Browse Primary Sources
Primary sources from world and global history, including images, objects, texts, and digitally-born materials – annotations by scholars contextualize sources.
Prisoners' Eating Utensils

Prisoners' Eating Utensils

Prisoners in the Gulag received food according to how much work they did. A full ration barely provided enough food for survival. If a prisoner did not fulfill his daily work quota, he received even less food. If a prisoner consistently failed to fulfill his work quotas, he would slowly starve to death.

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Camp Jacket

Coat and Camp Jacket

Typical winter overcoat worn by most of the Soviet population in the 1930s through 1950s. The coat is very similar to the type provided to Gulag prisoners. The second image is a camp jacket of a maximum security prisoner.

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Drawing of a soup ration in the gulag

Soup Ration

Paika. “Ration.” Prisoners in the Gulag received food according to how much work they did. A full ration barely provided enough food for survival. If a prisoner did not fulfill his daily work quota, he received even less food. If a prisoner consistently failed to fulfill his work quotas, he would slowly starve to death.

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Odinochka (Solitary Confinement Cell)

Odinochka (Solitary Confinement Cell)

Jacques Rossi, the artist who made the following drawing in the 1960s based on his memories, spent 19 years in the Gulag after he was arrested in the Stalin purges of 1936-37. He later published several writings, including his most important, The Gulag Handbook, in 1987 (published in English in 1989).

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Baraki (Barracks)

Baraki (Barracks)

Jacques Rossi, the artist who made the following drawing in the 1960s based on his memories, spent 19 years in the Gulag after he was arrested in the Stalin purges of 1936-37. He later published several writings, including his most important, The Gulag Handbook, in 1987 (published in English in 1989).

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Layout of Barracks

Layout of Barracks

During their non-working hours, prisoners typically lived in a camp zone surrounded by a fence or barbed wire, overlooked by armed guards in watch towers. The zone contained a number of overcrowded, stinking, poorly-heated barracks. Life in a camp zone was brutal and violent. Prisoners competed for access to all of life’s necessities, and violence among the prisoners was commonplace.

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Night Search drawing

Night Search

A drawing by Evfrosiniia Kersnovskaia, a former Gulag prisoner.

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Radiation Contamination after the Chernobyl Disaster

On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine led to the radioactive contamination of the surrounding countryside and to radioactive fallout throughout Eastern and Western Europe.

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Soviet Map, 1982

This map provides one representation of the national composition of the Soviet Union in the early 1980s. As the distribution of colors indicates, each of the major ethnic groups occupied specific regions of the country. Although the different ethnicities were concentrated in specific regions, it is also clear that the entire country was multinational.

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Soviet Nationalities Map, 1989

This map offers a different representation of the same information as in Document 1. In this case, the population distribution of each Soviet republic is depicted in the pie charts and in the accompanying table.

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