32 Disturbing Photos Of Life Inside Soviet Gulag Prisons

Published July 31, 2017
Updated October 29, 2018

During the reign of Joseph Stalin, 14 million people ended up in a Soviet gulag, where they were forced to literally work themselves to death.

Soviet Gulag Inmates
Gulag Prisons
Families Deported To Siberia
Katyn Massacre
32 Disturbing Photos Of Life Inside Soviet Gulag Prisons
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During the days of Stalin, one wrong word could end with the secret police at your door, ready to drag you off to a Soviet gulag – one of the many forced labor camps where inmates worked until they died.

Some 14 million people were thrown into a Soviet gulag during Stalin’s reign. Some were political prisoners, rounded up for speaking out against the Soviet regime. Others were criminals and thieves. And some were just ordinary people, caught cracking an unkind word about a Soviet official.

Still more inmates came from the Eastern Bloc of Europe – conquered countries that were made subservient to the Soviet regime. The families of priests, professors, and important figures would be rounded up and sent off to the work camps, keeping them out of the way while the Soviet Union systematically erased their culture.

Wherever the gulag inmates came from, they were barely fed. Stories even came out saying that prisoners had been caught hunting rats and wild dogs, snagging any living thing they could find for something to eat.

While starving, they worked themselves literally to the bone, using usually outdated supplies to do intense labor. The Soviet gulag system, instead of relying on expensive technology, threw the sheer force of millions of men with crude hammers at a problem. Inmates worked until they collapsed, often literally dropping dead.

These laborers worked on massive projects, including the Moscow-Volga Canal, the White Sea-Baltic Canal, and the Kolyma Highway. Today, that highway is known as the “Road of Bones” because so many workers died building it that they used their bones in the foundation of the road.

By the time the last Soviet gulag closed its gates, millions had died. Some worked themselves to death, some had starved, and others were simply dragged out into the woods and shot.

Stalin’s successors ruled with a comparatively gentler hand – but by then, the damage had been done. Philosopher and cultural leaders had been wiped out, and the people had learned to live in fear.


After reading about the gulag prisons of the Soviet Union, check out these photos of abandoned Soviet monuments and fascinating Soviet propaganda posters.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer, teacher and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked, and can be found on his website.
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