Former GULAG city of Vorkuta receives honorary title of “City of Labour Valour”, 22. October 2021

President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin has recently signed a legislation granting twelve new cities the honorary title of City of Labor Valour. Among them was the city of Vorkuta, which once formed a part of the Gulag system of forced labour camps that victimised hundreds of thousands of people, including many Estonians, in the 1940s and 1950s.

The title is awarded to cities whose inhabitants, throughout the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) against Nazi Germany, provided the front with everything it needed and made a significant contribution to the ultimate Soviet victory, according to the Kremlin's website.

The honorary title of "City of Labor Valour" is awarded “as a sign of the deepest respect and admiration for those who worked in plants and factories, hospitals and research laboratories without rest and sleep, disregarding all privations and sometimes sacrificing their lives”, said the President at a meeting of the Russian Pobeda (“Victory”) Organising Committee.

“The scale of production at that time is stunning even now, in peacetime” he further remarked. “It is impossible to imagine what human efforts it took to do all this, particularly during those most difficult war years”.

Among the recipients of the honorary title was Vorkuta, which was singled out for its “dedication and heroism” in supplying the front with amounts of coal far surpassing the plans dictated to them by the Soviet Government.  It was alleged that Vorkuta’s inhabitants “managed to increase production several times during the war years”, and that “10 new mines were opened in the city and 6.5 million tons of coal were mined”.

It is immediately clear that the increase in industrial production during the war years was ensured by the rapid influx of manpower reserves. But nowhere is it mentioned that Vorkuta, located north of the Arctic Circle, was one of the largest and most infamous forced labour camps in the Stalinist era, forming part of the GULAG system of forced labour camps in which tens of thousands of prisoners, including political prisoners from the Baltic states, were forced into slave labour Many such prison labourers were employed in coal mining in Vorkuta.  The enormous mortality rates of these prisoners, who often perished due to inhumane living and working conditions, has been so far neglected in this campaign.

The title of Cities of Labour Valor was first granted in the spring of 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War.

The title was intended to include more regions in Russia’s eastern interior in the celebrations of the wartime victory over Nazi Germany, even in places where no actual fighting took place. Such rhetoric is aimed at expanding present-day interpretations of ‘wartime participation’ to include the home front, where Soviet industrial capacity played a pivotal role in defeating the German war machine.

"From its first days, the entire Soviet people rose to defend the Motherland, at the front and deep in the rear, each in his combat or labor post brought victory over the enemy closer," the President remarked.  

Currently 44 Russian cities have been awarded the title of "City of Labor Valor".

People were used as forced labor in the Vorkuta coal mines. Photo: Estonian Memento Union