As the Russian government, mainstream media, and educational institutions seek to gloss over the abuses of the Soviet past, the memories of the more than 28 million people who lived through the Soviet Union’s sprawling labor-camp system risk being lost. Generation Gulag, a series of 12 short films made by the media outlet Coda Story, a Current Time content partner, shows the relevance of those memories today for understanding the dangers of authoritarianism.
Using interviews and animated illustrations, the series shares how 12 gulag survivors view the ongoing attempts to airbrush this chapter out of Soviet history, and what risks such a practice contains.
Coda Story is an award-winning, non-profit newsroom, based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that offers in-depth, narrative-driven coverage of global crises. Its current coverage focuses on disinformation, technology’s threats to democracy, the war on science, and oligarchs' response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Episode 5: Love At First Sight: Galina Nelidova
One moment between Galina Nelidova and a young Norwegian man changed her life forever. She would never see him again, but the connection led to months of interrogation and torture by the KGB, and to five years in a labor camp.
Episode 4: Betraying The Motherland: Valentina Vodyanitskaya
Valentina Vodyanitskaya has kept much of her life a secret. That was the direct command she was given by the KGB. The five years she spent in a labor camp — a secret. The 1962 demonstrations during which she was arrested — a secret. The grave sites of those killed by Soviet troops during the demonstrations — a secret.
Episode 3: An Officer's Daughter: Olga Shirokaya
Olga Shirokaya knew her arrest was inevitable. She watched as Stalin eliminated his inner circle, including her father. Then, while her university class watched, the secret police arrested Shirokaya. All these years later, when she thinks about whom is to blame, she remembers a nation where millions lived in fear, but also where millions participated in the system of terror.
Episode 2: The Historian: Irina Verblovskaya
Historian, writer, and radio host Irina Verblovskaya began her married life with an arrest. In 1957, her husband, mathematician Revolt Pimenov, and she were both arrested after writing and dispatching, respectively, letters to the Soviet Supreme Council that protested the Soviet Union’s suppression of Hungary’s 1956 anti-communist uprising.
Episode 1: The Dancer: Azari Plisetsky
Born in a special Gulag camp for the wives and families of the men arrested by Stalin, Azari Plisetsky is one of the thousands who grew up fatherless after Stalin's purge of the Communist Party in the late 1930s. Ballet was an escape for the Plisetsky children — Maya, Azari, and Aleksandr — who became some of the Soviet Union's most celebrated dancers. For 82-year-old Azari Plisetsky, the memory of the cruelty of Soviet authoritarianism has never faded.
About The Producer
Katerina Patin is a multimedia journalist for the non-profit media outlet Coda Story, based in Tbilisi, Georgia. Patin covers both disinformation and authoritarian uses of technology. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Haaretz, NBC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Rappler, and VICE News.