Actually, Kolyma was never part of the Gulag. At the beginning of 1930s the discovery of various metals in this region, especially gold, attracted Stalin’s special attention. On November 11, 1931, the politburo accepted a resolution «About Kolyma». In order to speed up gold mining, a special organization “DALSTROY” was created with direct control of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, and not to the NKVD. In 1932, a special department of the North-Eastern Camps was created, which was part of the “Dalstroy” structure. Its purpose was to supply prisoners to Kolyma. In May 1932, prisoners from other camps in the country began to arrive in Nagaevo Bay.

Stalin was preparing for war, and the country needed gold. In 1940, more than 80 tons of chemically pure gold was mined in the USSR – Dalstroy was ahead of California! At the cost of the inhuman exploitation of prisoners who suffered from the severe Kolyma frosts, constant hunger and bullying by criminals and guards. According to witnesses, the conditions of prisoners in Kolyma were the most cruel of all possible in those years.

HEINRICH ELSHTEIN-GORCHAKOV: There was no doubt anymore – prisoners were ready to be sent to Kolyma. Even in the camps, Kolyma was a symbol of something especially fearful and disastrous. Those who had been there were looked at as if they had miraculously escaped from hell. There were so few of them left that they were called by the nickname – «Kolyma», without even adding a name. And everyone knew who it was.

VARLAM SHALAMOV: Perhaps the most terrible and merciless challenge is the cold. After all, work was canceled only if it was colder than – 55 deg. This 56th degree was measured by the frozen on the fly spit and by the noise of frost, because according to Yakuts, frost has its own language and it’s called “whisper of the stars”. This whisper of the stars was assimilated by us quickly and cruelly. The very first frostbite: fingers, hands, nose, ears, face, everything that catches the slightest movement of air. There is no place in the Kolyma mountains where the winds do not blow.

Hunger is the second challenge that destroys me in a short time, like two weeks, no more. The third challenge is the absence of strength. We are not allowed to sleep. Working day is 14 hours. I crawl around the mines, hammering some huge metal pins, hacking with frostbitten hands in effort to do anything. Working for 14 hours, 2 hours for breakfast and two hours for dinner. Not much time is left to sleep. I sleep snuggling where I could, anywhere, any position, I immediately fall asleep. Beating is the fourth challenge. Everyone beats the prisoners: the convoy, the contractor, the foreman, the jailbirds, the company commander, and even the hairdresser considers it a duty to slap the prisoners.

EVGENIA GINZBURG: Directly from the forest, us, who did not fulfill the norm (physically, almost none of the female prisoners could fulfill it), guards led to the punishment cell, not to barracks. It is difficult to describe this place. An unheated hut, most likely similar to a public restroom, since no one was let out to use the toilet and there was no toilet pot either. Almost the whole night I had to stand idle on my feet, as it was a lineup to have a sit on a stool. We were thrown there after work, right from the forest at 8 o’clock in the evening, and released at 5 in the morning. We were wet and hungry. After the morning checkup they sent us back to the forest. It constantly seemed that death is close by and there is no way to escape it. It feels that it will get us very soon.

GEORGY ZHZHENOV: There was an epic scurvy and dysentery in the camp. Incredibly skinny or swollen from scurvy, infected with furunculosis prisoners, clung in small groups to the walls of the camp kitchen, watched through the cracks the preparation of food with hungry and inflamed eyes… In the frozen barracks, on the small wooden bunks, due to the cold, close to each other were lying sick and hungry people. Every morning, several prisoners died on those wooden bunks. Their twisted, cold bodies with hats frozen to the headboard were pulled off the prison bunks, dragged behind the camp zone, and buried in snow, somewhere far away from human eyes until springtime.

From the memories of OZERLAG PRISONERS:
Bravura marches are played by the camp orchestra. The head of the mining camp, «Scout», is addressing the prisoners: «Remember, for you, the Stalinist constitution – is me. I will do what I want with any of you…»

That was the reality of the Kolyma camps. On December 19, 1937, Colonel Stepan Garanin was appointed head of the Department of the North-Eastern Camps. The name of Garanin is associated with mass illegal repressions in the “Dalstroy” camps, which were called «Garaninshchina» («гаранинщина»).

NADEZDA YOFFE: One day, our Lida, who always knew everything, said that a new head of the USVITLag, (УСВИТлага) Colonel Garanin, had arrived at the camp … He was standing near the checkpoint. We walked close by and I saw him. Garanin looked at the people that were passing by, as if they were made of glass – he looked through them. There was a group of prisoners in the yard. We stopped at the dining room door and I looked around. One of the convicts approached Garanin, he looked like he was humpbacked. He gathered the courage for sometime to speak to Garanin: “Boss, I am very ill, please, let them transfer me to an easier job, please…” He seemed to be saying something else, but he was already not heard. Garanin immediately got angry, and I realized that he was pulling a handgun from his holster: “You don’t want to work… beep… beep… beep”. And shot point-blank. The man fell.

ALEXEY YAROTSKY: After a mass public execution at the Maldyak mine in the summertime, Garanin asked prisoners during the presence check: who refuses to work? One «cross» (that’s how the convicts-sectarians were called in Kolyma) stepped forward, crossed himself and said: «You are a demon, a servant of the Antichrist.» Garanin shot him right there in front of everyone…

By the way, among the prisoners of the Maldyak mine was the designer Sergei Pavlovich Korolev.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn about the «Serpantinka» death camp in Kolyma:
While Garanin was head of Dalstroy camp, every day 30 to 50 people were shot in a barn. For article 58, the last weekend was canceled. The working day in the summer was extended to 14 hours. The temperature of minus 45 to 50 degrees celsius was recognized as suitable for work. It was allowed to cancel work only when it was below 55 degrees. However, there were some individual chiefs that forced the prisoners to work outside at minus 60… This also turned out to be not enough, as the number of prisoners was not reduced as it was intended. So then the «Garanin executions» started, meaning direct killings. Sometimes during the tractor noise and sometimes without.

Colonel Stepan Garanin was posthumously rehabilitated on February 6, 1990…

The only and most powerful boss of Kolyma was the head of “Dalstroy”, Lieutenant General Ivan Fedorovich Nikishov. He created the law according to his discretion and mood. In his actions, the concept of «production necessity» was above any law. This power was shared with his mistress, Alexandra Gridasova. She arrived in Magadan under the “Komsomol call”. A 24 year old Alexandra, had a relationship with Nikishov and became the uncrowned queen of Dalstroy. She got the position of head of the Maglag, became famous for her folly and personal theater of prisoners, which later became the Magadan Music and Drama Theater. She really helped many famous actors and musicians, among them were Georgy Zhzhenov, Vadim Kozin, director Leonid Varpakhovsky, trumpeter Eddie Rozner and others. Some people – she helped, and some, she could easily turn into camp dust. After all, there were no Soviet authorities, district committees, executive committees or other government institutions in Kolyma. So there was no one to complain to.