Arrested in March 1936, he was
sent to Vorkuta later that year to serve out a three-year sentence for
“counterrevolutionary activity.” 114 While a prisoner, he worked in the
planning section of Vorkutlag, then located in Vorkuta-Vom. In March
1939 his sentence ended, but he remained in Vorkuta as a “free” worker.
Describing his decision to remain in Vorkuta, he wrote, “In March 1939
I was to be released. There was no great joy in that. I could not go home
[to Moscow because of passport restrictions]. Further, I did not know
what had been going on there for the last two years, and whether home
still existed. I could not count on fi nding work in other places. It was
clear that for at least a year I would have to remain in Vorkuta. Which
is what I did.” Although he continued to work in the same position he

From the Margins to the Home Front 39
had occupied as a prisoner, he moved to barracks for non-prisoners and
ate in a separate cafeteria. 115 Over the course of the next six years he
worked as the deputy head of the planning department for Vorkutlag
in Vorkuta-Vom, as an economist in the Ust’-Usa regional subdivision
of Vorkutlag, and as an economist in the main camp administration in
Rudnik. In 1945 he was arrested again and sentenced to ten years for
allegedly preparing an uprising against Soviet power. 116
Another former prisoner who remained in Vorkuta was I. A. Duritskii,
who arrived in Vorkuta on a prisoner transport on 13 August 1938. 117
After working for two and a half years in mine no. 1 (“kapital’naia”),
mostly as a demolitions man, he was released on 13 May 1941. 118 Af-
ter his release, he continued to work in the mine as a member of a
tunneling brigade. Not only did Duritskii remain in Vorkuta until his
retirement in the 1960s, but he actually joined the Communist Party
in 1942. As he recalled in a letter addressed to the Vorkuta Regional
Museum in 1968, a member of the party bureau from mine no. 1 asked
him and two other former prisoners to join the party in December
1942. He responded with a reminder that they were former prisoners,
certain that this would be the end of the conversation. However, he was
told that they had nevertheless earned the honor of joining the party
through their hard work and self-discipline. Duritskii remained in the
Communist Party until long after he had retired and left Vorkuta. 119
Although some prisoners were indeed able to leave after release to
resettle elsewhere, the experiences of Duritskii and Zubchaninov were
common. 120 In the late 1930s and early 1940s Vorkutlag actively re-
cruited former prisoners to stay on after their release, particularly those
who had valuable skills. For example, on 25 March 1942 camp di-
rector Tarkhanov signed an order releasing seventeen prisoners from
imprisonment who belonged to “production and engineering-technical
personnel” who had distinguished themselves as “enterprising work-
ers.” The very same order spelled out that each of the former prison-
ers had decided to remain as “free workers.” 121 This was a common
strategy throughout the Gulag, and one that Tarkhanov’s successors
would continue. Prison camps such as Vorkutlag were constantly short
of qualifi ed specialists, and so they took any opportunity to retain valu-
able prisoners after they were released.
With increasing geographic concentration, more barbed wire sur-
rounding camp sections, and an increase in the non-prisoner population,

40 From the Margins to the Home Front
Vorkutlag became more clearly divided from surrounding settlements
in the early 1940s than it had been in the 1930s. But although “zoni-
fi cation” had progressed since the late 1930s, it still had not reached
all camp sections by the beginning of 1942. As the deputy head of the
Komi ASSR NKVD wrote in a report in February 1942, “a whole se-
ries of camp subdivisions completely lack a zone. [There are] the farms
Medvezhka, Khar’iaga with its subsections, Sivaia Maska, the subsec-
tions of the farm Novyi Bor and others, where prisoners are never un-
der guard.” 122 The result was that a signifi cant proportion of the prison
population, 2,743 prisoners, were living outside a camp zone, nearly
10 percent of the 28,588 total prisoners in Vorkutlag. 123 While most
of these prisoners were held in agricultural sections hundreds of kilo-
meters south of Rudnik, the presence of so many prisoners outside the
barbed wire clearly troubled offi cials in Syktyvkar and Moscow.
Gulag regulations at this time did allow for some exceptions to an
overall policy of strict isolation between prisoners and non-prisoners.
Prisoners could be granted passes to leave the area of the camp zone
and move outside it without a guard convoy. This category of prison-
ers was often referred to as bezkonvoinye , or “de-convoyed,” in camp
jargon. 124 Other prisoners were granted permission not only to move
unguarded outside the zone, but to also live outside it. Such prisoners
were in later decades called zazonniki, or “de-zoned.” 125 Strict regu-
lations had been in place since August 1939 to limit the use of both
categories. Both were only allowed in cases where it was necessitated
by the needs of production, and only if a range of security measures
were properly followed. For example, de-convoyed prisoners were only
allowed to travel on specifi c routes to and from work, and de-zoned
prisoners were not allowed to live near populated areas. No prison-
ers convicted of “counterrevolutionary” crimes were allowed to be
de-zoned, and only a few specifi c categories could be de-convoyed. 126
The regulations made it clear that exceptions were to be made only in
extraordinary circumstances.
The situation on the ground in Vorkutlag in the early 1940s tells a
different story. By early 1942, nearly 10,000 prisoners, approximately
one-third of the prisoner population, had been de-convoyed or de-zoned,
often in direct contradiction of the regulations. Clearly, the granting of
such privileges was far more routine than intended. Further, many of
these prisoners belonged to the groups that were categorically excluded

From the Margins to the Home Front 41
from being granted passes or being allowed to live outside the zone.
Over 4,500 de-convoyed prisoners, nearly half of the total in Vorkut-
lag, had been convicted of “counterrevolutionary” crimes. 127 The clear
fl outing of regulations took place even in Rudnik, the administrative
center of the camp complex, where the division between prisoners and
non-prisoners should have been the strictest. There were 116 prisoners
living outside the zone, which represented just under 3 percent of the
4,286 prisoners in the section. Of these de-zoned prisoners, nearly half
(57) had been convicted of “counterrevolutionary” crimes, including
espionage and terrorism. The vast majority of them had been granted
this status not for reasons of “production necessity,” but instead as a
privilege that went along with working in the camp administration.
Of the de-zoned prisoners in Rudnik, there were “only 3–4 production
workers, [including] two TsES [electricity-generating station] workers
who live in the zone of the TsES, and one mine worker.” 128 Thus, Vor-
kutlag under Tarkhanov not only violated Gulag regulations requiring
the enclosure of camp sections, but it also fl outed regulations meant
to strictly limit the number of prisoners moving unguarded or living
outside the zone.
Such lax security and lack of attention paid to the isolation of pris-
oners meant that interactions between prisoners and non-prisoners re-
mained common in the early 1940s. One oft-cited example of intimacy
between camp offi cials and prisoners was the phenomenon of prisoner
domestics. The practice of using prisoners as domestic workers was of-
fi cially forbidden by the central Gulag administration, at least as early
as July 1939. 129 Although a few cases of particularly intimate relations
between non-prisoners and their domestics were condemned by the
Vorkuta camp administration, the practice remained widespread. 130 In
fact, it was so common that camp director Tarkhanov issued instruc-
tions in February 1942 to regulate which prisoners could be used as
domestics, and how much they were to be paid. 131 Most of the top offi -
cials in the camp administration not only employed female prisoners in
their homes, but they also frequently chose prisoners who were highly
suspect in the eyes of the Soviet regime. One camp section head, for
example, employed a prisoner who had been convicted of spying for
Germany and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. The offi cial in
charge of guarding the camp’s food supply employed a Hungarian refu-
gee convicted of illegally crossing state borders. The deputy head of the

42 From the Margins to the Home Front
camp’s party organization, or politotdel, employed a German prisoner
convicted of counterrevolutionary Trotskyite activity. All were follow-
ing the example of camp director Tarkhanov, who himself employed a
prisoner sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment as a “family member
of a traitor of the motherland.” Overall, of 139 prisoners working as
domestics in February 1942, 88 had been convicted of “counterrevolu-
tionary” crimes. 132 Thus, the buildings in Rudnik where elite members
of the camp administration lived also housed prisoners considered to
be among the state’s most dangerous criminals.
The widespread use of counterrevolutionary prisoners as domestic
employees of the elite of the Vorkutlag administration was only the
most extreme example of the frequent interactions between the prisoner
and non-prisoner populations. As a letter sent from the acting director
of the Vorkutlag administration to all camp section chiefs on 9 March
1940 stated, “The proper revolutionary vigilance does not exist. Co-
habitation [sexual relationships] of the free staff with prisoners, [and]
everyday interactions, group drunkenness [between these two groups],
and other violations have been noted.” 133 Illicit interactions between
the prisoner and non-prisoner populations were frequently noted and
criticized, and the extreme cases could result in the fi ring or prosecu-
tion of camp offi cials. Yet they continued to be a common feature of
life in the camp complex and surrounding area. With escape unlikely,
given the harsh climate, the remoteness of Vorkutlag, and the lack of a
reliable transportation link to the “mainland,” relatively little attention
was paid to maintain constant surveillance of prisoners. Further, the
slow pace of “zonifi cation,” which owed perhaps as much to the inertia
of the camp administration as it did to shortages of barbed wire, wood,
and other supplies, indicated a lax attitude overall on the part of the
camp administration toward rules for prisoner isolation, particularly
those intended to keep counterrevolutionary prisoners away from the
civilian population and camp staff. Although the camp administration
periodically criticized the lax security in the camp, little was done to
actually improve it.
The decision in 1940 to greatly expand coal production in Vorkuta
and to accelerate the construction of a railroad to the camp placed an
enormous amount of pressure on both the prisoner and non-prisoner
populations of Vorkutlag. In order to meet the fantastically high goals
set by Stalin and Beriia, thousands of new prisoners were sent to the

From the Margins to the Home Front 43
camp. Those who were lucky enough to have their sentences expire
in the early 1940s were likely to remain in the area as non-prisoner
employees of the complex. As Vorkutlag became more geographically
focused and greater attention was paid to isolating prisoners from
non-prisoners, barbed wire fences went up around many of the camp
sections. However, none of this prevented the continued practice of al-
lowing thousands of prisoners to live or move freely outside the zone.
Prisoners and non-prisoners continued to interact on a daily basis in
ways that were offi cially forbidden and that caused some consterna-
tion among both local offi cials and those in the central Gulag admin-
istration who were responsible for ensuring that the camp followed
all regulations. The culture and practices of the camp were changing,
but much of the everyday existence of prisoners and non-prisoners re-
mained as it had been in the second half of the 1930s.
The outbreak of war with Germany on 21 June 1941 continued to
transform Vorkutlag. The pressures that had been building on the camp
administration and the prisoners to dramatically increase production
began to take on a more desperate edge almost immediately after
news of the German invasion reached the camp. According to Nikolai
Petrovich Volkov, a prisoner who had arrived with the wave of alleged
“Trotskyites” in 1936, life immediately became much more diffi cult
for prisoners. As he wrote, “With the beginning of the war the camp
regime tightened sharply. If previously brigades had gone to the mine
without convoy, then with the beginning of the war they were brought
by convoy. Among the free population a corresponding [propaganda]
program was carried out, extremely crudely, to increase vigilance, where
the camp population, excluding the ordinary criminals, were portrayed
as the ‘hot’ enemy reserve.” 134 Although security would remain surpris-
ingly lax during the fi rst six months of the war, by the beginning of
1942 an armed uprising in a remote section of Vorkutlag would put
increased pressure on the camp administration to guard prisoners more
closely and increase their isolation from non-prisoners.
Although the development of the Pechora coal basin had been con-
sidered a military priority since Tarkhanov’s meeting with Stalin and
Beriia in the spring of 1940, it was not until the beginning of actual

44 From the Margins to the Home Front
confl ict that the need for Vorkuta’s coal became acute. The rapid loss
of the Soviet Union’s western territories to the German army in the fi rst
months of the war meant that Vorkuta’s coal was desperately needed.
By the end of 1941, the German army had occupied virtually all of
Ukraine, thereby depriving the Soviet Union of approximately half of
its total coal production capacity. 135 Coal production in the fi rst six
months of 1942 was only one-third of what it had been during the
same period in 1941. Absolute shortages of coal were made worse by
the fact that the volume of rail freight also fell to one-third of its pre-
war levels. 136 After the fall of the Donbas in Ukraine and the Moscow
coal basin, Vorkuta was by far the closest coal supply to Leningrad,
which faced an almost complete blockade from September 1941 to
January 1944. Further, Vorkuta’s coal was needed to supply the Al-
lied ships landing in Murmansk to deliver aid under the “lend-lease”
program. 137 The general shortage of coal throughout the Soviet Union,
and in particular its desperate need in Leningrad, added a real sense of
urgency to plans for the expansion of the Vorkuta coal complex.
At the same time that the demand for coal suddenly increased, sup-
plies of food and other essential items began to decline sharply. The
food supply remained fairly steady throughout the fi rst year of the war,
probably a result of the fact that the camp was a military priority.
In 1942, forty-seven prisoners per thousand died, which was approxi-
mately twice the mortality rate in the general Soviet population in non-
combat areas, but only about one-fi fth of the mortality rate throughout
the Gulag. 138 But by the winter of 1942–43, Vorkutlag’s food supply
was already running critically short. Between October and December
1942, Vorkutlag received only one-quarter of the food it was allotted
by central plan. This brought about what camp director Tarkhanov de-
scribed as a “nearly catastrophic situation with the food for prisoners.”
As he wrote in his yearly report to his superiors, “Already in November
1942 . . . such essential foodstuffs as fi sh and sugar had disappeared,
by the end of the year there were no more groats, and because it was
used in place of groats, the use of fl our increased, even given low sup-
plies of fl our and grain. Already in January 1943 all the stores of fl our
and grain had been used up and the camp was under threat of ceasing
to give bread rations to the entire population. Only by grinding fod-
der and barley into fl our . . . were we able to bake bread.” 139 These
shortages affected the health of prisoners almost immediately: nearly

From the Margins to the Home Front 45
as many prisoners died in the last three months of 1942 as had during
the fi rst nine. 140 But the worst effects were not felt until the following
year. Three times as many prisoners would die over the course of 1943
as had in 1942, nearly 15 percent of the entire prisoner population.
The growing sense of desperation in the camp that was created by
the wartime atmosphere, the increased pressure to produce coal, and
the decreasing food supply, was further intensifi ed by orders to stop
releasing certain categories of prisoners. Although several thousand
Polish soldiers and offi cers were released from Vorkutlag in order to
join the Anders’ Army in 1941, for the remaining prisoners, the major-
ity of whom were “counterrevolutionaries,” the prospects of release
became much worse. On the day after the Nazi invasion, 22 June 1941,
an NKVD circular was sent via telegraph to all camp directors that
ordered them to “cease the release of counterrevolutionaries, bandits,
recidivists, and other dangerous criminals from camps, prisons, and
colonies.” 141 On 29 April 1942 the group of prisoners not to be released
was expanded to include citizens and residents of countries at war with
the USSR (independent of crime), “members of anti-Soviet political
parties and participants in bourgeois-nationalist counterrevolutionary
organizations,” citizens of the USSR belonging to nationalities of coun-
tries at war with the USSR (including Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia),
and immigrants from Bessarabia convicted of counterrevolutionary
crimes. 142 The most “dangerous” of the prisoners whose sentences ex-
pired during the war continued to be imprisoned as before. 143 In this
manner, approximately one thousand prisoners in Vorkutlag remained
in the camp after the expiration of their sentences over the course of the
war. 144 The less “dangerous” of the prisoners slated for release could
leave the zone upon the expiration of their sentences, but were forced
to remain in the surrounding area as exiles, which had not previously
been the case. 145 By the end of the war there would be nearly three
thousand such exiles in Vorkuta. 146 This policy not only prevented the
return of suspect elements to the Soviet “mainland,” it also prevented
the departure of a signifi cant proportion of Vorkutlag’s workforce at a
time when labor was desperately needed to meet the lofty goals set by
the central government.
Rising tensions among prisoners and non-prisoners came to a head
in unprecedented and unexpected fashion on 24 January 1942 when
an armed uprising broke out in a remote part of the camp. At 4 in

46 From the Margins to the Home Front
the afternoon, Mark Andreevich Retiunin, head of Lesoreid, a small
lumber-sorting outpost located hundreds of kilometers from the center
of Vorkutlag near the confl uence of the Usa and Pechora rivers, ordered
the guards to bathe at the section bathhouse. Taking advantage of their
absence, Retiunin and a small group of prisoners attacked and disarmed
the remaining four guards on duty, killing one and wounding another
in the process. After seizing the weapons in the guards’ small armory,
the rebels captured the remaining guards in the bathhouse and locked
them in a vegetable storehouse. 147 Retiunin and his co-conspirators
now opened the gates to the camp zone and invited the rest of the
prisoners to join them. Approximately half of the two hundred or so
prisoners in the camp section agreed, and the rebels proceeded to open
the camp storehouses to take food, equipment, and warm clothing that
had been stockpiled there. 148 One of the most remarkable acts of mass
resistance in the history of the Gulag, an elaborately planned armed
rebellion, had begun. 149
The rebels proceeded immediately to the town of Ust’-Usa, which
was the district center and an important stop on the river transporta-
tion route to both Vorkutlag and Sevpechlag. The group, which now
numbered somewhere around eighty men, attempted to capture the
city. 150 After cutting off the town’s outside telephone lines, they split
into smaller groups to attack several parts of the city. Although the reb-
els successfully captured the jail, port, and communications offi ce, they
were soon bogged down in a fi refi ght with the locals. The battle turned
decisively against the rebels when fi fteen militarized guards from the
nearby Polia-Kur’ia camp section of Sevpechlag arrived with hand-
held machine guns and forced the rebels to retreat from Ust’-Usa alto-
gether. 151 After their fi rst major engagement with government forces,
the rebels sustained signifi cant casualties: nine were killed, one was
wounded, forty were captured, and an additional twenty-one turned
themselves in. Among the residents of Ust’-Usa and camp guards who
had fought the rebels, fourteen had been killed and eleven wounded,
including a fi ve-year-old child hit by a stray bullet. 152 Their numbers
signifi cantly diminished, the remaining forty-one members of the rebel-
lion fl ed from Ust’-Usa on sleds.
The rebels headed south up the Pechora River, apparently hoping to
reach Kozhva, the nearest station on the Northern Pechora main line.
They stopped along the way to obtain supplies at the Kyzrasdi satellite

From the Margins to the Home Front 47
section of Vorkutlag, whose chief, Murmillo, himself a former prisoner
like Retiunin, agreed to help the rebels even though he declined to join
them. 153 Next they stopped in the village of Akis’ to ambush a guard
convoy that was transporting arms to Vorkutlag, netting themselves a
considerable quantity of fi rearms and ammunition. 154 The rebels then
proceeded to the village of Ust’-Lyzha, some 40 kilometers from Ust’-
Usa, where they obtained more supplies after disarming the local mi-
litia offi cer, leaving a receipt for the food and supplies that they took
from the local depot. 155 By listening to phone conversations at the local
post offi ce, the rebels learned that they were being pursued by govern-
ment forces and that their attempts to reach the railroad at Kozhva
were futile. 156 Thus, the rebels set off to the west on reindeer paths near
the Lyzha River, hoping to elude capture. 157
By this time the rebels were indeed being pursued by a large force
mobilized from nearby camp sections. During the attack on Ust’-Usa
on 24 January, the port radio offi ce had managed to inform the Komi
ASSR NKVD in Syktyvkar about the uprising. Republican authorities
had warned all camp sections and state reindeer farms in the area of the
rebellion and ordered them to assist in putting it down, and high-level
offi cials were sent to take control of the operation. By 27 January Beriia
had sent a telegram to all camp directors in the Soviet Union warning
them of the uprising, and sent orders to Syktyvkar for the rebellion to
be put down immediately. 158 One hundred twenty-fi ve camp guards
mobilized from nearby camp sections were dispatched to intercept the
rebels, and on 28 January the two sides fought a pitched battle on the
Lyzha River, some 70 kilometers west of Ust’-Lyzha. The battle resulted
in a victory for the rebels. Although casualties were more or less equal
on both sides, the guards were forced to withdraw after nearly half of
them began suffering from frostbite. 159 The rebels then split into several
small groups that headed in different directions.
With the arrival of authorities from Syktyvkar to take control of the
operation against the rebels on 28 January, the tide turned in favor of
the government, although it would take them some time to capture
the scattered groups of rebels. 160 The main group of eleven rebels, led
by Retiunin, was overtaken by government forces on the evening of
1 February, 175 kilometers from Ust’-Lyzha on the Malaia Terekhovaia
River, a tributary of the Lyzha. The battle between the rebels and gov-
ernment forces raged for nearly twenty-four hours, and it was not until

48 From the Margins to the Home Front
the afternoon of 2 February that the government forces claimed vic-
tory. In the end, three rebels were killed and two were captured. Six
of the rebels, including Retiunin, took their own lives rather than be
captured. 161 With the death and capture of most of the rebels, including
their leaders, the rebellion was considered “liquidated.” Indeed, deputy
Narkom NKVD Komi ASSR Simakov sent a report to Beriia on 12 Feb-
ruary 1942 claiming that the armed uprising had been put down and
all the rebels captured. 162 However, on 3–4 March 1942, the NKVD
received word of the existence of two additional bands of armed rebels,
both of which were soon apprehended. With the capture of these last
groups the Lesoreid uprising was declared over. During the previous
six weeks, nearly fi fty prisoners had been killed, as well as over thirty
members of the militarized guard that the rebels had encountered. 163
What is remarkable about this uprising is not only that it was armed,
but also that it was a rebellion of a camp section, not in a camp section.
The rebellion was in fact led by the administrative elite of Lesoreid.
Subsection chief Mark Andreevich Retiunin, himself a former prisoner,
was the apparent leader. Convicted of banditry in 1929 and sentenced
to ten years’ confi nement for participation in a bank robbery, he had
been recruited to run a camp section after his sentence expired. 164 It
was not unusual for former prisoners to occupy important positions
of authority in the Vorkutlag administration because of a shortage of
qualifi ed personnel, and fact Retiunin was one of four former prisoners
in charge of camp sections at this time. 165 He enjoyed an excellent repu-
tation as an able and loyal employee who had done his time working in
Vorkuta’s mines. 166 Even during the rebellion, Vorkutlag chief Tarkha-
nov expressed disbelief that this man had chosen to lead a rebellion and
continued to describe Retiunin in a complimentary fashion. 167 Retiunin
was not the only former prisoner to participate in the rebellion, as his
deputy, Afanasii Ivanovich Iashkin, was also a recently released pris-
oner who had done time for banditry.
The rebellion’s other leaders were prisoners working in the admin-
istration of Lesoreid. One was Aleksei Trofi movich Makeev, the for-
mer director of a major timber conglomerate in Komi who had been
arrested in 1938 as part of a case that brought down virtually the
entire political elite of Komi ASSR. 168 Two others, Ivan Matveevich
Zverev and Mikhail Vasil’evich Dunaev, were former military men. 169
I. S. Rykov, who apparently was in charge of supplies for the rebellion,

From the Margins to the Home Front 49
had been convicted of “counterrevolutionary activity” in 1938 and was
serving an eight-year sentence. 170 Aside from Retiunin and Iashkin, all
of the leaders had been convicted of “counterrevolutionary” crimes,
and all were between the ages of thirty and forty. At least half had been
members of the Communist Party, and all came from relatively elite
positions in Stalinist society. Although a few still had long sentences to
serve, most were expecting to be released within the year or had been
set free but remained in the camp because of the wartime regulations
noted above. 171 According to the subsequent NKVD investigation of
the rebellion, it had been planned and led by the camp section leader-
ship, with no dissenting voices among them.
The plotters maintained secrecy as they planned their uprising, ren-
dering it unlikely that many of the remaining two hundred prisoners
in the section had any prior knowledge of what was to take place.
However, once the rebel leaders disarmed the guards and threw open
the camp gates on 24 January, they were joined by as many as half
of the rank-and-fi le prisoners. According to the subsequent NKVD
investigation, approximately half of these participants were bytoviki
(convicted of “ordinary” crimes), whereas the other half had been con-
victed of “counterrevolutionary” crimes. Yet the size of the rebellion
shrank swiftly as many rank-and-fi le prisoners abandoned it after the
failure to capture Ust’-Usa. By the time the rebels retreated from Ust’-
Usa toward Kozhva, only forty-one men remained in the rebel force,
thirty-fi ve of whom were “counterrevolutionaries.” In addition to those
injured, killed, or captured in the failed raid, many chose to abandon it,
particularly from among the bytoviki. Such prisoners tended to serve
shorter sentences and therefore had much more to lose by continuing
to participate.
Although a fair amount is known about the rebel leaders and partici-
pants, it is far more diffi cult to determine what motivated them to take
up arms. The government case against the rebels, which was largely
based on the confession of the only rebel leader who was captured alive,
Afanasii Ivanovich Iashkin, stated that the rebellion was motivated by
a desire to start a prisoner uprising in the Russian Far North to aid
the German side in the war. 172 This testimony is hardly reliable, given
both the circumstances of his confession (which was likely fabricated
or coerced) and the fantastical things to which Iashkin “confessed.” For
example, the confession stated that among the rebels’ primary goals

50 From the Margins to the Home Front
were “the immediate development of private property in all sectors of
the economy, in industry and in agriculture” and the unifi cation of cap-
tured rebel territory with Germany or Finland. 173 While the Germans
did apparently land paratroopers in northeastern Komi ASSR in 1943
in an attempt to create a prisoner rebellion to disrupt the fl ow of coal
on the Northern Pechora main line, the idea that they somehow in-
fi ltrated the leadership of a remote camp subsection to foment revolt
during the fi rst winter of the war stretches the limits of credulity. 174 The
supposed plan to aid the German war effort was typical of the kinds of
plots “uncovered” by the NKVD during wartime.
On the other hand, the explanations offered in prisoner memoirs
are equally unbelievable. Because no prisoner eyewitnesses survived,
descriptions of the revolt from memoir sources are based largely on the
rumors of the uprising that spread throughout the camps in the area.
L. Gorodin, a prisoner who was transferred from Lesoreid to Kozhva
just before the rebellion broke out, claimed that the rebels intended to
commandeer a train and head for the front in order to fi ght the Ger-
mans. 175 This explanation, it should be noted, represents the mirror
image of the one provided in the government case. Zubchaninov, a for-
mer prisoner working in the Vorkutlag planning department in Rudnik
who was also well acquainted with some of the principal actors in the
revolt, wrote that the rebels intended to raise an army of prisoners and
“special settlers” to free everyone held in captivity or exile. 176 Both of
these explanations suggest that the actions of Retiunin and the other
rebels quickly became romanticized as word of the rebellion spread
throughout Vorkutlag and beyond. It is little wonder that the story of
the rebellion spread among the prisoners as a tale of tragic heroism—
while the vast majority of prisoners and non-prisoners could only look
at the worsening conditions in the camps with quiet desperation, a
small group of men had taken direct action, no matter how futile. 177
It is most likely that the rebels were motivated primarily by a grow-
ing sense of desperation. Just as it was apparent that living conditions
were likely to worsen rapidly during the war for all prisoners, those
running Lesoreid had particular reason to be concerned. Retiunin and
his co-conspirators undoubtedly knew of plans to eliminate the Leso-
reid camp division entirely and transfer the prisoners and personnel to
Kozhva or elsewhere in Vorkutlag. Once the railroad was completed,
sections that had existed along the river routes would be eliminated in

From the Margins to the Home Front 51
favor of those along the new rail link. The prisoners and non-prisoners
who led the rebellion had lived in positions of relative privilege in the
context of wartime Vorkutlag, including special barracks, improved
rations, and according to the subsequent NKVD investigation of the
uprising, frequent drinking and cardplaying. 178 If the camp section
were eliminated, it was unlikely that any of the administrative group,
including Retiunin, would have found themselves in such positions of
relative privilege, authority, and autonomy. The rebellion’s leaders ap-
parently also believed that the camp was in for another round of mass
shootings along the lines of those that had taken place during 1937–
1938, executions that they had heard about through the camp rumor
mill. 179 Fearing a general worsening of conditions in Vorkutlag, the end
of their relatively privileged existence in Lesoreid, and perhaps mass
executions, Retiunin and his co-conspirators decided to fi ght for their
own freedom and likely die in the process, rather than wait to be shot,
starved, or worked to death. In many respects, the rebels were acting
as bandits often do, they were acting to resist the expansion of central
state power, in this case more direct control from the central camp ad-
ministration in Rudnik. 180
The effects of the armed rebellion by the Lesoreid subdivision rever-
berated throughout the wartime Gulag. Upon learning of the rebellion
on 27 January 1942, Beriia sent a telegram to all prison camp direc-
tors and republican, regional, and local NKVD departments giving a
brief account of the uprising and ordering that security be increased
signifi cantly. 181 A criminal investigation into the conspiracy behind the
uprising was immediately launched. By the time it had concluded on
16 September 1942, sixty-eight prisoners had been convicted of vari-
ous crimes, fi fty of whom were sentenced to death. 182 In addition to
the criminal investigation, the Komi ASSR NKVD was charged with
determining the circumstances that had made the uprising possible.
This investigation revealed the systematic violation of a whole series
of Gulag regulations, particularly those calling for the strict separation
of prisoners from non-prisoners, and steps were immediately taken to
rectify this. The camp guards were put on a state of “full battle readi-
ness” and extra care was taken to guard weaponry. Camp section and
subsection chiefs who were ex-prisoners convicted of counterrevolu-
tionary crimes or banditry were removed from their posts. Orders were
given for all of the camp sections that had not yet been “zonifi ed” to

52 From the Margins to the Home Front
be enclosed by the end of February 1942. In April, several offi cials in
Vorkutlag and surrounding camps were fi red for their negligence and
incompetence, including no less a fi gure than A. I. Zakhmalin, the head
of the Vorkutlag politotdel. It appears that only one Vorkutlag offi cial
was criminally charged in connection with the revolt, an NKVD opera-
tive who had worked in Lesoreid until only a few months before the
uprising and who had allegedly ignored information from informants
of what was being planned. 183
Vorkutlag director Tarkhanov received a surprisingly light punish-
ment, a “placing in view” ( postanovka na vid ), little more than a slap
on the wrist. 184 Yet it was clear that his days as Vorkutlag director
were numbered. The fact that the rebellion had taken place under his
watch and had been led by a subsection chief that he had personally
appointed was yet another black mark against a man whose stock was
rapidly declining in Moscow. Although coal production would more
than double between 1941 and 1942, Vorkutlag would fall short of
its plan for 1942. 185 Given Vorkuta’s perceived importance to the war
effort, failure to meet plan targets would not be tolerated for long.
Indeed, in early 1943 Tarkhanov would be replaced as director of the
camp complex.
Around the same time that the Lesoreid uprising was being put down
with brutal force, another version of the story of Vorkuta’s foundation
was being formulated. This alternative narrative went as follows: Vor-
kuta’s coal had not been discovered in 1930 by Georgii Chernov, a ge-
ologist from Moscow, but had in fact been uncovered nearly a decade
earlier by a local Komi hunter named Viktor Iakovlevich Popov. As
Popov himself had related in a letter sent to Politburo member Lazar
Kaganovich in August 1940, he had found a black rock on the banks
of the Vorkuta River in 1921, long before Chernov or anyone else had
arrived from Moscow. After noting how well it burned in a fi re, he
sent an entire sack of the stuff to the Kremlin in Moscow. Although
his letter to Kaganovich does not appear to have reached its intended
recipient, Popov’s story did catch the attention of Gulag offi cials. After
determining that Popov’s claim had merit (on what basis is not known),
it was passed on to the Komi Sovnarkom, which awarded the hunter

From the Margins to the Home Front 53
1,000 rubles. 186 Further, Popov’s version of events was adopted as the
offi cial story of Vorkuta’s foundation. When an article about the his-
tory of Vorkuta appeared on the front page of Pravda in 1946, entitled
“Northern Lights,” it was Popov’s sack of coal, which was received by
Stalin in the Kremlin in 1919 (not 1921, as Popov’s letter had stated)
that marked the opening of the Pechora coal basin. 187
While there is no document clearly explaining why Popov’s story was
suddenly thought to be more compelling than Chernov’s, it is not diffi -
cult to suppose why the authorities seized on it. If coal had been discov-
ered in 1921 (or 1919) rather than 1930, it placed an additional decade,
and another layer of myth, between the discovery of coal and the con-
struction of the prison camp on the banks of the Vorkuta River. Gone
were the days of the early 1930s when the Soviet press spoke openly
about its prison camps and even bragged about them as inter national
models, as had been the case with the White Sea Canal, which had been
immortalized in the book Belomor. 188 Camps were now shrouded in of-
fi cial secrecy, especially once war broke out with Germany. The Popov
story was also appealing in that it rendered the discovery of coal as a
local, national discovery of the Komi people. In this regard, it fi t well
with the anti-imperialist rhetoric of the Soviet empire, the idea that the
Bolsheviks did not oppress the non-Russian peoples, but allowed them
true national self-realization within the Soviet system. 189 Chernov’s ver-
sion of the events may simply have smacked too much of colonialism,
especially given the fact that his expedition had been part of an effort
to explore the region that had begun before 1917, in the bad old impe-
rialist days of the Russian Empire.
In many important respects, the substitution of one myth of discov-
ery for another symbolizes the transformation that Vorkuta underwent
from 1930 until 1942. The decision to send prisoners there to begin
building a coal-mining settlement in 1931 had been explicitly conceived
as a colonial project by many offi cials in the upper echelons of the
Soviet party-state, especially Genrikh Iagoda. In the early 1930s, Vor-
kuta had been discussed publicly and privately as a colony, with some
of its prisoners offi cially classifi ed as “colonists.” 190 Yet this changed
dramatically in 1936. Not only did discussions of Vorkuta disappear
for a time from the public record, but the idea of using the Gulag as
an explicit tool of colonization also fell by the wayside. Vorkuta now
became an important part of the regime’s battle against its perceived

54 From the Margins to the Home Front
political enemies, the destination for thousands of “counterrevolution-
ary” prisoners who began to fl ood the Gulag system in the middle of
the decade. After the bloodletting of the Great Terror, which saw hun-
dreds of prisoners in Vorkuta killed in mass executions, the camp was
spun off into its own administrative entity. In 1940 Stalin and Beriia
decided that the area’s coal was of great strategic importance, so an-
other wave of expansion began as coal production began to ramp up.
With the outbreak of war with Germany in June 1941, Vorkuta became
an integral part of the war effort. It was no longer considered a colony,
but rather an important part of the Soviet home front, soon to be con-
nected to the national rail network by the Northern Pechora main line,
at the cost of thousands of lives.
In the process, Vorkutlag had undergone an enormous transforma-
tion. The fi rst small group of prisoners had been brought there in the
summer of 1931, but within a decade it had become a sprawling camp
complex with nearly thirty thousand prisoners. While it had been part
of the massive Ukhtpechlag complex for most of the 1930s, it was now
a separate camp with its own administration. Over time, the Vorkuta
camp complex had become increasingly geographically concentrated in
the area surrounding coal mines in Rudnik. By the early 1940s, many
subsidiary enterprises, such as farms and transportation waypoints,
had been spun off into other camps. Perhaps most important, the divi-
sions between the camp complex and the surrounding settlements had
become increasingly better defi ned over time. Whereas in the fi rst half
of the 1930s there had been virtually no defi ned borders between the
territory of the camp and areas inhabited by non-prisoners, by the early
1940s virtually all of the sections in Vorkutlag had been enclosed in
barbed wire, creating what appeared to be a clear separation of space
between the “inside” and the “outside.” As we shall see in the follow-
ing chapters, such borders were by no means impermeable, but the fact
that they existed at all represented a remarkable change from the situ-
ation in the early 1930s.
The armed rebellion of the Lesoreid subdivision in early 1942 was,
in many respects, the last gasp of Vorkuta’s existence as an outpost.
Whatever goals have been ascribed to the rebels by police offi cials,
memoirists, and historians, it is clear that they were reacting against
changes that were transforming the camp and, as a result, their every-
day lives. The fact that the rebellion broke out in a remote satellite

From the Margins to the Home Front 55
section and that it was led by the elite of that section, including both
prisoners and non-prisoners, suggests that it was a reaction against
the increased tensions of wartime and to the changes that many feared
were on the horizon. Tightened security, increased geographic concen-
tration, and more clearly defi ned borders would put an end to many
aspects of the relatively privileged existence that some prisoners and
non-prisoners had enjoyed during the 1930s and early 1940s. In this
respect, the rebellion was an attempt by those on the margins of the
camp to resist the extension of greater control by its center. But as war
with Germany continued to rage, conditions would continue to dete-
riorate in Vorkutlag, intensifying the suffering of Vorkuta’s growing
prisoner population.

2 Saving Leningrad,
Defi ning Vorkuta
A Camp and City at War
ON 7 AUGUST 1943, “a demonstration of the workers of Vorkuta”
took place in honor of an extraordinary event. Vorkuta was sending a
train laden with coal to blockaded Leningrad, “as a gift to the work-
ers of the city of Lenin.” After speeches by various mine personnel,
deputy politotdel chief Sukhin read a letter “from the miners of the
polar region . . . that had been unanimously approved and signed by
delegations from all parts of Vorkutstroi.” 1 By August 1943, the people
of Leningrad were about to begin their third year of a horrible siege,
virtually cut off from the rest of the Soviet Union by the German army.
But since the Leningrad blockade had been partially relieved by the
Red Army in January 1943, some supplies were now able to reach the
city by rail. 2 Vorkutlag now played a key role in supplying the city,
because the Pechora coal basin was the closest source of coal that had
not been occupied or destroyed by the Germans. The description of
this August demonstration, which appeared in the newspaper of the
Vorkutlag politotdel, Zapoliarnaia kochegarka (The polar stoker), was
fi lled with obvious euphemism. Although the speechmakers were non-
prisoners, most of the “miners” whom they claimed to represent were
prisoners extracting coal under compulsion. Vorkutstroi, the name of
the nominally separate entity responsible for building the area’s coal
mines, was used instead of Vorkutlag, suggesting somehow that the

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 57
coal was being mined by a civilian entity rather than by a Gulag enter-
prise. The “gift” of coal was hardly a gift at all, since those who were
“giving” it had little choice in the matter. 3 In fact, the prisoners of Vor-
kutlag were suffering and dying in unprecedented numbers in order to
send fuel to Leningrad.
The public demonstration and the shipment of coal to Leningrad
carried important symbolic weight. As was the practice throughout
the Soviet Union, public demonstrations and descriptions of them in
the press were important for defi ning the proper place of individuals,
groups, and places in the Soviet universe of meaning. 4 When a short
news item appeared two weeks later in Pravda describing the arrival
of the shipment, this signaled that something important was taking
place. 5 On a symbolic level, Vorkuta would not be a far-fl ung outpost
tenuously connected to the Soviet mainland much longer. Its link with
Leningrad gave it a location in the public understanding of Soviet geog-
raphy. But Vorkuta’s contribution to Leningrad and the war effort did
more than begin to defi ne the city symbolically—it also led to concrete
transformations of Vorkutlag that would have signifi cant impact on the
lives of tens of thousands of people, both in the short and long term.
The Second World War, and Vorkuta’s participation in the effort to win
it, would prove transformative for the camp complex.
This chapter examines Vorkutlag from 1943, when the Pechora coal
basin became an integral part of the Soviet war effort, to 1947, a year
that represented the divide between immediate postwar reconstruction
and attempts at a “return to normalcy” across the Soviet Union. 6 It
examines the important changes that followed Vorkuta’s integration
into the wartime economy. It explores how the prisoner population,
and what this population experienced, was altered by the war. Not
only did the numbers of prisoners rapidly grow, but who the prisoners
were also changed. A massive construction boom, the likes of which
the city would not see again until the 1960s and 1970s, combined with
wartime shortages of food and supplies to create some of the most
brutal conditions in the history of Soviet forced labor. For the tens of
thousands of new prisoners who were shipped to Vorkuta from 1943
to 1947, overwork, disease, and starvation made survival increasingly
diffi cult.
The war brought with it not just a massive expansion of population,
construction, and industry, but also the beginning of a fundamental

58 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
shift in the confi guration of both space and identity in Vorkuta. Just
a few months after the triumphant shipment of coal from Vorkutlag
to Leningrad, a separate city of Vorkuta was offi cially created. A new
camp director, Mikhail Mitrofanovich Mal’tsev, who replaced Tarkha-
nov in March 1943, oversaw the beginnings of a nominally separate
civilian settlement. Although Mal’tsev ruled Vorkutlag and Vorkuta us-
ing military discipline, he was also a quintessential Soviet patron. Culti-
vating patron-client relations with members of the artistic and technical
intelligentsia from among the prisoner and non-prisoner populations,
he oversaw the construction of public spaces and a monumental ar-
chitectural ensemble for the new city. At a time of desperate shortages
and deprivation, valuable resources were expended on the pet projects
of the new director. The war also delivered a population for the new
city, as thousands of released prisoners, exiles, and members of suspect
populations became the new residents of Vorkuta.
In theory, at least, there were now two Vorkutas. There was the
world of the camp, where prisoners experienced profound depriva-
tion and brutality. There was now the world of the city as well, which
boasted a park, boulevards, and striking neoclassical architecture.
Barbed wire and guard towers separated these two worlds from each
other. Nevertheless, divisions between camp and city, and prisoners and
non-prisoners, remained contested and ambiguous. Borders between
the zone and the outside remained porous. The social hierarchy, which
in theory placed all non-prisoners above prisoners, remained complex
and at times contradictory. Nowhere was this uncertainty surround-
ing space and status divisions more apparent than in the case of the
Vorkuta Musical Drama Theater, which will be examined in the fi nal
section of this chapter. Founded in 1943 by Mal’tsev to provide escap-
ist entertainment for non-prisoner elites, the nature of the theater, its
company, and its performances challenged the strict divisions between
the inside and the outside of the camp.
Edward Buca arrived in Vorkutlag in late 1945. A Pole who had
resisted both the Nazis and the Soviets during the war, he had been sen-
tenced to twenty years’ hard labor for the attempted assassination of
a Polish communist. After a thirty-three-day train journey from L’vov,

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 59
he arrived on the outskirts of Vorkutlag. He described the scene he wit-
nessed in memoirs, stating, “When we stopped that morning the scene
I could see through our tiny window reminded me a little of the coal
mining district in Poland’s Silesia: the wooden towers at the pit heads,
piles of coal or slag between them, administration buildings, and stacks
of timber. Farther away there were hills, and it was only the wooden
towers that showed there were mines there too. The snow covered all
the roofs.” 7 What Buca saw that fi rst morning was a vast and rapidly
expanding coal-mining complex. What he did not yet see, but would
soon become all too familiar with, was the barbed wire, the guard tow-
ers, the barracks, and the guards. Buca, like tens of thousands of other
prisoners who arrived in Vorkuta by train from 1943 to 1947, would
pay the price for Vorkuta’s contribution to the efforts of total war.
The massive expansion of Vorkutlag and its prisoner population was
driven both by a fi erce demand for coal and an increased supply of pris-
oners. The camp, now subordinated to the GULGMP (Chief Admin-
istration of Camps for Metallurgical Plants and Mines), was charged
with meeting the Soviet economy’s, and in particular Leningrad’s, des-
perate need for coal, which resulted in a massive expansion of mining
operations. 8 In 1943 there were six mines in operation in the Vorkut-
lag, but soon there would be many more. According to plans made
by the State Defense Committee, ten additional mines would be built
beginning in 1944. 9 By early 1948, the frenzied construction effort had
begun to bear fruit: there were twelve mines operating at full capacity,
and eleven additional mines in various phases of construction. 10 Over
that same period of time, coal production had tripled, from 1.5 million
tons to 4.6 million tons per year. 11 Vorkutlag’s coal output was indeed
of vital importance to Leningrad. In 1943–1944 Vorkuta supplied the
majority of Leningrad’s coal, and it would continue to be a major sup-
plier after the war. 12 The fast pace of growth in coal production also
meant that Vorkutlag had become a nationally signifi cant source of
coal. Whereas in 1940 it had produced less than 0.2 percent of the
Soviet Union’s yearly output of bituminous coal, by 1945 its share of
national production had increased to nearly 3 percent. 13
As demand for coal increased, so did the supply of prisoners allo-
cated to work in the mines. After the victory at Stalingrad in Febru-
ary 1943, the Red Army began to reconquer territory and march west,
in the process subjecting new populations to the system of exile and

60 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
imprisonment. Many former Soviet POWs, civilians suspected of col-
laborating with the Germans, and rebels accused of resisting the Soviet
takeover of the western borderlands were swept into the Gulag. 14 It
was largely members of these new categories of prisoners, convicted
most often of offenses like treason and war crimes, who made up the
new, much larger population of Vorkutlag. 15 In fact, the expansion of
the prisoner population in Vorkuta from 1943 to 1947 was nothing
short of breathtaking. Whereas there had been just over 25,000 prison-
ers at the end of 1943, by the beginning of 1947 this number had more
than doubled, to just over 60,000 prisoners. 16 The rate of growth is all
the more impressive when one considers that at the same time that tens
of thousands of prisoners were being brought to Vorkuta, there was
also a high rate of mortality, release, and transfer. In fact, more than
75,000 prisoners arrived in Vorkuta over these three years, at the same
time that nearly 42,000 departed (table 2.1). This means that not only
did the size of the prisoner population more than double, but it turned
over completely as well.
Of course, neither the increased demand for coal nor the expanded
supply of prisoners could have touched off such explosive growth in
Vorkutlag without a reliable transportation link with the Soviet Union’s
major urban centers. The Northern Pechora main line, which had been
completed early in the war at the cost of many thousands of lives,
fi nally made it possible for people, coal, and supplies to be shipped
in and out of the camp year round. In 1943, the traffi c in goods and
people reached new milestones, with over thirty thousand prisoners
traveling by train in and out of the camp, and over 1 million tons of
coal shipped to customers. 17
Table 2.1. Net change in the prisoner population of Vorkutlag,
1943 1944 1945 1946 1947
Arrived 10,107 22,630 28,784 25,924 11,094
Departed 12,461 9,468 17,024 16,184 8,925
Net Change −2,354 13,162 11,760 9,740 2,169
Source: GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 400, l. 6; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 416, ll. 5–6; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 434, ll. 5–5a; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 450, ll. 5–6; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 1280, ll. 5–6.

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 61
The new prisoners who arrived by railroad were different from their
predecessors. In a striking change from the 1930s, most were not Rus-
sians. The majority of the new prisoners, like Edward Buca, came from
the western borderlands of the Soviet Union: Ukraine, the Baltics, Be-
larus, and Poland. In 1944 alone, the number of Ukrainians held in
Vorkutlag increased by nearly 10,000, from just over 11 percent to
27 percent of the population. Also noteworthy was the increase in the
number of Lithuanian prisoners, which went from just 167 (0.4 per-
cent) on 1 January 1945 to nearly 6,000 (11.6 percent) a year later. 18
By the beginning of 1946, Russian prisoners made up less than half
of the prisoner population, a situation that would remain for the next
decade. The overwhelming majority of the new prisoners had been con-
victed of treason, and so by the beginning of 1948 there were over
35,000 prisoners in Vorkutlag (56.96 percent of the total) serving time
for this crime. 19 They were also serving longer sentences than their pre-
decessors. It was now increasingly common for prisoners to be serving
sentences of ten and fi fteen years in length. 20 If the statistically average
prisoner in 1942 had been a Russian serving a fi ve-year sentence for
“anti-Soviet agitation,” by 1946, he was a Ukrainian serving a fi fteen-
year sentence for treason.
Ramped up demand for coal and an expanded supply of prisoners
combined to make the lives of prisoners held in Vorkutlag incredibly
“cheap.” With trainloads of prisoners arriving almost daily, and de-
mand from Moscow to produce more and more coal, there was little
incentive to ensure that prisoners maintained their ability to work,
let alone survive. Even the new camp director, Mal’tsev, apparently
confi ded as much to Leonid Agranovich, a screenwriter who visited
Vorkuta in 1946 to research a screenplay he was writing. According
to Agranovich’s description of his fi rst meeting with Mal’tsev, the fol-
lowing conversation took place: “[Mal’tsev began] ‘So, you’re going to
write—pause—about perekovka [reforging]?’ (On that day the radio
had played a program about the construction of the Belomor canal.)
In response I muttered something incomprehensible. [Mal’tsev replied]
‘That’s right,’ the general snorted and added measuredly. ‘This is a
camp. Our task is the slow murder of people.’” 21 If Mal’tsev truly said
this, it was a remarkably accurate assessment of the camp, although
the destruction of human life was hardly “slow.” In 1943, 147 prison-
ers per thousand died, more than one out of every ten. This was nearly

62 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
triple the rate of the previous year, a startling refl ection of the tragically
poor living and working conditions. Mortality remained high through-
out the rest of the war, falling to 97 deaths per thousand in 1944 and
86 deaths per thousand in 1945. By 1946 mortality had stabilized, fall-
ing to 28 deaths per thousand. Prisoners in Vorkutlag were still twice as
likely to die as the general Soviet population, but the worst conditions
of war had passed. 22
What caused such high rates of mortality? Working conditions were
certainly one element that made Vorkutlag so deadly. Edward Buca,
who worked in a brigade in 1945 digging a mine shaft, relates just how
tough the conditions were. Six men working in a pit used crowbars and
sledgehammers to extend a shaft that was 4 meters square down to a
depth of approximately 50 meters. While a demolition specialist was
called in to blast through layers of rock, the six men had to dig their
way through permanently frozen soil, sand, and slate. According to
Buca, after a ten-hour shift it was typical to have made only eighteen
holes in the frozen soil. At this rate, it took months to dig a shaft for a
mine that was relatively shallow. 23 It was not uncommon for prisoners
like Buca to work outside in the winter without proper clothing for sev-
eral hours on end, at risk of exposure and frostbite. 24 Those working
underground in the mines, like Elena Markova, who began serving her
term in Vorkuta in the summer of 1944, had to contend with different
risks. As she wrote,
I will never forget my fi rst descent into a mine . . . the guards stopped
us in front of a black hole. We put a miner’s kerosene lamp over a pad-
ded jacket, a lamp whose twinkling yellowish light still illuminated
nothing. With a push in the spine each of us was shoved underground.
We literally groped our way down a narrow inclined tunnel . . . fi nally
we reached the mine gallery. The men were sent to the coal face, the
women to the chutes and conveyors. My fi rst job in the mine was to
push the coal on the conveyors . . . with a shovel. I, as a rule, did not
have the strength to cope with this task, and piles of coal quickly grew
which threatened to fi ll the passageway and bury me. The brigadier
(a criminal) ran to me and began to beat me. But because this action
could not stop the piles of coal growing to frightening heights, he was
forced to shovel them himself. 25
Brutal work environments such as these quickly led to the physical and
mental exhaustion of the prisoners.

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 63
Wartime food shortages also greatly contributed to the rise in mor-
tality in Vorkutlag. As was the case across the Soviet Union, offi cial
food norms and rations were cut during the war, with agricultural pro-
duction down and much food being diverted to feed the Red Army. 26
Food supplies in Vorkutlag reached their lowest point in the winter
of 1942–43, when incoming food shipments were drastically reduced.
Even though Vorkutlag began to receive more food in 1943 and 1944,
most prisoners continued to live on the cusp of starvation. 27 In 1944
director Mal’tsev wrote in his yearly report to his superiors, “There
were days when Vorkuta had enough fl our literally for one day, several
times for fi ve or six days the entire population was given bread on a
reduced norm . . . this bread was baked by substituting oats and corn
fl our, for several weeks the prisoner population received no fat [or]
meat.” 28 Even for prisoners who were used to receiving just enough
food to survive, the results of the shortages were palpable. Markova
describes a typical meal from the summer of 1944, after the food situa-
tion had already improved somewhat: mushy kasha, balanda (a watery
soup) with turnips and fi sh heads, a few pieces of cooked capelin (an
Arctic fi sh related to smelt), and bread. She does not recall seeing meat,
fats, or milk products until at least 1947. 29
One of the main reasons why the food situation was so catastrophic
in Vorkutlag was that the camp, like everywhere else on the Soviet
home front, was not supplied with adequate food by the central distri-
bution network. 30 Throughout the Soviet Union, Soviet citizens relied
on local supplies to make up the difference between offi cial rations
and dietary needs, including subsidiary farms attached to enterprises,
urban garden plots, and the private plots of collective farmers. 31 In the
Arctic, poor soil, lack of rainfall, and an extraordinarily short growing
season all combined to make it quite unlikely that Vorkutlag could rely
on local food supplies to make up the difference for the prisoner and
non-prisoner populations. Even though nearly 9,000 tons of vegetables
and tubers were grown locally in 1943, nearly three times the previous
year’s harvest, this was not enough to prevent hunger, starvation, and a
sharp increase of disease in Vorkutlag. 32 Both infectious diseases, such
as typhus, and diseases caused by vitamin defi ciencies, such as scurvy,
fl ourished among the permanently weakened prisoner population.
It bears remembering that certain groups in the prisoner population
faced additional risks that threatened their chances of survival. Female

64 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
prisoners, who made up between 5 and 15 percent of the camp popu-
lation during these years, were often victims of sexual violence at the
hands of camp offi cials. 33 Given the extraordinary verticality of power
relations in Vorkutlag, refusing the advances of offi cials lowered pris-
oners’ chances of survival. Elena Markova describes a case from 1946,
when a camp administrator picked her out of a group of newly arrived
female prisoners, calling her forward out of a column of prisoners.
Soon after, a guard brought her to this offi cial’s offi ce. The conversation
began innocently enough, with the young offi cial remarking on how
both of them came from the same city (Kiev), and that he had decided
on this basis to spare her a job assignment in the mine. Then, the of-
fi cial invited her into the adjoining room for “dinner.” The exchange
turned sour when he told her to undress and Markova fi rst hesitated
and then began to retreat. As she writes, “Not even a trace remained
of his good will. His face took on an evil look and broke out in red
splotches. . . . I moved toward the exit . . . he suddenly burst out into
evil laughter. [He said,] ‘And I am supposed to prostrate myself in front
of this creature of hard labor! You haven’t yet understood, perhaps,
that you are a complete nonentity, worse than a slave, that whatever
I want, I can do to you! I could shoot you right now like a wild dog.
Nothing would happen to me, do you hear, I wouldn’t have to answer
for it . . . but I’m not going to soil my hands with you! I’m going to
send you to do such a job that you’ll die within a few days!’” In fact,
Markova was immediately transferred to the most diffi cult job in the
mine: to carry beams meant for tunnel supports to the coal face. 34 This
vivid example illustrates the violent way in which camp offi cials preyed
on female prisoners. 35
The sharp increase in prisoner mortality was not just caused by food
shortages, overwork, sexual predation, and general neglect. It was also
the result of a deliberate effort to increase the punishment for prison-
ers considered to be guilty of the most heinous crimes. In April 1943, a
new toughened regime was introduced in the Soviet justice system for
“German-Fascist criminals, spies, traitors, and their accomplices.” In
cases where prisoners were found guilty of crimes normally subject to
the death penalty, they could instead be sentenced to ten to twenty years
of imprisonment in the new enhanced regime. 36 Such prisoners were to
be housed in separate barracks that had barred windows, were locked
at night, and were located in spaces physically divided from the rest of

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 65
the camp zone. Strict limits were placed on their ability to correspond
with the outside world. They were assigned only the most diffi cult jobs,
with a working day one hour longer than that of other prisoners. Most
infamously, they were required to wear numbers on their clothing. 37
The name that was chosen for this new prisoner regime, katorga , had
special signifi cance, as it was the name for an especially hated regime
of hard labor practiced in the Tsarist era to which Stalin himself had
been subject. 38
Katorga was not widely introduced throughout the Gulag. 39 Rather,
those sentenced to the regime were sent to only four camps, of which
Vorkutlag was one. Initially, 10,000 katorzhane (as prisoners subject to
katorga were called) were to be sent there to work in the construction
of new coal mines and other underground work, but actual numbers
soon surpassed this quota, reaching 18,158 in 1946, 24,663 in 1947,
and 27,402 in 1950. 40 This last fi gure accounts for over a third of all
prisoners held in the Vorkuta camp complex, meaning that the katorga
experience was a common one among Vorkuta’s prisoners. This was
fairly unusual for the Gulag as a whole, and according to one histo-
rian’s estimate, nearly half of all katorga prisoners in the Soviet Union
were held in Vorkuta. 41 The high preponderance of katorga prisoners
in Vorkuta lasted into the early 1950s, confi rming the camp complex’s
status as a holding place for those considered to be the most dangerous
criminals in the Soviet Union.
Given that they were more harshly treated than other prisoners,
katorzhane were much more likely to die. In 1944, more than one
out of every three prisoners subject to this regime did not survive, an
absolutely staggering death rate. In such conditions, many prisoners
suffered from absolute desperation. In her memoirs, Elena Markova
summed up her existence in katorga, writing, “My reality was so fright-
ening, that it seemed impossible for me to survive even one day. And I
was looking at a fi fteen-year term.” 42 Camp administrators who were
responsible for enforcing the new regime understood this as well. Even
one of the highest-ranking offi cials in the Gulag, Deputy Commissar of
the NKVD Chernyshev, admitted in 1945 that “the experience of work
with katorzhane in the Vorkuta coal camp shows that those sentenced
to katorga labor for fi fteen to twenty years, in the conditions of the
special regime for katorzhane, lose the perspective needed to endure
until the end of their sentence.” 43 In the social hierarchy of wartime

66 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
Vorkutlag, these prisoners occupied the lowest position, and thus they
were the most vulnerable and least likely to survive this period of rapid
expansion and widespread shortages.
The brutality of life in Vorkutlag during wartime was undoubtedly
increased by the strict policies of its director, Mikhail Mitrofanovich
Mal’tsev, who was personally chosen by NKVD chief Lavrentii Beriia
to run Vorkuta after distinguishing himself for commanding sapper
forces during the battle of Stalingrad. 44 Mal’tsev’s military experience
commended him to his superiors in the NKVD, who saw Vorkuta’s
coal as vital to the war effort. Further, his skills as an engineer gave
him practical expertise that his predecessors had clearly lacked. From
March 1943 he sat atop the administrative hierarchy in Vorkuta, serv-
ing both as the director of Vorkutlag and the chief of the area’s indus-
trial trust, Vorkutstroi, and its successor organization, Vorkutaugol’
(KVU). 45 For nearly four years, he played a central role in the lives of
tens of thousands of prisoners and non-prisoners. In fact, Mal’tsev put
a personal stamp on virtually every aspect of life for prisoners and non-
prisoners alike.
There is little doubt that Mal’tsev brought with him an increasing
emphasis on discipline consistent with his military background and the
context in which he found himself, running a camp complex at a time
of total war. Upon his arrival in April, Mal’tsev wasted little time enact-
ing changes to make Vorkutlag a more effective part of the Soviet war
machine. 46 One of the very fi rst orders he signed as camp director, on
3 May 1943, forbade any department head or deputy head from leav-
ing work during working hours without his explicit permission. 47 This
relatively minor change was soon followed by other, more substan-
tive orders. As Vladimir Vasil’evich Zubchaninov, a former prisoner
who worked closely with Mal’tsev, wrote, “[After Mal’tsev arrived] a
twelve-hour working day was established for prisoners and a ten-hour
day for non-prisoners. As far as his closest circle, it had to ‘conduct
battle’ both day and night. At the end of each day Mal’tsev conducted
a dispatcher’s report. Each mine manager had to report, via radio, how
the day had gone, what was needed, and how they had prepared for the
next day. This continued until two or three in the morning, sometimes

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 67
four. The mine managers feared the dispatcher’s reports like school-
children were afraid of tests.” 48 Military discipline was extended to the
prisoner population as well. Prisoners who performed above expecta-
tions were rewarded, whereas those who shirked responsibility were
punished. Rewards and punishments ran the gamut, from early release
to execution. In all cases, Mal’tsev’s decisions were read over the camp
radio as examples for all. 49 By all reports, Mal’tsev widely commanded
the respect of the prisoner and non-prisoner populations alike.
Yet not everything was run “by the book.” While Mal’tsev indeed
expended a great deal of time and effort instilling military discipline
in the camp, emphasizing formal, vertical power relations both within
the hierarchy of the camp administration and between non-prisoners
and prisoners, he engaged in other kinds of relationships with prisoners
and non-prisoners that were qualitatively different. In fact, for a small
minority of prisoners this was a time when privilege fl ourished, mak-
ing their experiences radically different from the majority who lived on
the razor’s edge between survival and death. On the basis of informal
exchanges between Mal’tsev and his subordinates, a well-developed
system of patronage emerged. While it might seem contradictory that
a director so focused on establishing military discipline would rely on
informal relations in his management of the camp, Mal’tsev used pa-
tronage effectively to accomplish goals that would have been much
more diffi cult to realize using the formal hierarchy. For the most part,
privilege and discipline coexisted quite comfortably in Vorkutlag dur-
ing Mal’tsev’s tenure.
Aleksei Iakovlevich Kapler, who was imprisoned in Vorkutlag from
1943 to 1948, lived in a manner far different from the life described
by prisoners like Edward Buca and Elena Markova. Undoubtedly the
most famous prisoner in Vorkutlag, Kapler had been a fi xture of the
Soviet fi lm industry, a screenwriter who had written two enormously
successful fi lms at the end of the 1930s, “Lenin in October” and “Lenin
in 1918.” 50 How he came to be imprisoned in Vorkutlag is an unusual
story. In the early 1940s, he began courting Stalin’s teenage daughter,
Svetlana Allilueva. Although the Soviet leader voiced his disapproval
of the much older (and Jewish) Kapler seeing his daughter, the rela-
tionship continued. Responding to his personal problems in much the
same way that he dealt with issues of national importance, Stalin had
Kapler arrested in early 1943, and he was sent to Vorkutlag to serve

68 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
out a fi ve-year term. 51 Mal’tsev, however, decided that Kapler should
not spend his term working in the coal mines. Instead, he was made
the offi cial photographer of the city and camp complex, during which
time he lived in the back room of a photo hut in the center of the
non-prisoner settlement. 52 Kapler was charged with documenting the
day-to-day construction of camp and city, as well as putting together
offi cial publications about Vorkuta for Malt’sev’s superiors. 53 He also
served the everyday photographic needs of the non-prisoner popula-
tion, taking portraits by request. In exchange, he lived in a manner
that appeared comfortable compared to what was going on within the
barbed wire. Although he could not leave Vorkuta, he was not guarded
and was free to come and go as he pleased. Protected by a powerful
patron, his ability to survive his term of imprisonment was no longer
called into question.
Mal’tsev was not simply the patron of individual prisoner-celebrities
like Kapler. He also played the role of patron to entire institutions.
For example, he actively supported the Vorkuta Musical Drama The-
ater, which Mal’tsev himself founded soon after his arrival in August
1943. The camp director established a special relationship with Boris
Arkad’evich Mordvinov, who had been chief director of the Bolshoi
Theater before his arrest in 1940. Mordvinov wrote a letter to Mal’tsev
suggesting the idea of creating a camp theater company, a notion that
the camp director strongly supported. 54 Mordvinov became the com-
pany’s fi rst artistic director, and like Kapler parlayed his celebrity status
into a relatively privileged existence. But the privileges bestowed by
Mal’tsev extended far beyond Mordvinov to the company as a whole.
The company, which by November 1947 numbered at least 150 people,
was a mix of about two-thirds prisoners and one-third non-prisoners,
most of whom came from the artistic intelligentsia of Moscow and
Leningrad. 55 Utilizing the talents of these prisoners, Mal’tsev made es-
capist entertainment available to the camp and city elites at a time
and place where distractions were especially welcome. It gave him the
opportunity to compete with rival camp directors, many of whom had
established their own camp theaters. 56 The theater also represented one
of the few locations for cultured leisure activities available in the city,
and so was a central part of Mal’tsev’s drive to create a city with public
spaces. In exchange, prisoners in the theater company were released
from manual labor. Most were given passes allowing them to travel

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 69
unguarded between the camp zones where they lived and the theater. In
other words, becoming part of the camp theater company allowed some
prisoners the opportunity to escape the harsh brutality and discipline
of life in Vorkutlag and experience an existence of relative privilege.
Partners in patron-client relationships are by defi nition unequal.
Mal’tsev’s relations with Aleksei Kapler, Boris Mordvinov, and the
members of the camp theater company were extremely vertical, even
by Soviet standards. In fact, the gulf between the social, political, eco-
nomic status of the two parties makes it seem, on the surface at least,
that it would be diffi cult to characterize what was going on as a two-
way exchange between patrons and clients. Nevertheless, they did in-
volve mutually benefi cial reciprocal exchanges. It is easy to see how
Mal’tsev’s clients benefi tted from their relationship with the director.
As prisoners and non-prisoners in Vorkutlag during wartime, they were
extremely vulnerable. 57 At a time when thousands were dying from
starvation, disease, exposure, and overwork, patronage by the camp
director all but ensured survival. Clients avoided backbreaking and
potentially deadly manual labor in the mines. 58 Instead, many had the
opportunity to look beyond day-to-day survival and engage in poten-
tially meaningful work. They often gained access to scarce goods, such
as money, food, or clothing, which Mal’tsev liked to give out as reward
for a job well done. 59 Rewards were just as often given in kind, such
as when “American gifts,” including coats, suits, dresses, and footwear
received through lend-lease, were distributed to members of the Vor-
kutlag planning department on Mal’tsev’s orders in December 1946. 60
Other material benefi ts handed out included better housing and ex-
tended vacations.
Another privilege frequently given by Mal’tsev as part of the recip-
rocal exchange was greater freedom of movement. For prisoners and
non-prisoners whose movements were strictly controlled, this was a
very valuable asset. Many prisoner clients were given passes that al-
lowed them to be de-convoyed, that is, to travel from inside the camp
zone to the city without guard. 61 While most de-convoyed prisoners
were only allowed to travel along a specifi c route, the fact that they
were not guarded represented an important exception to the normal
camp routine. The most privileged were de-zoned as well, allowing
them to live and work entirely outside the zone. Kapler was one of the
latter, allowed to live and work in a three-room photo hut on Victory

70 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
Boulevard in the center of the new city. Special housing was also a fre-
quent benefi t, as was the case for clients in the theater company, who
had permission to live in special barracks, which were less crowded
and had a greater degree of privacy. 62
Whereas it is readily apparent how clients benefi ted from their rela-
tionships with the patron, it is more diffi cult to discern what the patron
gained. 63 There were multiple benefi ts for Mal’tsev. Patronage allowed
him to make use of his clients’ specialized talents, knowledge, and ex-
pertise that were in short supply in Vorkutlag. The offi cial organization
of labor in the Gulag, which assigned work to prisoners based on their
physical condition and criminal classifi cation, made little allowance for
the utilization of specialized knowledge and talent. Patronage facili-
tated Mal’tsev’s drive to contribute to the war effort because it allowed
him to make more constructive use of prisoners’ expertise. Further, the
talents of his illustrious clients were essential for Mal’tsev to bring the
Soviet “civilizing mission” to the remote corner of the North where he
had been sent. 64 Finally, Mal’tsev’s clients provided “intangibles” that
were diffi cult to otherwise obtain as a camp director. As Sheila Fitz-
patrick has pointed out about patron-client relations between Soviet
offi cials and members of the “creative intelligentsia,” patrons received
“prestige and status associated with the ability to act as a patron; a
sense of noblesse oblige or a desire to play the great man as it was tra-
ditionally played; a desire to see themselves as good, generous people;
a desire to receive fl attery and gratitude from clients.” 65 In this regard,
Mal’tsev was simply following the customs of Soviet bureaucrats and
acting the part of a powerful and benevolent Soviet administrator, al-
beit in the unlikely context of a prison camp complex.
There is indeed evidence that Mal’tsev, despite his military bearing,
was keenly interested in how he was perceived by others. If we return
to the conversation recalled by Leonid Agranovich, where Mal’tsev al-
legedly stated that he was presiding over “the slow murder of people,”
this suggests that the camp director was intensely aware that others
might be inclined to see him in a negative light. And when one reviews
memoirs of this time written by people who knew Mal’tsev, one is cer-
tainly struck by the overwhelmingly positive characterization that he
received. Even Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who for obvious reasons had
little positive to say about any camp offi cials, singles out Mal’tsev as

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 71
one of the few potentially “good men” in the camp administration. As
Solzhenitsyn recounted,
And Arnold Rappaport assures me that Colonel of Engineers Mikhail
Mitrofanovich Maltsev [sic], an army fi eld engineer, who from 1943 to
1947 was the chief of Vorkutlag—both the construction project and
the camp—was, supposedly, a good man. In the presence of Chekists
he shook the hands of zek engineers and addressed them politely. He
could not stand career Chekists, and he held in contempt the chief of
the Political Branch, Colonel Kukhtikov. . . . During the years of his
administration, Rappaport assures me, not one single camp case was
ever set in motion in Vorkuta. . . . This is a very important piece of evi-
dence, if only A. Rappaport is not exaggerating involuntarily because
of his own privileged position as an engineer at that time. Somehow I
fi nd it hard to really believe it; why, then, did they not get rid of this
Maltsev[sic]? After all, he must have been in everyone’s way [emphasis
in original]. 66
Solzhenitsyn clearly had good reason to be skeptical, because if we
look at Mal’tsev’s tenure as camp director overall, the only reason-
able way to explain positive remembrances of him is that they come
from people whose loyalty was secured through patronage. In fact,
Solzhenitsyn’s comments confi rm that Mal’tsev’s use of patron-client
relationships was highly effective overall. Not only did they allow him
to realize his vision for the city, but they also validated his activities as a
camp director in the eyes of those members of the technical and artistic
intelligentsia whose approval he undoubtedly craved.
There were tensions, of course, between the offi cial hierarchies and
military discipline that Mal’tsev maintained and the informal world of
patronage and privilege. We can see this clearly in the case of a denun-
ciation of Mal’tsev sent to his superiors by an anonymous subordinate.
In 1946, someone working in Vorkutlag complained to the GULGMP
about the illegal privileges enjoyed by prisoners. The denunciation de-
scribed the case of a prisoner named Bondar’, who was living with his
family in a separate apartment outside the camp. Despite the fact that
he was serving a twenty-year sentence, he employed a non-prisoner do-
mestic, had use of a camp horse, and frequently gathered non- prisoner
specialists at his home for social events. Another prisoner named Shi-
baev, who was serving a fi fteen-year sentence, lived with his family

72 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
outside the zone, frequently visited the camp theater, and shopped at
stores set aside for non-prisoner personnel. 67 What was troubling about
such cases, both for the unidentifi ed author of the denunciation and the
GULGMP offi cials to whom it was sent, was not simply that prisoners
were being given privileges that were in clear violation of Gulag regula-
tions. Rather, it was the fact that these prisoners were enjoying privi-
leges that were not only beyond the reach of most prisoners, but most
non-prisoners in Vorkuta as well. They were living outside the zone in
separate apartments at a time when the vast majority of Vorkuta’s non-
prisoners were living in squalid barracks. They socialized with non-
prisoners as if they were equals. Worst of all, one prisoner employed a
non-prisoner as a domestic. In such cases, privileges given to prisoners
in Mal’tsev’s patronage network blurred the line between prisoner and
non-prisoner and actually appeared to invert the social hierarchy.
Yet there was no explicit contradiction between these types of formal
and informal relationships and, in fact, they often complemented one
another. As in the rest of Soviet society, skilled offi cials like Mal’tsev
mixed their offi cial roles with patronage in order to get things done.
In fact, both were necessary for offi cials to effectively carry out their
duties. Of course, when patronage appeared to step over the bound-
aries of what was acceptable, it might be denounced as corrupt be-
havior, as was the case with the 1946 denunciation referred to above.
On the whole, Mal’tsev’s management techniques suggest that direc-
tors of prison camps behaved largely in the same manner as offi cials
did throughout the Soviet Union, combining offi cial authority with less
formal activities like patronage in order to accomplish their goals. In
so doing, they might undermine social hierarchies or spatial bound-
aries, but as long as it did not appear to be systemic in the eyes of their
superiors, camp directors like Mal’tsev were given fairly free rein to
bestow privilege on prisoners who could provide valuable services in
The Second World War resulted in more than just the expansion of
the camp complex and increase in the prisoner population. It was also
the occasion for the creation of the city of Vorkuta, a nominally dis-
tinct civilian settlement. While there had always been non-camp spaces

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 73
around Vorkutlag where non-prisoners lived, by the early 1940s the
idea, let alone the reality, of a separate settlement scarcely existed. In
the 1930s, the settlement of Rudnik, on the right bank of the Vorkuta
River, had served as little more than the administrative center of the
complex. By the early 1940s, most construction had moved across the
river to the left bank, to the small “workers’ settlement” of Vorkuta. By
1943, the area was essentially a giant construction site, fi lled with camp
zones and the occasional collection of derelict barracks that housed
non-prisoners. At the time, the area had a non-prisoner population of
only about 5,500. 68 But on 26 November 1943, Vorkuta was offi cially
designated a city by the USSR Supreme Soviet. By 1947, the city could
boast boulevards, parks, a central square, several major “public” build-
ings based on Stalinist neoclassical architectural styles, and a popula-
tion of just over 35,000 people.
The foundation, construction, and peopling of Vorkuta at a time
when Vorkutlag was ostensibly devoted to contributing as much as
possible to the effort of total war requires some explanation. If Vorkut-
lag was truly part of the Soviet effort of total war, why were resources
being devoted to a project that would seem to bear little on the bottom
line, how much coal was being extracted and shipped to customers?
One reason, surely, had to do with Vorkutlag’s symbolic role in the war
effort, as described at the beginning of this chapter. Creating a city of
Vorkuta, at least on a rhetorical level, meant that the source of Lenin-
grad’s coal could be publicly discussed and lauded. Although there had
been a time when the media had trumpeted the existence and exploits
of Soviet camps, as was the case with the Belomor canal and other
early Gulag projects, by the Second World War the world of the Gulag
constituted a conspicuous silence in Soviet public discourse. If the sig-
nifi cant achievements of Vorkutlag’s coal mines were to be paraded, a
city provided a suitable vehicle for this. Thus, we see the emergence of
a place called Vorkuta on the pages of Pravda beginning in 1943 and
continuing into the postwar period.
The creation of the city also owed a great deal to the initiative of the
camp director Mal’tsev. In fact, Mal’tsev did more than patronize in-
dividuals like Aleksei Kapler and institutions like the Vorkuta Musical
Drama Theater. During his tenure he also established himself as patron
of Vorkuta itself. While he may have simply been following the orders
of his superiors when he directed the Vorkutlag planning department

74 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
to begin drawing up the paperwork for the city’s offi cial creation in Au-
gust 1943, Vorkuta’s foundation bore the stamp of Mal’tsev’s patron-
age activities. 69 He assigned a group of three prisoners and three non-
prisoners the task of drawing up the paperwork. 70 By 26 November
1943 the efforts of the planning brigade had borne fruit, and Vorkuta
was offi cially designated a city. 71 But Mal’tsev did not just create a city
on paper. He saw to it that Vorkuta acquired many of the trappings of a
typical Soviet city, such as parks, public squares, and imposing neoclas-
sical edifi ces. In order to do this, Mal’tsev did more than simply follow
the chain of command. He also used his network of patron-client rela-
tionships with prisoners and non-prisoners who could help him realize
his vision for the city.
Mal’tsev quickly moved beyond the formal creation of the city. First
on the director’s agenda was the creation of public spaces. As one former
prisoner living in Vorkuta at the time late reported, “[Mal’tsev] said—
soon Vorkuta will be a city, and what is a city without a boulevard?” 72
Victory Boulevard, a public park and boulevard, was built in 1943–
1945 to commemorate the expected Soviet victory in the Second World
War. The site for the boulevard was a marsh between Mine Street and
the railroad branch to mine no. 1. 73 Not surprisingly, most of the labor
to build the boulevard was done by prisoners, although some was done
by the non-prisoner population on a “volunteer” basis after working
hours. The close proximity of a railroad made it relatively easy to bring
sand, dirt, and sod (from the tundra) to transform the space. Birch and
pine trees were also planted. Although the boulevard and park would
eventually feature numerous pavilions, arches, a band shell, and even
a fountain, the fi rst structures built in the boulevard were for the chil-
dren’s play area (fi gure 2.1). 74 While this may seem an incongruous
choice to build in the center of a giant labor camp, the choice empha-
sized the sense of urban normalcy that Mal’tsev intended to create. In-
deed, photo albums of major camp complexes produced by the NKVD
during the war (for internal government consumption only, of course)
suggest that parks and boulevards were considered to be standard fea-
tures of prison camp cities. 75
After the boulevard’s completion, work began on a central square for
the new city. The design was once again drafted by the planning depart-
ment of Vorkutlag. The plans that they authored called not only for the
construction of a square, but also for the casting of a monument to the

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 75
late Leningrad party boss, Sergei Kirov, after whom the square would
be named. Kirov Square would play an important symbolic role for
Vorkuta, confi rming the importance of the ties between the two cities.
This monument, which was presumably designed and cast in Lenin-
grad, was completed and delivered to Vorkuta in February 1946. 76 By
the summer of 1946, a year after construction had begun, the square
itself was completed.
The task of designing this public space, as well as several impor-
tant buildings, was given to a man who became one of Mal’tsev’s most
important clients, Vsevolod Lunev, a graduate of the Moscow Archi-
tectural Institute. Captured by the Germans during combat in 1941,
Lunev managed to escape in 1942 and rejoined the Red Army. Like
many other captured POWs, he ended up in a “verifi cation and fi l-
tration camp” near Podol’sk. He arrived in Vorkuta in 1943 as part
of a group of one thousand former POWs (the so-called okruzhentsy )
that Mal’tsev requested be sent to Vorkuta (see below). Like the rest
of his cohort, he had an ambiguous social status. Although he was not
Figure 2.1. Children’s play area in Victory Boulevard, ca. 1945. Photograph cour-
tesy of Vorkuta Museum-Exhibition Center.

76 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
technically a prisoner, he was at fi rst guarded and lived inside a zone.
Although Lunev began his time in Vorkuta performing manual labor
in mine construction of mine no. 7, his architectural skills were soon
recognized and in 1944 he began working for the camp planning de-
partment. 77 Until he left Vorkuta in 1960, Lunev would design some of
the most important buildings in the city and would play a central role
in urban planning.
In addition to assisting with the design of Victory Boulevard and
Kirov Square, Lunev was the chief architect responsible for realizing
Mal’tsev’s vision for the city center. His fi rst major building project
was the party education building ( dom partprosveshchenie ), which was
completed in fi fty-six days during the winter of 1945–46. However,
Lunev would subsequently write that he was most proud of his sec-
ond major building project, the Musical Drama Theater. Completed in
1946, its façade featured fourteen white columns, simulating a brick
or stone design, despite the fact it was made entirely of wood (see fi g-
ure 2.2). 78 This would be the home of the Vorkuta theater company for
just over ten years, until the building burned down in 1957. 79 Although
Figure 2.2. Vorkuta Musical Drama Theater, ca. 1946. Photograph courtesy of
Vorkuta Museum-Exhibition Center.

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 77
the architectural ensemble of Vorkuta’s early city center would not be
completed until the early 1950s, the buildings that were the neoclas-
sical fruit of Mal’tsev’s patronage and Lunev’s designs dominated the
symbolic center of Vorkuta for decades to come.
Yet the design and execution of monumental structures and new pub-
lic spaces tells only part of the story of Vorkuta’s creation. The parks,
squares, and ornate buildings made up only a small fraction of the non-
prisoner spaces in the city. Further, they were largely the habitat of the
camp elite. The everyday spaces in which ordinary non-prisoners spent
the majority of their time had far more humble and practical origins.
The primary means of creating city spaces, in fact, was to convert parts
of Vorkutlag for civilian use. This was particularly the case with resi-
dential housing. For instance, on 20 September 1945 Mal’tsev decreed
that camp section 1, which served the construction and operation of
mine no. 1, “kapital’naia,” was to be entirely converted for the use
of non-prisoners. Prisoner barracks were converted into apartments,
and more often, dormitories. While some new construction would take
place, most of the buildings that would serve the needs of the commu-
nity, such as the movie theater, medical clinic, laundry, cafeteria, and
stores, were converted from camp stock that had been used for other
functions. Despite the ambitious program of building ornate and so-
phisticated architectural showpieces, the reality is that the fi rst residen-
tial centers of Vorkuta came directly out of Vorkutlag. 80 This trend of
converting camp to civilian housing would in fact continue throughout
the next two decades, reaching its peak during the massive reorganiza-
tion of Vorkutlag and Vorkuta in the middle of the 1950s. This had
the ironic consequence that the housing for many non-prisoners was
in much worse condition than camp barracks, since older and derelict
camp barracks were most likely to be converted for civilian use. 81
Vorkuta also lacked much of the institutional framework of most
cities. Typically, local government was split between a city council
( Gorispolkom ) and a city party committee ( Gorkom ). As the former
was a state institution and the latter a party institution, the Gorkom
tended to be the real center of power in local government, where of-
fi cials worked to implement decisions passed down to them from the
regional capital by a regional party committee, or Obkom . Yet Vorkuta
had an unusual institutional arrangement. While it had a city council
that met regularly, its authority was even more severely circumscribed

78 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
than normal, since the camp director wielded so much direct power.
The city lacked a city party committee entirely, as responsibility for the
management of local party members was left to the Vorkutlag political
section. Finally, Vorkuta had only the most tenuous of relationships
with the capital of Komi ASSR, Syktyvkar, which was several hundred
kilometers away and not directly linked by rail. Thus, even from an
institutional perspective the city operated as the fi efdom of the camp
director, who was in most matters answerable only to his superiors at
the NKVD in Moscow. It would not be until the early 1950s that the
city would begin to acquire a typical Soviet city government.
It was clear that there was a certain socialist realist quality to the city,
its public spaces, and the monumental buildings that Mal’tsev and his
clients worked so hard to establish. On one level, these spaces, and the
elites that lived and interacted in them, occupied the world of privilege
and comfort that was far removed from the world of the prisoners
with its barbed wire and brutal labor. Yet the vast majority of Vor-
kuta’s ordinary citizens lived in a world that probably shared more
in common with that of the prisoners. As we shall see, most had until
recently lived in a way that was virtually indistinguishable from how
those prisoners lived, and they continued to live in the same barracks
on the same streets. The barbed wire might have moved, but it was still
within sight, underscoring the ambiguous and uncertain place that the
citizens occupied in the rapidly growing universe of Vorkuta. Mal’tsev
had accomplished a great deal in creating Vorkuta, but the process was
so raw, chaotic, and ultimately new that it would be a long time before
the streets of Vorkuta would be imbued with the sort of everyday com-
ings and goings of a typical Soviet city.
Cities need more than buildings, streets, and spaces. They also need
people to inhabit them. When Vorkuta was offi cially founded in No-
vember 1943, residents, or Vorkutiane as they would come to be called,
were in short supply. At the time, there were only about 5,500 men,
women, and children living outside the barbed wire. Although no de-
tailed analysis exists of who these people were, the majority likely con-
sisted of camp guards and offi cials, exiles, released prisoners, and their
families. But over the next few years the city population would expand

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 79
rapidly. Already by the beginning of 1945, there were nearly 25,000
non-prisoner city residents, and by 1947 this number had grown to
just over 35,000 people. 82 In other words, the non-prisoner population
grew by seven times over less than four years, a rate even more rapid
than the prisoner population. What made such a rapid expansion pos-
sible? Who were these new residents of Vorkuta?
Once again, it was the war that drove the rapid population growth.
Just as the march of the Soviet army westward provided tens of thou-
sands of new prisoners for the expansion of Vorkutlag, Soviet activities
and policies in the second half of the war would bring tens of thousands
of non-prisoners to Vorkuta. These men and women would make up
the bulk of the Vorkutiane, the fi rst residents of the new city. Most had
not chosen to come to the city. Most, in fact, were not actually new res-
idents of the area when they became “citizens.” The overwhelming ma-
jority of the thirty-thousand-odd people who became “citizens” came
from the population of Vorkutlag. In the same way that the spaces that
made up the city came from the camp, so did most of the people who
inhabited them. And although most non-prisoners did eventually enjoy
a higher social status and better living conditions than most prisoners,
at fi rst most were largely indistinguishable from them.
There were several large groups of people who followed similar tra-
jectories in becoming city residents. First, there were “mobilized” ethnic
Germans, who began to arrive in Vorkuta in May 1943. 83 These were
Soviet ethnic Germans who, having already been deported to Kazakh-
stan and Siberia in 1941, were now sent to work in various industries
throughout the Soviet Union. 84 By the beginning of 1944, nearly seven
thousand had been sent to Vorkuta as labor conscripts. The German ex-
iles lived in conditions that differed little from those to which prisoners
were subjected. Although they lived in areas technically isolated from
prisoner zones, their living quarters were the same dilapidated bar-
racks surrounded by barbed wire fences. The work that was required
of them was also virtually indistinguishable from that of prisoners, as
most worked in mines. The fact that nearly four hundred of these labor
conscripts died in 1944 confi rms that conditions made survival diffi -
cult. 85 But the status of the “mobilized” Germans changed considerably
in November 1945, when the NKVD ordered that they no longer be
held in zones. This freed them from some of the most draconian terms
of their existence, such as living and working under armed guard. In

80 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
Vorkuta and elsewhere, their status changed from pseudo-prisoners to
exiles without the right to leave their places of residence. 86 Now they
were no longer part of the vast army of unfree laborers—instead, they
were residents of Mal’tsev’s new city. This status was shared by over
eight hundred “kulak” exiles who were “mobilized” and transferred to
Vorkuta during the war, only to become part of the non-prisoner popu-
lation after its conclusion. 87
Another group of exiles, the so-called okruzhentsy (literally, those
who had been encircled), followed a similar trajectory. These were for-
mer Red Army soldiers who had been captured by the Germans but
recently liberated by the Soviet army as it marched west. In June 1943,
one thousand of these former POWs were sent to Vorkuta, likely at
the personal request of Mal’tsev. 88 Like the “mobilized” Germans, they
were subjected to living and working conditions on par with prisoners,
even though they were supposed to live and work in strict isolation
from them. In July 1944, however, the “special camp” in which they
were held was liquidated and the POWs became “permanent cadres”
of KVU. 89 Although this did mean an improvement in their living con-
ditions, it essentially meant that imprisonment had been commuted to
Throughout the war former Soviet POWs, as well as Soviet citizens
suspected of actively collaborating with the Germans, were subject to a
process of “verifi cation and fi ltration” to determine whether or not they
should be allowed to rejoin Soviet society. 90 In the fi rst half of 1945,
over ten thousand “repatriates” were sent to Vorkuta to undergo this
process. 91 The treatment of those being “verifi ed” was in line with the
precedent established in the case of ethnic Germans and okruzhentsy.
While they lived and worked separately from prisoners, they were kept
under strict guard in zones while their cases were reviewed. By the end
of 1946, the fates of these men and women were determined, after
having their labor exploited to help the rapidly expanding coal com-
plex. Only about three hundred were arrested and sentenced to terms
in Vorkutlag proper. 92 Approximately half were released outright after
investigations that determined their innocence. Most of the remaining
“repatriates” were determined to be suspect, and so were designated
for exile to far-fl ung parts of the Soviet Union. Of these, approximately
two thousand were ordered to settle in Vorkuta. Now living outside the
zone, they joined the ranks of Vorkuta’s non-prisoner residents. 93 Even

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 81
among those who were released after fi ltration, there were additional
inducements to stay in Vorkuta, as former Red Army soldiers who had
been cleared of wrongdoing were actively recruited to serve as camp
guards in Vorkutlag. 94
Taken together, these exile populations added nearly sixteen thou-
sand to the non-prisoner population of Vorkuta from 1943 to 1947.
Yet, as mentioned above, the total population of Vorkuta grew by
nearly thirty thousand people during this interval. Who were the rest
of the residents of Vorkuta? Most of them, in fact, were former prison-
ers of the camp itself. As was the case throughout the Gulag, Vorkutlag
had a “revolving door” of prisoners, with releases and transfers nearly
as common as the intake of new prisoners, particularly after the war. 95
Between 1943 and 1947, over thirty-four thousand prisoners were re-
leased from Vorkutlag, a number that far exceeds expectations. Nearly
a third of the total came in 1945, when an amnesty was declared in
honor of the Soviet victory in the Second World War. 96 As was standard
practice in the Gulag, those with short sentences were most likely to
be released, as were women, the elderly, juveniles, and invalids. 97 Some
prisoners with longer sentences who had been convicted of counterrev-
olutionary crimes were released simply because their regular sentences
expired. Yet being released from the camp did not always include the
opportunity to leave Vorkuta. In the last year of the war, for example,
Mal’tsev was given the explicit authority to keep all released prisoners
in the city, even if they were subject to conscription into the Red Army,
just one of many potential limitations on the geographical mobility of
former prisoners. 98 Thus, released prisoners made up a substantial part
of the city population.
That the overwhelming majority of the population of Vorkuta had
its origins within the barbed wire speaks volumes about the fl uidity of
social categories and hierarchies in Vorkuta and Vorkutlag. While we
are accustomed to think of the world of the Gulag as one where indi-
viduals were assigned specifi c places in an immutable social hierarchy,
the reality of social relations in the Gulag camps and the larger com-
munities in which they were embedded was not so neat and simple. As
in the case of the bulk of Vorkuta’s residents, one’s social status, and
the corresponding space to which one was attached (camp or city),
could be changed with the stroke of a pen in Moscow. But it was not
only offi cial orders that could affect one’s place in the social hierarchy.

82 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
Informal relationships also played an important role in determining so-
cial status. Patronage networks operated both among the prisoner and
non-prisoner populations, bestowing privileges that did not necessarily
correspond to one’s offi cial place in the social hierarchy. The result was
that the social universe of the city and camp complex together was fl uid
and fi lled with many seeming contradictions.
The existence and experience of many of Vorkuta’s residents con-
stantly tested both social hierarchies and the fragile borders between
camp and city. For example, after the Second World War an increasing
number of non-prisoners made their way to Vorkuta in order to live
near relatives who were imprisoned in the camp, creating mixed fami-
lies of prisoners and non-prisoners. Such situations were a challenge
to both the spatial divisions and the social hierarchy. Twelve-year-old
Irina Skakovskaia accompanied her aunt to Vorkuta in August 1946 in
order to live closer to her mother, one of the many prisoners who had
served out her entire sentence in Vorkutlag but nevertheless contin-
ued to be held in the camp because of wartime regulations forbidding
the release of certain categories of prisoners. 99 Although Skakovskaia’s
mother had received a pass allowing her to move freely in the city, she
was still a prisoner and had to return to the zone each night. Mother
and daughter did not get to see each other very often, even though they
were practically neighbors. As Skakovskaia relates in her memoirs,
“our path to school went by the camp zone, and Mama occasionally
saw us in the mornings through the barbed wire.” 100 Because the fam-
ily was split on either side of the zone, her mother’s friends, themselves
former prisoners, expressed anxiety and skepticism about where Irina
should fi t into the social hierarchy. “What will she do here?” they had
asked her mother, “Become the lover of some camp chief?” 101 But de-
spite her separation from her mother, her proximity to the camp, and
her ambiguous social status, her life in Vorkuta appears to have been a
relatively happy one. She excelled in school, and once her mother was
released in 1947, the family was reunited and lived outside the zone.
But before her mother’s release, the family did not fi t into a clear place
in the social hierarchy.
The variable and contradictory social and spatial relationships of the
city were most clearly on display during the many performances on the
stage of the Vorkuta Musical Drama Theater. The company, made up
largely of prisoners, staged performances for non-prisoner audiences

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 83
hundreds of times per year. 102 The social proximity of groups that were
supposed to remain separate was a source of anxiety for both sides.
How much appreciation could non-prisoner members of the audience
show for the prisoner performers on stage? Even though many in the
audience were recently released prisoners or exiles, too much applause
would have implied too much admiration for the prisoners, and per-
haps even an inversion of the accepted social hierarchy. 103 For many
of those onstage or backstage, performing for an audience of social
superiors also represented an uncomfortable dilemma. As former pris-
oner E. Kotliar relates, he once discussed the morality of being involved
in the theater with artistic director Boris Mordvinov and screenwriter
Aleksei Kapler. As he wrote, “[The conversation] was not about why
the camp administration organized theatrical collectives of prisoners.
We understood that this was not from humanity and not for cultural-
educational work. We understood to what degree this was hypocrisy
and lies. The conversation was about whether or not the artist had the
moral right to participate in such a theater . . . would he become an
accomplice to a cruel punitive system?”
Mordvinov’s answer to this conundrum was to direct his perfor-
mances to “free people of the second or third sort,” former prisoners
and other marginals who truly appreciated the performances. 104 No
matter how the two sides adapted, whether by restraining applause
for the performers or by playing to the less privileged among the audi-
ence, theater performances inevitably had the potential to disrupt so-
cial hierarchies and spatial divisions. These performances, which took
place in the heart of the city, involved the participation of all the var-
ied residents of Vorkuta and Vorkutlag: prisoners, exiles, guards, and
members of the camp administration. By its very nature, the theater
demonstrated many of the ways in which spatial and social divisions
were both challenged and closely guarded.
The Second World War occupies a special place in the mythology of
Vorkuta. In Soviet histories of the city, there was no period treated with
greater pride. The 591 trainloads of coal that Leningrad received from
Vorkuta from 1943 to 1945 were cited in a 1959 celebratory volume
as “one of the most glorious pages in the history of Vorkuta.” 105 In

84 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
present-day Vorkuta, the city’s contribution to the war effort continues
to be touted as its greatest accomplishment. 106 This commemoration of
Vorkuta’s role in the war effort is not unusual. As many others have
pointed out, the Second World War played an important role in legiti-
mating the Soviet regime that only grew with the passage of time. 107 In
this case, it is fairly easy to trace the deliberate construction of a myth
surrounding Vorkuta and its function in the war. As described in the
introduction to this chapter, the beginning of Vorkuta’s entrance into
public discourse was marked by a demonstration in 1943 to celebrate
the shipment of coal to blockaded Leningrad. Trumpeted in Vorkuta’s
camp newspaper and briefl y noted in Pravda , this demonstration rep-
resents the tentative beginnings of the city of Vorkuta, which occupied
a separate symbolic space from Vorkutlag.
By 1946 the construction of the myth of Vorkuta and the selfl ess sac-
rifi ces of its “workers” to aid Leningrad was in full swing. “Northern
Lights,” the four-part series on the history of the city that appeared on
the pages of Pravda in May 1946, treated the shipment of coal to Len-
ingrad during the war as a central event in the city’s history. 108 A year
later, in November 1947, Vorkuta was featured in the popular Soviet
newsmagazine Ogonëk . A two-page photo montage, under the head-
line “City above the Arctic Circle,” depicted life in the city (fi gure 2.3).
It featured images of Vorkuta’s citizens at work and at rest, although
coal and coal mines are present only in one photograph, which depicts
a train with a coal car. Vorkuta’s buildings and streetscapes were a
particular point of focus, with several specimens of Stalinist neoclas-
sical architecture on display. The center of the photo montage was the
upper portion of a map of the Soviet Union, with “Vorkuta” clearly
marked. 109 Vorkuta’s urban geography was now an offi cial part of So-
viet public culture, just as the city now had a place on the map of the
Soviet Union. These two publications told one story, in prose and pic-
tures, of the transformation that the war had wrought on Vorkuta.
Yet these accounts of Vorkuta, and their subsequent recapitulations
in Soviet and post-Soviet public discourse, were perversely incomplete.
The war brought with it the integration of Vorkutlag into the Soviet
effort of total war, and the effects of this change affected the lives of
tens of thousands of men and women who had the misfortune of being
sent to the city. The insatiable demand for coal, combined with a seem-
ingly limitless “supply” of prisoners from the Soviet Union’s western

Figure 2.3. Published images of Vorkuta, 1947. Source: V. Evgrafov, “Gorod za
poliarnym krugom,” Ogonëk 45 (1947).

86 Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta
borderlands, resulted not simply in a massive expansion of the camp
and coal mining complex. They also combined to make the lives of
prisoners incredibly “cheap” in the eyes of those offi cials who decided
whether they lived or died. It is no coincidence that the moment of
Vorkuta’s greatest “glory” coincided with the most diffi cult conditions
and highest death rate in the history of the camp complex. The war
may have put Vorkuta on the map for millions of Soviet citizens to see,
but those unlucky enough to experience Vorkutlag fi rsthand came to
understand the tragic reality of the supposedly selfl ess sacrifi ces made
for the war effort.
The war resulted not just in the expansion of the camp complex, but
also in the creation of a city that was separate, at least in theory, from
the camp complex. With only a few thousand residents at its founda-
tion, the city of Vorkuta at fi rst existed almost purely on paper. How-
ever, over the next four years Mal’tsev oversaw the construction of
buildings and the creation of spaces that were nominally separate from
the camp complex. In addition to acting in his offi cial capacity as camp
director, he acted unoffi cially as patron to architects and planners as he
sought to build a city that refl ected his self-image as a benevolent and
enlightened local magnate. But for wartime population transfers, Vor-
kuta might have remained a city without residents. Soon “mobilized”
ethnic Germans, former Soviet POWs, Soviet citizens who had lived
under German occupation, and ex-prisoners would come to make up
the bulk of the Vorkutiane. Although all began their time in Vorkuta
within the barbed wire, by 1947 virtually all of them had been given
the status of permanent exiles. It was a strange citizenry indeed, con-
sisting largely of people who had been sent to the city against their will
and were unable to leave.
The creation of a separate city and citizenry meant that borders be-
tween camp and city, and the zone and the outside, began to be delin-
eated more clearly. But it was one thing to build city squares, parks,
and theaters. The everyday lives of thousands of prisoners and non-
prisoners bespoke a different reality, where interactions were constant
and positions in the social hierarchy were murky. These ambiguities
of identity and space were on display in the nightly performances of
the Vorkuta Musical Drama Theater, where a company of prisoners
and non- prisoners played for an audience of camp offi cials, guards,
ex-prisoners, exiles, and their families. The theater that camp direc-

Saving Leningrad, Defi ning Vorkuta 87
tor Mal’tsev and prisoner Mordvinov created to provide escapist en-
tertainment during the depths of the war paradoxically demonstrated
both the distance that separated the world of the camp from the world
of the city and the proximity and intimacy of these worlds and their
inhabitants. Clearly, the relationship between Vorkutlag and the city of
Vorkuta was still being negotiated. During postwar Stalinism it would
continue to evolve in unprecedented ways.

3 In Search of “Normalcy”
Vorkuta during Postwar Stalinism
When development [of a Soviet prison camp city] has reached a certain
state the distinction between camp and settlement, prisoner and free man,
begins to disappear.
—Bernhard Roeder, Katorga
IN THE WINTER OF 1946–47, city architect Vsevolod Lunev was sent
from Vorkuta to Moscow on offi cial camp business. After a fi ve-day
train journey on the Northern Pechora main line, Lunev spent several
days studying an indoor swimming pool that had recently been built in
the Sokol’niki district. Lunev’s patron, camp director Mikhail Mal’tsev,
had charged him with the task of designing a similar structure for Vor-
kuta. Had the swimming pool been built, it would have occupied pride
of place in the new city, on Moscow Square at the intersection of Mos-
cow and Miner streets, behind a monument to Stalin. The ambitious
project was soon scuttled, however, and an indoor pool would not be
built in Vorkuta for another decade. 1 While in Moscow Lunev learned
that Mal’tsev, the larger-than-life fi gure who had overseen Vorkuta’s
rapid expansion during the war, had been replaced.
Mal’tsev’s successor, Aleksei Kukhtikov, had other plans. Reacting in-
credulously to the plan to build a swimming pool, Kukhtikov proposed
another use for the site: a children’s hospital. 2 Thus, Lunev was placed
in charge of designing and overseeing the construction of Vorkuta’s fi rst
children’s hospital rather than its fi rst indoor swimming pool. This was
to be no mean feat, given the problematic soil conditions present at the
site. Lunev’s design, which followed the neoclassical design of his Mu-
sical Drama Theater, integrated three different types of foundations. 3

In Search of “Normalcy” 89
Figure 3.1. Vorkuta children’s hospital (detail). Photograph by the author, 17 May
2003. Note that the monument to Stalin depicted in fi gure 0.1 was in this loca-
tion until 21 December 1961, when it was replaced with the monument to Kirov
that had been located in a nearby square.
When the building was completed in 1950, it was considered to be an
architectural jewel, occupying the focal center of Vorkuta’s main square
(see fi gure 3.1). Although it is no longer used as a children’s hospital, it
remains in use some sixty years after its construction.
The hospital, and the story of its design and construction, demon-
strates both the continuities and ruptures between wartime and the
period that followed. The children’s hospital was similar to wartime
projects in many respects, in that it was built on the whim of an all-
powerful director and designed by a member of his patronage network.
Lunev himself exemplifi ed the wartime population of the city, as he
had been transferred there involuntarily during the war, and while
never technically a prisoner, he had spent several months living be-
hind barbed wire. Now he occupied the somewhat ambiguous status
of exile, free to move about the city of Vorkuta but unable to move

90 In Search of “Normalcy”
elsewhere permanently. By far the clearest continuity with the war lay
in the fact that the hospital was built by prisoners, who after each day
of laboring at the construction site in the heart of the city were led
back behind the barbed wire by an armed convoy. Yet, the children’s
hospital was different from previous projects for both symbolic and
practical reasons. It projected the notion that Vorkuta had achieved a
level of “normalcy” on par with other Soviet cities, with their concern
for serving the civilian population, in particular children. The hospital
also refl ected the practical needs of the city, which was in the midst of
a postwar baby boom. Between 1948 and 1952 over thirteen thousand
children were born in Vorkuta, creating an enormous demand for new
healthcare facilities to serve them. 4 Thus, the construction of the hos-
pital points to a demographic transformation taking place. Further, the
prisoners who built the hospital lived and worked in conditions that
were signifi cantly different from their wartime counterparts. With a
drastic improvement in the food supply, death was far less likely than
had been the case during the war.
This chapter examines Vorkuta during the period between the end
of postwar reconstruction and Stalin’s death, arguing that the city and
camp complex experienced a version of the “return to normalcy” that
was typical of cities and villages throughout the Soviet Union. As a
number of historians have demonstrated, 1947–1948 represented an
important turning point for postwar Soviet society as it entered “late”
or “postwar” Stalinism. Demobilization wound down, the famine of
1946–1947 abated, rationing ended, and industrial production was re-
stored to prewar levels. 5 According to Elena Zubkova, such changes
were accompanied by a transformation in “public consciousness,” as
Soviet citizens shifted from an atmosphere of wartime sacrifi ce to the
desire for the stability of peacetime. 6 Yet, despite all that changed dur-
ing late Stalinism, a “return to normalcy” remained as much an as-
piration as it was a reality. As Sheila Fitzpatrick has argued, the idea
of going back to business as usual was problematic, given both the
persistence of terror after the war and the fact that the 1930s hardly
represented anything approaching normality to which society could re-
turn. 7 Both of these arguments are magnifi ed in the case of Vorkuta,
a city and camp complex that were both creations of terror and mass
repression. Clearly, there was no “normal” state to which Vorkuta and

In Search of “Normalcy” 91
its residents could return. Nevertheless, this did not prevent attempts to
create “normalcy” in Vorkuta during late Stalinism.
The construction of the children’s hospital to serve the growing pop-
ulation was only one of these efforts. In the camp complex, mortality
rates plummeted as the food supply improved and a number of incen-
tives were introduced that improved the living standard of many. At the
same time, approximately half of the prisoners in the camp complex
became subject to a new camp regime that was intended to increase
the isolation and punishment of certain groups of prisoners. In the city,
rising migration and natural population growth led the non-prisoner
population to nearly double from 1947 to 1953, and some of the fi rst
efforts to recruit non-prisoners to the city were launched. A number
of important institutions were established to serve the growing city
population and to make the city more separate from the camp com-
plex, at least in theory. Although such institutions would lack inde-
pendence and power in the short term, in the longer term much of the
groundwork was being laid for the expansion of Vorkuta as a company
town. Finally, many efforts focused on the creation and maintenance of
divisions between the city and camp complex, and between prisoners
and non-prisoners. Such attempts to isolate the world of the city from
the world of the camp were successful in many important respects,
and there is little question that the separation of these two worlds was
more complete during late Stalinism than at any other time in the pre-
vious two decades. However, as suggested by the epigraph above, the
two worlds continued to interact on a daily basis in ways that offi cials
found troubling. Continued interactions and confrontations between
them exposed the limits of “normalcy” and the social tensions that
were created as the company town grew alongside the camp complex,
and anticipated the crisis that would follow Stalin’s death in 1953.
When Mikhail Baital’skii, who had been a prisoner in Vorkutlag
from 1936 to 1941, returned to the camp complex in 1950, he was
struck by just how much the complex had grown in the previous de-
cade. As he commented sarcastically in his memoirs, “Yes, it is a big
city! How it has changed, our Vorkuta! How many mines there are

92 In Search of “Normalcy”
all around! And builders and miners! And souls! And bosses!” 8 The
camp complex to which Baital’skii was involuntarily returned had just
reached a population of 77,700 prisoners. 9 These prisoners worked in
a series of mines and other supporting enterprises, most of which had
been built during the Second World War. By 1950 there were eighteen
working coal mines and seven in various stages of construction that to-
gether produced nearly 7 million tons of coal per year. 10 After the rapid
expansion of the war and postwar reconstruction, Vorkuta was home
to one of the largest camp complexes in the Soviet Union and to mines
that provided a signifi cant source of coal for the Russian Northwest.
Yet the dramatic expansion of the camp complex did not continue af-
ter the initial postwar reconstruction boom ended. Although ambitious
plans were hatched in 1948 to build over twenty new mines in order to
supply a new steel plant being built in Cherepovets on the Volga River,
in fact only one mine was sunk during the tenure of director Aleksei
Kukhtikov from January 1947 to April 1952. 11 With the restoration of
the Donbas and signifi cant progress in the postwar reconstruction of
the coal industry, Vorkuta’s expensive coal looked increasingly unat-
tractive. 12 Previously, the primary force shaping the everyday lives of
prisoners had been the war, the resulting shortages of food and other
essentials, and an insatiable demand for coal. Now, the postwar context
of increased food supply and attempts to improve prisoner productiv-
ity through incentives would lead to a marked degree of stabilization
and greatly improved prospects for survival.
In the wartime Gulag, food shortages led to some of the highest death
rates in the history of Soviet forced labor, particularly during the desper-
ate winters of 1942–1943. 13 But after a brief spike in 1947 due to fam-
ine, mortality throughout the Gulag declined continuously from 1948
to 1953. 14 The Vorkuta camp complex was no exception to this trend.
Mortality declined nearly twenty times from its apex of 147 deaths
per thousand in 1943 to 7.5 deaths per thousand in 1953. 15 The most
important cause of this decline in mortality was the steadily improv-
ing food supply in the camps. By the late 1940s, yearly reports from
the camp director to his superiors no longer contained impassioned
pleas for additional food, as had been the case in 1942–1943. Instead,
these reports described signifi cant but not life-threatening shortages of
goods like sugar and milk. 16 Vorkutlag was able to continue its wartime
policy of purchasing food directly from nearby regions, and this made

In Search of “Normalcy” 93
up a signifi cant proportion of its overall food supply. In 1948, for in-
stance, the camp spent more than 22 million rubles on such purchases,
including 12,000 tons of potatoes and vegetables, some two-thirds of
the entire amount consumed by the camp that year. 17 Prisoners’ diets
remained defi cient in many ways, but the majority of prisoners received
adequate nourishment for survival.
In addition to the regular rations that they received, prisoners in the
Vorkuta camp complex had additional opportunities to consume pre-
cious calories by the early 1950s. In order to increase the productivity
of prisoner labor and make the forced labor system more “profi table,”
a system of wages for prisoners was introduced throughout the Gu-
lag. 18 Between July 1950 and January 1952, all prisoners in the Vorkuta
complex began to receive wages for their work. 19 By design, prisoners’
wages were signifi cantly lower than those paid to non-prisoners, even
before the cost of their upkeep was deducted. As table 3.1 demonstrates,
there was a wide variation of wages paid to prisoners within the camp
complex. Nearly 30 percent of prisoners received under 75 rubles per
month or the equivalent of 10 percent of the civilian wage (the effec-
tive minimum), whereas on the upper end, approximately 13 percent
of prisoners earned over 300 rubles per month. By comparison, the
average miner in the civilian economy earned a wage of 1,465 rubles
per month in the second quarter of 1953. 20 Although this was far less
than workers in the civilian economy were paid for performing the
same work, these were considerable sums. In fact, prisoners in Vorkuta
received some of the highest wages in the Gulag since most worked in a
well-paid sector of the economy (coal mining) in a remote location (the
Arctic), circumstances that were rewarded in the Gulag wage system as
they were throughout the USSR. 21 Camp administrators considered the
wage reform to be a success, as it appeared to improve prisoner pro-
ductivity, the overall fi nances of the camps, and the physical condition
of the prisoners. 22
Measuring how much the wage reform improved the lives of prison-
ers is not as simple as determining the size of their wages, however. The
table below tells only the offi cial story of how wages were distributed
throughout the camp. There was also an unoffi cial system, which in-
formally redistributed much of this cash among the prisoners. Because
the wage reform increased the amount of cash in circulation in the
camps, payments of bribes, or lapa (literally, “paw”), between prisoners

94 In Search of “Normalcy”
Table 3.1. Distribution of wages paid to
Vorkutlag prisoners, July–December 1950
Salary (rubles) N %
> 1000 137 0.44
750–1000 267 0.86
500–750 883 2.85
300–500 2,762 8.90
200–300 4,595 14.81
150–200 4,372 14.09
100–150 4,385 14.13
75–100 4,442 14.32
< 75 7,140 23.01
10% Guarantee 2,045 6.59
Source: GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 151, l. 73.
became more common. 23 Cash payments accompanied many transac-
tions within the camp and were essential in order to secure favors or
services from fellow prisoners who held superior positions in the camp
hierarchy. Landing a desirable job or having the daily production fi g-
ures of one’s brigade padded usually involved the payment of lapa. As
former prisoner Aleksandr Klein described it, “Having received money
earned (after deductions this was little), a worker gave the ‘lapa’ (bribe)
to the brigade leader. This was considered obligatory: the brigade leader
had to give the ‘lapa’ to the foreman and the norm setters, who deter-
mined the percent of their brigade’s plan fulfi llment, from which, it is
clear, the wages and, most important, the food ration depended. . . .
Further, the foremen and the brigade leaders were required to give the
‘lapa’ to the duty offi cer.” When Klein was able to secure himself a rela-
tively soft job as a stoker and disinfector in the bathhouse, he received
a wage of 56 rubles per month, of which he paid his superior 25 rubles.
When he was later promoted to water carrier, his wage was 150 rubles
per month, of which he paid his superior 70 rubles. 24 Thus, the formal
wage system was subverted by the informal practices of the camp. Per-
haps ironically, the money fl owing upward through the hierarchy of
the camp economy served to increase the unequal distribution of wages
among the prisoner population, since those higher up in the camp hier-
archy tended to receive both higher wages and larger amounts of lapa.

In Search of “Normalcy” 95
The buying power of prisoners was not just affected by the unoffi cial
redistribution of wages. For one, limits were placed on how much pris-
oners were allowed to spend within the camp each month: 300 rubles
per month in regular camps, and 100 rubles per month in “special”
camps (see below). 25 Further, the availability of goods often trumped
the availability of cash as a factor determining how useful the wages
were, as was the case in the Soviet economy in general. Although stores
were set up throughout the camp complex where prisoners could spend
their money, the selection of goods usually left much to be desired. Jo-
seph Scholmer, a German prisoner held in Rechlag, described the situ-
ation thus: “It is now possible to buy food in the camp, though only in
limited quantities. The stocks of canteens consist mainly of jam, tinned
fi sh, sugar, margarine, and cheap textile goods. Supplies do not come
in regularly. Sometimes months go by in which sugar is unobtainable.
Moreover, the town authorities have a tendency only to allow such
goods as are too expensive for the ‘free’ population to appear in these
stores. Boxes of chocolate are available, for instance, at 40 roubles [ sic ]
a kilo.” 26 Thus, in many cases prisoners had little choice but to spend
their earnings on unnecessary or undesirable goods, although they were
sometimes able to trade some of these items for other, more desired
goods. Even more important for prisoners was the opening of addi-
tional cafeterias where prisoners could buy extra meals to supplement
their regular rations. Although there was little difference between what
was served in these cafeterias and regular prisoner rations, the cafete-
rias were nevertheless an important way for prisoners to add calories to
their diet. Well-paid prisoners typically ate in both “free” and “for pay”
cafeterias daily. 27 Thus, despite the lack of variety in what prisoners
were able to purchase, the introduction of the wage system contributed
signifi cantly to the physical well being of the prisoner population.
Other new incentives undoubtedly improved the morale among cer-
tain parts of the prisoner population. The system of workday credits
( zachet rabochikh dnei ), which was introduced in Vorkutlag in Septem-
ber 1950, began to signifi cantly shorten the sentences of prisoners con-
victed for less serious crimes. 28 Under this system, productive prisoners
could receive between one and three days of time served for each day
worked. As a result, over time sentences could be effectively cut by a
third for prisoners who managed to overfulfi ll their quotas. By the end
of 1950, over half of the prisoners in Vorkutlag were receiving workday

96 In Search of “Normalcy”
credits that effectively shortened their sentences. 29 The workday credit
system contributed to a signifi cant increase in the release rate from
Vorkutlag, which jumped from 8.5 percent in 1950 to 18.4 percent in
1951. 30 After Stalin’s death in March 1953, the workday credit system
would come to have even more signifi cant effects on release rates.
Material incentives and improvements in the food supply meant that
one of the deadliest periods in the history of Vorkuta had effectively
ended by 1948. This did not, however, mean that prisoners did not
struggle daily for survival. Even prisoners who occupied relatively priv-
ileged places in the camp hierarchy, such as mine safety worker Alek-
sandr Ugrimov, were all too aware of the daily possibility of death. As
he wrote in his memoirs, “But deaths, especially of those close to me,
I never saw in the camp. Of course, people died from illness, but more
often from accidents in the mine; although I can’t say that it was often.
And it somehow happened imperceptibly; people tried not to notice,
turned away—that possibility of ‘kicking the bucket’ and getting a tag
on the big toe was too real for each of us; each of us had one thought:
to survive, to hold out; hopelessness was interwoven with hope.” 31 As
Ugrimov pointed out, death was by no means absent from the camps,
and illness and mining accidents still regularly resulted in fatalities. Yet,
with outright starvation now only a remote possibility, it was possible
to at least “try not to notice” those prisoners who died. The psychologi-
cal atmosphere of the camp complex had clearly changed.
Upon his return to imprisonment in Vorkuta in 1950, Mikhail
Baital’skii noticed that the camp complex had not simply expanded,
but had also qualitatively changed. He recalled in his memoirs, “There
are many more guard towers, and the pea jackets worn by the ‘souls’
have sprouted numbers.” 32 Baital’skii was calling attention to the fact
that the introduction of incentives was not the only signifi cant qualita-
tive change in the lives of prisoners during late Stalinism. Many prison-
ers in the Vorkuta camp complex also faced another set of apparently
contradictory changes to the terms of their existence: the introduction
of the “special camp.” A new camp with an initial quota of 10,000
prisoners was created alongside Vorkutlag by MVD order on 27 Au-
gust 1948. 33 This new camp, dubbed Rechlag (“river camp”), was to

In Search of “Normalcy” 97
be a so-called special camp, one of a new type of camp established to
hold certain groups of prisoners in a stricter regime of isolation. Cre-
ated on Stalin’s order in February 1948, these “special camps” were
designed to hold a veritable laundry list of those considered to be the
most dangerous enemies of the Soviet state, including “spies, saboteurs,
terrorists, Trotskyists, rightists, Mensheviks, SRs, anarchists, national-
ists, white emigrants and participants in other anti-Soviet organizations
and groups and those presenting danger by their anti-Soviet ties and
enemy activities.” 34 While the initial order had called for fi ve of these
camps to be built across the USSR to house 100,000 prisoners overall,
the number of camps, as well as the number of prisoners held in them,
quickly exceeded initial quotas. By October 1950, nine special camps
had been created, with a theoretical capacity of 250,000 prisoners. 35
Rechlag was the sixth, and would eventually become one of the largest,
holding some 35,000 prisoners by the beginning of 1952. 36
In essence, the “special camp” reform extended the regime that had
been applied to katorga prisoners since 1943 to a much larger group of
prisoners. 37 In fact, katorga did not disappear with the introduction of
the “special camps,” and separate sections for katorzhane continued to
operate in both Vorkutlag and Rechlag. Like katorga, the primary pur-
pose of the special camps was to further isolate those considered to be
the most dangerous criminals from the rest of the camp population and
from society at large. Thus, much of the “special camp” regime was in-
tended to increase this isolation. Prisoners in special camps lived in bar-
racks that were locked at night, had bars over the windows, and were
more cramped than was the standard elsewhere (if such a thing was
possible!). Correspondence with the outside world was strictly limited,
and prisoners were allowed to send only four letters per year and could
receive letters only from family members. Special camp prisoners were
not allowed to work with prisoners not in special camps, nor were they
supposed to have any contact on the work site with non-prisoners. 38
The special camps were designed not only to isolate, but also to
punish. Special camp prisoners, as long as they were healthy, were to
be used exclusively for heavy physical labor under armed guard. The
workday for special camp prisoners was set at ten hours, as opposed to
the standard nine. 39 Special camp prisoners were categorically excluded
from having their sentences reduced for good behavior or productive
labor, and it was initially forbidden to give them bonuses of any kind,

98 In Search of “Normalcy”
although they were eventually allowed to receive wages in the winter of
1951. Finally, as noted above, special camp prisoners “sprouted num-
bers” that were painted on patches sewn to their uniforms. They were
supposed to be referred to by these numbers rather than by their names.
The introduction of numbers for prisoners in special camps was a fur-
ther attempt to dehumanize and punish certain groups of prisoners.
Rechlag was not built from scratch. Instead, camp sections were
transferred from Vorkutlag after minor modifi cations had been made
to meet the new regulations. By 1951, Rechlag had taken on many of
Vorkutlag’s economic tasks, including some of its largest mines and
construction projects. 40 All camp sections were located along the east-
ern and northern sections of the Vorkuta coalfi eld. Despite the empha-
sis on the isolation of Rechlag prisoners from “regular” prisoners and
from the non-prisoner population, sections of Vorkutlag and Rechlag
were interspersed with each other. Perhaps even more surprising is the
fact that many of the camp sections transferred to Rechlag were in close
proximity to the city. Rechlag prisoners were even assigned the task of
city construction, which meant that special camp prisoners were led
under armed guard through city streets on a daily basis. Just as camp
sections were transferred to the new camp from Vorkutlag, so were the
new camp’s prisoners. According to the order creating the special camps
in early 1948, all camps and prisons in the Soviet Union were required
to review the fi les of their prisoners to determine who should be sent to
the new camps. 41 With such a high percentage of counterrevolutionary
and katorga prisoners, a signifi cant proportion of Vorkutlag prisoners
were designated for transfer to Rechlag. According to one estimate, by
the beginning of 1950 over 70 percent of the prisoners in Rechlag had
been transferred there from Vorkutlag. 42 Thus, the creation of a special
camp in Vorkuta was more a matter of the reclassifi cation of prisoners
and space than it was the creation of a new camp.
For the administration of the camp complex, this reorganization
created its own set of problems. From an economic standpoint, the
reshuffl ing of people and space was clearly disruptive. Mine no. 1, the
fi rst mine to be transferred to Rechlag at the end of 1948, missed its
yearly production target by 10 percent, which acting Rechlag director
Fadeev attributed directly to the creation of Rechlag. 43 The new camp
required the establishment of a separate administration, which strained
the manpower of a camp complex that was already chronically short

In Search of “Normalcy” 99
of personnel. Like any bureaucracy, Vorkutlag was loath to share its
resources with the fl edgling Rechlag, which made the reorganization
even more diffi cult. Vorkutlag was slow to transfer personnel to Rech-
lag, and when it did, it used the opportunity to rid itself of its most
undisciplined workers. 44 The reluctance of administrators in Vorkutlag
to transfer housing stock (of which there was already a shortage) to
Rechlag led to a “large housing crisis” for the new employees of the
latter. 45 The stricter security requirements for special camps, which re-
quired more guards, were especially diffi cult to meet, since Vorkutlag
was already forced to use thousands of prisoners to guard each other.
Perhaps it is for this reason that Rechlag had its own director for only
the fi rst year of its existence. As of April 1950 Kukhtikov, who was
already the director of Vorkutlag and Vorkutaugol’, absorbed this re-
sponsibility. 46 In the short term, the creation of Rechlag required a dif-
fi cult and disruptive reorganization.
The stricter regime of special camps, like that of katorga, placed
increased psychological strains on the prisoners. The locking of bar-
racks at night, limits on correspondence with the outside world, and
the wearing of numbers on one’s clothing all undoubtedly took their
toll on the tens of thousands of prisoners in Rechlag. Elena Markova, a
prisoner in a section of Rechlag that housed many mothers with new-
born infants, recalls the anguish and anxiety created by the requirement
that mothers remained locked in their barracks overnight away from
their newborns. 47 Psychological strains were further intensifi ed by the
practice of assigning special camp prisoners only the most diffi cult and
risky jobs available. In theory, at least, special camp prisoners were ex-
cluded from occupying privileged and less physically taxing positions
in the camp as specialists or engineers. In practice, however, prisoners
in special camps were not entirely excluded from such positions, and
they were only slightly more likely than non-“special camp” prisoners
to work in the mines. 48 Nevertheless, a concerted effort was made to
make the psychological atmosphere in Rechlag even more oppressive
for the prisoners.
Feelings of hopelessness were further magnifi ed by one of the factors
that most distinguished Vorkutlag from Rechlag: the likelihood of be-
ing released. As table 3.2 demonstrates, prisoners were far more likely
to be released from Vorkutlag than from Rechlag. In fact, over time the
difference between the two camps tended to increase. This contributed

100 In Search of “Normalcy”
Table 3.2. Absolute and relative number of prisoners
released from Vorkutlag and Rechlag, 1949–1953

Vorkutlag Rechlag
1949 4,345 7.30 250 1.57
1950 4,074 8.56 573 1.96
1951 6,987 18.40 555 1.61
1952 6,706 17.08 926 2.61
1953 11,622 33.23 1,016 2.80
Source: GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 472; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 479; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 485; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 495; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 500.
to the perception on the part of prisoners in Rechlag that it was un-
likely they would ever be freed. Although prisoners in each camp were
serving sentences that were about the same length on average, there
were three important differences that accounted for the much higher
likelihood of being released from Vorkutlag. First, Vorkutlag typically
had several thousand prisoners with sentences under fi ve years, whereas
Rechlag had only a few hundred at most. 49 Second, “special camp”
prisoners, like all “counterrevolutionary” prisoners in general, tended
to be categorically excluded from the periodic amnesties that released
large numbers of prisoners from the postwar Gulag. 50 Third, “special
camp” prisoners were not eligible to receive workday credits, making it
far more likely that they would have to serve their entire sentence.
The handful of prisoners who were released from Rechlag each year
faced the sobering prospect that it would be impossible for them to
return home. As of February 1948, all prisoners who were released
from special camps were sentenced to exile in certain remote regions of
the Soviet Union, which included Kolyma, Novosibirsk oblast’, Kras-
noiarsk krai, and certain regions of Kazakhstan. 51 The prospect of eter-
nal exile effectively eliminated even the miniscule chance of returning
home to establish a relatively normal life. For the handful of prisoners
released from Rechlag during the fi rst year of its existence, the sen-
tence of exile was unusually harsh, as former prisoners were forced to
leave Vorkuta, an area where they might have social networks in place
to help navigate the diffi cult transition to civilian life. By May 1949,
however, the areas of Komi ASSR located to the east of Ukhta, which

In Search of “Normalcy” 101
included Vorkuta, had been added to the areas to which released spe-
cial camp prisoners could be exiled. 52 Still, the prospect of release into
eternal exile gave special camp prisoners little to which they could look
But despite the apparent hopelessness that Rechlag prisoners faced,
this does not necessarily mean that physical survival was less likely.
Offi cial statistics show that from 1949 to 1954 (when Rechlag ceased
to exist) prisoners in Rechlag died at a rate that was roughly equal to,
and occasionally slightly lower than, that of their counterparts in Vor-
kutlag. The mortality rate for prisoners in Rechlag during this period
reached its zenith in 1949 (11.31 deaths per thousand) and its nadir in
1951 (5.87 deaths per thousand). In Vorkutlag, the mortality rate was
11.64 deaths per thousand in 1949 and 9.50 deaths per thousand in
1951. Mortality in both camps tended to be roughly equal to that of
the Gulag average, which ranged between a high of 12.10 deaths per
thousand in 1949 and a low of 6.70 deaths per thousand in 1953. 53
If we compare the mortality rate of prisoners in the Vorkuta complex
during this period to that of the war and its immediate aftermath, we
see very strong evidence that by 1949 the food situation in Vorkuta had
stabilized to a great extent and that the overall health of prisoners had
improved signifi cantly.
The intention of the special camp reforms was to isolate certain
groups of prisoners, but an important consequence of the reform,
perhaps unintended, was also to concentrate certain types of prison-
ers within the special camps. Take, for example, the crimes for which
prisoners had been convicted. By 1950, 93 percent of the prisoners
in Rechlag had been convicted of “counterrevolutionary” crimes, as
opposed to only 59 percent for Vorkutlag. 54 Both numbers were well
above the average for the Gulag as a whole, but Rechlag sections now
held prisoners convicted of counterrevolutionary crimes almost ex-
clusively. Even more striking is the way in which the special camp
reform concentrated prisoners of certain nationalities within Rechlag.
In 1950, only 16 percent of the prisoners in Rechlag were Russian,
as opposed to 48 percent in Vorkutlag. Forty percent of the prisoners
in Rechlag were Ukrainian, 5 percent were Latvian, 12 percent were
Lithuanian, and 5 percent were Estonian; in Vorkutlag the fi gures were
22 percent, 1 percent, 3 percent, and 2 percent, respectively. 55 Thus, in
the camp sections of Rechlag Russians were far outnumbered by other

102 In Search of “Normalcy”
nationalities, in particular those from the western borderlands of the
Soviet Union.
Rechlag and Vorkutlag also saw a signifi cant infl ux of foreign nation-
als during late Stalinism, particularly German citizens. By 1950, there
were 4,370 Germans in the complex, some 5.6 percent of the over-
all population. 56 Most were POWs who had been convicted by Soviet
military tribunals of war crimes against Soviet citizens in 1949–1950. 57
Whereas the majority of German and other POWs had been repatri-
ated by 1949, those convicted of war crimes were not sent home until
much later. 58 Those that remained in the Gulag were concentrated in
a small number of camps and colonies, including Vorkutlag and Rech-
lag. 59 Some of the POWs were held in isolation from the rest of the
prisoners, including approximately three hundred held in the Bezymi-
anka (literally, “nameless”) camp point, which was technically part of
Rechlag camp section 7. 60 While the camp section as a whole held only
female prisoners, the Bezymianka camp point was located across the
river from the rest of the section and held only men described in MVD
correspondence as “German-fascist villains.” According to Elena Mar-
kova, who was ordered to carry out sanitary inspection of the section
in the winter of 1950, many of the prisoners were malnourished and
seriously ill. 61 Many other German POWs, probably the majority, were
scattered throughout Vorkutlag and Rechlag. The German prisoner Jo-
seph Scholmer encountered sizable communities of Germans in camp
sections 6 and 4 of Rechlag, where he was imprisoned. 62 Scholmer, who
was himself a member of the German Communist Party, encountered
SS guards who had worked in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp,
unrepentant Nazis who used the phrase, “There’s one we forgot—to
gas!” when they encountered Jewish prisoners. 63 He also met several
high-ranking former offi cers in the German army. 64 German prisoners
were forbidden from receiving food packages or correspondence from
home, a situation that made hunger and demoralization widespread. 65
The concentration of large groups of national minorities in the “spe-
cial camp” sections led to important changes in prisoner society. Co-
nationals begin to organize themselves into voluntary “self-help” or-
ganizations for the purpose of mutual aid, protection, and survival.
Describing such groups, Joseph Scholmer wrote, “Each group is built
up on a national basis. There is a perfectly good practical reason for
this. Only people of the same nationality are really in a position to

In Search of “Normalcy” 103
judge whether a man is personally and politically suitable to be taken
on for underground work. On the whole it can be said that such groups
are made up of the elite of each nation’s representation in the camps.
The groups are organized around a nucleus which is purposely kept
as small as possible to minimize the NKVD’s [ sic ] chances of making
contact with it.” 66 Signifi cantly, some of these prisoners had actively
fought against the establishment of Soviet power as members of par-
tisan organizations like the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists
(OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), giving them shared
experiences of resisting Soviet power as well as active experience or-
ganizing underground organizations. 67 As has been well documented
both by memoirists and historians, these national self-help organiza-
tions became ubiquitous throughout the Gulag, particularly within the
special camp system. 68
These organizations transmitted information between prisoners,
barracks, sections, and camp complexes. For prisoners who had access
to these networks, they were able to call on what they assumed was a
much more reliable source of information than the usual parasha , or
camp gossip. Access to accurate information was essential for survival
in the camp. The organizations also operated as mutual aid societies,
sharing resources and favors in order to improve the survival chances
of everyone in the group. The networks also existed in order to stop the
infi ltration of informants and collaborators within the camp popula-
tion. Intimidation and violence were often applied to those suspected of
collaborating with the authorities. By the early 1950s, there was a clear
sense that these organizations were successful in many of their endeav-
ors, particularly in disrupting informant networks. Administrators in
Vorkuta consistently complained of the diffi culty they had maintaining
networks of prisoner informants and quelling violence between pris-
oners. Despite concerted attempts to infi ltrate the organizations and
diminish their infl uence through various means, in 1951 camp complex
director Kukhtikov was forced to admit that incidents of camp violence
were not decreasing, but in fact increasing. 69 The camp administration
appeared to be at a complete loss to contain these underground nation-
alist organizations.
Despite the ubiquity of these organizations, open mass resistance
by prisoners was notably absent in Vorkutlag and Rechlag during the
late Stalinist period. Although there were a few documented cases of

104 In Search of “Normalcy”
prisoner uprisings elsewhere in the early 1950s, the nationalist orga-
nizations in Vorkuta continued to operate underground, limiting their
goals to improving the conditions of their co-nationals. 70 However, it
is important to note that these organizations had already become well
organized and ubiquitous during the late Stalinist period. In the sum-
mer of 1953, following the death of Stalin and the fall of Beriia, a large
number of prisoners in Rechlag would participate in one of the largest
prisoner strikes in Gulag history. The death of the Soviet Union’s su-
preme leader and the arrest of one of his likely successors were central
to making this uprising possible. However, the prisoner organizations
that coordinated and carried out the strike were a product of the late-
Stalinist Gulag.
Taken together, improvements to the food supply, incentives for pris-
oners, and the “special camp” reform represented an attempt to re-
introduce “normalcy” into the camp system after the upheaval of the
war. Restoring “normalcy” to the system meant improving its eco-
nomic effi ciency by ensuring that prisoners received a bare minimum
of nourishment and that their labor was properly incentivized. It also
meant instituting proper regulations of isolation and punishment for
the new groups of prisoners that represented a perceived threat to So-
viet society, including nationalist rebels from the western borderlands
and former Red Army soldiers whose wartime activities rendered them
suspicious in the eyes of the regime. Yet the combination of a gen-
eral improvement in living conditions and the concentration of certain
types of prisoners in the special camps combined to undermine any
semblance of “normalcy” that they were intended to create. Instead,
Gulag administrators were met with an increasingly organized and re-
calcitrant prisoner population. As Oleg Khlevniuk and Yoram Gorlizki
have persuasively argued, those who worked in the Gulag system were
increasingly aware that “the cumulative impact of Stalin’s penal policies
threatened to push the scale of the Gulag beyond sustainable limits.” 71
Radical reforms to address a growing crisis in the Gulag would not be
possible until Stalin’s death, however.
Even more so than within Vorkutlag and Rechlag, the period of post-
war Stalinism was marked by an attempt to establish “normalcy” in the

In Search of “Normalcy” 105
city of Vorkuta. While the city had been established at the height of the
Second World War by Mal’tsev, and nurtured through his patronage of
the prisoner and non-prisoner population, by 1947–1948 it consisted
of a handful of monumental structures, a park and boulevard, and a
series of haphazard spaces and buildings originally built as part of the
camps. Much the same could be said for the city’s population. The
war had brought to the city thousands of non-prisoners: prison-camp
employees, ex-prisoners, and various exile populations that together
made up a population of just over thirty thousand people at the begin-
ning of 1948. Most of these “citizens” had been sent to the city as a
result of various waves of wartime and postwar repression, and began
their existence in Vorkuta behind the barbed wire in camp zones. Yet
as their status was changed, the barbed wire was removed from around
their homes and they became residents of the new city. In short, there
was little that was “normal” about the space, population, or institu-
tions of Vorkuta at the beginning of 1948. Over the course of the next
fi ve years, however, Kukhtikov and his superiors in the Gulag would
seek to normalize the structures, spaces, and population of the city. In
so doing, they would lay the foundation for Vorkuta as a Soviet com-
pany town.
The Vorkuta Children’s Hospital, which was completed in 1950, sig-
nifi ed a key transition taking place in the planning and construction of
the city. Its planning and construction indicated continuities between
Mal’tsev and Kukhtikov’s strategies as city patrons. A monumental
structure, it was designed by one of Mal’tsev’s “clients,” was built by
prisoners, and was located in the city square that had been a focus of at-
tention since the city’s founding in 1943. Yet, in other respects, the chil-
dren’s hospital was different from anything that had been built before.
Unlike the other monumental structures that surrounded it, it served a
practical function for Vorkuta’s growing population, providing health-
care for the thousands of children in the city. It was a direct investment
in the city’s future, especially the physical well being of its citizens.
The children’s hospital represented a change in priorities and practices
within the city. Vorkuta would be increasingly oriented toward serving
the needs of its citizenry rather than being the exclusive playground of
the camp elite and its prisoner and non-prisoner clients.
The shift in priorities that the hospital represented continued after
its completion. For the fi rst time, long-term plans for the city were

106 In Search of “Normalcy”
composed. A systematic geological survey of city territory revealed a
large area of unfrozen soil just to the east of where city construction
had already begun in Moscow Square. Bounded on three sides by two
ravines and the Vorkuta River, this area presented much more agreeable
soil conditions for building, since it was free of permafrost. Building on
frozen soil required complicated and expensive designs in order to pre-
vent a building’s heat from thawing the soil and causing the structure
to deform. Building on permafrost-free soil would allow for faster and
cheaper construction. Thus, when city architect Lunev and prisoner
L. E. Raikin set to work composing the city’s fi rst “General Plan” for
long-term construction, they focused on this permafrost-free area for
the future expansion of the city. 72 When a draft of their “General Plan”
was approved in July 1951 by the Komi ASSR Council of Ministers,
local and regional offi cials had agreed to a strikingly different vision of
Vorkuta as a city. Rather than an awkward amalgam of architectural
showstoppers and former camp barracks, a separate city of Vorkuta
was imagined that would have a population of at least one hundred
thousand by 1965. 73 Lunev and Raikin’s plan envisioned the city hav-
ing a three-ray composition in the style of major world capitals such as
Rome and St. Petersburg, with all three lines emanating from a monu-
ment to be placed on the site of Vorkuta’s fi rst mine in Rudnik. 74
Not surprisingly, the city that would be built over the next fi ve de-
cades bore little resemblance to any of the illustrious models mentioned
by Lunev. Nor would future city planners adhere to the three-ray de-
sign of the original plan as Vorkuta expanded. Nevertheless, begin-
ning in the early 1950s city construction shifted in accordance with
the new plan. After fi nishing the hospital, prisoner construction crews
moved into the open tundra, building simpler two-story wooden resi-
dential buildings on a new street, dubbed Lenin Street. 75 These struc-
tures, some of which still line the courtyards off one of Vorkuta’s major
thoroughfares, were far from humble, serving as the homes of the city
and camps’ administrative elites. They were, however, some of the fi rst
examples of purpose-built civilian housing within the city. The vast
majority of Vorkuta’s residents would continue living in dilapidated
barracks originally built as part of the camp well into the 1960s. But
the housing construction begun at the beginning of the 1950s was part
of an attempt to establish “normalcy” for Vorkuta’s residents.

In Search of “Normalcy” 107
The early 1950s shift in construction was accompanied by another
important change that would form the foundation of the company
town: the expansion of city institutions that were nominally indepen-
dent from the camp complex. The most important of these institu-
tions was the City Committee of the Communist Party, or Gorkom,
founded in November 1951. 76 The Gorkom typically performed two
sets of functions in Soviet cities. First, it was responsible for oversight
of the ideological life of party members within an urban area. Second,
and perhaps more important, as the most powerful institution of local
government, it typically played the role of “supermayor.” 77 Although in
theory the Gorkom operated in parallel to state institutions, such as the
city Gorispolkom that had been created in 1943, in keeping with
the general Soviet practice of subordinating state to party institutions,
the Gorkom usually represented the apex of local power. At its found-
ing, Vorkuta’s Gorkom was somewhat anomalous, as its capacity to
carry out both of the above functions was signifi cantly circumscribed.
It was responsible for only 425 full and candidate party members. 78
Another 1,770 members were supervised by the political sections of
Vorkutlag and Rechlag. 79 Nor did the Gorkom exercise any signifi cant
amount of power in local government, as it remained entirely subordi-
nate to Kukhtikov as chief. Nevertheless, by establishing a more “nor-
mal” decision-making structure that resembled other Soviet cities, a key
part of the institutional framework for the company town was created.
Another signifi cant institutional change was the creation of a city
newspaper. Although the prison camp complex had published a se-
ries of newspapers over the previous decade, including Shakhter (The
miner) and Zapoliarnaia kochegarka (The polar stoker), these had
been produced under the supervision of the camp political section and
were intended strictly for distribution within the camp. 80 The fi rst issue
of Zapoliar’e , the offi cial organ of the Gorkom, appeared on 3 August
1952. Zapoliar’e ’s beginnings were quite humble, as a two-page pub-
lication that appeared only twice per week. It lacked not only offi ce
space, but also its own typographical equipment, and so was printed
with the camp complex’s printing equipment. 81 Despite its limitations,
the publication of Zapoliar’e was indeed a milestone in the foundation
of the company town. It suggested that the city now had a reading
public ready to consume it. Unlike the camp press, which addressed

108 In Search of “Normalcy”
prisoners and prison camp employees as such, this was the fi rst news-
paper to address Vorkuta’s residents as citizens and members of the
reading public. Thus, it was a key component of the attempt to estab-
lish “normalcy” in Vorkuta. 82
None of the institutional changes that took place in the early 1950s
effectively diminished Kukhtikov’s power as head of KVU, Vorkutlag,
and Rechlag. Nor were they intended to do so, as they were carried
out with Kukhtikov’s blessings. They were more than an attempt to
establish “normalcy” in the city—they were also an acknowledgment
that the city’s population had become large and complex enough that
it would need its own set of institutions for management and adminis-
tration. The size of the city population expanded dramatically during
the late Stalinist period, from 30,127 in December 1947 to 68,553 in
January 1953. 83 Whereas during the war and its immediate aftermath
the vast majority of the city’s population increase had come from large-
scale forced population transfers from other parts of the Soviet Union,
the city’s population more than doubled from 1948 to 1953 as a result
of new factors. These included a dramatic increase in the birth rate, a
rise in “free” migration, and the recruitment of skilled workers from
outside the city. Important shifts in state policy and natural population
growth made the demographic structure of Vorkuta in 1953 very dif-
ferent from how it had been in 1947, necessitating many of the institu-
tional changes described above.
Former prisoners released from Vorkutlag constituted the majority of
the considerable population increase. As Golfo Alexopoulos has noted,
a surprisingly large number of Gulag prisoners were released from the
camps every year while Stalin was alive, and Vorkuta was no excep-
tion to this trend. 84 From 1 January 1949 to 31 December 1952, ap-
proximately 22,000 prisoners were released from Vorkutlag and 2,300
prisoners were released from Rechlag. 85 Given the notoriously heavy
limitations placed on the mobility of former prisoners under Stalin,
the majority of released prisoners likely remained in Vorkuta. In most
years the majority of new city residents were in fact released prisoners,
making up as much as two-thirds of those who came to the city.
Given the strict limits on their mobility, most former prisoners were
simply expected to remain in Vorkuta after release. Yet an important
change took place in the early 1950s, one that set the stage for local
recruitment policies over the next decade. For the fi rst time, former

In Search of “Normalcy” 109
prisoners whose skills were considered valuable to KVU were actively
recruited to remain in the city. The local tekhnikum (technical school),
which had graduated its fi rst class of seventy-one technicians to work
in the mines in 1948, began expanding in early 1951. 86 Exiles and for-
mer prisoners were specifi cally targeted to be part of the expanded stu-
dent body and staff of the institution. 87 Skilled former prisoners were
also offered monetary incentives to remain working in the city. 88 Thus,
even before Stalin’s death former prisoners who were recognized to
have skills essential to the operation of KVU were offered material in-
centives to remain after their release. As we shall see, this trend would
only intensify after Stalin’s death.
Although the majority of new Vorkutiane during the period of post-
war Stalinism were released prisoners, approximately one-third of new
residents were not prisoners released from the camp. Migration to the
city from other parts of the Soviet Union clearly constituted another
important source of population growth. Such migrants came from two
broad categories. First, there were “free” migrants, those who decided,
based on individual or family circumstances, to move to the city. Those
who chose to move to the city had a variety of reasons for doing so.
Some came to the city in order to be close to family members who were
imprisoned or who were unable to leave the city because of their sta-
tus as former prisoners. Although it was offi cially forbidden for KVU
to hire the family members of prisoners, this rule was frequently vio-
lated. In early 1952, the head of the Vorkutlag politotdel, Opalenko,
acknowledged that family members of prisoners were being hired by
KVU despite this prohibition. As he stated, “people are being hired
without a special check [of their backgrounds]. There are cases of peo-
ple being hired to work in the camp who have relatives imprisoned in
Vorkutlag.” 89 Such was the case with the Dolgopolov family: The father
was a prisoner, and lived in the zone. Mother and daughter lived out-
side the zone in the city. 90 Although such “mixed families” were rarely
harmonious, many nevertheless decided that coming to Vorkuta to be
near an imprisoned family member was better than the alternatives. 91
Others traveled to Vorkuta from rural villages and “special settle-
ments,” particularly within Komi ASSR, in search of greater economic
opportunities. After the devastation of the Second World War and the
postwar famine, life was particularly diffi cult for those living on collec-
tive farms, and many peasants across the Soviet Union chose to move

110 In Search of “Normalcy”
to cities in order to break out of rural poverty. 92 Non-prisoners were in
high demand in Vorkuta, and despite the brutal living conditions there
were ample opportunities for both men and women to earn higher
wages and be promoted through the ranks. The fact that most new ar-
rivals would be living in former camp barracks would have done little
to discourage those leaving the harsh conditions of the many “special
settlements” in Komi ASSR. Regardless of the source of this migration,
the traffi c of non-prisoners to and from the city had become so great
by 1950 that camp director Kukhtikov requested that train service
from Moscow to Vorkuta be expanded so that there were three express
trains in each direction per week. 93
Expanding Vorkuta’s population, and in particular its pool of skilled
labor, was too important to be left to chance, however. Acknowledg-
ing that relying on the release of prisoners and on “free” migration
was insuffi cient to provide KVU with a suffi ciently skilled workforce,
the MVD began deliberate efforts to bring more workers to the city
through transfers, incentives, and recruitment. Such efforts began in
1951, when the USSR Council of Ministers passed a resolution aimed
at the “creation of permanent cadres” by calling for the transfer and re-
cruitment of personnel whose skills and expertise were in short supply
in Vorkuta. Under the terms of the legislation, mining engineers were
to be sent from the Ministry of Coal Industry (MUP) to assume top
posts in KVU, specialist doctors were to be transferred by the Ministry
of Health, and up to two thousand specialists were to be sent from
regional departments of the MVD. In addition to this targeted recruit-
ment and transfers, Sovmin ordered that all ministries transfer any-
one to the Pechora coal basin who expressed a desire to work there. 94
Thus, skilled personnel from within and without the MVD system were
sought for the city.
In order to make Vorkuta a more attractive destination, and to im-
prove the retention of workers already there, this resolution called
for signifi cant improvements to the city. Implicitly acknowledging the
sorry state of civilian housing in the city, Sovmin ordered the construc-
tion of 25,000 square meters of permanent housing in 1951. Furnished
apartments were to be set aside for members of the mine management
teams, including directors, chief engineers, chief mechanics, and head
surveyors of mines, as well as the heads of each mine section. This coin-
cided with the adoption of the city’s fi rst “General Plan” and the transi-

In Search of “Normalcy” 111
tion from devoting resources to a few expensive marquis projects on
Moscow Square to the construction of larger numbers of more humble
buildings on the new Lenin Street. Money was also set aside to provide
paid vacations to sanatoria for non-prisoners. Ten million rubles were
allocated by the trade unions for the outfi tting of houses of culture,
clubs, libraries, and physical fi tness centers. Undoubtedly more signifi -
cant for those considering whether or not to come to Vorkuta was the
extension of various wage incentives that existed in other parts of the
Soviet Union to specialists who came to Vorkuta. 95 Thus, signifi cant
efforts were made to make Vorkuta a more attractive destination for
skilled workers. That Sovmin was the entity ordering such changes was
not without signifi cance—like the creation of the Gorkom and the city
newspaper, it suggested that city management was no longer wholly the
preserve of the MVD and its local representatives.
The results of these policies were poor, especially in the short term.
Far fewer specialists were recruited than had been envisaged by the res-
olution, and retention of qualifi ed specialists remained a thorny prob-
lem for years to come. 96 Leaving short-term results aside, however, it is
clear that these new recruitment and retention policies are signifi cant, if
more in terms of intentions than of outcomes. It was part of an impor-
tant shift taking place in the management of the Gulag in the beginning
of the 1950s. As attention turned to improving the productivity and
economic viability of the forced labor system, the increased use of non-
prisoners in Gulag projects emerged as an important strategy. As Oleg
Khlevniuk has pointed out, “Despite the apparent advantages of unlim-
ited control of prisoners, the authorities increasingly preferred to deal
with relatively free workers, who provided higher labor productivity
and did not require a well-oiled system of guards and overseers.” 97 In
Vorkuta, the emphasis on using non-prisoners was an important step in
a longer-term process of creating a company town alongside the camp
complex. The explicit acknowledgment of the utility of non-prisoner
labor, particularly in management and specialist positions, only served
to intensify efforts to grow the population of the city as well as to ex-
pand and improve the built environment.
The greatest indication of a turn toward “normalcy” in Vorkuta was
a postwar baby boom that signifi cantly contributed to the population
increase. When the area’s population had consisted overwhelmingly of
prisoners and exiles held in areas within the zone, birth rates tended

112 In Search of “Normalcy”
to be quite low. Even though fairly strict gender segregation, diffi cult
working conditions, and poor nutrition did not entirely prevent preg-
nancy and childbirth, the hundreds of children born in the camp ev-
ery year did not have an appreciable effect on the size of the local
population, since the typical Gulag policy was to send the children of
prisoners to orphanages after they had reached the age of two. 98 But
beginning in 1948, the city’s birth rate began to have a signifi cant ef-
fect on the size and structure of the local population for the fi rst time.
Vorkuta, like other Soviet cities, experienced a tremendous increase in
the birth rate after the war. Over 13,000 children were born there from
the beginning of 1948 until the end of 1952. In 1949 alone, nearly
3,000 children were born, and the natality rate reached 61.70 births
per thousand. 99 This birth rate was nearly twice the urban average for
RSFSR, which reached a peak of 33.4 births per thousand in 1949. 100
Improving medical facilities (such as the children’s hospital) and more
abundant food supplies meant that a decrease in mortality took place
as well, from 13.58 deaths per thousand in 1948 to 8.22 deaths per
thousand in 1952 among the non-prisoner population. From 1948 until
the end of 1952, natural population growth averaged nearly 5 percent
per year, a net total of over 10,000 people. 101 Thus, the fi rst generation
of native Vorkutiane was born, a key signpost in the establishment of
“normalcy” in Vorkuta.
In many important respects, the period of postwar Stalinism saw the
beginning of long-term trends that would continue to mark the city and
its population well into the 1980s. The struggle to recruit skilled work-
ers from outside the city, and to retain those already working there
(including former prisoners), would continue to be a perennial issue
for the city and its industries. Echoes of the fi rst systematic attempt
to establish “permanent cadres” in the city in 1951 would reverber-
ate throughout the 1950s and beyond. High levels of migration would
only increase throughout the 1950s and 1960s before eventually level-
ing off. While the city’s birth rate would never approach the level of the
postwar baby boom, it would remain high in the coming decades as
the population of Vorkuta remained young and fertile. Thus, like urban
planning, construction, and the establishment of institutions, popula-
tion policies and trends of the early 1950s set the stage for Vorkuta’s
transformation into a company town following Stalin’s death.

In Search of “Normalcy” 113
Efforts to establish “normalcy” in the city and camp complex were
by their nature contradictory and incomplete. In the camp complex,
“normalcy” meant a general improvement in the living conditions of
prisoners, in addition to attempts to incentivize labor and increase the
punishment and isolation of certain groups of prisoners. In the city,
it meant efforts to create a planned company town, with its own set
of institutions and a growing population of qualifi ed and productive
workers. For Vorkuta as a whole, “normalcy” meant the enforcement
and maintenance of strict boundaries between the city and camp com-
plex. The process of creating two Vorkutas as separate, parallel worlds,
which had begun during the Second World War, was greatly accelerated
during the period of postwar Stalinism. In theory, there were separate
groups of prisoners and citizens who were prevented from interacting
with each other, largely because the spaces that they inhabited were
separate. While it is true that this theory came closest to being realized
during late Stalinism, it remained an ideal vision fraught with contra-
dictions. The scale of the effort to create and enforce separation be-
tween camp and city meant that when the two worlds met, the results
were particularly violent and disruptive.
One set of relationships that undermined the separation of city and
camp complex was necessitated by the continued economic interdepen-
dence between the city and the camp complex. As long as both prison-
ers and non-prisoners were used to work in Vorkuta’s mines and indus-
tries, it would be impossible to maintain a strict separation between
the two populations. This was particularly true underground in the
mines, where prisoners and non-prisoners worked together away from
the gaze of camp guards. Certain mining specializations, such as the
“blasters” ( zapal’shchiki ) who were responsible for setting explosives
to clear out new tunnels or to loosen coal for excavation, tended to
be dominated by non-prisoners. 102 In order to maintain safety and ef-
fi ciency in the mine, non-prisoner “blasters” had to be in constant com-
munication with prisoner brigades. Underground, prisoner brigades
reported directly to non-prisoner personnel who were not part of the
camp administration. Mine directors, engineers, mechanics, geologists,
and surveyors, just to name a few of the specialist personnel working

114 In Search of “Normalcy”
in a mine, were all in constant and direct communication with brigade
leaders and the heads of mine sections, who were usually prisoners.
These routine interactions led to familiarity, if not a certain degree of
intimacy and trust. One Rechlag prisoner, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich
Ugrimov, even recalled being taught how to sew by elderly non- prisoner
women who worked with him at a mine electrical substation. 103 The
cooperation of prisoners and non-prisoners determined the success or
failure of a mine to meet its monthly plan, giving both groups a mutual
economic interest. In the case of dangerous mining operations, estab-
lishing trust between prisoners and non-prisoners was a matter of life
or death. 104
Even above ground, the economic interdependence of camp complex
and city meant that the strict delineation of space was constantly vio-
lated. Because the company town was built by prisoners, this meant
that prisoners walked the streets of the city on a daily basis, albeit un-
der guard. In fact, most of the prisoner labor used for city construction
during late Stalinism came from a section of Rechlag, the very prison-
ers who were supposed to be most strictly isolated from non-prisoners
and non-prisoner spaces. Joseph Scholmer, a Rechlag prisoner working
in a city construction brigade, recalls walking through the very heart of
Vorkuta, Moscow Square, every morning. As he writes, “Every morn-
ing we used to march across the great square in the middle of the town
where there was a bronze life-size statue of Stalin.” 105 Such prisoners
were strictly guarded and prevented from interacting with citizens.
Nevertheless, the prisoners were able to observe life in the city, and vice
versa. At one point Scholmer’s brigade worked the night shift, and he
recalled being able to observe the intimate family life of non-prisoners
through the windows of their homes. As he wrote, “We were engaged
on the digging of foundations. . . . The site was in the Ulitsa Lenin-
gradksaya [Leningrad Street], on the other side of which there was a
row of two-storied houses erected by German prisoners-of-war. This
was where the NKVD [ sic ] aristocracy of Vorkuta lived. Through the
half-drawn curtains the prisoners could watch their tormentors having
a quiet evening at home with their families. They saw the major tak-
ing off his tunic. He washed his hands and face in the kitchen sink. At
half-past eight—we had begun working in the meantime—the family
sat down to supper. They ate a large number of dishes and had a lot to
drink.” 106 Thus, the prisoners’ gazes violated the “normalcy” of the city

In Search of “Normalcy” 115
by intruding on the domesticity of a non-prisoner family. Indeed, the
very presence of “special camp” prisoners on city streets violated the
isolation of the camp from the company town.
Other common practices undermined the status distinctions between
prisoners and non-prisoners. Illicit relations between prisoners and
camp staff remained common during the period of late Stalinism, even
in the stricter regime of Rechlag. There were cases of bribery of guards
by prisoners, and the smuggling of food and vodka into the camp as
well as packages and letters out of the camp. 107 In 1952, some guards
were even allowing prisoners to meet family members at work sites,
where they were supposed to be strictly guarded. 108 Such violations of
camp regime remained so common that they were frequently cited by
high-level administrators as serious issues to be addressed. 109 Prison-
ers and guards often smoked together, especially after the introduction
of prisoner wages, since this meant that prisoners were more likely to
have their own tobacco, or at least money to buy it. 110 Less common,
but still endemic, were episodes of collective drinking where guards
and prisoners shared alcohol. 111 According to Joseph Scholmer, such
illicit interactions between prisoners and guards often took place ow-
ing to national or local bonds, with guards helping prisoners who came
from the same part of the Soviet Union. 112 Such interactions violated
social hierarchies and undermined efforts to prevent intimacy between
prisoners and non-prisoners.
Sexual relationships between prisoners and non-prisoners appear to
have remained as common as they had always been in Vorkuta, even
in Rechlag. Local state security (MGB) chief Tyrin noted in November
1951 at a KVU party conference that “it is necessary to strengthen the
fi ght against relationships between free people and prisoners, a sig-
nifi cant proportion of which comes from female employees working
in Rechlag who establish relationships with prisoners.” Tyrin cited nu-
merous examples of such relationships, including one between Kuz-
netsova, an engineer in charge of personnel training, and a prisoner
named Butler. The implication in most of these cases, such as the one
between a nurse named Kir’ian and a prisoner named Shiriakov, was
that the relationships were sexual in nature. According to Tyrin, “close
relationships with prisoners create a situation where international spies
can operate here in Vorkuta.” 113 More to the point, such relationships
violated political and social taboos.

116 In Search of “Normalcy”
Yet it was not only illegal practices that undermined efforts at main-
taining “normalcy.” Some Gulag regulations allowed for a surprising
degree of blurring of social boundaries. For example, the practice of
“self-guarding” ( samookhrana ), which allowed camps to use certain
types of prisoners as guards, became widespread in Vorkutlag (though
not in Rechlag) in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1948, there were
1,352 prisoners working in the militarized guard, some 28 percent
of all the guards working in the camp. 114 Although camp director
Kukhtikov claimed to his superiors that this situation was “unusual”
and a product of necessity, it did in fact become standard practice in
Vorkuta. 115 It was used with such regularity, in fact, that it undermined
status distinctions between prisoners and non-prisoners. As a Procu-
racy offi cial reported to the General Procurator of the Soviet Union
in December 1952, “the widespread use of self-guarding has reached
such a point that command personnel have lost the feeling of a border
between guard-prisoners with passes and non-prisoner soldiers, and
so do not control the guard-prisoners and give these prisoners com-
plete freedom.” 116 Evidence from Vorkuta suggests that such concern
from the Procuracy was well founded. For instance, on 30 June 1951,
a prisoner working as a guard took six prisoners out of the zone and
into the city of Vorkuta. The group proceeded to get drunk, and in
a state of intoxication the guard-prisoner shot at three prisoners and
seriously wounded one of them. 117 Thus, offi cial practices like “self-
guarding” facilitated interactions between prisoners and non-prisoners
and blurred distinctions between the two categories.
If everyday interactions between prisoners and non-prisoners were
constant low-level disruptions of “normalcy,” the periodic spillover
of violence from the camp into the city threatened to destroy it en-
tirely. Now that the city had public spaces, including Victory Park and
Boulevard, Kirov and Moscow squares, a musical theater, two movie
theaters, and a hotel/restaurant, it was increasingly possible for rec-
reation and leisure to take place in public spaces. Yet the presence of
such spaces proved to be a double-edged sword, as they provided op-
portunities for proper, cultured recreation but also for non-prisoners
to get into a great deal of trouble. The new city spaces were a locus
for off-duty camp offi cials and guards to “relax” during their time off
from working in the camp. Frequently, such “relaxation” involved the
consumption of copious amounts of alcohol by armed men.

In Search of “Normalcy” 117
Sever (The north), the city’s sole restaurant, was a common site for
the dangerous mixture of alcohol and fi rearms. A particularly colorful
incident took place on the evening of 24 August 1952. On that night,
Viktor Ivanovich Tsyganov, the commander of a guard detachment,
came to the Sever restaurant to enjoy an evening off. According to a
report by the local militia on what took place that evening, Tsyganov
became drunk, “violated the public order and conducted himself im-
properly.” When confronted by the restaurant manager, Tsyganov drew
his pistol, loaded it, and exclaimed, “I am going to take you out to be
shot.” The manager fl ed to the director’s offi ce to phone the militia, and
Tsyganov ran into the vestibule to fi nd him, at which point he fi red off
two shots before being detained by militia offi cers who arrived on the
scene. 118 While dramatic, this particular incident was not unusual. In
only one week in April 1952, no fewer than four high-ranking camp
and KVU offi cials were arrested for drunk and disorderly behavior at
the restaurant. 119 Thus, it was not only interactions between prisoners
and non-prisoners that undermined the establishment of “normalcy,”
but also the behavior of camp offi cials and guards in the company
town, who brought the violence of the camp with them.
Perhaps no single incident better illustrates the uneasy coexistence of
prison camp and company town than the events of the night of Sunday,
22 June 1952. On that night, a massive brawl took place between in-
toxicated off-duty camp guards and various residents of Vorkuta, most
of whom were students at the local vocational school. According to
the subsequent investigation, the night’s violence began when a few
off-duty soldiers beat a mining tekhnikum student, apparently without
provocation, at the local dance square. A drunken bystander, Major
Chikalev, who was an employee of the city military registration offi ce
( voenkomat ), attempted to detain one of the soldiers and enlisted the
help of some twenty vocational school students who were on the scene.
They chased the soldier to Victory Boulevard, whereupon they encoun-
tered a larger group of intoxicated off-duty soldiers, who then began
to chase the students. Cheered on by yet another drunken bystander,
hero of the Soviet Union and party member A. A. Shestakov, the sol-
diers removed their belts and began to beat any student they could

118 In Search of “Normalcy”
fi nd. As the militia later reported, the battle was far from even: “The
youths . . . were not only unable to fi ght back in the brawl, but were
completely unable to help their comrades in harm’s way.” Eight stu-
dents from the vocational school were seriously injured, some of whom
lost consciousness at the scene. Two bystanders who were completely
unrelated to the incident were beaten as well, including a man who was
on an evening stroll with his wife and young child. 120
But the worst was yet to come. A camp patrol arrived on the scene,
and, rather than defusing the violence, caused it to escalate. After fi ring
their pistols and rifl es into the air, members of the patrol arrested six-
teen innocent bystanders, most of whom were students. Among those
arrested was the secretary of the Komsomol organization of the voca-
tional school, who was subsequently savagely beaten. As he later testi-
fi ed, “the fi rst time I was struck with the club was in my face, which
broke my nose to the point of bleeding, [and] I at that time was trying
to cover my head with my coat so that they didn’t break my skull.
They continued to rain down blows on my head and neck, [and] when
I sat in the corner they continued to kick me in my side and in other
parts of my body.” 121 After the beating, those arrested were threatened
that “shooting you would be too little” and “you are guaranteed to
get twenty-fi ve years each.” 122 Soon, a crowd of some 200–250 people
had gathered at the local militia lockup to demand the release of those
arrested. By ten o’clock the next morning the students had been freed,
although eight of them required serious medical attention due to the
beatings they received. 123
Party and Komsomol offi cials who investigated the brawl acknowl-
edged the existence of a troubling rift between young students in Vor-
kuta and members of the militarized guard. Thus, after investigating
the incident and disciplining those found to be responsible, they re-
sponded with measures to improve relations between the groups. 124 Yet
the incident demonstrated more than just divisions between students
and guards. The alcohol-fueled violence of 22 June 1952 was indicative
of a far more serious challenge that Vorkuta faced in the late 1940s and
early 1950s. Despite concerted efforts to establish “normalcy” within
the camp and the company town, the proximity of these two worlds and
the porousness of the borders between them made it virtually impos-
sible to isolate them from each other. The world of arbitrary violence
that marked life in Vorkutlag and Rechlag was supposed to end as soon

In Search of “Normalcy” 119
as one left the confi nes of the camp zone itself, whereupon the cultured
and lawful world of the Soviet city was to begin. Yet the pervasiveness
of bad behavior by camp offi cials and guards in city spaces shows that
keeping the two worlds separate was not as simple as isolating prison-
ers from non-prisoners. Even as “normalcy” was being established to
a greater degree than ever before, its precariousness was made evident
by ongoing interactions between prisoners and non-prisoners and by
the violent outbursts of camp offi cials in the city. The rising tensions
between city and camp under postwar Stalinism would, as we shall see,
explode after Stalin’s death.
Late Stalinism saw the establishment of a new status quo in Vor-
kuta, Vorkutlag, and Rechlag. In the city, a number of new institutions
were created to administer and serve the needs of a rapidly growing
non-prisoner population. Efforts were made to recruit and retain non-
prisoners with particularly valuable skills and expertise, although their
effectiveness was still limited. Inside the camps, great attention was
paid both to incentivizing the labor of productive prisoners and to in-
creasing the isolation and punishment of those prisoners who were
thought to represent the greatest threat to the Soviet state and society.
These changes would have important unintended consequences that
would prove to be particularly important in the years to come. In the
city, much of the groundwork was being laid for the transition into a
company town that relied primarily on the labor of non-prisoners. In
the camps, the increased concentration of certain parts of the prisoner
population, particularly those who came from the Soviet Union’s west-
ern borderlands, created the conditions that would make mass prisoner
resistance possible. Yet it would take the death of Stalin in March 1953
to unleash a genuine state of crisis in Vorkuta.

4 Vorkuta in Crisis
Reform and Its Consequences
-Ça y est. Le «moustachu», la «grande salope» est claquée.
—Armand Maloumian, Les fi ls du Goulag
ON 25 JULY 1953, Aleksandr Fedorovich Zasiad’ko, Minister of Coal
Industry of the USSR (MUP), wrote a letter to Georgii Malenkov, chair-
man of the USSR Council of Ministers. The purpose of the letter was
to inform Malenkov, now the de facto leader of the Soviet Union, of a
serious situation that had arisen in Vorkuta. According to Zasiad’ko,
labor discipline among the prisoners of Rechlag “continued to decline
sharply,” resulting in a corresponding reduction in coal production.
Further, the minister had just learned that for the last three days the
prisoners assigned to mine no. 7 had stopped working entirely, leav-
ing the mine at a standstill. The prisoners were apparently demanding
that a top offi cial visit Vorkuta to listen to their demands. Conclud-
ing his letter, Zasiad’ko requested that Malenkov order the MVD to
take “the most immediate measures to reestablish discipline among the
special contingent of Rechlag.” 1 Soon, the work stoppage that he de-
scribed would spread to nearly half of the camp sections in Rechlag.
By the end of July, over fi fteen thousand prisoners would be on strike,
making it one of the largest acts of mass resistance in the history of the
The Soviet Union was in the midst of a profound crisis in the sum-
mer of 1953. Ever since Stalin had died at his dacha in the evening
of 5 March 1953, the uneasy atmosphere of postwar “normalcy” had

Vorkuta in Crisis 121
disappeared. The death itself had been traumatic enough, and was fol-
lowed by weeks of collective mourning. Even Stalin’s funeral in Mos-
cow ended in tragedy, with scores trampled to death in the rush to view
the body. 2 Immediately after his demise, Stalin’s closest advisers had be-
gun a succession struggle. In the months that it would take to resolve,
the lack of certainty about who was at the helm would destabilize a po-
litical system that had been based on Stalinist dictatorship for a quarter
century. In the midst of their intrigues and backroom dealings, Stalin’s
successors attempted reforms to address long-standing structural issues
and to shore up public support for the government in the short term.
These rapid changes converged to leave both government offi cials and
ordinary citizens in a collective “state of anxiety” by the end of 1953,
as historian Miriam Dobson has recently argued. 3
Zasiad’ko’s letter illustrates the particular manifestation of the post-
Stalin crisis in Vorkuta. Among the reforms launched by Stalin’s succes-
sors in the weeks after his death was a dramatic overhaul of the Gulag
intended to drastically reduce the size of the prisoner population and
improve the everyday operation of the prison camp system. This in-
cluded, as we shall see, not only a massive prisoner amnesty, but also an
attempt to reorganize the administration of the camps and the indus-
tries to which they were attached. In the short term, such reforms were
profoundly destabilizing. The amnesty was chaotic and ill planned,
resulting in a heightened sense of uncertainty for non-prisoners and
increased expectations on the part of prisoners. The prisoner popula-
tion became much more diffi cult to control, and acts of open defi ance
were increasingly common. At the same time, the reorganization of the
Gulag created bureaucratic confusion and increased the potential for
confl ict among the offi cials responsible for running the camps and con-
nected industries. It became diffi cult for even the most routine business
to be carried out, and the confi dence of many Gulag offi cials was un-
dermined. 4 The prisoners’ increased sense of possibilities, as well as the
sudden ineffectiveness of the authorities, would make mass prisoner
resistance more likely than it had ever been before. The stage had been
set for the massive Rechlag prisoner strike of July–August 1953, which
was only the most dramatic symptom of a crisis that gripped Vorkuta
in the wake of Stalin’s death.
Local mine, camp, and city offi cials were not simply passive partici-
pants in the ongoing confl ict. Although most were initially overwhelmed

122 Vorkuta in Crisis
by the upheaval of 1953, by the summer of 1954 the situation on the
ground would stabilize somewhat. Despite the fact that the ongoing
confl ict for control of Vorkuta and its resources remained unresolved
in Moscow, local offi cials sought ways to navigate the new realities that
they faced. Adapting to an overhaul of camp regulations launched in
the summer of 1954, they devised new methods of using prisoner labor
in the mines that would be mutually benefi cial for camp section chiefs
and mine managers alike. One strategy was to grant thousands of pris-
oners the right to move freely without guard outside the camp. Another
technique, which became increasingly prevalent in 1955–1957, was to
allow thousands of prisoners to live outside the confi nes of the camp
itself. Both of these practices, it was hoped, would alleviate the prob-
lems that had converged to cause the prisoner strike in 1953. In fact,
the implementation of these informal arrangements would end up be-
ing more than a short-term expedient. By 1955–1957, the widespread
practice of allowing prisoners to live outside the zone was transforming
the identity of thousands of prisoners by ascribing them a status that
was remarkably similar to that of many non-prisoners. In the process,
many camp spaces were recast as part of the city. By improvising a
solution to the crisis precipitated by Stalin’s death in 1953 and made
apparent by the Rechlag strike of 1953, local offi cials accelerated Vor-
kuta’s transition from a camp complex into a company town in unan-
ticipated ways.
When Stalin’s death was announced in the newspaper and over loud-
speakers in Vorkuta, Vorkutlag, and Rechlag, it set off a wave of emo-
tions among the non-prisoners and prisoners. 5 Many mourned the loss
of their leader, sometimes in spite of personal tragedies that they had
suffered during his rule. According to the local camp newspaper Zapo-
liarnaia kochegarka , during Stalin’s funeral on 9 March the streets of
the city were fi lled with residents listening to the broadcast from the
capital on loudspeakers. 6 Even inside Vorkutlag and Rechlag, some
wept openly at the news. 7 Yet not all of these tears were of sorrow. 8
Many prisoners and non-prisoners, like the author of the epigraph
to this chapter, Armand Maloumian, a Franco-Armenian prisoner in

Vorkuta in Crisis 123
Rech lag, were quietly celebratory. No matter their particular reaction,
all were aware that something of great signifi cance had taken place.
The awareness of the beginning of a new era was only reinforced
when a steady stream of reforms to the Gulag system was announced
in the last two weeks of March. The MVD was stripped of its major
production, extraction, and construction industries, which were trans-
ferred to corresponding civilian ministries. 9 Several large construction
projects being built by the Gulag were suspended, including the Chum-
Salekhard-Igarka railroad, which would have linked Vorkuta with
other camp complexes east of the Ural Mountains. 10 On 27 March the
Supreme Soviet issued a broad amnesty that would reduce the size of
the Gulag population by more than one million prisoners. 11 On the fol-
lowing day, control of most prison camps (excluding “special camps”
like Rechlag) was transferred from the MVD to the Ministry of Jus-
tice. 12 These reforms were launched largely on the initiative of Lavren-
tii Beriia, who had been responsible for much of the state’s repressive
apparatus and camp system since the end of 1938. 13 Although there
had long been a perceived need to reform the system of forced labor,
such radical change had been impossible to effect under Stalin. 14 Now
that the leader himself was gone, his former lieutenants had the oppor-
tunity to attempt changes that had been contemplated for some time.
The reforms launched by Beriia would come to have a dramatic impact
on Vorkuta.
Of the reforms, the one with the most immediate and dramatic effect
was the amnesty of 27 March 1953. Popularly known as the “Beriia
amnesty” or “Voroshilov amnesty,” it was the largest in the history of
forced labor in the Soviet Union. 15 Its terms were sweeping: excepting
certain categories of prisoners, all those with sentences of up to fi ve
years were to be released outright and all other prisoners had their
sentences halved. Pregnant women, as well as those with children un-
der ten years of age, were released; juveniles, men over fi fty-fi ve, and
women over fi fty were also set free, as were the terminally ill. The am-
nesty did not apply to all prisoners, however. Those convicted of seri-
ous theft, banditry, attempted murder, as well as most “counterrevo-
lutionary” crimes, were excluded. The categories of prisoners released
generally followed the precedent set under Stalin, which is hardly sur-
prising given that the architect of the 1953 amnesty, Beriia, presided

124 Vorkuta in Crisis
over the others as well. 16 In terms of scale, however, the 1953 amnesty
was without precedent: approximately 1.2 million, or one half, of the
2.4 million prisoners in the Soviet system of camps and colonies were
released over a period of several months. 17
While its impact was not quite as dramatic as it was in other camps,
the amnesty nevertheless had a signifi cant effect on Vorkuta. Because
the camps had an unusually high percentage of those categories of pris-
oners excluded from the amnesty, far fewer prisoners were released
from Vorkutlag and Rechlag than was the case elsewhere. Only 7,123
prisoners, or about 10 percent of the camp population, were released. 18
In fact, the 1945 amnesty decreed after Soviet victory in the Second
World War had resulted in the release of a signifi cantly larger propor-
tion of the prisoner population. Still, the loss of 10 percent of the pris-
oners shrank the labor force signifi cantly. The release of many prison-
ers convicted of less serious crimes was particularly disruptive. Such
prisoners were frequently used for samookhrana, where prisoners serv-
ing short sentences for lesser crimes were permitted to guard prisoners
considered to be more dangerous. So many prisoners who had worked
as guards were released under the amnesty that many brigades could
not be escorted to worksites. 19 The amnesty also affected the quan-
tity and quality of the information that the camp administration col-
lected from its network of prisoner informants. With many of its agents
amnestied, the camp administration’s ability to infi ltrate underground
prisoner organizations was compromised. 20 Thus, while the number of
prisoners released from Vorkutlag and Rechlag was far below the aver-
age throughout the Gulag, the amnesty nevertheless resulted in short-
ages of key categories of prisoners on which the camp administration
typically relied.
Among the approximately sixty thousand prisoners who remained in
Vorkutlag and Rechlag, the amnesty inspired both disappointment and
hope. Prisoners were acutely aware of its existence and its terms, since
it had been announced so publicly. Most prisoners in Vorkutlag and
Rechlag belonged to the categories explicitly excluded from the mass
release, and so were critical of its seemingly limited nature. Rechlag
director Derevianko would later note the overwhelmingly negative re-
action of the prisoners, stating, “From the moment of the publication
of the Supreme Soviet decree on the amnesty of prisoners . . . feelings
of extreme discontent arose in the sections of Rechlag.” 21 But the an-

Vorkuta in Crisis 125
nouncement of such a broad amnesty also raised the hopes of many
prisoners in the camps. Even though they had been left out, the very
fact that an amnesty had been announced was interpreted as a positive
signal. If such a sweeping release was announced less than a month
after Stalin’s death, it was possible that other measures could soon fol-
low. By opening up new possibilities for change, the amnesty created a
crisis of rising expectations among prisoners following Stalin’s death.
The new hopes and frustrations that arose in response to the amnesty
would play a key role in the outbreak of the prisoner strike in July.
The amnesty did not simply affect the prisoners who remained in
Vorkutlag and Rechlag. It also impacted, whether directly or indirectly,
the lives of the approximately 68,000 non-prisoners living in Vorkuta.
Many of them were exiles or former prisoners who were themselves
hoping to be released from their terms of exile. Thus, many shared
the prisoners’ emotions of frustration and hope. Yet the amnesty also
inspired anxiety and fear among many non-prisoners, particularly after
they saw how the amnesty was carried out. When the fi rst group of
prisoners was released on 15 April 1953, mayhem and violence fol-
lowed. This group, which numbered 853 prisoners, was brought to a
central location at the railroad depot to await transportation out of
the city. Although this had been done at night in order to send the am-
nestied on their way in the early morning hours, there was a six-hour
delay to prepare paperwork. In the meantime, hundreds of the amnes-
tied had scattered about the city, drinking and getting into trouble. A
brawl broke out, and by the time the train had left after its long delay,
seven were hospitalized for serious injuries. 22 Despite explicit orders to
separate men from women, virtually nothing was done to protect the
latter from sexual violence at the hands of the former. On one train
departing from Seida , a southern outpost of Vorkutlag, two women
were gang raped by male prisoners traveling in their car. In at least one
other case, women were raped and then thrown off the train onto the
tracks. 23 Reports on the violence perpetrated by the amnestied prison-
ers circulated throughout Vorkuta, contributing to an atmosphere of
anxiety verging on panic. 24
The dramatic violence associated with the release of the fi rst group
of prisoners under the amnesty does not provide a complete picture
of how it was carried out, however. A number of measures were soon
taken to prevent the repetition of such problems, including the strict

126 Vorkuta in Crisis
separation of male and female prisoners, banning the sale of alcohol
nearby transit points, and having armed guards accompany the de-
parting trains of prisoners. 25 These measures prevented a repetition of
the violence of 15 April when subsequent groups were released. Many
of the amnestied in fact never left the city, choosing instead to con-
tinue working in the mines. The vast majority of these prisoners made
a peaceful transition to civilian life. Although there was friction and
even occasional violence between amnestied prisoners and other lo-
cal residents, particularly camp guards, this was most often the result
of aggression against the amnestied, not the other way around. 26 Yet
the perception that the amnestied prisoners were dangerous remained.
In the minds of those who had seen or heard about the mayhem of
15 April, the camp authorities had lost control of the unruly prisoners,
whose release endangered the security of non-prisoners. As was the
case across the Soviet Union, most of the crime perpetrated by the am-
nestied was directed against other former prisoners. Nevertheless, the
chaos associated with the amnesty created the widespread perception
that peaceful Soviet citizens were at risk. 27 Thus, the amnesty played an
important role in undermining the uneasy “normalcy” that had char-
acterized postwar Stalinism in Vorkuta, in that it created anxiety and
discontent among prisoners and non-prisoners alike.
While dramatic, the amnesty probably had less long-term signifi -
cance in Vorkuta than some of the other changes that Beriia introduced
in March 1953. With an eye toward improving the performance of
the Gulag both as an economic empire and as a penal system, he in-
troduced a profound reorganization of the way that it was organized
administratively. The Gulag administration, and most camps and colo-
nies throughout the Soviet Union, were transferred to the oversight
of the Ministry of Justice from the MVD. The Ministry of Justice, it
was hoped, would do a better job of ensuring that proper security was
enforced and that conditions conducive to the rehabilitation of prison-
ers were maintained. Thus, the Ministry of Justice assumed responsi-
bility for nearly all the camps and colonies in the Soviet Union, with
the notable exception of the “special camps,” which remained under
MVD oversight. In order to improve the economic viability of the Gu-
lag’s vast economic empire, oversight for its industries and enterprises
was transferred to the corresponding civilian ministries. These civil-
ian ministries, it was argued, would do a better job of ensuring that

Vorkuta in Crisis 127
they were run in an effi cient fashion and met their yearly production
plans. The economic “chief administrations” that had been set up un-
der the NKVD to manage groups of industries in 1940–1941, which
occupied an administrative level between the top Gulag leadership and
individual camps, were abolished. 28 Industries that had been attached
to camps were thus no longer subordinated to the “chief administra-
tions,” the Gulag, or the MVD. The result of this reorganization was
that Vorkuta’s mines and camps now came under the purview of three
ministries. The MVD, which had previously been responsible for the
mines and both camps, was now responsible for Rechlag only. The
Ministry of Justice gained control of Vorkutlag. The Ministry of Coal
Industry assumed responsibility for Vorkutaugol’ and its coal mines.
Where one ministry had reigned supreme in Vorkuta, now three shared
control of the camps and the mines.
This meant a defi nitive end of the era of edinonachal’e , or “one-man
rule,” in Vorkuta. 29 Ever since the creation of Vorkutlag in 1938, local
control of Vorkuta’s industries and camps had been vested in a single
director. While the potential for alternative centers of power within the
area had been created by the incorporation of the city of Vorkuta in
1943, and again by the creation of a Gorkom in 1951, in practice men
like Tarkhanov, Mal’tsev, and Kukhtikov wielded an enormous amount
of power and answered only to their superiors in the MVD. Now, this
authority was split into three different positions. Stepan Ivanovich
Degtev, who had become head of Vorkutlag, Rechlag, and KVU in April
1952, was stripped of two of these portfolios. He remained chief of
KVU, whereas his responsibilities as camp director were handed over to
two other offi cials, G. M. Prokop’ev (Vorkutlag) and A. A. Derevianko
(Rechlag) that summer. 30 At fi rst, the independence of Vorkutlag and
Rechlag was fairly nominal, as Derevianko and likely Prokop’ev were
former deputies of Degtev. Nevertheless, this was a signifi cant change:
the virtually unlimited power of the local director was no more. The
three most important organizations in Vorkuta were now run by dif-
ferent men, each of whom reported to a different ministry. A signifi cant
potential for competition and confl ict had been created.
The most signifi cant friction and confl ict among the three ministries
and their local representatives revolved around the issue of prisoner
labor. Under previous arrangements, Vorkutlag and Rechlag, as suppli-
ers of camp labor, had been closely tied to KVU’s mines, the primary

128 Vorkuta in Crisis
consumers of prisoner labor. While the mines and the camp sections
were run by different sets of offi cials, all of them had been subordinate
to a single boss. Now, they were split into entirely different hierarchies
that were part of separate ministries. 31 In order to facilitate the contin-
ued supply of labor from camps to enterprises, the two sides entered
into reciprocal contracts. Such contracts established the rates at which
the enterprise would compensate the camp for the labor of its prisoners,
set ground rules for the safety, isolation, and guarding of prisoners, and
committed both sides to improving the productivity of prisoner labor. 32
In theory this was a signifi cant improvement over the previous system.
Two sets of offi cials were responsible for the two separate penal and
productive aspects of the prisoner’s existence, and this would ensure
that both were fulfi lled satisfactorily. Contracts would then insure that
both supplier and consumer of prisoner labor worked together to help
each organization meet its respective goals.
In practice, however, the new arrangements were awkward and ill
suited to accomplishing what had in the past been routine bureaucratic
operations. Take, for example, a problem that arose in the summer of
1953. KVU was experiencing a severe shortage of wooden supports
for tunnels in its mines. This was a common problem, as there was no
timber in Vorkuta’s immediate environs. The lack of suffi cient wood at
this time was attributed to a severe labor shortage at a remote satel-
lite section of Vorkutlag that processed timber for the mines. Amelio-
rating the labor shortage would previously have required little more
than an order from the single director to transfer more prisoners to the
section. Now, however, it required a negotiation among three minis-
tries and their local representatives in Vorkuta. KVU needed the tunnel
supports, and therefore wanted Vorkutlag to devote more workers to
manufacturing them. Because of the recent amnesty, Vorkutlag did not
have enough prisoners to fully staff the camp section where they were
produced. Rechlag had a suffi cient number of prisoners, but was under
the control of a different ministry. Solving this simple matter required
correspondence among three sets of local offi cials and their superiors
in Moscow, eventually involving both a deputy minister of MUP and
the Minister of the MVD. In the end, Rechlag agreed to temporarily
provide fi ve hundred female prisoners to Vorkutlag, who would work
to supply the needed timber to KVU. 33 If the resolution of such a simple

Vorkuta in Crisis 129
matter required a complex and drawn-out negotiation, how would lo-
cal and central authorities react to a genuine crisis?
Bureaucratic confl ict among the three ministries now responsible for
Vorkuta even included debate about who would provide uniforms for
offi cials. Several offi cers who were transferred from the MVD to MUP
in the summer of 1953 wrote letters to their new superiors complain-
ing that they had been deprived of their privilege of receiving a new
MVD offi cer’s uniform each year. These complaints eventually reached
the desk of MUP deputy minister A. Lalaiants, who intervened on be-
half of his new employees. In a letter to MVD minister Kruglov, La-
laiants argued that they remained entitled to receive the uniforms since
the Sovmin resolution transferring Gulag industries to civilian control
stipulated that transferred offi cials would receive all the privileges and
rights of their previous jobs until the end of 1953. The response from
MVD deputy minister I. Serov was curt and unequivocal: only current
MVD offi cers were entitled to wear MVD uniforms, and those trans-
ferred to MUP had lost that right; therefore the MVD was unable to
provide the uniforms. 34 This exchange over providing uniforms was not
only typical of the constant bureaucratic bickering that now character-
ized the correspondence between the ministries—but it also suggested
that the transfer of offi cials away from the purview of the MVD was
more than a matter of changing a boss, a title, or a job description. It
also entailed a change of status and potential loss of prestige for those
transferred from the police organs to a civilian ministry. The uniform
of an MVD offi cer carried great symbolic weight in Vorkuta, and these
offi cials were loath to relinquish this symbol of their privileged status.
By the summer of 1953, open confl ict had broken out between MUP
on one side and MVD/MinIust on the other. In repeated letters to the
top government leadership, such as the one described at the beginning
of this chapter, MUP minister Zasiad’ko deplored the poor discipline
among the prisoners who worked in the mines. The problem, as he de-
scribed it, came from the fact that camp offi cials had now completely
absolved themselves of responsibility for prisoner productivity and
coal output. Thus, in June 1953 Zasiad’ko wrote to Beriia requesting
that the principle of edinonachal’e be restored temporarily through the
end of 1954 in order to improve productivity. Under his proposal camp
offi cials would be made subordinate to KVU offi cials who worked for

130 Vorkuta in Crisis
the coal ministry. 35 Gulag chief I. Dolgikh and Minister of Justice K.
Gorshenin, his superior, strongly criticized Zasiad’ko’s proposal, vigor-
ously denied his claims of declining productivity, and argued that the
separation of economic and penal functions was in fact exactly what
was needed to ensure that the camps and the mines ran as intended. 36
For the moment, Dolgikh and Gorshenin’s arguments carried the day.
This was not simply a philosophical disagreement over the proper way
to ensure both economic effi ciency and security—rather, it was part
of a growing turf war between MUP on one side and MinIust/MVD
on the other for control of this particular piece of the former Gulag
The chief adjudicator in this dispute, Lavrentii Beriia, did not live to
see it resolved. On 10 July 1953 it was publicly announced that Beriia
had been arrested and relieved of his posts in the state and party. 37
His arrest was a bombshell that further destabilized a city and camp
complex already in a state of crisis. The amnesty had introduced un-
certainty among prisoners and non-prisoners, and the arrest of its ar-
chitect made the future of the Gulag even more diffi cult to ascertain.
For local offi cials and their superiors in the Moscow-based ministries,
vertical and horizontal lines of power became even more confused. As
historian Vladimir Kozlov has rightfully pointed out, in the summer of
1953 offi cials at all levels feared for their jobs. 38 In a political system
where reading signals was of the utmost importance, the new context
of the post-Stalin period made it diffi cult not just to read signals, but
also to fi gure out who was sending them. By the summer of 1953, the
administrations of the mines and the camp complex were in a state of
virtual paralysis.
It was in this context that the 1953 Rechlag prisoner strike began.
On 19 July 1953, just nine days after Beriia’s ouster was announced,
350 prisoners in camp section 2 of Rechlag refused to report for work.
When guards came to take them to line up for morning roll call, they
remained inside their barracks, demanding a visit from the camp di-
rector and procurator. When these two men arrived later that day, the
prisoners informed them that they had requests and complaints that
could only be resolved by the Central Committee of the Communist

Vorkuta in Crisis 131
Party. Until a representative of this body arrived, they would not work,
nor would they allow themselves to be transferred to another camp sec-
tion. 39 One of the most remarkable events in the history of the Gulag
had begun. Soon, the strike would spread throughout much of Rechlag.
By 29 July, when the strike was at its height, 15,604 prisoners, some
40 percent of the Rechlag population, would be on strike. Although it
would end by 2 August, this strike, along with two others in Gorlag
(Noril’sk) and Steplag (Kengir) that took place in 1953–1954, stands as
the largest known act of mass resistance in the history of the Gulag.
Historians have rightly noted that the strikes were a culmination of
trends in the postwar Gulag. For some time, there had been a growing
sense of crisis within the Gulag administration, particularly regarding
the system’s apparently declining profi tability. In fact, Beriia’s reforms
of March 1953 were in large part a response to these concerns. 40 There
had also been a rising tide of prisoner resistance in the camps since the
end of the Second World War. The “special camps” held many former
nationalist rebels who had actively fought the Sovietization of their
territories. Red Army veterans also made up a signifi cant part of the
population of such camps. Both of these populations were signifi cantly
less passive than their prewar counterparts, and were well equipped to
organize various forms of resistance against the camp administration.
Thus, changes in the prisoner population encouraged resistance and
made the prisoners much more diffi cult for the camp administration to
manage. 41 Both of these postwar trends are important for explaining
the underlying causes of the strike. Yet the specifi c context of 1953 is
also of crucial importance to comprehending what took place. 42 Sta-
lin’s death and the momentous changes that followed it undermined
the authority of camp offi cials and increased the sense among prison-
ers that resistance could result in concrete achievements. The reforms
of the Gulag placed prisoner labor at the center of a confl ict between
ministries as they struggled for control of Vorkuta and other camps.
Whether they were aware of it or not, when the strike leaders decided
to withhold their labor in order to improve their lot, they were hitting
the local administration at one of its most vulnerable points. Thus, the
Rechlag prisoner strike of 1953 was more than just the climax of a
postwar crisis of the Gulag and the rise of prisoner resistance. It was
part of an ongoing struggle by many actors to come to terms with, and
fi nd their place in, the emerging post-Stalinist order. Seen in this light,

132 Vorkuta in Crisis
the strike appears not as a simple confl ict between two opposing sides,
but as a complex event that exposed deep fi ssures that ran through
both the prisoner and the non-prisoner populations.
The 350 prisoners who refused to report for work on 19 July 1953
were newcomers to Rechlag. They were part of a group that had been
transferred from Peschanlag near Karaganda in an attempt to end a
wave of unrest there in 1952. 43 There was nothing unusual about such
a transfer of “troublemakers” between camps—it was standard practice
to move members of prisoner networks in order to disrupt their activi-
ties. There was also nothing unusual about the fact that the so-called
Peschanlagovtsy had been held in “quarantine” for three weeks after
arriving in Rechlag, which meant that they were held in a relatively iso-
lated section of camp section 2 and were not taken out to work. What
was unusual was that when they were given their work assignments in
mine no. 7, the entire group of prisoners refused to report for roll call.
Rechlag director Derevianko, who met with the prisoners on that
fi rst day of the strike, reacted cautiously to their demand for a visit
from a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
An experienced offi cial, he had good reason to take such an approach
in this case. 44 Beriia’s ouster had been announced less than two weeks
before this, and the prisoner strike in Gorlag, the existence of which
Derevianko was undoubtedly aware, had just ended. 45 Further, while
he was used to dealing with acts of resistance, mass work refusals of
this type were still relatively uncommon. 46 When meeting with the pris-
oners, Derevianko immediately struck a conciliatory stance rather than
threatening a crackdown. He then contacted his superiors and other
offi cials, requesting that they advise him on the best course of action to
take. He sent a telegram to his boss, Minister of the USSR MVD Krug-
lov, asking for instructions on how he should respond to the prisoners’
demands. He contacted the Komi ASSR MVD, the relevant regional au-
thority, to inform them of what was going on in the camp. Derevianko
also discussed the matter with Komi Obkom secretary Osipov, who
happened to be in Vorkuta at the time. Osipov, in turn, sent a telegram
to Sovmin chair Georgii Malenkov, the effective leader of the USSR af-
ter Beriia’s ouster. 47 Osipov’s telegram likely was the fi rst news that the

Vorkuta in Crisis 133
top leadership received about the strike. Almost immediately, the strike
ceased to be an internal matter, and numerous offi cials were involved
in discussing the most effective means to respond to it.
The response from Moscow was anything but swift. Kruglov, Minis-
ter of the USSR MVD, did not reply to Derevianko’s request for instruc-
tions for fi ve days. In the meantime, the 350 Peschanlagovtsy continued
their strike. Although initially the rest of the prisoners in camp section 2
continued to report for work, this soon changed. As Rechlag prisoner
Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Ugrimov wrote about this time, “The whole
camp boiled like a cauldron,” and after seeing that the camp admin-
istration was not reacting decisively to the strike of the new arrivals,
the strike spread to the rest of the section on 22 July. That morning,
messengers ran through the barracks urging prisoners not to report for
work. 48 Approximately 1,500 prisoners from two shifts refused to re-
port for duty and repeated the earlier demand for a visit from a Central
Committee member. By the following day, 23 July, nearly 3,000 prison-
ers, the majority of the prisoner population of camp section 2, were
on strike. 49 Derevianko still had not yet received a reply from Kruglov.
The response arrived on 24 July, fi ve days after the strike began. In
addition to dispatching an “operational group” from Moscow to Vor-
kuta, Kruglov instructed Derevianko to offer a number of concessions
to the prisoners in order to placate them. 50 These included a reduction
of the length of the work day to nine hours from ten and the removal
of numbers from clothing. In addition, prisoners now received permis-
sion to send one letter per month, send money home to families, spend
up to 300 rubles per month in the camp, and meet with relatives. 51
These changes amounted to a repudiation of some of the most cruel
and hated aspects of the “special camp” regime that had been in effect
since Rechlag was established in 1948. 52 The concessions proved to
be ineffective, however, and the prisoners in camp section 2 continued
their strike.
In fact, the concessions likely played a role in encouraging the spread
of the strike outside camp section 2. Hoping to head off further unrest,
the improvements were announced not only to the striking prisoners,
but also throughout Rechlag. Rather than satisfy the prisoners’ desires
for improvements in their living conditions, the announcement of the
concessions instead conveyed the sense that the camp administration
was weak and therefore the prisoners could make further gains. Almost

134 Vorkuta in Crisis
immediately, prisoners in camp sections 3 and 6 joined the strike, bring-
ing the number of striking prisoners to 8,700; mine nos. 7, 12, 14,
16, and the construction of the TETs-2 power station were now at a
standstill. The next day, on 25 July, camp section 10 joined as well. On
28 July, the strike spread to section 13, and on 29 July, to camp sec-
tion 4. 53 The strike remained geographically concentrated in camp sec-
tions along the northern section of the ring of Vorkuta’s mines near the
settlements of Promyshlennyi, Severnyi, and Oktiabrskii, likely because
it was easiest for neighboring camp sections to communicate with each
other and coordinate strike activities. The sole exception to this was
camp section 6, located in close proximity to the city itself. According
to an offi cial estimate, 15,604 prisoners in six of seventeen camp sec-
tions in Rechlag were now on strike, ten days after the strike began. 54
The strategy of offering concessions had clearly backfi red.
As events in Vorkuta spun out of control, the strike became a point
of contention in the ongoing turf war between MUP and MVD/Min-
Iust. Just as the strike was beginning, MUP was in the midst of present-
ing a proposal to Malenkov that contained requests to dramatically
increase investment in Vorkuta’s mines and to bolster the authority of
KVU offi cials over the camp complex and the prisoner population. 55
MUP minister Zasiad’ko learned about the strike from KVU director
Degtev soon after it began, and used it as an opportunity to criticize
the MVD and MinIust to Malenkov. According to Zasiad’ko, the strike
was yet another manifestation of the MVD’s chronic inability to pro-
vide labor for KVU’s mines. Zasiad’ko asked that the MVD be ordered
to take immediate measures to restore discipline. Kruglov of the MVD
and Gorshenin of MinIust responded largely with accusations of their
own, countering that ongoing unrest in the camps was a result of the
poor organization of labor and inadequate housing provided by KVU,
and therefore was ultimately MUP’s fault. 56 Malenkov’s response was
to let the MVD sort the situation out on its own, although he did in-
struct the Party Presidium to discuss the future of the special camps
that summer. 57 The struggle for control of Vorkuta, itself a symptom
of a growing crisis of authority, clearly contributed to the slow and
indecisive response to the strike.
Indeed, it was not just the act of mass resistance by prisoners that
seemed to confound the authorities. The form of this resistance was
also extremely important. The fact that the prisoners had chosen to

Vorkuta in Crisis 135
withhold their labor, and therefore threatened to reduce the output
of the coal mines, raised the stakes of the strike and broadened the
number of organizations with a stake in its successful termination.
Whether they were aware of this or not, the prisoners were withhold-
ing something that had been at the center of administrative confl ict
in Vorkuta for months. In this sense, the strike was a weapon that hit
the local authorities and the larger ministries to which they belonged
in the most vulnerable of places. Although they could not have been
privy to the turf war taking place in Moscow, the prisoners’ leaders
interpreted the weak and conciliatory response to their strike as an
indication that this particular form of resistance could be used with
continued success. The longer the strike met with a weak response from
the authorities, the greater the potential payoff seemed to be. The strike
both exploited the crisis of authority in Vorkuta and contributed to the
prisoners’ raised expectations.
On the surface, the uprising demonstrated the cleavages that divided
Vorkuta. If there was ever a moment when prisoners were defi nitively
divided from the non-prisoners (particularly the camp administra-
tion and guards), this would be it. The defi ant refusal of the prisoners
to work and their demands for concessions from the administration
put them, at least in theory, in stark opposition to the camp, city, and
mine administrations. On the surface, prisoner memoirs and offi cial
accounts alike tend to emphasize a picture of the strike as a standoff
between two clearly opposed sides. However, a closer examination of
these sources suggests a much more complex and nuanced picture of
the fault lines created by the strike. In fact, the strike actually reveals
that interactions and relationships between prisoner and non-prisoner
populations remained much the same as they had been previously. Al-
though the strike and the upheaval that preceded it added to social
tensions and anxieties, camp and city remained tightly connected with
one another.
While it is true that prisoners and the camp administration adopted
a posture of mutual opposition, there was in fact a high degree of co-
operation between the striking prisoners, the camp administration, and
mine offi cials throughout the strike. This is most clearly illustrated by

136 Vorkuta in Crisis
the fact that some prisoner mine personnel continued to work during
the uprising, despite the fact that many of them maintained open soli-
darity with the strikers. To have shut down the coal mines of Vorkuta
for a period of only a few days might have resulted in a disaster that
could have endangered the lives of many and disrupted coal production
for months. Without the operation of water pumps, many parts of the
mines would have been fl ooded and would have had to be abandoned.
Ventilation systems had to continue to work in order to prevent a dan-
gerous collection of carbon dioxide or methane gas below ground. In
order to prevent disaster, it was imperative for some prisoners in each
striking camp section to report to work as usual.
In camp section 2, representatives for the prisoners and the camp
administration immediately agreed to cooperate in order to maintain
safety in the mines. Aleksandr Ugrimov, who ran an electrical substa-
tion in mine no. 7 throughout much of the strike, later recalled in his
memoirs, “The leadership of the strike adopted a wise decision. It was
said that it was necessary to keep the mine and the equipment in nor-
mal order, and because of this the people who are responsible for this
should leave [the zone] and—by their wishes—remain there or return.
Of course, such decisions could only have been made by agreement
with the camp administration.” 58 Both sides agreed to allow prisoners
working in essential safety systems to travel back and forth from the
mine during the strike. A certain degree of cooperation between the
striking prisoners and the camp administration was present throughout
the strike in virtually all sections, as both sides agreed that maintain-
ing safety was paramount. 59 The willingness to cooperate demonstrates
that the strike was not an all-or-nothing proposition for many of the
actors on both sides of the barbed wire. Given the uneasy political situ-
ation in the country, neither side was willing to raise the stakes of the
confl ict too far. This was particularly imperative for the prisoners. If
they had neglected the safety systems and allowed an accident to take
place, it would have undermined their representatives’ arguments that
the strike was an act of loyal Soviet citizens carried out in the name of
In fact, neither side of the standoff was as unifi ed as its leaders wanted
the other side to believe. Although a clear majority of prisoners in the
six striking camp sections supported the strike, some prisoners chose to
leave the zone rather than participate. Each day during the strike, the

Vorkuta in Crisis 137
camp administration invited prisoners who did not support the strike
to leave the zone. Not wanting to have dissenters in their midst, the
prisoners generally allowed them to leave. As prisoner memoirs attest,
there were a number of reasons why prisoners chose not to participate
in the strike. According to Ugrimov, “More than a few prisoners an-
swered that call [to leave the zone]: production bosses, people holding
on to, above all, their ‘warm places,’ stool pigeons, and simply self-
seekers and cowards. Perhaps there were also those who were fi rmly
confi dent that all of this was a provocation by the camp administra-
tion that would necessarily end in cruel repression; and there were also
those who were not connected to the comradely work of collective
brigades.” 60 Thus, there was a whole range of people who had much to
lose by participating in the strike, including those with privilege, those
who occupied positions of authority, prisoner informants, and those
who were simply convinced that the strike was a bad idea. Ugrimov
also singled out those who felt little solidarity with other prisoners
because they did not share common work experiences. Despite the fact
that prisoner solidarity had generally increased in the “special camps”
owing to the increased concentration of certain categories of prisoners
and improved prospects for survival, the camp population remained
divided into various identity groups in terms of nationality, position
in the camp hierarchy, and occupation. Such divisions often worked
against unity even during the strike.
Even among the prisoners who remained in the zone, not all sup-
ported the strike. MVD operatives in Rechlag continued to receive
regular reports throughout the strike from prisoner informants. A
typical report from an unnamed agent dated 25 July began in the fol-
lowing fashion: “The initiators of the events in the second camp sec-
tion are prisoners who came from Karaganda. The ‘headquarters’ of
the sabotage is barracks 41 and the head of the sabotage is the Polish
Colonel Kendzerskii.” 61 Such reports gave the camp administration an
opportunity to monitor the situation within the camp and to deter-
mine the identity of the leaders. While the accuracy of these reports
is obviously questionable, the fact that prisoner agents continued to
report throughout the strike demonstrates that prisoner solidarity was
far from complete.
For its part, the non-prisoner population was hardly unifi ed in op-
position to the strike either. This is not surprising given the diversity of

138 Vorkuta in Crisis
city residents. While the city was home to thousands of camp and mine
offi cials whose livelihood depended on the exploitation of prisoner
labor, it also included thousands of former prisoners, former POWs,
and exiles who had at one time been held within the barbed wire. Sur-
veillance reports compiled during the strike, despite their problematic
nature, suggest that attitudes toward the strike ranged from stark op-
position to strong support. 62 Enthusiastic expressions of opposition to
the strike were common, even among populations that might have been
expected to sympathize with the prisoners. As one ethnic German exile
reportedly stated, “Let’s say that they were even unjustly convicted,
but to carry out a strike—that is unworthy of Soviet people, it is nec-
essary to simply hang the strike organizers.” Another former prisoner
stated, “A strike is a crime. I think we should do with them what we
used to do with Trotskyites in my time: take them all to kirpichnyi [the
brick factory, site of 1938 shootings] and shoot them.” Some criticized
the local administration for its moderate reaction to the strike. One
exile engineer apparently stated that “a large amount of guilt for it
[the strike] belongs to the local administration, which was unable to
decisively and quickly localize the expression of discontent and seize
the ringleaders.” 63 Some apparently feared that the prisoners might
break out of the zone and attack the non-prisoner population. One
ex- prisoner stated, “It has become scarier to live in the city. The kator-
zhane [ sic ] could suddenly break out of the zone by force and fall upon
the peaceful population.” 64 Thus, many non-prisoners expressed strong
opposition to the strike.
Other non-prisoners, however, demonstrated clear sympathies for
the striking prisoners. This was the general conclusion of a report pre-
pared by deputy minister of the Komi MVD Noginov, one of the fi rst
outside offi cials to arrive on the scene in late July. Noginov observed
that “the majority of residents who are former prisoners . . . look upon
the actions of the prisoners sympathetically.” As one former prisoner
from western Ukraine apparently stated, “There have not been any real
successes, just a minor softening [of the regime] in questions of every-
day life. But a yoke remains a yoke . . . in all of this there seems to be
a victory, in that we are seeing the strength of our unity . . . and how
the authorities are forced to yield in the face of it.” For this former
prisoner, the strike was a key moment that would demonstrate to the
prisoners what they could achieve through collective action. Expres-

Vorkuta in Crisis 139
sions of support for the prisoners were apparently especially common
in neighborhoods of the city with large concentrations of former pris-
oners. Some in the local MVD feared that the population of one neigh-
borhood (Rudnik) had become so embittered toward camp soldiers
and offi cers who frequently provoked them and started fi ghts that they
would use opportunities presented by the strike to “infl ict reprisals.” 65
While this is likely an exaggeration of the willingness of non-prisoners
to bring the strike out of the zone, it demonstrates how much the strike
heightened tensions throughout Vorkuta, which was already used to
periodic outbreaks of violence.
Other non-prisoners demonstrated support for the uprising, al-
though not always in an active fashion. According to police reports,
some miners pointed out that other mines were already shut down
and urged their prisoner colleagues to strike. Others attempted to
leave work themselves in order to show solidarity with the strikers,
although this was prevented by city authorities. 66 But sympathy for
the strikers rarely translated into active support. Many non-prisoners
simply passed along information about the situation in other mines
and other parts of the camp, communication that facilitated the spread
of the strike between camp sections. 67 Others made use of their time
off at idling mines and enterprises to drink. While such behavior was
criticized by local authorities, one should be cautious about ascribing
political meaning to such activities. Overall, active support appears to
have been rare among the non-prisoner population.
Non-prisoner reactions to the strike shared a common thread of anx-
iety. Vorkuta, like other cities and towns across the Soviet Union, had
been gripped by uncertainty since the spring of 1953. Stalin’s death,
the Beriia reforms, and Beriia’s arrest had all deeply affected the lives
of Vorkuta’s residents. The strike only served to heighten tensions and
uncertainties and made “normalcy” seem ever more elusive. It virtually
shut down several mines, which resulted in a loss of income for thou-
sands of non-prisoners. It disrupted the operation of the camps, which
further undermined the job security of those working in Vorkutlag and
Rechlag. It even potentially undermined the status of former prisoners
in the city, many of whom feared that a crackdown on the strike par-
ticipants might affect them as well. According to surveillance reports,
an amnestied prisoner working in the planning department apparently
stated, “It had only just gotten easier, and now the katorzhane [ sic ]

140 Vorkuta in Crisis
aren’t working, they are just making things diffi cult for themselves,
and now they [the authorities] might pounce on others (he has in mind
the amnestied) [editorial comment in original].” 68 Although prisoners
and non-prisoners looked on the strike from a variety of perspectives,
all felt the atmosphere of uncertainty gripping Vorkuta in the summer
of 1953.
Despite the lack of absolute unity, the swift spread of the strike
throughout much of Rechlag demonstrates the degree to which it was
well organized and coordinated. In each section, an informal prisoner
government coordinated prisoners’ actions, communicated informa-
tion throughout the camp section, and articulated demands. The basis
for prisoner leadership lay in underground nationalist prisoner organi-
zations that had become increasingly prevalent in the postwar Gulag.
Such organizations, which were generally constituted along national
lines and had been established in the postwar period, operated behind
the scenes in many camps in order to improve prisoners’ chances of
survival and to protect them from forces that might prey on them,
including cruel camp offi cials, prisoner-informants, criminal groups
and other national organizations. In Rechlag these organizations had
long existed, although they had rarely coordinated overt mass resis-
tance. In the context of the extraordinary events of the summer of 1953
the leadership of these organizations stepped in to lead the strikes. As
strike participant Joseph Scholmer wrote, “This strike would not of
course have been possible if the underground resistance groups had
not already been in existence. . . . They provided the personnel and the
necessary technical basis for any sort of offensive action. . . . The strike
had at its disposal a piece of machinery that had been built up with
the greatest care and could be relied upon to function smoothly.” 69 Al-
though the prisoner organizations had to be hastily adapted to running
the strikes, their backbone had been present for years.
Many of the characteristics of the organizations remained un-
changed despite the novel circumstances in which they were operat-
ing. The leadership continued to behave in a conspiratorial and secret
manner throughout the strike. Many participants did not know who

Vorkuta in Crisis 141
was actually in charge of the strike. Aleksandr Ugrimov, for instance,
admitted in his memoirs that early in the uprising he had only a rough
idea of who was in charge. As he wrote, “I never once saw our leaders.
It was said that the center [of the leadership] included representatives
from various nationalities, and that the head was some Colonel-Pole
from that transport [from Peschanlag].” 70 Rather than addressing the
prisoners directly, runners were chosen to communicate decisions from
the underground leadership to the mass of prisoners throughout the
camp section. 71 There was, however, one signifi cant difference in the
operation of the committees that is alluded to in the above quotation:
rather than represent the members of one nationality only, the strike
leadership tended to incorporate members of multiple national orga-
nizations. Thus, the underground self-help organizations were adapted
for the new circumstances.
As the strike progressed, it became increasingly diffi cult for the com-
mittees to balance a series of priorities: fi rst, to consult and make deci-
sions about how the strike should proceed; second, to communicate
decisions to the mass of prisoners and convince them to follow what
was decided; third, to maintain secrecy among the leaders of the un-
derground organizations in order to prevent the camp administration
from learning too much about them. These priorities came into confl ict
especially once prisoners began active negotiations with the authori-
ties. If the actual leaders of the strike came forward to negotiate, they
might be compromising themselves and the underground organizations
that they had spent years building. In some cases, the strike leaders
were willing to take this risk. In camp section 10, for instance, Edward
Buca, one of the important “underground” leaders of the strike, was
persuaded to reveal himself as a leader of the strike and represent the
prisoners in negotiations. 72 More often, however, separate “offi cial”
strike committees were created to represent the prisoners in negotia-
tions. These committees usually comprised prisoners willing to profess
a strong loyalty to the Soviet system rather than the more radical na-
tionalist prisoners. In camp section 3, for instance, the strike committee
was led by V. D. Kolesnikov, a former state security offi cer who had
been convicted only in the spring of 1953 and had spent a mere twenty-
seven days in the camp section before the strike broke out. Known as
a former air force colonel among the prisoners, his reputation had led

142 Vorkuta in Crisis
him to be elected to leadership of the strike committee against his own
objections. 73 While Kolesnikov negotiated with the authorities, the true
leaders of the strike remained underground.
Such a strategy refl ected the pragmatism of the strike leaders. Us-
ing an “offi cial” committee allowed the nationalist organizations to
maintain some level of secrecy. But there were risks to adopting this
strategy. By appointing more moderate prisoners to the “offi cial” com-
mittees, the underground leaders created an alternative center of power
within the prisoner population. Over time, confl ict often arose between
these two committees. Historian Vladimir Kozlov has aptly described
the prisoner governments as having “dual centers” ( dvoetsentrie ) of
power. 74 Generally speaking, the underground leadership tended to
steer the strike in a more radical direction, whereas the offi cial strike
committees were more moderate and conciliatory. Such arrangements
refl ect not only the complexity of prisoner organizations, but also the
diversity of outlooks among the prisoners.
The “offi cial” prisoner strike committees were created, by and large,
in the last days of July, when representatives from Moscow began to
meet with the prisoners. Although the prisoners had consistently de-
manded that a member of the Central Committee travel to Vorkuta
to negotiate with them, instead a group was dispatched that came pri-
marily from the MVD. The so-called Moscow commission was led by
army general Ivan Ivanovich Maslennikov, a longtime deputy minister
of the USSR MVD. Of the commission’s twelve members, eight were
relatively high-ranking offi cials in the USSR MVD, including M. V.
Kuznetsov, the chief of the prison section of the MVD, who had led the
commission that had met with prisoners during the strike in Gorlag.
The other members were M. D. Samokhin, who represented the USSR
Procuracy, Noginov, the deputy minister of Komi USSR MVD, Rechlag
director Derevianko, and the head of the local militarized guard divi-
sion, Mironov. 75 Despite the presence of one member from the USSR
Procuracy, a body whose main function was to exercise judicial over-
sight, the overwhelming predominance of MVD and Gulag offi cials
within the commission suggests that it was not created in order to seri-
ously investigate the prisoners’ complaints. Rather, its task was to bring
the strike to a swift and decisive conclusion.
During the two days the commission met with the prisoners on 29–
30 July, a similar scenario played out in each of the sections. Maslen-

Vorkuta in Crisis 143
nikov and the commission members entered the zone and asked to hear
the prisoners’ complaints. After the prisoners had massed in an open
space, the commission read a prepared speech to the prisoners, an-
nouncing that the group had been sent from Moscow “to examine the
situation that has arisen ‘on the ground’ and to decide the questions
that have been broached by the prisoners of Rechlag.” The commis-
sion then proposed that the prisoners immediately return to work and
“end the sabotage” so that their demands could be responded to in
good time. The speech reiterated the concessions already given to the
prisoners, and added three more that awaited approval in Moscow:
that bars be removed from the windows of barracks, that barracks be
left unlocked overnight, and that the workday credit system (zachet) be
extended to Rechlag prisoners. The speech proposed that the prisoners
return to work the next day, otherwise the commission would not be
able to resolve the issues that concerned them. Strike leaders were then
given the opportunity to address the commission. 76
The activities of the Moscow commission warrant a number of ob-
servations. First of all, the tone of the commission’s speech to the pris-
oners is striking. Although Maslennikov was clear that the strike should
be considered “sabotage,” and therefore illegitimate, his speech was
generally conciliatory. 77 Again, the fi rst move when approaching the
prisoners was to offer a series of minor improvements in camp regime
as concessions. This was a clear departure from the way that Gulag of-
fi cials had responded to acts of prisoner resistance during Stalin’s life-
time. On the other hand, it is also apparent that this commission had
fairly circumscribed authority in dealing with the prisoners. Although
they were charged with the task of listening to the prisoners’ demands
and complaints, they did not have the power to respond to them be-
yond offering a list of concessions that they had brought from Moscow.
Further, no real negotiation would actually take place. After offering
concessions and hearing prisoners’ complaints, the commission would
then deliver an ultimatum to each section beginning on 31 July: return
to work voluntarily or the strike would be ended by force.
Given the opportunity, fi nally, to express themselves to offi cials from
Moscow, representatives of the “offi cial” strike committees in each
camp section addressed the commission. A number of important themes
emerge from the small collection of speeches preserved in the Gulag
archives and in the memoirs of strike participants. One is the repeated

144 Vorkuta in Crisis
assertion that the majority of prisoners were not in fact “enemies of the
people,” criminals bent on resisting the authority of party and state. In
fact, prisoner representatives went out of their way to emphasize the
degree to which they were loyal citizens of the Soviet state. As Vladimir
Levando, a member of the group of Peschanlagovtsy who began the
strike in camp section 2, stated to Maslennikov, “most of us are the
same age as Soviet power or people of the [nineteen] teens . . . who
have lived during Soviet power, led by our powerful Communist Party.”
Levando and other leaders took pains to assert that most of the prison-
ers were products of the Soviet system who had simply become victims
of circumstance during the Second World War. Thus, as he continued,
“Among us there is practically no one who was repressed by Soviet
organs before the Great Patriotic War, and the war appears as the only
reason for our imprisonment.” 78 The strike leaders consistently repre-
sented the strike as an action taken by loyal Soviet citizens.
Prisoners’ speeches also tended to focus on the issue of legality.
Anatolii Musaevich Kniazev, another leader of the strike in camp sec-
tion 2, went to great lengths to enumerate the various violations of
legality perpetrated under Derevianko’s watch by guards and offi cials
in Rechlag. This included deliberately cruel treatment of disabled and
ill prisoners, corrupt bookkeeping practices, and savage, unprovoked
beatings of prisoners. 79 Thus, some prisoner leaders focused on the il-
legal treatment of prisoners in the camp. Others, like Levando, instead
made the case that prisoners had been wrongly convicted in the fi rst
place. Levando thus sought to focus attention not on local corruption,
but on the systematic abuse of power and misapplication of Soviet law
within the MVD and MGB. 80 Perhaps the most sweeping condemnation
of the system came from a written statement attributed to “the prison-
ers of the 10th camp section.” This document argued that the entire
prison system was a fl awed and corrupt creation, and thus demanded
the release of all “political prisoners” from the camps, the opportunity
for foreigners to return home, and the guarantee that none of the strik-
ers would be punished. 81 Overall, the speeches and statements sought
to legitimize the strike as a legal protest against various illegal practices
on the part of both local offi cials and the central judicial organs.
The representatives who spoke on behalf of the prisoners did not shy
away from leveling accusations at specifi c people. Derevianko emerged
as the chief local villain responsible for allowing and encouraging the
cruel treatment of prisoners. Some speeches alleged that the illegal

Vorkuta in Crisis 145
practices in the camp had been approved by him, often unbeknownst
to leadership in Moscow. Thus, some strike leaders adopted a time-
honored Soviet rhetorical technique, which perhaps had its roots in pre-
revolutionary times: calling on powerful and incorruptible higher forces
(the party) to intervene and punish corrupt local offi cials. 82 But other
leaders alleged that the Rechlag director had not acted alone—rather,
he had merely been the local representative of an even bigger villain,
Lavrentii Beriia, the recently arrested leader. In speeches that echoed
the language of the Soviet press, Beriia was described as an “agent of
world imperialism, adventurer, careerist-executioner.” 83 Aside from giv-
ing the prisoners a legitimate target for their anger, Beriia was clearly a
convenient scapegoat, as he had been publicly denounced for a series of
crimes against the Soviet state. By tying their local issues to the fall of
Beriia, prisoner representatives attempted to inscribe their protests into
a broader Soviet discourse. Kniazev’s speech went the farthest in this
regard, placing the crimes of Beriia in opposition to the positive leader-
ship of Stalin. 84 In fact, the rhetorical strategy adopted by the prisoners
was not unlike that of many ordinary Soviet citizens who wrote letters
to leaders in the summer of 1953, echoing the language of Pravda and
linking Beriia to the personal injustices that they had suffered. 85
This points to perhaps the most surprising aspect of the uprising, as
well as the ones that preceded it in Gorlag and followed it in Steplag:
by and large, the representatives of the prisoners “spoke Bolshevik” in
their interactions with local and central authorities. 86 Prisoner leaders
framed their strike using strikingly Soviet language, casting themselves
as loyal Soviet citizens rather than as outsiders. This seems surprising
given the fact that the majority of prisoners held in Rechlag came from
the western borderlands of the Soviet Union. Many of these prisoners
had grown up outside the Soviet system, and therefore had only re-
cently become familiar with how to “speak Bolshevik.” Some had even
participated in guerrilla warfare against Soviet forces during or after
the Second World War in order to prevent the Sovietization of their
homelands. There are a number of ways to interpret the professions
of loyalty by the prisoners and their appropriation of Soviet language
and rhetorical devices. One approach would be to accept the discourse
at face value, accepting the language of the prisoners as proof of their
complete Sovietization. 87 Another would be the opposite, to interpret
professions of loyalty as purely instrumental appropriations of Soviet
discourse adopted to mask profoundly anti-Soviet motivations. 88 A

146 Vorkuta in Crisis
more nuanced alternative, advanced by Steven Barnes in his analysis
of the Steplag uprising of 1954, rejects both of these positions. For the
many Red Army veterans in the camps who were fi ercely loyal to the
Soviet system and intent on remedying its injustices, professions of loy-
alty were expressed sincerely. 89 For former nationalist rebels, however,
the fact that they chose to “speak Bolshevik” simply demonstrated that
during their time in the Gulag they had learned how to speak publicly
in the Soviet Union. According to Barnes, “they began to mouth the
words” of Soviet discourse, even if they did not do so sincerely. 90 Thus,
the speeches made use of a powerful and fl exible discourse that could
express loyalty to the system while criticizing the activities of certain
offi cials like Derevianko and Beriia.
Having heard the prisoners’ complaints and demands, the Moscow
commission acted swiftly to end the strike. On 30 July, a plan com-
posed by commission members Maslennikov and Kuznetsov to end the
strikes was approved by MVD minister Kruglov. 91 On the following
morning of 31 July at 10:00 a.m., the commission began its operation
to end the strike where it had begun, in camp section 2. Loudspeakers
that had been set up on the watchtowers surrounding the zone de-
livered an ultimatum demanding that the prisoners return to work. 92
Ugrimov noted that the machine guns mounted on the watchtowers
that had been partially hidden were now brought into full view. Faced
with the fi rst decisive ultimatum delivered by the authorities since the
strike began, the prisoner committee decided to cooperate. Messengers
instructed all in the zone to give up in order to prevent bloodshed. 93
The prisoners of camp section 2 then voluntarily left the zone. Once
outside, they were divided into groups of one hundred and taken under
guard into the tundra. Following the plan approved by Kruglov, those
responsible for leading the strike were removed and taken elsewhere.
The rest of the prisoners were then taken back into the zone, divided
into work brigades, and taken out to work. 94 Thus, the fi rst group of
prisoners to go on strike was also the fi rst to end it.
Whereas the indecisiveness of local, regional, and central authorities
had allowed the strike to spread, the pursuit of a decisive course of ac-
tion resulted in its swift conclusion. News of the broken strike in camp

Vorkuta in Crisis 147
section 2 traveled quickly throughout Rechlag. According to Scholmer,
the Moscow commission announced that the strike had ended in camp
section 2 in order to encourage others to give up as well. Although the
prisoners were initially skeptical of these claims, they were convinced
by the sight of full coal cars passing their section. 95 Over the next two
days the prisoners in sections 3, 4, and 13 returned to work of their
own volition. 96 In these three sections the alleged ringleaders were ar-
rested as they were escorted to their work sites. In camp section 16 the
prisoners also returned to work, apparently turning in the strike lead-
ers to the authorities. 97 In nearly every case the strike ended peacefully,
with the prisoners deciding that it was better to return to work than
risk a violent confrontation with the authorities.
Events ran a different course in camp section 10, however, with
tragic consequences. On 1 August the Moscow commission began its
operation there as it had on the previous day in camp section 2, an-
nouncing an ultimatum to the prisoners and opening the gates of the
camp to allow the prisoners to leave. Yet unlike in camp section 2,
the strike committee instructed the prisoners to remain in the camp.
The ultimatum was soon repeated over the speaker system, to no avail.
From this point forward, the situation in the camp zone became cha-
otic. Some prisoners attempted to leave the zone and end the strike,
but were stopped by a large mass of approximately 350–400 prisoners
who were determined to resist and formed a barrier. 98 Fifty unarmed
guards were sent into the zone to aid those who wanted to leave, but
they were repelled by the mass of prisoners. Next, the main gates were
opened and a fi re truck was sent into the zone to use water cannons to
break up the strike. However, the fi re brigade was repelled as well. At
this point the decision was taken to fi re on the prisoners, an action that
fi nally broke the strike. 99 According to offi cial totals, 42 prisoners were
killed and 135 wounded, of which at least 11 more died subsequently
from their wounds. 100 The overwhelming majority of those killed were
“Westerners” from the Ukraine and the Baltic states, demonstrating
the important role that such prisoners played in the strike. 101 With the
bloody repression of the prisoners in camp section 10 over, the Rechlag
strike concluded.
It is unclear why the strike in camp section 10 ended in a hail of
gunfi re, whereas the matter was settled with little overt violence in the
other fi ve striking sections. The camp authorities had approached each

148 Vorkuta in Crisis
section in a similar manner, adhering as closely as possible to a pre-
pared script, where the application of violence was seen as a last resort.
Why had the prisoners in camp section 10 chosen to remain on strike
despite the ultimatums they received? It is possible that the leaders did
not believe that the strike had already ended elsewhere. If they were
unable to independently confi rm that the strike had ended in other sec-
tions on the previous day, they may have suspected that the Moscow
commission was misleading them when it reported that other prison-
ers had gone back to work. A more important factor, perhaps, was
that much of the “underground” leadership of camp section 10 had
decided to become the offi cial representatives of the prisoners rather
than remain hidden. This decision likely made the leaders less inclined
to compromise—having already revealed the leadership of the under-
ground nationalist prisoner organizations, there was little hope that
such organizations could “live to fi ght another day” after the strike
ended. By exposing the identities of the leadership, the prisoners had
effectively raised the stakes of the strike. Thus, they chose not to vol-
untarily return to work when threatened. This is not to say, of course,
that the strike leaders in camp section 10 were somehow responsible
for the deaths of their comrades—if the Moscow commission had been
willing to delay or forgo opening fi re on the prisoners, the strike might
not have ended in a bloodbath.
After each section was pacifi ed, Derevianko took action to isolate
the suspected leaders of the strike. Twenty-nine prisoners identifi ed as
strike organizers were detained in a special regime prison in Vorkuta
to await trial. 102 At least 14 of them would be convicted under articles
58–14 and 58–11 of the Russian criminal code and given sentences of
ten to twenty-fi ve years. 103 Outside the small group of organizers, a
much larger group of “active participants” also faced further punish-
ment and isolation. Two hundred eighty prisoners were transferred to
special regime prisons outside Vorkuta for terms of one year. Nearly
900 others were transferred to newly organized sections of Rechlag,
where they were held in greater isolation from the rest of the camp
population. Of the approximately 15,600 prisoners who had gone on
strike, just over 90 percent were returned to their previous status. 104
Clearly, Gulag authorities had learned one important lesson from the
strike: transporting a large group of “troublemakers” to another camp,

Vorkuta in Crisis 149
as had been the case with the Peschanlagovtsy, would simply spread
the problem.
The end of the strike did not mean an end to the crisis in Vorkuta.
Although the Moscow commission’s report on the strike boasted that
Rech lag had returned to business as usual by early August, smaller-scale
prisoner unrest continued unabated. 105 As MUP minister Zasiad’ko
complained to Sovmin chairman Malenkov in a letter on 21 January
1954, “mass instances of early departure from [work in] the mines, di-
rect refusals to perform work, and also concealed resistance and sabo-
tage on the part of the ‘special contingents’ do not cease.” 106 High-level
offi cials in the ministries struggling for control of Vorkuta, as well as
their local representatives in Vorkuta, continued to exchange accusa-
tory letters about who was responsible for the continuing collapse of
labor discipline. 107 The strike had even intensifi ed confl icts within the
MVD, as central and local offi cials sought to absolve themselves of
blame for continued prisoner resistance. For instance, at a meeting of
“special camp” directors in Moscow in March 1954, Derevianko ar-
gued that it was the unfulfi lled promises made by the Moscow commis-
sion in July 1953 that accounted for continued unrest. 108 The Rechlag
director had been heavily criticized in the commission’s report, and this
was likely an opportunity for him to settle the score. Ongoing prisoner
unrest and the steady stream of mutual recriminations clearly demon-
strated that two of the most important factors that had made the strike
possible—increased expectations on the part of prisoners and dysfunc-
tion on the part of administrators—continued after the strike.
Although some progress was made in 1954 to solve the ministerial
gridlock in Vorkuta, the effort remained incomplete. Structural reform
of the Gulag was renewed in 1954, in large part through a repeal of
many of Beriia’s experimental reforms. On 21 January 1954, Sovmin
returned the oversight of all camps and colonies to the MVD from
MinIust. Now Rechlag and Vorkutlag were once again under one min-
istry. 109 The reforms went even further, abolishing the “special camps”
entirely, and thus on 26 May the MVD ordered that Rechlag be elimi-
nated and combined with Vorkutlag. Derevianko was relieved of his

150 Vorkuta in Crisis
responsibilities, and Vorkutlag director Prokop’ev took over responsi-
bility for the reunifi ed camp complex. 110 Beriia’s March 1953 decision
to split the economic and punitive functions of the Gulag was also
largely reversed over the course of 1954, and many Gulag industries
were transferred from civilian ministries back to the MVD. 111 However,
not all industries were restored to the MVD. KVU remained subor-
dinate to MUP and Vorkutlag remained under the MVD. Therefore,
the system of contract labor continued unchanged. 112 While it is not
entirely clear why MUP retained control of the mines, this is likely
because plans were already afoot for KVU and the Pechora coal basin
to make the transition to a primarily non-prisoner labor force. Yet con-
crete measures to facilitate this change would not emerge until 1955,
leaving Vorkuta stuck between two masters.
For local mine and prison camp offi cials, the strike had driven home
an important lesson. The separation of the mines from the camps left
each set of offi cials ultimately responsible for separate aspects of the
prisoners’ existence, the productive and the penal. Yet the strike had
demonstrated that these aspects were closely intertwined because a
breakdown in one inevitably meant a breakdown in the other. By the
summer of 1954, KVU and Vorkutlag offi cials were fi nally ready to
work together, as far as was possible given the ongoing turf war in
Moscow. One important opportunity to do this arrived in connection
with the fi rst major internal reorganization of the camp system of the
1950s. The “Regulations on Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies of
the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR,” approved by the USSR
Council of Ministers on 10 July 1954, contained a broad, compre-
hensive set of rules to govern many aspects of life in the camps, from
medical treatment, to the organization of labor, to political-educational
work among prisoners. 113 Among other things, these new regulations
were intended to rationalize the regime under which prisoners were
held. By dividing prisoners into three different levels of regime—strict,
common, and light—the new rules were designed to isolate and punish
the truly dangerous and unrepentant, and to reward those prisoners
who posed little threat and were on the path of rehabilitation. 114 It was
in these regulations that camp section chiefs and mine directors found
new ways to work together for their mutual benefi t.
The light regime, which was reserved for those prisoners who had
served at least one-third of their sentences, strictly adhered to the camp

Vorkuta in Crisis 151
rules, and worked dutifully, held intriguing possibilities both for reduc-
ing prisoner unrest and improving productivity. Prisoners in such camp
sections were guarded less strictly and were entitled to various incen-
tives that had not previously been available, such as the opportunity to
spend days off outside the camp. Two aspects of the light regime made
it particularly attractive to offi cials in Vorkuta. First, it removed many
of the existing limitations on de-convoying prisoners, that is, granting
them passes to move outside the zone without a guard convoy. The
“regulations” also restored the opportunity to grant prisoners permis-
sion to live outside the camp zone itself. Although designating pris-
oners as de-zoned had been fairly common throughout the history of
the Gulag, it had been prohibited since 1947. 115 Now, prisoners who
“demonstrated, by their conduct and relationship to work, that they
no longer needed to be held under guard” could be given permission
to live outside the camp zone for the remainder of their terms. Unlike
before 1947, permission to live outside the zone was explicitly identi-
fi ed in the regulations as a widely applicable labor “incentive,” whereas
previously it had been done informally where zones had not existed, or
as a privilege for individual prisoners. Further, de-zoned prisoners were
now allowed to send for their families to live with them. They were
to be paid full wages, in most ways equivalent to those paid to non-
prisoner workers. Although they were required to present themselves
to the camp administration “regularly” for registration, they could be
granted temporary absences from their place of residence. 116 In many
important respects their status was similar to the category of “colo-
nists” of the early 1930s.
Granting prisoners the right to move freely or to live outside the zone
was an arrangement that suited both Vorkutlag and KVU. It offered
benefi ts for each side without having to cede authority or take on oner-
ous new responsibilities. De-convoyed and de-zoned prisoners were
less of a strain on the limited resources of the camp than prisoners who
lived inside the zone. Neither type of prisoner needed to be brought to
work under guard, which was of great benefi t to camp sections that had
been suffering from a severe shortage of guards since the late 1940s. By
1953–1955, the shortage had become so severe that each day hundreds
of prisoners could not work in the mines simply because there were not
enough guards to bring them to the work site and back. 117 De-zoned
prisoners also did not eat in the camp canteens, instead purchasing

152 Vorkuta in Crisis
their own food from their wages. Since they lived in housing outside
the camp, de-zoned prisoners could help relieve the chronic overcrowd-
ing of camp barracks, allowing camp offi cials to boast in their yearly
reports that prisoner housing was improving. Perhaps most important,
prisoners who lived outside the zone or who had passes allowing them
free movement were much less likely to be involved in organized acts
of mass resistance, thereby preventing another prisoner strike. Because
this did not involve a fundamental change in the relationship between
Vorkutlag and KVU, it could all be accomplished without ceding sig-
nifi cant authority or accepting extra responsibility for mine output.
For their part, mine managers saw the granting of passes or the right
to live outside the zone as an opportunity to gain what Zasiad’ko had
been arguing for on their behalf since 1953: greater control over their
workforce. De-convoyed prisoners would not be dependent on whether
or not there were suffi cient guards to bring them to work—they would
make their way to the mines themselves. De-zoned prisoners could live
in the same settlements as non-prisoners and utilize the transportation
options already in place. Thus, managers were convinced that prisoners
granted the privilege of moving freely or living outside the zone would
show up for work more regularly. When at work in the mines, such
prisoners were likely to be much more productive, as they would be
working for wages nearly equivalent to those paid to non-prisoners. 118
Like the camp offi cials, mine offi cials were also convinced that prison-
ers granted these privileges would be unlikely to revolt, and this would
help restore workplace discipline. Thus, mine offi cials also saw this as
an opportunity to reverse the decline of labor productivity in the mines
and to prevent another prisoner strike.
Vorkutlag’s administration wasted little time granting passes and the
right to live outside the zone in 1954. At fi rst, granting passes was a
far more common practice. Oleg Borovskii, a prisoner in Rechlag since
1949, received a pass in 1954 so that he could build an x-ray machine
in another camp section. In the summer of 1954 he took his fi rst steps
outside the camp zone, unguarded and unaccompanied. He described
the experience with great emotion: “Walking around the city for a few
hours, I was surprised that no one paid any attention to me, although
at fi rst it seemed that every soldier or guard that I met would ask for
my documents. Soon kiosks selling newspapers, ice cream, and beer
opened. I was unable to resist temptation and drank a glass of beer,

Vorkuta in Crisis 153
which seemed to me to be fantastically tasty and intoxicating, then ate
two portions of ‘Eskimo’ ice cream and froze my lips and throat terri-
bly. I sat a little while longer on a bench and dreamed of the time when
I would be freed forever, and I would leave Vorkuta with Mira [his
wife], as quickly and as far away as possible.” 119 He was allowed to be
outside the camp from 6:00 a.m. until midnight every day. Although he
was only offi cially allowed to travel between camp sections 1 and 10,
he used the opportunity to more or less live with his wife Mira, an ex-
prisoner living in Vorkuta—that is, until he was caught taking a train to
see his wife by an offi cer in the camp administration and his pass was
revoked. 120 By 1 January 1955 there were already 7,781 de-convoyed
prisoners, representing over 10 percent of the prisoner population. 121
Thus, granting prisoners passes was initially the preferred option for
solving the confl ict between Vorkutlag and KVU over prisoner labor.
Although initially the number of de-zoned prisoners was quite mod-
est, they would soon far outnumber the de-convoyed. On 7 August,
less than a month after the “regulations” went into effect, Vorkutlag
director Prokop’ev approved his fi rst list of 45 prisoners to be trans-
ferred outside the zone. His order, including the list of prisoners, was
announced over the Vorkutlag camp radio so that the newly de-zoned
could serve as examples to which all prisoners could aspire. 122 Lists
of prisoners to be transferred outside the zone continued to cross
Prokop’ev’s desk, and the number rose quickly in the second half of
1954; by 1 January 1955 there were already 2,102 de-zoned prisoners
in Vorkuta (table 4.1). 123 In 1955 the number of de-zoned prisoners in-
creased even more quickly. From January through August, over 7,000
prisoners were granted permission to live outside the barbed wire. As
table 4.2 shows, the monthly rate varied considerably, from a low of
379 in March to a high of 2,646 in April. The camp administration was
now routinely allowing an average of 10 to 30 prisoners per day per-
mission to live outside the zone. The absolute and relative numbers of
de-zoned prisoners reached their height in March 1956, when well over
13,000 prisoners were living outside the zone, nearly one-third of the
total Vorkutlag population. Although the actual number of de-zoned
prisoners declined over the course of 1956 because of mass releases,
their numbers remained signifi cant through the middle of 1957: on
1 July 1957, over 6,000 prisoners, representing just over 13 percent of
the camp population, lived outside the zone. By 1960, the practice had

154 Vorkuta in Crisis
Table 4.1. Absolute and relative number of de-zoned
prisoners in Vorkutlag, 1955–1960 (Selected Dates)
Date N %
1-Jan-55 2,102 3.35
1-Mar-56 13,639 29.00
16-Aug-56 10,752 22.79
10-Oct-56 8,741 18.48
1-Jan-57 7,309 14.74
1-Jul-57 6,296 13.24
1-Dec-58 1,029 4.74
1-Jan-59 854 4.11
1-Jan-60 320 2.09
Source: GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 176, l. 57; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 520, l. 1; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 531, l. 3; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 539, l. 9; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 75, l. 25; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 543, l. 1; GARF, f. R-8131, op. 32, d. 6566, ll. 6–7.
Table 4.2. Prisoners granted de-zoned
status in Vorkutlag, January–August 1956
Month N
January 722
February 749
March 379
April 2,646
May 746
June 911
July 399
August 511
Total 7,063
Source: GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 531, l. 40.
virtually ceased, with only 320 prisoners, approximately 2 percent of
the prisoner population, living outside the zone.
As the prevalence of de-zoned prisoners grew, so did the lists of pris-
oners being approved. For example, on 10 November 1955, 750 pris-
oners from camp section 10 were simultaneously given permission to
live outside the camp zone. 124 This is clear evidence that by 1955 the
practice of allowing prisoners to live outside the zone was not being

Vorkuta in Crisis 155
granted as stipulated in the 1954 “regulations,” as a privilege for a
handful of prisoners who demonstrated good behavior. With hundreds
of prisoners approved simultaneously, the decision could not have
been based on a careful consideration of an individual prisoner’s fi le.
In fact, permission was being granted for other reasons. In some cases
individual prisoners were asking for and receiving permission on the
basis that they wanted to live with members of their families that had
already come to Vorkuta. 125 But most often the process of granting
the privilege to prisoners originated in the mines and other enterprises
that Vorkutlag supplied with prisoner labor under contract. In many of
the long lists of prisoners submitted for Vorkutlag director Prokop’ev’s
approval, the only characteristic given for each prisoner was his or
her occupation. 126 Prisoners’ names were being submitted for permis-
sion to live outside the zone not because of good behavior or because
they qualifi ed by having served at least one-third of their sentences,
but because of their skills and economic importance to the mines and
factories in which they worked. In some cases, entire work brigades
were moved outside the zone at the request of the mines and enterprises
to which they were attached. In others, entire camp sections (usually
those attached to mines) were moved outside the zone. 127 Clearly, camp
offi cials and enterprise managers saw the opportunity to transfer thou-
sands of prisoners outside the zone as a mutually benefi cial opportu-
nity and one that promoted cooperation in the midst of the ongoing
“turf war” between MUP and the MVD. 128
The fact that local authorities were bending the rules was apparent
to offi cials in the Komi ASSR Procuracy, whose inspectors reported
gross violations of offi cial policy. Some de-zoned prisoners had not yet
served one-third of their sentence, which was required, whereas others
had been convicted of crimes that made them ineligible. 129 In one sec-
tion of Vorkutlag in September 1956, over 40 percent of the de-zoned
prisoners did not legally qualify for the privilege. 130 Procuracy offi cials
were well aware that permission was not being given as an incentive
for good behavior, but in order to improve the economic performance
of the industries and enterprises that Vorkutlag supplied with labor. As
one report stated, “The administrations of camps transfer a signifi cant
number of prisoners . . . to live outside of camp zones not as an incen-
tive, but motivated by the needs of production.” 131 It does not appear
that the procuracy’s criticisms had any teeth, however, as few prisoners

156 Vorkuta in Crisis
(if any) were transferred back into the camp zone as a result of these
comments. 132 The granting of de-zoned status to large groups of pris-
oners in Vorkutlag continued unabated, undoubtedly with the tacit ap-
proval of the USSR MVD. 133
Moving tens of thousands of prisoners outside the zone was a con-
venient arrangement for both KVU and Vorkutlag that prevented
confl icts over prisoner labor. For all practical purposes it restored the
authority of mine managers over their workers while allowing camp
section offi cials to retain their authority over prisoners still living in
the zone. Thus, locals had found a way to ease the administrative crisis
that had grown in the wake of Stalin’s death, at least in this important
respect. It was less effective, however, in lessening the increased ex-
pectations of prisoners. In fact, the steady stream of prisoners out of
the camps and into the surrounding settlements seems to have created
a widespread expectation that all prisoners should be allowed to live
outside the zone. Prisoners like Mikhail Baital’skii, who waited months
to be de-zoned, even after his wife had already come to live in Vorkuta,
were understandably frustrated at the perceived lack of logic to the
process. 134 When a brief prisoner strike broke out in camp sections 5
and 15 in July 1955, this one involving approximately 1,200 prisoners
and lasting less than a week, one of the most prominent demands was
that all “counterrevolutionaries” be given the right to live outside the
zone. 135 Contrary to the hopes of camp administrators and mine man-
agers, further improvements and incentives seem to have only fueled
prisoner unrest.
By 1956, it was clear that the practice of granting passes and permis-
sion to live outside the zone had moved well beyond being a temporary
expedient. This is apparent when one turns to the thorniest issue raised
when hundreds, and then thousands, of prisoners were given permis-
sion to live outside the zone: where to house them. According to the
1954 “regulations,” Vorkutlag was responsible for providing housing
for these prisoners outside the zone. Yet Vorkuta and the surrounding
mine settlements suffered from a desperate shortage of housing that had
plagued the area since the 1930s. 136 The rapid increase in the number
of de-zoned prisoners threatened to strain the already overburdened

Vorkuta in Crisis 157
civilian housing stock, sending camp and mine offi cials scrambling to
fi nd them places to live. In some cases, the prisoners themselves were
responsible for fi nding rooms to rent. 137 In others, camp authorities
were able to conclude agreements with surrounding settlements to se-
cure living space for prisoners. 138 Yet securing housing space was some-
times such a problem that the camp administration actually rescinded
orders allowing prisoners to live outside the zone because there was
simply nowhere for them to live. 139
Enterprise managers soon began to improvise in order to secure
housing for those whom they wanted transferred outside the camp.
One strategy was for enterprises to set aside land, building materials,
and time for potential de-zoned prisoners to build their own housing.
Once the housing was completed, the camp or mine offi cials would
then petition for the prisoners who took part to be granted permission
to live in it. 140 Yet this method was not widely practicable owing to a
shortage of building materials. In the end, the only method that could
accommodate thousands of prisoners moving outside the zone was to
move the boundaries of the zone itself. The fencing and barbed wire
that enclosed the territory of the camp were simply moved, so that bar-
racks that had once stood within the camp zone were now outside it.
As a Vorkutlag procuracy offi cial noted, “Prisoners living outside the
zone live in the main in the same barracks in which they previously
lived, only now these barracks are located outside the zone.” 141 Moving
the boundaries of the zone to convert camp buildings for civilian use
had been going on at least since the early 1940s, and much of the hous-
ing stock in the city of Vorkuta consisted of former camp barracks.
But in this case, the prisoners continued to live in the same barracks,
only now they were no longer located within the camp and were called
“dormitories” instead.
It is here that we see the improvisations of camp and mine offi cials
transforming into something far more than a stopgap measure to en-
sure a steady labor supply. By 1956–1957, Vorkutlag and KVU’s strat-
egy of allowing prisoners to live outside the zone had become part of
a process by which spaces of the camp complex were becoming part of
the company town. As the barbed wire receded, entire camp sections
became part of the “outside” and moved from the camp to the city. It
was no longer the case that prisoners were being relocated outside the
zone—rather, the zone itself was shrinking. By improvising a solution

158 Vorkuta in Crisis
Figure 4.1. Ex-prisoner Anna Szyszko in the tundra near a camp zone, ca. 1955–
1957. Photograph courtesy of KARTA Center Foundation, Warsaw.
to both administrative confl ict and the prisoner unrest, KVU and Vor-
kutlag were moving beyond short-term labor concerns to the long-term
issue of how to convert a camp complex into a city. The widespread
use of de-zoned prisoners was transforming the landscape of Vorkuta
(fi gure 4.1).
The practice of allowing thousands of prisoners to live outside the
zone also had profound effects on prisoner status and identity. While it
remained clear that the de-zoned were still prisoners, in practice their
rights and privileges closely resembled those of the many former pris-
oners and exiles living in the city. They were paid equivalent wages
to non-prisoner workers and lived in housing outside the zone. Many
sent for their families to join them in Vorkuta. Some were even granted
permission to travel long distances throughout the Soviet Union. 142 In
short, de-zoned prisoners had already accomplished signifi cant parts
of the process of making the transition from prisoner to non-prisoner
before their terms had expired. This was advantageous not only to the
prisoners, but also to their employers. Looking ahead, managers real-
ized that in the near future thousands of skilled and reliable prison-

Vorkuta in Crisis 159
ers would be released from the camp. In the absence of compulsion,
there were no guarantees that they would stay in Vorkuta. Perhaps
they could be convinced to remain if they already had jobs and hous-
ing, and had settled with their families. Thus, de-zoning thousands of
prisoners became part of a long-term strategy to build a skilled and re-
liable workforce from the prisoner population by “tying” prisoners to
their enterprises. Both former prisoners and historians have suggested
that this was an attempt to convert “slaves into serfs.” 143 Although it
is problematic to apply either category to prisoners in Vorkuta, such
a description of the process captures the notion that the status of tens
of thousands of prisoners came to more closely resemble that of exiles
rather than prisoners. No matter its intentions, there is no doubt that
this process helped tens of thousands of prisoners navigate the diffi cult
transition from imprisonment to freedom.
The use of prisoner labor contracted from the camps to the mines
would decline signifi cantly in the second half of the 1950s, as would
the use of de-zoned and de-convoyed prisoners. Two related develop-
ments would precipitate this fundamental shift. First, the waves of mass
releases from the Gulag that had been initiated by the 27 March 1953
amnesty fi nally began to have a signifi cant effect on the population
of Vorkutlag. From 1955–1958, tens of thousands of prisoners were
released from Vorkutlag, and the size of the camp population fell to
less than forty thousand by 1958. Thus, the potential pool of prisoner
labor shrank signifi cantly. Second, MUP minister Zasiad’ko fi nally got
his wish for defi nitive control over both Vorkuta’s mines and its labor
force. In August 1955, the Council of Ministers passed a comprehen-
sive resolution on the future of the Pechora coal basin, declaring that as
of 1958 only “permanent cadres” (non-prisoners) would work under-
ground in the mines. Neither of these developments spelled an end to
prison camps in Vorkuta, let alone the use of prisoner labor contracted
out to enterprises. Major construction projects, from schools to mines,
continued to make use of prisoner labor through the 1980s. But the
changes went a long way toward resolving the crisis that had begun in
1953. With a sharp reduction in the use of prisoner labor contracted
from the camps to the mines, the turf war between MUP and the MVD
ended. With the release of tens of thousands of prisoners from Vorkut-
lag, the hopes and expectations of many prisoners were met, even if,
as we shall see, the freedom that they were granted had its limitations.

160 Vorkuta in Crisis
With the decisions to greatly reduce the size of Vorkutlag and to use
only non-prisoner labor in the mines, much of the uncertainty precipi-
tated by the events of 1953 was resolved.
Yet this did not mean an end to the upheavals and transformations
taking place in Vorkuta. Administrative uncertainty would be replaced
by a new set of challenges over the next decade and a half. Like the
crises in 1953–1955, they would also revolve around the issue of labor.
Given the signifi cant reduction in the size of the prisoner population
and the imperative to switch entirely to the use of non-prisoner labor
in the mines by 1958, MUP was now faced with the prospect of fi nding
tens of thousands of workers to replace the labor of prisoners. Work-
ers from other parts of the Soviet Union would be actively recruited
or encouraged to migrate to the city with incentives. At the same time,
former prisoners and exiles would continue to represent a signifi cant
proportion of mine employees going forward. It was these outside re-
cruits, as well as prisoners and exiles, who would defi ne the social fab-
ric of the company town that Vorkuta would become for the remainder
of the Soviet period.

5 The “Second Birth”
of Vorkuta
Forging the Company Town
At the edge of the square some blackened pillars stick up from the snow.
People say these pillars used to support a guard tower. They say that once
long ago, back in Stalin’s time, there was a prison camp on the site of our
settlement. It is hard to imagine that here, where we now work, dance, go
to movies, laugh at one another, and cry, there was once a prison camp. I
try not to think of those times; to me they are utterly incomprehensible.
—Vasilii Aksenov, “Oranges from Morocco”
ON 5 JUNE 1956 Vorkuta’s railroad station was abuzz with activity. An
important delegation was arriving. Zapoliar’e , the local newspaper, de-
scribed the scene: “Twelve young men and twelve young women were
warmly welcomed at the station by representatives of the coal com-
pany . . . and city society. . . . Sounds of a brass orchestra welcomed the
slowing train. Here at the station a spontaneous meeting arose, opened
by the secretary of the city committee of the Komsomol, comrade Ma-
zur. He congratulated them on behalf of all the youth of the city for
their decision to help the polar residents develop the incalculable riches
of the earth’s interior, and build new enterprises, sociocultural insti-
tutions, and comfortable housing.” 1 Speeches were delivered, fi rst by
the Komsomol secretary of the construction department where the vol-
unteers would work, and then by a seventeen-year-old representative
of the arriving workers. Then, singing, the twenty-four youths were
driven to their new living quarters in the Gorniatskii settlement. The
fi rst group of Komsomol volunteers from Syktyvkar, the capital of the
Komi ASSR, had arrived. New challenges and opportunities awaited
them as construction workers in Vorkuta.
Thirteen years before, a meeting had taken place at the same train
station in order to commemorate the fi rst shipment of Vorkuta’s coal

162 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
to Leningrad. Taking place at the height of the war in 1943, that meet-
ing had celebrated the new city’s contribution to the war effort and
ritually marked its connection to the national transportation network.
Although the June 1956 meeting marked the movement of people, not
goods, and the direction of travel was reversed, there are striking simi-
larities between them. The arrival of the Komsomol volunteers signi-
fi ed an important stage in the city’s transformation from Gulag town
to company town. In place of coerced labor by prisoners, young and
enthusiastic volunteers would work in Vorkuta’s mines, construction
crews, and factories. Soon, the barbed wire of the camps and crude bar-
racks would be replaced by practical and comfortable new housing.
In line with the emerging policies of the new Khrushchev govern-
ment, recruitment practices were becoming, at least in theory, less co-
ercive than they had been during and after the war. As part of his at-
tempt to revive the Soviet system and rekindle the enthusiasm of the
population for communist ideals, Khrushchev and his closest advis-
ers attempted a thoroughgoing reform of labor recruitment policies
in order to make them based on choice rather than compulsion. The
arrival of the Komsomol volunteers in June 1956, and the fanfare that
surrounded it, publicly marked Vorkuta’s embrace of the new times
and new policies. On the one hand, such recruitment policies were ne-
cessitated by Khrushchev’s abandonment of mass repression as a tool
of population management. Millions of prisoners and special settlers
across the Soviet Union were being released, and an injection of new
labor was necessary to replace them. In Vorkuta alone, over 105,000
prisoners were released between 1953 and 1958. Yet the new recruit-
ment campaigns of the 1950s were about more than simply replacing
one population with another. The young volunteers who were recruited
to Vorkuta were seen as a vehicle through which an entire community
could be transformed. By bringing young, enthusiastic, uncorrupted
citizens to replace prisoners and exiles, the intention was to transform
the very nature of city society. In the place of prisoners with shady pasts
and suspect political ideas, the new youth could purify public and pri-
vate spaces and expunge the city’s troubled past.
The recruitment of new workers was a key part of a thoroughgoing
attempt to transform Vorkuta into a company town, a process that
faced obstacles beyond simply bringing enough people to the city to
replace departing prisoners and exiles. Like most Soviet cities, Vorkuta

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 163
did not have suffi cient infrastructure to properly absorb thousands of
new recruits. But the structural shortage of housing and other urban
infrastructure that was ubiquitous in the postwar Soviet Union was
only magnifi ed by Vorkuta’s remoteness, extreme natural environment,
and its legacy as a Gulag town, which bequeathed little more than ram-
shackle barracks. Thus, the struggle by local offi cials to improve living
conditions for recruits was a key element of Vorkuta’s transformation.
So was a program, launched in 1959, to completely rebuild Vorkuta’s
mines in accordance with contemporary international standards. With-
out a seemingly unlimited supply of forced laborers, local managers
and their superiors in Moscow now had to think about improving the
profi tability of the mines in order to offset the new expenses of higher
wages and investment in infrastructure. Further, safe working condi-
tions mattered much more to a labor force of non-prisoners. The pro-
gram of mine reconstruction would drag out for decades, but would re-
sult in a profound transformation in the working lives of Vorkutiane.
As the epigraph above suggests, attempts to transform the city and
its population in the second half of the 1950s and early 1960s also ex-
posed deep anxieties. The period was marked by sustained uneasiness
about the integration of new recruits and their capacity to transform
Vorkuta into an ideal Soviet community. Although there was some evi-
dence that the new recruits were transforming the character of work
and leisure spaces, local leaders were disturbed to observe that just as
often it was the fresh recruits who were being infl uenced by the former
prisoners and exiles with whom they lived and worked. Thus, attempts
to transform Vorkuta into a Soviet company town demonstrate not
only the profound optimism of the new times, but also the profound
anxieties unearthed by the attempt to transform Soviet society after
Stalin. 2
By the time of the arrival of the fi rst group of Komsomol volunteers
from Syktyvkar in June 1956, large-scale outside labor recruitment had
already been under way for some time. Local offi cials in Vorkuta and
their counterparts in Moscow had been struggling over the issue of
labor supply since the fi rst weeks after Stalin’s death. Although there
were still nearly fi fty thousand prisoners in Vorkutlag at this time, well

164 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
Figure 5.1. View of mine 9–10 and its surroundings, ca. 1955–1957. Photograph
courtesy of KARTA Center Foundation, Warsaw.
over fi fty thousand prisoners had been released in the previous three
years. In August 1955, MUP and its local representatives had been told
unequivocally that the vast majority of prisoners would have to be re-
placed with non-prisoner labor. In a resolution entitled “On measures
for urgent assistance to the Pechora coal basin,” the USSR Council of
Ministers decreed that Vorkuta’s mines would make the transition to
non-prisoner labor. According to the resolution, MUP was now solely
responsible for providing the entire underground staff of Vorkuta’s
mines. 3 Although prisoners would continue to be used in the future,
particularly in mine construction projects, the personnel responsible
for running KVU’s mines were now going to be “permanent cadres,” a
euphemism for non-prisoners.
The 1955 Sovmin resolution placed a diffi cult task on KVU admin-
istrators. In the next two and a half years, they would have to fi nd spe-
cialists and workers to replace over twenty thousand prisoners work-
ing in the mines, who made up nearly 70 percent of the workforce. 4
This was in addition to replacing thousands of exiles who would soon
be granted the right to leave Vorkuta under the terms of various am-

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 165
nesties. Many jobs vacated by prisoners would be fi lled by ex-prisoners
or former exiles who decided to remain in the city after their release.
But KVU administrators could not rely entirely on ex-prisoners to re-
place the prisoner labor that they had been receiving under contract.
Although much could be done to convince former prisoners to stay,
it was clear that many would choose to depart when they were able.
Further, these former prisoners were in many respects a problematic
population with suspect pasts and political views. Thus it was not only
necessary to fi nd new blood for the city, it was also desirable.
In fact, MUP had already been recruiting non-prisoner labor to the
mines for some time. After assuming responsibility for KVU at the end
of March 1953, MUP immediately began recruiting workers to the city.
For the next two years, KVU would rely primarily on a system known
as “organized recruitment” ( organizovannyi nabor or orgnabor ), which
had been used since the 1930s to recruit rural and urban dwellers for
particular industries. Under this system, recruiters fanned out to vil-
lages and towns to entice peasants and workers to sign contracts agree-
ing to work for fi xed terms in the enterprises that the recruiters repre-
sented. Although KVU had limited experience using this system, MUP
was long accustomed to obtaining labor in this fashion. In 1950, for
instance, over one hundred thousand people were recruited via orgna-
bor to work in MUP coal mines across the Soviet Union. 5
The orgnabor system had well-known fl aws that became appar-
ent once it came into use in Vorkuta. 6 As had been common since the
1930s, there was a clear mismatch between the promises made to the
recruits and what they actually experienced after they arrived. Housing
set aside for them was in deplorable condition, if it existed at all. A city
deputy from the Zapoliar’nyi settlement wondered at a Gorispolkom
meeting in March 1954, “Why did we recruit people when we knew
perfectly that there weren’t conditions for them to live?” 7 At the same
meeting, the head of the city militia complained that he was being told
to punish deserting workers, whereas he felt that deceitful recruiters
were the ones truly to blame. 8 The other problem that plagued orgna-
bor was the suspect quality of the recruits, many of whom seemed more
interested in recreation than labor. Grigorenko, secretary of the party
organization of mine no. 4, complained in early 1955, “Of 100 men
at our mine [recruited via orgnabor], only 32 work, and the rest of
them drink and do not go to work.” 9 Some recruits simply left the city

166 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
soon after arrival, whereas many others were fi red for drunkenness or
absenteeism. 10 Although 2,906 workers were recruited for KVU under
orgnabor in 1955, it appears that few became productive workers. 11
When KVU began recruiting workers in earnest after the August
1955 resolution, orgnabor was almost entirely abandoned. This was
in line with a shift in labor recruitment policy throughout the Soviet
Union, as Stalinist recruitment methods were scaled back in favor of
those intended to better harness the enthusiasm of Soviet youth. 12 One
important technique of the mid-1950s was to recruit demobilized sol-
diers to agricultural and industrial projects that needed a fast injection
of large amounts of labor. Khrushchev was overseeing a massive reduc-
tion of the Soviet armed forces, which shrank by over one million men
from 1955 to 1958, creating a vast pool of mobile labor. 13 At the same
time, the new Soviet leader was keen to launch ambitious new proj-
ects, such as the settling of the so-called Virgin lands in Kazakhstan.
Although the recruitment of demobilized soldiers to Khrushchev’s pet
agricultural project received far more press, in fact many soldiers were
recruited to former Gulag sites like Vorkuta. As table 5.1 shows, from
1955 to 1960 over fi fteen thousand former soldiers were recruited to
Vorkuta, with about four thousand arriving each year during the peak
from 1956 to 1958. 14 This made demobilized soldiers the largest source
of labor actively recruited by KVU from outside the city in the second
half of the 1950s.
Another recruitment method introduced under Khrushchev was the
so-called social call-up ( obshchestvennyi prizyv ). Modeled to a large
degree after successful drives to recruit youth to settle the Virgin lands,
it was announced as a national campaign on 16 May 1956. 15 The “call-
up” was addressed to all Soviet youth, imploring them to “send their
best comrades for the construction of electric generating stations, met-
allurgical, chemical, oil-refi ning, and machine-building factories, mines,
coal mines, railroads,” in the east, north, and the Donbas. 16 This vol-
untary recruitment was explicitly intended to make up for a decreased
reliance on orgnabor. Privately, offi cials acknowledged that many of
the recruits would replace prisoners and exiles being released from
the Gulag. 17 Although Vorkuta was not a destination for the Union-
level campaign, it was part of a regional call-up that saw thousands of
young volunteers sent to industrial projects across Komi ASSR, many
of which were former Gulag sites. The fi rst Komsomol volunteers ar-

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 167
Table 5.1. KVU hiring from armed forces, 1955–1967
From Armed Forces
1955 a 13,586 1,224 9.01
1956 4,000
1957 3,800
1958 23,171 4,432 19.13
1959 21,028 934 4.44
1960 19,502 1,120 5.74
1961 15,076 349 2.31
1962 16,865 766 4.54
1963 13,003 817 6.28
1964 14,042 588 4.19
1965 14,423 871 6.04
1966 11,977 761 6.35
1967 10,730 727 6.78
Source: GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2281, l. 22ob.; Zapoliar’e , 3 December 1957; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2281, ll. 12–15, 19–21; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2305, ll. 1–1ob; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2312, ll. 1–1ob; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, op. 1, d. 2324, ll. 1–2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2346, l. 1.; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2366, ll. 1, 4, 43; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1719, ll. 136, 142–43, 156.a Row includes data for mines only.
rived on 5 June 1956 and would continue to stream into the city over
the next few years. 18
There were also concerted efforts to recruit mining specialists, those
who had graduated from institutes of higher education or from techni-
cal schools, to come to the city. Since the 1930s, most graduates from
such schools were given work assignments that they were required to
fulfi ll after graduation ( raspredelenie ). This practice, which was con-
tinued during the Khrushchev era, was designed to ensure that a suf-
fi cient number of specialists were sent to all parts of the Soviet Union,
especially its most far-fl ung and peripheral places. As part of the Gulag,
Vorkuta had received few, if any, mining specialists from this system. 19
But in 1953, when MUP assumed responsibility for Vorkuta’s mines,
the ministry began to send graduates from its educational institutions
to the Pechora coal basin. From then on, hundreds of specialists were
sent to the city each year to fi ll important posts as “engineering and

168 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
technical workers” (ITR). The number of specialists sent via raspre-
delenie reached its zenith in 1958 (455) before declining to its nadir in
1964 (163) (table 5.2). Although the overall number of specialists ar-
riving in Vorkuta actually increased over time, the number who arrived
there because of raspredelenie had declined signifi cantly by the middle
of the 1960s.
Ultimately, however, the numbers of recruits sent from central and
regional campaigns and programs were not suffi cient to satisfy the
acute demand for labor. KVU sought other ways to bring more non-
prisoners into the working population. From 1955 to 1958, a concerted
effort was made to bring more working-age women into the work-
force, particularly in the coal mines. Although women were typically
underrepresented both in the Gulag population and in frontier towns
like Vorkuta that were oriented toward male-dominated industries, the
population of working-age women grew fairly quickly in the second
Table 5.2. Specialists sent to KVU via raspredelenie, 1954–1967
Education Total
1954 74 355 429
1955 106 337 443
1956 149 278 427
1957 96 241 337
1958 121 334 455
1959 89 259 348
1960 142 216 358
1961 121 208 329
1962 80 174 254
1963 88 169 257
1964 50 113 163
1965 99 162 261
1966 104 123 227
1967 61 103 164
Source: GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1780, l. 38; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1709, l. 16; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1710, l. 2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1711, l. 2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1712, l. 3; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1713, l. 3; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, l. 32.; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1715, l. 4; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1716, l. 2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1717, l. 9; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1718, l. 7.

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 169
half of the 1940s and fi rst half of the 1950s. Combining prisoner and
non- prisoner populations, the percentage of women in the overall pop-
ulation of Vorkuta grew from only 17 percent in 1947 to 27 percent
in 1954. Among the non-prisoner population, the gender balance was
more even, with women representing 36 percent of non-prisoners in
1947 and 45 percent in 1954. 20 Although some of this increase came
from women released from imprisonment or exile, most of the increase
came from a rising birth rate and growing migration to the city in
search of opportunities. It would not be until 1969 that gender parity
would be reached, however. 21
Women had been working in Vorkuta’s mines since the mid-1930s,
a practice that had been common throughout the Soviet Union at least
since the fi rst fi ve-year plan. 22 For example, K. Plastinina, one of the
fi rst graduates of the mining-oil tekhnikum in Chib’iu (Ukhta), had, as
a non-prisoner, worked her way from being a miner in 1936 to serving
as a mine director from 1954 to 1957. She continued working at KVU
until 1973, serving much of that time as the head of cadres for KVU. 23
As mass releases accelerated in 1955, there was increasing incentive
to hire women in order to stabilize the workforce. For example, in
mine no. 40, one of the largest and most productive in Vorkuta, women
made up a signifi cant proportion of the workforce. As of July 1958,
129 women worked underground in the mine, representing perhaps
as much as 10 percent of all underground workers. Most were single,
childless, under the age of thirty, and lacked postsecondary education,
although signifi cant minorities were married and had children. Only
6 of them were former prisoners. Although a few had been working
underground for over fi ve years, most were in fact new to their jobs, as
the median service tenure in July 1958 was only twelve months. 24 Thus,
KVU managers were clearly relying on young women as an important
labor source as they shifted from contract labor from the camps to
non-prisoner labor.
In fact, hiring women to work in the mines was part of a deliber-
ate and sustained local campaign. From 1955 to 1958 Vorkuta’s lo-
cal newspaper frequently contained editorials and profi les of women
in Vorkuta, emphasizing the important contributions of female min-
ers, particularly around the symbolic dates of International Women’s
Day (8 March) and Miner’s Day (29 August). The 28 August 1955
issue featured a profi le of Mariia Kirillovna Marchenko, who in her

170 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
twelve years in Vorkuta had worked her way up from a duty offi cer,
to the head engineer of mine no. 12, to the head of the production
department of Zapadugol’ , an organization that ran half of the mines
in Vorkuta. 25 Her story is particularly signifi cant because it not only
emphasized Marchenko’s contributions as an underground laborer, but
it also presented a narrative of female social mobility, suggesting that
women could also enjoy the common male career path from miner to
But by the 1960s, the public campaign to celebrate women work-
ing in mines disappeared. Female miners disappeared from Vorkuta as
well, never to return. Protective legislation adopted nationally in July
1957 forbade women from working underground in mines in all but
a few exceptional cases. 26 The purpose of the legislation was at least
twofold: fi rst, to protect the health and safety of female workers, who
were overrepresented in fatal accidents; second, to restore coal mining
as an exclusively male occupation. Women had been making inroads
in mining, particularly since the Second World War, when a shortage
of male skilled workers led to their recruitment. Yet data collected by
the government suggested that male miners were far more productive
than their female counterparts, and so the central government inter-
vened to restore coal mining as a male-dominated industry. 27 Although
KVU managers delayed the implementation of the legislation as long as
they possibly could, by 1960 virtually no women worked underground
in the mines. 28 Mine managers lost an important source of labor, and
women lost the opportunity to work in some of the most prestigious
and highest-paid jobs in the city. The 1960s would see numerous at-
tempts at creating jobs for the growing female population of the city,
but the result was a creation of a paltry number of poor-paying jobs. 29
Throughout the 1960s, local women lobbied for the right to work once
again in the mines, but to no avail. 30
Although attempts to hire women to work underground would be
entirely abandoned by 1960, working outside offi cial recruitment cam-
paigns to increase the size of the workforce in Vorkuta was a harbinger
of things to come. In October 1959, in a speech in Vladivostok, Khru-
shchev signaled a shift in recruitment policies that would be enshrined
in law in early 1960. 31 One change was that lucrative wage bonuses
would be scaled back, replaced instead by increased investment in im-

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 171
proving living conditions, a change that Soviet economists had con-
cluded would improve labor retention. 32 At the same time that wage
bonuses were reduced, the requirement that a worker sign a contract in
order to receive northern bonuses was removed. 33 Now, former prison-
ers and those who migrated to cities in the northern regions and Siberia
without being recruited received the bonuses as well. 34 By eliminating
the main incentives for signing a recruitment contract, these changes ef-
fectively undercut the recruitment system that had been in place for the
past fi ve years. Thus it appears that the policy of mass, campaign-style
recruitment that had characterized the period from 1955 to 1960 was
largely abandoned. After 1960, few demobilized soldiers were hired
by KVU. By this time, the steady stream of volunteers coming to the
city on “Komsomol passes” had virtually dried up as well. Migration
based on recruiters and contracts, not to mention public campaigns,
had given way to a more “spontaneous” movement of workers. One of
the great social experiments of the Khrushchev era, the attempt to rely
on recruitment campaigns, had largely drawn to a close. In its place, the
regime instead intended to rely on relatively unregulated migration of
individual families in search of better opportunities.
Until the middle of the 1950s, coming to Vorkuta was rarely a mat-
ter of choice. The majority of Vorkuta’s “residents” were brought there
under guard, on foot, on barges and in freight cars, and even non-
prisoners frequently arrived in Vorkuta as the result of coercion. With
this in mind, the idea that thousands of people would choose to move
to Vorkuta might strike one as strange. Prison camp aside, Vorkuta has
one of the most diffi cult climates of any city in the world. Temperatures
there are known to reach –50° C, and the sun does not rise for months
at a time in winter. But tens of thousands did choose to come to the
city. In the middle of the 1950s there were various “push” factors at
work that led people to uproot themselves and look for opportunities
elsewhere, and Vorkuta was one of many possible destinations. Despite
its harsh climate and harsher history, there were a number of things
that Vorkuta offered, or at least appeared to offer, to new recruits.
Such characteristics were factors that might “pull” potential recruits

172 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
to the city. Crudely speaking, it is a combination of these “push” and
“pull” factors that led thousands to try their luck making a new life in
By far the most common “push” factor was poverty. Many of the sol-
diers who were being demobilized from the armed forces in the middle
of the 1950s came from dismal conditions on collective farms. 35 Re-
cruiters who came to units offering jobs and housing in cities did not
have a diffi cult time convincing young men who grew up in the hungry
years of the Second World War and its aftermath that what they offered
was a superior alternative to village life. As Stepan Petrovich Sirosh,
who came to Vorkuta in 1957 from the army, explained, “You judge
for yourself [why I left]. I was born in 1934 in the village of Maksimo-
vichi in Polesskii raion. That is in the north of Kiev oblast’, not far from
the border with Belorussia. What sort of years those were in Ukraine
is well known from history. My family was de-kulakized and we lost
our father. There were fi ve children in the family. Then there was war
and occupation. Two children, a sister and brother, died before the war.
[Then came the] diffi cult postwar years. My father returned in 1945
and died two years later: his health had been destroyed.” 36 For Sirosh,
like many others who were recruited from the army for all sorts of
projects around the Soviet Union, returning home to a life of almost
certain poverty was not an attractive option.
The same held true for many of the Komsomol volunteers recruited
from within Komi ASSR. The region was sparsely populated, and aside
from a few cities that had grown up around prison camp complexes,
predominantly rural. In 1959, it had a population density of 2.0 persons
per square kilometer, the lowest density of any region in European Rus-
sia and well below the RSFSR average of 6.9 persons per square kilo-
meter. 37 Despite low population density, Komi actually had a relatively
high level of urbanization: in 1959, 59 percent of the region’s popula-
tion lived in cities and towns. This urbanization fi gure becomes even
more startling when one considers that twenty years earlier in 1939,
only 9 percent of the population had lived in urban areas. 38 Komi ASSR
had obviously undergone rapid urbanization, and most of the popula-
tion was concentrated in only a few large urban centers, all of which,
with the exception of the capital Syktyvkar, had originated as prison
camp complexes. Thus, opportunities to move from countryside to city,
and for social mobility in general, usually involved moving to one of

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 173
these cities. As the largest and fastest-growing urban area in Komi,
Vorkuta was an attractive destination for many young people looking
to leave the poverty of farm and village for industrial employment.
But what could recruiters offer that would draw people specifi cally
to Vorkuta? Foremost among the “pull” factors was the so-called long
ruble: workers recruited to Vorkuta enjoyed signifi cant fi nancial incen-
tives that only increased with the length of tenure. The Soviet state
had long practiced a policy of providing “northern bonuses” ( sever-
nye nadbavki ) to those who signed contracts to work in designated
regions. 39 They called for a 10 percent wage bonus to be paid after each
six months of uninterrupted work in the North for anyone who had
signed a contract with an enterprise. The fi rst bonus was paid after six
months of work, and the bonuses were cumulative, up to 100 percent of
the nominal wage. Thus, after two and a half years of work the bonus
would be an extra 50 percent of wages, and after fi ve years it was ef-
fectively doubled. Those who worked in Vorkuta’s mines enjoyed even
greater fi nancial incentives on top of the “northern bonuses.” From
1945 to 1955, workers in KVU had their wages indexed to 1.5 times
those paid to workers in the Donbas, a “regional coeffi cient” ( raionnyi
koefi tstient ) intended to compensate workers for greater hardship and
a higher cost of living. After 1955, this wage index was increased to
1.8. 40 The “regional coeffi cient” worked in concert with the northern
bonuses, so someone who worked in the mines of Vorkuta for fi ve years
would, in theory at least, have enjoyed an income that was 3.6 times
that of a miner in the Donbas. Although real wages tended to be lower
than the rate that was guaranteed by law, this hardly reduced the ef-
fectiveness of wage differentials as an incentive for migration to the
city. Such wage bonuses were decreased somewhat in early 1960, so
that bonuses accrued only half as quickly, were capped at 80 percent of
wages, and did not include the “regional coeffi cient” in their calcula-
tions. 41 But even these reduced wage bonuses were quite attractive, and
further, the bonuses scheme that had existed prior to 1960 was largely
restored in 1967. 42
Aside from wages, workers in the North enjoyed other monetary and
non-monetary benefi ts. They were entitled to signifi cantly longer vaca-
tions and extra social insurance payments in case of injury. In addition,
one year of work in the North counted for two toward receiving a state
pension—and this was in addition to signifi cant pension incentives for

174 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
those who worked underground. On the way to their new jobs, they
were entitled to receive twice the usual travel expenses and per diem
payments for the journey. In addition, they were paid twice the one-
time wage payment that all new recruits received. 43 Thus, recruits who
signed contracts to work in KVU were offered both short- and long-
term incentives.
The importance of the “pull” factor of high wages is underscored not
only in memoirs, but also in public discourse of the time. For instance,
on 30 April 1958, Za ugol’ (the “wall newspaper” of mine no. 1) pub-
lished letters exchanged between army friends discussing whether or
not to come to Vorkuta. 44 In reply to the inquiries of friends who were
contemplating the journey, those in Vorkuta devoted signifi cant atten-
tion to their earnings as well as those of their acquaintances. One let-
ter written to a former army comrade reads, “I work as an assistant
combine operator and my monthly salary is 2,700. Sasha Voronik, who
works as a tunneler, he earns 1,500 rubles . . . and Viktor Amel’chenko
sometimes earns 2,800 and even 3,000 rubles in a month.” 45 In news-
paper articles such as these, Vorkuta was cast as a Soviet “boom town,”
a place where those who were willing to work hard could make their
But the lure of the “long ruble” was not the only motivation for
recruits, either as depicted in the Soviet press or in personal decisions.
Public rhetoric often focused in fact on another important draw of the
city: the opportunity to actively help fulfi ll the lofty goals of the Soviet
state by participating in the construction of a new city. The text of the
“social call-up” in 1956 drew an explicit link between individual par-
ticipation and the overall fulfi llment of the goals just set by the Twen-
tieth Party Congress, and it also connected new construction projects
with those of the 1930s. It stated, “Remember the heroic construction
of Komsomol’sk-na-Amure—the city of youth in the Far East.” 46 For
a generation of young people who had participated neither in the Sec-
ond World War nor the monumental transformations of the 1930s, this
was an opportunity to write a part for oneself in the great narrative of
Soviet construction. The Khrushchev regime was eager to tap into such
For some volunteers, like Iurii Terekhov of Syktyvkar, the “social
call-up” clearly resonated. They were overcome by the exciting oppor-
tunities that the call-up promised. As Terekhov wrote in Zapoliar’e soon

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 175
after his arrival in July 1956, “Ten days later [after the “call-up” was
published] I had a Komsomol putevka in hand . . . those were exciting
days. [I felt] joyful and excited before the big new life on the construc-
tion projects of the sixth fi ve-year plan.” While he had worked previ-
ously as a driver, now he was working as a mason, building houses. The
pride that Terekhov felt was almost palpable: “It is wonderful to realize
that a building has been built with your participation, that there are
bricks there laid by your own hands.” 47 Put in this manner, it is easy to
see how a national recruiting campaign could appeal to an individual.
Other motivations for coming to Vorkuta were not often refl ected
in offi cial documents. Some recruits came to Vorkuta for what they
understood to be its rather permissive atmosphere. Mikhail T., who
came to Vorkuta as a young man in 1962, is one of those people. After
graduating from the Novocherkassk Polytechnic Institute, he found life
in Southern Russia to be very diffi cult. As he related, “There was such
anti-Semitism, frightening. I wanted to go anywhere at all in order not
to stay in Rostov oblast’.” A cousin in Vorkuta, whose parents were
former prisoners, suggested that he come to Vorkuta. As Mikhail T.
discovered, “The climate there was entirely different.” While there may
have been anti-Semitism on an everyday level, he found no discrimi-
nation against Jews in terms of job prospects, which he attributed to
the high representation of Jews in KVU management positions. 48 Anti-
Semitism, and its relative absence in Vorkuta, was both a “push” and a
“pull” factor in this case.
When considering the motivations for recruits, it is important to re-
member that they had access to a limited amount of information about
the city, and even this limited information was often of suspect quality.
Recruiters were notorious for misleading or lying to potential recruits,
especially regarding the living conditions on offer for new arrivals. 49
The Soviet press could hardly be relied on to provide an accurate pic-
ture of life in Vorkuta. Stories in the central press about the city were
rare, and when they did appear they focused on the city’s achievements
in production. 50 Press accounts that did go into detail about life in the
city tended to romanticize the more exotic aspects of life there rather
than refl ect the level of hardship that its residents faced. 51 Such public
accounts claimed, of course, that the city had been built by Komso-
mol volunteers, not by a mass of prisoners and exiles. Potential re-
cruits who wanted a more accurate picture of the city had to rely on

176 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
fi rsthand accounts of those who had been there, or much more often,
rumor. Although unoffi cial sources of information did help some, like
Mikhail T., make informed decisions about going to Vorkuta, in most
cases such information could not have prepared them for what they
found on arrival.
Finally, one must underline that individuals and families who wished
to move in search of better opportunities faced limitations on where
they were allowed to settle. Although many of the overtly coercive
population policies of the late-Stalin era were abandoned, internal mi-
gration in the 1960s and 1970s came to be governed by an increasingly
complex and strict system of what Victor Zaslavksy called “territorial
stratifi cation” that divided the Soviet Union’s cities and villages into
three categories: “the village, the open city, and the closed city.” 52 The
system of propiska , which allowed local authorities to determine who
could settle in a given city, as well as stricter control of enrollments at
educational institutions, led to tighter controls on migration to closed
cities. These cities, which included “all capitals of Soviet national re-
publics, almost all cities with a population in excess of 500,000, and
several smaller towns and regions which, for various reasons, are espe-
cially attractive for migration,” were at the top of a system of territo-
rial hierarchy, and their residents by extension were at the top of the
Soviet Union’s social hierarchy. 53 This system of stratifi cation, while
less overly coercive than the Stalinist labor policy, actually resulted in
fewer opportunities for social mobility, especially for those migrating
from the Soviet countryside.
Vorkuta, as an open city, occupied the middle rung in this scheme.
There were relatively few administrative limits for those who wanted
to settle there; the thousands of ex-prisoners who remained in the city
after release certainly attest to that. But among the many thousands
of open cities in the Soviet Union, Vorkuta must certainly have been
among the more desirable places to migrate. Despite poor living condi-
tions and the harsh climate, high wages, abundant employment (for
men at least), and the opportunity to acquire valuable skills through a
growing network of training institutions all added up to excellent op-
portunities for social mobility for Soviet citizens who found themselves
in the middle or on the bottom of the territorial hierarchy. In fact, as
we shall see, this is an important explanation for why labor turnover in
KVU began to decline signifi cantly after campaign-based recruitment

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 177
was virtually abandoned in favor of controlled migration at the begin-
ning of the 1960s. Simply put, it was a more effective means of ensur-
ing an adequate labor supply.
Convincing tens of thousands of new recruits to come to Vorkuta
was a key part of transforming it into a company town. As it turned
out, this was in fact a relatively easy and successful part of re-peopling
the city. Much more diffi cult, however, was the problem of how to
integrate these new recruits into the city, its surrounding settlements,
and the workplaces throughout the area. In a speech to the city party
committee plenum on 25 September 1956, Sherstnev, the new director
of KVU, set this as the most important task of all authorities in Vor-
kuta. Going over the poor production fi gures of the fi rst nine months
of 1956, he lamented, “The reasons for the shortfall [in coal] are
clear. . . . We are guilty of repeating the mistakes of last year. As prison-
ers were given early release, we did not take care of the replenishment
and training of cadres. . . . Now we can receive demobilized soldiers,
who are already arriving—and to receive them in the proper way, to
quarter, train, and send them to extract coal, that is the goal of all of
our organizations.” 54 As director of the most important and power-
ful economic organization in the emerging company town, Sherstnev
recognized that the city’s long-term success depended upon keeping a
suffi cient number of recruits in the city and training them to be produc-
tive workers.
But integrating recruits was about more than simply maintaining an
adequate supply of trained workers. City, party, and industrial authori-
ties were also intent on forging citizens and workers of a specifi c type.
In particular, they were concerned about protecting the recruits from
the potentially negative infl uence of the many former prisoners and
exiles who remained in the city. Thus, when Sherstnev spoke of recruits
being integrated “in the proper way,” he had in mind not only that
they be treated properly so that they would stay, but also that they
join proper socialist collectives and avoid pernicious infl uences that
still abounded in Vorkuta.
Social integration, at least in theory, began with the arrival of re-
cruits at the train station. As the example cited of the fi rst Komsomol

178 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
volunteers at the beginning of this chapter shows, welcoming recruits
had a strong element of ritual for both those doing the welcoming and
those being welcomed. Representatives from the city accepted the new
arrivals with pomp and circumstance, and the recruits voiced their in-
tentions to become part of work, Komsomol, and city collectives. There
were also important practical elements to the station meetings. The
recruits were arriving in a new and unfamiliar city, often in the dead of
winter, at a train station that was several kilometers away from mines
and construction sites. Most arrived without any inkling of where they
would work or live. Without some sort of welcome, they were lost. As
Zapoliar’e instructed, “It is the duty of Komsomol organizations and
managers to meet them [arrivals] with dignity and to surround them
with complete attention from the very fi rst days.” 55
Yet on 9 June 1956, a scant four days after the fi rst group of Komso-
mol volunteers had arrived from Syktyvkar to such fanfare, the second
echelon of young workers had no offi cial reception at all. The lead edi-
torial in the local newspaper subsequently scolded, “We are not going
to guess whose fault it was, but no one met them [the arriving work-
ers] at the train station. And only after one of the new arrivals phoned
the Komsomol Gorkom were cars dispatched to the station.” 56 Despite
offi cial rhetoric and a few high-profi le success stories, integration of
recruits was severely hampered by a lack of resources and lack of atten-
tion (if not outright negligence) on the part of local offi cials who were
ostensibly responsible for it.
Most recruits and migrants did not arrive as members of offi cial
delegations; instead, they stepped off the train individually, with their
families, or as part of small groups of army comrades. For such men
and women, having personal contacts in the city to meet them was of
utmost importance. A. Grinik, who came to Vorkuta after serving in
the Red Army at the end of 1956, had a much more positive experi-
ence than most arrivals because of his personal contacts in the city. As
he remembered, “I was lucky: in the Zapoliar’nyi settlement . . . lived
two friends from my village. They met me, warmed me up, fed me, and
found me a place in a good dormitory, which solved practically all of
my day-to-day problems.” 57 For another veteran, N. P. Nizhegorodtsev,
it was suffi cient that the sergeant in his army unit had a relative in
Vorkuta. He and four army buddies wrote to the sergeant’s relative in
Vorkuta. The relative met them and provided them with a temporary

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 179
place to stay until they got settled. 58 Those who had someone expect-
ing them were more likely to have good experiences upon arrival, and
therefore were more likely to stay for the long term.
The next step for the newcomers was to secure employment in the
city. For many, fi nding a job was the simplest part of moving to the city.
After all, there was a constant demand for labor in the mines and other
enterprises. Further, most new arrivals had been actively recruited by
a particular enterprise or mine, meaning that in theory they had a job
waiting for them. For many this went off without a hitch, and news-
paper articles in 1956 often described fi nding work as a virtually pain-
less process. According to one newspaper story, three friends demobi-
lized from the Red Army arrived in Vorkuta in 1956 and were given
the following inspirational speech in the cadres department of KVU:
“Our mines need mining cadres. How would you feel if we send you to
one of the oldest mines—to Kapital’naia? [mine no. 1].” After accepting
their assignment, the three new arrivals soon found themselves being
trained as tunnelers, fi rst passing the ten-day “technical minimum” and
then completing on-the-job courses from instructors. When they had
problems underground, more experienced colleagues gave them advice
and provided positive examples. Quite quickly, as the headline from
Zapoliar’e proudly declared, “they became miners.” 59
Yet despite the chronic labor shortage, many recruits had diffi culty
fi nding jobs in the city. Four demobilized soldiers wrote to Zapoliar’e
in October 1956 complaining that the process of fi nding a job was any-
thing but smooth. “From the fi rst day of our arrival in Vorkuta,” they
wrote, “we have had to tolerate many hardships until we were, fi nally,
assigned work.” 60 It was not uncommon for a demobilized soldier to
arrive after a long journey at the mine that had ostensibly recruited him
only to discover that there was no opening for him to fi ll. Gridasov, a
demobilized soldier who arrived at mine no. 25 in 1956, spent three
days tracking down the head engineer and mine director in order to ask
them for the job he had been promised, only to be rebuffed by both.
Further, he had been reproached, “why had he come here and who had
sent him?” 61 Many recruits who had been promised a specifi c job in a
specifi c mine instead drifted from mine to mine in search of work for
days or weeks.
It was not simply lack of preparation that resulted in new arriv-
als having diffi culty fi nding jobs. Some managers, it appears, actively

180 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
discriminated against the new recruits. Speaking at a city party meet-
ing in April 1959, one offi cial stated, “It is entirely unclear where our
managers’ dislike for young people comes from.” 62 To some, the source
of this “dislike” was obvious: networks of former prisoners through-
out the city were reluctant to accept outside recruits. One Komsomol
offi cial stated at a meeting on 30 March 1956 that “the chiefs of the
production lines and masters are mostly former prisoners, and so they
are only interested in qualifi ed ex-prisoners, and so they try to avoid
youth.” 63 Of course, it was not simply a matter of ex-prisoners pre-
ferring to hire other ex-prisoners. Rather, many managers who had
not been prisoners themselves preferred to hire former prisoners rather
than those who came in the recruitment drives of the 1950s. Recruits
were more likely to require that scarce resources be allocated for their
housing and training. New arrivals had fewer local roots and so were
more apt to depart after only a short stay. Thus, some managers treated
new recruits as if they were unwelcome in the new company town.
Once on the job, many found that wages and working conditions
were not as promised. While newspaper articles regularly claimed
that miners were earning as much as 3,000 rubles per month, ordi-
nary workers rarely earned that much. 64 In fact, the average wage of a
worker in a KVU mine in 1956 was only 1,660 rubles per month. De-
spite the “regional coeffi cient” that dictated workers in Vorkuta would
earn 1.8 times the wages of their counterparts in the Donbas, in reality
the average wage was less than 1.5 times greater. Chronic underfulfi ll-
ment of production plans meant that wages stayed relatively low for
ordinary miners. There was a marked contrast in the wages of ordi-
nary miners and those of ITR and upper management, who were paid
comparatively lucrative sums, an average of 3,945 and 6,200 rubles,
respectively. 65 If promises of high wages had been an important “pull”
factor in attracting recruits, the disappointing paychecks they later re-
ceived could just as easily convince them to leave the city.
There were steady complaints about working conditions as well.
One common criticism leveled by city and party offi cials was that man-
agers were treating recruits in the same manner that they had treated
prisoners and exiles, leading to understandable dissatisfaction among
recruits. A worker in mine no. 1 observed in a speech at the city Kom-
somol conference on 20 October 1956 that new recruits were being
treated like prisoners. Despite the shift to a free workforce, “those who

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 181
worked under the MVD have retained the same methods of work: curs-
ing, threats, and rush jobs.” 66 Komsomol volunteers from Iaroslavl’
oblast’ sent to work on rebuilding the Northern Pechora main line near
Vorkuta had similar complaints of poor treatment. A report from the
secretary of the Komi Obkom of the Komsomol attributed the “rough-
ness” of offi cials to the fact that many were used to working with pris-
oners. 67 Thus, many recruits had to contend with far lower wages and
more diffi cult working conditions than they had been promised.
Unlike the many ex-prisoners hired by KVU in the 1950s and 1960s,
most recruits lacked the skills to perform their jobs safely and produc-
tively. Most came directly from the army and from collective farms,
and so very few of them had any experience that would prepare them
for their jobs in Vorkuta. Thus, training was a particularly important
part of integration. For one thing, individual wages and the measure
of a mine’s performance depended primarily on output. Poorly trained
workers would produce little, and given the high degree of division
of labor and mutual dependence involved in coal mining, one poorly
trained worker could slow down not only his or her brigade, but also
entire shifts. The training was more than just a matter of money, be-
cause it was closely related to the maintenance of safety in the mines
and on assembly lines. A poorly trained worker not only endangered
his own life, but also those of everyone around him. Accidents not only
marred the performance of individual brigades, but in a worst-case
scenario could also bring an entire mine’s operation to a halt.
Given the scale of recruitment and the constant turnover of person-
nel, training for recruits was often extremely limited. Underground
workers were required to undergo ten days’ training in basic safety, the
so-called technical minimum. This course, which was also required of
prisoners, was intended to give a basic understanding of the dangers of
carbon dioxide and methane gas, how to operate a miner’s lamp, and
how to use an emergency respirator. But ten days’ training was hardly
suffi cient to teach even the basic outlines of a mining specialty. As one
experienced miner complained in a letter to the local newspaper in late
1956, “But their [demobilized soldiers] dreams [of becoming trained
miners] have so far not come true. I must say openly that neither the
mine managers nor the trade union or Komsomol organizations are
suffi ciently showing concern for the new miners. Currently in the mines
there are no real courses of production training.” 68 The high number of

182 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
accidents in the mines was a refl ection of the inadequacy of the train-
ing: in 1957 alone there were over fi ve thousand accidents throughout
Vorkuta’s mines. 69 Not all were due to inexperience, of course, but the
poor quality of training for recruits certainly did not help matters.
Despite initial diffi culties in providing adequate training for recruits,
this does appear to have been an area of success for local authorities.
Over the course of the seven-year plan (1959–1965), KVU underwent a
transformation in both the scale and quality of training that its workers,
especially new recruits, were offered. Several mines expanded existing
training facilities or built new ones. Whereas in 1959 there were spots
for 790 workers in classes, by 1965 this number had nearly doubled to
1,389. 70 A tremendous number of new workers were trained in mining
specializations over the seven-year period, over 33,000 in 1958–1960
alone (table 5.3). Although the number of new workers being trained
declined signifi cantly after 1960, this appears to be more a refl ection
of the decline in the number of workers hired every year rather than of
a decline in the scale of training. The increase in the number of work-
ers receiving training to increase their qualifi cations demonstrates that
training continued to be a priority after 1960. While the quality of such
training was undoubtedly uneven, it appears to have had an effect on
improving safety. By 1963, KVU was averaging around two thousand
accidents per year, less than half of the rate for 1957. 71 While such fi g-
ures on accidents are perhaps not entirely trustworthy, they do indicate
a signifi cant long-term decline.
Table 5.3. Training and retraining in KVU,
Qualifi cations
Workers ITR
1958 13,289 7,293 0
1959 11,413 5,819 0
1960 10,145 7,485 178
1961 6,886 11,609 428
1962 7,040 9,259 270
1963 6,274 7,524 254
1964 5,825 6,462 1,487
1965 6,958 5,802 2,164
Source: GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1716, ll. 152–53.

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 183
The city’s educational institutions also expanded signifi cantly at this
time, providing occupational and social mobility for thousands of new
recruits. The mining tekhnikum, which had opened in 1944 to provide
training for mining technicians, expanded both its curriculum and its
student body in the 1950s and 1960s. By 1962, there were 744 stu-
dents enrolled in full- or part-time classes at the main campus and at a
new branch that had been established in the Komsomol’skii settlement.
Vorkuta’s fi rst and only institute of higher education opened in 1959, a
branch of the Leningrad Mining Institute. The institute allowed work-
ers and specialists in the city to be trained in a broad range of special-
izations. While there were only 50 full-time students in 1962–1963,
more than 1,000 were studying part time. Together with the tekhni-
kum, the local branch of the institute provided an avenue of social
mobility for Vorkuta’s residents, playing an important role in ensuring
the availability of skilled personnel and in reducing turnover. 72
The successful integration of new recruits into Vorkuta was about
more than simply establishing a new pool of non-prisoner labor to
supply Vorkuta’s mines and industries. The offi cials who oversaw the
change from prisoner to non-prisoner labor were also engaged in an-
other, equally important task: keeping the new recruits safe from the
pernicious infl uence of the former prisoners and exiles who remained
in the city. For such offi cials, the new recruits represented both great
opportunities and great risks. On the one hand, they could serve as a
vanguard to help transform the city from its previous incarnation as a
prison camp complex into an ideal Soviet company town. On the other,
the risk that the new recruits might be corrupted by the thousands of
former prisoners and exiles in the city seemed very real, adding a par-
ticular edge to the struggle to recruit and retain workers.
Anxieties about the potentially negative infl uence of former prison-
ers on the new recruits were frequently expressed at city party meet-
ings, particularly in the late 1950s. Gorkom First Secretary Popov, one
of the most powerful offi cials in the city, expressed repeated anxiet-
ies about the dangers of allowing recruits to mix with former pris-
oners. In a speech at a Gorkom plenum on 3 June 1958, he stated,
“The composition of our population is very diffi cult and this gives us
the responsibility to protect the youth who have come to us from this
evil.” In particular, he was concerned about new recruits’ interactions
with “former Ukrainian nationalists and other people who served sen-
tences for political crimes,” which had resulted in the expression of

184 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
heterodox views and “serious anti-Soviet outbursts.” 73 Popov was per-
haps more familiar than most with the “danger” presented by former
prisoners—he had been the head of the camp politotdel throughout
much of the 1950s. As such, he was used to dealing with unruly and
resistant prisoners, particularly those from the western borderlands,
many of whom remained in Vorkuta after they were released because
they were unable to return home.
Fear of corruption of recruits reached its height in 1958–1959 and
was roughly coterminous with a major purge of former prisoners from
the ranks of local specialists. This fear was expressed, for example, by
the head of mine no. 1 at a party plenum on 28 April 1959. As he stated,
“If we don’t carry out work in the education of young people, they will
fall under the infl uence of people who are alien to us, and of ideologies
that are alien to us.” 74 Local KGB and party offi cials cited a number of
cases where prisoners or former prisoners exerted a negative infl uence
on recruits. In one case, an eighteen-year-old female recruit entered
into “relations” with a prisoner and showed a notebook of his, which
was full of “notes of a counterrevolutionary nature,” to her friends. 75
Even more serious was the behavior of Zagorodnikov, a demobilized
soldier who came to work in mine no. 14 in November 1957 at the age
of twenty-two. Having “fallen in among prisoners and former prison-
ers,” he made anti-Soviet statements. Later, upset because of low wages
at the mine, he persuaded other demobilized soldiers to participate in
what Gorkom fi rst secretary Popov described as a “strike”: Zagorod-
nikov led a group of fi ve demobilized soldiers to the KVU management,
where they demanded higher wages. The fi ve men were not dealt with
harshly, as they were accused only of absenteeism and presumably pun-
ished by administrative means. 76 Nevertheless, there was clear concern
that incidents of anti-Soviet speech by recruits was the result of their
interactions with former prisoners.
Despite the obstacles that stood in the way of the successful inte-
gration of recruits, as well as anxieties about the pernicious infl uence
of ex-prisoners, local leaders could boast of numerous success stories.
Newcomers like demobilized soldier Boris Fedorovich Boitsov ea-
gerly took on leadership roles in the mines not long after their arrival.
Boitsov, the leader of a “Komsomol youth” brigade in mine no. 5, en-
tered into “socialist competition” with the then-famous miner Nikolai
Mamai of the Don Basin and pledged that his brigade would produce

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 185
2 tons of coal above the norm every day in 1958. 77 By the beginning of
the 1960s, Averin, the fi rst secretary of the Vorkuta Gorkom, bragged
about many successful recruits who had come to the city in the second
half of the 1950s. In a speech delivered in 1963, he singled out success-
ful recruits like Sergei Antonovich Miloserdnyi for praise. Miloserdnyi
had a typical biography: demobilized in 1957, he arrived in mine no. 7
without any skills to speak of. After completing a course as an electrical
mechanic, he began working in the mine. Not satisfi ed with his train-
ing, however, he studied at the mining tekhnikum and completed his
course of study in 1962. 78 Although adjustment to life in Vorkuta was
not easy, many recruits and migrants persevered through hardships to
become valued members of work collectives.
Securing adequate housing in Vorkuta was one of the most intrac-
table problems faced by migrants and recruits in the late 1950s and
1960s. In theory, comfortable housing was supposed to be supplied by
the enterprise to which each worker had been recruited. If we return
to the story of the fi rst set of Komsomol volunteers that began this
chapter, we fi nd that some were lucky enough to live in comfortable,
although far from luxurious, conditions in purpose-built dormitories.
As one member of the arriving group described, “When we arrived we
were immediately housed in a new and comfortable dormitory, with
fi ve in each room. The newly painted windows and doors sparkled with
cleanliness, the curtains in each room gave them a particular coziness
and a homey friendliness. New bedside tables, tables, and beds com-
plete with bedding were remarkable for their tidiness and conducive to
relaxation. On tables in the ‘red corner’ lay issues of recent magazines
and newspapers, and sets of checkers.” 79 A visit by newspaper corre-
spondent (and ex-prisoner) Aleksandr Klein over a year later confi rmed
that despite some lack of maintenance (most light bulbs in corridors
had burned out), the dormitory was still “bright, clean, [and] cozy.” 80
Yet such living conditions were far from the norm for new recruits.
A steady stream of complaints fi lled the pages of the local newspaper
in the second half of the 1950s and fi rst half of the 1960s regarding the
sorry state of housing across the city, particularly for freshly minted
city residents. Typical of such letters was one from February 1957,

186 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
entitled “Is this really a dormitory,” which complained of “dilapidated
barracks” that were being passed off as dormitories. 81 A recollection of
a longtime resident of the city who came as a recruit in 1957 gives this
description of the barracks where he was assigned to live: “The heat-
ing system was frozen, metal beds without bedding were half covered
in ice. And we slept on bare metal mesh from December almost until
spring. We were given mattresses only in March, and in May, blankets
and pillows. There was no water. In the evening you would bring water,
and two hours later it would freeze.” 82 Complaint after complaint was
written in this vein, underlining the extremely poor state of most hous-
ing stock in the city, the lack of fuel to adequately heat barracks, and
desperate shortages of furniture and bedding.
As was typical Soviet practice, mine managers, party offi cials, and
trade union representatives were taken to task for the poor conditions
in their workers’ housing. Party offi cials drew a clear connection be-
tween poor housing conditions and the frequent departure of new re-
cruits. 83 Yet the problem was not so much dereliction of duty by the
offi cials who were made scapegoats for the housing crisis as it was the
result of a lack of resources and infrastructure. The majority of housing
stock in the city had not been built as worker dormitories, but instead
had served as prisoner barracks. They were shoddily constructed and
often did not take into account the permafrost soil conditions, so the
buildings began to deform and buckle as the soil thawed. Not only
were they old and in poor condition, but the barracks had been built
in order to pack as many prisoners as possible into multiple rows of
bunks. In many cases, there was neither suffi cient time nor materials to
properly “convert” such barracks for non-prisoner workers. Yet even
given the sorry state of former camp barracks, workers still clamored
to be assigned to them, especially if those barracks had been subdivided
into individual apartments. 84 The alternatives to such converted camp
barracks were even less desirable, as virtually any empty space in the
city was mobilized to house recruits, including clubs, warehouses, and
outbuildings. 85
A feverish campaign to build more subdivided wooden barracks to
house new recruits from 1955 to 1958 soon gave way to a new, more
promising solution to the housing crisis. 86 In 1958, the city banned
the construction of wooden barracks, turning instead to the solutions
offered by Khrushchev’s national housing campaign. 87 In 1957, Khru-

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 187
shchev had offi cially launched a new initiative that promised to end
the chronic shortage of housing across the USSR in only twelve years’
time. The product of several years of internal discussions and debates,
it specifi ed that the long-term housing problem would be solved pri-
marily by building separate apartments for families in four- or fi ve-
story buildings erected using the latest techniques in prefabricated con-
struction. Although its goals were hopelessly utopian and unrealistic,
the campaign set in motion a remarkable transformation of the Soviet
Union’s housing stock over the following three decades. 88 For all the
continued shortages of apartments and fl aws in the buildings them-
selves, the housing boom would eventually make it possible for the
majority of Soviet citizens to live in their own separate apartments.
For a society that had been living in barracks, dormitories, and com-
munal apartments for decades, this represented a fundamental change
in everyday life. 89
Long-term plans for bringing mass-produced housing to Vorkuta be-
gan in 1959, when new legislation was introduced calling for nearly
1 million square meters of new housing stock to be built in Vorkuta
and its southern neighbor Inta by 1965. 90 Most of the new housing
was to come in the form of rapidly built apartment blocks that utilized
prefabricated panels produced by a concrete block factory in Vorkuta
that was retrofi tted in 1959–1960 in order to manufacture them. 91 In
many respects, the national housing campaign’s emphasis on using
prefabricated panels was well suited to Vorkuta because most of the
materials that went into such panels could be found locally, whereas
wood, the previous construction material of choice, had to be brought
in via train. The abrupt shift in construction techniques did not occur
without hiccups, however. Although the factory began producing pan-
els in the spring of 1960, putting them together into a livable building
presented an ongoing challenge that would take another two years to
resolve. The foremost diffi culty that builders faced was to prepare suit-
able foundations in the Arctic soil. Because they were working largely
on permafrost, builders found that it took four months just to prepare
the foundations. 92 At long last, in May 1962, the fi rst prefabricated
panel building was fi nally completed near the intersection of Moscow
and Lenin streets, a three-story, twenty-four-unit building that effec-
tively stood on the border between the old and new city centers. This
building, completed far behind schedule, marked the beginning of a

188 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
new era of construction. Located within sight of the children’s hospital
at the opposite end of Moscow Street, it symbolized a dramatic shift
in priorities, construction techniques, and the labor force. Rather than
have prisoners build expensive and ornate architectural showpieces,
construction crews of non-prisoners were now erecting simple but
functional housing intended for mass consumption.
As construction crews tried to fi gure out how to adapt new construc-
tion techniques to an Arctic city, city planners were reconceiving the
layout of the company town. Lunev and Raikin’s original long-term
plan for the city, formulated in the early 1950s, had taken into account
neither the new construction techniques nor the growth in population
after mass releases of prisoners. But by 1962 there was a new design
for Vorkuta. The plan, which was featured in the prominent architec-
tural journal Arkhitektura SSSR , emphasized the unique problems of
urban construction in the Arctic. It envisioned the construction of three
micro districts ( mikroraiony ) in the city around the downtown core on
either side of Lenin Street. While it included the reconstruction of two-
to three-story wooden buildings that had been built in the late 1940s
and early 1950s for members of the upper administration of the camp
and mining complex, the primary focus was on new construction. To
the east, in an area where soil conditions appeared to be more favor-
able, large-scale housing complexes were planned that included four-
to fi ve-story brick, concrete block, and prefabricated concrete panel
apartment buildings, schools, kindergartens, and commercial develop-
ments. Taking into account the unusual climatic conditions in Vorkuta,
special attention was paid to protecting interior spaces from wind and
blowing snow. Thus, buildings in Vorkuta were to be unusually wide
when facing the prevailing direction of the wind. 93
By the late 1960s, the new city plan was well on its way to being real-
ized. From 1966 to 1968, for example, approximately 30,000 square
meters of new housing in prefabricated panel buildings opened each
year, an increase that went a long way toward allowing ordinary fami-
lies in Vorkuta to move into separate apartments, although it was well
off the pace needed to meet the lofty goals set in 1959. 94 In the 1970s
and 1980s, even more ambitious housing plans were launched, using
updated designs for taller apartment blocks. 95 Yet despite the steady
pace of new construction, the process of building more and better per-
manent housing stock in the city and surrounding settlements lasted

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 189
decades and did little to alleviate the chronic shortages that recruits
had experienced since the 1950s. Separate apartments in the new pre-
fabricated buildings could be obtained only by long waiting lists or by
making use of special connections. It would not be until the population
of the city fell considerably in the 1990s that the housing shortage was
actually resolved.
The August 1955 resolution, “On measures for urgent assistance
to the Pechora coal basin,” set out the agenda for resolving the labor
supply crisis and years of incessant bureaucratic friction between the
ministries responsible for Vorkuta. The resolution spoke of establishing
“permanent cadres” in Vorkuta, an expression that operated both in a
literal and a euphemistic sense. Literally, the goal was to create a stable
labor supply to ensure that KVU and other enterprises could rely on an
adequate number of trained workers at all times. Euphemistically, the
idea was to end KVU’s reliance on prisoners as a labor force. In order
to meet these goals, thousands of young peasants, workers, and soldiers
were recruited in the mass mobilization campaigns of the second half
of the 1950s. Great resources and energy were expended to recruit
them. Once they arrived in Vorkuta, a campaign was fought to inte-
grate them, “in the proper fashion,” into life and work in the city. How
successful were these campaigns of recruitment and integration?
In terms of replacing prisoners with non-prisoners, the recruitment
policy was a qualifi ed success. Not surprisingly, the switchover did not
happen by the target date of the end of 1957. In 1958, some mines
still relied to a limited degree on prisoner labor. For example, mines 30
and 32 had 173 prisoners working underground that were supplied by
camp section 11. 96 But by 1960, virtually no prisoners were employed
by KVU. This was a stark contrast with the situation fi ve years before,
when over 33,000 prisoners had worked in KVU, constituting nearly
60 percent of its workforce. 97 Of course, there were still prisoners in
Vorkuta after 1960, and prisoner labor continued to play an economic
role in the city. In 1965 approximately 2,000 prisoners worked in the
city overall, but almost all of them were used in construction projects
and none whatsoever were involved in coal extraction. 98 By 1960 labor
recruitment, in combination with aggressive policies to retain former

190 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
prisoners and exiles, had virtually ended the need for prisoner labor to
be contracted from the camps.
Evaluating the relative success of labor recruitment policies from the
perspective of creating a stable workforce in the city is more compli-
cated. According to company personnel records, labor turnover was
quite high during the recruitment campaign, particularly during its fi rst
years. According to available data, nearly 60 percent of all mine work-
ers left their jobs every year between 1955 and 1958 (table 5.4). Figures
were even higher for construction workers, who saw turnover rates of
75 percent in 1958 and 81 percent in 1960. Thus, during the years
when campaign-style outside recruitment was at its height, particularly
among demobilized soldiers, turnover rates were at their highest levels.
Just as the above discussion of the challenges of integration would lead
one to suspect, mass recruitment was quite successful in drawing a suf-
fi cient number of outsiders to the city, but the percentage of those who
actually stayed was fairly dismal. Still, such rates of labor turnover did
not even approach those of the 1930s, when Soviet industries had typi-
cally experienced a turnover rate of more than 100 percent in a given
year, even according to offi cial statistics. 99
Turnover rates began to decline in 1959 and would continue to trend
lower throughout most of the 1960s. Overall turnover hovered around
40 percent between 1959 and 1962, before falling to a new plateau of
approximately 30 percent that would last from 1963 to 1967. While it
is diffi cult to defi nitively determine the reasons for the decline in turn-
over, it is likely the result of multiple factors. First, living and working
conditions improved somewhat for most workers, making it less likely
that they would decide to leave. Second, some degree of social cohesion
emerged in the company town, as former prisoners and new recruits
found ways of living and working together. Third, the proportion of
women in the local population had risen signifi cantly, increasing the
likelihood of recruits starting families and putting down roots in the
city. 100 Last, mass recruitment itself was phased out around 1960 in
favor of controlled migration. This was likely to have reduced turnover,
since those that came to the city were not subject to the empty promises
made by recruiters, and thus likely had a better idea of what they were
getting into. Worker absenteeism, which had been astronomically high
in the 1950s, generally followed the same path of decline from the late
1950s to the late 1960s, thus reinforcing the picture presented by the
turnover data. 101

Table 5.4. Labor turnover by sector in KVU, 1955, 1958–1967
(workers only)
(Jan. 1) Hired Departed
Mine Workers
1955 9,226 13,586 5,477 8,109 59.36
1958 29,401 23,171 17,513 5,658 59.57
1959 35,059 14,910 16,118 −1,208 45.97
1960 34,429 12,898 13,979 −1,081 40.60
1961 33,881 10,607 13,077 −2,470 38.60
1962 31,411 10,971 12,510 −1,539 39.83
1963 29,872 9,283 9,988 −705 33.44
1964 30,858 10,472 10,049 423 32.57
1965 31,861 11,353 9,977 1,376 31.31
1966 31,124 8,578 8,884 −306 28.54
1967 30,818 7,298 7,946 −648 25.78
Construction Workers
1958 2,577 2,291 1,950 341 75.67
1959 2,918 1,964 2,139 −175 66.53
1960 2,720 2,682 2,216 466 81.47
1961 2,862 1,395 1,827 −432 63.84
1962 2,430 1,034 1,347 −313 55.43
1963 2,117 504 930 −426 43.93
1966 1,955 713 783 −70 40.05
1959 45,538 21,028 22,086 −1,058 39.47
1960 46,636 19,502 19,333 169 41.46
1961 47,005 15,076 18,036 −2,960 38.37
1962 44,045 16,865 17,698 −833 40.18
1963 43,212 13,003 14,060 −1,057 32.54
1964 42,155 14,042 12,922 1,120 30.65
1965 43,345 14,423 14,114 309 32.56
1966 44,003 11,977 14,047 −2,070 31.92
1967 41,571 10,730 11,381 −651 27.38
Source: GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2281, ll. 12–15, 19–22ob.; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2305, ll. 1–1ob.; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2312, ll. 1–1ob.; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2324, ll. 1–2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2346, l. 1; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2366, ll. 1, 4, 43; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1719, ll. 136, 142–43, 156.

192 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
Turnover rates among ITR personnel did not follow similar trends.
Overall, they were far lower than the turnover rates for regular work-
ers. The highest turnover rate between 1953 and 1967 came in 1954,
when it reached nearly 24 percent. 102 The lowest known rate of turn-
over within this period actually came in 1956 (just under 14 percent),
at a time when the turnover rate among rank-and-fi le workers was
at its highest. 103 Generally speaking, specialists were much less likely
to leave their jobs in Vorkuta because, unlike many workers, they of-
ten received very high wages (typically more than double the average
wages of workers). Further, specialists were more likely to receive bet-
ter housing and other non-cash perks such as paid vacations. Although
KVU’s management would continue to bemoan the diffi culties they had
retaining valuable specialists, they were in fact much easier to hold on
to when compared with ordinary workers.
With Vorkuta well on its way to making a successful transition to an
entirely non-prisoner workforce, those at KVU and MUP who were re-
sponsible for plotting the long-term future 0f coal mining in the Pechora
coal basin faced another important challenge: how to make continued
investment in coal mining in Vorkuta sustainable in a starkly new po-
litical and economic environment. The labor force no longer consisted
primarily of prisoners and exiles that provided seemingly cheap or free
labor. Now, workers demanded high pay and benefi ts like reasonably
good housing and paid vacations to resorts in the south. Labor, there-
fore, became a much more expensive input for the coal mining trust.
Higher labor costs made increased productivity imperative in order to
avoid squandering expensive human resources. Planners recognized
that productivity improvements required more than just monetary in-
centives and propaganda—mine designs would have to be improved
in order to mechanize as much as possible and cut down on wasteful
practices. Further, coal had become a plentiful resource in the Soviet
Union. Unlike during the Second World War and its aftermath, when
coal from Vorkuta had been needed to meet strategic needs regardless
of cost, it now seemed to be prohibitively expensive, even by internal
measures that did not take into account the extraordinary cost of main-

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 193
taining a large city above the Arctic Circle. In the 1950s there was little
to be done about these problems, as the clear priority of local man-
agers was simply to ensure that they had enough workers to replace
released prisoners. But with the labor question largely settled by the
early 1960s, KVU and MUP administrators were forced to confront the
reality that the area’s mines were extracting expensive coal for which
there was little demand. If production was to continue to expand in the
1960s and beyond, they would have to fi ght a two-pronged battle to
show that coal could be mined more cheaply and to demonstrate that
there was suffi cient demand to justify further investment.
A new long-term plan for coal mining coalesced at the end of the
1950s as part of Khrushchev’s ambitious seven-year plan (1959–1965).
Responding to intense lobbying by MUP, a joint resolution of the RSFSR
Sovmin and Bureau of the Central Committee called for an ambitious
program of mine reconstruction to be completed by the middle of the
1960s. Seven of Vorkuta’s smaller and older mines would be combined
into three large, effi cient, modern ones. A further six mines were to be
completed or built from scratch during this period. Finally, six more
mines were to have new shafts dug and new levels opened. 104 This gran-
diose plan, which apparently followed a model successfully executed in
France, represented nothing less than an attempt to entirely rebuild the
mines of KVU to meet current international standards. 105 Hailed in the
local press as the “second birth” of the Pechora coal basin, the plan was
a key component in the city’s transition from prison camp complex to
company town. 106 Now that the city had largely made the transition to
a non-prisoner labor force, and embarked on an ambitious project of
urban reconstruction using mass-produced panel housing, the time had
come to also upgrade the city’s industry to match.
The 1959 mine rebuilding plan offered the opportunity, at least in
theory, for MUP and KVU to demonstrate that the mines could success-
fully operate in the political and economic context of the new era. But
justifying the time and expense of rebuilding the coal mining complex
also hinged on fi nding new customers for Vorkuta’s expensive but high-
quality coal. As KVU director Sherstnev pointed out in the newspaper
Sovetskaia Rossiia in August 1959, coal from Vorkuta was being used
in a wasteful fashion by its customers. Although nearly one-third of the
coal that was extracted in the Pechora coal basin was of suitable qual-
ity for coking, only about one-sixteenth of it was actually being used

194 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
for metallurgy. Instead, the majority of coal from the mines was used to
generate heat and electricity, which made little sense given that cheaper
coal could be used for the same purposes. 107 The solution was to use
the coal in the growing Soviet steel industry, and in fact from the 1960s
onward the city’s most important customer became the Cherepovets
Metallurgical Kombinat, a massive steel complex that had been built in
the 1940s and 1950s to produce steel and related products using iron
ore from the Kola Peninsula and coking coal from Vorkuta. Coking
coal was also shipped to factories in Moscow, Lipetsk, Cheliabinsk,
and Nizhnii Tagil. 108 Although a substantial proportion of its produc-
tion was still used to generate heat and electricity, the relationships
established in the 1960s and 1970s made Vorkuta an integral part of
the supply chain in the Soviet steel industry. 109 A system of mines that
had seemed unsustainable in 1960 would be reborn in the next decade
and a half, reinforcing Vorkuta’s raison d’être in new times.
Looking back on the second half of the 1950s and the 1960s, the
city of Vorkuta resembles a giant social experiment. As the city under-
went one of the most intense phases of the transition from Gulag town
to company town, the political, social, and economic landscape trans-
formed rapidly. Driven by the need to replace tens of thousands of
prisoners and to meet the goal of using only non-prisoner labor in
the mines, managers hired thousands from an ever-expanding labor
pool. Demobilized soldiers, Komsomol volunteers, young women, col-
lege and technical school graduates, and former prisoners and exiles all
joined the city’s workforce. The Khrushchev regime, attempting to re-
place Stalin-era labor recruitment policies with much less coercive sub-
stitutes, attempted to channel the enthusiasm of thousands of young
people in order to replace departing prisoners. Many of the new re-
cruits left after only days, weeks, or a few months in the city, frustrated
by wages and living conditions that were not as advertised. Yet thou-
sands chose to remain, and by the early 1960s the city’s population and
the workforce in its mines began to stabilize as the workforce began to
rely almost exclusively on “spontaneous” migration. Although adjust-
ment to life in Vorkuta was not easy, some recruits persevered through
hardships to become permanent residents.

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 195
Although relations between the various groups hired to replace pris-
oners were not always harmonious, by the early 1960s local authorities
could boast of signifi cant successes in integrating the recruits, particu-
larly into workplace collectives. By encouraging the creation of new
work collectives like “Komsomol-youth” brigades, they did more than
harness the enthusiasm of Vorkuta’s fresh new citizens. Combined into
work brigades where overall success depended on cooperation, people
with different backgrounds and motivations learned to work together
despite their differences. According to Mikhail T., the specialist dis-
cussed above who came to Vorkuta to avoid rampant anti-Semitism
in southern Russia, the peculiar mixture of people in Vorkuta in the
early 1960s combined into what he called a “human compote.” As he
explained, “Communists, Komsomol members, recruits from the army,
and prisoners—this created a kind of conglomeration . . . and such
[good] human relationships . . . then it seemed to be a normal state of
affairs.” People from different backgrounds, he said, had vastly differ-
ent personal goals: some wanted to become engineers, others wanted
to make careers for themselves, some wanted to make money and re-
turn home, while others were hoping for a full rehabilitation. But the
achievement of all of these goals depended on one thing: coal produc-
tion. The company town of Vorkuta was, above all, a place of oppor-
tunity, and this brought together people from disparate backgrounds
with disparate goals. 110
Mass labor recruitment may have been, in retrospect, an ineffi cient
solution to the labor supply problem that threatened to paralyze Vor-
kuta’s mines in the wake of post-Stalin reforms. Particularly from 1955
to 1960, mass recruitment was a revolving door, spitting out nearly as
many people as it took in, frustrating recruits and locals alike. But it
did, at least for the short term, bring enough manual laborers and spe-
cialists to the city so that the mines were able to operate as their supply
of prisoner labor vanished in an astonishingly short length of time. Ex-
prisoners may have provided the backbone of the workforce during the
latter half of the 1950s, but recruits were a key part of the raw material
from which the rest of the labor force was forged. In that sense, labor
recruitment was a successful stopgap measure.
Mass labor recruitment had a number of other, mostly unintended
consequences. First, the infusion of young recruits at the end of the
1950s made the city extraordinarily young, a demographic consequence

196 The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
that profoundly shaped it during the 1960s and onward. By 1960, the
mean age of Vorkuta’s residents was a mere twenty-six years of age,
down from thirty-two in 1948. 111 Second, the rapid turnover of recruits
actually strengthened the position of ex-prisoners in Vorkuta’s social
structure. Managers’ perception of ex-prisoners as more skilled, expe-
rienced, and reliable than the newcomers improved their opportunities
by softening the obstacles that formal discrimination put in their way.
Perhaps most important, the grafting of a new generation of young
people onto the pre-existing social fabric of Vorkuta led to the creation
of a strange new social structure in which ex-prisoners and ambitious
young outsiders mixed in all areas of life. The implications of this com-
bination caused a great deal of trepidation among local offi cials, espe-
cially for those who feared that unrepentant ex- prisoners would cor-
rupt ideologically pure Soviet citizens. But despite these fears, social and
political deviance never truly threatened to dominate the city. Rather,
ex-prisoners and recruits together formed a community that was pro-
foundly different from the camp complex that had preceded it.
By the 1960s, a new social, political, and economic order had
emerged in Vorkuta based around a renewal of central investment in
coal mining, urban infrastructure, and the social mobility offered by
the lucrative wages and favorable benefi ts for miners. For peasants and
those coming from small towns, not to mention former prisoners and
exiles, a stint of twenty-fi ve or thirty years in Vorkuta could mean sig-
nifi cant improvement in a family’s economic and social status. After
such a stint, savings accrued could be used to ensure a comfortable
retirement in central Russia or to provide a solid beginning elsewhere
for one’s children. Sociologist Vladimir Il’in described this practice as
the “traditional Vorkuta strategy”: newcomers “arrived, earned excel-
lent money, and left for warmer places for the continuation of life in a
good house with a good car and a pension.” 112 The nature of the city
as a place where one could make a lot of money and earn an early pen-
sion meant that it was simply assumed that many miners and others
would not retire there, but would instead relocate with their families
after reaching an early pension age (typically fi fty or fi fty-fi ve for men,
and forty-fi ve or fi fty for women). 113 Apartments in Vorkuta could be
left to children who stayed on after their parents left in order to earn
their own nest eggs. Alternatively, housing could be swapped for an
apartment in another city, since there was always a steady stream of

The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta 197
people who wanted to move to Vorkuta to try their fortune. 114 Thus,
by the 1960s Vorkuta had experienced a dramatic turnabout. Once
a place of profound social immobility, and a population comprised
largely of prisoners and exiles, it was now a Soviet company town that
offered signifi cant opportunities to thousands of migrants every year.
Although the legacies of the camp complex remained, former prison-
ers and migrants together participated in Vorkuta’s profound and dra-
matic transformation.

6 From Prisoners to Citizens?
Ex-prisoners and the Transformation
of Vorkuta
—Then there’s another thing—people do live in the camps you know, and
they come out of the camps as people. And they don’t live or come out too
badly at that. They have real friends, they read good books, study things.
—Yury Dombrovsky, The Faculty of Useless Knowledge
ON 25 DECEMBER 1954 a young engineer named Leonid Pavlovich
Markizov moved to Vorkuta. This was not Markizov’s fi rst time in the
city—he had been a prisoner there from 1951 to 1954. Granted parole
in October 1954, he was given a choice of where in the Soviet Union
he wished to settle. Markizov chose Chkalovskaia oblast’ in the Virgin
lands of Kazakhstan, where his wife and family had moved earlier that
year. Markizov was reunited with his family on a state farm, but found
conditions there so appalling that he did not even stay long enough
to fi nd work. “In a word,” writes Markizov, “we saw the situation for
what it was and decided to go to Vorkuta, where there was work.” Less
than two months after he had been released from Vorkuta, he returned
to the place where he spent three long years behind barbed wire. In
Vorkuta he was hired as a department head in a mine construction bu-
reau, a position that put him in an elite category of engineers. His fam-
ily joined him the following March. The Markizovs lived in Vorkuta
until 1972, when they moved to Syktyvkar because Leonid Pavlov-
ich fi nished a graduate degree and found a better job in the capital of
Komi ASSR. 1
Markizov’s story may seem incongruous at fi rst glance. Why would a
former prisoner of one of the most notorious prison camp complexes in
the Soviet Union choose to return there so soon after he was released?

From Prisoners to Citizens? 199
After years of struggling for survival in the extreme Arctic climate and
the brutal conditions of the postwar Gulag, why would anyone choose
to return there, let alone invite his family to settle down with him? It
might be easy to dismiss this story as an isolated case if it were not for
the fact that thousands of former prisoners made similar decisions. Al-
though it is impossible to measure exactly how many former prisoners
chose to remain in Vorkuta after they were released in the 1950s, best
estimates suggest that former prisoners and their families made up as
much as one-third of the city population of approximately 175,000 at
the end of the 1950s. 2 These former prisoners would, along with the
tens of thousands of new recruits arriving in the second half of the
1950s and the 1960s, profoundly shape the character of the emerging
company town.
Vorkuta, like other cities, towns, and villages in the post-Stalin-era
Soviet Union, was hardly a haven for ex-prisoners. There, as elsewhere,
prisoners faced signifi cant obstacles as they attempted to establish new
lives for themselves outside the barbed wire. These obstacles included
legal discrimination, police surveillance, distrust by their neighbors,
and offi cial employment discrimination. The legal, political, and social
framework within which former prisoners attempted to fully reenter
Soviet society was hardly conducive to a smooth transition. Indeed,
the overwhelming consensus in the historiography examining the issue
of former prisoners in Soviet society after Stalin is that in most cases
they were forced to remain on the margins. 3 Yet the transition from
an economy based primarily on forced labor in Vorkuta and other cit-
ies like it made successful reintegration much more likely. Many ex-
prisoners had already secured jobs and housing in the city before they
were released, as was the case with the thousands of de-zoned pris-
oners who were given permission to live outside the camp zone after
Stalin’s death. Others were able to use social networks of which they
had become a part while imprisoned in order to secure these things
for themselves and their families. The release of tens of thousands of
prisoners in such a short period of time, combined with the transition
of Vorkuta’s mines to non-prisoner labor, created an enormous demand
for workers, particularly those with skills and experience. The various
recruitment schemes that brought new workers to the city resulted in
high turnover rates, making reliable former prisoners a valuable com-
modity for managers and bosses. The result was that tens of thousands

200 From Prisoners to Citizens?
of former prisoners were able to build relatively successful, normal So-
viet lives for themselves in Vorkuta.
Former prisoners played a key role in Vorkuta’s transition from prison
camp complex to company town. Although they were discriminated
against and often viewed with suspicion by party offi cials, KGB opera-
tives, not to mention their neighbors and coworkers, the overwhelming
need for their labor meant that they remained a major presence in the
years and decades following Stalin’s death. Far from remaining on the
social and economic margins of the city, thousands of former prisoners
became, as the epigraph above suggests, a vital part of the community.
Despite the best efforts of offi cials to create an ideal Soviet company
town with entirely new citizens, institutions, and culture, former pris-
oners would have a profound infl uence on Vorkuta’s continuing devel-
opment. Although reintegration was a constant struggle for all actors
involved, Soviet society proved to be surprisingly well suited to the task
of welcoming prisoners back into the fold, particularly in cities like
Vorkuta where forced labor had played such an important role in the
local economy.
The years following Stalin’s death saw a signifi cant reduction in the
size of the Gulag population. Beginning with the dramatic release of
approximately half of the Soviet Union’s 2.4 million prisoners under
the 27 March 1953 amnesty, over 4.1 million prisoners were released
in the fi ve years following Stalin’s death in March 1953. 4 Large-scale
releases had been a feature of the Gulag as an institution since the early
1930s; 20–40 percent of the prisoners were released each year through-
out most of the Stalin era. 5 This structural tendency has led historian
Golfo Alexopoulos to characterize the Gulag as having a “revolving
door.” 6 Yet never before had the system experienced such a sustained
series of large-scale mass releases. Even though new prisoners continued
to enter the system, sometimes in very signifi cant numbers, by the end
of the 1950s the Soviet forced labor system was merely a fraction of its
former size. 7 While this hardly amounted to a “dismantling,” “crash,”
or “end” of the Gulag as it is typically treated in the historiography, it
did signify a dramatic transformation of both the size and nature of the
Gulag as an institution.

From Prisoners to Citizens? 201
The prisoner population of the Vorkuta camp complex fell dra-
matically from 1953 to 1960. Blanket amnesties, for example, led to
the release of well over ten thousand prisoners. The 27 March 1953
amnesty resulted in the release of just over seven thousand prisoners
from Vorkutlag and Rechlag. 8 The effects of this amnesty in Vorkuta,
at least in terms of raw numbers, were not nearly as dramatic as they
were elsewhere, since only approximately 10 percent of the prisoners
were released. But other amnesties aimed at particular categories of
prisoners, often “counterrevolutionaries” who were no longer deemed
to be a threat, soon followed. An amnesty of convicted wartime col-
laborators, which was declared by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
on 17 September 1955, freed more than six thousand prisoners from
Vorkutlag. 9 German and Japanese war criminals who remained in the
Gulag long after their countrymen had been released and repatriated,
some of whom were held in Vorkuta, were released under amnesties in
September 1955 and December 1956, respectively. 10 Other prisoners
were released under amnesties aimed at freeing juveniles, the elderly,
pregnant women, and women with small children, such as those of-
fered in September 1955 and November 1957. 11
Commissions joined amnesties as another important method of re-
viewing cases and of releasing prisoners. The fi rst of these was created
on 4 May 1954, when the Central Committee approved a proposal
to create commissions to “re-examine cases against those convicted of
counterrevolutionary crimes, held in the camps, colonies, and prisons
of the USSR MVD, and those living in exile.” 12 Cases against most
prisoners convicted of “counterrevolutionary” crimes were to be re-
examined by central or regional commissions, depending on where and
by what body the prisoner had been convicted. 13 In 1955, the decisions
of these commissions resulted in the release of nearly eleven thousand
prisoners from Vorkutlag. 14 This set of commissions was superseded by
others established on 19 March 1956 to examine cases against those
serving sentences for “political crimes, malfeasance, and economic
crimes.” Unlike the earlier commissions, which operated on the central
and regional level, these new commissions were to consider cases on
the spot, in camps, labor colonies, and prisons. 15 The Vorkutlag com-
mission freed over fi ve thousand prisoners and reduced the sentences of
at least two thousand others over the three-month period that it oper-
ated from 15 May to 15 August 1956. 16

202 From Prisoners to Citizens?
The process of mass releases from Vorkutlag was not entirely con-
trolled by the center or its representatives, however. Local authorities
had a great deal of infl uence on the implementation of parole ( uslovno-
dosrochnoe osvobozhdenie ), for instance. This institution, which had
been eliminated in 1939, was reintroduced in July 1954. 17 Prisoners
who showed an “honest work relationship and exemplary behavior”
could now be set free upon completion of two-thirds of their sentences.
Candidates for parole were nominated by the camp administration,
after which time their cases were discussed by camp section cultural
committees before being considered in a camp section court. 18 From
1954 to 1957, approximately 7,400 prisoners were paroled from Vor-
kutlag in this manner, the vast majority of them in 1955. 19 A further
4,500 prisoners were paroled from Vorkutlag in 1954–1955 because
they suffered from mental or chronic illness. 20 In a similar process, the
camp administration was allowed to release prisoners who had been
convicted as minors and who had served at least one-third of their sen-
tences. 21 In 1954–1955, over 3,000 prisoners were released under this
measure. 22 Thus, parole and related measures allowed local authorities
a great deal of infl uence over deciding who would be released.
Although we are accustomed to think of the mass releases of the mid-
1950s as the result of mass amnesties and the like, in fact only about
half of those prisoners released from the Vorkuta camp complex from
1953 to 1960 were released under amnesties, commissions, or parole.
The other half simply served out the balance of their sentences. 23 Many,
like Rifat Khabibulovich Gizatulin and Evdokiia Ivanovna Cherneta-
Gizatulina, had been sentenced to ten years during the war, and thus
their sentences expired in the fi rst half of the 1950s. 24 Others benefi ted
from the fact that their sentences had been reduced by commissions
and parole boards, even if their convictions had been upheld. Many
were given extra credit for time served under the system of workday
credits (zachet), whereby prisoners could be credited up to three days’
time served for each day of productive labor. This system, which had
been introduced for most prisoners in Vorkutlag in September 1950
and had been extended to all prisoners under the new regulations of
July 1954, could shorten sentences by months or years. For example,
Oleg Borovskii, who had been given a ten-year sentence in 1949, was
in fact released in August 1956 because two years of workday credits
counted as fi ve years toward time served. 25

From Prisoners to Citizens? 203
By 1955–1956 amnesties intended to reduce the size of the Soviet
Union’s massive exile population were also enacted. Throughout the
Soviet Union, the size of the “special settler” population was reduced
dramatically, with over 2.5 million “special settlers” freed between
1 July 1954 and 1 July 1957. 26 As mass releases of prisoners gathered
steam, hundreds of thousands of exiles wrote to Soviet offi cials request-
ing their release as well. M. I. Litaver, an ethnic German who had been
sent to Vorkuta in 1943 to work in the mines, wrote such a letter to
Nikolai Bulganin in the fi rst half of 1955. As he explained, he had been
awarded the Order of Lenin for his exemplary labor in Vorkuta’s coal
mines, yet he was unable to leave the city. 27 Litaver and thousands of
other ethnic Germans who had been exiled to Vorkuta during the war
soon had their wish, as they were released from their terms of exile by a
Supreme Soviet Decree of 13 December 1955. Several thousand ethnic
Germans in Vorkuta were no longer required to regularly report to the
local MVD for registration, although they were being released without
the right to reclaim any property or to return home. 28 On 10 March
1956 the Supreme Soviet abolished a 1948 law that required that pris-
oners convicted of certain especially dangerous crimes be sentenced to
eternal exile after their terms expired. 29 As a result, some 2,500 former
prisoners were released from their terms of exile in Vorkuta. 30 Various
other categories of exiles were also allowed to leave the city in 1955,
including Communist Party members and their families, Second World
War veterans, invalids, and those exiled for collaborating with the Ger-
man occupation during the Second World War. 31 By the end of 1956,
few residents of Vorkuta were tied to the city by terms of exile.
Overall the prisoner population of the Vorkuta camp complex shrank
rapidly from 1953 to 1960, with over 105,000 prisoners released in the
period from 1953 to 1958 alone (fi gure 6.1). While this process in Vor-
kuta generally followed the overall population trends in the Gulag, the
most dramatic reductions in the size of the prisoner population took
place later than in most camps. For example, only about 17 percent of
the prisoner population in Vorkutlag and Rechlag were released over
the course of 1953. By comparison, in that same year nearly 65 per-
cent of all prisoners in the camps and colonies of the Gulag system
were released. The rate of release from the Vorkuta camps increased
only slightly in 1954 to 19 percent, whereas release rates throughout
the Gulag approached 50 percent. But in the following two years,

204 From Prisoners to Citizens?
1955–1956, releases reached their peak in Vorkuta, with between 40 to
50 percent of prisoners released in each of these years. The release rate
remained substantial in 1957–1958, when approximately 35 percent
were released per year. Both the lower rates of release and the fact that
most of the prisoners were released later in the 1950s was largely due
to the unusually high proportion of “counterrevolutionary” prisoners
held there.
Prisoners remained in the remnants of Vorkutlag for decades after
the 1950s, although the size of the prisoner population would never
again approach the levels it reached under Stalin. By 1958 the camp
population was half of what it had been in 1953, this despite the fact
that nearly sixty thousand new prisoners were transferred to Vorkutlag
from 1955 to 1957. 32 From 1960, when Vorkutlag became known as
the Vorkuta “corrective labor colony” (often referred to by the cryptic
designation “P.O. Box OS-34/11”), there were never more than a few
thousand prisoners at any given time. 33 Most of these prisoners were
residents of Komi ASSR who had been convicted of serious criminal
Figure 6.1. Percentage of prisoner population released, 1953–1958. Data
from Appendix A, table A.5.3; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 519, ll. 124–28,
177. Release fi gures for 1958 are estimated based on data from 1 January to
1 October.

From Prisoners to Citizens? 205
offenses such as rape and murder. Forced labor continued to play an
important if much reduced role in the local economy, as it did in many
regions across the Soviet Union where camps had been prevalent under
Stalin. 34 No prisoners were used directly in coal mining after 1960,
but most were engaged in construction, both of coal mines and above-
ground buildings. 35 Prisoners were a logical choice for construction
crews given the fact that low pay and poor conditions made these some
of the least desirable jobs in the city. As recent work on the Soviet
prison system after Stalin has demonstrated, the Gulag did not disap-
pear with the end of Stalinist terror, although it did change signifi cantly,
both quantitatively and qualitatively. 36
For many of the prisoners released from the Vorkuta camp complex
from 1953 to 1960, being set free was followed by feelings of eupho-
ria. 37 Aleksandr Solomonovich Klein’s poem “Miracle” ( chuda ), writ-
ten after his release from Vorkutlag in 1955, conveys the emotions that
he felt as he fi rst left the camp. The poem opens with incredulity and
I walk—and do not believe:
without guards?
And there is joy,
and tenderness,
and shyness in me,
And everything surprises,
and it seems strange,
That I do not have to
wear a number
on my back. 38
Klein associates child-like delight and curiosity with his newfound free-
dom. It is as if he were now the inhabitant of an entirely new world, a
world free of guard towers and camp dogs. As a result of this “miracle”
of release, he can explore this new world without fear of violence. Yet
the poem ends on an ambiguous note. In the fi nal stanza Klein writes,
“But my hands / out of habit / I hold behind my back.” 39 The disbelief
that accompanied euphoria at the beginning of the poem has reemerged

206 From Prisoners to Citizens?
as uneasiness, symbolized by the author’s habitual holding of his hands
behind his back, as a prisoner would. Like other ex-prisoners, Klein
faced an uncertain future outside of the zone. After years of impris-
onment, he had to contend with the diffi cult and often contradictory
process of starting a civilian life in Soviet society.
Former prisoners faced misunderstanding, prejudice, and sometimes
open hostility from the society that they were attempting to rejoin.
Even in a city like Vorkuta, where much of the population consisted of
former prisoners and exiles, mass releases of prisoners were greeted by
some of the non-prisoner population with a mixture of fear and trepi-
dation. What would happen when thousands of prisoners were set free
in the city? Would the streets be safe when convicted murderers and
thieves wandered the streets? Would those former prisoners who had
been convicted of serious political crimes, such as anti-Soviet agitation
or terrorism, spread sedition and anti-Soviet views among the general
population? Would the prisoners be able to readjust to Soviet society?
Would they even want to?
This picture was complicated by the fact that Gulag prisoners did not
necessarily identify with each other as belonging to the same group. To
be sure, having been a “zek” was an important identity marker for for-
mer prisoners, and it could play an important role in post-Gulag social
interactions. 40 But on the other hand, former prisoners often identifi ed
fi rst and foremost with a certain subgroup of the camp population. For
many, the key identity factor was belonging to a particular nationality,
especially for those prisoners who had belonged to underground self-
help organizations in the camps that had been organized on the basis
of national identity. 41 Others identifi ed with criminal castes, such as
the vory-v-zakone .42 Many prisoners felt that there was a stark division
between those who had been convicted of political offenses and those
who had been convicted of other types of crime—this is the famous dis-
tinction between “politicals” and “criminals” that is so often found in
Gulag memoirs. By that same token, other non-prisoners did not neces-
sarily perceive released prisoners as a homogenous mass. Particularly
in a place like Vorkuta, where so much of the population consisted of
former prisoners or camp offi cials, it was likely that the general popu-
lation would see former prisoners as continuing to belong to the same
identity groups that they had in the Gulag. The result was that the per-

From Prisoners to Citizens? 207
ception and reception of former prisoners was far more complex and
nuanced than would appear at fi rst glance.
The fi rst wave of releases after Stalin’s death, the so-called Beriia am-
nesty of 27 March 1953, certainly did little to calm fears about what
would happen when thousands of prisoners were set free. These releases
were accompanied by incidents of violence, although as elsewhere it
was primarily directed against other prisoners rather than against the
non-prisoner population. Tensions between the local population and
newly released prisoners were further exacerbated by violence between
camp guards and amnestied prisoners. On the one hand, many former
prisoners had scores to settle now that they were free; on the other,
camp guards were reluctant to give up the arbitrary authority that they
had so recently wielded over the prisoners. Under such circumstances,
violent confrontations were fairly frequent. On 17 May 1953 a recently
released prisoner who was leaving a store with a loaf of bread was ac-
costed by drunken, off-duty camp guards and beaten with a belt. After
being beaten, the ex-prisoner returned with nearly forty former prison-
ers who lived in a nearby converted camp barracks, hoping to dispense
some “payback.” Faced with a large crowd of angry ex-prisoners, the
guards summoned some sixty of their comrades to what soon became
an all-out brawl. Belts, bricks, knives, and picks were among the weap-
ons used, although miraculously there do not appear to have been seri-
ous injuries among the ten wounded participants. 43
The blame for the incident landed squarely on the guards and camp
offi cials who had instigated the violence without provocation. This
was not surprising, as it was not particularly unusual for camp guards,
usually in a state of intoxication, to victimize erstwhile peaceful city
residents, as had been happening for a number of years. But even if
they did not bear the offi cial blame for the violence, former prisoners,
especially those who were perceived to have come from the ranks of the
Gulag’s “criminals,” remained the subjects of suspicion and fear, if not
outright hostility. The outbreak of violent confrontations between for-
mer prisoners and others only served to heighten tensions and increase
mutual suspicions.
Public fears about the potential criminality of ex-prisoners were
only confi rmed by newspaper reports on crime and punishment in
the city. Beginning in July 1953 Vorkuta’s local newspaper published

208 From Prisoners to Citizens?
brief descriptions of court proceedings under the heading “From the
Courtroom.” 44 Many of the articles publicized cases of former prisoners
being convicted of new crimes, usually petty theft, apartment burglary,
or hooliganism. For instance, an article on 21 October 1956 described
how one recently released prisoner was sentenced to twenty-fi ve years’
imprisonment for a series of twelve thefts in May–July 1956. 45 Such
fears that former prisoners represented a risk to public safety were not
completely unfounded; one report to the Gorkom in September 1960
pointed out that 31 percent of all crimes in the fi rst half of that year
were committed by ex-prisoners. 46
Some former prisoners were themselves fearful of the danger that
other ex-prisoners posed. In particular, former prisoners who identi-
fi ed themselves as “politicals” or “counterrevolutionaries” were often
afraid of being victims of violent crimes at the hands of former “crimi-
nal” prisoners. Former “political” Oleg Borovskii recalled that in 1956
there was widespread fear of being robbed and beaten by members of
the criminal world who had recently been released from the Gulag,
especially during the twenty-four-hour darkness of the polar night. As
he wrote, “We . . . strong men left [work in] the city [for an outlying
settlement] in small groups . . . some of us even [armed] with knives.” 47
Thus, it was not simply a matter of non-prisoner suspicions of ex-
prisoners, but also of mutual suspicions between different groups of
released prisoners.
Hostility and suspicion were not directed only at “criminals,” how-
ever. Local and regional state and party offi cials, particularly those rep-
resenting the state political police (KGB), voiced fears at party meetings
that some former counterrevolutionaries represented an active danger
to Soviet society. The potential threat posed by former prisoners came
into particular focus after the Hungarian uprising, which had broken
out on 23 October 1956 and been crushed by Soviet tanks and troops
less than two weeks later. 48 In its wake, on 19 December 1956 a let-
ter drafted by the Central Committee was sent to all party organiza-
tions in the Soviet Union at the republican, regional, local, and district
levels. The letter called for all party organizations to strengthen their
vigilance and actively fi ght against recent manifestations of “active op-
erations of anti-Soviet and enemy elements” that were taking place in
the context of recent unrest in Hungary. Among the potential sources
of threat identifi ed in the letter, recently released prisoners were singled

From Prisoners to Citizens? 209
out. Although the letter acknowledged that the majority of prisoners
were making honest and successful efforts to readjust to civilian life, it
pointed out that there were a few “former Trotskyites, right opportun-
ists, and bourgeois nationalists” who were continuing their anti-Soviet
activities. Using fairly strong language, the letter urged that “party or-
ganizations and Soviet organs must take the most decisive measures
to intercept [them] and act as we always have against people who are
enemies of our system.” 49
The language of the letter was echoed directly in a speech that the
fi rst secretary of the Vorkuta Gorkom, V. A. Shikhov, delivered a month
later at a city party conference. As he stated, “Among them [former
prisoners], especially former Trotskyites and bourgeois nationalists,
there are people who are evilly disposed against Soviet power, who
gather around themselves anti-Soviet elements, who attempt to resume
their hostile and anti-Soviet activities.” In order to thwart these people,
the party was to take a two-pronged approach: fi rst, it had to educate
“the population and former prisoners” in order to inoculate them from
pernicious infl uences; second, it had to keep a watchful eye and act
swiftly to thwart truly anti-Soviet elements. 50 Although there were no
drastic measures taken against former prisoners, the Central Commit-
tee’s letter and general anxieties about the Hungarian events did lead
to increased scrutiny of the activities of some former prisoners and to
an intensifi cation of KGB surveillance.
This surveillance was focused on three types of potential opposition
among former prisoners: political, nationalist, and religious. The fi rst
category, that of political opposition, was the most amorphous of the
three. Politically suspicious activities included criticism of Soviet foreign
policy, particularly in Hungary. 51 It also included allegations of distrib-
uting anti-Soviet material, as in the case of a former prisoner who gave
his notebook containing “anti-Soviet poetry” to a young woman who
came to the city as a volunteer. 52 Listening to foreign radio broadcasts,
such as the BBC, was also a particular focus of the KGB. 53 That said,
such garden-variety anti-Soviet activities were not given nearly as much
attention as nationalist and religious opposition.
Suspicion of former prisoners for dangerous political speech and ac-
tion extended not only to ex-prisoners, but to their families as well.
While Stalin was still alive, romantic associations or sexual relations
with former prisoners usually resulted in serious consequences for

210 From Prisoners to Citizens?
party and Komsomol members. For example, in January 1952 the lo-
cal Komsomol took up the case of a young woman who “attempted to
marry a former prisoner convicted under Article 58–10.” She was not
kicked out of the Komsomol, but she was formally reprimanded and
the Komsomol Gorkom asked her employer to demote her. 54 Such prac-
tices continued well into the late 1950s, suggesting a signifi cant degree
of continuity in the treatment of non-prisoners who associated with
former prisoners. In 1958, for instance, several female party members
who had married former prisoners were singled out for harsh words at
Gorkom meetings. It does not appear that any of them were expelled
from the party for their relationships, but the negative attention sent a
clear message that the loyalties of those party members who married
former prisoners were highly suspect. 55
As was the case in the western borderland regions of the Soviet Union,
suspicious activity by former nationalists was a particular area of inter-
est for the KGB in Vorkuta. 56 By the early 1950s the majority of the
prisoner population in the Vorkuta camp system was not Russian, and
so non-Russians made up a majority of the prisoners released in the
1950s. Local KGB offi cials noted a wide range of potentially subversive
nationalist activity in Vorkuta and its environs in the decade following
Stalin’s death. In 1956, a group of almost two hundred former prison-
ers from Latvia gathered in a cemetery in Inta (Vorkuta’s near southern
neighbor) for the unveiling of a monument commemorating Latvians
who had died in the camps. According to Kurashov, the head of the
local KGB, the gathered ex-prisoners delivered “anti-Soviet speeches”
and sang “bourgeois” Latvia’s national anthem to the accompaniment
of a brass orchestra. 57 Thus, a gathering intended to honor dead com-
rades became, in the eyes of the KGB at least, a politicized event with
dangerous nationalist overtones.
Networks connecting prisoners of common nationality within the
camps were frequently reconstructed outside the camps, making them
an easy target for those with suspicions that unrepentant nationalist
rebels were on the loose in the city. The fact that many convicted na-
tionalists were forced to return to Vorkuta in the late 1950s after un-
successful attempts to return to their homes in the western borderlands
only contributed to the atmosphere of suspicion and unease. 58 For local
KGB representatives, the re-deportations of former prisoners served
to reinforce prejudices and suspicions about non-Russian former pris-

From Prisoners to Citizens? 211
oners, particularly those from western Ukraine. For the prisoners de-
ported, being sent back to Vorkuta was a painful reminder of how the
Soviet Union’s system of identity politics ascribed labels and stigmas
that were remarkably persistent. This could only have strengthened so-
cial networks of co-nationals in the decades after Stalin.
What made allegedly nationalist activity especially dangerous in the
eyes of party and KGB offi cials was the potential danger of anti-Soviet,
nationalist contagion being spread from former prisoners to the many
young recruits who came to the city to work in the 1950s and 1960s.
Take, for instance, a birthday celebration that took place in an apart-
ment in 1958. At this gathering, former prisoners from Lithuania “sang
nationalist songs, songs from bourgeois Lithuania.” 59 What worried
party offi cials most was that this celebration was for a newly arrived
demobilized soldier, not for a former prisoner. Thus the signifi cance
was far greater because it suggested the possibility that an impression-
able youth was being corrupted by incorrigible nationalists who had
rightfully served time for fi ghting Soviet power in the Baltics. In light of
the directives received from the Central Committee, this birthday party
represented a dangerous attempt to indoctrinate a loyal Soviet citizen.
The fi nal area of potential opposition that was the focus of the KGB
in Vorkuta during the second half of the 1950s was a result of Khru-
shchev’s revival of antireligious propaganda and his sustained campaign
against religious belief in the Soviet Union. 60 In Vorkuta, religious “sec-
tarians” became a frequent target for KGB surveillance in connection
with this campaign. In 1957 the city’s KGB representative reported that
religious groups of all kinds, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists,
and Mennonites, were active in Vorkuta. Not surprisingly, former pris-
oners and their families fi gured prominently in reports on their alleged
activities. Jehovah’s Witnesses were singled out in particular. As one
report stated, “Jehovah’s Witnesses gather illegally in many parts of
the city in order to carry out religious services, recruit new members
to their sect, distribute religious literature among citizens and believ-
ers, and maintain ties with coreligionists in other regions of the So-
viet Union and with missionaries from capitalist countries.” Religious
groups often met in the apartments of former prisoners, many of whom
had already served sentences in the 1940s and early 1950s for their
heterodox religious beliefs. Men like Korol’ Prokop’evich Nishchii, an
ex-convict who now worked as a blacksmith in mine no. 30, led regular

212 From Prisoners to Citizens?
weekly gatherings that included as many as twenty-six participants.
But the most threatening activity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses was the
outspoken refusal of many to participate in elections. 61
As in most cases of potentially dangerous “anti-Soviet” activity, the
local KGB and party organization pursued a policy of arresting ring-
leaders and aggressive measures to stop the spread of religious propa-
ganda. Prophylactic measures included the publication of material in
the local newspaper meant to attack and debunk the sectarians. For
instance, a major feature appeared in the local newspaper in March
1959 telling the story of Krivchuk, a former prisoner who had become
a Jehovah’s Witness while serving time in a camp for Ukrainian nation-
alist activity. Drafted into the army soon after his release in 1955, he
had been arrested a second time, this time for recruiting Jehovah’s Wit-
nesses from among his fellow soldiers. Now living in Vorkuta, “having
fi nally broken with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, he began to work. . . .
He is cheerful, outgoing, and grateful to his comrades at work, who
have accepted him into their working family.” The lesson here was that
inner peace was not to be found in religion, but through labor in a
collective. 62 Despite repression and propaganda, the presence of “sec-
tarians” persisted, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses; in 1961 one leader
named Kazak, who worked in mine no. 9, was arrested in connection
with the confi scation of large amounts of religious literature found in
his home. 63 Surveillance of ex-prisoners suspected of illegal religious
activities persisted throughout the 1960s.
In fact, KGB surveillance of former prisoners continued well past
the Khrushchev era. In 1967, former prisoner Pavel Negretov was for-
mally questioned by the KGB in connection with his wife’s planned
trip to visit family in West Germany. The questioning began when he
was met at a bus stop by an unknown man who later identifi ed himself
as a KGB agent and called him in for questioning. Although the con-
versation was ostensibly about his wife’s trip, it quickly became clear
to Negretov that he was being harassed for his activities during the
Second World War. During the war, he had joined the “The National
Workers’ Union of the New Generation,” a proto-fascist organization
that originated among Russian émigrés in the West, an association that
had earned him a fi fteen-year sentence in the Gulag. Now, some twenty
years later, the Vorkuta KGB asked Negretov to write a letter denounc-

From Prisoners to Citizens? 213
ing the group, which had been reincarnated as the “National Workers’
Union,” an anti-Communist organization. Negretov fl atly refused. 64
For Negretov and other former prisoners, continued KGB surveillance
served as a constant reminder of their outsider status. Those suspected
of potentially anti-Soviet political, nationalist, and religious activities
faced suspicion, surveillance, harassment, and even arrest, long after
they had been released.
The prospects of former prisoners in Soviet society were further
complicated by their legal status. Just being released from the Gulag
did not restore one’s full rights as a Soviet citizen. Prisoners whose
sentences had not been overturned, or who had not received an of-
fi cial “rehabilitation” from the state, faced a variety of limitations on
their civil rights. 65 Foremost among these limitations was the fact that
prisoners convicted of “especially dangerous crimes” who had not
been “rehabilitated” generally did not receive full passports that en-
titled them to live anywhere in the Soviet Union. Instead, they received
a so-called passport with a minus, which prevented them from living
within 101 kilometers of major cities or in potentially sensitive border
zones. 66 Prisoners without rehabilitations were generally unable to join
or rejoin the Communist Party, an important limitation on their social
mobility. They were not entitled to even the paltry monetary compen-
sation that rehabilitated prisoners could claim under Soviet law (two
months’ wages). Their time spent in prison, camp, and exile was not
counted in calculations toward bonuses or pensions. 67 In short, former
prisoners who did not receive their rehabilitation were second-class
citizens from a legal perspective.
Whether or not a former prisoner was fully rehabilitated depended
to a large degree on how the particular prisoner had been released
from the camp. Those whose sentences expired or who had their sen-
tences reduced by the central and local commissions that worked in
1954–1956 were generally released without receiving a rehabilitation.
Those who were paroled or were released under amnesties were gener-
ally not rehabilitated either. Of the more than one hundred thousand
prisoners released from the Vorkuta camps from 1953 to 1960, only

214 From Prisoners to Citizens?
those released by the central and local commissions of 1954–1956 had
some chance of immediately receiving a full rehabilitation. One such
prisoner was Vasilii Egorovich Romanovskii, who was arrested in 1953
for allegedly plotting to kill Stalin. Because the only evidence used to
convict him was that he visited the Armory Palace in the Kremlin, the
commission reconsidering cases in Vorkuta in May 1956 decided unan-
imously to rehabilitate and release him. 68 But Romanovskii was in the
clear minority, as these commissions granted full rehabilitations in a
very small number of cases. 69 The overwhelming majority of prisoners
released from the Vorkuta camps were not rehabilitated upon release.
Further, because the mass releases were overseen by a number of dif-
ferent state agencies and carried out using a variety of mechanisms,
there was a great deal of confusion regarding the legal status of those
released. 70
Thus, for the vast majority of former prisoners, receiving a rehabili-
tation meant writing letters, appeals, and petitions to central authori-
ties. 71 Some, like Leonid Markizov, were rehabilitated within only a few
years of their release after a successful appeal. 72 Others, like Aleksandr
Klein, waited over a decade. 73 But many others, like Iurii P., Galina S.,
and Pavel Negretov, were not rehabilitated until the 1990s. 74 The vari-
ety of outcomes depended not just on the particular circumstances of
each individual writing the appeal. It was also infl uenced by a number
of other factors. As Miriam Dobson has pointed out, the process of de-
ciding appeals was highly personalistic, thus making the outcome of an
appeal highly dependent on the personality of the offi cial who received
it.75 Also, the judicial apparatus struggled to keep up with the pace of
requests for the reconsideration of cases. By the end of the Khrushchev
era, it was estimated that the Ministry of Justice had only succeeded in
reviewing the cases of just under one-third of all of those people con-
victed of “counterrevolutionary crimes” from the 1920s until Stalin’s
death. Finally, the overall political situation in the Soviet Union had
a signifi cant effect on the prospects of an appeal for rehabilitation.
Although the process of the rehabilitation of individual or group cases
did not cease under Brezhnev, the pace slowed considerably. 76
Of the legal restrictions that many prisoners faced, undoubtedly the
most vexing was the limitation in their passports. According to histo-
rian Marc Elie, approximately half of the prisoners released from the

From Prisoners to Citizens? 215
Gulag during the Khrushchev era received such passports. 77 For those
prisoners who came from Moscow, Leningrad, or other major cities,
receiving a limited passport rendered a return home impossible. Such
was the case for Galina S., a longtime Moscow resident before she was
arrested in 1952 and sent to Vorkuta to serve out her sentence. When
she was released, she was issued her release papers and passport (with
limitations) by the head of the “special section” of her camp section.
As was required, he asked her where she planned to go. She replied,
“Moscow,” to which the offi cial responded, “They won’t register you
there.” But her daughter lived in Moscow and she was determined to
go. After nearly a month in the capital it became clear to her that the
advice of the offi cial had been accurate: she could not get registered,
even though her daughter and sister were residents. Without a full re-
habilitation, her prospects in Moscow were few. “Where else could I
go,” she told me, “but Vorkuta?” 78 However, since most of the prison-
ers in the Vorkuta camps did not come from major cities, passport
limitations restricted their mobility but did not affect their ability to
return home after release.
Thousands of former prisoners also had to navigate the process of in-
ternational repatriation. Just as Vorkutlag and Rechlag held unusually
high numbers of prisoners of non-Russian nationalities, they also held
thousands of prisoners who claimed citizenship in another state. At the
beginning of 1953, for example, the camps held 2,626 foreign citizens,
most of whom came from Germany, Poland, and Hungary. 79 For them,
release was only the fi rst step in the process of obtaining permission
to return to their homeland. Some foreign prisoners returned home di-
rectly upon release, as was the case with Joseph Scholmer, who arrived
back in East Germany in early 1954 after his release from Vorkuta in
December 1953. 80 Many, however, had to go through the process of
obtaining permission for repatriation after release from the camp. By
1955, for example, scores of Polish ex-prisoners were requesting per-
mission for repatriation to Poland. Such a process required not only
clearance from the MVD, but also from the Ministry of International
Affairs. Thus, requests sent from Vorkuta could take a long time to
wend their way through offi ces in Moscow. 81 However, repatriation
soon began to pick up speed, with an entire echelon of Polish prison-
ers departing from the railroad station in December 1955. 82 Unlike

216 From Prisoners to Citizens?
the case with non-Russian Soviet citizens, many of whom remained in
Vorkuta for decades, few if any foreign citizens remained in the city by
the end of the 1950s.
Discrimination in the workplace was another signifi cant obstacle
that many former prisoners in Vorkuta faced. Ex-prisoners were a fre-
quent target of state policies aimed at excluding them from impor-
tant positions in a variety of fi elds. Engineering and technical workers
(ITR) were subject to formal discrimination in the late 1950s and early
1960s. These managers, engineers, and technicians were the experts
on which the proper and effi cient operation of the mines depended.
Because of their importance, local, regional, and central party bodies
were concerned with their qualifi cations and political reliability. As a
result, the cadres department of KVU collected data on specialists that
it did not collect on ordinary workers. These data were used through-
out the 1950s and 1960s to practice discrimination against specialists
who were former prisoners and exiles. This discrimination may have
been to some degree systematic, but it followed no simple formula.
There was no blanket policy against hiring ex-prisoners for ITR posi-
tions. Nor was it random. Rather, it ebbed and fl owed in accordance
with party oversight, which was done, like so many other things in the
Soviet Union, “campaign style.” 83
Formal discrimination against ex-prisoners was discussed in party
meetings under the rubric of the “selection, allocation, and preparation
of cadres” ( podbor, rasstanovka i vospitanie kadrov ). Campaigns to
purge the ranks of specialists of ex-prisoners were carried out in 1950–
1951, 1954–1955, 1959, and 1966, usually initiated as a result of dis-
cussions at the level of central and regional party bodies. 84 The purge
of 1959 provides a good example because it is well documented. The
campaign in Vorkuta began at a Gorkom plenum on 21 March 1959.
Launched in a speech by the second secretary Vorob’ev, it took place
in accordance with decisions made at the Twenty-fi rst Party Congress.
The logic behind the purge was explained in the following manner:
“Comrades! The Communist Party teaches that in order to make the
most objective measure of a worker one must fi rst know his political
and professional qualities. . . . Many of our managers, while making

From Prisoners to Citizens? 217
promotions to important posts, forget these Leninist instructions and
are guided by only one of these qualities, either choosing on the ba-
sis of professional qualities, forgetting about political qualities, or the
other way around.” In other words, specialists needed a combination
of know-how and political reliability in order to be suitable candidates
for important posts. 85
As evidence for this, Vorob’ev pointed out that of 2,405 ITR posi-
tions in KVU, 712 were fi lled by people “formerly convicted of seri-
ous crimes against the motherland.” By contrast, there were only 163
Communist Party and 456 Komsomol members in ITR positions. In
terms of “professional qualities,” the ITR workers of KVU were want-
ing as well: over half were praktiki , people with no formal training. As
Vorob’ev continued his speech, it became increasingly clear that lack
of requisite political and professional qualities often coexisted. As an
example, Vorob’ev pointed out that none of the section heads in mine
no. 26 had any formal mining training, and at the same time, all had
been convicted of serious crimes. 86 This blurring of categories between
politically unreliable and technically unqualifi ed was a consistent fea-
ture of campaigns against former prisoners. Its logic was probably self-
evident to contemporaries. Most ex-prisoner specialists had not come
to coal mining after graduating from mining institutes or technical
schools, but rather had been brought to the city as prisoners. Conse-
quently, many lacked formal training.
Vorob’ev proceeded to provide concrete examples of appointment
“mistakes” throughout a range of mines. One personnel decision that
he found particularly disturbing took place at mine no. 9/10 in 1957.
In that case, Efi mov, a Communist Party member who had worked
as a section head from 1950 to 1957, was demoted for mismanag-
ing work in his section. He became a deputy to Artym, an ex-prisoner
(allegedly a West Ukrainian nationalist) with no formal training. Ac-
cording to Vorob’ev, making a communist the deputy of an unqualifi ed
ex- prisoner was a blatant violation of party policy. 87
The resolution of the Gorkom plenum called for several measures
to be taken in order to rectify the situation. First and foremost, in the
fi rst half of 1959, relevant authorities were to fi ll decisive positions
in all organizations with people who were known to be both “techni-
cally literate and faithful to our party.” Particular attention was to be
paid to promoting young specialists, especially those who were not yet

218 From Prisoners to Citizens?
employed in ITR jobs despite having formal training. All party organi-
zations were to participate in the ritual of criticism and self-criticism
regarding the management of cadres. Secretaries of party organizations
in Vorkuta were to discuss the Gorkom resolution in closed party meet-
ings. The management of KVU, as well as individual enterprises (like
mines 26 and 9/10), were singled out as those that needed to change
their hiring practices most of all. 88
How successful was this campaign against ex-prisoners? The 1959
purge, from the point of view of local party leadership, was somewhat
successful, although it seemed to fall short of expectations. Directors
of individual enterprises continued to be singled out and criticized for
their poor implementation of the new policy. In June 1959, the director
of mine no. 26 was called in front of the Gorkom and disciplined for not
implementing the new policy properly. 89 Even in 1961, two years after
the original plenum discussion, the Gorkom was having trouble enforc-
ing it. On 28 March 1961 the head of construction department 19,
Meleshko, was given a formal reprimand by the Gorkom for ignoring
the resolution. In addition to not fi ring ex-prisoners under his employ,
he had even gone so far as to hire newly released prisoners after the
resolution had been passed. 90 According to a status update from the
Gorkom bureau on 20 May 1961, two years after the plenum resolu-
tion, 312 ITR positions in KVU were fi lled by ex-prisoners, as opposed
to 712 before the campaign began. While this was a signifi cant reduc-
tion in the number of ex-prisoners in ITR jobs, Gorkom offi cials were
not satisfi ed, and various managers were warned and disciplined. 91
Thanks to reasonably systematic recordkeeping within KVU on the
number of ex-prisoners working as specialists, it is possible to dis-
cern overall trends in discrimination from 1955 to 1966, as depicted
in table 6.1. These data suggest a general downward trend in the
employment of ex-prisoners as specialists, although increases in the em-
ployment of ex-prisoners in 1961 and 1966 underscore the episodic
nature of discrimination. Whereas in 1955 nearly half of KVU’s ITR
workers were ex-prisoners, by 1966 the number was about 14 percent.
This confi rms what other evidence suggests: as the prison camps in
Vorkuta shrank, fewer and fewer ex-prisoners held responsible posts
in the city. This was partly due to the fact that as time passed, more
and more qualifi ed ex-prisoners left the city or retired. It could also, to
some degree, refl ect informal practices used to keep ex-prisoners “off

Table 6.1. Former prisoners occupying ITR positions in KVU, 1955–1966 Occupation (descending importance)
Date (
15.07.55 01.01.59 01.01.60 01.12.60 01.12.61 01.12.62 01.12.64 01.01.66
Mine Director
N0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 % 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Head Mine Engineer
N2 2 1 0 0 0 0 % 12.50 9.52 6.25 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Deputy Head Mine Engineer
N3 1 1 0 0 0 2 % 18.75 5.26 6.25 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 3.85
Head Mine Mechanic
N5 8 3 1 0 0 1 % 26.32 38.10 18.75 5.56 0.00 0.00 0.00 5.88
Deputy Head Mine Mechanic
N132311011 % 50.00 6.45 13.04 7.69 5.56 0.00 18.33
Mine Geologist
N720110 % 77.78 28.57 0.00 12.50 11.11 0.00
Mine Economist
N107 % 5.88 0.00 53.85
Section Head (Extraction and Tunneling)
42 11 10 11 2 9 8
% 34.75 36.21 12.36 10.87 11.58 2.13 10.00 7.34
Mining Master
N 240 71 60 64 42 29 58 % 33.29 11.97 10.20 11.59 7.61 6.65 11.39
ITR Overall
N 1034
712 312 247 397 271 342 474
% 46.95 29.60 13.09 10.56 14.23 10.21 11.88 14.07
Source: GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1778, l. 15; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1709, ll. 147–49; GURK NARK 1, f. R-16
75, op. 1,
d. 1710, ll. 35–36; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1711, ll. 29–30; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1712, ll. 32–34; GURK
f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1713, ll. 21–23; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1714, ll. 61–62; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1716
, ll. 39–40.
a Includes 16 prisoners.b Includes 261 prisoners.

220 From Prisoners to Citizens?
the books” (see below). But formal discrimination was the dominant
Data in this table also suggest the existence of a “glass ceiling” for
ex-prisoners. A selection of ITR jobs at various levels in the hierarchy
(in descending order of importance) shows how far former prisoners
could advance in the KVU hierarchy and how this changed over time.
No former prisoner held the job of mine director during this eleven-
year period, although in 1954 two of ten mine directors had been ex-
prisoners. 92 A few former prisoners managed to occupy the second most
important job in a mine (head engineer), but this ceased after 1960. For-
mer prisoners did work in slightly less important positions, like head
mechanic (or assistant head mechanic), in greater numbers and further
into the 1960s. But by 1964, the only ITR positions at a mine that were
realistically within the reach of former prisoners were decidedly less
prominent, such as section head or mining master. Whereas in 1954 a
former prisoner had been the director of one of KVU’s two “trusts” (in
other words, he managed half of Vorkuta’s mines), by 1966 few prison-
ers were entrusted with management of even a mine section. 93
Despite the general decline in the use of ex-prisoners in ITR positions
and the “glass ceiling,” it is important to underline the limited success
of discrimination in keeping former prisoners out of important posts.
Even on 1 January 1966, 56 of mine no. 1’s 277 ITR positions were
fi lled by former prisoners (about 20 percent), many of them formerly
convicted of “counterrevolutionary crimes.” 94 Overall, offi cial discrim-
ination succeeded in keeping former prisoners out of the highest ITR
positions, but it did not keep them out of less important jobs. Why
was it that campaigns to remove political unreliables from positions
of responsibility met with limited and uneven success? One part of
the answer is undoubtedly the ambiguous language of the resolutions
passed by the Gorkom. It was never explicitly stated against whom
the campaign was directed, nor was anyone expressly forbidden from
hiring or employing former prisoners. This ambiguity could only have
been underscored by the fact that the Gorkom, in September 1959,
was criticizing KVU for not hiring enough newly released prisoners
in accordance with a Supreme Soviet decree from earlier in the year. 95
Thus, enterprise managers received decidedly mixed messages from the

From Prisoners to Citizens? 221
In fact, the limited success of the formal policy of discrimination ex-
poses widespread informal practices that undermined it. In some cases,
former prisoners were simply too valuable to fi re or demote. Although
many lacked formal training, they were often more experienced than
the young, formally trained specialists who were sent to Vorkuta. In an
atmosphere of a general labor shortage and high labor turnover rates,
it seemed foolish to fi re long-term residents and dependable specialists
in favor of new arrivals who might not stay in Vorkuta for long. The
livelihood of virtually every person working in a mine, from the direc-
tor to those working at the coal face, depended on meeting production
quotas. The work of ex-prisoner specialists was essential in meeting
these targets. It was one thing for Gorkom offi cials to institute a pol-
icy of formal discrimination, but these same offi cials also demanded
that mines meet output plans. In the end, it was individual enterprise
managers who conducted hiring, and they had to balance conformity
with party campaigns and plan fulfi llment. For their part, KVU top
brass never seemed wholly committed to implementing discrimination
policy. In the midst of the 1959 campaign, even the head of the cadres
department of KVU, K. Plastinina, herself a longtime resident of Vor-
kuta, admitted that ex-prisoners were still employed in ITR positions
and that they were also still being hired to fi ll vacancies. Those former
prisoners who “recommended themselves positively by their work” of-
ten remained unpurged. 96
Mine directors and those in charge of personnel deployed various
techniques to minimize the potentially negative effects of purges on
their enterprises. One strategy was to name an ex-prisoner specialist
to a relatively low post, but appoint him the “acting” ( ispol’niaiushchii
obiazannosti ) occupant of a higher post. This was one way to make
it appear as though an enterprise employed few ex-prisoners as spe-
cialists. Another strategy was to comply with party orders to demote
a specialist, but then promote her later on. Mikhail T., a young spe-
cialist who came to Vorkuta in 1962 from Novocherkassk, described
how this worked in the case of an ex-prisoner who had once been a
high-ranking civilian offi cial in the German occupation administration
of Kharkov. This ex-prisoner was an unacceptable candidate for an
important post in a mine because he was considered politically unreli-
able. Yet he was an extraordinarily competent manager and so worked

222 From Prisoners to Citizens?
as the deputy mine director in charge of supplies in mine no. 27. As
Mikhail T. explained,
The order came to remove him [from his post]. He is removed from
that position, and he begins to work as a master in the lumber depot.
Time passes, and the mine begins to choke without lumber [for tunnel
supports] . . . the lumber depot works in three shifts, and there is still
not enough lumber for the mine. . . . So he [the ex-prisoner], whether it
is allowed or not, is reappointed deputy mine director in charge of sup-
plies. Time passes, and lumber appears in the mine. More time passes,
and he suggests that the lumber depot only work in two shifts. They
work in two shifts, and there is still lumber for the mine. More time
passes, and two shifts are no longer needed, one will suffi ce. The lum-
ber depot works in one shift and there is suffi cient lumber in the mine.
The party organs once again order that he must be removed—“how
can there be a deputy mine director with that kind of biography [ an-
keta ]?” They remove him . . . the lumber depot begins to work in two
shifts, then in three, and there isn’t enough lumber in the mine. 97
Using a cycle of demotion and promotion of former prisoners, manag-
ers navigated the dual pitfalls of punishment for not following party
directives and penalties for falling short of plan targets.
The previous two sections have explored some of the handicaps that
ex-prisoners faced after release in Vorkuta. As I have pointed out, some
aspects of life in Vorkuta made these obstacles potentially less impor-
tant for the experiences of ex-prisoners in the city than they might
have been elsewhere. Yet the story of why so many former prisoners
remained in Vorkuta is not simply a negative one, that things were not
quite as diffi cult for ex-prisoners there as they were elsewhere. The
city of Vorkuta also had signifi cant things to offer ex-prisoners that
were positive inducements for them to settle there over the short or
long term.
One advantage was that Vorkuta, like other cities in the former Gu-
lag empire, was familiar to most ex-prisoners—not simply the environ-
ment, but also the people. When Valentin Frid was released from a
camp in Inta (a city near Vorkuta) on 8 January 1954, he was relieved
to learn that he would be allowed to live in that city rather than being

From Prisoners to Citizens? 223
sent elsewhere. He writes, “It was very lucky [to be released in Inta and
not exiled elsewhere]. Here everything was familiar, here there were
friends, here there were greater opportunities to fi nd tolerable work.”
The advantages of being released in a place where one had friends and
acquaintances became immediately apparent to Frid in his fi rst days on
the “outside.” With no place to live, he stayed temporarily in the house
of another ex-prisoner, a convicted thief named Vasia Nikulin, whom
he had met in the camp. 98 Living there was a harrowing experience
because of Nikulin’s proclivity for drinking binges (not to mention a vi-
cious dog), but in January it was essential to have a warm place to stay,
and without the kindness of this acquaintance Frid might have been left
without a roof over his head.
Nanci Adler, in her groundbreaking book on Gulag survivors, right-
fully points out that “the deforming effects of the camps continued to
wreak havoc on the ex-prisoners, along with their social networks.” 99
But, as the story above shows, prisoners’ experiences in the camps led
to the creation of new social networks that could facilitate adjustments
to life after release. 100 These social networks were especially valuable in
cities like Vorkuta that had been dominated by prison camps. Here ex-
prisoners were everywhere, if not a majority then a sizeable minority of
the population. They were more likely to be in positions of power than
elsewhere, and so therefore were able to help their camp acquaintances
obtain scarce resources like housing. Even if two people had not been
imprisoned together, sharing the experience of imprisonment in the
Gulag could be enough to strengthen otherwise weak social bonds.
The case of Galina S. shows both the power and the limits of ex-
prisoner social networks. Unable to return permanently to her home
in Moscow because of limitations in her passport, recently widowed,
and with a newborn baby, she lived in a fellow ex-prisoner’s apart-
ment for some time after she was released. Her fi rst job was as a guard
in a store. Her boss was a fellow ex-prisoner who hired her out of
sympathy for her struggles as a single mother. The job required her to
work one twenty-four-hour shift and then gave her three days off at a
stretch, an arrangement that allowed her to take care of her baby. But
assistance from other ex-prisoners was not adequate for her to obtain
permanent housing or a stable fi nancial situation. For that, she got
married, to a man who had been recruited to come to Vorkuta to run
a new cafeteria, and who had been introduced to her by the woman

224 From Prisoners to Citizens?
in whose apartment she was staying. Her husband had a good job and
had been offered housing when he was recruited. After their nuptials,
the young family moved into a “family dormitory,” essentially a large
communal apartment, but one in which she, her husband, and her baby
shared their own room. About fi ve years later, in 1962, they moved into
two rooms in a communal apartment that they shared with one other
family. In 1971 they moved into a two-room separate apartment across
the street. Recalling the marriage decades later, she maintained that the
main reason for getting married was her husband’s access to housing.
As a single mother with a small child, she had little other choice. 101 In
this case, contacts among ex-prisoners helped her fi nd temporary work
and housing, but were inadequate when it came to obtaining long-term
housing and fi nancial stability.
The case of Pavel Negretov is similarly instructive. Released in No-
vember 1955, he had no real place to live for a year and a half. He
split his nights between the apartment of his childhood friend Vitalii
(an ex-prisoner), the laboratory where he worked, and the apartments
of colleagues while they were on vacation (many of whom were also
ex-prisoners). He wrote, “In this manner I spent the entire summer of
1956 living in the apartment of Olga Pavlovna Bazhovaia, my boss,
who was away on two years’ worth of vacation.” It was not until he
and his wife Ursula married in May 1957 that he obtained permanent
housing and they moved into a dormitory room with Ursula’s sister. 102
By 1962 the couple had moved into a two-room apartment in a former
camp barracks, such as the one depicted in fi gure 6.2. In January 1967
they moved into a separate apartment in a new fi ve-story reinforced
concrete apartment block. 103
Many ex-prisoners found jobs through the networks they had built
inside the zone. If a prisoner left Vorkuta for a new city he would likely
have to rely on strangers to hire him. Even when returning to a place of
former residence, there was no guarantee that previous ties would still
be extant or useful in fi nding a job. But in Vorkuta, former prisoners
often relied on friends and acquaintances they had acquired while in
the camps. An anonymous letter sent to the Ministry of Coal from a
worker in mine no. 25 in 1954 contended that an ex-prisoner named
Niurin, who worked as the head accountant in the mine, was directly
responsible for the mine hiring a number of his ex-prisoner friends. The
letter specifi cally alleged that Niurin had conspired with Bak, a good

From Prisoners to Citizens? 225
friend of his from Vorkutlag, under the following conditions: Niurin
hired Bak for a lucrative position and paid him a travel allowance of
almost 6,000 rubles. The allegedly conspiratorial behavior took place
when the two met in Moscow after release. Obviously, this anonymous
letter was meant to denounce Niurin and Bak. But it merely confi rmed
what was a widespread, and perfectly legal, practice: former prisoners
often hired their friends. 104
In Vorkuta some former prisoners held positions where they were
responsible for hiring others. Even though employer and potential em-
ployee might not be personally acquainted, they did share a common
experience in the camps, and this could be a deciding factor in the
hiring process. Gadzhiev, a machine operator from mine no. 40, com-
plained that some ex-prisoners had exclusive say in the hiring process
and were using it to hire ex-prisoners. As he stated at a session of the
Gorkom plenum in 1959, “There are still former prisoners who com-
mand Komsomol members and Communists. In my opinion it is neces-
sary to make it so that they cannot personally decide on hiring or fi ring
workers, because otherwise they will hire ‘their own’ as they are freed
Figure 6.2. Young people on a motorcycle in front of typical converted barracks,
ca. 1955–1957. Photograph courtesy of KARTA Center Foundation, Warsaw.

226 From Prisoners to Citizens?
from the camps.” 105 Hiring “their own” is exactly what a Komsomol
representative alleged was happening at the Vorkuta machine-repair
factory in 1956: in that factory, “most of the shop managers and mas-
ters are former convicts, and because of this they are interested in hir-
ing only qualifi ed workers from among prisoners, and avoid [hiring]
youths.” 106
As the use of the expression “qualifi ed worker” in the last example
suggests, it was not simply a matter of ex-prisoners preferring to hire
other ex-prisoners. Managers of mines and enterprises who had never
been prisoners were often desperate to retain the former convicts who
were being released from Vorkutlag or from exile in huge numbers. The
alternative sources of labor were prisoners provided by Vorkutlag, who
were becoming increasingly unruly and unproductive, or new recruits
from outside the city, who were often unskilled and unlikely to stay
in the city for long once they realized how diffi cult life there could be.
In order to retain released prisoners, mine directors made requests in
1955–1956 to be allowed to offer northern bonuses, wage incentives to
which only outside recruits were normally entitled, to former prisoners
who remained. 107 These requests made their way to the USSR Council
of Ministers via both the Ministry of Coal Industry and the Komi Ob-
kom, resulting in a Council of Ministers circular on 7 May 1956 that
allowed mine directors to sign contracts with released prisoners and
exiles. 108 Now able to offer northern bonuses to ex-prisoners, mines
and enterprises in Vorkuta were far better able to retain the services of
prisoners being released from Vorkutlag. 109 Further, rehabilitation law
allowed for a prisoner’s term of imprisonment in the Far North to be
counted toward calculating one’s bonus, a signifi cant inducement for
prisoners to remain after release. 110
For some, at least in hindsight, the transition from prisoner to “free”
worker was relatively seamless. This was apparently the case for Stepan
Mikhailovich Semegen, a prisoner who worked in mine no. 27 begin-
ning in 1953. When interviewed for a book of recollections about this
mine published in 2002, he described his personal transition in very
simple terms, stating, “In 1957–1958 the substitution of prisoners for
free workers gradually began, and as of April 1958 I also began to
work as a free worker. But my production status was not affected by
this: I had been a tunneling brigade leader, and remained one.” 111 This
may be a dramatic oversimplifi cation of the transition from prisoner

From Prisoners to Citizens? 227
to comrade, but it does show that from the standpoint of work, it did
not necessarily make an enormous difference. Many former prisoners
continued working in the same mines, had the same jobs, and even led
the same work brigades. In fact, continuity among brigade leaders and
foremen was quite high; even as late as 1964, almost one-fi fth of the
brigade leaders and foremen working in mine no. 1 were former pris-
oners, most of whom had been released from 1955 to 1957. 112
Unfortunately, systematic data on the number of former prisoners
hired by KVU have not been preserved in the company records. Still,
it is possible to get an impressionistic view of the quantitative scale of
this phenomenon. According to company records, of 13,268 prisoners
released in 1954, 2,823 remained in Vorkuta. All but 312 of them were
still gainfully employed as of 1 January 1955. 113 In 1958, 3,161 people
were hired directly by KVU after release from Vorkutlag. 114 Such cal-
culations do not include the many who returned to the city after trying
their luck elsewhere. Still, it is clear that over the course of the 1950s
many thousands of ex-prisoners chose to remain in Vorkuta. Even in
1960, when Vorkutlag had shrunk signifi cantly, 652 ex-prisoners were
hired directly after release by KVU. 115 The eagerness of managers to hire
experienced former prisoners and the presence of potentially useful so-
cial networks in the city were important factors that prisoners weighed
when choosing where to settle after release. These factors combined to
make Vorkuta, like other former Gulag communities, magnets that at-
tracted a large proportion of the Soviet Union’s millions of ex-prisoners
in the Khrushchev era.
In 1957 Iurii P. left his native Ukraine for Vorkuta. Like many oth-
ers who settled there he was recently released from the Gulag. But his
story was different: although he spent almost six years in Soviet pris-
ons and camps, he came nowhere near Vorkutlag. After being released
from a camp in Kuibyshev in 1956, he returned to his hometown in
the western Ukraine. He found work in a sugar factory but found life
at home diffi cult because of the KGB. They asked him to inform on
a local man who had emigrated from the United States, and when he
refused, the KGB began to harass him. In 1957, a school friend of his,

228 From Prisoners to Citizens?
an ex-prisoner then living in Vorkuta, was visiting on summer vacation
and presented Iurii P. with a solution: “He said, you know what, come
to Vorkuta—there, everyone is like you and me. And no one is going to
keep you under surveillance.” 116 Iurii P. came to Vorkuta, and his wife
and daughter soon followed. From 1957 to 1959, he worked in mine
no. 2, and from 1959 until his retirement in 1983, in mine no. 40 (now
known as Vorkutinskaia ). Whereas his home village in the Ukraine had
rejected him, Vorkuta accepted him as a citizen.
This man’s story, like those of many other ex-prisoners, resonates
with an offi cially endorsed parable that cast Vorkuta as a place where
ex-prisoners could be successfully reintegrated into Soviet society. Per-
haps the best example of this story is a version that was told in the
pages of Zapoliar’e on 7 December 1960, entitled “The Road to the
Big Life.” Stretching across three of the paper’s four pages, this article
related the life of Victor Babkin, an ex-prisoner living in Vorkuta. Ar-
rested for theft as a teenager in Moscow oblast’ and sentenced to fi f-
teen years’ imprisonment in the late 1940s, he was freed early by a
commission. After his release, this is how he described his new life as
a coal miner: “At the mine he was simply hired. No one asked about
the past, in his brigade he was considered an equal and respected for
his diligence.” By 1959, Viktor had been elected leader of a brigade,
joined the Komsomol, and was nominated as a candidate member of
the Communist Party. His brigade had been given a great honor, the
title of “Brigade of Communist Labor.” This is how he refl ected on
his new life: “Viktor thought for a long time about his comrades, real
friends, with whom he had resolved to live by the principle ‘one for all
and all for one.’ What broad horizons this life had opened up before
him—a big life, rushing into the future.” 117
As I have argued, beginning life on the “outside” for most ex- prisoners
in Vorkuta was more diffi cult than suggested by the narratives of Iurii
P. or Viktor Babkin. Former prisoners faced serious obstacles in estab-
lishing new lives after release: prejudice, surveillance, and discrimina-
tion in the workplace. These were obstacles that former prisoners had
to contend with all over the Soviet Union. Yet there is much that rings
true even in the parable of Babkin, because as Vorkuta underwent its
transition from Gulag town to company town, there were opportu-
nities for ex-prisoners that were unlikely to have existed where they
had originally come from. Given the social, economic, and political up-

From Prisoners to Citizens? 229
heaval taking place around them, enterprise managers actively sought
ex-prisoners as the anchors who could ensure that production targets
were met. Former prisoners were hired for many jobs without any
questions asked about their backgrounds. This was an important factor
in the individual decisions of ex-prisoners who chose to remain in the
city. Another of no less importance was the familiarity of the city and
its inhabitants. During their time in the zone, prisoners made important
personal connections that proved to be useful on the “outside.”
For former prisoners in Vorkuta, there would always be reminders
of the camps. Many lived in, worked at, or saw the physical vestiges of
Vorkutlag and Rechlag on a regular basis. An interaction with a former
camp offi cial, even a decade after release, might bring back unhappy
memories of imprisonment, as happened to Galina S. when her husband
invited a former camp chief to their home to share a bottle of vodka. 118
Embittered by the continued discrimination that he faced, Pavel Neg-
retov wrote two publications that appeared abroad in the 1970s and
1980s, one an article on the Gulag origins of Vorkuta, the other a mem-
oir of his life in camp and city. 119 As Nanci Adler concluded in her study
of Gulag survivors from among the urban intelligentsia, “The conse-
quences of their experience as prisoners and the further consequences
of their status as ex-prisoners hindered all efforts toward readjustment
and reassimilation.” 120 But in Vorkuta, hindrances hardly rendered re-
adjustment or reassimilation impossible. Many former prisoners grew
proud of their city and their own contributions to its construction. In
personal narratives related by ex-prisoners like Leonid Markizov and
Iurii P., this pride is what frames the story of their post-Gulag lives in
Vorkuta, not the obstacles they faced as ex-prisoners. Even Negretov
wrote with pride about some city institutions, particularly the local
newspaper, to which he frequently wrote during the decades after his
release. 121 Such framing suggests that it was indeed possible for former
prisoners to be reintegrated into Soviet society, at least in former Gulag
cities like Vorkuta.
Together with new recruits who came to the city from all over the
Soviet Union, former prisoners became citizens of the new company
town. Some were joined by their families from elsewhere in the Soviet
Union, whereas others established new ones. They lived in dormitories,
many of which were hastily converted former camp barracks, or rented
a corner of a private room or apartment. They went to work in the

230 From Prisoners to Citizens?
mines, many of them holding the same jobs that they had performed as
prisoners. They raised children, went on vacations, and saved money
for the future. Like new recruits, they too practiced what sociologist
Vladimir Il’in described as the “traditional Vorkuta strategy.” 122 In
short, they were integrated, and integrated themselves, into the city.
There were limitations on their occupational mobility, and they con-
tinued to be viewed with suspicion by many high-level local offi cials.
Nevertheless, tens of thousands of former prisoners became Vorkutiane
and committed themselves to living their lives in the shadow of the
former camp complex. Vorkuta continued to be transformed in the fol-
lowing decades, but the important role played by former prisoners in
the economic and social life of the city would not diminish.

ON 4 NOVEMBER 1975 journalists, miners, engineers, managers, and
the top party leadership of Vorkuta and the Komi ASSR crowded into
an unfi nished assembly hall. They were celebrating an auspicious oc-
casion, the arrival of the fi rst hopper of coal from a new mine. The
gathering was supposed to be held outside in the mine’s courtyard, but
a sudden blizzard necessitated a change of venue. Top city and regional
party offi cials, as well as construction bosses, delivered speeches. The
head of the group was Aleksandr Alexandrovich Popov, second secre-
tary of the Komi Obkom, who had risen to the position after serving
as the head of the Vorkuta Gorkom and the Vorkutlag politotdel years
before. Smashing a bottle of champagne over the fi rst hopper of coal,
those gathered marked the unoffi cial opening of the Vorgashor mine.
Under construction for just over a decade, this was not only the largest
and most modern coal mine in the history of Pechora coal basin, but it
was also the most productive mine in all of European Russia. 1
The opening of the Vorgashor mine was the culmination of a more
than a decade-and-a-half-long project to rebuild, expand, and generally
improve the effi ciency of Vorkuta’s mines during the Khrushchev and
Brezhnev eras. The reconstruction project, which had been launched
in 1959, had appeared at times to be yet another of Khrushchev’s ex-
pensive boondoggles. Those carrying out the reconstruction of Vorkuta

232 Epilogue
worked from poor designs, which were frequently changed mid-course.
Work proceeded much more slowly than expected because of shortages
of construction equipment and of labor, much of which was supplied
by prisoners in the remaining “corrective labor colonies.” 2 At the time
of Khrushchev’s ouster in late 1964, the reconstruction project had
been over budget and behind schedule. Although the Brezhnev team
that replaced Khrushchev was highly critical of the way in which the
reconstruction had been carried out, it nevertheless renewed its com-
mitment to the project in June 1965, promising new investment. 3 In
the end, the fi rst of the rebuilt mines opened in 1970. The last became
fully operational only in 1976, some eighteen years after the rebuilding
process had begun. 4 Despite the considerable cost and time overruns,
by the middle of the 1970s KVU now boasted large, modern, and pro-
ductive coal mines, including the new Vorgashor complex. By the end
of the 1970s, KVU’s mines were producing just over 20 million tons
of coal per year, approximately double the amount that had been ex-
tracted in 1953. 5
Continued investment in mine construction helped establish a new
social and economic equilibrium during late socialism. After the wrench -
ing upheavals of the 1950s and early 1960s, Vorkuta expanded dur-
ing the 1970s. Whereas population growth had been relatively fl at in
the 1960s, from 1970 to 1989 the population of Vorkuta and its sur-
rounding settlements grew from 185,383 to 216,176. 6 New residents
were attracted to the city by steadily improving living conditions. Taller
and more energy-effi cient reinforced concrete panel apartment blocks
continued to be built, and in fact spread beyond the city proper into
the mining settlements on its outskirts. In 1976, the city embarked on
its most ambitious housing construction project ever, a neighborhood
called “Timan.” Occupying a total area of 47 hectares, it was intended
to house 16,000 people in buildings rising as high as nine stories, an
impressive engineering feat considering the poor soil conditions that
prevailed. 7 High wages and generous benefi ts for miners continued,
ensuring that new migrants, as well as the former prisoners and recruits
who had settled in the city in the 1950s and 1960s, could take advan-
tage of what had become the “traditional Vorkuta strategy”: earn high
wages in the mines, receive an early pension, buy an apartment in a
city to the south, and relocate. The 1970s and 1980s, it would seem,
constituted the golden age of Vorkuta as a company town.

Epilogue 233
Yet this state of relative equilibrium depended on the political econ-
omy of late socialism, which promised slow but steady improvements
in living standards in exchange for political and social acquiescence.
When Mikhail Gorbachev began to launch a series of political and
economic reforms in 1986, the disruption of equilibrium in Vorkuta
came swiftly, manifesting itself in a series of high-profi le strikes be-
ginning in 1988. At fi rst, the strikes appeared to be at the vanguard
of the reform movement, arguing for swifter political and economic
change that many miners thought would result in greater prosperity.
But after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the launch of
economic reforms by El’tsin and his team, the economic status of Vor-
kuta’s residents began to decline swiftly. Strikes and work stoppages
continued throughout the 1990s and into the beginning of the twenty-
fi rst century, but now they were bent on restoring the equilibrium of
late socialism. But no amount of political activism by miners was able
to reverse or even stall the city’s rapid decline. The closure of mines and
settlements, rising unemployment, and rampant nonpayment of wages
all contributed to a dramatic decline in the size of the city’s population.
By the turn of the twenty-fi rst century, the city was considering the
possibility of large-scale population transfers, and foreign pundits were
predicting that it would soon disappear entirely. The purchase of KVU
in 2003 by the steel conglomerate Severstal’, a company controlled by
one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs, headed off some of the direst pre-
dictions. Nevertheless, signifi cant questions about the city’s long-term
future remain.
Mikhail Gorbachev’s program of radical economic and political re-
forms severely disrupted the equilibrium that had been established in
Vorkuta under late socialism. Under the banner of perestroika, Gor-
bachev sought to democratize the Soviet Union, introduce market
reforms into the economic system, change the structure of the Soviet
empire, and scale back rampant militarization. The result was, in the
words of political scientist Archie Brown, a case of “reform precipitat-
ing crisis” with wide-ranging consequences for all citizens of the Soviet
Union. 8 In Vorkuta, this crisis fi rst appeared in the summer of 1989,
when miners began to strike in response to efforts to improve economic

234 Epilogue
effi ciency by tying wages more closely to worker productivity. The min-
ers realized that these reforms would lead to lower wages, and soon
formed an “Intermine Strike Committee” that presented forty-three
points to Moscow, a list that included a broad range of economic and
political demands. Notably, the economic demands included in the
list were both forward and backward looking. On the one hand, they
called for greater state support and subsidies for miners, but on the
other they demanded greater autonomy for the mines, including greater
control over marketing of coal and increased profi t sharing. 9 Although
the coexistence of these two sets of demands was clearly paradoxical,
it demonstrated what many ordinary Russians thought about market
reforms in the late 1980s. They believed that the introduction of mar-
ket elements would result in higher wages and better access to goods,
but they wanted the Soviet government to maintain, or perhaps even
increase, its investment in the social safety net.
Initially, the 1989 strike met with apparent success. A commission
was set up to negotiate with the strikers, and Gorbachev himself sent
a telegram to the miners to offer concessions. Even though the gov-
ernment did not deliver on everything promised in negotiations, the
miners and their strike organizations were convinced that they had
achieved a major victory. 10 Yet the economic and political crisis pre-
cipitated by Gorbachev’s reforms only deepened, culminating in the
collapse of the Soviet Union itself in December 1991. Vorkuta was now
a city in the Russian Federation, a new country led by Boris El’tsin,
who had been elected president in early 1991 and had emerged as a
hero during a failed coup that hastened the empire’s collapse. Vorkuta’s
miners supported El’tsin and were optimistic that the end of the Soviet
Union would fi nally bring about many of the reforms that they de-
sired. In particular, they were enamored of the new regime’s promise to
carry out a quick transition to a market economy, a process that many
believed would work out in their favor. Once coal was being sold at
market price and the mines and miners received their fair cut of the
profi ts, many of Vorkuta’s residents believed that their standard of liv-
ing would improve.
Yet when the economic reforms launched by El’tsin and his govern-
ment actually began to take effect, it quickly became clear that the
spread of the “market” would not be the panacea that many imag-
ined. Although great short-term profi ts were reaped from selling coal

Epilogue 235
abroad, corruption and the spread of criminal organizations in Vorkuta
meant that miners gained little from it. 11 The late payment of wages,
which allowed industries to essentially take interest-free loans from
their workers, became a systemic part of the Russian economy by the
mid-1990s. In Vorkuta it was not unusual for a mine to owe workers
an entire year’s salary. Although miners were paid a “subsistence mini-
mum” wage and allowed to buy goods in “company stores” on credit
against their unpaid wages, they were much worse off than workers
elsewhere in Russia. At a time when most of the country came to rely
on produce from small private agricultural plots, residents of Vorkuta
and other northern cities had no choice but to purchase food in private
shops, where shortages and high prices prevailed. Instead of benefi ting
from the transition to a market economy, most miners were reduced to
a subsistence existence, unable to save toward the nest eggs that they
had hoped to build by working in Vorkuta, but also unable to afford
to leave the city. 12
Money-losing enterprises not directly connected to mining began to
shut down, and unemployment spread. Greenhouses that had been es-
tablished to grow fresh fruit and vegetables to supply the city were
shuttered. A chicken processing plant was closed, as was a clothing
factory. A distillery that had supplied the city and other parts of Komi
with vodka, beer, and nonalcoholic beverages was downsized, with
most of its operations packed up and relocated to Syktyvkar. With the
closing of the local dairy, the production of milk products plummeted
from a yearly average of over 18,000 tons in 1986–1990 (which was
the third highest of any region in Komi) to only 1,200 tons from 1996
to 2000 (the lowest total of any region in Komi). 13 Such factories and
enterprises had primarily employed women, and had been built in the
1960s and 1970s for the express purpose of increasing employment op-
portunities for women. Their closure exacerbated long-term structural
unemployment or underemployment of women in the city, and a 1995
survey revealed that 70 percent of the unemployed in the city were
women. 14 Many families that had relied on dual incomes were now
forced to survive on a single salary, and even this was not guaranteed
as wage arrears mounted.
Mine closures soon followed the shuttering of unprofi table lo-
cal industries. In 1993, the state-owned Russian coal monopoly, Ro-
sugol’, asked the World Bank to develop a plan for privatization and

236 Epilogue
restructuring. 15 Taking into account the sorry state of the post-Soviet
coal sector, as well as a longer-term global decline in coal mining, the
World Bank recommended both the privatization of the entire coal sec-
tor and a signifi cant reduction in production. 16 Although in the long
term productivity would be improved through modernization, in the
short term a large number of unprofi table mines would have to be
closed. Khalmer’-Iu, a mine located some 30 kilometers from Vorkuta
proper, was the fi rst mine in Russia to be closed under the plan in 1994.
The closure of the surrounding settlement of Khalmer’-Iu soon fol-
lowed. By 1998, three more mines in Vorkuta had shut down because
of their perceived unprofi tability, and a fourth closed after a tragic gas
explosion killed twenty-seven miners and caused considerable dam-
age. 17 In 2003 and 2009 two more mines closed, bringing the total
number of operational mines down to only fi ve from thirteen in 1991.
In the process, thousands of men and women lost their jobs. Even in
1997, before a number of mines were shut, the size of KVU’s workforce
was only 55 percent of what it had been in 1988. 18 Privatization itself
dragged out for nearly a decade, until Vorkutaugol’ became a private
company in 1998. Yet over 85 percent of the resulting private company
remained in the hands of the Russian state, suggesting that this privati-
zation was in name only. 19 Despite initial hopes that the arrival of capi-
talism would be a boon to coal mining, by the end of the 1990s Vor-
kuta was in the midst of a deep economic slump with little end in sight.
The crisis unleashed by Gorbachev’s reforms in the second half of
the 1980s, which continued to deepen in the 1990s, initiated unprec-
edented demographic and social change in Vorkuta. The end of vari-
ous controls on the price of goods and subsidies for living in the Far
North and the massive unemployment that followed from the closure
of mines and other industries took a devastating toll throughout the
1990s. The result was that patterns of migration were altered, which
would come to have signifi cant effects on the demographic structure of
the population. By the end of the 1990s the citizenry of Vorkuta looked
far different than it had a decade earlier.
The collapse of the Soviet Union quickly reversed the process of
modest but steady population growth that had characterized the 1970s

Epilogue 237
and 1980s. Economic and political turmoil, infl ation, wage arrears, and
looming privatization all contributed to a sharp rise in net migration
from the city in the early 1990s. In 1994, for example, 9,800 people
came to the city and 18,000 left, a net outfl ow of 8,200 people. But
this was apparently much less than it would have been had all those
who wanted to leave the city been able to do so. Surveys administered
in 1994 and 1995 suggested that in fact many more people wished
to leave the city immediately, but were prevented from doing so by
the dire state of their household budgets. KVU was no longer building
cooperative apartments for retirees as it had in the late 1980s. Prices
on apartments had increased astronomically outside the city, whereas
the value of real estate in the city had plummeted because of concerns
about Vorkuta’s future. The cost of moving one’s family and posses-
sions by rail had also increased signifi cantly. Perhaps most important,
the balance of savings accounts, which had been carefully accumulated
over the course of years and decades to buy an apartment in another
city, was wiped out by the hyperinfl ation of the early 1990s. While the
Figure 7.1. Abandoned buildings in the Rudnik settlement. Photograph by the
author, 29 July 2004.

238 Epilogue
poor state of the economy led to a signifi cant population decline, it also
prevented a mass exodus from the city. 20
Like many other post-Soviet cities, Vorkuta experienced a dramatic
increase in crime in the 1990s. The higher crime rate was fueled not
only by economic and social displacement, but also by the new op-
portunities for generating enormous wealth created during the 1990s.
Organized crime in Vorkuta grew dramatically, fueled by large infu-
sions of cash and consumer goods that resulted from coal exports to
foreign and domestic buyers. As new economic practices emerged there
were increased opportunities for private entrepreneurs to participate as
middlemen in lucrative transactions and reap signifi cant rewards. Prof-
its, in turn, could be used to recruit new foot soldiers to continue ex-
tracting krysha from industries and businesses, a tax for “protection.” 21
According to sociologist Vladimir Il’in, by 1996 two “shadow organi-
zations” had formed around two sets of brothers who fought to control
both the export of coal and import of consumer goods to the city. Com-
petition led to increased violence and a rash of murders. 22 According to
offi cial statistics, which undoubtedly underreported criminal activity,
the number of crimes reported per ten thousand citizens jumped from
160 in 1990 to 230 in 2000, an increase of nearly 50 percent over
ten years. 23
The breakdown of traditional social and economic ties and grim pros-
pects for the future took a particularly harsh toll on the city’s young
people. Youth culture in the city under late socialism had hardly been
peaceful, and several city residents told me that organized brawling be-
tween groups of young men from different settlements had been a com-
mon form of entertainment in the 1980s. But this was relatively tame
compared to what was to come. By the late 1990s and early twenty-
fi rst century skinhead and neo-Nazi groups had become widespread in
Vorkuta. 24 Illegal drug use quickly became rampant as well. Sociologist
Hilary Pilkington, who was part of a team of international researchers
that studied drug use in several Russian cities across multiple regions,
found drug use to be considerably higher in Vorkuta than in other com-
parable regions. 25 Despite Vorkuta’s considerable distance from areas
where narcotics are grown and its isolation from major drug trade
routes, the city’s remoteness and the lack of economic prospects for
young people made recreational drug use appealing for many.

Epilogue 239
By the end of the 1990s Vorkuta had shrunk signifi cantly. The clo-
sure of mines and settlements, increased unemployment, economic in-
stability, crime, and increased drug use had all taken their toll. By the
beginning of January 1998 the population had fallen to only 175,000
people. 26 In 2002 only 134,200 people remained in Vorkuta and its
environs. 27 What had once been a sizable, successful, and growing So-
viet company town was now subject to the worst aspects of capitalism,
Russian style: widespread unemployment, a shrinking population, cor-
ruption and violence, and a rise in drug use and other social ills. Vor-
kuta appeared to be a city dying a rapid and diffi cult death, with few
prospects for the future.
Given the rapid decline of the city and its coal mines in the 1990s, it
is not surprising that pronouncements of its impending demise began
to appear in the domestic and foreign press around the turn of the
twenty-fi rst century. On 27 May 1998, for example, the central news-
paper Izvestiia described the plight and bleak future prospects of the
city in an article entitled “Frozen Forever: A Curse Hangs over the Fate
of Polar Miners.” 28 Bemoaning the fact that the Russian government
appeared to have given up on subsidizing Russia’s coal industry, the
article’s author described Vorkuta as a dying city. Soon foreign publica-
tions were carrying the story of Vorkuta’s rapid decline as well, albeit
with a different framing. Journalist Anne Applebaum, for example,
published a piece in the British journal The Spectator in July 2001 that
described the city’s ugliness, declining economy, and rapid depopula-
tion. But rather than bemoaning its loss, she instead pointed to the
perversity of its existence in the fi rst place, calling it “The Great Error.”
What she appeared to fi nd most troubling about the city was the degree
to which its citizens, even former prisoners and their children, remained
attached to a place that was “widely famed for atrocity and stupidity”
and “notoriously unpleasant and ugly.” 29 Commentators both within
Russia and outside its borders agreed that Vorkuta was dying, even if
they disagreed about whether or not this was a good thing.
Yet the story of Vorkuta in the post-Soviet era has not been one of
continuous decline. Despite the disastrous course of the 1990s and the

240 Epilogue
grim outlook for the future, the city’s prospects appeared to change in
the summer of 2003 when its coal mines were purchased by a private
company. Severstal’ (Northern Steel), an international steel conglomer-
ate controlled by Russian oligarch Aleksei Mordashov, purchased KVU
in order to secure its supply of high-quality coking coal. 30 The com-
pany, which owned steel plants in Russia, Italy, France, and the United
States, emerged from the privatization of Vorkuta’s most important
customer, the Cherepovets Metallurgical Factory in the Vologda region.
The mines were now part of the international economic network of one
of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs rather than an economically weak, and
only nominally private, state-controlled company. Vorkuta was once
again a company town, albeit under very different circumstances.
With the mines in the hands of their most important customer, pro-
duction stabilized after a severe decline in the 1990s. Although one ad-
ditional mine was closed after the takeover by Severstal’ (Aiach-Iaga in
2009), investment in new equipment and new sections of the remaining
mines meant that production remained steady, with a total raw output
of 12.6 million tons in 2010, roughly the same as the amount pro-
duced in 2000. 31 Further, the company won a bid in December 2011
to develop part of a new coal fi eld, Usinsk-1, located southwest of the
city near the Northern Pechora main line. 32 As of 2012, the company
planned to build a mine with a projected capacity of 4 million tons of
coal per year on the site, which would increase the area’s annual coal
output by as much as a third. 33 This investment is evidence of a per-
ceived economic need to continue signifi cant coal extraction in Vorkuta
and its environs. It remains to be seen how many people will be em-
ployed in the new mine and where they will live. While it is conceivable
that mine workers could live in the city and commute to the mine by
rail or bus, it seems more likely that workers will live in housing built
near the mine itself, which is located some distance from the city. Thus,
the economic boost to the city itself might be somewhat less than if a
mine were built closer to the center.
Under Severstal’, the mines began to once again subsidize some city
services. Such support practically ceased in the 1990s, as KVU’s poor
economic performance and ambiguous status meant that it was unable
to support the public sector as it had during late socialism. Owner-
ship by a large company with deep pockets meant that new capital
was available to help support the city. For example, in 2010 Severstal’

Epilogue 241
signed an agreement with Komi Republic promising to provide 60 mil-
lion rubles of support for Vorkuta from 2011 to 2013. According to
the company’s own press releases, it spent over 40 million rubles (ap-
proximately $1.3 million) in 2011 on schools, public buildings, sport,
and on maintaining city streets. This included, for example, paying to
remove snow from city streets in advance of the annual New Year’s
celebration. 34 But the size of such payments paled in comparison to
the level of subsidies that KVU provided during Soviet times, when
the company had been responsible for a large proportion of city ser-
vices, including building and maintaining housing stock, and providing
health and child care. While it seems likely that Severstal’ will continue
to subsidize the city to a small degree in order to remain in the good
graces of regional and local government, a return to the previous level
of support appears remote given the company’s obligation to turn a
profi t for shareholders. Ownership by an oligarch may have improved
the prospects for Vorkuta’s coal mines, but the new, post-Soviet com-
pany town is clearly very different from its Soviet predecessor.
If coal production stabilized in the 2000s, the same cannot be said
for demographics. The population continued to decline, falling to
95,900 citizens according to the 2010 census. 35 Thus, the population
in 2010 was less than half of what it had been before the Soviet Union
collapsed twenty years before. After a round of layoffs in the second
half of the decade, the number of people employed by KVU fell to
9,683 in 2010. 36 By comparison, in its heyday in 1967 KVU employed
just over 45,000 people in the mines, mine construction, and various
subsidiary industries. 37 Although there have been numerous attempts
to relocate pensioners and other unproductive parts of the population
elsewhere, the results have been mixed at best. For example, from 2002
to 2007 the World Bank committed up to $80 million in loans to help
resettle households with pensioners or multiple children from Vorkuta
and two other areas of the Far North, Noril’sk and the Susuman dis-
trict of Kolyma. Each of these regions had once been the site of a large
prison camp complex, but had become company towns in the decades
after Stalin’s death. While the program provided funds for 5,358 Vor-
kuta residents to buy apartments and resettle in other cities, this does
not appear to have had a signifi cant effect on the overall population
structure of the city. 38 Although the absolute number of pensioners in
the city has declined, their relative share in the population has actually

242 Epilogue
increased slightly from 28 percent in 2000 to 32 percent in 2010. 39
While Severstal’ has promised to fund the relocation of all families
of those who have died in mining accidents, there seems to be little
political will to carry out the kind of large-scale resettlement program
that would be needed to signifi cantly alter the structure of city’s local
The city has experienced signifi cant improvements in at least two
areas of life in the 2000s. By 2010 the overall crime rate in the city had
fallen to half of its all-time high (reached in 2006), so that crime was
near the 1990 level. 40 Perhaps most important, the falling population
and the gradual abandonment of poor-quality housing meant that both
the quality and quantity of housing in the city increased dramatically.
Whereas there was only 15.5 square meters per person in the city in
1990, in 2010 this had nearly doubled to 29.2 square meters, roughly
the level promised by Khrushchev when the mass housing campaign was
launched at the end of the 1950s. 41 Transportation problems were also
improved because so many residents of distant settlements moved into
the city center, closer to shopping, schools, and services. The process of
consolidating and closing settlements continued under the leader ship of
Severstal’, and in 2011 it was announced that two hundred remaining
families in the Komsomolskii settlement would be relocated to nearby
Vorgashor. 42 As the population contracts and mining continues to be
concentrated in a smaller number of high-capacity mines, it is likely
that the process of spatial consolidation will also continue.
The overall stabilization of Vorkuta and its mines since 2003 sug-
gests that the most pessimistic scenarios for the city’s future were
somewhat off the mark. If the city is dying, its demise will be a slow
one. With large reserves of high-quality coking coal remaining and the
potential for current mines to operate for decades, it is unlikely that
the city will be abandoned anytime in the near future. Further, urban
spaces, once built, have a kind of inertia about them—it is one thing
to close outlying settlements, but to leave Vorkuta entirely would re-
quire signifi cant political will, not to mention the resources to relocate
tens of thousands of people. While post-Soviet Russia may have scaled
back its commitment to internal colonization in the North, enough
imperial aspirations remain to justify holding on to northern cities like
Vorkuta. Nevertheless, it is clear that a return to the heyday of late
socialism is not on the horizon. The equilibrium that was established

Epilogue 243
over the course of the 1960s and 1970s was defi nitively destroyed by
perestroika and the economic reforms of the 1990s. The city’s popula-
tion will likely continue to contract in the future, as fewer and fewer
miners are required to work in increasingly automated mines. As new
coalfi elds such as the one at Usinsk-1 are developed, the city is likely
to move toward a model that more closely resembles the shift system
( vakhtovaia sistema ) often used in oil and natural gas extraction in
remote areas. 43 Under this system, groups of men and women work
for fi xed terms, living in temporary housing before returning home to
families elsewhere. Although labor costs are high, there is little need to
maintain expensive urban infrastructure. But in order to fully intro-
duce such a system, tens of thousands of residents, primarily pensioners
and children, would have to be relocated elsewhere. After decades of
heavy-handed population management by the Soviet state, there seems
to be little appetite for such a project.
In December 1988, Vorkuta’s fi rst memorial to victims of the Soviet
Gulag was dedicated (see fi gure 7.2). 44 Designed by city architect Vitalii
Troshin, it took the form of a column covered in black and white mar-
ble, topped by a rock surrounded by barbed wire. Its inscription was
simple: “In memory of the victims of political repression.” Placed off a
quiet residential street on Miner’s Embankment, its location could not
have been more poignant. It stood on the banks of the Vorkuta River,
looking across to Rudnik, the neighborhood where the fi rst camp sec-
tion and mine had been built in the early 1930s. For the fi rst time in the
city’s history, there was public acknowledgment of Vorkuta’s origins as
a Gulag town, a place where hundreds of thousands had been impris-
oned and tens of thousands had died. The citizenry, many of whom had
a personal connection to the camps, now had a conspicuous location at
which to commemorate the experiences of those who had suffered in
the camps. The monument, which had been built at the initiative of the
city government and activists, received fi nancial support from the city
and from private citizens.
The opening of this monument demonstrated a high level of enthu-
siasm in the late 1980s for confronting Vorkuta’s past. Its existence
marked a signifi cant shift from the policies of the previous three

Figure 7.2. 1988 Vorkuta Gulag Memorial. Photograph by the author, 17 May

Epilogue 245
decades, when discussions of the Gulag had virtually vanished from
public discourse. Like most other cities in the Soviet Union, Vorkuta
had been the subject of numerous memorial volumes and retrospec-
tives from the 1950s to the 1980s. 45 Although it had been possible to
celebrate the city’s early “achievements” and prominent “citizens,” the
fact that Vorkuta had been a massive prison camp complex, and that
its greatest heroes had been prisoners, exiles, or camp administration
offi cials, was never mentioned. 46 Although there had been a brief inter-
val during the waves of “de-Stalinization” under Khrushchev when it
had been possible to discuss the Gulag in a circumspect fashion, from
the time of his ouster in 1964 until the middle of the 1980s, it became
a forbidden topic.
The offi cial silence surrounding the Gulag ended during Gorbachev’s
perestroika. By the spring of 1988, he had ended political censorship
in the USSR as part of a policy of glasnost’ (openness), resulting in a
fl ood of publications on the Gulag. 47 Vorkuta’s local newspaper be-
gan to publish stories with revelations about disturbing chapters in
the city’s past. Articles examining particularly dramatic events in the
history of the Gulag town, such as the “Kashketin executions” of 1938
and the Rechlag prisoner uprising of 1953, were particularly popular. 48
The Vorkuta Museum (now the Vorkuta Museum-Exhibition Center),
which had been collecting unpublished memoirs, photographs, and ar-
tifacts for decades, began to organize exhibits that confronted the city’s
origins as a camp complex. Regular visits by school groups spread
awareness among those who had grown up during the offi cial silence
of late socialism. By 1988 local activists, among them many former
prisoners and exiles, had established a local chapter of Memorial, an
organization dedicated to documenting repression and terror, as well
as to assisting its victims. 49 The residents of Vorkuta were active par-
ticipants in what was beginning to look like a national movement of
reckoning with the Stalinist past.
The 1988 monument on the Miner’s Embankment, in fact, was meant
to be only a preliminary effort to establish many public memorials to
the Gulag in Vorkuta. In 1989, the city government commissioned émi-
gré sculptor Ernst Neizvestnyi, best known within the Soviet Union for
creating Khrushchev’s headstone, to design a memorial complex for the
city. After visiting Vorkuta, Neizvestnyi designed a massive complex
called “Stone Tears,” which juxtaposed human masks, fi re, and water.

246 Epilogue
Although the complex was clearly avant-garde in its design, its scale
was well in line with Soviet standards for memorial complexes, which
tended toward the gigantic. As designed, it would have stood 100 me-
ters tall, dwarfi ng surrounding structures, defi nitively transforming
the urban landscape. In fact, Neizvestnyi planned to build additional
memorial complexes in Magadan and Sverdlovsk (Ekaterinburg)—
together with the one in Vorkuta, they would make up a “Gulag Tri-
angle.” Although agreements were signed between the sculptor and the
city, economic and political turmoil in the early 1990s erased both the
funds that had been collected to build it and the political will of central,
regional, and local authorities to support its construction. Only the
Magadan monument, the “Mask of Sorrows” ( Maska skorbi ), was ever
built, fi nally completed in 1996. 50
The rapid collapse of the “Stone Tears” project indicated another
shift in attitudes toward Gulag memorialization, both among offi cials
and the general public. As was the case across the Soviet Union, interest
in coming to terms with the Gulag fell precipitously with the collapse
of the Soviet Union and the continuation of almost uninterrupted eco-
nomic shocks throughout the 1990s. With the city and its industries so
clearly under threat, discussion turned to the future of the city and its
coal mines rather than its past. While a number of additional Gulag
memorials would be built in the fi rst half of the 1990s, the active sup-
port of the city government disappeared. The new memorials were built
outside the city core, largely at the initiative of foreign organizations
and governments that wished to commemorate the suffering of their
own citizens in the Soviet camp system. Thus, monuments dedicated to
Ukrainian, Lithuanian, German, and Polish prisoners were opened be-
tween 1990 and 1995. 51 With the exception of two Polish monuments,
all were located in or near an old cemetery near the Iur-Shor mine and
settlement, some 11 kilometers from the city center. The fi nal resting
place of the fi fty-three prisoners who had been killed on 1 August 1953
when soldiers opened fi re on striking prisoners in camp section 10 of
Rechlag, the cemetery had been restored in the late 1980s, and proper
grave markers were erected for each of the prisoners who had been
killed (see fi gure 7.3). While the restored cemetery and the cluster of
national memorials became important sites of memory, both the re-
mote location and the national orientation of the monuments symbol-

Epilogue 247
Figure 7.3. Grave marker of Elmars Andreevich Petersons, killed during the 1953
prisoner strike. Photograph by the author, 1 August 2004.
ized the degree to which coming to terms with Vorkuta’s troubled past
quickly became marginalized in the post-Soviet period.
In fact, throughout the fi rst decade of the twenty-fi rst century there
were disturbing signs of attempts to marginalize the city’s history as
a Gulag town. Igor Shpektor, who was mayor of the city throughout
much of the 1990s and 2000s, announced plans in 2005 to build a
replica Gulag camp section near the city to generate revenue from
tourists. According to his project, well-heeled visitors would pay for
the thrill of staying in replica barracks, eating camp food, and even
participating in an escape attempt from guards armed with paintball
guns. 52 Even though this perverse scheme never came to fruition, it
demonstrated the degree to which city authorities had given up on the
idea of establishing a major memorial complex in the city. The ener-
gies of city planners have instead been directed toward memorializing
other aspects of the city’s past. For example, “Victory Park,” opened

248 Epilogue
in 2001 to commemorate the Soviet victory in the Second World War,
emphasized Vorkuta’s links to the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.
Another monument, called “The Sword and the Shield,” was unveiled
in Vorkuta’s City Park in August 2010, honoring “international peace-
keepers, soldiers, and police offi cers killed in local wars and confl icts.”
Designed by Vitalii Troshin, the same architect who was responsible
for the 1988 Gulag memorial, it was dedicated to the memory of local
residents who were killed while fi ghting in the wars in Afghanistan and
Chechnya. 53 Instead of confronting the city’s troubled past as one of
the Soviet Union’s most notorious prison complexes, these memorials
instead emphasized Vorkuta’s participation in the creation and mainte-
nance of the Soviet and Russian empires.
The struggle over the memorialization of the Gulag and remember-
ing Vorkuta’s past is but one example of a national struggle to come to
terms with some of the more diffi cult aspects of Russia’s Soviet legacy.
Indeed, the fact that Vorkuta was entirely a creation of the Soviet sys-
tem, and so deeply connected to terror and forced labor, makes it a par-
ticularly vivid case of such a struggle. In effect, those examining the his-
tory of Vorkuta need to reconcile at least three key aspects of the city’s
history: fi rst, that it was created as a camp complex, where hundreds of
thousands of forced laborers fought for survival on a daily basis; sec-
ond, that it became a Soviet company town, where its citizens (includ-
ing former prisoners and exiles) enjoyed a reasonably good standard of
living and signifi cant opportunities for social mobility; third, that its lo-
cal economy completely collapsed in the post-Soviet era, causing pov-
erty, depopulation, and a host of social problems. 54 Attempts to come
to terms with these three aspects of the city’s history have often resulted
in widely divergent ideas. On the one hand, there are those who wish
to present Vorkuta as a place solely connected with victimhood and
suffering. Anne Applebaum takes this argument to the logical extreme,
treating the city as no more than a horrendous mistake. 55 While such an
approach is surely justifi ed in many respects, particularly from the per-
spective of former prisoners and their families, it also ignores the fact
that many former prisoners settled in the city after release and made
new lives for themselves there. Calling the city nothing more than an
“error” threatens to rob the many participants in the city’s rebuilding,
former prisoners among them, of their agency. On the other hand, there
are many, like the city authorities who have commissioned memorials

Epilogue 249
emphasizing the city’s contributions to the Soviet and Russian empires,
who wish to marginalize or ignore the place of the Gulag in Vorkuta’s
history, an approach that is much more deeply problematic. In failing
to acknowledge the role of forced labor throughout the city’s history, it
not only trivializes the involuntary sacrifi ces made by the many prison-
ers and exiles held in Vorkuta, but it also attempts to justify the worst
policies of the Stalinist state, arguing that mass terror was necessary in
order to build and maintain a powerful Soviet empire.
Both approaches, in their own way, ignore the degree to which the
Gulag was embedded in the Soviet system. As I have argued throughout
this book, Gulag camps were part of the communities that surrounded
them, connected by myriad economic and social links. Although prison
camp complexes were supposed to be completely isolated spaces, bor-
ders between the zone and the outside were porous and often in fl ux.
The same was true for status and identity in the Gulag town, which
was far more complex than a simple division between prisoners and
“free” people. Instead, social status was highly variable and depended
on one’s place in a complex offi cial hierarchy and on informal practices
and relationships that were a part of life in the camps just as they were
in Soviet society more broadly. In the same manner that Gulag camps
operated as an integral part of the Soviet system, the Soviet system of
forced labor was closely intertwined with Soviet history and remains so
decades after the Soviet Union’s demise. The Gulag did not disappear
after Stalin’s death in the 1950s, no matter how many efforts were made
to consign the system to the distant Stalinist past. The profound ways
in which the system of forced labor had shaped the country remained
omnipresent. Former prisoners and exiles, not to mention former camp
bosses and guards, attempted to make the transition to civilian life,
many of them in former Gulag towns. Tens of thousands of industrial
enterprises that had been built by prisoners remained in use for decades.
Like Vorkuta, entire cities owed their existence to the Gulag, and their
urban landscapes were fi lled with objects built by prisoner or exile la-
bor. Strict censorship may have caused public discussions of the Gulag
to disappear in the 1960s, but no amount of government intervention
could begin to erase the traces of the system and their continued effects
on life in the Soviet Union.
This book, then, has been an attempt to reassemble the separate frag-
ments of Vorkuta’s history. It has attempted to give voices to some of the

250 Epilogue
hundreds of thousands of people who played a role in the city’s history:
prisoners from all over the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, exiles
from villages across the Soviet Union, prison camp offi cials and guards,
Komsomol volunteers, demobilized soldiers, and the many people who
came to the city during late socialism in search of economic opportuni-
ties. It has examined the tragedies, triumphs, and absurdities of life in
the Gulag town and the company town. In so doing, it suggests that in
order to better understand the Soviet experience, historians must look
at the smaller, peripheral places that dotted the Soviet Union’s mas-
sive expanses. It is in such places where one can most clearly see the
degree to which the Gulag was entwined with Soviet society and Soviet

Appendix A
Prisoner Data Set
Most data series presented in this appendix were compiled from statistics
collected by the Gulag administration. The information comes from quar-
terly reports on the population of individual camps. In general, I have used
reports from the fi rst quarter of each year, so the numbers represent the
totals on 1 January. The exceptions to this are as follows: data for katorga
prisoners from 1945 are from 1 April; all data for 1952 are from 1 April;
data for Rechlag in 1954 are from 1 April. There is no data for 1940, 1941,
and 1951. Statistics for 1944 are missing data on katorga prisoners. As this
was a relatively small group of prisoners (approximately fi ve hundred by
year’s end) it does not signifi cantly skew the data series.
Because Tables A.1.1–A.4.3 use the same data set, I have specifi ed the
sources only in Tables A.1.1–A.1.3. Empty cells denote absence of data.
All other peculiarities and irregularities are noted below each individual

252 Appendix A
Table A.1.1. Number of prisoners in Vorkutlag, 1939–1948
1939 1942 1943 1944
Men 15,279 94.92 26,979 94.37 26,438 95.12 23,231 91.97
Women 817 5.08 1,491 5.22 1,355 4.88 2,027 8.03
Unknown 0 0.00 118 0.41 0 0.00 0 0.00
Total 16,096 100.00 28,588 100.00 27,793 100.00 25,258 100.00
1945 1946 1947 1948
Men 36,045 85.71 46,523 91.67 54,499 90.05 56,552 90.21
Women 6,011 14.29 4,226 8.33 6,020 9.95 6,136 9.79
Unknown 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00
Total 42,056 100.00 50,749 100.00 60,519 100.00 62,688 100.00
Source: GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 360; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 370; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 378; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 411; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 428; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 446; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 459; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 469.

Table A.1.2. Number of prisoners in Vorkutlag and Rechlag, 1949–1954
1949 1950 1952 1953 1954
Men 59,193 89.29 46,617 88.50 36,956 92.04 33,889 91.94 31,583 95.45 Women 7,097 10.71 6,059 11.50 3,195 7.96 2,972 8.06 1,504 4.55 Unknown 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 Total 66,290 100.00 52,676 100.00 40,151 100.00 36,861 100.00 33,087 100.00
Men 6,774 100.00 23,627 94.42 31,417 88.69 31,731 89.51 33,598 90.43 Women 0 0.00 1,397 5.58 4,007 11.31 3,720 10.49 3,555 9.57 Unknown 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 Total 6,774 100.00 25,024 100.00 35,424 100.00 35,451 100.00 37,153 100.00
Men 65,967 90.29 70,244 90.40 68,373 90.47 65,620 90.75 65,181 92.80 Women 7,097 9.71 7,456 9.60 7,202 9.53 6,692 9.25 5,059 7.20 Unknown 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 Total 73,064 100.00 77,700 100.00 75,575 100.00 72,312 100.00 70,240 100.00
Source: GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 471; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 478; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 492; GARF,
f. R-9414,
op. 1 ch. 2, d. 506.

254 Appendix A
Table A.1.3. Number of prisoners in Vorkutlag, 1955–1958
1955 1956 1957 1958
Men 59,013 94.03 49,111 97.43 49,477 99.66 39,664 99.77
Women 3,744 5.97 1,297 2.57 169 0.34 91 0.23
Unknown 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00
Total 62,757 100.00 50,408 100.00 49,646 100.00 39,755 100.00
Source: GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch.2, d. 511; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 513; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 517; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 524.
Table A.2.1. Convictions of prisoners in Vorkutlag (selected crimes), 1939–1948
1939 1942 1943 1944
Treason 107 0.66 1,024 3.58 1,998 7.19 4,505 17.84
Espionage 965 6.00
Diversion 72 0.45 613 2.14 914 3.29 1,140 4.51
Wrecking 597 3.71
Terror 480 2.98 465 1.63 619 2.23 523 2.07
Agitation 2,569 15.96 3,541 12.39 3,405 12.25 2,175 8.61
Total (CR
crimes) 11,024 68.49 14,387 50.33 13,931 50.12 14,262 56.47
Hooliganism 426 2.65 1,575 5.51 954 3.43 586 2.32
Speculation 250 1.55 458 1.65 404 1.60
Crimes 530 3.29 1,612 5.64 1,080 3.89 789 3.12
Banditry 509 3.16 1,395 4.88 1,800 6.48 1,698 6.72
War Crimes 29 0.18 871 3.05 1,739 6.26 2,622 10.38
1932 Theft Law 407 2.53 349 1.22 598 2.15 593 2.35
1947 Theft Law
1947 Theft Law
Other Theft 704 4.37 2,471 8.64 1,450 5.22 1,338 5.30
Total (other
crimes) 5,072 31.51 14,201 49.67 13,862 49.88 10,996 43.53
Total (all
crimes) 16,096 100.00 28,588 100.00 27,793 100.00 25,258 100.00

Prisoner Data Set 255
1945 1946 1947 1948
Treason 12,586 29.93 20,576 40.54 32,935 54.42 35,707 56.96
Espionage 5,802 13.80 1,122 2.21 1,447 2.39 381 0.61
Diversion 52 0.12 73 0.14 75 0.12 71 0.11
Wrecking 232 0.55 225 0.44 201 0.33 141 0.22
Terror 404 0.96 473 0.93 375 0.62 362 0.58
Agitation 3,237 7.70 4,756 9.37 4,035 6.67 2,359 3.76
(CR crimes) 26,473 62.95 31,370 61.81 42,939 70.95 43,840 69.93
Hooliganism 356 0.85 246 0.48 593 0.98 609 0.97
Speculation 273 0.65 171 0.34 275 0.45 300 0.48
Crimes 860 2.04 356 0.70 785 1.30 2,383 3.80
Banditry 1,448 3.44 1,760 3.47 2,891 4.78 3,328 5.31
War Crimes 3,406 8.10 2,068 4.07 2,989 4.94 2,347 3.74
1932 Theft Law 768 1.83 814 1.60 1,124 1.86 1,267 2.02
1947 Theft Law
(Personal) 7 0.01
1947 Theft
Law (State)
Other Theft 2,107 5.01 1,144 2.25 2,326 3.84 3,987 6.36
Total (other
crimes) 15,443 36.72 11,754 23.16 16,199 26.77 18,840 30.05
Total (all
crimes) 42,056 100.00 50,749 100.00 60,519 100.00 62,688 100.00

Table A.2.2. Convictions of prisoners in Vorkutlag and Rechlag (selected crimes), 1949–1954
1949 1950 1952 1953 1954
N %N%N% N%N%
Vorkutlag Only
Treason 33,427 50.43 24,660 46.81 16,118 40.14 15,998 43.40 14,505 43.84 Espionage 390 0.59 308 0.58 14 0.03 0 0.00 3 0.01 Diversion 72 0.11 43 0.08 2 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 Wrecking 127 0.19 90 0.17 10 0.02 7 0.02 8 0.02 Terror 296 0.45 211 0.40 86 0.21 1 0.00 10 0.03 Anti-Soviet Agitation 2,614 3.94 2,173 4.13 1,150 2.86 754 2.05 519 1.57 Total (CR crimes) 41,318 62.33 30,948 58.75 18,856 46.96 23,191 62.91 20,813 62.90
N %N%N% N%N%
Hooliganism 725 1.09 551 1.05 516 1.29 610 1.65 1,240 3.75 Speculation 460 0.69 441 0.84 190 0.47 130 0.35 17 0.05 Malfeasance, Economic Crimes 2,365 3.57 1,916 3.64 169 0.42 236 0.64 23 0.07 Banditry 2,828 4.27 2,213 4.20 1,352 3.37 1,339 3.63 1,478 4.47 War Crimes 2,325 3.51 1,779 3.38 639 1.59 353 0.96 59 0.18 1932 Theft Law 1,524 2.30 1,439 2.73 1,248 3.11 949 2.57 368 1.11 1947 Theft Law (Personal) 2,344 3.54 2,498 4.74 3,622 9.02 2,908 7.89 4,127 12.47 1947 Theft Law (State) 5,040 7.60 5,356 10.17 4,582 11.41 4,047 10.98 2,526 7.63 Other Theft 2,996 4.52 2,052 3.90 16 0.04 44 0.12 0 0.00 Total (other crimes) 24,972 37.67 21,728 41.25 21,295 53.04 13,670 37.09 12,274 37.10 Total (all crimes) 66,290 100.00 52,676 100.00 40,151 100.00 36,861 100.00 33,087 100.00

N %N%N% N%N%
Rechlag Only
Treason 6,250 92.26 21,069 84.20 26,651 75.23 25,234 71.18 28,814 77.55 Espionage 156 2.30 459 1.83 1,473 4.16 2,729 7.70 1,576 4.24 Diversion 40 0.59 116 0.46 133 0.38 141 0.40 84 0.23 Wrecking 0 0.00 33 0.13 146 0.41 118 0.33 17 0.05 Terror 84 1.24 441 1.76 697 1.97 839 2.37 1076 2.90 Anti-Soviet Agitation 78 1.15 1,198 4.79 1,139 3.22 1,194 3.37 1,315 3.54 Total (CR crimes) 6,774 100.00 23,330 93.23 31,685 89.45 35,418 99.91 37,131 99.94
N %N%N% N%N%
Hooliganism 0 0.00 0 0.00 19 0.05 0 0.00 0 0.00 Speculation 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 3 0.01 0 0.00 Malfeasance, Economic Crimes 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 2 0.01 0 0.00 Banditry 0 0.00 11 0.04 16 0.05 4 0.01 1 0.00 War Crimes 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 1932 Theft Law 0 0.00 0 0.00 3 0.01 3 0.01 1 0.00 1947 Theft Law (Personal) 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 2 0.01 17 0.05 1947 Theft Law (State) 0 0.00 0 0.00 2 0.01 6 0.02 0 0.00 Other Theft 0 0.00 0 0.00 0.00 1 0.00 0 0.00 Total (other crimes) 0 0.00 1,694 6.77 3,739 10.55 33 0.09 22 0.06 Total (all crimes) 6,774 100.00 25,024 100.00 35,424 100.00 35,451 100.00 37,153 100.00
( continued

1949 1950 1952 1953 1954
N %N%N% N%N%
Treason 39,677 54.30 45,729 58.85 42,769 56.59 41,232 57.02 43,319 61.67 Espionage 546 0.75 767 0.99 1,487 1.97 2,729 3.77 1,579 2.25 Diversion 112 0.15 159 0.20 135 0.18 141 0.19 84 0.12 Wrecking 127 0.17 123 0.16 156 0.21 125 0.17 25 0.04 Terror 380 0.52 652 0.84 783 1.04 840 1.16 1,086 1.55 Anti-Soviet Agitation 2,692 3.68 3,371 4.34 2,289 3.03 1,948 2.69 1,834 2.61 Total (CR crimes) 48,092 65.82 54,278 69.86 50,541 66.88 58,609 81.05 57,944 82.49
N %N%N% N%N%
Hooliganism 725 0.99 551 0.71 535 0.71 610 0.84 1,240 1.77 Speculation 460 0.63 441 0.57 190 0.25 133 0.18 17 0.02 Malfeasance, Economic Crimes 2,365 3.24 1,916 2.47 169 0.22 238 0.33 23 0.03 Banditry 2,828 3.87 2,224 2.86 1,368 1.81 1,343 1.86 1,479 2.11 War Crimes 2,325 3.18 1,779 2.29 639 0.85 353 0.49 59 0.08 1932 Theft Law 1,524 2.09 1,439 1.85 1,251 1.66 952 1.32 369 0.53 1947 Theft Law (Personal) 2,344 3.21 2,498 3.21 3,622 4.79 2,910 4.02 4,144 5.90 1947 Theft Law (State) 5,040 6.90 5,356 6.89 4,584 6.07 4,053 5.60 2,526 3.60 Other Theft 2,996 4.10 2,052 2.64 16 0.02 45 0.06 0 0.00 Total (other crimes) 24,972 34.18 23,422 30.14 25,034 33.12 13,703 18.95 12,296 17.51 Total (all crimes) 73,064 100.00 77,700 100.00 75,575 100.00 72,312 100.00 70,240 100.00
Table A.2.2. (

Prisoner Data Set 259
Table A.2.3. Convictions of prisoners in Vorkutlag and Rechlag
(selected crimes), 1955–1958
1955 1956 1957 1958
N%N%N%N %
Treason 35,226 56.13 13,708 27.19 3,095 6.23
Espionage 1,489 2.37 575 1.14 17 0.03
Diversion 76 0.12 157 0.31 24 0.05
Wrecking 6 0.01 103 0.20 14 0.03
Terror 1,002 1.60 546 1.08 214 0.43
Agitation 1,258 2.00 998 1.98 115 0.23
Total (CR
crimes) 47,073 75.01 19,167 38.02 3,680 7.41 2,751 6.92
N%N%N%N %
Hooliganism 2,742 4.37 3,848 7.63 8,953 18.03 5,446 13.70
Speculation 62 0.10 253 0.50 680 1.37
Crimes 26 0.04 958 1.90 1,018 2.05
Banditry 1,677 2.67 1,470 2.92 1,524 3.07 1,377 3.46
War Crimes 83 0.13 957 1.90 2,023 4.07 1,206 3.03
1932 Theft Law 251 0.40 124 0.25 83 0.17 0.00
1947 Theft Law
(Personal) 6,187 9.86 10,637 21.10 15,538 31.30 8,120 20.43
1947 Theft Law
(State) 2,375 3.78 7,689 15.25 9,612 19.36 6,960 17.51
Other Theft 407 0.65 169 0.34 64 0.13 0.00
Total (other
crimes) 15,684 24.99 31,241 61.98 45,966 92.59 37,004 93.08
Total (all
crimes) 62,757 100.00 50,408 100.00 49,646 100.00 39,755 100.00

Table A.3.1. Sentence length of prisoners in Vorkutlag (years), 1942–1948
1942 1943 1944 1945
< 1 158 0.55 63 0.23 182 0.72 481 1.14 1–3 1,780 6.23 787 2.83 1,553 6.15 2,100 4.99 3–5 12,678 44.35 8,387 30.18 4,746 18.79 5,399 12.84 5–10 12,868 45.01 15,723 56.57 17,878 70.78 33,408 79.44 10–15 483 1.69 348 1.25 813 3.22 468 1.11 15–20 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 20–25 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 Unknown 531 1.86 2,485 8.94 86 0.34 200 0.48 Total Prisoners 28,588
100.00 27,793 100.00 25,258 100.00 42,056 100.00
Mean Sentence Length 5.79 6.37
1946 1947 1948
< 1 166 0.33 330 0.55 260 0.41 1–3 199 0.39 3,576 5.91 4,670 7.45 3–5 2,352 4.63 4,678 7.73 5,779 9.22 5–10 40,055 78.93 50,171 82.90 20,464 32.64 10–15 253 0.50 383 0.63 31,507 50.26 15–20 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 20–25 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 Unknown 7,724
15.22 1,381 2.28 8 0.01
Total Prisoners 50,749 100.00 60,519 100.00 62,688 100.00 Mean Sentence Length 7.31 6.89 9.26 a This does not equal the total number of prisoners on 1 January of that year according to Table A.1.b This includes 7,619 prisoners who were “under investigation,” so therefore had not yet been sentenced.

Table A.3.2. Sentence length of prisoners in Vorkutlag and Rechlag (years), 1949–1954
1949 1950 1952 1953 1954
Vorkutlag Only
< 1 14 0.02 27 0.05 0 0.00 4 0.01 0 0.00 1–3 3,325 5.02 1,195 2.27 239 0.60 216 0.59 125 0.38 3–5 6,396 9.65 5,126 9.73 1,010 2.52 455 1.23 1,114 3.37 5–10 23,295 35.14 18,340 34.82 14,487 36.08 3,715 10.08 2,789 8.43 10–15 15,758 23.77 11,916 22.62 12,207 30.40 8,908 24.17 14,255 43.08 15–20 14,337 21.63 11,153 21.17 9,642 24.01 11,415 30.97 10,813 32.68 20–25 3,165 4.77 4,919 9.34 2,566 6.39 12,148 32.96 3,991 12.06 Unknown 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 Total Prisoners 66,290 100.00 52,676 100.00 40,151 100.00 36,861 100.00 33,087 100.00 Mean Sentence Length 10.98 11.72 12.27 16.68 14.61
Rechlag Only
< 1 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 1–3 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 1 0.00 0 0.00 3–5 256 3.78 515 2.06 208 0.59 100 0.28 5 0.01 5–10 1,723 25.44 7,512 30.02 12,819 36.19 11,669 32.92 11,821 31.82 10–15 2,149 31.72 5,959 23.81 6,942 19.60 7,032 19.84 6,854 18.45
( continued

1949 1950 1952 1953 1954
Rechlag Only
15–20 2,155 31.81 5,552 22.19 5,877 16.59 6,010 16.95 5,934 15.97 20–25 491 7.25 5,486 21.92 9,578 27.04 10,639 30.01 12,539 33.75 Unknown 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 Total Prisoners 6,774 100.00 25,024 100.00 35,424 100.00 35,451 100.00 37,153 100.00 Mean Sentence Length 13.24 14.14 14.18 14.68 15.08
< 1 14 0.02 27 0.03 0 0.00 4 0.01 0 0.00 1–3 3,325 4.55 1,195 1.54 239 0.32 217 0.30 125 0.18 3–5 6,652 9.10 5,641 7.26 1,218 1.61 555 0.77 1,119 1.59 5–10 25,018 34.24 25,852 33.27 27,306 36.13 15,384 21.27 14,610 20.80 10–15 17,907 24.51 17,875 23.01 19,149 25.34 15,940 22.04 21,109 30.05 15–20 16,492 22.57 16,705 21.50 15,519 20.53 17,425 24.10 16,747 23.84 20–25 3,656 5.00 10,405 13.39 12,144 16.07 22,787 31.51 16,530 23.53 Unknown 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 Total Prisoners 73,064 100.00 77,700 100.00 75,575 100.00 72,312 100.00 70,240 100.00 Mean Sentence Length 11.19 12.50 13.16 15.70 14.86 Table A.3.2. (

Table A.3.3. Sentence length of prisoners in Vorkutlag (years), 1955–1958
1955 1956 1957 1958
N%N%N%N %
< 1 0 0.00 9 0.02 78 0.16 276 0.69 1–3 184 0.29 4,363 8.66 6,843 13.78 2,134 5.37 3–5 1,840 2.93 6,971 13.83 11,042 22.24 6,843 17.21 5–10 15,358 24.47 14,314 28.40 17,407 35.06 16,253 40.88 10–15 16,456 26.22 8,089 16.05 6,740 13.58 6,298 15.84 15–20 12,415 19.78 10,180 20.20 5,345 10.77 5,755 14.48 20–25 16,504 26.30 6,482 12.86 2,191 4.41 2,196 5.52 Unknown 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 Total Prisoners 62,757 100.00 50,408 100.00 49,646 100.00 39,755 100.00 Mean Sentence Length 14.63 11.32 8.41 9.68

264 Appendix A
Table A.4.1. Nationality of prisoners in Vorkutlag (selected nationalities),
1942 1943 1944 1945
N%N%N%N %
Russian 16,222 56.74 17,420 62.68 16,050 63.54 21,971 52.24
Ukrainian 3,107 10.87 3,380 12.16 2,832 11.21 11,543 27.45
Belorussian 887 3.10 696 2.50 558 2.21 1,535 3.65
Georgian 349 1.22 276 0.99 233 0.92 208 0.49
Armenian 398 1.39 335 1.21 327 1.29 383 0.91
Tatar 605 2.12 472 1.70 385 1.52 742 1.76
Latvian 363 1.27 186 0.67 145 0.57 112 0.27
Lithuanian 271 0.95 199 0.72 149 0.59 167 0.40
Estonian 427 1.49 204 0.73 201 0.80 138 0.33
Jewish 1,135 3.97 893 3.21 788 3.12 676 1.61
German 412 1.44 422 1.52 773 3.06 1,220 2.90
Polish 846 2.96 302 1.09 225 0.89 290 0.69
Chinese 381 1.33 311 1.12 301 1.19 316 0.75
Korean 24 0.08 28 0.10 64 0.25 65 0.15
Other 3,161 11.06 2,669 9.60 2,227 8.82 2,690 6.40
Total 28,588 100.00 27,793 100.00 25,258 100.00 42,056 100.00
1946 1947 1948
Russian 19,471 38.37 27,642 45.67 27,720 44.22
Ukrainian 14,453 28.48 16,035 26.50 17,870 28.51
Belorussian 2,115 4.17 2,994 4.95 3,143 5.01
Georgian 91 0.18 131 0.22 212 0.34
Armenian 287 0.57 275 0.45 306 0.49
Tatar 446 0.88 711 1.17 788 1.26
Latvian 1,425 2.81 2,023 3.34 1,485 2.37
Lithuanian 5,897 11.62 3,831 6.33 3,624 5.78
Estonian 825 1.63 1,816 3.00 1,611 2.57
Jewish 489 0.96 327 0.54 420 0.67
German 1,164 2.29 1,266 2.09 1,365 2.18
Polish 1,782 3.51 1,199 1.98 1,160 1.85
Chinese 145 0.29 44 0.07 89 0.14
Korean 55 0.11 110 0.18 93 0.15
Other 2,104 4.15 2,115 3.49 2,802 4.47
Total 50,749 100.00 60,519 100.00 62,688 100.00

Table A.4.2. Nationality of prisoners in Vorkutlag and Rechlag (selected nationalities), 1949–1954
1949 1950 1952 1953 1954
Vorkutlag Only
Russian 32,108 48.44 25,272 47.98 19,939 49.66 17,105 46.40 15,459 46.72 Ukrainian 15,766 23.78 11,434 21.71 9,323 23.22 9,335 25.32 9,147 27.65 Belorussian 3,030 4.57 2,451 4.65 2,548 6.35 2,492 6.76 2,333 7.05 Georgian 202 0.30 145 0.28 115 0.29 97 0.26 83 0.25 Armenian 303 0.46 251 0.48 204 0.51 185 0.50 181 0.55 Tatar 527 0.79 442 0.84 671 1.67 623 1.69 565 1.71 Latvian 1,382 2.08 346 0.66 892 2.22 933 2.53 854 2.58 Lithuanian 2,808 4.24 1,422 2.70 1,063 2.65 1,015 2.75 714 2.16 Estonian 973 1.47 923 1.75 665 1.66 617 1.67 427 1.29 Jewish 443 0.67 415 0.79 231 0.58 196 0.53 189 0.57 German 3,338 5.04 4,755 9.03 1,318 3.28 1,236 3.35 892 2.70 Polish 973 1.47 276 0.52 446 1.11 420 1.14 362 1.09 Chinese 19 0.03 7 0.01 0 0.00 0 0.00 3 0.01 Korean 53 0.08 30 0.06 1 0.00 2 0.01 8 0.02 Other 4,365 6.58 4,507 8.56 2,735 6.81 2,605 7.07 1,870 5.65 Total 66,290 100.00 52,676 100.00 40,151 100.00 36,861 100.00 33,087 100.00
Rechlag Only
N%N%N%N%N %
Russian 1,154 17.04 4,126 16.49 6,023 17.00 5,242 14.79 5,491 14.78 Ukrainian 3,150 46.50 10,058 40.19 14,525 41.00 14,202 40.06 15,459 41.61 Belorussian 298 4.40 1,061 4.24 1,487 4.20 1,493 4.21 1,548 4.17 Georgian 9 0.13 79 0.32 99 0.28 6 0.02 103 0.28 Armenian 30 0.44 107 0.43 150 0.42 7 0.02 172 0.46 Tatar 30 0.44 100 0.40 107 0.30 113 0.32 137 0.37 Latvian 264 3.90 1,132 4.52 1,950 5.50 1,966 5.55 2,118 5.70 Lithuanian 805 11.88 2,972 11.88 4,333 12.23 4,344 12.25 4,454 11.99
( continued

1949 1950 1952 1953 1954
Rechlag Only
Estonian 364 5.37 1,361 5.44 1,974 5.57 2,038 5.75 2,118 5.70 Jewish 24 0.35 121 0.48 275 0.78 255 0.72 373 1.00 German 124 1.83 1,989 7.95 276 0.78 441 1.24 427 1.15 Polish 234 3.45 834 3.33 601 1.70 1,117 3.15 1,130 3.04 Chinese 18 0.27 32 0.13 0 0.00 0 0.00 0 0.00 Korean 23 0.34 56 0.22 0 0.00 5 0.01 5 0.01 Other 247 3.65 996 3.98 3,624 10.23 4,222 11.91 3,618 9.74 Total 6,774 100.00 25,024 100.00 35,424 100.00 35,451 100.00 37,153 100.00
N%N%N%N%N %
Russian 33,262 45.52 29,398 37.84 25,962 34.35 22,347 30.90 20,950 29.83 Ukrainian 18,916 25.89 21,492 27.66 23,848 31.56 23,537 32.55 24,606 35.03 Belorussian 3,328 4.55 3,512 4.52 4,035 5.34 3,985 5.51 3,881 5.53 Georgian 211 0.29 224 0.29 214 0.28 103 0.14 186 0.26 Armenian 333 0.46 358 0.46 354 0.47 192 0.27 353 0.50 Tatar 557 0.76 542 0.70 778 1.03 736 1.02 702 1.00 Latvian 1,646 2.25 1,478 1.90 2,842 3.76 2,899 4.01 2,972 4.23 Lithuanian 3,613 4.94 4,394 5.66 5,396 7.14 5,359 7.41 5,168 7.36 Estonian 1,337 1.83 2,284 2.94 2,639 3.49 2,655 3.67 2,545 3.62 Jewish 467 0.64 536 0.69 506 0.67 451 0.62 562 0.80 German 3,462 4.74 6,744 8.68 1,594 2.11 1,677 2.32 1,319 1.88 Polish 1,207 1.65 1,110 1.43 1,047 1.39 1,537 2.13 1,492 2.12 Chinese 37 0.05 39 0.05 0 0.00 0 0.00 3 0.00 Korean 76 0.10 86 0.11 1 0.00 7 0.01 13 0.02 Other 4,612 6.31 5,503 7.08 6,359 8.41 6,827 9.44 5,488 7.81 Total 73,064 100.00 77,700 100.00 75,575 100.00 72,312 100.00 70,240 100.00 Table A.4.2. (

Table A.4.3. Nationality of prisoners in Vorkutlag (selected nationalities),
1955 1956 1957 1958
Russian 21,691 34.56 23,826 47.27 29,318 59.05 24,325 61.19
Ukrainian 19,905 31.72 13,480 26.74 9,663 19.46 7,236 18.20
Belorussian 3,449 5.50 2,340 4.64 2,536 5.11 1,173 2.95
Georgian 184 0.29 439 0.87 791 1.59 682 1.72
Armenian 369 0.59 336 0.67 504 1.02 384 0.97
Tatar 607 0.97
Latvian 2,839 4.52 1,690 3.35 683 1.38 483 1.21
Lithuanian 4,476 7.13 2,298 4.56 1,136 2.29 755 1.90
Estonian 2,241 3.57 1,102 2.19 588 1.18 442 1.11
Jewish 490 0.78
German 756 1.20
Polish 1,256 2.00
Chinese 0 0.00
Korean 4 0.01
Other 4,490 7.15 4,897 9.71 4,427 8.92 4,275 10.75
Total 62,757 100.00 50,408 100.00 49,646 100.00 39,755 100.00

Table A.5.1. Prisoners released from Vorkutlag, 1942–1958
1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1949 1950
N 6,042 5,624 4,271 11,335 7,603 5,496 4,345
% 21.43 21.20 15.51 28.14 13.67 8.67 7.30 8.56
1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958
N 6,987 6,706 11,622 12,252
25,210 24,801 17,062 13,985
% 18.40 17.08 33.23 19.74 44.55 49.58 38.17 35.18 Source: GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 382, l. 1; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 400, l. 6; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 416, l. 5; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 434, l. 5; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 450, l. 5; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 606, ll. 5–6; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 472; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 479; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 485; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 495; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 500; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 508; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 512; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 514; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 518; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 525.a Estimated based on fi
gures for February–December.
b Includes releases from both Vorkutlag and Rechlag, which explains the dip in percentage of the prisoner population released despite relative stability in the absolute number of releases.

Table A.5.2. Prisoners released from Rechlag, 1949–1953
1949 1950 1951 1952 1953
N 250 a 573 555 926 1,016 b
% 1.57 1.96 1.61 2.61 2.80
Source: As Table A.5.1.a Estimated based on fi gures for February–December. b Estimated based on fi gures for January–March.
Table A.5.3. Prisoners released from Vorkutlag and Rechlag,
1942 1943 1944 1945
N 6,042 5,624 4,271 11,335
% 21.43 21.20 15.51 28.14
1946 1947 1949 1950
N 7,603 5,496 4,595 4,647
% 13.67 8.67 6.10 7.32
1951 1952 1953 1954
N 7,542 7,632 12,638 12,252
% 9.82 11.36 17.45 19.74
1955 1956 1957 1958
N 25,210 24,801 17,062 13,985
% 44.55 49.58 38.17 35.18
Source: As Table A.5.1.

Table A.6.2 Mortality in Vorkutlag, Rechlag, and the Gulag,
1949–1954 (in deaths per thousand)
Vorkuta Complex
Gulag Vorkutlag Rechlag Overall
1949 11.64 11.31 11.57 12.10
1950 9.64 8.36 9.19 9.50
1951 9.50 5.87 7.95 9.20
1952 8.94 6.74 7.90 8.40
1953 8.06 6.95 7.50 6.70
1954 8.71 8.97 8.85 6.90
Source: Vorkutlag/Rechlag: As Table A.5.1. Gulag fi gures: Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds, Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 4: 55.
Table A.6.1. Mortality rate in Vorkutlag, the Gulag, and the USSR,
1942–1947 (in deaths per thousand)
(non-front) Prisoners KTR Overall
1942 46.65 46.65 249.00 27.72
1943 147.14 147.14 224.00 16.50
1944 48.58 377.96 97.01 92.50 15.10
1945 38.02 197.62 86.38 59.50 14.10
1946 19.08 42.08 27.93 22.00 15.80
1947 19.14 47.66 31.02 35.90 20.30
Source: Vorkutlag: As Table A.5.1. Gulag fi gures: Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalin- skogo Gulaga , 4: 55. Figures for the USSR come from Poliakov, Naselenie Rossii v xx veke , 2: 87, 96.

Appendix B
Non-Prisoner Data Set
The data presented in this appendix have been compiled from the Komi
Republic State archive (GURK NARK 1), fond R-1941, Vorkutinskaia go-
rod skaia inspektora gosstatistiki . There are numerous errors and inconsis-
tencies, which I have attempted to correct wherever possible. Although it
is far from perfect, the statistical picture that emerges from these data is
as accurate and complete as possible given the way in which the data were
collected and preserved.

272 Appendix B
Table B.1. Non-prisoner population of Vorkuta,
1945 24,218
1946 31,590
1947 35,549
1948 30,127
1949 36,250
1950 41,800
1951 50,459
1952 59,721
1953 68,553
1954 76,359
1955 84,114
1956 100,815
1957 129,698
1958 153,474
1959 175,857
1960 183,295
1961 183,383
1962 183,682
1963 186,851
1964 192,377
1965 197,093
1966 198,751
1967 204,126
1968 203,000
1969 201,600
1970 185,383
Source: GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 3, ll. 2, 22; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 7, ll. 2, 15; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 14, l. 1ob.; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 22, ll. 4–5; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 31, ll. 4–40; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 43, l. 13; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 43, l. 12 and GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 53, ll. 1–2, 8; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 64, l. 57; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, ll. 28–33, 42; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 75, ll. 1–2, 33; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 83, l. 6; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 95; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 100, l. 12; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 169, l. 28; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 191, ll. 1, 11–18, 28–29; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 205, l. 36; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 224, ll. 1–2, 5, 29, 31; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 235, ll. 43–43ob.Note: Figures for 1945–1946, 1952, and 1954–1956 have been calculated based on the best available statistics on population growth.

Table B.2. Migration to and from Vorkuta, 1945–1970
1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953
In 8,859 9,484 13,793 9,987 7,145 10,887 11,768 10,995 13,622 Out 1,936 5,525 5,572 5,401 3,504 4,123 4,854 5,054 7,748 Net 6,923 3,959 8,221 4,586 3,641 6,764 6,914 5,941 5,874
1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962
In 12,288 26,731 49,870 38,876 41,429 31,151 32,511 23,082 18,418 Out 6,610 10,030 16,414 19,455 27,592 27,209 29,484 27,233 19,042 Net 5,678 16,701 33,456 19,421 13,837 3,942 3,027
1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970
In 19,793 18,754 18,448 17,377 17,214 18,119 15,279 16,150 Out 18,959 17,132 16,771 17,964 18,389 19,541 17,745 16,638 Net 834 1,622 1,677
Source: GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 3, l. 2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 7, ll. 2, 15; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 14, l. 2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 22, l. 64; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 31, ll. 4–40; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 40, ll. 33–36; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 53, l. 8; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 64, l. 57; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, ll. 28–33; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 75, l. 33; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 83, l. 6; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 83, ll. 1–20; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 95, l. 4; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 100, l. 1; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 107, l. 1; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 117, l. 2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 127, l. 5; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 137, l. 5; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 146, l. 5; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 158, ll. 5–11; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 169, ll. 5–11; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 180, ll. 8–22; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 191, ll. 1–3, 6–8, 19–20, 23–26; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 205, ll. 1–36; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 224, ll. 1–27; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 236, ll. 1–8, 14, 20, 24.

Table B.3. Natality, mortality, and natural population growth among non-prisoner population of Vorkuta, 1945–1970
1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951
Live Births (N) 626 1,688 1,947 2,919 2,579 2,888 Natality (births per 1000) 25.85 47.48 64.63 80.52 61.70 57.23 Deaths (N) 177 405 409 466 567 540 Mortality (deaths per 1000) 7.31 11.39 13.58 12.86 13.56 10.70 Natural Growth (N) 449 1,283 1,538 2,453 2,012 2,348 Natural Growth (%) 1.85 3.61 5.11 6.77 4.81 4.65 Total Population 24,218 31,590 35,549 30,127 36,250 41,800 50,459
1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958
Live Births (N) 2,722 2,458 2,524 3,311 5,030 5,256 Natality (births per 1000) 45.58 35.86 33.05 32.84 38.78 34.25 Deaths (N) 491 526 447 370 675 647 Mortality (deaths per 1000) 8.22 7.67 5.85 3.67 5.20 4.22 Natural Growth (N) 2,231 1,932 2,077 2,941 4,355 4,609 Natural Growth (%) 3.74 2.82 2.72 2.92 3.36 3.00

Total Population 59,721 68,553 76,359 84,114 100,815 129,698 153,474
1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965
Live Births (N) 5,278 5,468 5,065 4,274 3,810 3,790 3,503 Natality (births per 1000) 30.01 29.83 27.62 23.27 20.39 19.70 17.77 Deaths (N) 629 641 667 534 514 645 634 Mortality (deaths per 1000) 3.58 3.50 3.64 2.91 2.75 3.35 3.22 Natural Growth (N) 4,649 4,827 4,398 3,740 3,296 3,145 2,869 Natural Growth (%) 2.64 2.63 2.40 2.04 1.76 1.63 1.46 Total Population 175,857 183,295 183,383 183,682 186,851 192,377 197,093
1966 1967 1968 1969 1970
Live Births (N) 3,179 3,067 2,880 2,964 2,933 Natality (births per 1000) 15.99 15.03 14.19 14.70 15.96 Deaths (N) 576 558 590 620 654
( continued

1966 1967 1968 1969 1970
Mortality (deaths per 1000) 2.90 2.73 2.91 3.08 3.56 Natural Growth (N) 2603 2509 2290 2344 2279 Natural Growth (%) 1.31 1.23 1.13
Total Population 198,751 204,126 203,000 201,600 183,735 Source: GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 3, l. 22; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 13, l. 29; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1,
d. 22, ll. 17,
20, 32, 44, 52, 58, 64; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 31, ll. 4–40; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 40, l. 9; GURK NARK 1
, f. R-1941,
op. 1, d. 53, ll. 1–2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 64, l. 57; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, ll. 3–4; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1
941, op. 1, d. 75,
ll. 1–2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 90, ll. 30–31; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 95, ll. 18–19; GURK NARK 1, f. R-19
41, op. 1, d. 100,
ll. 14–15; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 107, ll. 28–29; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 117, ll. 33–34; GURK NARK 1, f.
R-1941, op. 1, d. 127, l.
5; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 137, ll. 1–2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 146, ll. 1–2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op.
1, d. 158, ll. 1–2; GURK
NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 169, ll. 1–2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 180, ll. 8–22; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 1
91, ll. 1–3, 6–8, 19–20, 23–
26; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 205, ll. 1–36; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 224, ll. 1–2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op
. 1, d. 237, ll. 1–2.
Table B.3. (

Appendix C
Production Data Set

Table C.1. Yearly coal production in Vorkuta, 1931–2000 (millions of tons)
Year Coal Year Coal Year Coal Year Coal
1931 0.001 1941 0.309 1951 7.980 1961 12.379
1932 0.004 1942 0.706 1952 8.874 1962 12.219
1933 0.006 1943 1.574 1953 9.488 1963 11.921
1934 0.033 1944 2.275 1954 10.401 1964 11.532
1935 0.104 1945 2.906 1955 10.118 1965 12.127
1936 0.103 1946 3.054 1956 11.057 1966 12.347
1937 0.095 1947 3.933 1957 11.605 1967 13.072
1938 0.189 1948 4.608 1958 12.021 1968 13.521
1939 0.240 1949 5.715 1959 12.459 1969 13.971
1940 0.252 1950 6.805 1960 12.449 1970 14.126
Total 0.775Decade
Total 25.080Decade
Total 94.003Decade
Total 113.089
Median 0.095 Decade
Median 2.906Decade
Median 10.401Decade
Median 12.347
Year Coal Year Coal Year Coal
1971 14.544 1981 20.081 1991 14.786
1972 15.015 1982 20.170 1992 16.364
1973 15.302 1983 20.476 1993 14.762
1974 15.495 1984 20.719 1994 13.647
1975 16.001 1985 21.278 1995 13.792
1976 17.554 1986 21.481 1996 13.196
1977 18.273 1987 21.732 1997 12.530
1978 19.846 1988 22.313 1998 11.362
1979 20.556 1989 20.141 1999 12.064
1980 19.872 1990 20.725 2000 12.390
Total 152.586Decade
Total 188.391Decade
Total 122.503
Median 16.001 Decade
Median 20.719Decade
Median 13.647
Source: GARF, f. R-9407, op. 1, d. 48, l. 2; GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 89, l. 4; GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 326,
l. 10; Davydov, ed., Vorkutaugol’, 164.

Oral History
This book makes use of interviews conducted with thirteen subjects, most
of whom are former Gulag prisoners or members of their immediate fami-
lies. Interviews were conducted by the author in Syktyvkar and Vorkuta,
Komi Republic, Russian Federation, between 17 April 2003 and 31 July
2004. All interviews were conducted and recorded under the auspices of
the University of Chicago Social and Behavioral Sciences Institutional Re-
view Board Protocol 03–1008. In accordance with the protocol, the names
of interview subjects have been changed for their protection.
Arkhiv NIPTs “Memorial”
Arkhiv upravlenii administratsii munitsipial’nogo obrazovaniia “Gorod
Vorkuta” (AUAMOGV)
Arkhiv upravlenii ispolneniia nakazanii ministerstva iustitsii Rossiiskoi
Federatsii po Respubliki Komi (AUIN MIu RF po RK)
Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii (GARF)
Gosudarstvennoe uchrezhdenie Respubliki Komi Natsional’nyi Arkhiv
Respubliki Komi fondokhranilishche no. 1 (GURK NARK 1)
Gosudarstvennoe uchrezhdenie Respubliki Komi Natsional’nyi Arkhiv
Respubliki Komi fondokhranilishche no. 2 (GURK NARK 2)

280 Notes to Pages 1–5
Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv ekonomiki (RGAE)
Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv sotsial’no-politicheskoi istorii
The National Archives Public Record Offi ce (TNA PRO)
Vorkutinskii muzeino-vystavochyni tsentr (VMVTs)
1. “Istoriia stroiki,” Zapoliar’e , 26 June 2001. Kirov had been assassinated in
1934. For a discussion of the assassination and the debate surrounding it, see Mat-
thew E. Lenoe, The Kirov Murder and Soviet History , Annals of Communism Se-
ries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).
2. On the “secret speech” of 1956 and the renewal of criticism at the Twenty-
second Party Congress, see Miriam Dobson, Khrushchev’s Cold Summer: Gulag
Returnees, Crime, and the Fate of Reform after Stalin (Ithaca: Cornell University
Press, 2009), chaps. 3, 7.
3. Ibid.
4. For an overview of the Gulag as an institution, see Steven A. Barnes, Death
and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society (Princeton: Prince-
ton University Press, 2011), 16–27.
5. This estimate is based on offi cial mortality statistics for 1942–47 and
1949–54. See Appendix A, tables A.6.1 and A.6.2.
6. See Appendix B, table B.1.
7. See Appendix C, table C.1.
8. Viacheslav Davydov, ed. Vorkutaugol’ (Syktyvkar: OAO Komi Respublikan-
skaia Tipografi ia, 2001), 16. V. Griner, Poslednie dni bab’ego leta (Syktyvkar: Komi
knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 1975).
9. Mikhail Pavlovich Roshchevskii, ed. Respublika Komi: Entsiklopediia (Syk-
tyvkar: Komi knizhnoe izd-vo, 1997), 1: 318–20, 324–25.
10. Work on the Gulag in European north tends to follow this model as well,
treating the system of camps and colonies as a separate entity. See, e.g., N. A.
Morozov, Gulag v Komi krae, 1929–1956 (Syktyvkar: Syktyvkarskii gosudarstven-
nyi universitet, 1997); N. A. Morozov, Osobye lageria MVD SSSR v Komi ASSR:
1948–1954 gody (Syktyvkar: Syktyvkarskii gosudarstvennyi universitet, 1998);
N. V. Upadyshev, GULAG na evropeiskom severe Rossii: Genezis, evoliutsiia, ras-
pad (Arkhangel’sk: Pomorskii gos. universitet, 2007).
11. On the Gulag as a project of internal colonization, see Lynne Viola, The Un-
known Gulag: The Lost World of Stalin’s Special Settlements (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2007), 4, 185–88; Lynne Viola, “Die Selbstkolonisierung der Sow-
jetunion und der Gulag der 1930er Jahre,” Transit-Europaeische Revue 38 (2009):
34–56; Lynne Viola, “Stalin’s Empire: The Gulag and Police Colonization in the
Soviet Union in the 1930s,” in Stalinism and Europe: Terror, War, Domination,
1937–1947 , ed. Tim Snyder (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming);
Den Khili [Dan Healey], “Nasledie Gulaga: Prinuditel’nyi trud sovetskoi epokhi
kak vnutrenniaia kolonizatsiia,” in Tam, vnutri: Praktiki vnutrennei kolonizatsii v
kul’turnoi istorii Rossii , ed. Aleksandr Etkind, Dirk Uffelmann, and Il’ia Kukulin

Notes to Pages 6–9 281
(Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2012), 684–728. Relatedly, geographer
Judith Pallot writes about a “geography of penality” that developed in the Stalin
era and has had longstanding consequences even in the post-Soviet era. Judith
Pallot, “Forced Labour for Forestry: the Twentieth-Century History of Colonisa-
tion and Settlement in the North of Perm’ Oblast’,” Europe-Asia Studies 54, no. 7
(2002): 1055–84.
12. Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1995); Kate Brown, A Biography of No Place: From
Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
13. On the “small peoples” of the north and their relations with the Russian and
Soviet empires, see Yuri Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of
the North (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994). The relationship between the
spread of the Gulag and the Soviet Union’s native peoples has not yet been properly
14. Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918–1956 , 3 vols.
(New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 1: 4.
15. See, e.g., Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History (New York: Doubleday, 2003);
Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment (New York: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 1990).
16. J. Arch Getty, Gabor T. Rittersporn, and Viktor N. Zemskov, “Victims of the
Soviet Penal System in the Pre-War Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archi-
val Evidence,” American Historical Review 98, no. 4 (1993): 1017–49.
17. Golfo Alexopoulos, “Amnesty 1945: The Revolving Door of Stalin’s Gulag,”
Slavic Review 64, no. 2 (2005): 274–306.
18. Viola, Unknown Gulag .
19. Barnes, Death and Redemption .
20. Alan Barenberg, “Prisoners without Borders: Zazonniki and the Transfor-
mation of Vorkuta after Stalin,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 57, no. 4
(2009): 513–34; Wilson T. Bell, “Was the Gulag an Archipelago? De-Convoyed
Prisoners and Porous Borders in the Camps of Western Siberia,” Russian Review
72, no. 1 (2013): 116–41.
21. In using the term “zone” I follow the convention in offi cial Soviet docu-
ments and Gulag memoirs. Jacques Rossi, The Gulag Handbook , trans. William A.
Burhans (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 137–38.
22. For another example of how spatial approaches have been applied to regions
in Soviet Russia, see Nick Baron, Soviet Karelia: Politics, Planning and Terror in
Stalin’s Russia, 1920–1939 (New York: Routledge, 2007).
23. V. I. Il’in, “Gorod-kontslager’: Sotsial’naia stratifi katsiia gulagovskoi vorkuty
(1930–50-e gody),” in Stratifi katsiia v Rossii: Istoriia i sovremennost’ , ed. Iu. M.
Rapaport (Syktyvkar: izd-vo SyktGU, 1999), 44–70.
24. Sheila Fitzpatrick, Tear off the Masks!: Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-
century Russia (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), chap. 4.
25. My approach to identity and space is similar to that proposed by Kate Brown.
Kate Brown, “Out of Solitary Confi nement: The History of the Gulag,” Kritika:
Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 8, no. 1 (2007): 78.

282 Notes to Pages 9–17
26. Sheila Fitzpatrick, “War and Society in Soviet Context: Soviet Labor before,
during, and after World War II,” International Labor and Working-Class History 35
(1989): 41–47; Donald Filtzer, “From Mobilized to Free Labour: De- Stalinization
and the Changing Legal Status of Workers,” in The Dilemmas of De-Stalinization:
Negotiating Cultural and Social Change in the Khrushchev Era , ed. Polly Jones
(London: Routledge, 2006), 158; Donald Filtzer, Soviet Workers and Late Stalin-
ism: Labour and the Restoration of the Stalinist System after World War II (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 39–40. In a similar vein, Richard Hellie
argued that this was part of the “third service class revolution” launched by Stalin.
Richard Hellie, “The Structure of Modern Russian History: Toward a Dynamic
Model,” Russian History 4, no. 1 (1977): 1–22. Thanks to Emma Gilligan for
bringing this issue to my attention.
27. On the comparison between Soviet and American company towns, see Kate
Brown, “Gridded Lives: Why Kazakhstan and Montana Are Nearly the Same
Place,” The American Historical Review 106, no. 1 (2001): 17–48; Kate Brown,
“The Closed Nuclear City and Big Brother®: Made in America,” Ab Imperio 2
(2011): 159–87.
28. Stephen Kotkin’s works on Magnitogorsk comprise the most detailed study
of a Soviet company town. Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain . For a recent study that
emphasizes the connections between industrialization and militarization, see Len-
nart Samuelson, Tankograd: The Formation of a Soviet Company Town: Chelia-
binsk, 1900s–1950s (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
29. William Taubman, Governing Soviet Cities: Bureaucratic Politics and Urban
Development in the USSR (New York: Praeger, 1973), chap. 7.
30. Pavel Grebeniuk, Kolymskii led: Sistema upravleniia na severo-vostoke
Rossii, 1953–1964 (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2007).
31. Nanci Adler, The Gulag Survivor: Beyond the Soviet System (New Brunswick,
NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2002); Marc Elie, “Les politiques à l’égard des libérés
du Goulag,” Cahiers du Monde Russe 47, nos. 1–2 (2006): 327–48; Marc Elie,
“Les anciens détenus du Goulag: Libérations massives, réinsertion et réhabilitation
dans l’URSS poststalinienne, 1953–1964” (PhD, EHESS, 2007); Marc Elie, “Ce que
réhabiliter veut dire,” Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’Histoire , no. 107 (2010): 101–13.
32. Dobson, Khrushchev’s Cold Summer , chap. 4. Quotation from 111.
Chapter 1. From the Margins to the Home Front
1. G. A. Chernov, Iz istorii otkrytiia Pechorskogo ugol’nogo basseina , 2nd ed.
(Syktyvkar: Komi knizhnoe izd-vo, 1989), 86–90; A. A. Chernov, Poleznye isko-
paemye Pechorskogo kraia s pai-khoem, vaigachem i iuznoi ostrovom novoi zemli
(Arkhangel’sk: Kraiplan, 1935), 21.
2. Chernov, Iz istorii otkrytiia , 94.
3. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1668, op. 1, d. 77, l. 73.
4. Antipov, “O gornykh izsledovaniiakh v Pechorskom kraie, proizvdennykh v
1857 godu,” Gornyi zhurnal 4 (1858): 1–37; N. N. Mamadyshskii, Ussinskii krai
podvorno-ekonomicheskoe izsliedovanie poselenii r. Ussy Pechorskago uiezda v
1909 g . (Arkhangel’sk: Gub. tip., 1910); S. V. Martynov, Pechorskii krai (S.-Peter-
burg: Tip. M. M. Stasiulevicha, 1905); Chernov, Iz istorii otkrytiia , 10–11.

Notes to Pages 17–22 283
5. Chernov, Iz istorii otkrytiia , 13–14.
6. Ibid., 18.
7. A. A. Chernov, Geologicheskie stroenie i vazhneishchie poleznye iskopaemye
Komi oblasti (Viatka: GSNKh, 1926), 7; Chernov, Iz istorii otkrytiia , 19–25.
8. For more on the discovery of coal in Vorkuta, see Alan Barenberg, “‘Dis-
covering’ Vorkuta: Science and Colonization in the Early Gulag,” Gulag Studies 4
(2011): 21–40.
9. On the connections between the fi rst fi ve-year plan and the creation of the
Gulag, see Lynne Viola, “Stalin’s Empire: The Gulag and Police Colonization in
the Soviet Union in the 1930s,” in Stalinism and Europe: Terror, War, Domination,
1937–1947 , ed. Tim Snyder (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming);
Den Khili [Dan Healey], “Nasledie Gulaga: Prinuditel’nyi trud sovetskoi epokhi
kak vnutrenniaia kolonizatsiia,” in Tam, vnutri: Praktiki vnutrennei kolonizatsii v
kul’turnoi istorii Rossii , ed. Aleksandr Etkind, Dirk Uffelmann, and Il’ia Kukulin
(Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2012), 684–728; Nick Baron, “Confl ict
and Complicity: The Expansion of the Karelian Gulag, 1923–1933,” Cahiers du
Monde Russe 42, no. 2/4 (2001): 615–47; James R. Harris, “The Growth of the
Gulag: Forced Labor in the Urals Region, 1929–31,” Russian Review 56, no. 2
(1997): 265–80.
10. Iurii Nikolaevich Afanas’ev and V. P. Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga:
Konets 1920-kh–pervaia polovina 1950-kh godov , 7 vols. (Moscow: ROSSPEN,
2004), 2: 58–59.
11. O. V. Khlevniuk, The History of the Gulag: From Collectivization to the
Great Terror (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 23–24; Afanas’ev and
Koz lov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 2: 80–81; Lynne Viola, The Unknown
Gulag: The Lost World of Stalin’s Special Settlements (New York: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 2007), chap. 3.
12. RGASPI f. 17, op. 3, d. 817, l. 17.
13. RGASPI f. 17, op. 3, d. 821, l. 3.
14. Chernov, Iz istorii otkrytiia , 94.
15. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1668, op. 1, d. 77, ll. 28ob., 73.
16. Further scientifi c study included a visit by botanist B. N. Gorodkov in the
summer of 1931. His research claimed that the soil, which was permafrost deeper
than 30 meters, would be advantageous to mine construction. B. N. Gorodkov,
Vechnaia merzlota v severnom krae (Leningrad: AN SSSR, 1932), 8–9, 102–3. The
study of soil conditions continued in 1932. G. F. Pisarev and N. G. Datskii, Ve c h -
naia merzlota i usloviia stroitel’stva v Usinskoi lesotundre (Leningrad: AN SSSR,
17. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1668, op. 1, d. 86, l. 45.
18. Chernov, Iz istorii otkrytiia , 110–11.
19. Viola, Unknown Gulag , 9–10, 188–90.
20. RGASPI f. 17, op. 3, d. 875, l. 6.
21. V. G. Nevskii, ed. Pokaianie: Komi respublikanskii martirolog zhertv mas-
sovykh politicheskikh repressii , 9 vols. (Syktyvkar: Komi knizhnoe izd-vo, 1998–
2009), 8, pt. 3: 128–29, 131, 147.
22. Ibid., 8, pt. 3: 132–33, 140–41.
23. Ibid., 8, pt. 3: 141.

284 Notes to Pages 22–27
24. Maksim Gorky, Leopold Leonidovich Averbakh, and Semen Georgievich Fi-
rin, eds., Belomorsko-Baltiiskii kanal imeni tov. Stalina (Moscow: Belomostroi,
25. Steven A. Barnes, Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of
Soviet Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 36–38.
26. A. N. Kaneva, “Ukhtpechlag: Stranitsy istorii,” in Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 8,
pt. 1: 93.
27. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 8, pt. 3: 147, 149.
28. Kaneva, “Ukhtpechlag,” 95.
29. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 8, pt. 3: 149.
30. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1668, op. 1, d. 77, ll. 28ob, 73.
31. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 8, pt. 3: 147, 149.
32. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 1057/10, l. 2. K. Plastinina, a non-prisoner who made
the journey in 1936, recalled that it took two months in total. VMVTs, f. OF,
d. 1057/12, l. 1.
33. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 1066, ll. 1–13. In some winters, like that of 1939–40, not a
single train was able to pass between Rudnik and the supply depot at Vorkuta-Vom
because it was impossible to clear the railroad of snow. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 1057/
14, l. 4.
34. Fyodor Vasilevich Mochulsky, Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir , trans. Debo-
rah A. Kaple (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), chap. 4.
35. Such projects include, for example, the Kuibyshev hydroelectric com-
plex, begun in 1937 and abandoned in 1940. Khlevniuk, History of the Gulag ,
36. M. Baital’skii, Notebooks for the Grandchildren: Recollections of a Trotsky-
ist Who Survived the Stalin Terror (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press,
1995), 97.
37. Ibid., 136–41.
38. Ibid., 176–98.
39. Ibid., 198–208.
40. A. B. Roginskii, M. B. Smirnov, and N. G. Okhotin, Sistema ispravitel’no-
trudovykh lagerei v SSSR, 1923–1960: Spravochnik (Moscow: “Zven’ia”,
1998), 498.
41. J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov, The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-
Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932–1939 (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1999), chap. 7.
42. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 4: 69–70.
43. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 8, pt. 1: 187; J. Arch Getty, Gabor T. Rittersporn,
and Viktor N. Zemskov, “Victims of the Soviet Penal System in the Pre-War Years:
A First Approach on the Basis of Archival Evidence,” American Historical Review
98, no. 4 (1993): 1048.
44. Barnes, Death and Redemption , 84.
45. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 7: 100. Quotation from 107.
46. Ibid., 7: 107–11.
47. On the regime for “politicals” in imperial and early Soviet prisons, see
G. M. Ivanova, Gulag v sisteme totalitarnogo gosudarstva (Moscow: Moskovskii

Notes to Pages 27–30 285
obshchestvennyi nauchnyi fond, 1997), chap. 1; Michael Jakobson, Origins of the
Gulag: The Soviet Prison Camp System, 1917–1934 (Lexington: University Press
of Kentucky, 1993), 114–17.
48. Historian Mikhail Rogachev, who had access to the Komi police archives,
managed to compile a list of 191 confi rmed participants, based largely on fi les
compiled in 1937–38 during the “mass operations” of the Great Terror. Nevskii,
ed., Pokaianie , 7: 121–35. On the organized nature of the hunger strike, see witness
testimony from the Komi FSB archives in ibid., 7: 113–15.
49. Ibid., 7: 102.
50. Ibid., 7: 115.
51. Ibid., 7: 104.
52. Ibid., 7: 118.
53. This is what Mikhail Rogachev, the leading historian of the strike, concludes.
Ibid., 7: 104–5.
54. For example, camp guards broke up a meeting in a barracks in Rudnik on
20 May 1937 where prisoners discussed the poor conditions in the camp and de-
cided to elect their own “elder.” In response, two alleged ringleaders were confi ned
to the internal camp prison for fi fteen days each. Ibid., 7: 118–19.
55. M. Iunge, Bernd Bonwetsch, and Rolf Binner, eds., Stalinizm v sovetskoi
provintsii, 1937–1938 gg.: Massovaia operatsiia na osnove prikaza 00447 (Moskva:
ROSSPEN, 2009), 44.
56. David R. Shearer, Policing Stalin’s Socialism: Repression and Social Order
in the Soviet Union, 1924–1953 (New Haven: Yale University Press; Stanford:
Hoover Institution, Stanford University, 2009), chap. 10.
57. Khlevniuk, History of the Gulag , 165.
58. Getty, Rittersporn, and Zemskov, “Victims of the Soviet Penal System,”
59. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1668, op. 1, d. 485, l. 4 ob.; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1668,
op. 1, d. 416, l. 112.
60. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 360, l. 289ob.
61. One historian has even gone so far as to describe the Gulag camps of this
time as functionally equivalent to “extermination” camps. Khlevniuk, History of
the Gulag , 170–81. Quotation from 170.
62. Ibid., 175–76.
63. Ibid., 170.
64. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 7: 187.
65. Ibid., 7: 188.
66. It is diffi cult to determine with precision exactly how many prisoners were
arrested and executed under this operation, because of sloppy recordkeeping and
procedures during the operation. For example, some prisoners were found to have
been convicted two or three times by the “troika,” and some of those convicted had
been released, transferred, or had already died. Some prisoners were mistakenly
shot, whereas the names of four prisoners appear twice in the list of those executed.
Ibid., 7: 192–95.
67. Ibid., 7: 194.
68. Ibid., 7: 190.

286 Notes to Pages 30–34
69. This appears to be consistent with how operational order no. 00447 was
implemented across the Soviet Union, where it was often used by regional and
local authorities to eliminate potentially problematic populations that might be
diffi cult to get rid of using standard procedures. Iunge, Bonwetsch, and Binner, eds.,
Stalinizm v sovetskoi provintsii , 46.
70. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 7: 196; Baital’skii, Notebooks for the Grandchildren ,
71. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 7: 203.
72. Ibid., 7: 204. Kashketin’s name is closely associated with the executions. He
was soon promoted and allegedly planned a second, much larger round of execu-
tions in Ukhtpechlag. However, Kashketin was arrested after the fall of Nikolai
Ezhov in November 1938. He was executed on 9 March 1940. Ibid., 7: 209.
73. Ibid., 7: 204.
74. V. M. Poleshchikov, Za sem’iu pechatiami: Iz arkhiva KGB (Syktyvkar: Komi
knizhnoe izd-vo, 1995), 13–15.
75. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 7: 205.
76. Ibid., 7: 201–3.
77. Kaneva, “Ukhtpechlag,” 141, 143. Signs that the director was in trouble
emerged as early as May 1937, when he was removed from membership in the
Obkom, surely an ominous sign.
78. GARF, f. R-9401, op. 1a, d. 15, ll. 106–106ob.; Kaneva, “Ukhtpechlag,”
79. GARF, f. R-9401, op. 1a, d. 22, ll. 67–67ob.
80. Khlevniuk, History of the Gulag , 119–22, 175–77.
81. Kaneva, “Ukhtpechlag,” 144.
82. For example, Eduard Berzin, the longtime head of Dal’stroi in Kolyma, was
arrested in December 1937. Roginskii, Smirnov, and Okhotin, Sistema ispravitel’no-
trudovykh lagerei v SSSR , 120. According to Pavel Grebeniuk, Berzin’s fall may
have been connected to Stalin’s dislike for his long-term plans for Kolyma. Such
plans called for the construction of a rail link from Kolyma to the “mainland” and
the complete transition of Dal’stroi to a non-prisoner labor force by 1947. Pavel
Grebeniuk, Kolymskii led: Sistema upravleniia na severo-vostoke Rossii, 1953–
1964 (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2007), 29–30.
83. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 1057/14, l. 3.
84. In fact, until 23 October 1940 Vorkuta was technically part of the Nenets
autonomous district of Arkhangel’sk oblast’, rather than Komi ASSR. RGASPI,
f. 17, op. 116, d. 60, l. 12.
85. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1668, op. 1, d. 416, l. 112. For instance, Rudnik was
480 kilometers from the central Ukhtpechlag administration in Chib’iu, and they
communicated solely by radio. On long-distance communication between camp
sections, see Mochulsky, Gulag Boss , 29.
86. Vladimir Vasil’evich Zubchaninov, Uvidennoe i perezhitoe (Moscow: RAN
In-t mirovoi ekonomiki i mezhdunar. otnoshenii, 1995), 92.
87. See the 2 August 1939 “Temporary instruction on the imprisonment re-
gime for prisoners in NKVD ITLs,” in Aleksandr Kokurin and N. V. Petrov, eds.,

Notes to Pages 34–37 287
GULAG (Glavnoe upravlenie lagerei), 1917–1960 (Moscow: “Demokratiia”,
2000), 457.
88. Ivan Gronskii, Iz proshlogo (Moscow: Izvestiia, 1991), 175.
89. V. I. Il’in, “Gorod-kontslager’: Sotsial’naia stratifi katsiia gulagovskoi vor-
kuty (1930–50-e gody),” in Stratifi katsiia v Rossii: Istoriia i sovremennost’ , ed.
Iu. M. Rapaport (Syktyvkar: izd-vo SyktGU, 1999), 51.
90. Mikhail Baital’skii stated in his memoirs that there were delays in introduc-
ing barbed wire because a barge full of it sank on its way to Vorkuta, therefore
delaying its introduction for a year. Baital’skii, Notebooks for the Grandchildren ,
91. Vorkutstroi contrasts sharply with Dal’stroi, an organization that had sole
authority over the vast territory of Kolyma in the far northeast, including multiple
camps, enterprises, and towns. Grebeniuk, Kolymskii led , 17–45; David J. Nord-
lander, “Origins of a Gulag Capital: Magadan and Stalinist Control in the Early
1930s,” Slavic Review 57, no. 4 (1998): 791–812; David J. Nordlander, “Magadan
and the Economic History of Dalstroi in the 1930s,” in The Economics of Forced
Labor , ed. Paul R. Gregory and V. V. Lazarev (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press,
2003), 105–26.
92. Zubchaninov, Uvidennoe i perezhitoe , 96.
93. RGASPI, f. 17, op. 3, d. 1023, ll. 7, 67–72; RGASPI, f. 17, op. 3, d. 1025,
ll. 5–6. Drafts of the 10 May resolution with editing by Lavrentii Beriia can be
found in GARF R-5446, op. 24a, d. 22, ll. 47–44.
94. See Appendix C, table C.1; Narodnoe khoziaistvo SSSR v 1956 godu (Mos-
cow: Gos. stat. izd-vo, 1957), 72.
95. Khlevniuk, History of the Gulag , 242–43; Roginskii, Smirnov, and Okhotin,
Sistema ispravitel’no-trudovykh lagerei v SSSR , 46.
96. Roginskii, Smirnov, and Okhotin, Sistema ispravitel’no-trudovykh lagerei
v SSSR , 108–9.
97. Ibid., 387.
98. GARF, f. R-9401, op. 1a, d. 93, ll. 147–47ob.
99. VMVTs, f. NVF, d. 3766/087, l. 1.
100. RGASPI, f. 17, op. 116, d. 60, l. 12.
101. Detailed planning and construction of the railroad was initiated by
Sovnarkom resolution no. 1952–343, dated 28 October 1937. For a description
of the resolution and accompanying report, see Raisa Glushchenko, ed. Pechor-
stroi: Istoriia sozdaniia, 1940–2000 (Pechora: Pechorskoe vremia, 2000), 11–13.
The rail line, it should be noted, was intended to link the growing camp centers
of Vorkuta, Inta, Pechora, and Ukhta to points southwest, not to the Komi capital
Syktyvkar. In fact, Syktyvkar was not linked by rail to the Northern Pechora main
line until the early 1960s.
102. On Frenkel’s career, see Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archi-
pelago, 1918–1956 , 3 vols. (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 2: 75–80; Ivanova,
Gulag v sisteme totalitarnogo gosudarstva , 91–92; Thomas Lahusen, How Life
Writes the Book: Real Socialism and Socialist Realism in Stalin’s Russia (Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1997), 50–51; Khlevniuk, History of the Gulag , 35.

288 Notes to Pages 37–40
According to Solzhenitsyn, Frenkel formulated the scheme by which prisoners were
classifi ed according to physical capabilities, and also devised the system of gradu-
ated rations, whereby the amount prisoners were fed depended on their economic
103. GARF, f. R-9401, op. 1a, d. 0056, ll. 197–200.
104. For a fascinating, if one-sided account of Sevpechlag during the construc-
tion of the rail line, see Mochulsky, Gulag Boss .
105. Roginskii, Smirnov, and Okhotin, Sistema ispravitel’no-trudovykh lagerei
v SSSR , 192.
106. A list of Poles imprisoned in camps of the Pechora coal basin can be found
in Agnieszka Knyt, ed. Wiezniowie lagrów w rejonie Workuty , 2 vols. (Wilno: “Me-
morial”, 1999–2001), 1: 57–439.
107. V. P. Iampol’skii, ed. Organy gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti SSSR v Velikoi
Otechestvennoi voine: Sbornik dokumentov , 2 vols. (Moscow: Rus’, 2000), 2,
book 2: 404. On the amnesty, see ibid., 2, book 1: 477.
108. See Appendix A, table A.2.1; Getty, Rittersporn, and Zemskov, “Victims of
the Soviet Penal System,” 1048.
109. See Appendix A, table A.3.1.
110. See Appendix A, table A.4.1; J. Otto Pohl, The Stalinist Penal System: A
Statistical History of Soviet Repression and Terror, 1930–1953 (Jefferson, NC: Mc-
Farland, 1997), 36–37.
111. GURK NARK 1, f. R-605, op. 3, d. 69, l. 61ob.
112. Once the war began, guards were recruited from those declared unfi t for
combat within Komi ASSR, and so a large proportion of them were disabled in
some way. Il’in, “Gorod-kontslager’,” 56–57.
113. Vladimir Il’in writes that of 2,530 non-prisoners “working in construction
in 1942,” 1,412 (or 56 percent) were former prisoners. Ibid., 55.
114. Zubchaninov, Uvidennoe i perezhitoe , 46, 51.
115. Ibid., 90.
116. Ibid., 158.
117. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 1702, 3 February 1968, l. 1.
118. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 1702, 16 May 1968, l. 1.
119. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 1702, 27 May 1968, ll. 2–3.
120. Mikhail Baital’skii was released in early 1941 and made his way to Kirov
before war broke out, where he lived until his second arrest in 1950. Baital’skii,
Notebooks for the Grandchildren , 239–40, 264.
121. VMVTs, f. NVF, d. 3766–098, l. 1.
122. GURK NARK 2, f. 392, op. 2, d. 72, l. 2.
123. GURK NARK 2, f. 392, op. 2, d. 72, l. 8. The 1942 total population fi gure
comes from GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 370.
124. Jacques Rossi gives the following defi nition: “ propusknik , ‘pass-holder,’
unescorted prisoner (with a pass; see beskonvoinyi ).” Jacques Rossi, The Gulag
Handbook , trans. William A. Burhans (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 343–44.
Synonyms given by Rossi include raskonvoirovannyi (“not transported under con-
voy”), bezkonvoinyi (“without a convoy”), and vol’nokhozhdenets (“free mover”).
In using the term “de-convoyed” I follow Wilson T. Bell, “Was the Gulag an Ar-

Notes to Pages 40–46 289
chipelago? De-Convoyed Prisoners and Porous Borders in the Camps of Western
Siberia,” Russian Review 72, no. 1 (2013): 116–41.
125. The singular form of this term, zazonnik , translates literally, but awkwardly,
as “one who lives outside the zone.” Describing prisoners in the 1940s as de-zoned
is probably anachronistic, as it appears to have come into use only in the 1950s.
However, it is useful to apply the term to prisoners living outside the zone in the
1940s in order to draw the reader’s attention to the continuity of practices through-
out the life of the Soviet prison-camp system.
126. Kokurin and Petrov, eds., GULAG, 1917–1960 , 458, 462–64.
127. GURK NARK 2, f. 392, op. 2, d. 72, l. 7.
128. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 48, l. 59.
129. Kokurin and Petrov, eds., GULAG, 1917–1960 , 458.
130. For instance, one non-prisoner named Skorokhod was criticized in June
1940 in a speech by A. I. Zakhlamin, the head of the Vorkutlag politotdel, for hav-
ing a particularly close relationship with a prisoner. The charge leveled was that
the orderly that worked for Skorokhod remained with the family in their apart-
ment when Skorokhod was away on vacation. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1,
d. 18, l. 31.
131. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7059, l. 35.
132. GURK NARK 2, f. 392, op. 2, d. 72, l. 3.
133. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 24, l. 4.
134. VMVTs, f. OF, op. 2985, d. 1–4, l. 60.
135. Narodnoe khoziaistvo SSSR v 1956 godu , 74.
136. John Barber and Mark Harrison, The Soviet Home Front, 1941–1945: A
Social and Economic History of the USSR in World War II (New York: Longman,
1991), 185.
137. Mochulsky, Gulag Boss , 77.
138. See Appendix A, table A.6.1.
139. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 45, l. 19.
140. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 382, ll. 1–1ob.
141. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 1227, l. 158.
142. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 1227, ll. 159–60.
143. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 328, l. 6.
144. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 428, l. 14.
145. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 328, l. 48.
146. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 4: 102–3.
147. GURK NARK 2, f. 392, op. 2, d. 72, l. 60.
148. M. B. Rogachev, “Usinskaia tragediia: Ianvar’ 1942 goda,” Rodniki parmy
4 (1996): 212, 216; Poleshchikov, Za sem’iu pechatiami , 40; Nevskii, ed., Poka-
ianie , 7: 176; Zubchaninov, Uvidennoe i perezhitoe , 122.
149. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn refers to the uprising briefl y in Gulag Archipelago
as the “Retyunin affair of January 1942.” Although he is short on details, he does
point out the remarkable fact that Retiunin was a non-prisoner. Solzhenitsyn, Gu-
lag Archipelago , 3: 228–29. Short accounts also appear in Steven A. Barnes, “All
for the Front, All for Victory! The Mobilization of Forced Labor in the Soviet
Union during World War Two,” International Labor and Working-Class History

290 Notes to Pages 46–48
58 (2000): 249–50; Ivanova, Gulag v sisteme totalitarnogo gosudarstva , 54. An
account of the uprising that includes long quotations from the offi cial verdict in
the case against the rebels (without any archival citations) can be found in Irina
Osipova, “Otriad osobogo naznacheniia no. 41,” in Soprotivlenie v GULAGe , ed.
Semen Samuilovich Vilenskii (Moscow: Vozvrashchenie, 1992), 132–44. V. M.
Poleshchikov, a former KGB offi cer, wrote an account of the uprising based on a
variety of archival sources, including the reports of camp informers. His publica-
tion is very useful in that it reprints some of these reports verbatim, albeit without
archival citations. Poleshchikov, Za sem’iu pechatiami , 37–65. The most complete
published secondary source on the rebellion is Rogachev, “Usinskaia tragediia,”
210–22. Rogachev also published a collection of documents (with commentary) on
the rebellion in Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 7: 165–209.
150. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 7: 176.
151. Ibid., 7: 171.
152. Ibid., 7: 178.
153. Ibid., 7: 209. Murmillo was later shot for his role in aiding the rebels.
154. Ibid., 7: 179.
155. Ibid., 7: 179–80.
156. Rogachev, “Usinskaia tragediia,” 218.
157. According to Rogachev, this was after “getting fairly drunk.” Ibid.,
158. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 45, ll. 102–3; GURK NARK 2, f. 392, op. 2,
d. 72, l. 56.
159. Rogachev, “Usinskaia tragediia,” 219. GURK NARK 2, f. 392, op. 2, d. 72,
l. 64.
160. GURK NARK 2, f. 392, op. 2, d. 72, l. 64.
161. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 7: 181.
162. Ibid., 7: 166–74.
163. Ibid., 7: 181–82.
164. Rogachev, “Usinskaia tragediia,” 212; Zubchaninov, Uvidennoe i perezhi-
toe , 93.
165. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 48, l. 43. This was also the case in other
camps at this time. Mochulsky, Gulag Boss , 46.
166. As Zubchaninov remembered, “I met the head of the [Leso] reid Retiu-
nin. . . . He served his sentence in the Vorkuta mines, where he headed one of the
best mining brigades. After he was released he was made the chief fi rst of a small
lumber operation and now of the Ust’-Usa reid. His gait was reminiscent of a
bear, his head, covered with shaggy red hair, inclined forward slightly, and his eyes
stared like those of a bear. But he was a romantic. In his hut, which stood on top
of tall piles, lay a volume of Shakespeare [which he could recite from memory].”
Zubchaninov, Uvidennoe i perezhitoe , 93.
167. Tarkhanov’s comments were reported to Kabakov, the Narkom NKVD
Komi ASSR from his deputy Kornilov in February 1942. According to Kornilov,
Tarkhanov described Retiunin in such a fashion on 30 January, nearly a week after
the rebellion began. GURK NARK 2, f. 392, op. 2, d. 72, l. 17.
168. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 2: 783; Rogachev, “Usinskaia tragediia,” 212.

Notes to Pages 48–53 291
169. GURK NARK 2, f. 392, op. 2, d. 72, l. 58; Rogachev, “Usinskaia tragediia,”
170. Poleshchikov, Za sem’iu pechatiami , 43.
171. GURK NARK 2, f. 392, op. 2, d. 72, l. 58; A. L. Voitolovskaia, Po sle-
dam sud’by moego pokoleniia (Syktyvkar: Komi knizhnoe izd-vo, 1991), 98–99;
Poleshchikov, Za sem’iu pechatiami , 43; Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 7: 181–82.
172. Excerpts from this confession can be found in Poleshchikov, Za sem’iu
pechatiami , 59–60.
173. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 7: 204–6.
174. Mochulsky, Gulag Boss , chap. 19; A. F. Anufriev and V. D. Zakharov, “Vra-
zheskii desant na Pechore,” in Kniga pamiati Respubliki Komi: Imena voinov,
ubitykh v boiakh, umershikh ot ran v gospitaliakh, propavshikh bez vesti v gody
Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny (1941–1945 gg.), zemliakov Komi i prizvannykh
voenkomatami respubliki , ed. Valentin Mikhailovich Kotel’nikov and Antonina
Makarovna Kalimova (Syktyvkar: Komi respublikanskaia tip., 1996), 379–85.
175. L. Gorodin, “Odnoetapniki,” Chistye Prudy 4 (1990): 297.
176. Cited in Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 7: 198.
177. In his memoirs, Zubchaninov described Retiunin as a “romantic,” suggest-
ing that he viewed Retiunin as a righteous, if misguided, bandit. Zubchaninov,
Uvidennoe i perezhitoe , 93. Such views of the rebels seem consistent with Eric
Hobsbawm’s observations about bandits and how they are remembered. E. J. Hobs-
bawm, Bandits (New York: New Press, 2000), chap. 10.
178. GURK NARK 2, f. 392, op. 2, d. 72, l. 15.
179. Aleksandr Nikolaevich Panov, a prisoner in Lesoreid who did not partici-
pate in the uprising but was subsequently executed anyway, gave written testimony
on 11 July 1942 that Retiunin warned him that new executions were imminent.
Poleshchikov, Za sem’iu pechatiami , 49. An NKVD informant told the investiga-
tors that a former prisoner in Lesoreid had related being told by Retiunin of antici-
pated executions. GURK NARK 2, f. 392, op. 2, d. 72, ll. 22–23. Such testimony is
corroborated by Zubchaninov, Uvidennoe i perezhitoe , 120–22.
180. Hobsbawm, Bandits , chap. 1.
181. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 45, ll. 102–5.
182. Nevskii, ed., Pokaianie , 7: 204–9.
183. Ibid., 7: 200–2.
184. Ibid.
185. In 1942, Vorkutlag produced 706,000 tons of coal. The plan target was
750,000 tons of coal. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 45, l. 2.
186. GURK NARK 1, f. R-605, op. 4, d. 48, ll. 1–23.
187. V. Velichko, “Siianie severa,” Pravda , 26, 27, 30, 31 May 1946.
188. On Belomor and its composition, see Cynthia Ann Ruder, Making History
for Stalin: The Story of the Belomor Canal (Gainesville: University Press of Florida,
189. Terry Martin, The Affi rmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in
the Soviet Union, 1923–1939 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), chap. 1.
190. See, e.g., Vladimir Iakovlevich Kantorovich, Bol’shaia Pechora (Moscow:
Molodaia gvardiia, 1934).

292 Notes to Pages 56–61
Chapter 2. Saving Leningrad, Defining Vorkuta
1. V. D. Zakharov, ed. Ugol’naia sokrovishchnitsa severa: Sbornik dokumentov
i materialov (Syktyvkar: Komi kn. izd-vo, 1984), 75–76.
2. The German blockade of the city was partially lifted after Operation Spark
in February 1943. David M. Glantz, The Battle for Leningrad: 1941–1944 (Law-
rence: University Press of Kansas, 2002), 286.
3. On the symbolic importance of gifts in Soviet public culture, see Jeffrey
Brooks, Thank You, Comrade Stalin!: Soviet Public Culture from Revolution to
Cold War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).
4. Karen Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades: Celebrations in
the Time of Stalin , Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000).
5. Pravda , 18 August 1943. Note that the city of Vorkuta was not referred to by
name, and the Pechora coal basin was called the Arctic coal basin.
6. Sheila Fitzpatrick, “Postwar Soviet Society: The ‘Return to Normalcy,’ 1945–
1953,” in The Impact of World War II on the Soviet Union , ed. Susan J. Linz (To-
towa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld, 1985), 129–56.
7. Edward Buca, Vorkuta (London: Constable, 1976), 49.
8. Vorkutlag and the other camps belonging to the Fuel Section of the GULZhDS
(Main Administration of Railroad Construction Camps) were transferred to the
GULGMP by Beriia’s order on 5 October 1943. GARF R-9401, op. 1a, d. 142,
l. 163.
9. GARF, f. R-9401, op. 1a, d. 142, ll. 207–11; GURK NARK 2, f. 1, op. 3,
d. 1062, l. 1.
10. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 121, ll. 7–7ob.
11. Appendix C, table C.1.
12. M. Mal’tsev, “Ogon’ iz vechnoi merzloty,” in Grani otvagi i stoikosti , ed.
A. I. Usov (Syktyvkar: Komi knizhnoe izd-vo, 1978), 171. The Leningrad Gorkom
stated that coal from the Pechora basin made up over 60 percent of the city’s sup-
ply in 1944. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 62, l. 85.
13. Appendix C, table C.1; Narodnoe khoziaistvo SSSR v 1956 godu (Moscow:
Gos. stat. izd-vo, 1957), 72.
14. On changes in the Gulag population after the war, see Steven A. Barnes,
Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2011), chap. 5. On national resistance and Soviet
counter insurgency efforts in the western borderlands, see Alexander Statiev, The
Soviet Counterinsurgency in the Western Borderlands (New York: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 2010), chaps. 4–9; David Wolff and Gaël Moullec, Le KGB et les pays
baltes: 1939–1991 (Paris: Belin, 2005), chap. 2.
15. Appendix A, table A.2.1.
16. Appendix A, table A.1.1.
17. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 72, ll. 6ob.–7, 16.
18. Appendix A, table A.4.1. In fact, nearly half of all Lithuanian prisoners held
in Gulag camps as of 1 January 1946 were held in Vorkuta. J. Otto Pohl, The
Stalinist Penal System: A Statistical History of Soviet Repression and Terror, 1930–
1953 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1997), 36–37.

Notes to Pages 61–65 293
19. This infl ux of prisoners changed the proportion of counterrevolutionary
prisoners in the population. Whereas at the beginning of 1943 just over half of all
prisoners in Vorkutlag had been convicted of such crimes, by the beginning of 1948
the proportion had risen to 70 percent. Appendix A, table A.2.1. This 1948 fi gure
was nearly twice the average for Gulag camps across the Soviet Union, which was
38 percent. Pohl, Stalinist Penal System , 31.
20. Appendix A, table A.3.1.
21. Leonid Agranovich, Stop-kadr: Meierkhol’d, Vorkuta i drugoe kino (Mos-
cow: Sovpadenie, 2004), 124.
22. Appendix A, table A.6.1.
23. Buca, Vorkuta , 70–72.
24. The rapid increase in the prison population resulted in widespread clothing
shortages. For example, the camp had only 32 percent of the padded jackets re-
quired for the prisoners according to Gulag regulations. This was an essential piece
of cold-weather gear for prisoners. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 72, l. 19.
25. E. V. Markova, Vorkutinskie zametki katorzhanki “E-105” (Syktyvkar: Po-
kaianie, 2005), 49.
26. John Barber and Mark Harrison, The Soviet Home Front, 1941–1945: A Social
and Economic History of the USSR in World War II (New York: Longman, 1991).
27. Two and a half times as many fresh vegetables arrived in the camp in 1943
as in 1942. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 52, l. 19.
28. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 72, l. 17.
29. Markova, Vorkutinskie zametki , 47.
30. According to Mal’tsev’s own memoirs, he was able to increase the amount of
food that Vorkuta received in 1944–1945. After an audience with Mikoian (who
was in charge of domestic trade during the war) and his deputy in 1944, Vorkuta
received two rail cars of glass in order to build greenhouses and was allowed to
set up “decentralized purchasing of fruits and vegetables” in Tashkent, Kirov, and
Gor’kii. Mal’tsev, “Ogon’ iz vechnoi merzloty,” 169–70.
31. Barber and Harrison, Soviet Home Front , 83.
32. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 52, l. 20. The increase in local food production
was possible thanks to a relatively warm summer in 1943.
33. Appendix A, table A.1.1.
34. Markova, Vorkutinskie zametki , 61–64. Markova was saved when a non-
prisoner blaster, shocked to learn that a woman had been assigned such a job,
intervened on her behalf.
35. On the treatment of women in the camps, including the risk of rape and
sexual assault, see Barnes, Death and Redemption , 97–105.
36. E. A. Zaitsev, ed. Sbornik zakonodatel’nykh i normativnikh aktov o repres-
siiakh i reabilitatsii zhertv politicheskikh repressii (Moscow: Izd-vo “Respublika”,
1993), 43.
37. Iurii Nikolaevich Afanas’ev and V. P. Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga:
Konets 1920-kh–pervaia polovina 1950-kh godov , 7 vols. (Moscow: ROSSPEN,
2004), 2: 220–21.
38. Andrew Armand Gentes, Exile to Siberia, 1590–1822: Corporeal Commodi-
fi cation and Administrative Systematization in Russia (New York: Palgrave Mac-
millan, 2008).

294 Notes to Pages 65–68
39. Barnes, Death and Redemption , 143.
40. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 2: 220. GARF,
f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 446, l. 6; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 459, l. 9; GARF,
f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 478, ll. 12–13.
41. Agnieszka Knyt, ed. Wiezniowie lagrów w rejonie Workuty , 2 vols. (Wilno:
“Memorial”, 1999–2001), 1: 455.
42. Markova, Vorkutinskie zametki , 51.
43. Aleksandr Kokurin and N. V. Petrov, eds., GULAG (Glavnoe upravlenie la-
gerei), 1917–1960 (Moscow: “Demokratiia”, 2000), 132–33. This was written to
Beriia in response to a suggestion from Nikita Khrushchev that the use of katorga
punishments and longer prison terms be increased.
44. Mal’tsev, who lived from 1908–1982, is often mischaracterized as coming
to Vorkuta from a military background. Both his offi cial autobiography and most
secondary sources describe him as a career army offi cer before he became the direc-
tor of Vorkutstroi and Vorkutlag in 1943. Mal’tsev, “Ogon’ iz vechnoi merzloty,”
161–62. Although he served in the military during the fi rst two years of the war,
he in fact spent the majority of his career working for the NKVD and later the
MVD. A. B. Roginskii, M. B. Smirnov, and N. G. Okhotin, Sistema ispravitel’no-
trudovykh lagerei v SSSR, 1923–1960: Spravochnik (Moscow: “Zven’ia”, 1998),
251–52; Mal’tsev, “Ogon’ iz vechnoi merzloty,” 162.
45. The name of the organization was changed by Beriia’s order on 9 March
1944, and it remains the name of the entity responsible for coal mining in Vorkuta
today. GARF, f. R-9401, op. 1a, d. 158, l. 10ob.
46. VMVTs, f. NVF, d. 3766/102.
47. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7060, l. 81.
48. Vladimir Vasil’evich Zubchaninov, Uvidennoe i perezhitoe (Moscow: RAN
In-t mirovoi ekonomiki i mezhdunar. otnoshenii, 1995), 132.
49. For an example of awards, see AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7062,
l. 48. For punishments, see AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7063, l. 93.
50. Later, Kapler would become one of the most famous fi lm critics in the Soviet
Union, hosting the television program Kinopanorama . Thanks to Michael Khod-
arkovsky for setting me on the paper trail that led to Kapler.
51. Svetlana Allilueva, Dvadtsat’ pisem k drugu (Moscow: “Izvestiia”, 1990), 163–71.
52. Kapler’s situation was similar to that of Boris Tseitlin, a fi lmmaker who
worked as the photographer of Sevpechlag in nearby Abez’. Fyodor Vasilevich
Mochulsky, Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir , trans. Deborah A. Kaple (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2011), chap. 25.
53. Vorkuta during the Great Patriotic War , a pictorial representation of Vor-
kuta’s achievements during the Second World War that was prepared for top NKVD
offi cials, was presumably a product of Kapler’s handiwork. The book can be found
in GARF, f. R-9414, op. 6, d. 9. The order from 18 October 1943 to compose the
book can be found in AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7060, l. 165.
54. E. Kotliar, “‘Faust’ v ITL,” in Teatr GULAGa , ed. M. M. Korallova (Mos-
cow: Memorial, 1995), 46.
55. GURK NARK 1, f. R-0605, op. 1, d. 1314, l. 53; Aleksandr Klein and A. A.
Popov, “Zapoliarnaia drama . . . ,” in Pokaianie , ed. M. B. Rogachev (Syktyvkar:
Pokaianie, 1999), 2: 223.

Notes to Pages 68–74 295
56. Ukhtizhemlag, nearby in Ukhta, had been home to some kind of theater
company since at least 1933. A. N. Kaneva, Gulagovskii teatr Ukhty (Syktyvkar:
Komi knizhnoe izd-vo, 2001), 25. Magadan had its own theater company since
1933. A. G. Kozlov, Teatr na severnoi zemle: Ocherki po istorii magadanskogo
muzykal’no-dramaticheskogo teatra im. M. Gor’kogo (1933–1953 gg.) (Magadan:
Magadanskaia oblastnaia universal’naia nauchnaia biblioteka im. A. S. Pushkina,
1992), 13.
57. Both Fitzpatrick and Bauman emphasize the fact that patron-client relation-
ships often develop in societies where uncertainty is a structural feature of life.
Zygmunt Bauman, “Comment on Eastern Europe,” Studies in Comparative Com-
munism 12, nos. 2–3 (1979): 184; Sheila Fitzpatrick, Tear off the Masks!: Identity
and Imposture in Twentieth-century Russia (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
2005), chap. 10.
58. The importance of these privileges to survival is underscored by Kapler’s
experience. During his second fi ve-year term of imprisonment, he was sent to a
nearby camp in Inta and barely survived years of manual labor. Agranovich, Stop-
kadr , 134.
59. For instance, architect Vsevolod Lunev was rewarded 1,500 rubles upon the
completion of one of his buildings. VMVTs, f. NVF, d. 3027/067.
60. VMVTs, f. NVF, d. 3027/44.
61. Klein and Popov, “Zapoliarnaia drama . . . ,” 223.
62. By 1946, separate barracks had been set aside for the theater company.
Within these barracks, the most privileged occupied corners separated by curtains,
giving them a signifi cant measure of privacy. E. B. Galinskaia, “Teatr za poliarnym
krugom,” Rodniki parmy 90 (1990): 145–46.
63. Fitzpatrick emphasizes this point as well. Fitzpatrick, Tear off the Masks! ,
64. On the connection between the Gulag, “internal colonization,” and the Soviet
“civilizing mission,” see Den Khili [Dan Healey], “Nasledie Gulaga: Prinuditel’nyi
trud sovetskoi epokhi kak vnutrenniaia kolonizatsiia,” in Tam, vnutri: Praktiki
vnutrennei kolonizatsii v kul’turnoi istorii Rossii , ed. Aleksandr Etkind, Dirk
Uffelmann, and Il’ia Kukulin (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2012),
65. Fitzpatrick, Tear off the Masks! , 200. By that same token, Kapler and Mord-
vinov were acting much like members of the artistic intelligentsia did outside the
camps. Both likely had signifi cant previous experience participating in patronage
activities that proved invaluable in navigating patron-client relationships in a new
66. Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918–1956 , 3 vols.
(New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 2: 552.
67. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 82, l. 40.
68. GURK NARK 1, f. R-642, op. 1, d. 875, l. 10.
69. The fact that Ukhta, the center of Ukhtizhemlag (and one-time capital of
the sprawling Ukhtpechlag, from which Vorkutpechlag was subdivided in 1938),
became a city only a week before Vorkuta, on 20 November 1943, seems to sug-
gest that the decision was not entirely his own. Mikhail Pavlovich Roshchevskii,
ed. Res publika Komi: Entsiklopediia (Syktyvkar: Komi knizhnoe izd-vo, 1997), 3:

296 Notes to Pages 74–80
221. Even if he was not following direct orders, there were plenty of precedents for
him to follow in creating a city alongside Vorkutlag. The capital of Dal’stroi, Maga-
dan, was given city status in 1939. Pavel Grebeniuk, Kolymskii led: Sistema uprav-
leniia na severo-vostoke Rossii, 1953–1964 (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2007), 34.
70. VMVTs, f. NVF, d. 3027/111, ll. 1–2.
71. GURK NARK 1, f. R-642, op. 1, d. 875, l. 1. The order creating the city
was published in Vedomosti Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR , no. 53 (24 December
1943): 4.
72. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 1702/l, 31 May 1963, l. 3.
73. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 2996/1, l. 3.
74. Ibid., l. 3. Additional details drawn from photographs of the boulevard dated
1946 published in Viacheslav Davydov, ed. Vorkutaugol’ (Syktyvkar: OAO Komi
Respublikanskaia Tipografi ia, 2001), 12–15.
75. Such albums can be found in GARF, f. R-9414, op. 6.
76. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7067, l. 321; GURK NARK 1, f. R-605,
op. 1, d. 1029, l. 292; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1515, op. 1, d. 4, l. 65; GURK NARK 1,
f. R-1515, op. 1, d. 5, ll. 74, 85, 96.
77. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 2996/1, ll. 2–3.
78. Ibid., l. 5.
79. Galinskaia, “Teatr za poliarnym krugom,” 149.
80. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7069, l. 16.
81. Iurii Tregubov, a prisoner in Rechlag from 1950 to 1952 who worked in a
brigade that renovated barracks, commented that the barracks for ordinary non-
prisoners were much worse than those for prisoners. Iurii A. Tregubov, Vosem’ let
vo vlasti Lubianki , 2nd ed.(Frankfurt am Main: Posev, 2001), 193–94.
82. See Appendix B, table B.1.
83. The fi rst group of three hundred arrived in May 1943. GARF, f. R-9479,
op. 1, d. 128, l. 34.
84. The fi rst of these orders came from the State Defense Committee on 10 Janu-
ary 1942 and affected all men of German nationality between the ages of seventeen
and fi fty who had been exiled to the Novosibirsk, Omsk, Krasnoiarsk, and Altai
regions, as well as to Kazakhstan. Nikolai Fedorovich Bugai, “Mobilizovat’ nemt-
sev v rabochie kolonny—I. Stalin”: Sbornik dokumentov (1940-e gody) (Moscow:
Gotika, 1998), 39–40. It was followed by several other orders over the next two
years. The text of many of these orders can be found in ibid., pt. 1. For a summary
of the labor conscription of ethnic Germans, see Barnes, Death and Redemption ,
85. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 72, l. 16.
86. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 5: 471. The offi cial
order to move the “mobilized” Germans out of the zone did not arrive until March
1946, however. GARF, f. R-9479, op. 1, d. 154, l. 83.
87. GARF, f. R-9479, op. 1, d. 217, l. 285.
88. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 52, l. 6. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia sta-
linskogo Gulaga , 2: 242.
89. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7066, l. 195.
90. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 2: 250.

Notes to Pages 80–84 297
91. By July 1945, 10,695 “repatriates” had been sent to Vorkuta. Of these,
2,219 had already been sentenced to exile. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 1248, l. 54.
92. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 1265, l. 11.
93. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 110, l. 36.
94. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 2: 250.
95. This concept was introduced by Golfo Alexopoulos. Golfo Alexopoulos,
“Amnesty 1945: The Revolving Door of Stalin’s Gulag,” Slavic Review 64, no. 2
(2005): 275.
96. An authoritative analysis of the amnesty and its implications can be found
in ibid., 274–306. For the text of the amnesty, see I. T. Goliakov, Sbornik dokumen-
tov po istorii ugolovnogo zakonodatel’stva SSSR i RSFSR, 1917–1952 gg . (Mos-
cow: Gos. izd-vo iurid. lit-ry, 1953), 426–27. In Vorkuta, 10,900 prisoners were
released under the amnesty. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 1246, l. 2.
97. On releases and categorization, see Golfo Alexopoulos, “Exiting the Gulag
after the War: Women, Invalids, and the Family,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Ost-
europas 57, no. 4 (2009): 563–79.
98. GARF, f. R-9401, op. 1a, d. 158, l. 10ob.
99. Skakovskaia refers to her mother as a peresidchitsa , literally one who has
overstayed her term. I. Skakovskaia, “O Vorkute i vorkutianiakh,” Volia 8–9 (2002):
58. Jacques Rossi refers to a peresidchik as a “prisoner not released upon sentence
expiration.” Jacques Rossi, The Gulag Handbook , trans. William A. Burhans (New
York: Paragon House, 1989), 301. On prisoners not released during the war, see
chapter 1.
100. Skakovskaia, “O Vorkute i vorkutianiakh,” 60.
101. Ibid., 59.
102. In 1947 alone the company performed nearly six hundred times. GURK
NARK 1, f. R-0605, op. 1, d. 1314, l. 53. The company prepared as many as thir-
teen new productions per year. Galinskaia, “Teatr za poliarnym krugom,” 143.
103. One historian has suggested that, at certain times at least, it became the
custom for audiences not to applaud the performances. Galinskaia, “Teatr za po-
liarnym krugom,” 146.
104. Kotliar, “‘Faust’ v ITL,” 50. This remarkable conversation raises another di-
mension of patron-client relationships: to what degree did participation in a system
of privileges corrupt prisoners?
105. B. L. Afanas’ev, ed., Pechorskii ugol’nyi bassein (Leningrad: Lenizdat,
1959), 51.
106. While I was working at the Vorkuta municipal archives in July 2004, the
archivists put together a small exhibition on the city’s contribution to the Second
World War. Although it paid tribute at length to camp director Mal’tsev, it failed to
mention the existence of a prison camp at all.
107. See, e.g., Amir Weiner, Making Sense of War: The Second World War and the
Fate of the Bolshevik Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).
108. V. Velichko, “Siianie severa,” Pravda , 26, 27, 30, 31 May 1946.
109. V. Evgrafov, “Gorod za poliarnym krugom,” Ogonëk 45 (1947).

298 Notes to Pages 88–92
Chapter 3. In Search of “Normalcy”
1. The indoor pool was built nearby on Lenin Street and completed in 1957.
“Plavatel’nyi bassein v zapoliar’e,” Zapoliar’e , 22 June 1957.
2. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 3111, l. 1.
3. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 2996/2, ll. 21, 27; GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 1,
d. 1, l. 44.
4. This fi gure is a composite of data gleaned from GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941,
op. 1, d. 22, ll. 17, 20, 32, 44, 52, 58, 64; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 31,
ll. 4–40; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 40, l. 9; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941,
op. 1, d. 53, ll. 1–2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 64, ll. 3–4, 57.
5. On demobilization, see Mark Edele, Soviet Veterans of the Second World
War: A Popular Movement in an Authoritarian Society, 1941–1991 (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2008), chaps. 1–3. On the famine see V. F. Zima, Golod v
SSSR, 1946–1947 godov: Proiskhozhdeniie i posledstviia (Moscow: Institut Ros-
siiskoi Istorii RAN, 1996); Elena Zubkova, Russia after the War: Hopes, Illusions,
and Disappointments, 1945–1957 (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1998), chap. 4;
Donald Filtzer, Soviet Workers and Late Stalinism: Labour and the Restoration of
the Stalinist System after World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2002), chap. 2. On the end of rationing, see ibid., chap. 3. On the restoration of
industry see Yoram Gorlizki and O. V. Khlevniuk, Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet
Ruling Circle, 1945–1953 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 52–58, 69.
6. Zubkova calls this “the crisis of postwar expectations.” Zubkova, Russia
after the War , chap. 10.
7. Sheila Fitzpatrick, “Postwar Soviet Society: The ‘Return to Normalcy,’ 1945–
1953,” in The Impact of World War II on the Soviet Union , ed. Susan J. Linz (To-
towa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld, 1985), 129–56.
8. M. Baital’skii, Notebooks for the Grandchildren: Recollections of a Trotskyist
Who Survived the Stalin Terror (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1995),
350. Evgeniia Ginzburg expressed similar sentiments about the city of Magadan
when she returned there as an exile in 1947. Evgeniia Semenovna Ginzburg, Within
the Whirlwind (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981), 207.
9. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 478.
10. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 326, ll. 6–7, 10.
11. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2225, l. 3. This plan was largely in re-
sponse to a May 1948 Sovmin resolution that set ambitious targets for the extrac-
tion of coking coal in Vorkuta in order to supply a new steel plant being built in
Cherepovets. GURK NARK 2, f. 1, op. 4, d. 344, ll. 2–5.
12. In 1947, coal production in the Soviet Union as a whole surpassed its prewar
levels. Narodnoe khoziaistvo SSSR v 1956 godu (Moscow: Gos. stat. izd-vo, 1957),
72. As Oleg Khlevniuk and others have pointed out, after the Second World War
MVD offi cials became increasingly concerned with the low productivity of prisoner
labor and economic ineffi ciency of the camps. Oleg Khlevniuk, “The Economy of
the OGPU, NKVD, and MVD of the USSR, 1930–1953,” in The Economics of
Forced Labor: The Soviet Gulag , ed. Paul R. Gregory and V. V. Lazarev (Stanford:
Hoover Institution Press, 2003), 54–58.

Notes to Pages 92–96 299
13. Steven A. Barnes, Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of
Soviet Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 113–16.
14. J. Arch Getty, Gabor T. Rittersporn, and Viktor N. Zemskov, “Victims of
the Soviet Penal System in the Pre-War Years: A First Approach on the Basis of
Archival Evidence,” American Historical Review 98, no. 4 (1993): 1048–49; Iurii
Nikolaevich Afanas’ev and V. P. Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga: Konets
1920-kh–pervaia polovina 1950-kh godov , 7 vols. (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2004),
4: 55.
15. Appendix A, tables A.6.1, A.6.2.
16. For example, there was a shortage of 65 tons of sugar in 1948 and 131 tons
of milk in 1950. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 0155, l. 23; GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1,
d. 0273, l. 177.
17. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 155, l. 23.
18. Leonid Borodkin and Simon Ertz, “Forced Labour and the Need for Motiva-
tion: Wages and Bonuses in the Stalinist Camp System,” Comparative Economic
Studies 47, no. 2 (2005): 425.
19. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 209, l. 45.
20. V. P. Popov, Ekonomicheskaia politika sovetskogo gosudarstva, 1946–1953
gg . (Tambov: Tambovskii gos. tekhn. universitet, 2000), 65.
21. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 150, l. 141. Wage distribution in the Gulag
followed the system of wage differentiation by geography and sector that oper-
ated in the civilian economy. Borodkin and Ertz, “Forced Labour and the Need for
Motivation,” 434–35.
22. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 151, ll. 71–74. Camp directors and Gulag offi cials
appear to have shared a positive view of the reform. Borodkin and Ertz, “Forced
Labour and the Need for Motivation,” 435.
23. On the use of lapa in camp jargon, see Jacques Rossi, The Gulag Handbook ,
trans. William A. Burhans (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 198.
24. Aleksandr Klein, Ulybki nevoli: Nevydumannaia zhizn’, ulybki, sud’by, slu-
chai (Syktyvkar: Prolog, 1997), 62–63.
25. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 510, l. 40; Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia
stalinskogo Gulaga , 4: 314–15. In addition, “special camp” prisoners were not al-
lowed to be given cash, a regulation that greatly complicated the implementation
of wage reforms in special camps.
26. Joseph Scholmer, Vorkuta (New York: Holt, 1955), 231. Other former pris-
oners made similar observations. Baital’skii, Notebooks for the Grandchildren ,
357; Armand Maloumian, Les fi ls du Goulag (Paris: Presses de la Cité, 1976),
156–57. Camp authorities confi rmed that many of the goods that prisoners ac-
tually wanted to purchase were virtually unavailable, especially tobacco. GARF,
f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 151, l. 74.
27. Scholmer, Vorkuta , 231.
28. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 519, l. 185; GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 273,
l. 165. On the history of the workday credit system, see Simon Ertz, “Trading Ef-
fort for Freedom: Workday Credits in the Stalinist Camp System,” Comparative
Economic Studies 47, no. 2 (2005): 476–91.
29. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 273, l. 165.

300 Notes to Pages 96–102
30. See Appendix A, table A.5.1.
31. A. A. Ugrimov and T. A. Ugrimova, Iz Moskvy v Moskvu cherez Parizh i
Vorkutu (Moscow: Izd-vo “RA”, 2004), 240.
32. Baital’skii, Notebooks for the Grandchildren , 350.
33. A. B. Roginskii, M. B. Smirnov, and N. G. Okhotin, Sistema ispravitel’no-
trudovykh lagerei v SSSR, 1923–1960: Spravochnik (Moscow: “Zven’ia”, 1998),
34. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 2: 326–30 (quo-
tation from 326). On the special camp reform see Barnes, Death and Redemp-
tion , 165–72; G. M. Ivanova, Gulag v sisteme totalitarnogo gosudarstva (Moscow:
Moskovskii obshchestvennyi nauchnyi fond, 1997), 63–66.
35. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 2: 370–71.
36. Ibid., 4: 125.
37. Barnes, Death and Redemption , 168; E. V. Markova, Vorkutinskie zametki
katorzhanki “E-105” (Syktyvkar: Pokaianie, 2005), 112–13.
38. Aleksandr Kokurin and N. V. Petrov, eds., GULAG (Glavnoe upravlenie la-
gerei), 1917–1960 (Moscow: “Demokratiia”, 2000), 555–67.
39. GARF, f. R-9401, op. 1a, d. 234, l. 35. Thanks to Wilson Bell for generously
sharing this document with me.
40. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 554.
41. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 2: 336–40.
42. N. A. Morozov, “Istrebitel’no-trudovye gody,” in Pokaianie : Komi respub-
likanskii martirolog zhertv massovykh politicheskikh repressii , ed. V. G. Nevskii
(Syktyvkar: Komi knizhnoe izd-vo, 1998), 1: 100.
43. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 140, ll. 5, 10.
44. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 13, d. 1, ll. 1ob.–2.
45. Ibid., l. 2ob.
46. N. A. Morozov, Osobye lageria MVD SSSR v Komi ASSR: 1948–1954 gody
(Syktyvkar: Syktyvkarskii gosudarstvennyi universitet, 1998), 9.
47. Markova, Vorkutinskie zametki , 123–24.
48. Kokurin and Petrov, eds., GULAG, 1917–1960 , 555. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1,
d. 326, ll. 33, 100.
49. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 478.
50. Golfo Alexopoulos, “Exiting the Gulag after the War: Women, Invalids, and
the Family,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 57, no. 4 (2009): 563–79.
51. “V bessrochnuiu ssylku,” Istochnik 2 (1994): 92–93.
52. GARF, f. R-9479, op. 1, d. 900, l. 216. This change had been requested as
early as August 1948. GARF f. R-9479, op. 1, d. 373, ll. 84–85.
53. Appendix A, table A.6.2.
54. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 478.
55. Ibid.
56. Ibid.
57. On German POWs in the Soviet Union, see Andreas Hilger, Deutsche Kriegs-
gefangene in der Sowjetunion, 1941–1956 : Kriegsgefangenenpolitik, Lageralltag
und Erinnerung (Essen: Klartext, 2000); S. Karner, Arkhipelag GUPVI: Plen i
internirovanie v Sovetskom Soiuze, 1941–1956 (Moscow: RGGU, 2002); Ralf

Notes to Pages 102–108 301
Stettner, Archipel GULag: Stalins Zwangslager-Terrorinstrument und Wirtschafts-
gigant: Entstehung, Organisation und Funktion des sowjetischen Lagersystems,
1928–1956 (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1996).
58. Karner, Arkhipelag GUPVI , 232–36.
59. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 1363, l. 1.
60. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 575, ll. 25–26, 66–67.
61. Markova, Vorkutinskie zametki , 83–85.
62. Scholmer, Vorkuta , 133, 179.
63. Ibid., 97–98, 181.
64. Ibid., 73–74, 180–81.
65. Ibid., 94–95.
66. Ibid., 189.
67. On the insurgent movements against the (re)establishment of Soviet power
in the western borderlands and the Soviet counterinsurgency against them, see Al-
exander Statiev, The Soviet Counterinsurgency in the Western Borderlands (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
68. Barnes, Death and Redemption , 185–91; V. A. Kozlov, Massovye bespori-
adki v SSSR pri Khrushcheve i Brezhneve (1953–nachalo 1980-kh gg.) (Moscow:
ROSSPEN, 2010), 46–58.
69. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 151, ll. 238–43.
70. Numerous examples of open resistance can be found in Afanas’ev and Koz-
lov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 6: 209–313; Kozlov, Massovye besporiadki
v SSSR , 51–58.
71. Gorlizki and Khlevniuk, Cold Peace , 124.
72. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 2996/1, ll. 8–9.
73. GURK NARK 1, f. R-0605, op. 1, d. 1391, ll. 1–7.
74. VMVTs, f. OF, op. 2996, d. 1, l. 9.
75. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 2996/2, ll. 47–52.
76. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 1, d. 1, ll. 1, 10–11.
77. William Taubman, Governing Soviet Cities; Bureaucratic Politics and Urban
Development in the USSR (New York: Praeger, 1973), chap. 6.
78. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 1, d. 1, ll. 1, 10–11.
79. V. D. Zakharov, ed. Ugol’naia sokrovishchnitsa severa: Sbornik dokumentov
i materialov (Syktyvkar: Komi kn. izd-vo, 1984), 119.
80. On the Gulag press, see A. I. U. Gorcheva, Pressa Gulaga, 1918–1955 (Mos-
cow: Izd-vo Moskovskogo univ., 1996).
81. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 1, d. 27, l. 75.
82. Other institutional changes included the transfer of responsibility for the dis-
tribution of food and goods in the city from the camp complex to the USSR Minis-
try of Trade in 1951. Shops, warehouses, and cafeterias, along with the employees
who worked there, were no longer part of the camp system. GARF, f. R-9401,
op. 1a, d. 384, ll. 89–90. The MVD attempted to transfer other institutions to the
city and trade union in 1952, including all cultural, sports, medical, and children’s
facilities. However, both the Gorispolkom and the trade union refused to accept
responsibility for them because of a lack of funds and expertise to run them. GARF,
f. R-5446, op. 87, d. 1229, ll. 34–41.

302 Notes to Pages 108–114
83. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 22, ll. 6–7; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941,
op. 1, d. 64, ll. 28–33, 42.
84. Golfo Alexopoulos, “Amnesty 1945: The Revolving Door of Stalin’s Gu-
lag,” Slavic Review 64, no. 2 (2005): 274–306; Alexopoulos, “Exiting the Gulag,”
85. Appendix A, table A.5.3.
86. Viacheslav Davydov, ed. Vorkutaugol’ (Syktyvkar: OAO Komi Respubli-
kanskaia Tipografi ia, 2001), 22–23. The tekhnikum was created on 8 February
1944. M. Mal’tsev, “Ogon’ iz vechnoi merzloty,” in Grani otvagi i stoikosti , ed.
A. I. Usov (Syktyvkar: Komi knizhnoe izd-vo, 1978), 167.
87. GURK NARK 2, f. 1, op. 4, d. 979, l. 80.
88. In April 1952 Sovmin assented to the MVD’s longstanding request to ex-
tend wage bonuses to help recruit non-prisoners to MVD enterprises considered
to be of paramount economic importance, such as Vorkuta. According to Oleg
Khlevniuk, twenty-three thousand former prisoners were recruited in such a man-
ner in 1952 by various MVD enterprises. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia sta-
linskogo Gulaga , 3: 567.
89. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 90, l. 16.
90. GURK NARK 2, f. 1, op. 5, d. 5, l. 166. See also the case of the Korotenko
family. Ibid., l. 167.
91. I. Skakovskaia, “O Vorkute i vorkutianiakh,” Volia 8–9 (2002): 80.
92. On the postwar village, see Zubkova, Russia after the War , chap. 6; Jean
Lévesque, “Foremen in the Field: Collective Farm Chairmen and the Fate of La-
bour Discipline after Collectivization, 1932–1953,” in A Dream Deferred: New
Studies in Russian and Soviet Labour History , ed. Donald A. Filtzer and Wendy Z.
Goldman (New York: Peter Lang, 2008).
93. GARF, f. R-5446, op. 80, d. 2487, l. 1.
94. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 3: 320.
95. GARF, f. R-9401, op. 1a, d. 384, ll. 86–95.
96. GURK NARK 2, f. 1, op. 4, d. 979, ll. 80–82.
97. Khlevniuk, “Economy,” 56.
98. Cathy A. Frierson and Semen Samuilovich Vilenskii, eds., Children of the
Gulag (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 345.
99. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 22, ll. 17, 20, 32, 44, 52, 58, 64; GURK
NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 31, ll. 4–40; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 40,
l. 9; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 53, ll. 1–2; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941,
op. 1, d. 64, ll. 3–4, 57.
100. Iurii Aleksandrovich Poliakov, Naselenie Rossii v xx veke: Istoricheskie
ocherki , vol. 2, 1940–1959 (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2001), 240.
101. See note 99 above.
102. Markova, Vorkutinskie zametki , 49–50.
103. Ugrimov and Ugrimova, Iz Moskvy v Moskvu cherez Parizh i Vor-
kutu , 248.
104. Evfrosiniia Kersnovskaia, a prisoner working in the mines of Noril’sk,
made similar observations about the importance of cooperation between prison-
ers and non-prisoners. Evfrosiniia Kersnovskaia, Skol’ko stoit chelovek (Moskva:
ROSSPEN, 2006), 523–24.

Notes to Pages 114–123 303
105. Scholmer, Vorkuta , 88–89.
106. Ibid., 91.
107. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 13, d. 1, ll. 5, 13, 15.
108. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 13, d. 11, l. 81.
109. See, e.g., ibid., l. 1.
110. Scholmer, Vorkuta , 170.
111. GURK NARK 2, f. 1, op. 5, d. 5, l. 10.
112. Scholmer, Vorkuta , 168.
113. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 140, l. 69.
114. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 350, l. 45.
115. In 1950, the number of prisoners working as guards in Vorkutlag increased
to 1,891, or 37 percent of the total. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1, d. 273, l. 168.
116. GARF, f. R-8131, op. 32, d. 1815, l. 123.
117. Ibid., l. 165. According to the same report, on 6 September 1951, another
guard-prisoner raped a fi ve-year-old boy outside the camp zone.
118. Ibid., l. 101.
119. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 1, d. 7, l. 85.
120. Ibid., l. 107.
121. Ibid., l. 110.
122. Ibid., l. 111.
123. GURK NARK 2, f. 1, op. 5, d. 2, l. 65; GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 1,
d. 7, l. 111.
124. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 1, d. 31, l. 17; GURK NARK 2, f. 1, op. 5,
d. 2, l. 66.
Chapter 4. Vorkuta in Crisis
1. GARF, f. R-9492, op. 5, d. 199, ll. 67–68.
2. V. M. Zubok, Zhivago’s Children: The Last Russian Intelligentsia (Cambridge:
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), 44–46.
3. Miriam Dobson, Khrushchev’s Cold Summer: Gulag Returnees, Crime, and
the Fate of Reform after Stalin (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009), 26.
4. Moshe Lewin pointed out that such bureaucratic reshuffl ing became systemic.
“Incessant tinkering” resulted in a “bureaucratic neurosis” where reorganization
was a substitute for genuine reform. Moshe Lewin, The Soviet Century (New
York: Verso, 2005), 342. Thanks to Auri Berg for bringing this argument to my
5. The camp newspaper, Zapoliarnaia kochegarka , fi rst announced Sta-
lin’s illness in its 5 March issue, and announced his death in its 7 March issue.
“Pravitel’stvennoe soobshchenie o bolezni . . . ,” Zapoliarnaia kochegarka , 5 March
1953; “Ot Tsetranl’nogo Komiteta Kommunisticheskoi Partii . . . ,” Zapoliarnaia
kochegarka , 7 March 1953.
6. Zapoliarnaia kochegarka , 11 March 1953.
7. Edward Buca, Vorkuta (London: Constable, 1976), 229.
8. Joseph Scholmer, Vorkuta (New York: Holt, 1955), 212–13.
9. Aleksandr Kokurin and A. I. Pozharov, “Novyi kurs L. P. Berii,” Istoricheskii
arkhiv 4 (1996): 137–39; Oleg Khlevniuk, “The Economy of the OGPU, NKVD,

304 Notes to Pages 123–127
and MVD of the USSR, 1930–1953,” in The Economics of Forced Labor: The
Soviet Gulag , ed. Paul R. Gregory and V. V. Lazarev (Stanford: Hoover Institution
Press, 2003), 54.
10. Kokurin and Pozharov, “Novyi kurs L. P. Berii,” 140–43; Khlevniuk, “Econ-
omy,” 54.
11. Pravda , 28 March 1953. Correspondence regarding the amnesty and guide-
lines for its implementation can be found in Kokurin and Pozharov, “Novyi kurs
L. P. Berii,” 143–48.
12. Ibid., 148–50.
13. Ibid., 132–64; Khlevniuk, “Economy,” 54–55.
14. Yoram Gorlizki and O. V. Khlevniuk, Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet Rul-
ing Circle, 1945–1953 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 124–33.
15. This amnesty was frequently associated with Voroshilov, especially among
prisoners, because, as chairman of the Council of Ministers, his name appeared
below the declaration in Pravda . Pravda , 28 March 1953.
16. On Stalin-era amnesties and categories of released prisoners, see Golfo Alex-
opoulos, “Amnesty 1945: The Revolving Door of Stalin’s Gulag,” Slavic Review
64, no. 2 (2005): 274–306; Golfo Alexopoulos, “Exiting the Gulag after the War:
Women, Invalids, and the Family,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 57, no. 4
(2009): 563–79; Steven A. Barnes, Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the
Shaping of Soviet Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 157–60.
17. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 519, ll. 124, 177.
18. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 519, l. 2.
19. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 160, l. 69.
20. V. A. Kozlov, Massovye besporiadki v SSSR pri Khrushcheve i Brezhneve
(1953–nachalo 1980-kh gg.) (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2010), 57–58.
21. Iurii Nikolaevich Afanas’ev and V. P. Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga:
Konets 1920-kh–pervaia polovina 1950-kh godov , 7 vols. (Moscow: ROSSPEN,
2004), 6: 465.
22. GARF, f. R-8131, op. 32, d. 3032, ll. 176–77. Similar problems were noted
throughout the Gulag. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 2:
23. GARF, f. R-8131, op. 32, d. 3031, l. 62.
24. According to Miriam Dobson, rumors of violence caused by the amnesty,
combined with overall anxiety about the new course of affairs after Stalin, con-
verged to create an atmosphere of panic in many parts of the Soviet Union. Dob-
son, Khrushchev’s Cold Summer , 40.
25. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7150, l. 1.
26. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 6, d. 57, ll. 37–41; GURK NARK 2, f. 2216,
op. 6, d. 62, ll. 10–11; GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 6, d. 54, l. 158.
27. According to Marc Elie this misperception was widespread. Marc Elie, “Les
anciens détenus du Goulag: Libérations massives, réinsertion et réhabilitation dans
l’URSS poststalinienne, 1953–1964” (PhD, EHESS, 2007), 38.
28. On the “chief administrations” and their eventual abolition, see A. B. Rogin-
skii, M. B. Smirnov, and N. G. Okhotin, Sistema ispravitel’no-trudovykh lagerei v
SSSR, 1923–1960: Spravochnik (Moscow: “Zven’ia”, 1998), 58–59; Simon Ertz,

Notes to Pages 127–132 305
“Lagernaia sistema v 1930-e–1950-e gg.: Evoliutsiia struktury i printsipov uprav-
leniia,” in Gulag: Ekonomika prinuditel’nogo truda , ed. L. I. Borodkin, Paul R.
Gregory, and O. V. Khlevniuk (Moskva: ROSSPEN, 2005), 106–10; Kokurin and
Pozharov, “Novyi kurs L. P. Berii,” 138–39.
29. On the principle of edinonachal’e in the Gulag, see David J. Nordlander,
“Origins of a Gulag Capital: Magadan and Stalinist Control in the Early 1930s,”
Slavic Review 57, no. 4 (1998): 806–7.
30. Roginskii, Smirnov, and Okhotin, Sistema ispravitel’no-trudovykh lagerei v
SSSR , 192, 368.
31. Such a separation of functions between the Gulag and civilian ministries was
not without precedent. As scholars such as Paul Gregory and Valery Lazarev have
pointed out, in the 1940s and early 1950s hundreds of thousands of Gulag prison-
ers were provided under contract to civilian ministries. Paul R. Gregory, “An Intro-
duction to the Economics of the Gulag,” in Gregory and Lazarev, eds., Economics
of Forced Labor , 12–18; V. V. Lazarev, “Conclusions,” in Gregory and Lazarev,
eds., Economics of Forced Labor , 195.
32. Ertz, “Lagernaia sistema v 1930-e–1950-e gg.,” 117.
33. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 2613, ll. 4–7.
34. RGAE, f. 8225, op. 27, d. 444, ll. 128, 138.
35. GARF, f. R-9492, op. 5, d. 199, ll. 34–36. The proposal was subsequently
repeated at least twice. GARF, f. R-9492, op. 5, d. 200, ll. 73–76, 120–25.
36. GARF, f. R-9492, op. 5, d. 199, ll. 37–40.
37. Amy W. Knight, Beria, Stalin’s First Lieutenant (Princeton: Princeton Univer-
sity Press, 1993), 194–224; William Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era
(New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), 249–57.
38. Kozlov, Massovye besporiadki v SSSR , 59–60.
39. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, l. 62. Much of the archival material on the
Rechlag strike, including most of the above fi le, has been reprinted in Afanas’ev
and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 6: 434–576. For purposes of brevity
I will refer to the original archival sources except in the cases where the published
documents were consulted instead of the archival originals.
40. Marta Craveri and Oleg Khlevniuk, “Krizis ekonomiki MVD (konets 1940-
kh–1950-kh godov),” Cahiers du Monde Russe 36, nos. 1–2 (1995): 179–90;
Khlevniuk, “Economy,” 51–58.
41. Marta Craveri, “Krizis Gulaga: Kengirskoe Vosstanie 1954 goda v dokumen-
takh MVD,” Cahiers du Monde Russe 36, no. 3 (1995): 319–44; Marta Craveri,
“The Strikes in Norilsk and Vorkuta Camps, and Their Role in the Breakdown of the
Stalinist Forced Labour System,” in Free and Unfree Labour: The Debate Continues ,
ed. Tom Brass and Marcel van der Linden (New York: Peter Lang, 1997), 364–78;
Marta Craveri, Resistenza nel gulag: Un capitolo inedito della destalinizzazione in
Unione Sovietica (Soveria Mannelli (Catanzaro): Rubbettino, 2003); Kozlov, Mas-
sovye besporiadki v SSSR , chap. 1; Barnes, Death and Redemption , 212–13.
42. Barnes, Death and Redemption , 213.
43. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 2613, ll. 12–15. Vladimir Kozlov has noted that
prisoners transferred from Peschanlag provided the spark for the Gorlag strike as
well. Kozlov, Massovye besporiadki v SSSR , 69.

306 Notes to Pages 132–138
44. Although Derevianko had been serving as the offi cial chief of Rechlag since
only 16 June 1953, for the previous two years he had served as the deputy direc-
tor of KVU in charge of Rechlag. Before this he had been director of SVITL, the
primary camp of Dal’stroi, from 1948 to 1951. Roginskii, Smirnov, and Okhotin,
Sistema ispravitel’no-trudovykh lagerei v SSSR , 382–84.
45. On the Gorlag uprising, see Andrea Graziosi, “The Great Strikes of 1953 in
Soviet Labor Camps in the Accounts of Their Participants: A Review,” Cahiers du
Monde Russe et Sovietique 33, no. 4 (1992): 419–46; Craveri, Resistenza nel gulag ,
chap. 8; Kozlov, Massovye besporiadki v SSSR , chap. 1; Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds.,
Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 6: 320–413.
46. Just days earlier, he had responded to acts of resistance in other parts of
Rechlag, such as the savage beating of a duty offi cer and the distribution of leafl ets
urging prisoners to, among other things, “Demand an immediate review of your
cases and complete release.” The alleged ringleaders had been rounded up and held
in the isolation prison, thus ending the unrest. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia
stalinskogo Gulaga , 6: 434–35.
47. Ibid., 6: 466–67.
48. A. A. Ugrimov and T. A. Ugrimova, Iz Moskvy v Moskvu cherez Parizh i
Vorkutu (Moscow: Izd-vo “RA”, 2004), 287–88, 291.
49. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, l. 64.
50. GARF, f. R-9492, op. 5, d. 199, l. 69.
51. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, ll. 227–38.
52. Such concessions had also been offered to the prisoners in Gorlag in June,
and had been successful in convincing some of the prisoners to return to work.
Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 6: 386–98.
53. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, ll. 65, 69. Scholmer, Vorkuta , 236–37,
244, 246.
54. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, l. 4.
55. A draft Sovmin resolution, the accompanying letter from Zasiad’ko, and
the response from MinIust can be found in GARF, f. R-9492, op. 5, d. 200,
ll. 73–113.
56. GARF, f. R-9492, op. 5, d. 199, ll. 67–72.
57. Kozlov, Massovye besporiadki v SSSR , 80. Although changes in the special
camp regime were drafted in August 1953, the Presidium put off any defi nitive de-
cisions about the future of the special camps until 1954. Andrei Artizov and others,
eds., Reabilitatsiia: Kak eto bylo , 3 vols. (Moscow: “Demokratiia”, 2000–2004),
2: 65–66. See also ibid., 2: 386, n. 11; and Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia sta-
linskogo Gulaga , 6: 676, n. 219.
58. Ugrimov and Ugrimova, Iz Moskvy v Moskvu cherez Parizh i Vorkutu , 290.
59. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 6: 549; Buca, Vo r-
kuta , 243–44. Camp section 6, however, was an exception, as the prisoner ventila-
tion brigade refused to work throughout the strike. Scholmer, Vorkuta , 249–50.
60. Ugrimov and Ugrimova, Iz Moskvy v Moskvu cherez Parizh i Vorkutu , 290.
61. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, ll. 35–36.
62. On the debate surrounding the use of such sources, see Sarah Davies, Popular
Opinion in Stalin’s Russia: Terror, Propaganda and Dissent, 1934–1941 (New York:

Notes to Pages 138–145 307
Cambridge University Press, 1997); Jochen Hellbeck, “Speaking Out: Languages of
Affi rmation and Dissent in Stalinist Russia,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and
Eurasian History 1, no. 1 (2000): 71–96; Sarah Davies, “To the Editors,” Kritika:
Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 1, no. 2 (2000): 437–40.
63. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, ll. 145–46.
64. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, ll. 143–44.
65. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 1, d. 57, ll. 93–94.
66. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, ll. 9, 33.
67. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, l. 67.
68. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, ll. 143–44.
69. Scholmer, Vorkuta , 234–35.
70. Ugrimov and Ugrimova, Iz Moskvy v Moskvu cherez Parizh i Vorkutu ,
71. Ibid., 288.
72. Buca, Vorkuta , 249–50. Having “outed” himself as a leader of the strike,
it is no surprise that Buca was clearly identifi ed by camp director Derevianko as
the leader of the “sabotage” in camp section 10. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160,
l. 136.
73. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 6: 546–50; Kozlov,
Massovye besporiadki v SSSR , 73. He later claimed in testimony that he used his
new position of authority to maintain order in the zone and steer the strike in a
peaceful direction. As a result of this testimony, Kolesnikov’s conviction for his role
in the strike was overturned less than a year later.
74. Kozlov, Massovye besporiadki v SSSR , 71–74.
75. Aleksandr Kokurin and N. V. Petrov, eds., GULAG (Glavnoe upravlenie la-
gerei), 1917–1960 (Moscow: “Demokratiia”, 2000), 579, 587. On the career of
Maslennikov, see Aleksandr Kokurin, N. V. Petrov, and R. G. Pikhoia, eds., Lu-
bianka: VChK-OGPU-NKVD-NKGB-MGB-MVD-KGB, 1917–1960: Spravoch-
nik (Moscow: “Demokratiia”, 1997), 22–23, 30, 41, 36, 57, 85, 150.
76. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, ll. 151–52 ; Soviet “Justice”: “Showplace”
Prisons vs. Real Slave Labor Camps: Consultation with Mr. Adam Joseph Galinski
(Washington, DC: U.S. G.P.O., 1960), 15–16; Ugrimov and Ugrimova, Iz Moskvy
v Moskvu cherez Parizh i Vorkutu , 292.
77. Ugrimov described his tone as “benevolent.” Ugrimov and Ugrimova, Iz
Moskvy v Moskvu cherez Parizh i Vorkutu , 292.
78. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, ll. 257–58.
79. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, ll. 240–48. Kniazev’s allegations were sub-
sequently investigated by the Komi ASSR Procuracy. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds.,
Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 6: 553–56, 680 n. 270.
80. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, l. 258.
81. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, ll. 251–53.
82. Daniel Field, Rebels in the Name of the Tsar (Boston: Houghton Miffl in,
83. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, l. 240.
84. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, l. 247.
85. Dobson, Khrushchev’s Cold Summer , 33–37.

308 Notes to Pages 145–150
86. Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1995), chap. 5.
87. Thus, “speaking Bolshevik” would entail “thinking Bolshevik.” On the lat-
ter concept see Hellbeck, “Speaking Out,” 71–96.
88. Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918–1956 ,
3 vols.(New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 302–3.
89. Barnes, Death and Redemption , 211.
90. Ibid., 231–32.
91. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, ll. 1–2.
92. Kokurin and Petrov, eds., GULAG, 1917–1960 , 582.
93. Ugrimov and Ugrimova, Iz Moskvy v Moskvu cherez Parizh i Vorkutu ,
94. Kokurin and Petrov, eds., GULAG, 1917–1960 , 582.
95. Scholmer, Vorkuta , 266–67.
96. GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, l. 135.
97. Kokurin and Petrov, eds., GULAG, 1917–1960 , 582.
98. Ibid., 583. Arkhiv NIPTs “Memorial” f. 2, op. 3, d. 66, l. 137.
99. Buca, Vorkuta , 271. Kokurin and Petrov, eds., GULAG, 1917–1960 , 583.
100. Of the 135 wounded, 83 sustained minor injuries. Kokurin and Petrov, eds.,
GULAG, 1917–1960 , 584.
101. Of those killed, the majority were Ukrainians (56.6 percent), Lithuanians
(18.9 percent), and Estonians (7.5 percent), all percentages that were higher than
the respective weight of each nationality in the general population of Rechlag.
GARF, f. R-9413, op. 1, d. 160, ll. 185–87.
102. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 6: 544. Later re-
ports suggest that as few as 22 prisoners were actually investigated as organizers.
GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 2613, l. 137.
103. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 6: 546–50, 57–59;
Buca, Vorkuta , 280–313.
104. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 6: 544. GARF,
f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 2613, l. 137.
105. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 6: 539–46.
106. Ibid., 6: 590–91.
107. GARF, f. R-9492, op. 5, d. 200, l. 120; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 772,
ll. 154–57.
108. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 772, l. 118. These accusations were echoed by
offi cials from other camps that had received prisoners transferred from Rechlag.
Ibid., l. 113.
109. Afanas’ev and Kozlov, eds., Istoriia stalinskogo Gulaga , 2: 466–67.
110. GARF, f. R-9401, op. 1a, d. 526, ll. 165–66.
111. Roginskii, Smirnov, and Okhotin, Sistema ispravitel’no-trudovykh lagerei
v SSSR , 59. Marc Elie, “Khrushchev’s Gulag,” in The Thaw: Soviet Society and
Culture in the 1950s and 1960s , ed. Denis Kozlov and Eleonory Gilburd (Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 2013), 114.
112. Curiously, in April 1954 MUP minister Zasiad’ko actually requested that re-
sponsibility for Vorkuta’s mines be transferred back to the MVD. GARF, f. R-5446,

Notes to Pages 150–156 309
op. 88, d. 74, l. 100. While it is possible that he had simply given up on his earlier
efforts for MUP to gain greater control over Vorkuta, this could also have been a
way of expressing his frustration. In any case, his request was denied.
113. Elie, “Khrushchev’s Gulag,” 115; Barnes, Death and Redemption , 232–33.
114. Kokurin and Petrov, eds., GULAG, 1917–1960 , 151–63.
115. On the existing regulations, which had been in place since 1947, see GARF,
f. R-9401, op. 1a, d. 234, ll. 32ob., 42ob.–43ob. This was part of a postwar attempt
to tighten security in Gulag camps.
116. Kokurin and Petrov, eds., GULAG, 1917–1960 , 154–56, 158.
117. On the shortage of prisoners working in the mines, see RGAE, f. 8225,
op. 27, d. 497, l. 238.
118. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 176, l. 56.
119. Oleg Borovskii, Rentgen strogogo rezhima (Moscow: Vremia, 2009), 202.
120. Ibid., 220.
121. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 176, l. 57.
122. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7154, l. 158.
123. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 176, l. 57.
124. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7161, ll. 276–89.
125. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7154, ll. 277–78.
126. See, e.g., AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7154, ll. 237–42.
127. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 520, l. 44.
128. For a contrasting interpretation of the granting of de-zoned status, see
Barnes, Death and Redemption , 233–34.
129. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 531, ll. 3–4, 40–47; GURK NARK 1,
f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 75, l. 4; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 520, l. 2.
130. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 75, l. 5.
131. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 75, l. 4.
132. For example, in January–February 1956, only 44 prisoners were transferred
back into the zone for committing various crimes. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307,
op. 1, d. 520, l. 2. Over that same period of time 1,471 prisoners were granted the
right to live outside the zone.
133. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7158, l. 32.
134. M. Baital’skii, Notebooks for the Grandchildren: Recollections of a Trotsky-
ist Who Survived the Stalin Terror (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press,
1995), 391. Edward Buca also noted the seeming randomness with which passes
were granted. Buca, Vorkuta , 318.
135. GARF, f. R-9401, op. 2, d. 465, l. 3; Arkhiv NIPTs “Memorial” f. 2, op. 3,
d. 66, ll. 184–85; Heinrich Koerner and Bernhard Roeder, “Slaves into Serfs,” The
Observer , 8 June 1956, 6–7; Pavel Negretov, Vse dorogi vedut na Vorkutu (Benson,
VT: Chalidze Publication, 1985), 8–9.
136. For instance, at the beginning of 1951 there were 296,100 square meters
of living space for approximately 92,200 prisoners and non-prisoners working for
KVU. This translates into just over 3.2 square meters per person. GARF, f. R-8361,
op. 1, d. 326, ll. 8, 16. By the beginning of 1952 KVU’s non-prisoner employees
occupied an average of 4.57 square meters per person. GARF, f. R-8361, op. 1,
d. 326, l. 90.

310 Notes to Pages 157–166
137. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 520, l. 44; Baital’skii, Notebooks for
the Grandchildren , 392.
138. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7156, l. 111.
139. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7158, l. 257.
140. Ibid, ll. 25–26.
141. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 520, l. 44.
142. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7160, l. 71. This led to some improb-
able scenarios, such as the case of a prisoner who was granted a fi fteen-day leave
to visit his mother and get married in a village in Kiev oblast’, who subsequently
returned to Vorkutlag nine days late. GARF, f. R-9401, op. 2, d. 491, ll. 89–91. For
more on this case, see Alan Barenberg, “Prisoners without Borders: Zazonniki and
the Transformation of Vorkuta after Stalin,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas
57, no. 4 (2009): 530.
143. Koerner and Roeder, “Slaves into Serfs,” 6–7; Khlevniuk, “Economy,”
57. Others have cautioned about using such comparisons to the Gulag. Jeffrey
S. Hardy, “Re-Assessing the Archipelago: The Soviet Penal System in Compara-
tive and Transnational Context” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the
Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, New Orleans, LA,
17 November 2012).
Chapter 5. The “Second Birth” of Vorkuta
1. “Po prizyvu partii i pravitel’stva,” Zapoliar’e , 10 June 1956.
2. Similar anxieties were expressed across the Soviet Union. Miriam Dobson,
Khrushchev’s Cold Summer: Gulag Returnees, Crime, and the Fate of Reform after
Stalin (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009).
3. Sovmin resolution no. 1579, 26 August 1953, “O merakh neotlozhnoi po-
moshchi pechorskomu ugol’nomu basseinu.” Thanks to Nikolai Mastrakov for
sharing the document with me.
4. RGAE, f. 8225, op. 27, d. 497, l. 238.
5. Donald Filtzer, Soviet Workers and Late Stalinism: Labour and the Restora-
tion of the Stalinist System after World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2002), 29–34.
6. Sheila Fitzpatrick has noted that it was ironically anything but “organized.”
Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalin’s Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village
after Collectivization (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 97–99.
7. GURK NARK 1, f. R-605, op. 3, d. 259, l. 297.
8. Ibid., l. 301ob.
9. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 7, d. 30, l. 28.
10. RGAE, f. 8225, op. 27, d. 506, ll. 67–69.
11. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2281, l. 22ob.
12. For correspondence surrounding the effectiveness of orgnabor and its re-
placement with other recruitment policies, see GARF, f. R-5446, op. 90, d. 1039,
ll. 202–201 (descending page order); GARF, f. R-5446, op. 90, d. 1038, ll. 210–195.
13. “Sokrashchenie vooruzhennykh sil SSSR v seredine 50-x godov,” Voennye
arkhivy Rossii 1 (1993): 273, 290–91, 295–96; William Taubman, Khrushchev:
The Man and His Era (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003), 379–80.

Notes to Pages 166–170 311
14. NARK, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2281, ll. 14–15, 19–21, 22ob; “Put’ k sozdaniiu
postoiannykh kadrov,” Zapoliar’e , 3 December 1957.
15. GARF, f. R-5446, op. 90, d. 1039, l. 206. See also Donald A. Filtzer, Soviet
Workers and De-Stalinization: The Consolidation of the Modern System of So-
viet Production Relations, 1953–1964 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1992), 71–72; Allen Kassof, The Soviet Youth Program: Regimentation and Rebel-
lion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965), 116. For a detailed account of
recruitment to the Virgin lands, see Michaela Pohl, “The Virgin Lands between
Memory and Forgetting: People and Transformation in the Soviet Union, 1954–
1960” (PhD, Indiana University, 1999), chap. 5.
16. Pravda , 19 May 1956.
17. GARF, f. R-5446, op. 90, d. 1039, l. 206.
18. Zapoliar’e , 10 June 1956.
19. As Dan Healey has pointed out, some personnel were sent to Gulag camps
via raspredelenie, most notably doctors. Dan Healey, “Doctors within the Zone:
Staffi ng the Gulag’s Medical Service” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of
the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, New Orleans, LA,
17 November 2012).
20. Figures calculated from NARK, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 22, ll. 4–5; GURK NARK
1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 40, ll. 30–30ob.; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 43, ll.
18–19; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 53, ll. 6–7; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941,
op. 1, d. 64, l. 12; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 75, ll. 17–18, 21.
21. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 224, l. 20.
22. Melanie Ilic, Women Workers in the Soviet Interwar Economy: From ‘Pro-
tection’ to ‘Equality’ (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), chap. 10.
23. VMVTS, f. OF, d. 1057/12, l. 1; Al’bert Efi movich Bernshtein, Aiach-Iaga—
izobil’naia reka vremeni (Syktyvkar: Komi knizhnoe izd-vo, 2006), 56–66.
24. GARF, f. R-7416, op. 7, d. 2903, ll. 180–90; RGAE, f. 8225, op. 27, d. 497,
l. 238.
25. Zapoliar’e , 28 August 1955.
26. Irina Mikhailovna Sakharova and Dmitrii Stepanovich Karev, eds., Sbornik
zakonodatel’nykh aktov o trude (Moskva, 1960), 400–402. This was part of an
overall attempt by the Khrushchev regime to strengthen legislation to protect
women’s health, even as efforts were made to mobilize more women into the work-
force. Melanie Ilic, “What Did Women Want? Khrushchev and the Revivial of the
Zhensovety ,” i n Soviet State and Society under Nikita Khrushchev , ed. Melanie Ilic
and Jeremy Smith (New York: Routledge, 2009), 104–21; Filtzer, Soviet Workers
and De-Stalinization , 62–70, chap. 7.
27. GARF, f. R-5446, op. 90, d. 880, ll. 175–74.
28. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1688, op. 1, d. 266, ll. 103–4.
29. GARF, f. A-259, op. 42, d. 2969, ll. 1–2, 4; GARF, f. A-259, op. 45, d. 2813,
l. 80; GARF, f. A-259, op. 45, d. 2814, ll. 13, 15; GARF, f. A-259, op. 45, d. 2942,
ll. 24–25.
30. Ibid., 27; GARF R-7416, op. 7, d. 3799, ll. 55–57. Melanie Ilic suggests
that women in the pre-Second World War era also sought to circumvent laws that
prevented them from working underground in mines. Ilic, Women Workers in the
Soviet Interwar Economy , 172.

312 Notes to Pages 170–175
31. Pravda , 8 October 1959.
32. Filtzer, Soviet Workers and De-Stalinization , 68.
33. Sbornik zakonodatel’nykh aktov o trude (Moscow: Iurid. lit., 1974), 680–87.
Vedomosti Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR no. 7 (18 February 1960): 70–72.
34. L. Ia. Gintsberg and N. M. Smirnova, L’goty rabotaiushchim na Krainem
Severe (Moscow: Iurid. lit-ra, 1975), 35–36.
35. Elena Zubkova, Russia after the War: Hopes, Illusions, and Disappoint-
ments, 1945–1957 (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1998), chaps. 4, 6.
36. Al’bert Efi movich Bernshtein, Na rubezhe vekov (Syktyvkar: Miian Kyv,
2002), 120.
37. Itogi vsesoiuznoi perepisi naseleniia 1959 goda , 16 vols. (Moscow: Gossta-
tizdat, 1962), 1: 12.
38. Ibid., 1: 25.
39. Such bonuses had been offered since 1932, with the exception of the period
from 1942 to 1945. “Polozhenie o l’gotakh dlia lits, rabotaiushchikh v raionakh
Krainego Severa RSFSR” (10 May 1932). Sovetskii Sever , no. 3 (1932): 151–53;
Sbornik zakonov SSSR i ukazov Prezidiuma Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR: 1938–
1975 (Moscow: Izvestiia Sovetov deputatov trudiashchikhsia SSSR, 1975), 1: 431;
I. Dvornikov, ed. Sbornik vazhneishikh zakonov i postanovlenii o trude (Moscow:
Profi zdat, 1958), 114–15. Vorkuta was specifi cally included in the bonus zone from
12 August 1946. GURK NARK 2, f. 1, op. 4, d. 9, l. 81.
40. V. D. Zakharov, ed. Ugol’naia sokrovishchnitsa severa: Sbornik dokumentov
i materialov (Syktyvkar: Komi kn. izd-vo, 1984), 135.
41. Gintsberg and Smirnova, L’goty rabotaiushchim na Krainem Severe , 36.
42. Sbornik zakonov SSSR i ukazov Prezidiuma Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR:
1938–1975 , 3: 71–72.
43. GARF, f. R-5446, op. 1, d. 486, ll. 17–22; GARF, f. R-5446, op. 1, d. 664, l. 86.
44. Kotkin observed a similar phenomenon in Magnitogorsk in the 1930s. Ste-
phen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1995), 79.
45. Za ugol’ , 30 April 1958.
46. Pravda , 19 May 1956. The irony of this, of course, was that Komsomol’sk-na-
Amure had been built primarily using prisoner labor after the failure of recruiting
through the Komsomol. Jonathan A. Bone, “À la recherche d’un Komsomol perdu:
Who Really Built Komsomol’sk-na-Amure, and Why,” Revue des études slaves
LXXI, no. 1 (1999): 59–92. Seen in this light, the process that took place in Vor-
kuta in the 1950s is the mirror image of the one that took place in Komsomol’sk-
na-Amure in the 1930s.
47. Zapoliar’e , 8 July 1956.
48. Mikhail T., interview by author, digital recording, Syktyvkar, Russia, 31 Oc-
tober 2003.
49. On the shortcomings of labor recruitment in the 1930s, see Kotkin, Magnetic
Mountain , 78–80.
50. A typical example of such writing about the city can be found in “Za 67-i
parallel’iu,” Pravda , 6 March 1960.
51. See, e.g., “Gorod za poliarnym krugom,” Ogonëk , no. 45 (1947): (be-
tween 8–9).

Notes to Pages 176–187 313
52. Victor Zaslavsky, The Neo-Stalinist State: Class, Ethnicity, and Consensus in
Soviet Society , rev. ed. (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1994), 139.
53. Ibid., 140–43.
54. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 7, d. 57, ll. 117–18.
55. Zapoliar’e , 22 June 1956.
56. Ibid.
57. Bernshtein, Na rubezhe vekov , 126.
58. Ibid., 169.
59. Zapoliar’e , 19 October 1956.
60. Zapoliar’e , 10 October 1956.
61. GURK NARK 2, f. 1791, op. 1, d. 108, l. 59.
62. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 56, l. 11.
63. GURK NARK 2, f. 70, op. 3, d. 6, l. 28.
64. See, e.g., Za ugol’ , 30 April 1958.
65. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 7, d. 102, ll. 10–11.
66. GURK NARK 2, f. 1791, op. 1, d. 108, l. 81.
67. RGASPI, f. M-1, op. 8, d. 773, ll. 40–41.
68. Zapoliar’e , 23 November 1956.
69. This is estimated from ten-month fi gures in GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 7,
d. 103, l. 77.
70. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1716, l. 152.
71. This is estimated from half-year totals found in GURK NARK 2, f. 2216,
op. 15, d. 9, ll. 74–75.
72. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1713, ll. 151–52.
73. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 19, l. 66.
74. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 56, l. 27.
75. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 19a, l. 49.
76. Ibid., l. 67.
77. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 22, ll. 48–49.
78. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 15, d. 44, l. 9.
79. Zapoliar’e , 10 June 1956.
80. Zapoliar’e , 10 August 1957.
81. Zapoliar’e , 16 February 1957.
82. Bernshtein, Na rubezhe vekov , 120.
83. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 7, d. 100a, ll. 96–98.
84. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1688, op. 1, d. 559, l. 6.
85. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 7, d. 32a, l. 219.
86. Mine no. 1, for example, built some 13,000 square meters of housing from
1955 to 1958, yet as of May 1959, 311 workers and their families (out of approxi-
mately 5,000 mine workers) still lived in private apartments or in dormitories.
GURK NARK 1, f. R-1688, op. 1, d. 529, ll. 12, 72.
87. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 22a, ll. 135–36.
88. On the campaign’s formulation and launch, see Mark B. Smith, Property of
Communists: The Urban Housing Program from Stalin to Khrushchev (DeKalb:
Northern Illinois University Press, 2010), chap. 10.
89. Steven E. Harris, “‘I Know All the Secrets of My Neighbors’: The Quest for
Privacy in the Era of the Separate Apartment,” in Borders of Socialism: Private

314 Notes to Pages 187–196
Spheres of Soviet Russia , ed. Lewis H. Siegelbaum (Gordonsville, VA: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2006), 171–89.
90. GARF, f. A-259, op. 1, d. 1186, ll. 338–48.
91. “Zavod domostroieniia,” Zapoliar’e , 3 August 1960.
92. “Bar’er nado oboiti,” Zapoliar’e, 4 March 1961. The problems described
echo those encountered during the construction of Akademgorodok. Paul R. Jo-
sephson, New Atlantis Revisited: Akademgorodok, the Siberian City of Science
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 16–17.
93. B. Orlovskii, “Planirovka novykh mikroraionov Vorkuty,” Arkhitektura
SSSR 6 (1962).
94. RGAE, f. 14, op. 1, d. 2259/30, l. 1.
95. See, e.g., “Timan,” a neighborhood begun in 1976 that was intended to
house sixteen thousand people. “Mikroraion Timan,” Zapoliar’e , 23 February
96. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 543, l. 58.
97. RGAE, f. 8225, op. 27, d. 497, l. 238.
98. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 393, l. 58.
99. Donald A. Filtzer, Soviet Workers and Stalinist Industrialization: The For-
mation of Modern Soviet Production Relations, 1928–1941 (Armonk, NY: M. E.
Sharpe, 1986), 52–53; R. W. Davies, The Soviet Economy in Turmoil, 1929–1930
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 531; R. W. Davies, Crisis and Prog-
ress in the Soviet Economy, 1931–1933 (London: Macmillan, 1996), 543.
100. The proportion of women in the local population (camp and city included)
had risen from approximately 27 percent in 1954 to 42 percent in 1960. Figures
calculated from sources for Appendix A, table A.1.2, Appendix B, table B.2, and
GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 224, l. 20.
101. In 1958, nearly half of all workers had skipped work at least once. How-
ever, by 1965 the rate of absenteeism had fallen to just 15 percent. GURK NARK 1,
f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2281, l. 23; GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2346, l. 2.
102. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1746, l. 6.
103. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1747, ll. 81, 83–84.
104. GARF, f. A-259, op. 1, d. 1186, ll. 338–48.
105. V. Griner, Poslednie dni bab’ego leta (Syktyvkar: Komi knizhnoe izdatel’stvo,
1975), 6.
106. “Ko vtoromu rozhdeniiu basseina,” Zapoliar’e , 6 February 1960.
107. “Ugol’ zapoliar’ia—metallurgii Urala,” Sovetskaia Rossiia , 6 August 1959.
108. Viacheslav Davydov, ed. Vorkutaugol’ (Syktyvkar: OAO Komi Respubli-
kanskaia Tipografi ia, 2001), 164.
109. Some high-quality coking coal was even sent abroad, with Italy importing
1.25 million tons of coal from Vorkuta in 1969. RGAE, f. 14, op. 1, d. 2260/2, l 4.
Coal from Vorkuta was also shipped to several other foreign countries in the 1980s
and early 1990s, including Finland, Sweden, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Spain,
Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Turkey. Davydov, ed., Vorkutaugol’ , 164.
110. Mikhail T., interview by author, 31 October 2004.
111. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 224, l. 20; GURK NARK 1 f. R-1941,
op. 1, d. 22, ll. 4–5.

Notes to Pages 196–201 315
112. V. I. Il’in, Vlast’ i ugol’: Shakhterskoe dvizhenie Vorkuty (1989–1998 gody)
(Syktyvkar: Syktyvkarskii gos. universitet, 1998), 269.
113. V. M. Piskov, ed. Sotsial’noe obespechenie i strakhovanie v SSSR; Sbornik
ofi tsial’nykh dokumentov (Moskva: Iuridicheskaia literatura, 1964), 127–40.
114. In the 1980s KVU organized and fi nanced the construction of coopera-
tive apartment buildings in other regions of the country for retiring workers. Il’in,
Vlast’ i ugol’ , 193–94.
Chapter 6. From Prisoners to Citizens?
1. Leonid Pavlovich Markizov, Do i posle 1945 (Syktyvkar: KOGUP, 2003),
145–55. Quotation from 155.
2. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d.56, l. 27.
3. Nanci Adler, The Gulag Survivor: Beyond the Soviet System (New Bruns-
wick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2002); Stephen F. Cohen, The Victims Return
(Exeter, NH: Pub.Works, 2010); Miriam Dobson, Khrushchev’s Cold Summer:
Gulag Returnees, Crime, and the Fate of Reform after Stalin (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 2009); Marc Elie, “Les politiques à l’égard des libérés du Gou-
lag,” Cahiers du Monde Russe 47, nos. 1–2 (2006): 327–48; Marc Elie, “Les an-
ciens détenus du Goulag: Libérations massives, réinsertion et réhabilitation dans
l’URSS poststalinienne, 1953–1964” (PhD, EHESS, 2007); Marc Elie, “Ce que
réhabiliter veut dire,” Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’Histoire , no. 107 (2010): 101–13;
Amir Weiner, “The Empires Pay a Visit: Gulag Returnees, East European Rebel-
lions, and Soviet Frontier Politics,” Journal of Modern History 78, no. 2 (2006):
4. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 519, ll. 124–28.
5. J. Arch Getty, Gabor T. Rittersporn, and Viktor N. Zemskov, “Victims of the
Soviet Penal System in the Pre-War Years: A First Approach on the Basis of Archi-
val Evidence,” American Historical Review 98, no. 4 (1993): 1017–49.
6. Golfo Alexopoulos, “Amnesty 1945: The Revolving Door of Stalin’s Gulag,”
Slavic Review 64, no. 2 (2005): 274–306.
7. Dobson, Khrushchev’s Cold Summer , 109.
8. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 519, l. 2.
9. Vedomosti Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR no. 17 (4 October 1955): 467–68;
GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 6, d. 57, l. 89. This was more than 10 percent of all
the prisoners throughout the Gulag who were freed under the amnesty. GARF,
f. R-9414, op. 1, d. 323, l. 12.
10. Vedomosti Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR no. 17 (4 October 1955): 472; Vedo-
mosti Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR no. 24 (21 December 1956): 615.
11. Vedomosti Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR no. 24 (6 November 1957): 692–93;
N. D. Zakharov and V. P. Malkov, eds., Sbornik dokumentov po istorii ugolovnogo
zakonodatel’stva SSSR i RSFSR, 1953–1991 gg ., 3 vols. (Kazan’: Izd-vo Kazan-
skogo universiteta, 1992–1995), 1: 26–27.
12. Andrei Artizov and others, eds., Reabilitatsiia: Kak eto bylo , 3 vols. (Mos-
cow: “Demokratiia”, 2000–2004), 1: 116–17; Adler, Gulag Survivor , 86; Elie, “Les
anciens détenus du Goulag,” chap. 4.

316 Notes to Pages 201–205
13. E. A. Zaitsev, ed. Sbornik zakonodatel’nykh i normativnikh aktov o repressi-
iakh i reabilitatsii zhertv politicheskikh repressii (Moscow: Izd-vo “Respublika”,
1993), 78–80.
14. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 513, l. 34.
15. Artizov and others, eds., Reabilitatsiia , 2: 29–33.
16. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 516, ll. 78, 82, 91, 97.
17. Zakharov and Malkov, eds., Sbornik dokumentov , 1: 23. On parole’s elimi-
nation, see O. V. Khlevniuk, The History of the Gulag: From Collectivization to the
Great Terror (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 206–7; J. Arch Getty and
Oleg V. Naumov, The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-destruction of the Bolshe-
viks, 1932–1939 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 549–50.
18. AUIN MIu RF po RK, f. 1, op. 3, d. 7156, ll. 94–95; AUIN MIu RF po RK,
f. 1, op. 3, d. 7159, ll. 97–102; GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 176, l. 61. In the
beginning, cases had to be considered by the Supreme Court of Komi ASSR. By the
end of 1954, however, they were being decided locally in Vorkuta.
19. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 176, l. 61; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2,
d. 513, l. 34; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 519, l. 125; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1
ch. 2, d. 517, l. 24; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 524, l. 19.
20. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 176, l. 61; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2,
d. 513, l. 34. This was done under the auspices of article 457 of the Criminal-
Procedural Code of the RSFSR. Ugolovno-protsessual’nyi kodeks RSFSR (Mos-
cow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo sovetskoe zakonodatel’stvo, 1934), 103. See
also Elie, “Les anciens détenus du Goulag,” 73–76.
21. Zakharov and Malkov, eds., Sbornik dokumentov , 1: 22; Elie, “Les anciens
détenus du Goulag,” 67–73.
22. GURK NARK 2, f. 1875, op. 1, d. 176, l. 60; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2,
d. 513, l. 34.
23. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 519, l. 2.
24. R. Kh. Gizatulin, Nas bylo mnogo na chelne: Dokumental’noe povestvovanie
(Moscow: 1993), 7, 120; E. I. Cherneta-Gizatulina, I zamiraet dusha v razdum’iakh
(Moscow: P-Tsentr, 2000), 17, 23, 76.
25. Oleg Borovskii, Rentgen strogogo rezhima (Moscow: Vremia, 2009), 220.
26. Steven A. Barnes, Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of
Soviet Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 237–45.
27. GARF, f. R-9479, op. 1, d. 896, l. 151.
28. Artizov and others, eds., Reabilitatsiia , 1: 289.
29. Viktor N. Zemskov, “Massovoe osvobozhenie spetsposelentsev i ssyl’nykh
(1954–1960 gg.),” Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniia 1 (1991): 20.
30. RGAE, f. 8225, op. 27, d. 506, l. 184.
31. Artizov and others, eds., Reabilitatsiia , 1: 216, 259–60, 286–87.
32. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 512; GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 514;
GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 518.
33. For instance, on 1 February 1966 there were 2,737 prisoners organized into
three camp points. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 393, l. 51.
34. Judith Pallot, “Forced Labour for Forestry: The Twentieth Century History
of Colonisation and Settlement in the North of Perm’ Oblast’.” Europe-Asia Stud-

Notes to Pages 205–210 317
ies 54, no. 7 (2002): 1068–69; Judith Pallot, “Russia’s Penal Peripheries: Space,
Place, and Penalty in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia,” Transactions of the Institute
of British Geographers 30, no. 1 (2005): 98–112; Judith Pallot, Laura Piacentini,
and Dominique Moran, “Patriotic Discourses in Russia’s Penal Peripheries: Re-
membering the Mordovan Gulag,” Europe-Asia Studies 62, no. 1 (2010): 1–33.
35. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1307, op. 1, d. 393, l. 58.
36. Marc Elie, “Khrushchev’s Gulag,” in The Thaw: Soviet Society and Culture in
the 1950s and 1960s , ed. Denis Kozlov and Eleonory Gilburd (Toronto: University
of Toronto Press, 2013), 109–42; Jeffrey S. Hardy, “Gulag Tourism: Khrushchev’s
“Show” Prisons in the Cold War Context, 1954–59,” The Russian Review 71, no. 1
(2012): 49–78; Jeffrey S. Hardy, “‘The Camp Is Not a Resort’: The Campaign
against Privileges in the Soviet Gulag, 1957–61,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian
and Eurasian History 13, no. 1 (2012): 89–122.
37. One of the most moving descriptions of this feeling was written by Evgeniia
Ginzburg. Evgeniia Semenovna Ginzburg, Within the Whirlwind (New York: Har-
court Brace Jovanovich, 1981), 173.
38. Aleksandr Klein, Moi nomer “2P-904”: Avtobiografi cheskie stikhi i poema
(Syktyvkar: 1992), 60.
39. Ibid.
40. Of the many stories explaining the remarkable power of the shared prisoner
experience, one of the most remarkable is Jacques Rossi, “Dva rasskaza,” Volia
8–9 (2002): 143.
41. Joseph Scholmer, Vorkuta (New York: Holt, 1955), chap. 6 ; Barnes, Death
and Redemption , 185–97.
42. Federico Varese, “The Society of the vory-v-zakone , 1930s–1950s,” Cahiers
du Monde russe 39, no. 4 (1998): 515–38.
43. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 6, d. 63, ll. 37–41; GURK NARK 2, f. 2216,
op. 6, d. 62, ll. 10–11; GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 6, d. 54, l. 158.
44. On these news features throughout the USSR, see Dobson, Khrushchev’s
Cold Summer , 44–48.
45. Zapoliar’e , 21 October 1956.
46. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 108a, l. 154.
47. VMVTs, f. OF, d. 3094/1–2, l. 336.
48. William Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (New York: W. W.
Norton, 2003), 294–99.
49. Artizov and others, eds., Reabilitatsiia , 2: 208–14. Quotation from 213.
50. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 7, d. 92, l. 43.
51. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 6, d. 27, ll. 51–55.
52. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 17a, l. 53.
53. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 6, d. 27, ll. 45–46.
54. GURK NARK 2, f. 1791, op. 1, d. 27, ll. 24–25.
55. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 19a, l. 49; GURK NARK 2, f. 2216,
op. 14, d. 19, l. 94; GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 17a, l. 56.
56. Weiner, “Empires Pay a Visit,” 360–71.
57. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, d. 92, l. 106.
58. GARF, f. R-8131, op. 32, d. 4851; Weiner, “Empires Pay a Visit,” 333–76.

318 Notes to Pages 211–218
59. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 17a, l. 53.
60. Irina Paert, “Demistifying the Heavens: Women, Religion, and Khrushchev’s
Anti-religious Campaign, 1954–64,” in Women in the Khrushchev Era , ed. Melanie
Ilic, Susan E. Reid, and Lynne Attwood (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004),
203–21; Elena Zhidkova, “The Antireligious Campaign in Kuibyshev Oblast’ dur-
ing the Thaw,” Russian Studies in History 50, no. 1 (2011): 3–18.
61. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 6, d. 27, ll. 48–51. Quotation from 48.
62. “Krivchuk obviniaet,” Zapoliar’e , 21–22 March 1959.
63. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 15, d. 13, l. 20.
64. Pavel Negretov, Vse dorogi vedut na Vorkutu (Benson, VT: Chalidze Publica-
tion, 1985), 142–45.
65. Elie, “Ce que réhabiliter veut dire,” 101–13.
66. Adler, Gulag Survivor , 28; Elie, “Les anciens détenus du Goulag,” 249–50.
67. Artizov and others, eds., Reabilitatsiia , 1: 257–59.
68. Ibid., 2: 120.
69. According to Marc Elie, the 1954 commissions rehabilitated only 4 percent
of the cases that they reviewed, whereas the 1956 commissions rehabilitated only
6.5 percent. Elie, “Ce que réhabiliter veut dire,” 104.
70. Dobson, Khrushchev’s Cold Summer , 53.
71. Adler, Gulag Survivor , chaps. 3, 5; Dobson, Khrushchev’s Cold Summer ,
chap. 2.
72. Markizov, Do i posle 1945 , 155.
73. Aleksandr Klein, Ulybki nevoli: Nevydumannaia zhizn’, ulybki, sud’by, slu-
chai (Syktyvkar: Prolog, 1997), 286.
74. Iurii P., interview by author, digital recording, Vorkuta, Russia, 1 June 2003;
Galina S., interview by author, digital recording, Vorkuta, Russia, 14 May 2003;
Negretov, Vse dorogi vedut na Vorkutu .
75. Dobson, Khrushchev’s Cold Summer , 54.
76. Elie, “Ce que réhabiliter veut dire,” 105, 108.
77. Elie, “Les anciens détenus du Goulag,” 250.
78. Galina S., interview by author, 14 May 2003.
79. GARF, f. R-9414, op. 1 ch. 2, d. 492.
80. Scholmer, Vorkuta , chap. 12.
81. See, e.g., GARF, f. R-9479, op. 1, d. 910, ll. 216–17.
82. GARF, f. R-9479, op. 1, d. 920, l. 313–14.
83. Ironically, the Gorkom explicitly stated that discrimination was not to have a
“campaign character” ( kampaneiskii kharakter ). GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 15,
d. 18a, l. 71.
84. On the 1950–1951 campaign, see GURK NARK 2, f. 1, op. 4, d. 979,
ll. 25–27.
85. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 54, l. 59.
86. Ibid., ll. 59–61.
87. Ibid., ll. 62–63, 101.
88. Ibid., ll. 122–26.
89. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 65, ll. 4–6.
90. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 15, d. 17, ll. 107–8.

Notes to Pages 218–230 319
91. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 15, d. 18a, ll. 68–71.
92. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1746, l. 95.
93. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1745, l. 183.
94. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1688, op. 1, d. 274, ll. 16–19.
95. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 68, ll. 97–98.
96. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1711, ll. 13–14.
97. Mikhail T., interview by author, digital recording, Syktyvkar, Russia, 31 Oc-
tober 2004.
98. V. Frid, 58 1/2: Zapiski lagernogo pridurka (Moscow: Izd. dom Rusanova,
1996), 363, 368–70. Quotation from 363.
99. Adler, Gulag Survivor , 109.
100. Orlando Figes, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia (New York:
Metropolitan Books, 2007), 566.
101. Galina S., interview by author, 14 May 2003.
102. Negretov, Vse dorogi vedut na Vorkutu , 37–39. Quotation from 37.
103. Ibid., 140–41.
104. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 1707, l. 91. Similar allegations were
made that former prisoners only hired other former prisoners of their nationality.
GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 17a, l. 52.
105. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 14, d. 54, l. 110.
106. GURK NARK 2, f. 70, op. 3, d. 6, l. 28.
107. RGAE, f. 8225, op. 27, d. 490, l. 104.
108. RGAE, f. 8225, op. 27, d. 506, ll. 184–88; RGAE, f. 8225, op. 27, d. 509,
ll. 37–39; RGAE, f. 8225, op. 27, d. 504, l.14.
109. See, e.g., Markizov, Do i posle 1945 , 155.
110. Elie, “Ce que réhabiliter veut dire,” 106.
111. Al’bert Efi movich Bernshtein, Na rubezhe vekov (Syktyvkar: Miian Kyv,
2002), 115–17.
112. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1688, op. 1, d. 273, ll. 226–27.
113. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1941, op. 1, d. 128, l. 11.
114. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2281, l. 21.
115. Ibid., ll. 14–15.
116. Iurii P., interview by author, 1 June 2003.
117. Zapoliar’e , 7 December 1960.
118. Galina S., interview by author, 14 May 2003.
119. Pavel Negretov, “How Vorkuta Began,” Soviet Studies 29, no. 4 (1977):
565–75; Negretov, Vse dorogi vedut na Vorkutu .
120. Adler, Gulag Survivor , 42, 109. Miriam Dobson, on the other hand, con-
cludes, “Of the millions who came back from the camps, many no doubt did return
home and fi nd work, but stories of successful reintegration leave little trace in the
archives.” Dobson, Khrushchev’s Cold Summer , 112.
121. Negretov, Vse dorogi vedut na Vorkutu , 13–14. An example of one of Ne-
gretov’s published letters can be found in “Pora navesti most,” Zapoliar’e , 1 July
122. V. I. Il’in, Vlast’ i ugol’: Shakhterskoe dvizhenie Vorkuty (1989–1998 gody)
(Syktyvkar: Syktyvkarskii gos. universitet, 1998), 269.

320 Notes to Pages 231–238
1. V. Griner, Poslednie dni bab’ego leta (Syktyvkar: Komi knizhnoe izdatel’stvo,
1975), 150–51.
2. GURK NARK 2, f. 2216, op. 15, d. 44, ll. 35–56.
3. GARF, f. R-5446, op. 1, d. 789, ll. 119–31.
4. Griner, Poslednie dni bab’ego leta , 8.
5. Appendix C, table C.1.
6. Appendix B, table B.1; “1989 USSR population census” (Minneapolis, MN:
East View Publications, 1996).
7. “Mikroraion Timan,” Zapoliar’e , 23 Februrary 1980.
8. Archie Brown, Seven Years That Changed the World: Perestroika in Perspec-
tive (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 5, 11–17. Quotation from 5.
9. V. I. Il’in, Vlast’ i ugol’: Shakhterskoe dvizhenie Vorkuty (1989–1998 gody)
(Syktyvkar: Syktyvkarskii gos. universitet, 1998), 15–30. Il’in described this as
“miner’s liberalism,” a desire for both greater autonomy for the mines and in-
creased state subsidies for miners (153).
10. Ibid., 29, 33. The miners and their leaders apparently concluded that the strike
was an effective means of accomplishing economic and political goals. Thus, fur-
ther strikes would follow periodically in the 1990s and early twenty-fi rst century.
11. Ibid., 112–24.
12. Ibid., chap. 6.
13. Statisticheskii ezhegodnik Respubliki Komi (Syktyvkar: Goskomstat Res-
publiki Komi, 2011), 290.
14. Il’in, Vlast’ i ugol’ , 189–90.
15. Igor Artemiev and Michael Haney, “The Privatization of the Russian Coal In-
dustry: Policies and Processes in the Transformation of a Major Industry,” (2002),–9450–2820.
16. British economist Paul Hare, who was sent to Vorkuta by the World Bank
in 1993, predicted that mining-related employment in Vorkuta would fall by half,
and perhaps as much as three-quarters, by the end of the 1990s. Paul G. Hare,
“Coal in Vorkuta: Subsidies and the Social Safety Net,” in Privatization, Enterprise
Development, and Economic Reform: Experiences of Developing and Transitional
Economies , ed. Paul Cook, C. H. Kirkpatrick, and F. I. Nixson (Northampton, MA:
Edward Elgar Publishers, 1998), 291–93.
17. Il’in, Vlast’ i ugol’ , 184, 212.
18. Ibid., 148.
19. Ibid., 144–47.
20. Ibid., 197–201.
21. On the development of the Russian Mafi a, see Federico Varese, The Russian
Mafi a: Private Protection in a New Market Economy (New York: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 2001); Vadim Volkov, Violent Entrepreneurs: The Use of Force in the
Making of Russian Capitalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002).
22. Il’in, Vlast’ i ugol’ , 118, 124.
23. Statisticheskii ezhegodnik Respubliki Komi , 205.
24. Hilary Pilkington, “No Longer ‘On Parade’: Style and the Performance of
Skinhead in the Russian Far North,” Russian Review 69, no. 2 (2010): 187–209.

Notes to Pages 238–245 321
25. Hilary Pilkington, “Beyond ‘Peer Pressure’: Rethinking Drug Use and ‘Youth
Culture’,” International Journal of Drug Policy 18, no. 3 (2007): 213–24.
26. Il’in, Vlast’ i ugol’ , 213.
27. Statisticheskii ezhegodnik Respubliki Komi , 45.
28. “Navechno zamorozhennye,” Izvestiia , 27 May 1998.
29. Such comments betrayed an astonishing lack of sensitivity toward the strug-
gles of Vorkuta’s citizenry (and in particular its ex-prisoner population) in diffi cult
economic times. Further, the article failed to even pose the question of why, given its
ugliness and troubled past, Vorkuta became a place where hundreds of thousands
of people, ex-prisoners among them, had chosen to settle over the previous fi ve de-
cades. Anne Applebaum, “The Great Error,” The Spectator , 28 July 2001, 18–19.
30. As of March 2012 Mordashov was reported to be worth $15.3 billion, mak-
ing him the forty-fi fth richest person in the world. Forbes, “Alexei Mordashov,” le/alexei-mordashov/ (accessed 13 March 2012).
31. Severstal, “Vorkutaugol,”
coal_mining/vorkutaugol/ (accessed 13 March 2012).
32. Severstal, “Severstal’ vygrala konkurs na pravo osvoeniia ugol’nogo uchastka
no 1 Usinskogo mestorozhdeniia v Komi,”
press_center/news/document1466.phtml (accessed 13 March 2012).
33. ITAR-TASS, “Vorkutaugol to launch new coalmine with 4 mln t capacity in
2020,” (accessed 23 April 2012).
34. Severstal, “Vorkutaugol’ v 2011 godu napravila na sotsial’nye proekty v re-
gione prisutstviia svyshe 40 millionov rublei,”
rus/press_center/news/document1503.phtml (accessed 12 March 2012).
35. Statisticheskii ezhegodnik Respubliki Komi , 45.
36. Vorkutaugol, “O kompanii,”
.phtml (accessed 12 March 2012).
37. GURK NARK 1, f. R-1675, op. 1, d. 2281, l. 21.
38. “Implementation Completion and Results Report (IBRD-46110) on a Loan
in the Amount of US$80 Million to the Russian Federation for a Northern Restruc-
turing Project” (World Bank, 2010), 12, ICR1343.
39. Statisticheskii ezhegodnik Respubliki Komi , 99.
40. Ibid., 205.
41. Ibid., 115.
42. Komiinform, “Poselek Komsomol’skii ‘pereedet’ v Vorgashor,” http://www (accessed 13 March 2012).
43. On the so-called vakhtoviki and their strategies and coping methods, see
Gertrude Eilmsteiner-Saxinger, “Commuting to the Siberian Far North—When Ex-
treme Becomes Normality,” TRANS-Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften ,
no. 17 (2010),–5/4–5_eilmsteiner-saxinger.htm (ac-
cessed 22 February 2012).
44. Andrei Sakharov Museum, “Pamiatnik zhertvam politicheskikh repres-
sii,” (ac-
cessed 4 May 2012).
45. For example, memorial volumes appeared in 1959, 1964, and 1984, marking
the twenty-fi fth, thirtieth, and fi ftieth anniversaries of the extraction of coal from
Vorkuta’s fi rst mine. B. L. Afanas’ev, ed. Pechorskii ugol’nyi bassein (Leningrad:

322 Notes to Pages 245–248
Lenizdat, 1959); N. Ushpik, Vorkuta (Syktyvkar: Komi knizhnoe izd-vo, 1964);
V. D. Zakharov, ed. Ugol’naia sokrovishchnitsa severa: Sbornik dokumentov i ma-
terialov (Syktyvkar: Komi kn. izd-vo, 1984).
46. See, e.g., V. Griner, Vyshe poliarnogo kruga: Povest’, ocherki (Syktyvkar:
Komi knizhnoe izd-vo, 1980), 100–115.
47. V. M. Zubok, Zhivago’s Children: The Last Russian Intelligentsia (Cam-
bridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), 342–43.
48. See, e.g., “Zharkoe leto 53-ogo,” Zapoliar’e , 9 July 1989; “Naideno mesto
kashketinskikh rasstrelov,” Zapoliar’e , 15 September 1995.
49. On the history of the Memorial movement, see Nanci Adler, Victims of So-
viet Terror: The Story of the Memorial Movement (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993);
Kathleen E. Smith, Remembering Stalin’s Victims: Popular Memory and the End of
the USSR (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996).
50. Albert Leong, Centaur: The Life and Art of Ernst Neizvestny (Lanham: Row-
man & Littlefi eld, 2002), 218–24.
51. Andrei Sakharov Museum, “Pamiatnik repressirovannym grazhdanam
Pol’shi i drugikh stran,”
.html?id=281 (accessed 24 April 2012); Andrei Sakharov Museum, “Pamiatnyi krest
zhertvam kommunisticheskogo terrora,”
pam/pam_card12dd.html?id=280 (accessed 24 April 2012); Andrei Sakharov Mu-
seum, “Pamiatnyi krest zhertvam politicheskikh repressii,” http://www.sakharov (accessed 24 April 2012); Andrei
Sakharov Museum, “Chasovnia pamiati Litovskikh zakliuchennykh, pogibshikh
pri podavlenii vosstaniia 1 avgusta 1953 g.,”
pam/pam_card4bb2.html?id=277 (accessed 24 April 2012); Andrei Sakharov Mu-
seum, “Pamiatnik zhertvam voiny i politicheskikh repressii,” http://www.sakharov–2.html?id=278 (accessed 24 April 2012).
52. Steven Lee Myers, “Above the Arctic Circle, a Gulag Nightmare for Tour-
ists?” New York Times , 6 June 2005. Several years later, Shpektor remained
publicly committed to the idea. Prava cheloveka v Rossii, “V Komi razrabotaiut
kontseptsiiu memorial’nogo kompleksa GULAG,”
(accessed 7 May 2012).
53. Biznes-novosti Respubliki Komi, “V Den’ VDV v Vorkute otkryli pamiat-
nik voinam-internationalistam,” (accessed
24 April 2012).
54. Dan Healey has also emphasized the diffi culty of coming to terms with the
coexistence of these fi rst two narratives in former Gulag towns. Den Khili [Dan
Healey], “Nasledie Gulaga: Prinuditel’nyi trud sovetskoi epokhi kak vnutrenniaia
kolonizatsiia,” in Tam, vnutri: Praktiki vnutrennei kolonizatsii v kul’turnoi istorii
Rossii , ed. Aleksandr Etkind, Dirk Uffelmann, and Il’ia Kukulin (Moscow: Novoe
literaturnoe obozrenie, 2012), 684–728.
55. Applebaum, “Great Error,” 18–19.

Abez’, 24, 294n52 absenteeism. See labor discipline Adler, Nanci, 223, 229Agranovich, Leonid, 61, 70Alexopoulos, Golfo, 7, 108, 200Allilueva, Svetlana, 67anti-Semitism, 175, 195Applebaum, Anne, 239, 248Arkhangel’sk, xvi, 20, 24, 30, 32, 36
baby boom, 90, 111–12. See also non- prisonersBaital’skii, Mikhail Davidovich, 25–26, 91–92, 96, 156, 287n90, 288n120Baltic peoples, 61, 147, 211. See also Esto- nians; Latvians; Lithuaniansbanditry, 48Baptists, 211Barnes, Steven, 7, 22, 146barracks. See housing Bauman, Zygmunt, 295n57Bell, Wilson, 7, 288n124, 300n39Belomor. See White Sea Canal Beriia, Lavrentii, 17, 35, 37, 42–43, 47–48, 51, 54, 66, 129, 292n8, 294n43, 294n45; fall of, 104, 130, 132, 139, 145–56; reforms of, 123, 126, 131, 139, 149–50Bezymianka , 102
Boitsov, Boris Fedorovich, 184 Borovskii, Oleg, 152–53, 202, 208Brezhnev, Leonid Il’ich, 214, 231–32bribery, 115Brown, Archie, 233Brown, Kate, 6, 281n25Buca, Edward, 58–59, 62, 67, 141, 307n72, 309n134Bulganin, Nikolai, 203bytoviki , 43, 49, 206, 208
camp jargon, 40, 299n23 camp personnel, 23, 38, 105, 135, 144; in company town, 10, 250; drinking, 117; shortage of, 98–99; violence of, 117. See also guards Cherepovets, 92, 194, 240, 298n11Cherneta-Gizatulina, Evdokiia Ivanovna, 202Chernov, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich, 17–18Chernov, Georgii Aleksandrovich, 15, 17–19, 52–53Chib’iu. See Ukhta Chief Administration of Camps for Metallurgical Plants and Mines. See GULGMPChief Administration of Camps for Rail-road Construction. See GULZhDS

324 Index
children’s hospital, 88–89, 91, 188 coal: coking, 193–94, 240, 242, 314n109; cost of production, 92, 163, 192–93; demand for, 44, 84, 193, 314n109; discovery of, 15, 17–19, 52–53, 283n8; price of, 234; production of, 3, 22, 52, 54, 59, 92, 120, 135, 195, 232, 240, 278; production targets, 20, 35, 42, 291n185; transportation of, 36–37, 50, 56, 60, 161; use in Leningrad, 292n12“colonists,” 22–23, 53, 151colonization. See internal colonization Communist Party, 225; exiles in, 203; ex-prisoners in, 39, 213, 228; members of, 217; prisoners formerly members of, 49company town, 10–11, 282n27. See also Vorkutaconstruction workers, 161Council of Ministers, 111, 226, 302n88; resolutions of, 110, 159, 164, 166, 189, 298n11Council of People’s Commissars, 18, 35, 287n101“counterrevolutionaries,” 16, 26, 37–38, 45, 49, 51, 98, 220, 293n19; and bytoviki , 208; and de-zoning/de-convoying, 40–42, 156; and the Great Terror, 30, 54; and mass releases, 123, 201, 204, 214; in “special” camps, 100–101; working as domestics, 42. See also Trotskyites crime, post-Soviet, 238–39, 242“criminals.” See bytoviki
Dal’stroi, 286n82, 287n91, 296n221, 306n44. See also Kolyma de-convoyed prisoners, 40–41, 69, 82, 122, 151–53, 156, 159, 288n124Degtev, Stepan Ivanovich, 127, 134demobilized soldiers, 5, 194, 250; corrup-tion of, 184–85, 211; integration of, 177–79, 181; recruitment of, 166–67, 171–72, 174, 189–90. See also labor turnover; non-prisoners; recruitsdenuciations, 71–72, 224–25Derevianko, A. A., 124, 127, 132–33, 142, 144–46, 148–49, 306n44, 307n72de-Stalinization, 1, 4, 245de-zoned prisoners, 13, 40–41, 69, 72, 122, 151–59, 199, 289n125, 309n128, 309n132, 309n134
Dobson, Miriam, 121, 214, 319n120 drug use, 238–39Duritskii, I. A., 39
edinonachal’e . See “one-man rule” Ekaterinburg, 246Elie, Marc, 214, 304n27El’stin, Boris Nikolaevich, 233–34Engineering and Technical Personnel, 39, 167–68, 180, 192, 198, 216–20. See also specialistsEstonians, 101, 264–67, 308n101executions, 51, 290n179. See also Great Terrorexiles, 22, 45, 58, 80, 105, 125, 138, 160; accused of collaboration, 203; amnesty of, 164, 203; education of, 109; living conditions of, 79; mortality of, 79; re-cruitment of, 190, 194, 249; status of, 89, 159. See also “special settlers” ex-prisoners, 86, 105, 108, 125, 153, 160, 169, 197, 288n113; and antireligious campaigns, 211–13; compensation for, 213; and crime, 208; departing Vor-kuta, 218; discrimination against, 11, 199–200, 216, 218–21, 228, 318n83; emotions of, 205–6; exile of, 100–101, 203; experiences of, 200; hiring of, 224–26, 319n104; identity of, 206; individual narratives of, 25, 38–39, 48, 212, 215, 223–24, 226–28; infl uence on non-prisoners, 163, 177, 183, 196, 211, 310n2; informal hiring of, 221–22; legal status of, 213–14; national networks of, 210; passport restrictions on, 38, 81, 108, 184, 213, 215, 223; purge of specialists, 216–19, 221; re-arrest of, 39; reception of, 207; recruitment of, 38–39, 48, 109, 126, 159, 171, 190, 194–95, 226, 229, 302n88; registration of, 215; reinte-gration of, 11, 13–14, 126, 199–200, 223–24, 228–30, 249, 319n120; remain-ing in Vorkuta, 176, 222, 227, 229, 248, 321n29; repatriation of, 215–16; returning to Vorkuta, 198, 210, 215; social networks of, 5, 11, 100, 180, 199, 223–25, 227–29; social status of, 139, 196; surveillance of, 199, 209, 212–13, 228; suspicion of, 165, 206–10, 217, 230; and violence, 126; from Western border-lands, 210; working as brigade leaders,

Index 325
227; working as specialists, 218–19. See also “rehabilitation” Ezhov, Nikolai, 28, 286n72
Filtzer, Donald, 9 Fitzpatrick, Sheila, 9, 90, 295n57, 295n63fi ve-year plan, fi rst, 18, 283n9 free workers. See non-prisoners Frenkel, N. A., 36–37, 287n102Frid, Valentin, 222–23
Geological committee, 18 Germans: prisoners, 42, 95, 102, 114, 201, 215, 246, 264–67; exiles, 28, 79–80, 86, 138, 203, 296n84. See also POWs Ginzburg, Evgeniia, 298n8Gizatulin, Rifat Khabibulovich, 202Glasnost’, 245Gorbachev, Mikhail Sergeevich, 233–34, 236, 245Gorispolkom. See Vorkuta City Council Gorkom. See Vorkuta City Party Committee Gorlag. See Noril’sk Gorlizki, Yoram, 104Gorniatskii (settlement), 161Gorshenin, K., 130Great Terror: effects of, 16, 28–29, 54; ex-ecutions, 16, 30–32, 51, 54, 245, 285n66; “mass operations,” 16, 28–31, 285n48; order no. 00447 , 28–30, 286n69 Gregory, Paul, 305n31Grinik, A., 178guards, 59, 78, 90, 126, 249–50, 285n54, 288n112; corrupt behavior of, 115; and the Great Terror, 30; and the Lesoreid uprising, 46–49, 51; and the Rechlag uprising, 130, 135, 144, 147; recruitment of, 38, 81; shortage of, 23, 99, 151–52; violent behavior of, 117–19, 207. See also camp personnel; “self-guarding”Gulag, 3, 280n4; connections to Soviet soci-ety, 6–8, 14, 249; creation of, 15–16, 18, 283n9; economic function of, 36, 126, 131, 298n12; labor policy in, 70; legacies of, 249–50; mortality in, 92, 101, 270; news-papers, 301n80; post-Stalin reform of, 121, 123, 126–27, 149–50, 200, 205, 304n28; public discussion of, 245–46; regulations, 40–41, 51, 72, 122; release rates in, 200, 203–4; wage system in, 93, 299n21. See also prisoners; Vorkuta camp complex
GULGMP, 59, 71–72, 292n8 GULZhDS, 36, 292n8
Healey, Dan, 311n19, 322n54 housing, 242; ban on barracks, 186; com-munal apartments, 224; construction of, 106, 162, 188, 313n86, 315n114; construction plans, 110, 187; conversion of barracks, 186, 224–25, 229; dormito-ries, 185–86, 229, 313n86; overcrowding of, 152; prefabricated, 187–89; prisoner barracks as, 70, 77, 157, 295n62; sepa-rate apartments, 187–89, 224; shortage of, 99, 156, 163, 165, 189, 309n136. See also Khrushchev, housing campaign of; prefabricated panel factoryHungarians, 41, 215Hungarian uprising of 1956, 208–9
Iagoda, Genrikh, 16, 18–19, 53 Iashkin, Afanasii Ivanovich, 48–49Ilic, Melanie, 311n30Il’in, Vladimir, 196, 230, 238, 320n9Inta, 36, 187, 210, 222–23, 287n101, 295n58internal colonization, 5–6, 12, 16, 18, 24, 53, 242, 280n11, 295n64ITR. See Engineering and Technical Personnel
Japanese prisoners. See POWs Jehovah’s Witnesses, 211–12
Kaganovich, Lazar, 52 Kapler, Aleksei Iakovlevich, 67–69, 73, 83, 294n50, 294n53, 295n58, 295n65Karaganda. See Peschanlag Kashketin, E. I., 30–31, 245, 286n72. See also Great Terror katorga , 64–65, 97–99, 138, 139, 294n44 Kengir, 131, 145–46Kersnovskaia, Evfrosiniia, 302n104KGB, 184, 200, 208, 210–13, 227Khal’mer-Iu, xvi, 236Khlevniuk, Oleg, 104, 111, 298n12, 302n88Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeevich, 1, 193, 231–32, 245, 294n43; antireligious campaign of, 211; housing campaign of, 186–87, 242, 313n88; reforms of, 162, 166, 170, 194, 245; “secret speech,” 1, 280n2

326 Index
Kirov (city), 288n120 Kirov, Sergei, 16, 280n1; monument to, 75, 89Kirov Square, 75–76Klein, Aleksandr Solomonovich, 94, 185, 205–6, 214Kniazev, Anatolii Musaevich, 144–45, 307n79Kola Peninsula, 194Kolesnikov, V. D., 141–42Kolyma, 11, 26, 100, 241, 246. See also Dal’stroiKomi, 53Komi ASSR, 3, 36, 38, 48, 50, 231, 286n84; the Gulag and, 26, 31, 100, 109–10, 166, 172, 204. See also Komi Republic Komi Obkom, 226, 231Komi Republic, 17, 241. See also Komi ASSRKomi Sovnarkom, 52Komsomol, 118, 180, 210, 217, 225–26, 228, 312n46; volunteers, 161–63, 166, 171–72, 175, 177–78, 181, 185, 194, 250; youth brigades, 184–85, 195. See also “social call-up” Komsomol’skii (settlement), 183, 242Komsomol’sk-na-Amure, 312n46Kotkin, Stephen, 6, 282n28, 312n44Kotlas, xvi, 36–37Kozhva, 46–47, 49–50Kozlov, Vladimir, 130, 142, 305n43Kruglov, Sergei Nikiforovich, 129, 132–33, 146Kukhtikov, Aleksei Demian’ovich, 71, 88, 92, 99, 103, 105, 107–8, 100, 116kulaks. See “special settlers” Kuznetsov, M. V., 142, 146KVU, 66, 80, 99, 108–10, 115, 117, 173–77, 232; administrative confl ict and, 127–29, 134, 150–53, 156–58; cadres department, 169, 179, 216–18, 220–21; creation of, 4, 11; privatization of, 233, 235–37, 240–41; role in company town, 11, 241; transition to non-prisoner labor, 150, 160, 164–68, 170–71, 189, 192–94, 199. See also ex-prisoners; labor disci- pline; labor turnover; recruits
labor discipline, 165–66, 190, 314n101 labor shortage, 179, 221labor turnover, 176–77, 183, 190–92, 199, 221
Lalaiants, A., 129 lapa , 93–94, 299n23 Latvians, 45, 101, 210, 264–67Lazarev, Valery, 305n31lend-lease, 44Leningrad, xvi, 35, 44, 56–59, 68, 73, 75, 83, 162; blockade of, 56, 84, 292n2. See also coal Leningrad Mining Institute, 183Lesoreid uprising, 45–52, 54–55, 289n149Levando, Vladimir, 144Lewin, Moshe, 303n4Litaver, M. I., 203Lithuanians, 211, 246; in Vorkuta camp complex, 61, 101, 264–67, 292n18, 308n101Lunev, Vsevolod, 75–77, 88–89, 106, 188, 295n59
mafi a. See organized crime Magadan. See Kolyma Malenkov, Georgii, 120, 132, 134, 149Maloumian, Armand, 120, 122Mal’tsev, Mikhail Mitrofanovich, 9, 58, 61, 63, 66–78, 80, 86, 88, 105, 293n30, 294n44, 297n106Marchenko, Mariia Kirillovna, 169–70Markizov, Leonid Pavlovich, 198, 214, 229Markova, Elena, 62–65, 67, 99, 102, 293n34Maslennikov, Ivan Ivanovich, 142–44, 146“Memorial,” 245, 322n49memorial sites, 243–48Mennonites, 211microdistricts, 188, 314n95migration, 177, 190, 194, 236–37, 273; “pull” factors and, 171–75, 180; “push” factors and, 171–72, 175militia, 47, 117–18, 165Miloserdnyi, Sergei Antonovich, 185mines: closure of, 233, 235–36, 239–40; construction of, 59, 62, 92, 240; expan-sion of, 59; Iurshor, 246; labor in, 113; managers of, 66–67, 122, 152, 156, 170, 181, 186; no. 1 (kapital’naia), 32, 39, 77, 98, 179, 184, 313n86; no. 1–2(8), 32; no. 2, 228; no. 4, 165; no. 5, 184; no. 7, 76, 120, 132, 134, 136, 185; no. 9–10, 164, 212, 217–18; no. 12, 134; no. 14, 134, 184; no. 16, 134; no. 25, 224; no. 26, 217–18; no. 27, 222, 226; no. 30, 189, 211; no. 32, 189; no. 40 (Vorkutinskaia),

Index 327
169, 225, 228; reconstruction of, 13, 163, 193, 196, 232; safety in, 113, 136, 163, 170, 181–82, 242; Vorgashor, 231–32Ministry of Coal Industry. See MUP Ministry of Health, 110Ministry of Internal Affairs. See MVD Ministry of International Affairs, 215MinIust, 123, 126–27, 149, 214“mixed families,” 82, 109“mobilized” Germans. See exiles Molotov, Viacheslav, 35Mordashov, Aleksei, 240, 321n30Mordvinov, Boris Arkad’evich, 68–69, 83, 87, 295n65Moroz, Iakov, 21, 31–32Moscow: prisoners from, 38, 68, 215, 223, 225; transport connections to, 12, 35–36, 40, 88, 110Moscow commission. See Rechlag uprising Moscow Square, 1, 88, 106, 111, 114, 116MUP, 110, 120, 127, 164–65, 192–93, 224, 226; confl ict with MVD and MinIust, 127–30, 134, 149–50, 155–56, 158–59, 309n112MVD, 97, 120, 123, 126–27, 149, 203, 215, 301n82, 302n88; personnel of, 110
Nar’ian-Mar, 24 National Workers’ Union, 212–13Negretov, Pavel, 212–14, 224, 229, 319n121Neizvestnyi, Ernst, 245–46Nenets, 6, 17neoclassical style, 1, 58, 73–74, 77, 84, 88Nishchii, Korol’ Prokop’evich, 211–12Nizhegorodtsev, N. P., 178–79NKVD, 19, 45, 66, 74, 78–79, 127; and the Great Terror, 16, 30–31; and the Lesoreid uprising, 48–52; and the Northern Pechora main line, 37–38. See also Great Terror; Gulag; MVD; OGPUnon-prisoners: age of, 196; birth rate of, 90, 108, 111–12, 169, 274–76; as a concept, 9; demand, 110; health care, 105; indi-vidual narratives of, 75, 172; integration of, 163; living conditions of, 8; migration of, 108–9, 169, 171; mortality of, 112, 274–76; population of, 73, 78–79, 81, 91, 105, 108, 125, 272; recruitment of, 13, 108, 112, 119, 160, 162–63, 165–66, 171–72, 189–90, 195; repatriated, 80, 297n91; replacing prisoners, 164. See
also camp personnel; migration; “orga- nized recruitment”; “permanent cadres”; recruitsNoril’sk, 35, 241, 302n104; uprising in, 131–32, 142, 145, 305n43, 306n45, 306n52“normalcy”: attempts to establish, 13, 57, 74, 88, 90–91, 104, 106, 108, 111–12, 118–19; factors that undermined, 113–14, 116, 118–20, 126, 139north, settlement of, 19–20“northern bonuses.” See wages Northern Pechora main line, xvi, 54, 60, 88, 240; completion of, 12; construction of, 36–37, 42, 46, 50, 181, 287n101, 288n104Northern region, 19
OGPU, 18–19 okruzhentsy . See POWs oligarchs, 233, 240–41“one-man rule,” 127, 129, 305n29organized crime, 23, 238, 320n21“organized recruitment,” 165–66, 175, 310n6, 310n12OUN. See Ukrainians
P., Iurii, 214, 227–29 parole, 316n17, 316n18. See also release Party Congress: twentieth, 1–2, 174; twenty-fi rst, 216; twenty-second, 1, 280n2. See also Khrushchev patron-client relations, 295n57, 297n104; and Mal’tsev, 58, 67–74, 77, 82, 86, 88–89, 105, 295n65. See also prisoners Pechora, xvi, 287n101Pechora coal basin, 288n106; importance to war effort, 56–57; plans to develop, 3, 5, 19–20, 43, 53; transition to non-prisoner labor, 110, 150, 159, 167, 192–93Pechora krai, 17–19Pechora River, xvi, 17–18, 20, 24, 31–32, 36, 46pensions, 173, 196, 213, 232, 241, 243perestroika, 233, 245permafrost, 88, 106, 186–87, 283n16“permanent cadres,” 80, 110, 112, 159, 163–64, 189Peschanlag, 132–33, 137, 141, 149, 305n43Petersons, Elmars Andreevich, 247Pilkington, Hilary, 238Plastinina, K., 169, 221, 284n32

328 Index
P. O. Box OS-34/11. See Vorkuta Corrective Labor ColonyPoles: amnesty of, 37–38, 45, 288n107; as prisoners, 37–38, 45, 58, 137, 215, 246, 264–67, 288n106Politburo, 19–20, 22, 24, 35, 52“politicals,” 26–28, 206, 208, 284n47. See also “counterrevolutionaries” “political section,” 35, 41, 52, 56, 107, 109, 184, 231, 289n130Popov, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich, 183–84, 231Popov, Viktor Iakovlevich, 52–53POWs: German, 102, 300n57; Japanese, 201; Soviet, 60, 75, 80, 86, 138Pravda , 53, 57, 73, 84, 145 prefabricated panel factory, 187prisoners: and alcohol, 115–16; correspon-dence by, 97; crimes convicted of, 61, 100, 254–59; distinction from non-pris-oners, 23, 122, 125; foreign, 215–16; hi-erarchies, 94, 137; illness among, 21, 25, 29, 44, 63; incentives for, 91, 93, 95–96, 104, 119, 151; individual narratives of, 25, 38, 48, 58–59, 64, 67, 152–53; infor-mants among, 103, 124, 137; interactions with non-prisoners, 41–43, 71, 83, 87, 91, 114, 116, 289n130, 293n34; labor of, 56, 62, 74; mortality of, 3, 13, 20–22, 25, 27, 29, 44–45, 57, 61–62, 64, 86, 91–92, 96, 101, 270, 280n5, 285n61; nation-alities among, 38, 61, 101, 137, 206, 264–67; privileges for, 40, 51, 55, 67–69, 72–73, 113, 295n58; punishment of, 67; rations for, 95; “reforging” of, 22; sen-tence length of, 37–38, 61, 100, 259–63; separation from non-prisoners, 34, 41, 51, 91, 97, 113, 249; sexual relationships with non-prisoners, 115; shortages of, 309n117; socializing with guards, 115; spending money, 95; temporary absences of, 151, 310n142; transfer of, 132, 204; transportation of, 19, 21–22, 36, 58, 60, 171; violence against other prisoners, 103, 116, 125, 207; from Western border-lands, 60, 145, 184; women, 64, 293n35; working as domestics, 41–42; working in construction, 189, 205, 232. See also Rechlag; release; “self-guarding”; Vorkuta camp complex; VorkutlagProkop’ev, G. M., 127, 150, 153, 155propuskniki . See de-convoyed prisoners
radio, 67, 122, 153 Raikin, L. E., 106, 188rape. See sexual violence raspredelenie . See specialists Rechlag, 3, 95, 128, 306n44; closure of, 149; conditions in, 99; creation of, 96–98; isolation of, 97; labor discipline in, 120; national organizations in, 102–4, 131, 140–42, 145, 148, 206; section 2, 130, 132–33, 136, 144, 146–47; section 3, 134, 141, 147; section 4, 134, 147; section 6, 134, 147, 306n59; section 10, 134, 141, 144, 146–48, 246; section 13, 134, 147. See also prisoners; Vorkuta camp complex; VorkutlagRechlag uprising, 13, 104, 120–21, 125, 135–39, 144, 247, 305n39; aftermath of, 148–49; casualties during, 147, 246, 308n100; concessions, 133–34, 143, 306n52; end of, 146–47; “Moscow commission,” 142–49; organization of, 140–41; outbreak of, 130–34; prisoner committees, 141–48; punishment follow-ing, 148–49; reaction of non-prisoners to, 138–40recruits, 195, 197, 226, 229; departure of, 194; discrimination against, 179–80; integration of, 177, 189–90, 195; poor treatment of, 180; and prisoners, 184; searching for work, 179; training of, 181–82, 185. See also demobilized soldiers; Komsomol, volunteers; non-prisoners“Regulations on Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR,” 150–53, 155–56“rehabilitation,” 213–14, 226, 318n69release, 4, 159, 162, 164, 169, 199, 268–69; via amnesty, 37–38, 45, 81, 100, 124, 201, 213, 297n96, 304n16, 315n9; via commissions, 201, 213–14, 228, 318n69; upon expiration of sentence, 39, 96, 213; fi gures from Vorkuta, 201–2; of minors, 201–2; via parole, 198, 202, 213; after sentence reduction, 202; wartime limitations on, 45, 49, 82, 297n58. See also “revolving door”; 27 March 1953 amnestyresistance, 121, 131, 149, 152, 158, 301n70, 306n46; escapes, 23; hunger strikes, 26–28, 285n48; strikes, 156. See also Lesoreid uprising; Rechlag uprising

Index 329
Retiunin, Mark Andreevich, 46–48, 50–51, 289n149, 290n166, 290n177, 291n179“revolving door,” 7, 81, 200Roeder, Bernhard, 88Romanovskii, Vasilii Egorovich, 214Rosugol’, 235Rudnik: as center of Usa section, 20, 23–24, 26, 30–31, 33–34; as center of Vorkutlag, 36, 39–42, 50, 54, 73, 284n33, 285n54, 286n85; as neighborhood in Vorkuta, 106, 139, 237, 243
S., Galina, 214–15, 223–24, 229 Scholmer, Joseph, 95, 102, 114–15, 140, 147, 215Second World War, 144, 174; and battle of Stalingrad, 59, 66; commemoration of, 83–84; economic effects of, 57; effects on Vorkuta, 9, 43, 55, 57, 63, 79, 84, 92, 105; Vorkuta’s contribution to, 12, 52, 54, 58, 66, 73, 162, 248, 294n53, 297n106“secret speech.” See Khrushchev “self-guarding,” 116, 303n115, 303n117Semegen, Stepan Mikhailovich, 226–27Seven-year plan, 182, 193Sever (restaurant and hotel), 117Severstal’, 233, 240–42Sevpechlag, 24, 36–37, 46, 288n104, 294n52Sevzheldorlag, 37sexual violence, 64, 125, 293n35, 303n117Sherstnev, Nikolai Vasil’evich, 177, 193shift system, 243, 321n43Shikhov, V. A., 209shortages: of clothing, 293n24; of construc-tion supplies, 19–21, 42; of food, 21, 44, 63, 92–93, 293n30, 299n16; of wood, 128Shpektor, Igor, 247Sirosh, Stepan Petrovich, 172Skakovskaia, Irina, 82, 297n99“social call-up,” 166, 174–75. See also Komsomolsocial hierarchy, 8–9, 22, 58, 67, 72, 79, 81–83, 86, 249. See also ex-prisoners; non-prisoners; prisonerssocial mobility, 4, 172, 176, 183, 195–97, 248. See also ex-prisoners; non-prisoners; prisonersSolzhenitsyn, Aleksandr, 7, 71, 288n102Sovmin. See Council of Ministers
Sovnarkom. See Council of People’s Commissars“speaking Bolshevik,” 145–46, 308n87“special” camps, 126, 131, 133, 137, 299n25, 306n57; closure of, 149; cre-ation of, 96–98, 104, 300n34specialists, 216, 221, 311n26; housing for, 192; recruitment of, 111, 167–68. See also Engineering and Technical Personnel“special settlements,” 7, 109–10“special settlers,” 23, 50, 80, 203Stalin, Iosif Vissarionovich, 17, 19, 28, 35, 37, 42–43, 53–54, 67; death of, 104, 120–22, 125, 131, 139, 156, 163, 303n5; monument to, 1–4, 88–89, 114steel industry, 194strikes, coal miner, 14, 233–34, 320n10Supreme Economic Council, 18–19Supreme Soviet, 201, 203, 20swimming pool, 88, 298n1Syktyvkar, xvi, 40, 47, 172; connections to Vorkuta, 36, 78, 161, 163, 178, 198, 235, 287n101
T., Mikhail, 175–76, 195, 221–22 Tarkhanov, Leonid Aleksandrovich, 32, 35, 39, 41–44, 48, 52, 58, 290n167Taubman, William, 10“technical minimum,” 179, 181tekhnikum , 109, 117, 183, 185, 302n86 Terekhov, Iurii, 174–75“territorial stratifi cation,” 176 trade unions, 111, 181, 186, 301n82“traditional Vorkuta strategy,” 196–97, 230transportation: rail, 110, 161; river, 24, 32, 36, 46, 284n32, 287n90. See also Northern Pechora main line; Vorkuta RailroadTroshin, Vitalii, 243, 248Trotskyites, 25–28, 30, 42–43, 97, 138, 20927 March 1953 amnesty, 121, 123–26, 128, 130, 200–201, 207, 304n11, 304n15, 304n24
Ugrimov, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich, 96, 114, 133, 136–37, 141, 146, 307n77Ukhta, xvi, 100, 169, 286n85, 295n56; connections to Vorkuta, 15–16, 18–19, 21–22, 24, 35, 287n101, 295n69Ukhtizhemlag, 295n56, 295n69

330 Index
Ukhtpechlag, 16, 18–19, 25–26, 35, 54, 286n72, 295n69; population of, 25; reorganization of, 29, 31. See also Ukhti- zhemlag; Usa sectionUkrainians: in Vorkuta, 183, 211–12, 217, 227–28; in the Vorkuta camp complex, 61, 101, 103, 138, 147, 246, 264–67, 308n101Usa River, xvi, 18, 20, 24, 32, 46Usa section, 20–27; living conditions in, 21–22, 29; population of, 19, 21, 23–25, 29USSR, collapse of, 233–34, 236Ust’-Usa, 39, 46–47, 49
“verifi cation and fi ltration camp,” 75, 80 veterans: amnesty of, 203; in the Gulag, 131, 146. See also demobilized soldiers Victory Boulevard and Park, 74–76, 116Viola, Lynne, 7Virgin lands campaign, 166, 198, 311n15Volkov, Nikolai Petrovich, 43Vorgashor (settlement), 3, 242. See also minesVorkuta: architecture of, 58; closure of settlements in, 233, 236, 239, 242; as a company town, 3, 10–11, 19, 91, 105, 107, 197, 248; construction of, 19, 114; foundation of, 3, 9–10, 13, 52, 58, 72–74, 86, 105, 127, 296n221; general plan for, 106, 110, 188; as a Gulag town, 12, 246–47; labor shortage in, 11; leisure in, 116; mass violence in, 117–18; popula-tion of, 3, 38, 232, 239, 241, 243; as a post-Soviet company town, 240–41, 248; in public discourse, 84; public spaces in, 58, 68, 74, 116; residents of, 78–79, 86, 109, 112, 163, 230; as showpiece city, 4, 14; transition to company town, 13, 111–12, 119, 122, 162, 193–94, 197, 199–200, 228–29; unemployment in, 233, 235–36, 239, 241; urban planning of, 76, 105–6Vorkuta camp complex, 245, 248; becom-ing part of company town, 157–58; boundaries of, 113, 118; circulation of information in, 147; connections to Vorkuta, 113, 135; contract labor from, 127–28, 150, 153, 155–56, 159, 165, 169, 189, 226, 305n31; expansion of, 12; geography of, 98; infrastructure of,
163; labor shortages in, 128; legacies of, 10–11, 14, 163, 197; population of, 92, 203–4, 253; regime in, 150–51; release rate, 99–100, 108–9, 203–4; rumor in, 103; separation from Vorkuta, 23, 58, 72, 82, 91, 114–15; stores in, 95; wages in, 93–94, 151–52, 158. See also Rechlag, Usa section, VorkutlagVorkuta City Council, 1, 77, 107, 165, 301n82Vorkuta City Party Committee, 185, 220–21, 225, 231, 318n83; absence of, 77–78; creation of, 107, 111; member-ship of, 107; speeches to, 177, 180, 183, 209–10, 216–18Vorkuta Corrective Labor Colony, 204, 232, 316n33. See also Vorkuta camp complexVorkuta Museum, 245Vorkuta Musical Drama Theater, 58, 68, 73, 76, 82, 86, 88, 297n102Vorkuta Railroad, 20, 24, 36, 284n33Vorkuta River, 3, 5, 15, 17–20, 24, 31–32, 52–53, 73, 106, 243Vorkutaugol’ . See KVU Vorkuta-Vom, 21, 24, 38–39, 284n33Vorkutiane. See Vorkuta, residents of Vorkutlag, 46, 128; administration of, 48; agriculture in, 40, 63; conditions in, 50, 55, 57, 62–63; distinction from city, 4, 54, 83, 86; establishment of, 3, 16, 19, 31; geography of, 32–33, 36, 39, 43, 54; planning department of, 38–39, 50, 69, 73–74, 76; population of, 37, 60, 159, 163, 252, 254; rumors in, 50–51; section 1, 77, 153; section 10, 153; security within, 41, 43, 66; spatial reorganization of, 77Vorkutpechlag. See Vorkutlag Vorkutstroi, 35, 56, 66, 287n91, 294n44. See also KVU vory-v-zakone , 206
wages, 174, 176, 180–81, 184, 192, 196, 234; non-payment of, 233, 235, 237; “northern bonuses,” 111, 170–71, 173, 226, 302n87, 312n39; “regional coef-fi cients,” 173, 180. See also Vorkuta camp complexWhite Sea Canal, 22, 35, 37, 53, 61, 73, 291n188

Index 331
women in Vorkuta, 169, 314n100; attempts to create jobs for, 170; protective legisla-tion and, 170, 311n26, 311n30; recruit-ment of, 168–69, 194, 311n26; social mobility of, 170; unemployment among, 235; working in mines, 169workday credits, 95–96, 100, 143, 202, 299n28World Bank, 235–36, 241–42, 320n16
youth culture, post-Soviet, 238
zachet rabochikh dnei . See workday credits Zapadugol’ , 170. See also KVU Zapoliar’e , 12, 161, 169, 174, 178–79, 208, 228–29, 245; creation of, 107
Zapoliar’nyi (settlement), 165, 178 Zasiad’ko, Aleksandr Fedorovich, 120–21, 129, 134, 149, 152, 159, 306n55, 308n112Zaslavsky, Victor, 176–77zazonniki . See de-zoned prisoners zone, 8, 73, 105, 109, 119, 249, 280n21; enclosure of (zonifi cation), 33–34, 39–40, 42, 51, 86; moving the, 157, 249; porousness of, 58, 76, 79–80, 116, 136–39, 143, 146–47, 249. See also de-convoyed prisoners; de-zoned prisonersZubchaninov, Vladimir Vasil’evich, 38–39, 50, 66, 290n166, 290n177, 291n179Zubkova, Elena, 90, 298n6

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