KOLYMA (Russian : Колыма́, IPA: ) is a region located in the
Russian Far East . It is bounded by the
East Siberian Sea and 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 , parts
of which were not discovered until 1926. Today the region consists
roughly of the
Chukotka Autonomous Okrug and the
Magadan Oblast .
The area, part of which is within the
Arctic Circle , has a subarctic
climate with very cold winters lasting up to six months of the year.
Permafrost and tundra cover a large part of the region. Average winter
temperatures range from −19 °C to −38 °C (even lower in the
interior), and average summer temperatures, from +3 °C to +16 °C.
There are rich reserves of gold , silver , tin , tungsten , mercury ,
copper , antimony , coal , oil , and peat . Twenty-nine zones of
possible oil and gas accumulation have been identified in the Sea of
Okhotsk shelf. Total reserves are estimated at 3.5 billion tons of
equivalent fuel, including 1.2 billion tons of oil and 1.5 billion m3
The principal town
Magadan has nearly 100,000 inhabitants and is the
largest port in north-eastern Russia. It has a large fishing fleet and
remains open year-round thanks to icebreakers.
Magadan is served by
Sokol Airport . There are many public and private farming
Gold mines, pasta and sausage factories, fishing
companies, and a distillery form the city's industrial base.
* 1 Prehistory
* 2 History
* 2.1 Emergence of the
* 2.1.1 The Arctic camps
* 2.1.3 Calendar of historical events
* 2.2 Post-
* 2.2.1 Industrial and economic evolution
* 2.2.2 Last political prisoners
* 2.3 Accounts of the
* 2.4 Estimating the number of victims
* 3 Ecology
* 3.1 Paleoecology
* 4 See also
* 5 References
* 6 Sources
* 7 Further reading
* 8 External links
* 8.1 Links to Maps
During archaeological investigations of Paleolithic sites on the
Angara, in 1936 the unique Stone Age site of Buret’ was discovered
which yielded an anthropomorphic sculpture, skulls of rhinoceroses,
and surface and semisubterranean dwellings. The houses were analogous,
on one hand, to Paleolithic European houses and, on the other, to
ethnographically studied houses of the Eskimos , Chukchi and
The indigenous peoples of this region include the
Itelmens , who traditionally
lived from fishing along the
Sea of Okhotsk coast or from reindeer
herding in the River
Joseph Stalin 's rule,
Kolyma became the most notorious region
Gulag labor camps . Tens of thousands or more people may have
died en route to the area or in the Kolyma's series of gold mining ,
road building, lumbering, and construction camps between 1932 and
1954. It was Kolyma's reputation that caused
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ,
author of The
Gulag Archipelago , to characterize it as the "pole of
cold and cruelty" in the
Gulag system. The
Mask of Sorrow
Mask of Sorrow monument in
Magadan commemorates all those who died in the
camps and the recently dedicated Church of the Nativity remembers the
victims in its icons and Stations of the Camps.
EMERGENCE OF THE GULAG CAMPS
Gold and platinum were discovered in the region in the early 20th
century. During the time of the
USSR 's industrialization (beginning
Joseph 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
Dalstroy (Russian : Дальстрой, acronym for
Far North 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.
Tin Mine – A
Gulag camp in the
The initial efforts to develop the region began in 1932, with the
building of the town of
Magadan by forced labor . (Many projects in
USSR were already using forced labor, most notably the White
Sea-Baltic Canal .) After a gruelling train ride on the Trans-Siberian
Railway prisoners were disembarked at one of several transit camps
Nakhodka and later Vanino ) and transported across the Sea of
Okhotsk to the natural harbor chosen for Magadan's construction.
Conditions aboard the ships were harsh. According to a 1987 article
Time Magazine : "During the 1930s the only way to reach
by ship from
Khabarovsk , which created an island psychology and the
Gulag archipelago. Within the crowded prison ships thousands died
during transportation. One survivor's memoir recounts that the prison
ship Dzhurma was caught in the autumn ice in 1933 while trying to get
to the mouth of the
Kolyma River. When it reached port the following
spring, it carried only crew and guards. All 12,000 prisoners were
missing, left dead on the ice." It turns out that this incident,
widely reported since it was first mentioned in a book published in
1947, could not have happened as the ship Dzhurma was not in Soviet
hands until mid 1935.
In 1932 expeditions pushed their way into the interior of the Kolyma,
embarking on the construction of the
Kolyma Highway , which was to
become known as the Road of Bones. Eventually, about 80 different
camps dotted the region of the uninhabited taiga .
The original director of the
Kolyma camps was
Eduard Berzin , a Cheka
officer. Berzin was later removed (1937) and shot during the period of
the Great Purges in the USSR.
The Arctic Camps
Prisoners at a
Kolyma gold mine
In 1937, at the height of the Purges, Stalin ordered an
intensification of the hardships prisoners were forced to endure.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 's account quotes camp commander Naftaly
Frenkel as establishing the new law of the Archipelago: "We have to
squeeze everything out of a prisoner in the first three months —
after that we don't need him anymore." The system of hard labor and
minimal or no food reduced most prisoners to helpless "goners"
(dokhodyaga, in Russian). Conditions varied depending on the state of
Many of the prisoners in
Kolyma were academics or intellectuals. They
Mikhail Kravchuk (Krawtschuk), a Ukrainian mathematician who
by the early 1930s had received considerable acclaim in the West.
After a summary trial, apparently for reluctance to take part in the
accusations of some of his colleagues, he was sent to
Kolyma where he
died in 1942. Hard work in the labor camp, harsh climate and meager
food, poor health as well as accusations and abandonment by most of
his colleagues, took their toll. Kravchuk perished in
Eastern Siberia, about 4,000 miles (6,000 km) from the place where he
was born. Kravchuk's last article had appeared soon after his arrest
in 1938. However, after this publication, Kravchuk's name was stricken
from books and journals.
The prisoner population of
Kolyma increased substantially in 1946
with the arrival of thousands of former Soviet POWs liberated by
Western Allied forces or the Red Army at the close of World War II.
Those judged guilty of collaboration with the enemy frequently
received ten or twenty-five year prison sentences to the gulag,
There were, however, some exceptions. Rumor suggested that Soviet
Léon Theremin , an inventor, in the
United States and
forced him to return to the
Soviet Union ; he actually returned
Joseph Stalin had Theremin imprisoned at the
Moscow; he later came to work in the
Kolyma gold mines. Although
rumors of his execution circulated widely, Theremin was, in fact, put
to work in a sharashka (a secret research-laboratory), together with
other scientists and engineers, including aircraft designer Andrei
Tupolev and rocket scientist
Sergei Korolyov (also a
Soviet Union rehabilitated Theremin in 1956.
Kolyma camps switched to using (mostly) free labor after 1954,
and in 1956
Nikita Khrushchev ordered a general amnesty that freed
many prisoners. Various estimates have put the
Kolyma death-toll from
1930 to the mid 1950s between 250,000 and over a million people.
Dalstroy was the agency created to manage exploitation of the Kolyma
area, based principally on the use of forced labour.
In the words of Azerbaijani prisoner Ayyub Baghirov, "The entire
administration of the
Dalstroy – economic, administrative, physical
and political — was in the hands of one person who was invested with
many rights and privileges." The officials in charge of Dalstroy,
Gulag camps were:
* Eduard Petrovich Berzin , 1932–1937
* Karp Aleksandrovich Pavlov, 1937–1939.
* Ivan Fedorovich Nikishev, 1940–1948.
* Ivan Grigorevich Petrenko, 1948–1950.
* I.L. Mitrakov, from 1950 until
Dalstroy was taken over by the
Ministry of Metallurgy on 18 March 1953.
Calendar Of Historical Events
NKVD ticket for Polish prisoner (journalist and writer
Anatol Krakowiecki (pl)) released from
Kolyma GULAG camp- spring 1942
A detailed calendar of events:
Gold mines established in the
Kolyma River region.
Commencement of regular mining operations
* 13 November 1931: Establishment of
* 4 February 1932:
Eduard Berzin , Manager of Dalstroy, arrives with
the first 10 prisoners.
* 1934: The headcount increases to 30,000 inmates.
* 1937: The number of inmates increases to over 70.000; 51,500 kg of
* June 1937: Stalin reprimands the
Kolyma commandants for their
undue leniency towards the inmates.
* December 1937: Berzin is charged with espionage and subsequently
tried and shot in August 1938.
* 4 March 1938:
Dalstroy is put under the jurisdiction of
* December 1938:
Osip Mandelstam , an eminent Russian poet, dies in
a transit camp en route to Kolyma.
* 1939: Number of inmates now 138,200.
* 11 October 1939: Commandants Pavlov (
Dalstroy ) and Stepan Garanin
Sevvostlag ) sacked from their posts. Garanin subsequently
* 1941: Headcount of inmates reaches 190,000. Also some 3,700
Dalstroy contract workers.
* 23 May 1944: US Vice President
Henry A. Wallace
Henry A. Wallace arrives for a
NKVD-hosted 25-day tour of Magadan, Kolyma, and the Russian Far East.
* October 1945: Camp for the Japanese prisoners of war is
established in Magadan, to provide extra labour.
* 1952: 199,726 inmates, the highest ever in the history of the
Kolyma camps and Dalstroy.
* May 1952: According to commandant Mitrakov, Sevvoslag is
Dalstroy transformed into the General Board of Labour Camps
* March 1953: After Stalin's death,
Dalstroy transferred to the
Ministry of Metallurgy, camp units come under the jurisdiction of the
Soviet Ministry of Justice.
* September 1953:
Dalstroy camp units taken over by the newly
established Management Board of the North-Eastern Corrective Labour
Camps. Harsh camp regime gradually relaxed.
* 1953–1956: Period of mass amnesties and the release of most
political prisoners. Some camp closures begin.
Dalstroy liquidated. Many of the former prisoners continued
to work in the mines with a modified status and a few new prisoners
arrived, at least until the early 1970s.
The Chukot Autonomous Okrug site provides details of developments
after the official closure of the camps. In 1953, the
(or region) was established.
Dalstroy was transferred to the
jurisdiction of the Ministry of Metallurgy and later to the Ministry
of Non-Ferrous Metallurgy.
Industrial And Economic Evolution
Industrial gold-mining started in 1958 leading to the development of
mining settlements, industrial enterprises, power plants,
hydro-electric dams, power transmission lines and improved roads. By
the 1960s, the region's population exceeded 100,000. With the
dissolution of Dalstroy, the Soviets adopted new labor policies. While
the prison labor was still important, it mainly consisted of common
criminals. New manpower was recruited from all Soviet nationalities on
a voluntary basis, to make up for the sudden lack of political
prisoners . Young men and women were lured to the frontier land of
Kolyma with the promise of high earnings and better living. But many
decided to leave. The region's prosperity suffered under Soviet
liberal policies in the end of the 1980s and 1990s with a considerable
reduction in population, apparently by 40% in Magadan. A U.S. report
from the late 1990s gives details of the region's economic shortfall
citing outdated equipment, bankruptcies of local companies and lack of
central support. It does however report substantial investments from
United States and the governor's optimism for future prosperity
based on revival of the mining industries.
Last Political Prisoners
Dalstroy and the camps did not close down completely. The Kolyma
authority, which was reorganised in 1958/59 (31 December 1958),
finally closed in 1968. However the mining activities did not stop.
Indeed, government structures still exist today under the Ministry of
Natural Resources. In some cases, the same individuals seem to have
stayed on over the years under new management. There are indications
that the political prisoners were gradually phased out over the years
but it was only as a result of
Boris Yeltsin 's far reaching reforms
in the 1990s that the very last prisoners were released from Kolyma.
The Russian author
Andrei Amalrik appears to have been one of the last
high-profile political prisoners to be sent to Kolyma. In 1970, he
published two books: Will the
Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? and
Involuntary Journey to Siberia. As a result, he was arrested for
"defaming the Soviet state" in November 1970 and sentenced to hard
labour, apparently in Kolyma, for what turned out to be a total of
almost five years.
ACCOUNTS OF THE KOLYMA GULAG CAMPS
A detailed description of conditions in the camps is provided by
Varlam Shalamov in his
Kolyma Tales . In Dry Rations he writes: "Each
time they brought in the soup... it made us all want to cry. We were
ready to cry for fear that the soup would be thin. And when a miracle
occurred and the soup was thick we couldn’t believe it and ate it as
slowly as possible. But even with thick soup in a warm stomach there
remained a sucking pain; we’d been hungry for too long. All human
emotions—love, friendship, envy, concern for one’s fellow man,
compassion, longing for fame, honesty — had left us with the flesh
that had melted from our bodies...."
During and after the
Second World War the region saw major influxes
Ukrainians , Polish , German , Japanese , and Korean prisoners.
There is a particularly memorable account written by a Romanian
survivor, Michael Solomon, in his book
Magadan (see Bibliography
below) which gives us a vivid picture of both the transit camps
leading to the
Kolyma and the region itself. The Hungarian , George
Bien , author of the Lost Years, also recounts the horrors of Kolyma.
His story has also led to a film.
Soviet Gold, the first autobiographical book written by Vladimir
Nikolayevich Petrov , is almost entirely a description of the author's
Magadan and the
Kolyma gold fields.
In Bitter Days of Kolyma, Ayyub Baghirov, an Azerbaijani accountant
who was finally rehabilitated, provides details of his arrest, torture
and sentencing to eight (finally to become 18) years imprisonment in a
labour camp for refusing to incriminate a fellow official for
financial irregularities. Describing the train journey to Siberia, he
writes: "The terrible heat, the lack of fresh air, the unbearable
overcrowded conditions all exhausted us. We were all half starved.
Some of the elderly prisoners, who had become so weak and emaciated,
died along the way. Their corpses were left abandoned alongside the
A vivid account of the conditions in
Kolyma is that of Brother Gene
Thompson of Kiev's Faith Mission. He recounts how he met Vyacheslav
Palman, a prisoner who survived because he knew how to grow cabbages.
Palman spoke of how guards read out the names of those to be shot
every evening. On one occasion a group of 169 men were shot and thrown
into a pit. Their fully clothed bodies were found after the ice melted
One of the most famous political prisoners in
Kolyma was Vadim Kozin
, possibly Russia's most popular romantic tenor , who was sent to the
camps in February 1945, apparently for refusing to write a song about
Stalin. Although he was initially freed in 1950 and could return to
his singing career, he was soon framed by his enemies on charges of
homosexuality and sent back to the camps. Though released once again
several years later, he was never officially rehabilitated and
remained in exile in
Magadan where he died in 1994. Speaking to
journalists in 1982, he explained how he had been forced to tour the
camps: "The Polit bureau formed brigades which would, under
surveillance, go on tours of the concentration camps and perform for
the prisoners and the guards, including those of the highest rank."
* In July 1993
Vadim Kozin told his story, sang and played his piano
probably for the last time in the documentary on the
Gulag in the far
Siberia GOUD Vergeten in Siberië aka GOLD Lost in Siberia
www.imdb.com by Dutch author Gerard Jacobs and filmmaker Theo
Finally, Ukrainian prisoner
Nikolai Getman who spent the years
1945–1953 in Kolyma, records his testimony in pictures rather than
words. But he does have a plea: "Some may say that the
Gulag is a
forgotten part of history and that we do not need to be reminded. But
I have witnessed monstrous crimes. It is not too late to talk about
them and reveal them. It is essential to do so. Some have expressed
fear on seeing some of my paintings that I might end up in Kolyma
again — this time for good. But the people must be reminded... of
one of the harshest acts of political repression in the Soviet Union.
My paintings may help achieve this." The Jamestown Foundation provides
access to all 50 of Getman's paintings together with explanations of
ESTIMATING THE NUMBER OF VICTIMS
The amount of hard evidence in regard to
Kolyma is extremely limited.
Unfortunately, no reliable archives exist about the total number of
Stalinism ; all numbers are estimates. In his book, Stalin
Edvard Radzinsky explains how Stalin, while systematically
destroying his comrades-in-arms "at once obliterated every trace of
them in history. He personally directed the constant and relentless
purging of the archives." That practice continued to exist after the
death of the dictator.
In an account of a visit to
Harry Wu in 1999, there is a
reference to the efforts of Alexander Biryukov, a
Magadan lawyer to
document the terror. He is said to have compiled a book listing every
one of the 11,000 people documented to have been shot in
by the state security organ, the
NKVD . Biryukov, whose father was in
Gulag at the time he was born, has begun researching the location
of graves. He believed some of the bodies were still partially
preserved in the permafrost.
It is therefore impossible to provide final figures on the number of
victims who died in Kolyma. Robert Conquest, author of The Great
Terror, now admits that his original estimate of three million victims
was far too high. In his article Death Tolls for the Man-made
Megadeaths of the 20th Century, Matthew White estimates the number of
those who died at 500,000. In Stalin's Slave Ships, Martin Bollinger
undertakes a careful analysis of the number of prisoners who could
have been transported by ship to
Magadan between 1932 and 1953 (some
900,000) and the probable number of deaths each year (averaging 27%).
This produces figures significantly below earlier estimates but, as
the author emphasizes, his calculations are by no means definitive. In
addition to the number of deaths, the dreadful conditions of the camps
and the hardships experienced by the prisoners over the years need to
be taken into account. In his review of Bollinger's book, Norman
Polmar refers to 130,000 victims who died at Kolyma. As Bollinger
reports in his book, the 3,000,000 estimate originated with the CIA in
the 1950s and appears to be a flawed estimate. This number is also
estimated by the last survivors.
Anne Applebaum , a Pulitzer Prize winner, carried out an extensive
investigation of the gulags, and explained in a lecture in 2003, that
it's extremely difficult not only to document the facts given the
extent of the cover-up but to bring the truth home.
This ecoregion encompasses the drainages of Arctic rivers from the
Indigirka River eastward to Chaunskaya Guba Bay. In the west, the
Indigirka River drainage is separated from the
Khroma River and Yana
rivers by the spurs of the Polousnyy Kryazh Range and the Cherskogo
Pleistocene this part of
Beringia the ecology was quite
different than now with the extinct
Wooly mammoth and the wooly
The polar bear most likely evolved here.
* Russia portal
* Geography portal
* ^ A B "
Magadan Region". Kommersant Moscow. 8 March 2004. Archived
from the original on 25 October 2007. CS1 maint: BOT: original-url
status unknown (link )
* ^ Dikov, N.N.; Clark, Gerlad H. (1965). "The Stone Age of
Kamchatka and the Chukchi Peninsula in the Light of New Archaeological
Data". Arctic Anthropology. 3 (1).
JSTOR 40315601 .
* ^ Icons. magadancatholic.org
* ^ Icons by Svetlana Rjanitcyna. magadancatholic.org
* ^ "Alaska Notes: communist morality, stalinism, gulag,
* ^ Jackson, James O. (20 April 1987) Soviet Union. Time
* ^ Bollinger, Martin J. (2008). Stalin's Slave Ships: Kolyma, the
Gulag Fleet, and the Role of the West. Naval Institute Press. ISBN
* ^ "Stalin\'s Purges". gendercide.org.
* ^ Solzhenitsyn, A. The
Gulag Archipelago , vol. 2, p. 49.
* ^ Krawtchouk story : How a scientist received a job offer from
the American Mathematical Society, was accused of being a foreign spy,
and sent to GULAG. gmu.edu
* ^ A B Conquest, Robert, Kolyma: The Arctic Death Camps, Viking
Press, (1978), ISBN 0-670-41499-9 , pp. 228–229
* ^ Hochschild, Adam (2003) . "17: Beyond the Pole Star". The
Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt. p. 237. ISBN 9780547524979 . Retrieved 2017-06-14. Secret
police authorities in
Kolyma today say there are records - sometimes a
complete file, sometime just a name on a list - of two million men and
women who were shipped to the territory between 1930 and the
mid-1950s. But no one knows, even approximately, how many of these
prisoners died. Even historians who have spent years studying Kolyma
come up with radically different numbers. I asked four such
researchers, who between them have written or edited more than half a
dozen books on the gulag, what was the total
Kolyma death toll. One
estimated it at 250,000, another at 300,000, one at 800,000, and one
at 'more than 1,000,000.'
* ^ История Дальстроя. kolyma.ru
* ^ Chukotka as a Part of the
Magadan region. chukotka.org
* ^ Yakutia ASSR and the Sakha Republic from Cosmic Elk. Retrieved
23 January 2007.
* ^ Kuzmichenko, Svetlana (1998)
Magadan Region Update, U.S. &
Foreign Commercial Service and U.S. Department of State.
* ^ John Keep:
Andrei Amalrik and "1984",
Russian Review , Vol. 30,
No.4. (Oct. 1971), pp. 335–345 Archived 2 May 2006 at the Wayback
Machine .. Retrieved 21 January 2007.
* ^ George Bien,
Gulag Survivor in the
Boston Globe , 22 June 2005
* ^ Documentary film Walk on Gulagland
Zoltan Szalkai .
Retrieved 17 January 2007.
* ^ Thompson, Gene (2002)
Kolyma – The Road of Death.
* ^ Vadim Kozin, One Way Trip from Petersburg to
Magadan from the
Little Russia in US site. Retrieved 13 February 2007. Archived 17
October 2006 at the
Wayback Machine .
* ^ "Goud – Vergeten in Siberië (1994)". IMDb. 19 September
* ^ "Theo Uittenbogaard". IMDb.
* ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 July 2009.
Retrieved 16 July 2010.
* ^ Nikolai Getman: The
Gulag collection. Retrieved 13 February
* ^ White, Matthew (1998) "Worst Massacres of the 20th Century" in
Historical Atlas of the 20th Century
* ^ Polmar, Norman (2007). "Stalin\'s Slave Ships: Kolyma, the
Gulag Fleet, and the Role of the West (review)". Journal of Cold War
Studies . 9 (3): 180–182.
* ^ Gulag: Understanding the Magnitude of What Happened.
Heritage.org (16 October 2003). Retrieved on 2016-12-14.
* ^ FEOW. "609: Kolyma". Freshwater Ecoregions of the World. Nature
Conservancy. Retrieved 25 May 2015.
* ^ Boeskorov, G.G. (2009). "Preliminary study of a mummified
woolly rhinoceros from the lower reaches of the
Kolyma River". Doklady
Biological Sciences. 424 (1): 53. doi :10.1134/S0012496609010165 .
* ^ Kurtén, B. (1964). "The evolution of the polar bear, Ursus
maritimus (Phipps)". Acta Zoologica Fennica. 108: 1–26.
* Conquest, Robert : Kolyma: The Arctic Death Camps, Viking Press,
1978, 254 p. ISBN 0-670-41499-9
* Conquest, Robert :
The Great Terror : Stalin's Purge of the
* Conquest, Robert : The Great Terror: A Reassessment, Oxford
University Press, May 1990, hardcover, ISBN 0-19-505580-2 ; trade
paperback, Oxford, September 1991, ISBN 0-19-507132-8
* Getman, Nikolai: The
Gulag Collection: Paintings of the Soviet
Penal System, The Jamestown Foundation, 2001, 131 p., ISBN
* Radzinsky, Edvard , Stalin: the first in-depth biography based on
explosive new documents from Russia's secret archives, Hodder the Land
Gold and Death A personal on-line account in nine chapters by
Stanislaw J. Kowalski, a Polish prisoner in Kolyma, with numerous
* The Soviet
Gulag Era in Pictures, 1927–1953 Photographs, several
of Kolyma, collected by James Duncan
Kolyma – Stalin\'s Notorious Prison Camps in Siberia, Personal
Account by Ayyub Baghirov in Azerbaijan International, Vol. 14:1
(Spring 2006), pp. 58–71.
* Work in the
Gulag from the Stalin's
Gulag section of the Online
Gulag Museum with a short description and images of Kolyma
* Italian-American artist Thomas Sgovio (1916–1997) created a
series of drawings and paintings, based on his life as a prisoner in
the Soviet Gulag
* Gold- lost in
Siberia (1994) a documentary by Theo Uittenbogaard
and Gerard Jacobs
LINKS TO MAPS
* Detailed Russian map of the