Vladimir Nikolayevich Petrov
Vladimir Nikolayevich Petrov (1915, Krasnodar oblast, Russia - March 17, 1999 Kensington, Maryland) was at various times an academic, philatelist, prisoner, forced laborer, political prisoner, adventurer, factory worker and soldier. He was at various times a Russian, American, and man of no country, though he was brought up in the USSR and died in the United States. Most of the information concerning his life originates from his personal memoirs, entitled Soviet Gold and My Retreat from Russia and collected in the published work Escape from the Future.
Petrov was born in Russia in 1915 during the last days of the Tsar. He studied at the University of Leningrad, living in his words "the meager existence of a young student"  where he was arrested on the night of February 17, 1935 by the NKVD. He was arrested at age 19 as part of the mass purges which followed in the wake of the assassination of Sergey Kirov. He was imprisoned and tortured for months before being formally charged with a crime.
The crimes he was charged with were, as related in his autobiography:
1. Writing of anti-soviet character (my diaries).8. Anti-Soviet propaganda among the population 
2. Possession of counter-revolutionary literature (the diaries...)
3. Espionage (correspondence with philatelists in the United States of America and Yugoslavia)
4. Anti-Soviet propaganda abroad (ditto).
5. Fomenting an armed uprising among the Cossacks...
6. Preparations for robbing savings banks and co-operatives...
7. Organization of counter-revolutionary group among the student of my institute...
A "troyka" (tribunal of three judges) convicted him of charges 1, 5, and 7 as given above. The only evidence presented was a personal diary he had written when he was 16. Without being able to consult counsel or view the evidence against him, he was sentenced to six years hard labor in the gold fields of the Kolyma. Due to their association with him, multiple of his colleagues were arrested on similar charges of counter-revolutionary activity.
During his internment, Petrov's life was one of complex vacillations. He at times had more freedom than many prisoners, including freedom of movement, sufficient food, medical care, private housing, and female companionship. At times he was one of the worst-treated of all prisoners in the GULAG system, living on a bread ration of less than half a kilogram per day and working near-naked in sub-zero waters to mine gold for the NKVD. He constantly lived in hope of having his sentence commuted, and constantly lived in fear of Serpantinnaya, a 'truck stop' north of Magadan which Petrov charges was used by the NKVD to perform summary executions.
He attempted escape numerous times, some of which attempts were only routed based upon lack of provisions and protective clothing to combat the Russian Winter. He traded in camp vodka and performed electrical repairs for fees and favors. He liaised with the wives of camp leaders. He became exposed to political dissidence, meeting Trotskyites, anarchists, as well as doctrinaire Bolsheviks and informants for the Cheka. During his term he also discovered the largest ever gold nugget in the history of the Kolyma gold fields. He was severely wounded by ammonal explosions in a mine, he was often beaten by guards and interrogators, and many times he existed on starvation rations for extended periods of time.
He became friends with many people during his prison term. Among them was a red-haired man known as Prostoserdov, a Menshevik and vocal opponent of Stalinism. It is assumed that Prostoserdov's execution would have made him a martyr; as a result, he was among the most elect prisoners in terms of treatment and privileges. Petrov's run-ins with Prostoserdov serve as one of the work's most poignant refrain; each encounter shows how each man has changed, and how they have struggled to remain themselves.
Once, by his own admission, he murdered a cruel camp official in cold blood using a pickaxe. On many other occasions he conspired with fellow prisoners or in other ways violated the rules of Dalstroy. Sometimes he was placed on a lower bread ration, but rarely as a direct result of his actual transgressions. He was never severely punished, nor was his prison term lengthened.
It has been claimed that much of his account bears similarities to the later semi-fictional account of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It has also been compared to Papillon by Henri Charrière.
Released from prison in the week that Nazi Germany invaded the USSR in World War II, Petrov made his way across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. He avoided Soviet mobilization; as an ex-convict he would have been placed in a mine-clearing battalion. The German front established by Operation Barbarossa passed by his town and thus came under control of the Third Reich. He managed, over two years, to work his way across Eastern Europe, into Germany and then Italy. In Nazi Germany, he contacted and played a role in the operations of General Andrey Vlasov.
His memoirs give markedly less information concerning his association with Vlasov than they do about almost all his other associations, even those with minor convicts. This has fueled speculation as to how he managed to secure passage to America at the end of the war.
After the war
In 1947 he managed to secure transportation to America through the good offices of the Tolstoy Foundation, an organization that helped numerous Russians reach the US. Here he became an academic and taught at such schools as Yale University and George Washington University while raising a family. In 1955 and 1956 Petrov worked at Radio Liberty in Munich. Prof. Petrov's academic works included the books 'Money and Conquest', 'A Study in Diplomacy', 'What China Policy?', 'June 22, 1941' as well as various academic monographs.
In the 1950s Petrov participated in emigre politics and was a regular contributor to the newspaper Novoye Russkoye Slovo under a pseudonym. His connections included people as diverse as Kerensky and Max Eastman. He published the first volume of his memoirs, 'Soviet Gold', in 1949, and 'My Retreat from Russia' a couple of years later. 'Soviet Gold' was the first published memoir of a GULAG prisoner in the West, and received a favorable review from Winston Churchill. In 1947, he and Henry A. Wallace met, and Wallace publicly apologized for having misrepresented reality when he visited Magadan in 1944.
Petrov died March 17, 1999 at age 83 at his home in Kensington, Maryland, after a brief illness. He was survived by his wife, Jean McNab, nine children, and six grandchildren.
- Soviet Gold, "Prisons of the City of Lenin" (p. 15)
- Soviet Gold, "Prisons of the City of Lenin" (p. 31)
- Soviet Gold, "Prisons of the City of Lenin" (p. 63)
- Soviet Gold, "Prisons of the City of Lenin" (p. 67)
- Soviet Gold, "Prisons of the City of Lenin" (p. 71)
- Soviet Gold, "Black Times" (p.195)
- Soviet Gold, "On The Way To Freedom" (p.250)
- Soviet Gold, "Magadan: Capital of the Kolyma" (p. 108)
- Soviet Gold, "Hard Time" (p. 225)
- Soviet Gold, "Black Times" (p. 196)
- Soviet Gold, general
- Soviet Gold, "Introduction" (p. vi)
- Tim Tzouliadis. The Forsaken. The Penguin Press. p. 280. ISBN 978-1-59420-168-4.
- Petrov, Vladimir (1949). Soviet Gold, Farrar Straus, New York.
- Petrov, Vladimir (1950). My Retreat from Russia, Yale University Press, New Haven
- Petrov, Vladimir (1973). Escape from the Future: The Incredible Adventures of a Young Russian, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
Note: Escape from the Future is a single-volume combination of the stories Soviet Gold and My Retreat from Russia. Apart from a short preface, it contains no new material.