Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs – Irina Ratushinskaya

     Where does trouble with a totalitarian system begin? Often it is a simple matter of honesty. Irina Ratushinskava's troubles began when, as a college student in Odessa, she declined to take part in denunciations. And for her continued refusal to compromise her integrity she was awarded a maximum sentence of 7 years' strict regime camp and 5 years' exile. Undoubtedly blacklisted for her application together with her husband to emigrate in 1980, for her signature on a letter in defense of Sakharov in l981 and for her participation in the traditional demonstration on Pushkin Square in Moscow the same year, Ratushinskaya may well have avoided reprisal were it not for her exceptional talent as a poetess, a talent which has found a responsive audience for her outspoken honesty. Her poems began to circulate in samizdat and were published abroad. Fearing the danger of her pen, the totalitarian authorities meted out an unduly harsh sentence, hoping to silence her and scare others.

     At 31, Irina is the youngest of the women prisoners in the Mordovian Camp ZhKh 385 which numbers among its inmates fellow Orthodox Natalya Lazarevo and Tatiana Osipova. In an open letter that has reached the West, several of her fellow prisoners state that Irina is the target of constant repression by damp authorities. Five times in a row she has been denied visits with her husband, Ihor Herashchenko. During the past two years Irina has spent 138 days in punitive isolation cells (SHIZO), often for protesting the ill treatment of other prisoners. In winter the temperature in such a ceil reaches well below freezing; punitive rations consist of bread and cold water. For the past several months Irina has been suffering from a kidney inflammation and chronic fever. In a letter of appeal addressed to European parliamentarians, Irina's husband writes that "her life is in danger, but in the camp medical aid is practically not available." Her fellow prisoners also fear that although Irina's courage remains strong, physically she may not endure another five years under such conditions. Recently Irina has been moved to Yavas, the "capital" of the Mordovian camp network. The official reason for this is not known, but Keston surmises that it may be for "re-education," a term which often implies drug treatment. ("Possev," Sept., 1985; KNS #231, 8/8/85, and #236, 10/17/85)