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Synopsis and Historical Background

The documentary film Women of the Gulag tells the compelling and tragic stories of six women as last survivors of the Gulag. Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago largely tells of the men caught in Stalin’s camps and special settlements for “crimes against the state.” Women of the Gulag, features six women in their eighties and nineties as they tell their stories while going about their daily lives in remote Urals villages, in break-away Sukhumi, or in Moscow suburbs. Their only hesitancy to speak out relates to sexual violence, about which they would only hint. Sadly, three died shortly after their interviews.

Eighty years ago (November 17, 1938) Stalin ended the Great Terror, citing “local excesses” that had come to his attention. It wasn’t until two decades later that the KGB tallied the victims of the sixteen-month reign of terror at 1,334,360. Half were shot, and the rest sentenced to the Gulag. The Gulag itself continued to grow during and after the Second World War. It reached its peak of 2.5 million prisoners shortly before Stalin’s death. Of these, one out of five were women.


Women of the Gulag has been shortlisted (from 104 to 10 finalists) for the 91st OSCARS® in the documentary short subject category.



The stories these women tell could just as well have been told by any number of the women in Stalin’s Russia who ended up in the Gulag. Some fared better than the women here, others did considerably worse, and many died. None who survived, I suspect, will have been able to leave the experience behind them. We are fortunate that Fekla, Vera, Nadezhda, Elena, Ksenia and Adile subsequently dedicated their life to letting it be known what happened to them and recounting the atrocities they witnessed. Marianna Yarovskaya has now fashioned these women’s stories into a fifty-minute incontrovertible indictment of Russia’s failure to face up to its past.

Judith Pallot - Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford

The USSR was a huge zone of human suffering. Inside that zone there was also a hell that contained its powerless slaves—the GULAG. But within that hell, there was an even more terrible hell. Varlam Shalamov — the great writer who lived through the GULAG hell — said the women in the camps were slaves of the slaves. Their experience was so horrific that eyewitnesses were afraid to describe it in detail. I could not understand how you can make a film about "what a person should not know, should not see, and if he has, he is better off dead," as Shalamov wrote. Marianna Yarovskaya has managed to do it. Her heroines, who survived the GULAG, say almost nothing about their suffering. But I could hear their desperate screams during their silences. To go through such suffering without going mad is a spiritual feat. To make such a film is a moral feat. I would compare the appearance of "Women of the Gulag" with the appearance of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. The Gulag Archipelago was awarded the Nobel Prize. I am glad that there is the opportunity to award an Oscar to Women of the Gulag.

Vladimir Bukovsky - Regime Opponent, Presidential Candidate, Dissident

"Women of the Gulag" is not just a fine historical documentary but a searing film of rare testimony by female survivors of Stalinist inhumanity. A film made just in time.

Robert Service - Professor of History, emeritus, Oxford

I'm writing this letter to support the documentary film Women of the Gulag that has been short-listed for the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). This film directed by Marianna Yarovskaia contains personal life stories of six women who were repressed under Stalin and spent part of their lives in the Gulag. The film combines the cruel truth about the situation of the prisoners of the camps, narrated by them themselves, with the chronicle shots made in the camps. The film has a high artistic dignity and makes you think about the roots of the anti-human repressive system.

Leonid Borodkin - Professor of the History, Moscow State University, Member of Russian Academy of Sciences

Slave labor under Stalin was not just for men. There were also women. Now, Marianna Yarovskaya has told their story in "Women of the Gulag", the first film dedicated to the some of the Stalin's most vulnerable victims. Beautifully shot and capturing the desolation of being exiled to the end of the earth, the film describes the Gulag as it was lived and also the indomitable will of its female victims to survive.

David Satter - Author and Journalist

A Note from the Director

The idea of the film was born when I was taking part in founding the Museum of Holocaust in Moscow. As a Russian, I realized that, unlike the Holocaust, the Gulag lacks, as Anne Applebaum declares, a “big moment,” Women of the Gulag, shot entirely in Russia, is our attempt to create a “moment.” We focus not on the horrendous statistics of the Gulag. Instead, we allow six actual witnesses to recount their stories in their own words. We began filming with three last witnesses from Hoover’s Paul Gregory’s book of the same title. The cast of characters expanded as we filmed in remote locations near former camps. Our women were eager to tell their stories. In the course of filming, two of our six women died, so our film indeed is immortalizing the last witnesses to the crimes that were committed.

Marianna Vera Yarovskaya, Director & Producer of Women of the Gulag

Marianna Yarovskaya


Marianna Yarovskaya’s Undesirables won a Student Academy Award in 2001. Since then, she has worked for dozens of programs for Discovery Channel, National Geographic, History Channel, Greenpeace, Animal Planet as producer and senior editor. She also worked on two Academy Award-winning features and one Academy nominated film as a researcher, and directed an award winning film, Holy Warriors. Producers Guild of America (PGA) member.

The film is based on Hoover Institution Press Publication’s Paul Gregory’s book Women of the Gulag: Portraits of Five Remarkable Lives. In researching the surviving threads of memoirs and oral reminiscences of five women victimized by the Gulag, author

Women of the Gulag: Portraits of Five Remarkable Lives by Paul R. GregoryPaul R. Gregory has stitched together a collection of stories from the female perspective, a view in short supply. Capturing the fear, paranoia, and unbearable hardship that were hallmarks of Stalin’s Great Terror, Gregory relates the stories of five women from different social strata and regions in vivid prose, from their pre-Gulag lives, through their struggles to survive in the repressive atmosphere of the late 1930s and early 1940s, to the difficulties facing the four who survived as they adjusted to life after the Gulag.


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