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 Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya

Russian writer (memoirist) and artist, Gulag prisoner


Eufrosinia Antonovna Kersnovskaya was born into a family of nobility in Odessa in 1907. Her mother knew several languages, and her father was a well-known lawyer in Odessa. She also had a brother named Anton; he was an artist and a pilot who perished in the sky of France in battles with the Nazi during World War Two. Eufrosinia Antonovna was in charge of housekeeping and apart from speaking nine languages she knew a lot about field husbandry and animal industries.

During the Civil War the family escaped from prosecution of Bolsheviks and moved to their ancestry estate in Bessarabia, which was then a part of Romania. Eufrosinia worked hard as a farmer and elevated the decayed household.

After the Soviet armies entered Bessarabia in 1940, Eufrosinia and her mother as the former landowners were driven out of their house. So, Eufrosinia had to take all sorts of odd jobs to maintain herself and her old mother. Soon under the pressure of Bolshevist propaganda all Efrosinia’s friends, acquaintances, and fellow villagers turn their backs on her. But it was only the beginning of the misfortunes that fell on fragile shoulders of Efrosinia. One night six armed men came to arrest her.

In June, 1941 Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya was exiled to a special prison settlement in the Tomsk Region. After an attempt to escape in 1942 she was sentenced to a supreme penalty. She refused to ask for mercy with writing words: “I cannot demand justice and I do not want to ask for favor”. Nevertheless, her sentence was replaced with the term of 10 years. In 1944 she got another 10-year term for “counterrevolutionary propaganda”. She served her penance in Norilsk prison camp.

Her work was a kind of hard self-sacrifice: in exile she felled timber, in the camp she worked as a nurse, in a mortuary she lanced and then loaded corpses, she built houses, dug the ground, looked after pigs, buried dead persons, dragged hundred-kilo boxes on her shoulders, hollowed ice on railways in polar frost. In Norilsk she experienced all the burdens of miner's labour, working as a scraper operator, mine foreman, and a powderman for as long as eight years. Hard work strangely turned for her into a kind of protection from despondency and despair, which are so common among prisoners. The harder was the work she undertook, the easier she overcame the psychology of a victim. Another outlet for her was her diaries which she accompanied with her own illustrations. It is astonishing how she managed, having undergone such hardships and having lost many of her friends, not to lose her spirits and her identity in the mad whirlpool of retaliatory system. After her discharge in 1952 she went on living and working in Norilsk for eight years more.

In the mid 1960s Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya wrote about her life experiences, drew pictures and made author's copies of her texts and drawings, to keep them safe for the next generations. In Yessentuki she created an extensive illustrated work about the trials he underwent in Gulag from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. These are 12 notebooks containing 55 author’s sheets of written text and 680 drawings in mixed technique, something similar to comic books. Kersnovskaya made 3 hand-written copies of these notebooks with all the drawings, which she gave to different people for keeping them safe.

In 1983 Kersnovskaya’s friends made a samizdat (underground) typewritten copy of her work. In the empty sides of typewritten pages the author drew illustrations again. At that time she was 75 years old.

Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya died on March, 8th, 1994 in Yessentuki.

Her album book “Naskalnaya Zhivopis’” (Rock Painting) (1991) is opening with the author’s short message to readers: «The country, which doesn't know its past, has no future... This is why I also remind of that part of the past, which is imprinted in my memory».

The full text of Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya’s memoirs in 6 volumes was published only in 2001-2002.

Tags: Russian human rights activists Russian writers    

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