A Different Lenten Read

“I am not afraid” by Irina Ratushinskaya

In a diversion from my usual Lent reading of meditation and prayers, I opted to read something different. A book with its theme based along the journey of Lent and Easter. A journey of suffering and hope.

Irina Ratushinskaya was born in Ukraine. She was a poet and a journalist who was passionate about human rights. This led to various protests which brought her into conflict with the authorities. She was eventually arrested in March 1983 and sentenced to a “strict regime” in a concentration camp in Mordovia. She went on repeated hunger strikes, which then resulted in increasingly harsh treatments.

She spent long periods of solitary confinement in an unheated cell. It was there that she wrote poetry in very small script on cigarette papers or bars of soap which she later dissolved in water after memorising the verses. She was released in October 1986 after intense international pressure on the authorities.

Her poem “I will live and survive” tells of resistance and strength, a cry for freedom from suffering and injustice, that hope and truth always prevails or as is the title of her follow on book – “Grey is the colour of Hope”.
Dorissia Forsyth

“I will live and survive”
by Irina Ratushinskaya
I will live and survive and be asked:
How they slammed my head against a trestle, How I had to freeze at nights,
How my hair started to turn grey….
But I’ll smile. And will crack some joke
And brush away the encroaching shadow.
And I will render homage to the dry September
That became my second birth.
And I’ll be asked: ‘Doesn’t it hurt you to remember?’ Not being deceived by my outward flippancy.
But the former names will detonate my memory – Magnificent as old cannon.
And I will tell of the best people in all the earth,
The most tender, but also the most invincible,
How they said farewell. How they went to be tortured,
How they waited for letters from their loved ones. And I’ll be asked: what helped us to live
When there were neither letters nor any news – only walls,
And the cold of the cell, and the blather of official lies, And the sickening promises made in exchange for betrayal.
And I will tell of the first beauty
I saw in captivity.
A frost-covered window! No spy-holes, nor walls,
Nor cell-bars, nor the long endured pain –
Only a blue radiance on a tiny pane of glass,
A cast pattern – none more beautiful could be dreamt! The more clearly you looked the more powerfully blossomed
Those brigand forests, campfires and birds!
And how many times there was bitter cold weather And how many windows sparkled after that one –
But never was it repeated,
That upheaval of rainbow ice!
And anyway what good would it be to me now,
And what would be the pretext for the festival?
Such a gift can only be received once,
And perhaps is only needed once.