Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya: Survivor
"A country that does not know its past has no future"


NAME: Eufrosinia Antonovna Kersnovskaya

CRYLLIC: Евфроси́ния Анто́новна Керсно́вская

BIRTH: January 8, 1908 Odessa, Ukraine

DEATH: March 8, 1994 Yessentuki, Russia


  • 1908 Born Russian gentry
  • 1941 Exiled because she was gentry
  • 1942 Escaped
  • 1943 Recaptured
  • 1943 Refused to admit guilt
  • 1943 Sentenced to death
  • 1943 Transferred Siberian Gulag camps
  • 1953 Released
  • 1968 Author 12 volumes memoirs containing 2,200,000 characters, 680 drawings
  • 1990 Publishing of hand-written copies becomes possible

Youth: 1908-1940 Kersnovskaya's childhood

Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya was born in Odessa to a family of Russian gentry. During the Russian Civil War the family moved to their estate in Bessarabia to become farmers.

In 1940, Bessarabia was annexed by the Soviet Union, and the Kersnovskaya family (Eufrosinia and her mother) were oppressed as former landowners.

Gulag: 1941 Exiled to Siberia

Kersnovskya was arrested by the NKVD on June 13, 1941. She was transferred by train to Novosibirsk in Siberia. She rode in a cattle-car along with forty others for the week-long train ride, and was finally left near the river Anga in the Tomsk region of Siberia.

TERM: People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (Народный комиссариат внутренних дел


The NKVD contained the regular, public police force of the USSR but is better known for the activities of the Gulag which eventually became the Committee for State Security (KGB). It conducted mass extrajudicial executions, ran the Gulag system of forced labor camps, suppressed underground resistance, conducted mass deportations of entire nationalities and Kulaks to unpopulated regions of the country, guarded state borders, conducted espionage and political assassinations abroad, was responsible for influencing foreign governments, and enforced Stalinist policy within communist movements in other countries.

Logging: 1941-2 Working in Siberian forests.

For the rest of 1941 Kersnovskaya worker as a logger in Tomsk, Siberia. She was considered an exile settler (ссыльнопоселенец). Work as a logger ended during the very cold Siberian winter. The workers were tasen to Ust-Tyam, but there was little work or food there. Later, she was transferred again, this time to an even more difficult post. On February 26, 1942, Kersnovskaya escaped.


Fugitive: 1942 Escaped

Kersnovskaya travelled 1500 kilometers across the Siberian and Russian countryside by foot, finding villages completely destroyed, churched closed, forests filled with displaced persons trying to survive by foraging. Near the village of Rubtsovsk she was recaptured on August 24, 1942.


Recaptured: 1942 Krasnozerskaye prison

After her recapture, Kersnovskaya was transferred to Krasnozerskoye prison. She was charged with espionage and crimes agaisnt the people.


I cannot demand justice: 1943 Refuses to admit guilt

Kersnovskaya refused to confess guilt, and refused to ask for clemency. She wrote on a sheet of paper provided to her for the purpose of confession:

"I cannot demand justice, I do not want to ask for mercy"

Sentenced to death: 1943

Although she was sentenced to death, it was instead decided that she would be sent to Norilsk.

Transferred to Norillag nickel mines

Kersnovskaya's death sentence was commuted to 10 years of labor camps.

There were huge deposits of nickel, platinum and palladian to be mined. Some 60,000 people were obligated to move there in order to estalish the mining operations. The mines are still in operation today, although the resultant pollution has become some of the worst on earth.

The streets of Norilsk today

Digging through memories: 1953 Released

She spent ten years as a miner in the Norillag (Норильлаг) Norilsk mines labor camp. Afterward, Kersnovskaya made her way home

1953 Discharged from gulag. Kersnovskaya went home to Yessentuki. She located her mother and promised she would write her memories. She wrote the memoirs during 1964–1968.

Underground Printing: 1968 Samizdat

Kersnovskaya's memoirs are illustrated by hundreds of drawings of life in the Gulag. Part of the remarkable quality of the drawings is the detail in which she captures life as it was for so many, but few lived to tell the stories.

Friends typed samizdat copies, repeating the pictures on the back sides of the sheets.

TERM Samizdat самизда́т

A key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader. This evasion of officially imposed censorship brought harsh punishment to people caught possessing or copying censored materials.

A more open Russia: 1990 Loosening governmental restrictions allowed the first publishing of Kersnovskaya's work.

Excerpts were first published in Ogonyok magazine in 1990, as well as in The Observer(June 1990). After that, German and French publications followed. In 2001 the complete text, in six volumes, was published in Russia.

TERM Ogonyok Огонёк Magazine

The word "ogonyok means "little flame". The magazine by that name is one of the oldest weekly illustrated magazines in Russia, issued since 1899.

Ogonyok reached the pinnacle of its popularity in the Perestroika years, when its editor-in-chief Vitaly Korotich "was guiding Ogonyok to a pro-American and pro-capitalist position".

About this page..

This page is based on the Wikipedia article "Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya.

It also borrows information from, a website dedicated exclusively to Kersnovskaya's life.

For further information please review my statement.

Narrative Project