Eufrosinia Kersnovskaia (1907-1994)
Eufrosinia Kersnovskaia (1907-1994) spent 12 years in the Soviet Gulag. The notebooks illuminate the little-studied experience of women and children in the camps, and reveal a perceptive, reflective individual struggling to integrate her values with the cruelty and inhumanity surrounding her.
Kersnovskaia's experiences reflect a tumultuous time in Russian history. Her family, members of the gentry, fled Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution and settled in Bessarabia. After Soviet forces arrived in 1940, she and her mother were turned out of their home and their possessions seized by the state.
Eufrosinia was deported to Siberia as an "exile settler" and assigned to a logging brigade. An attempted escape, during which she traversed more than 900 miles of Siberian taiga alone and on foot before being captured, resulted in a death sentence. Though she refused to ask for clemency, her sentence was commuted to ten years' imprisonment in the Gulag. During her years in the camps, she adapted to work as a swineherd, a medical assistant, a morgue attendant, and a miner. In the process she both witnessed and experienced many atrocities and degradations, but nevertheless retained a sense of hope, decency, community, and vision.
After her release she settled in Yessentuki, a town in the Northern Caucasus, and penned her memoirs, which eventually comprised 12 notebooks and 680 illustrations. She made several copies (including the illustrations) by hand and entrusted them to others for safekeeping. Kersnovskaia envisioned the text and illustrations as an indivisible whole, a genre that perhaps lies somewhere between traditional Russian lubok engravings and the modern graphic novel.
Excerpts from her work were first published in 1990 by the Soviet magazine Ogonek, and in translation by The Observer (Great Britain). Portions of her work have also appeared in German and in French. A complete version of the Russian text appeared in 2001. A complete version of the Russian text and illustrations appeared in 2006 (ROSSPEN edition).