Solzhenitsyn’s Confrere Dies, Remembering Irina Ratushinskaya

I wan’t surprised to hear of her death, she was not born of this world because she like deprivation; like Samuel Beckett, she liked all things paired down to their essentials, no frills; the love of movement and depth found a home in her.  To call her a dissident was to confine her and she hated restrictions of any kind.  Born in Ukraine, Odessa was her home but Poland ran through her veins.  Her love of the Russian language was felt in her reciting Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin or Chekhov.  An unusual Pole indeed.  Her entire being, especially her developed fortitude in solitary confinement strengthened her grasp of Akhmatova and Mandelstam.  What did the American’s know of suffering, of the charge to grow small and defiant at once!  If Melville, Thoreau, Whitman and others from Concord had a Russian compatriot, it was her; albeit no pacifist, she fought hard for her place in this world.

Only in Russia are poets shot!

In 1983 she was sentenced to a Siberian labor camp, internal exile, labeled a dangerous criminal, she and her husband (Igor Geraschenko) openly sought to hurt the regime.  While in solitary confinement she composed even more.  On bars of soap, on cigarette paper, even on the insides of garments she was made to sew!  She was inspired by gruel and black bread, of physical beatings and the freezing cold of isolation.

What other women in the west grew strength from hunger strikes, of four months in rigid isolation.  Fellow inmates called in indomitable.  She earned it.   Growing chives in a small garden to break the monotony of gruel, she always found a way to look presentable for prison visits while sustaining fellow inmates.

Gorbachev released her after Reykjavik, she arrived in London openly embraced by Thatcher.  She stayed twelve years only to have her children return to Mother Russia.

Openly thwarting the celebrity status of a dissident, she knew what only mystics and others deep in the GULAG knew intimately; the sordid conditions under camp life had miracles; it was there where one was taught HOW to live with grace.

Take the rest you’ve earned at the altar of the Lord.  Gone at 63 on July 05.


About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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