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The Forgotten Gulag Camps Of Chukotka

The Chukotka peninsula is Russia's most northeastern expanse, stretching into the Bering Strait less than 100 kilometers from Alaska. Travel to the sparsely populated region is usually restricted for non-residents because of its proximity to the United States. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Chukotka was part of the gulag prison camp system, and became the graveyard of tens of thousands of prisoners. Janyl Jusupjan of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service recently traveled to Chukotka's Chaunsky district, where the remains of the gulag camps can still be seen in a forbidding landscape.

An aerial view of Chaunsky district in the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug
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An aerial view of Chaunsky district in the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug

A view from a helicopter of an abandoned mine
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A view from a helicopter of an abandoned mine

The entrance to a uranium mine where prisoners were sent to do hard labor. Some prisoners used to say that one of the nearby stone columns resembled Josef Stalin.
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The entrance to a uranium mine where prisoners were sent to do hard labor. Some prisoners used to say that one of the nearby stone columns resembled Josef Stalin.

Stone outcroppings and mine tailings at the site of a former uranium mine. The region was also a source of tin ore.
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Stone outcroppings and mine tailings at the site of a former uranium mine. The region was also a source of tin ore.

The remains of a transit station between the district's main town, Pevek, and the sites of the former gulag camps.
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The remains of a transit station between the district's main town, Pevek, and the sites of the former gulag camps.

The mines and camps were run by the Far North Construction Trust, an organization set up in 1931 by the Soviet NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB) to manage construction and mining in Chukotka and Magadan, together known as the Kolyma region.
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The mines and camps were run by the Far North Construction Trust, an organization set up in 1931 by the Soviet NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB) to manage construction and mining in Chukotka and Magadan, together known as the Kolyma region.

Dalstroy built some 80 gulag camps across the Kolyma region. Its total operations, including camps and mines, covered 3 million square kilometers by 1951.
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Dalstroy built some 80 gulag camps across the Kolyma region. Its total operations, including camps and mines, covered 3 million square kilometers by 1951.

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Another mining complex east of the port town of Pevek. Though the uranium mine has been closed since the 1950s, radiation levels remain high in the area.
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Another mining complex east of the port town of Pevek. Though the uranium mine has been closed since the 1950s, radiation levels remain high in the area.

In the town of Pevek, a museum displays a recreation of a room at a gulag camp.
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In the town of Pevek, a museum displays a recreation of a room at a gulag camp.

Items from a prison camp on display at a museum. The prisoners here in the post-World War II period included Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Japanese, and Koreans. Those convicted of collaboration with the enemy could receive sentences of up to 25 years.
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Items from a prison camp on display at a museum. The prisoners here in the post-World War II period included Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Japanese, and Koreans. Those convicted of collaboration with the enemy could receive sentences of up to 25 years.

Between 1954 and 1956, most gulag prisoners were freed under an amnesty declared by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. The unprofitable mines of Chukotka were gradually closed.
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Between 1954 and 1956, most gulag prisoners were freed under an amnesty declared by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. The unprofitable mines of Chukotka were gradually closed.

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