Back to the magazine2017 year №3

Maternity behind Bars as a Blessing and a Curse: Women’s Experiences in the GULAGt

Read the postRead the postDownload the post
The authors of the publication:
Kis Oksana
p.:
32-43
UDC:
343.261-055.26:343.819](47+57)
Bibliographic description:
Kis, O. (2017) Maternity behind Bars as a Blessing and a Curse: Women’s Experiences in the GULAG. Folk Art and Ethnology, 2 (366), 32–43.

Author

Kis Oksana

a Ph.D. in History, a senior research fellow, a doctoral candidate of the NASU Institute of Ethnology, a president of the Ukrainian Women’s History Female Researchers Association.

 

Maternity behind Bars as a Blessing and a Curse: Women’s Experiences in the GULAGt

 

Abstract

This article explores an important aspect of everyday life of Ukrainian women – political prisoners in the GULAG in the 1940s–1950s, namely – experiences of maternity while being imprisoned. On the basis of analyzing the personal testimonies of former female political prisoners as well as the official GULAG documents and statistical data, the authoress reveals the custodial conditions of pregnant women and mothers with babies in GULAG prisons and camps. The study also shows an ambivalent nature of female convicts’ maternal attitudes and special connections between mothers and their children. Underlying reasons and consequences of parity behind the barbed wire are examined as well. The authoress claims maternity to be an important stimulus for women’s survival in the GULAG.

According to the official data, women constituted about one third of the GULAG population after World War II, and many of them gave birth while in duresse. Despite the GULAG aministration efforts were aimed at total isolation of women from men in order to decrease the level of pregnant and parturient women, those constituted over 6 % of female convicts in January 1949. As a result, over 28 000 children were kept in 234 special premises attached to camps in 1952.

The major factors leading to pregnancy and childbirth behind bars were as follows: a convict’s intention to ease her camp regimen; a convict’s aspiration to create a real family with her child’s father in the future, after her release; a desire to overcome loneliness and a need to perform a maternal role; a survival prostitution with no contraception available; a rape. Maternity in confinement had nothing in common with normal practices of childbearing and childrearing.

Although the GULAG rules and regulations provided for generally acceptable living conditions and nursing for prisoners’ babies, women’s recollections reveal that real situation was very bad: due to the lack of proper care, low-quality nurishment, non-existent education, insufficient health care, sickness and death rates in nurseries were high, while survived kids were physically, emotionally and mentally retarded.  Contacts of convicted mothers with their babies were strictly regulated and limited; at the age of 1–2 years, children were normally transferred to regular orphanages all over the USSR or handed to convicts’ family members. The will to find out her child traces, to (re)establish contact and ultimately to get her child back after serving a sentence turned into a purpose of life for each imprisoned mother; a sense of maternal duty incited women to survive.

Women’s experiences of mothering in prisons and camps were generally quite traumatic as the conciseness of their testimonies proves. For some women, a childbirth was a way to resist the dehumanising effects of the GULAG regime. Despite all the physical and emotional hardships and distress a maternal role (actually performed at a place or experienced at a distance) helped women to maintain the established value system, to remain women on the verge of death, thereby preserving their endangered gender identity in prisons and camps.

 

Keywords

Ukrainian women – political prisoners, GULAG, everyday life, maternity, women’s history.

 

References

  1. ANDRUSIAK, Ye. Reminiscences. Lviv: I. Franko LNU, 2001, 91 pp.
  2. KRYVUTSKYI, I. (compiler). In the barbed wire necklace. Reminiscences of women, prisoners of Gulag, participants of Norilsk rebellion of 1953. Lviv: Manuskrypt, 2009, 276 pp.
  3. VOITOLOVSKAYA, A. In the tracks of my generation. Syktyvkar: Komi knizhnoe izdatelstvo, 1991, 334 pp.
  4. VOLOVICH, Kh. On the record. In: VILENSKII, S. (compiler). It still threatens.Reminiscences of your contemporary. Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel, 1989, Iss. 1, pp. 461–494.
  5. GINSBURG, E. Steep route. Chronicle of a cult of personality times. Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel, 1990, 603 pp.
  6. HOSHKO-KIT, A. Victims for independence. Lviv: Ukrayinski tekhnolohiyi, 2009, 324 pp.
  7. GRITSENKO, V., KALININ, V. Woman face of Gulag: How the population of USSR has increased on a Dead Road. New paper, 2009, April 8, no 36. Available from: http://www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2009/036/33.html.
  8. YAKOVLEV, A., ed. Children of Gulag: 1918–1956. Moscow: Mezhdunarodnyi fond «Demokratiya», 2002, 631 pp.
  9. APPLEBAUM, A. Gulag: A History. Translated from English by A. ISHCHENKO. Kyiv: Kyyevo-Mohylianska akademiya, 2006, 512 pp.
  10. ZAKYDALSKA, A. Inta snowstorms [Text]: docum. narrative, publicism. Lutsk: PP Ivaniuk V. P., 2014, 244 pp.
  11. ZAPOROZHETS, N. From the reminiscences. In: VILENSKII, S. (compiler). It still threatens.Reminiscences of your contemporary. Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel, 1989, Iss. 1, pp.532–538.
  12. ZAYACHKIVSKA-MYKHALCHUK, H. The hostage of empire (memoirs of political prisoner). Lviv: PP Soroka, 2009, 204 pp.
  13. ZEMSKOV, V. Gulag (historical and sociological aspects). Sociological studies, 1991, 6, 10–27.
  14. ZEMSKOV, V. Gulag (historical and sociological aspects). Sociological studies, 1991, 7, 3–16.
  15. BEZBORODOV, I., KHRUSTALEV, V. (eds.). The history of Stalin’s Gulag. Theendof 1920sthefirsthalfof 1950s.Deeds collection: in seven volumes. Population of Gulag: quantity and conditions of maintenance. Moscow: OSSPEN, 2004, Vol. 4, 624 pp.
  16. KARVANSKA-BAILIAK, A. In the name of Yours (Figured by life). Warsaw: Ukrayinskyi arkhiv, 2000, 440 pp.
  17. KERSNOVSKAYA, E. How much does the person cost. Available from: http://www.gulag.su/albom.
  18. KIS, O. Woman experience of Gulag: state of studies and the source reserves in Ukrainian context. Ukrainian historical journal, 2016, 3, 125–138.
  19. KUZIN, V. Women of Gulag. Edges of the epoch: ethical and philosophical journal, 2007, 32. Available from: http://ethics.narod.ru/articles7/3210.htm.
  20. MAKSIMOVA, L. Motherhood in the camps of Gulag. In: A.PAVLOV, ed. Gender theory and historical knowledge: proceedings of International theoretical and practical conference. Syktyvkar: Syktyvkar State University, 2003, pp. 271–277.
  21. OVSIYENKO, V., SERHIYENKO, O., eds. I will not renounce! [Text]: on the occasion of Oksana Meshko centenary. Kharkiv: Prava liudyny, 2005, 344 pp.
  22. HORDASEVYCH, B., compiler. UnsubduedBerehynia: victimsofMoscowcommunistterrorofthe ХХcentury. Toronto; Lviv: Piramida, 2002, 280 pp.
  23. ONYSHKO, L. «Thesunhassmiledatusthroughtherustybars...»: Kateryna Zarytska in Ukrainian national liberation movement. Toronto; Lviv: Litopys UPA, 2007, 928 pp.
  24. PETKEVICH, T. Life is an odd boot: Reminiscences. Saint Petersburg: Astra-Luks; ATOKSO, 1993, 502 pp.
  25. PETROV, N. History of Gulag empire. Ch. 6. Available from: http://www.pseudology.org/GULAG/Glava06.htm.
  26. POZNIAK (SKRYPYUK), H. I was 19: Autobiographic narration. Kyiv: Kyyevo-Mohylianska akademiya, 2001, 124 pp.
  27. ROGINSKII, A., DANIEL, A. «Women are subjected to arrest...». Prisoners of«ALZHYR»: the list of women convicted in Akmolinsk and other departments of Karlag. Moscow: Zveniya, 2003, pp. 6–30.
  28. SAVKA, B. «Death has met them with immortality». Essays, reminiscences, documentsontheparticipationofwomenfromthreedistrictsofTernopilregioninnationalliberationstruggleofOUNUIA. Ternopil: Dzhura, 2003, 332 pp.
  29. Natalya Kostenko fate (recorded by L.Bogoraz). Memory: historical digest. Paris: YMCA Press, 1981, Iss. 4, pp. 402–412.
  30. SUROVTSOVA, N. Reminiscences. Kyiv: Olena Teliha publishers, 1996, 431 pp.
  31. DATSIUK, H., ed. Oralwomenstory. Return. Kyiv: Zhinochyi tsentr Spadshchyna, 2003, 273 pp.
  32. CHESNOKOVA, O. Women experience of Gulag in the Soviet history of the 1930s–1950s. In: CHIKALOVA, I., ed. Womeninhistory: anopportunitytobeseen. Collected papers. Minsk: BGPU im. Maksima Tanka, 2001, pp. 189–193.
  33. SHAPOVALOVA, V. Camp as a mode of life: women camp memoirs. In: PUSHKARIOVA, N., ed. Socialhistory. YB:2003. Women and gender history. Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2003, pp. 465–487.
  34. SHAPOVALOVA, V. Little sisters, mothers, queens: the theme of violence in women camp memoirs. In: Common violence in the history of Russian everyday life (XI–XXI centuries). Saint Petersburg: EU SPb., 2012, pp. 142–163.
  35. CORMOS, G. Women Humiliated in the Romanian Communist Prison. The Scientific Journal of Humanistic Studies. 2009, Vol. 1 (1), pp. 47–52.
  36. MASON, E. Women in the Gulag in the 1930s. In: ILIČ, M., ed. Women in the Stalin Era. New York: Palgrave, 2001, pp. 131–150.