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Encyclopedia > Kolyma

The Kolyma (pronounced kah-lee-MAH) region is located in the far northeastern area of the Russian Federation. It is bounded by the Arctic Ocean in the north and the Sea of Okhotsk to the south. The region gets its name from the Kolyma River and mountain range that run through it. (It is so remote that parts of its mountain range were not discovered until 1926). Other than Antarctica, its climate is perhaps the most severe in the world. Under Joseph Stalin's rule, it became the most notorious region of the GULAG (the Russian acronym for the Main Administration of the Corrective Labor Camps). According to research done by Robert Conquest, more than three million people may have died en route to the area or in the Kolyma's series of gold mining, lumbering, road building, and other camps between 1932 and 1954. It was Kolyma's fearsome reputation that caused Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to characterize it as the "pole of cold and cruelty" in the GULAG system. Map of the Sea of Okhotsk. ... The Kolyma River (Колыма́) is a river in northeastern Siberia, whose basin covers parts of the Republic of Sakha, Chukotka, and Magadan oblast. ... (help· info) (Russian, in full: Иосиф Виссарионович Сталин [Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin] (December 18 [O.S. December 6] 1878[1] – March 5, 1953) was the leader of the Soviet Union from mid-1920s to his death in 1953 and General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922... Gulag (Russian: ГУЛАГ (help· info)) is an acronym for Главное Управление Исправительно—Трудовых Лагерей и колоний, Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitelno-trudovykh Lagerey i kolonii, The Chief Directorate [or Administration] of Corrective Labour Camps and Colonies of the NKVD. Anne Applebaum, in her book Gulag: A History, explains: Literally, the word GULAG is an acronym, meaning Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei, or... Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (Russian: ; born in Kislovodsk, Russia, on December 11, 1918) is a Russian novelist, dramatist and historian. ...

Gold and platinum were discovered in the region in the early twentieth century. During the time of the USSR's heavy industrialization (beginning with Stalin's First Five Year Plan, 1928-1932) the need for capital to finance economic development was great. The abundant gold resources of the area seemed tailor-made to provide this capital. A government agency known as DALSTROY (the Russian acronym for the Far Northern Construction Trust) was formed to organize the exploitation of the area. Prisoners were being drawn into the Soviet penal system in large numbers during the initial period of Kolyma's development, most notably from the so-called "anti-Kulak" campaign and the government's internal war to force collectivization on the USSR's peasantry. These prisoners formed a readily available workforce.

The initial efforts to develop the region began in 1932, with the building of Magadan by slave labor. (Many projects in the USSR were already using slave labor, most notably the Baltic-White Sea Canal.) After a grueling train ride (the longest in the USSR), prisoners were disembarked at one of several transit camps (such as Nakhodka and later Vanino) and transported by slave ships across the Sea of Okhotsk to the natural harbor chosen for Magadan's construction. Conditions aboard the slave ships were hideous. That same year expeditions pushed their way into the terrible interior of the Kolyma, often with frightening losses. Eventually, as many as 80 different camps dotted the region. Magadan vicinity from the US Defense Mapping Agency (1978) Magadan (Магада́н), city (1989 pop. ...

In 1937, at the height of the Great Purges, Stalin ordered an intensification of the hardships prisoners were forced to endure. Work loads became even heavier, quotas became more crushing, punishments became more drastic, and rations were reduced systematically for failures to fulfill quotas. The system of backbreaking work and minimal food reduced most prisoners to helpless "goners". The suffering of the prisoners was exacerbated by the inclusion in the prisoner population of career criminals ("thieves" in Russian parlance) who terrorized the "political" prisoners mercilessly. And naturally, the savage winters of the region caused untold hardship to prisoners. Escapees, if caught, were often torn to shreds by camp guard dogs. The use of torture as punishment was common. Russian dissident historian Roy Medvedev has aptly compared the Kolyma camps to Auschwitz. Auschwitz, in English, commonly refers to the Auschwitz concentration camp complex built near the town of Oświęcim, by Nazi Germany during World War II. Rarely, it may refer to the Polish town of Oświęcim (called by the Germans Auschwitz) itself. ...

Estimates of the dead in the region vary widely, with many recent estimates ranging from 250,000 to more than one million. Strong evidence, however, supports Conquest's higher figures. The Kolyma camps were converted to (mostly) free labor after 1954, and in 1956 Nikita S. Khrushchev ordered a general amnesty that freed many prisoners. Nikita Khrushchev in 1962 Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (Russian: Ники́та Серге́евич Хрущёв) (nih-KEE-tah khroo-SHCHYOFF) (April 17, 1894 – September 11, 1971) was the leader of the Soviet Union after the death of Joseph Stalin. ...


Conquest, Robert. Kolyma: The Arctic Death Camps

Ginzburg, Evgenia. Within the Whirlwind

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge

Shalamov, Varlam. Kolyma Tales

(J. A. Miller)

External links

  • Kolyma the Land of Gold and Death
  • The Soviet Gulag Era in Pictures, 1927-1953

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The Kolyma (pronounced koh-lee-MAH) region (Russian : Колыма) is located in the far north-eastern area of Russia in what is commonly known as Siberia but is actually part...
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It rises in the Kolyma Range and flows in a northern, then a northeastern direction for 1,786 km (1,110 mi) to the Arctic Ocean.
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