The gulag labour camps and colonies were founded in 1930 and coincided with the Five Year Plans of the Russian leader, Joseph Stalin. These were industrialization and agricultural collectivization programmes designed to increase Russia’s productivity. The gulags were used as corrective labour camps for criminals and political prisoners; this included anyone who protested against collectivization. They provided slave labour for the state programmes and played a significant role in the developing Soviet economy. Prisoners worked in every industry, including logging, mining, farming and factory work. Between the 1930s and mid-1950s over 14 million people were imprisoned in the gulags. These spread across the USSR and, according to writer and inmate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, looked like a ‘vast chain of islands’. It is believed there were at least 476 camp systems. A further 6 million prisoners were exiled to Siberia, where they mined nickel, copper and palladium. Towns such as Salekhard and Vorkuta began as gulag colonies.
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