Ivan Denisovich Shukov was taken prisoner by the Germans in 1943 and he later escaped and returned to his own troops. He admitted that the Germans has captured him, and that became his crime. He was assumed to be a spy. He was forced to confess to being a spy to avoid being shot, but then went to a soviet prison.
The others in the prison also seem to have little logical reason for being there. One mans crime was being a Baptist. Many were there for being spies. Survival meant stealing, lying, and anything it took to stay alive. In prison they were not able to call the guards comrade but had to call them “Citizen”, removing their hats five steps before approaching them, and keeping it off until they had past two steps beyond. An inmate said that survial was "by the law of the taiga," or as we would put it, the law of the jungle.
Ivan says of the time "How can you expect a man who's warm, to understand a man who's cold?" The goal is to live through just one more day. On this "one day" Ivan is lucky when he was awakened by the sound of a hammer clanging against a steel rail, Ivan thinks he is sick guard pretends to take him to the punishment cells, but he only wants Ivan to mop the floor of the guardroom.
He did not have to work in the 20 below zero wind, and even got to stand in a warm place, while his guards discussed the wall his gang would have to make. He tricked the lunch staff and got an extra bowl of mush. He worked on building a wall and mistakenly put a long steel shaft in his pocket and he thought for sure he would be caught with it at the days, end when he remembered it was there, but then he was successful in getting the metal blade through the check station without being caught. He gets an extra meal ticket at dinner standing in line for a wealthy prisoner.
The day ends with Ivan sharing his story and talking about God with the Baptist prisoner. The is the end of the book.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was specifically mentioned in the Nobel Prize presentation speech when the Nobel Prize in Literature awarded the prize to Alexksandr Solzheitsyn in 1970,
"Solzhenitsyn's One Day: The book that shook the USSR". BBC. Moscow. -Steve Rosenberg Nov. 19th 2012 / Vitaly Korotich declared: "The Soviet Union was destroyed by information - and this wave started from Solzhenitsyn's One Day.