Irina Ratushinskaya

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Irina Ratushinskaya
Evstafiev-Irina Ratushinskaya.jpg
Irina Ratushinskaya. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev
Native name
Ирина Борисовна Ратушинская
Irina Borisovna Ratushinskaya

(1954-03-04)4 March 1954
Died5 July 2017(2017-07-05) (aged 63)
Citizenship Soviet Union (1954–1991),  Russian Federation (1991–present)
Alma materOdessa University
Occupationpoet, writer, screenwriter
Known forhuman rights activism
Movementdissident movement in the Soviet Union

Irina Borisovna Ratushinskaya (Russian: Ири́на Бори́совна Ратуши́нская, 4 March 1954, Odessa – 5 July 2017, Moscow) was a Russian Soviet dissident,[1] poet and writer.[2]


Irina Ratushinskaya was born in Odessa, Ukraine on 4 March 1954. Her father was Boris Leonidovich, an engineer, and her mother was Irina Valentinovna Ratushinsky, a teacher of Russian literature.[2] She has one sister.

Her mother's family originated from Poland, and her great-grandfather was deported to Siberia shortly after the January Uprising, a Polish uprising against forced conscription in the Russian Army in 1863.[3]

Ratushinskaya was educated at Odessa University and graduated with a master's degree in physics in 1976. Before her graduation she taught at a primary school in Odessa from 1975–78.[2]

Political persecution[edit]

On 17 September 1982 Ratushinskaya was arrested for anti-Soviet agitation.[4] In April 1983, she was convicted of "agitation carried on for the purpose of subverting or weakening the Soviet regime", and sentenced to seven years in a labor camp followed by five years of internal exile.[5] After being imprisoned three and a half years, including one year in solitary confinement in an unheated cell while temperatures fell to minus 40C in the winter,[3] she was released on 9 October 1986,[4] on the eve of the summit in Reykjavík, Iceland between President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.[2]

While imprisoned Ratushinskaya continued to write poetry. Her previous works usually centered on love, Christian theology, and artistic creation, not on politics or policies as her accusers stated. Her new works that were written in prison, which were written with a matchstick on soap until memorized and then washed away, number some 250. They expressed an appreciation for human rights; liberty, freedom, and the beauty of life. Her memoir, Grey is the Colour of Hope, chronicles her prison experience. Her later poems recount her struggles to endure the hardships and horrors of prison life. Ratushinskaya was a member of International PEN, who monitored her situation during her incarceration.[2]


In 1987 Ratushinskaya moved to the United States, where she received the Religious Freedom Award from the Institute on Religion and Democracy. In the same year both Irina and her husband were deprived of Soviet citizenship by the Politburo.[2] She also was the Poet in Residence at Northwestern University from 1987–89.[2] She lived in London, UK until December 1998,[6] when the family returned to Russia to educate their then seven year old twins in Russian schools after Irina and her husband went through a year of procedures including writing to President Boris Yeltsin to have their Russian citizenship restored.

Ratushinskaya died in Moscow on 5 July 2017 from cancer. She was survived by her husband, human rights activist Igor Gerashchenko, and their two sons.[7]


  • Poems/Cтихи/Poèmes. 1984, Hermitage. ISBN 0-938920-54-5.
  • A Tale of Three Heads/сказка о трех головах. 1986, Hermitage. ISBN 0-938920-83-9.
  • No, I'm Not Afraid, trans David McDuff, 1986, Bloodaxe. ISBN 0-906427-95-9.
  • Beyond the Limit. trans. Frances Padorr Brent, Carol J. Avins. 1987, Northwestern University. ISBN 0-8101-0748-1.
  • Pencil Letter. trans. various, 1989, Bloodaxe/Hutchinson, UK ISBN 1-85224-050-4; Alfred A. Knopf, USA. ISBN 0-39457-170-3.
  • Fictions and Lies. trans. Alyona Kojevnikova. 1999, John Murray. ISBN 0-7195-5685-6.
  • Grey Is the Color of Hope. 1989, Vintage. ISBN 0-679-72447-8.
  • In the Beginning. 1991, Sceptre. ISBN 0-340-55083-X.
  • Dance With a Shadow. trans. David McDuff. 1992, Bloodaxe. ISBN 1-85224-232-9.
  • The Odessans. 1996, Sceptre. ISBN 0-340-66563-7.
  • Wind of the Journey. 2000, Cornerstone Pr Chicago. ISBN 0-940895-44-7.


  • Sally Beamish has set some of her poems into music (No, I'm not afraid, 1998).


  1. ^ Smith, Harrison (9 July 2017). "Irina Ratushinskaya, Soviet dissident who turned captivity into poetry, dies at 63". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Irina Ratushinskaya Papers, 1979–1997". Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
  3. ^ a b Ewa Kuryluk (May 7, 1987). "An Interview with Irina Ratushinskaya". New York Review of Books. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  4. ^ a b Associated Press (October 19, 1986). "Dissident poet Iryna Ratushynska unexpectedly released from prison". Archived from the original on September 27, 2013.
  5. ^ Zambrano, Mark (May 25, 1986). "Young Soviet Poet May Be Dying in Gulag, Emigres Report". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  6. ^ "We wrote a letter to Yeltsin, and then we packed our bags". The Independent. June 6, 1999. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  7. ^ Bourdeaux, Michael (9 July 2017). "Irina Ratushinskaya obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 July 2017.

Further reading[edit]

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