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Factory of Invalids: disability, mortality and early release on medical grounds in GULAG

A Talk by Mikhail Nakonechny

Since the opening of classified GULAG archives in the early 1990s, there has been  a consensus that the death toll of prisoners in the GULAG between 1930-1955 is around  1,760,000.  For well over 20 years this consensus has not been seriously challenged.

 Nakonechny's research aims to challenge this consensus through detailed analysis of an important practice that still remains largely unexplored: the early release of many prisoners "on medical grounds.”  Many of these prisoners were terminally ill, and died on the doorsteps of the camps.  Their deaths, however, were never included in official GULAG medical reports.  This allowed GULAG officials and doctors at all administrative levels to artificially reduce death rates in an attempt to avoid prosecution by the supervising authorities.

 Those who died shortly after their release, from illnesses contracted in the camps, should, of course, be considered as previously uncounted victims of the GULAG.  The actual death toll in the GULAG, and especially in some of the most deadly camps, may therefore prove to be higher than the current consensus.

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Mikhail Nakonechnyi graduated from the History Department of Pskov State University and studied as a postgraduate student in the St.Petersburg Institute of History ( Russian Academy of Sciences) in 2012-2016. Currently he is a DPhil student at St.Peter's College, History Faculty, University of Oxford. Additionally, he is a Research Associate on the Carceral Archipelago project (School of History, University of Leicester).
Over several years Mikhail have conducted comparative statistical research on mortality in the late Imperial Russian penitentiary system under Alexander III and Nicholas II (1885-1917) and the Soviet GULAG (1930-1953) in a global international context. His other project concerns fundamental issue of reliability of official GULAG mortality statistics. He aims to clarify V.N.Zemskov's (with J.Arch Getty and G.Rittersporn) work on prisoner mortality in Soviet camps and revise current understanding of the problem through analysis of the so-called "unloading" practice (early release on medical grounds of terminally ill invalid prisoners) that allowed camp administration and doctors to artificially reduce death rates.