Vorkuta: From Labor Camps To Industrial Decline
Published 4 March 2013
The labor camps at Vorkuta were established in 1931 to mine coal deposits at the foot of the Arctic Ural Mountains, 150 kilometers above the Arctic Circle. For 25 years, prisoners and exiles labored to turn this area of tundra into one of the largest coal sources of the Soviet Union. The complex grew to include more than 20 mines, mining villages, power stations, roads, railroads, and the new city of Vorkuta. Today, Vorkuta is an industrial city in decline, plagued by corruption and poverty. These photos show Vorkuta at the height of the Gulag era -- and as it appears now. (17 PHOTOS)
The camps at Vorkuta were established in 1931 to mine coal in the Ural Mountains in the Arctic. They continued to operate until 1956.
An undated photograph shows two Vorkuta prisoners upon their release. The prisoner on the right was a member of the Polish Home Army, partisans who fought against the Germans during World War II. Many Home Army fighters ended up in the Gulag system after the war.
Soviet Gulag prisoners constructing the North Pechora Railway (undated photo).
An undated photograph shows Vorkuta camp guards. Guards were most often recruited on three-year contracts after completing their basic military service. Regulations allowed guards to shoot without warning any prisoner who strayed outside the designated work zone or too near a camp fence.
An undated photo of Polish Home Army soldier Stefan Jozefowicz, who was arrested by the Soviet secret police in 1945 and sentenced to death. That sentence was later commuted to 20 years of hard labor. In 1953, Jozefowicz participated in a prisoner strike at mine No. 29. He returned to Poland in 1956.
An undated photo showing a cemetery for prisoners and exiles with mines visible in the background. Prisoners were buried in the tundra and their grave was marked with a post bearing the dead person's camp number. After 1956, released prisoners identified the graves and placed crosses marked with their names.
A cemetery of Gulag prisoners as it appears today.
Abandoned buildings in Vorkuta city, near the Vorkuta River
An abandoned building in the settlement of Vorgashor
The entrance to the Vorkutinskaya mine, where an explosion killed at least 18 people in early February.
A Polish memorial to victims of the Gulag stands next to the Vorkutinskaya mine.
A Ukrainian plaque commemorates Gulag victims.
The first monument in Vorkuta to victims of political repression
A mural celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution.
The entrance to the Komsomolskaya mine, which was closed in the 1990s.
A Soviet-era mural celebrates the friendship of Russia's Komi Republic, where Vorkuta is located, and Bulgaria.
An abandoned building in Vorgashor