The Gulag was a system of forced labor camps established during Joseph Stalin’s long reign as dictator of the Soviet Union. The word “Gulag” is an acronym for Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei, or Main Camp Administration. The notorious prisons, which incarcerated about 18 million people throughout their history, operated from the 1920s until shortly after Stalin’s death in 1953. At its height, the Gulag network included hundreds of labor camps that held anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 people each. Conditions at the Gulag were brutal: Prisoners could be required to work up to 14 hours a day, often in extreme weather. Many died of starvation, disease or exhaustion—others were simply executed. The atrocities of the Gulag system have had a long-lasting impact that still permeates Russian society today.