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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.


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

Women of the Gulag tells the personal stories of just a few former prisoners in greater detail. It focuses on the stories of women, which differed in a number of ways from that of their male counterparts. Rape, pregnancy and motherhood were a part of the Gulag experience too. Aside from its historic value, this film has special significance in the light of contemporary Russian politics. In recent years, under President Putin, Soviet and Russian history have been re-politicized, and the Stalin period has come to be viewed with ambiguity by politicians, writers, film makers, and regrettably the public. The stories of the victims of the gulag, told by simple people who had little or no understanding of why this was happening to them, make an excellent antidote to creeping historical amnesia.

Anne Applebaum - Columnist, the Washington Post Author, Gulag: A History (2004 Pulitzer Prize)

“...I can only be supportive and grateful to Paul Gregory and Marianna Yarovskaya for bringing to life the stories of the women survivors of the Gulag in their film... for providing a chance for new generations of Russians to start repairing the bridges to that time.

Yermolai Solzhenitsyn

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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