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Rare Survivor and Witness to Former Soviet Union Leader Joseph Stalin’s Gulag Prisons Horror Dies at 89

Moscow, July 25: A rare survivor of the harshest Stalin-era labour camps has died aged 89 in Russia’s far east. Vasily Kovalyov had survived icy punishment cells and beatings in the former USSR’s notorious Gulag prison system. He died of a stroke in a Magadan city hospital on Monday, the BBC reported. During an escape attempt in 1954 he spent five months hiding in a freezing mine with two other prisoners. His story was featured in Vesma, a news website.

The communist regime shipped thousands of “enemies” to prison camps via Magadan, a port city. In 1950, Kovalyov, then 20, was found guilty of anti-Soviet sabotage — one among the millions of victims of Stalinist terror. An old sabre that he had used to chop vegetables was enough to condemn him, the BBC reported. First he was sent to Norilsk, in the Russian Arctic, he told Vesma. But he ended up in Kolyma, a notoriously harsh network of labour camps north of Magadan, after guards uncovered an escape plot.

In 1954 he and two other inmates hid in a mine and prepared an armed uprising, but someone tipped off the guards, who then came looking for them, the BBC report said. “Miners who knew the place inside out accompanied them and said we wouldn’t be able to stand the permafrost there longer than a week,” he told Vesma. (IANS)