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Irina Ratushinskaya

  • Autumn and spring are the worst times, because it's very cold and the heating is not functioning at all. The cell becomes riddled with damp, and your clothes are permanently clammy. Luckily, they let you have newspapers in PKT [unit for political prisoners], and we spread them under ourselves during the day. They make really excellent insulation. And to think we had been underestimating the value of the Soviet press all our lives.

  • ... you must not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to hate. Not because your tormentors have not earned it. But if you allow hatred to take root, it would flourish and spread during your years in the camps, driving out everything else, and ultimately corrode and warp your soul. You will no longer be yourself, your identity will be destroyed, all that will remain will be a hysterical, maddened and bedevilled husk of the human being that once was.

  • All this [Soviet labor camp for political prisoners] brings about one marked change in your physical appearance; by the end of your first year, you will have what are known as 'zek's eyes.' The look in a zek's eyes is impossible to describe, but once encountered, it is never forgotten. When you emerge, your friends, embracing you, will exclaim: 'Your eyes! Your eyes have changed!' And not one of your tormentors will be able to bear your scrutiny. They will turn away from it, like beaten dogs.

  • How much longer must we wash the earth clean / Of violence and lies? / Do you hear, O Lord? If you hear - / Give us the strength to serve her.

    • Irina Ratushinskaya,
    • "I remember an abandoned church," Pencil Letter ()
  • We pass through all like ripples, / And each one disappears. / Which of us will recur? / Who will flow into whom? / What do we need in this world / To quench our thirst?

    • Irina Ratushinskaya,
    • "The heron walks in the marsh," Pencil Letter ()
  • [After her release as a political prisoner:] The taste of coffee turned out to be quite different from the way I remembered it. It was strange to feel the strap of my old watch on my wrist. The second hand scurried round, tapping out the moments, like a chicken trying to find its way out of an eggshell that stubbornly refuses to crack. What's the time? What's the season? An eternity has passed since I came home, but the clock says that it is only five hours. Should I try on those of my clothes which Igor couldn't bring himself to give away because I had made them myself, feeling that it would be like giving away a kitten to a stranger? Should we put on a cassette with our favourite songs? Should we just light a candle and sit together in silence, our arms around each other, watching October sliding down the other side of the window?

    • Irina Ratushinskaya,
    • in Alyona Kojevnikov, trans., In the Beginning ()
  • The calendar? A mere convention ...

    • Irina Ratushinskaya,
    • "Five," in Lydia Razran Stone, trans., Wind of the Journey ()
  • But scabs adhere and hurt — no one escapes / Renewal's pain.

    • Irina Ratushinskaya,
    • "Five," in Lydia Razran Stone, trans., Wind of the Journey ()
  • It's been an age since they marched us away under guard / When we wouldn't give in or agree. / We have mastered the lesson of loss — / Don't cry, don't make a sound!

    • Irina Ratushinskaya,
    • "Ten," in Lydia Razran Stone, tr., Wind of the Journey ()
  • He is blessed who won't follow a path that conforms / To the rule of his clock, the black hands on white.

    • Irina Ratushinskaya,
    • "Thirty-Nine," in Lydia Razran Stone, trans., Wind of the Journey ()
  • And once he's been touched he won't dare turn his head, / ... / Numb with pain, the truth comes — that to live means to die. / He is blessed who cares not what the stars signify.

    • Irina Ratushinskaya,
    • "Thirty-Nine," in Lydia Razran Stone, trans., Wind of the Journey ()

Irina Ratushinskaya, Ukrainian-born Russian political prisoner, writer, scientist