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Irina Ratushinskaya Papers, 1979-1997

By The Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections Staff

Collection Overview

Title: Irina Ratushinskaya Papers, 1979-1997

Predominant Dates:1985-1987

ID: SC/044

Creator: Ratushinskaya, Irina (1954-)

Extent: 1.0 Box. More info below.

Arrangement: The collection is arranged by series with folder level control.

Date Acquired: 00/00/1992

Languages: Russian [rus], English [eng]

Scope and Contents of the Materials

Ocuppying .5 linear feet, the Irina Ratushinskaya papers, housed in Special Collections, include her works of poetry, secondary material, correspondence, articles, audio and artwork. The largest portion of the collection is devoted to secondary material about Ms. Ratushinskaya while imprisoned and as individuals worked for her release. The bulk of the collection dates from the period, 1985-1987.

Biographical Note

Irina Ratushinskaya, samizdat author, poet and dissident, was born March 4, 1954 to Boris Leonidovich, an engineer, and Irina Valentinovna Ratushinsky, a teacher. Branches of her family reach back to the Russian royal court; another branch, Polish, revolted against Russian imperial occupation.

She was educated at Odessa University, the city of her birth, and graduated with a Master's Degree in physics in 1976. Before her graduation, she taught primary school in Odessa from 1975-78.

During her student years she discovered the poetry of the Russian “Silver Age,” particularly that of Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Pasternak and Tsvetayeva. Their intensely personal vision and insight provided spiritual nourishment, and impressed her to write with increased purpose. Consequently she directed her talent toward criticizing human rights violations in the Soviet Union. Soon an agitated KGB demanded that she discontinue writing poetry. As her husband wryly comments, Irina was found guilty of harboring “an unenthusiastic way of thinking.” She was duly arrested in 1982.

During trial, she was not allowed a lawyer of her choice, nor permitted to conduct her own defense or complete her final testimony. She was charged with anti-Soviet agitation, convicted and sentenced to seven years in a labor camp at Barashevo, a colony built during Stalin’s regime, 300 miles southeast of Moscow.

Surrounded by brutality, cold and illness, she and her fellow inmates read and treasured the Bibles left in cells by previous generations of prisoners. The Scriptures were not confiscated; doing so would simply instigate revolt among the detainees who, protesting, might well fast themselves to death. 

Reading and praying in close circles, the prisoners often experienced mysterious physical warmth amid the freezing cold. “And we all knew,” she recalls, “without a shadow of a doubt, that this was the force of prayers being offered on our behalf to the Almighty, a force which no amount of barbed wire or stone walls could withstand.”

Her prison writings number some 250, etched on soap and memorized before the impression washed smooth. These works express an appreciation for human rights, liberty, freedom and the beauty of life. Her previous work often centered on Christian theology and artistic creation, not on politics or policies as her accusers stated.

Imprisoned, she suffered high blood pressure, fever and severe kidney trouble, receiving no medical assistance. She was also subjected to solitary confinement, beaten and force-fed, frequently edging near death. Often her bed was locked to the wall; so she slept on the floor.

There were joys, however small, amid the stark deprivations and starvation. For one New Year’s Eve celebration, Irina and her cellmate added water to dry toothpowder and outlined a full-sized Christmas tree on the floor. They used their boots as the “trunk.”  She writes: “…Lying on the floor – Natasha on her sixth day of hunger strike and I on my eleventh – we rejoiced as we looked at it, like a couple of children.” 

Meanwhile, her prison poetry was smuggled to the West and published in literary journals and newspapers, directing astonished international attention to the plight of Russian dissidents. Public readings of her work were performed in Los Angeles and New York; impassioned speeches were offered on her behalf on the floor of Congress.

She spent only four years as a political prisoner. Her release occurred on the eve of the summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, between President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in October 1986. The action was perceived as a possible concession by the Soviet government to the West. After her release she visited Britain, receiving treatment for injuries sustained in prison.

Her memoir, Grey Is The Color of Hope, chronicles her experience as a “zek,” or prisoner. Every aspect of her life was subject to rigorous regulation; her mind manipulated, her body humiliated. Her faith, however, deepened, refined. Sorely tormented, she refused to hate: “If you start to hate you can never stop…You can burn yourself up from inside.”  Novelist Joyce Carol Oates comments: “No one who reads it will ever forget it…Like [her] poetry, the story of her imprisonment seems to shine with a special intelligence and luminosity.”

Later poems recount struggles to endure the horror of prison life. A second memoir, In the Beginning, chronicles Irina’s childhood in Odessa, marriage and her Christian faith.  Adrienne Rich, poet and activist, suggests that Irina’s work is “…part of a great international literature of dissent. These poems flash with imagery, wit, fury and love of life.” Another fine poet, Luci Shaw, writes: “…There is steel behind the words…She writes her reverberating realities, and holds out the rich gift of her life to us with open hands.”

Irina’s gray uniform, the color of hope and a symbol of survival, she still proudly owns. Political prisoners now wear black. “What hope do they have?” she asks. “Perhaps only that which we can offer.” She remains concerned that political prisoners not be forgotten, encouraging the writing of letters, though many may not reach them. At the very least, government officials will note that the world is not turning a blind eye to those persecuted for their ideologies.

She married Igor Geraschenko, an engineer, on November 16, 1979. In 1987 she visited the United States where she received the Religious Freedom Award from the Institute on Religion and Democracy. From 1987-89, she was the Poet-in-Residence at Northwestern University.

Irina is a member of the International PEN, who monitored her situation during the incarceration. In 1998 her citizenship was restored by President Boris Yeltsin, and she was permitted to return to Russia. She and her husband live in Moscow, and are the parents of two sons, Oleg and Sergei.

Other books include Beyond the Limit (1987); Dance with a Shadow (1992); and Wind of the Journey (2000). She also contributed the foreword to Religious Prisoners in the USSR, a collection of biographical essays.

Administrative Information

Alternate Extent Statement: 0.42 linear feet

Access Restrictions: There are no restrictions on this collection.

Use Restrictions: Duplication may be restricted if copying could cause damage to items.

Acquisition Source: Gift

Acquisition Method: Irina Ratushinskaya's works came to Wheaton College beginning in the Summer of 1992.

Preferred Citation: Irina Ratushinskaya Papers (SC-44), Wheaton College Special Collections, Wheaton, Illinois.

Other Note: The papers of Irina Ratushinskaya display the works of this Russian Poet who served four years of a seven year sentence in a Soviet labor camp because of her samizdat poetry. Irina's works are primarily poetic, though she did write a memoir of her time in prison, entitled Gray Is The Color Of Hope.

Other URL: http://library.wheaton.edu

Box and Folder Listing

Series 1: BiographicalAdd to your cart.
Box 1Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Biographical InformationAdd to your cart.
Series 2: ManuscriptsAdd to your cart.
Sub-Series 1: BooksAdd to your cart.
Box 1Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Grey is the Color of Hope [photocopy of Russian version]Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Grey is the Color of Hope [typed copy of Russian version]Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Seven Devotional PiecesAdd to your cart.
Folder 5: Odessans- outline of the novelAdd to your cart.
Folder 6: Odessans- chapters 1-3Add to your cart.
Sub-Series 2: ArtworkAdd to your cart.
Box 1Add to your cart.
Folder 7: [Adult and child], 1979Add to your cart.
Folder 8: [Child blowing bubbles]Add to your cart.
Folder 9: [Couple before a horseman judge]Add to your cart.
Sub-Series 3: PoetryAdd to your cart.
Box 1Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Poem Composed for Children 12/25/92Add to your cart.
Series 3: Published WorksAdd to your cart.
Box 1Add to your cart.
Folder 11: The OdessansAdd to your cart.
Folder 12: Everyday Russian Life after Pevotra [Russian]Add to your cart.
Series 4: SecondaryAdd to your cart.
Sub-Series 1: ArticlesAdd to your cart.
Box 1Add to your cart.
Folder 13: "Christians Unite Against Soviet Persecution." Concerned Women of America Newsletter, June 1987.Add to your cart.
Folder 14: "Irina: Out of the Gulag," Cornerstone. vol. 16, no. 85 (1987).Add to your cart.
Folder 15: "Irina Ratushinskaya," Contemporary Authors, vol. 129.Add to your cart.
Folder 16: "Irina Ratushinskaya," Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 54Add to your cart.
Folder 17: Press Release, [1986-87]Add to your cart.
Folder 18: "Soviet Believer's: still paying a high cost for commitment," Christianity Today, June 12, 1987.Add to your cart.
Folder 19: Krumsieg, Rachel M. "Irina Ratushinskaya: A Poet and a Dissident" [paper for History 475, Wheaton College, 1997]Add to your cart.
Folder 20: "Irina Ratushinskaya," Amnesty International- USA.Add to your cart.
Folder 21: "The Case of Irina Ratushinskaya," Boekovski BerichtenAdd to your cart.
Folder 22: "Message from Irina Ratushinskaya" Newsdesk #262 Oct. 30, 1986Add to your cart.
Folder 23: "The Summit of Irina Ratushinskaya" Chicago Tribune sec. I p. 13Add to your cart.
Folder 24: "Irina Ratushinskaya at Liberty" Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty Oct. 13, 1986Add to your cart.
Folder 25: "Irina Ratushinskaya Warns Westerners 'Not to be Taken in by Gorbachev'sAdd to your cart.
Folder 26: "Glasnost" Policy'" Open Doors News Service May 6, 1987Add to your cart.
Folder 27: "Young Soviet Poet May be Dying in Gulag, Emigres Report" Chicago Tribune  May 6, 1986Add to your cart.
Folder 28: "Update on Honorary Member Irina Ratushinskaya" News From PEN American Center Feb 1985Add to your cart.
Folder 29: "Russian Christian Poet in Prison" Newswire Cover Story Dec. '85- Jan '86Add to your cart.
Folder 30: "Irina Ratushinskaya: Russian Christian Poetess Seriously Ill in soviet Labour Camp"Add to your cart.
Folder 31: "Lenten Vigil in Birmingham, England" Keston News Service March 20, 1986Add to your cart.
Folder 32: "The Vigil" The Irina VigilAdd to your cart.
Folder 33: "Irina Ratushinskaya Released from Prison" Open Doors News Brief vol. I, issue 11 Dec. 1986Add to your cart.
Folder 34: "In Solitary Cells on Winter Nights: A conversation with human rights activist and poet Irina Ratushinskaya and her husband, Igor, on the lessons learned in the  Soviet gulag" Christianity TodayAdd to your cart.
Folder 35: Yost, Lee Prater."An Interview with Irina Ratushinskaya"Add to your cart.
Folder 36: "Cry from the heart: Russian Christian Poetess holds to her faith despite harsh punishments" Open doors News Brief vol. I, Issue 8, Sept 1986Add to your cart.
Series 5: BibliographyAdd to your cart.
Box 1Add to your cart.
Folder 37: BibliographyAdd to your cart.
Series 6: MediaAdd to your cart.
Sub-Series 1: AudiotapesAdd to your cart.
Audio Cassette Storage 1: Visit to Wheaton College, April 22, 1987Add to your cart.