Life Stories of Soviet Women: the Interwar Generation

Ilic, Melanie J ORCID: 0000-0002-2219-9693 (2013) Life Stories of Soviet Women: the Interwar Generation. Studies in the History of Russia and Eastern Europe . Routledge. ISBN 978-0415814690

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This book provides a rich picture of what everyday life was like for women in Soviet times by presenting the life stories of eight women who were born in the interwar period. The life stories are told through interviews with the women who were well educated and well placed in Soviet society, often in elite positions, and therefore well able to observe and articulate the wider conditions for Soviet women besides their own personal circumstances. The interviews, which are edited and preceded by a full introduction setting the context, touch on a wide variety of issues: key events in Soviet history; religion and nationalities policies; and women’s everyday experiences of life in the Soviet Union – growing up and going to school; education; falling in love and getting married; giving birth and starting a family; housework and paid employment; travel; leisure and culture; and remembering the past. Chapter 1 Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva is one of Russia’s best known human rights activists. As one of the founders of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group in the 1970s, her political activities during the Soviet period led her to spend some time living in exile in the United States. She returned to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This life story discusses: her family background; the impact of World War II; life in evacuation; attitudes to marriage and sexual relationships; education, professional training and work; post-war living conditions; and life in emigration. It also touches on: the impact of the terror in 1937; anti-Semitism and Soviet nationalities policy; elitism in Soviet society; the origins of dissent, the human rights movement and the work of the Moscow Helsinki Group; post-Soviet politics and the December 2011 elections. Chapter 2 Galina Petrovna Kosterina Galina Petrovna Kosternina spent her adult life as a worker, housewife and mother, with her marital and maternal obligations being of particular importance to both her and her husband, a high ranking Soviet official. She talks about her childhood in Yaroslavl’ and the difficulties faced by her family after the death of her father during the war. During the 1950s, she spent a short period of time living in Grozny after her husband was posted there for work. After returning for a number of years to Yaroslavl’, the family, now with two children, moved to Moscow. Galina Petrovna admits a level of disinterest in Soviet politics, but presents a staunch defence of Stalin and the benefits of the Soviet regime. She notes also the retention of her religious faith throughout the Soviet period. Chapter 3 Rada Nikitichna Adzhubei Rada Nikitichna Adzhubei is Khrushchev’s daughter. The original interview was very lively, at times humorous and reveals her keen intellect. On occasion she spoke in English, but most of the conversation took place in Russian. The following themes are addressed: family background; reading habits; schooling and education; friendships; career training and development; romantic relationships and marriage; pregnancy and childbirth; overseas travel and impressions of the West; and later life. The narrative also touches on the following historical issues: interwar rationing; reactions to Khrushchev’s Secret Speech; Khrushchev’s family policies; and the 1957 Moscow Youth Festival. Chapter 4 Renita Andreevna Grigor’eva Renita Andreevna Grigor’eva is a film-maker and the daughter of Nina Vasil’evna Popova. During the interview, her discussion skipped from one topic to another, revealing her active and creative way of thinking. This interview touches on: family background, including the arrest of her father during the Great Terror and the burgeoning career of her mother; war preparations and growing up during the war; higher education and film making. The interview did not touch much on historical or political themes, though Renita Andreevna made reference to Russian philosophy and her concern for contemporary environmental issues. She spoke openly about her faith and the potential for the spiritual renewal of Russia in the post-Soviet period. Chapter 5 Irina Fedorovna Vainstein Before the interview, Irina Fedorovna Vainstein showed me her keepsakes from her life in the Soviet Union, including some wartime ration tokens she had preserved for many years. Our discussion was free-flowing and open. Here she talks about: her early life in Leningrad and during evacuation; education and career; marriages and the birth of her daughter; reproductive practices; the daily routines of family life; leisure and travel; the importance of her Jewish identity. The life history also outlines the impact of the anti-cosmopolitan campaigns in Leningrad and the family’s reactions to the revelations of Khrushchev’s Secret Speech; dissenting activities; and Russia after 1991. Chapter 6 Irina Mikhailovna Kulikova Irina Mikhailovna Kulikova, a retired sports teacher, moved from St Petersburg to Helsinki in 2000 to be near her son and grandchildren. The interview focuses almost exclusively on Irina Mikhailovna’s personal experiences of the following: life in wartime Leningrad before the siege; experiences in evacuation; teacher training and her career as a teacher; courtship and marriage; a posting to Vladivostok; the daily routines of family life and leisure; her visits to countries in the Eastern bloc; and the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Chapter 7 Ol’ga Andreevna Kuchkina Ol’ga Andreevna Kuchkina is a journalist, author and TV broadcaster, whose family and personal connections presented her with links to the Soviet political and cultural elites. The life story touches on: family background; experiences during the war and in evacuation; schooling and university education; her career as a journalist and accomplished writer; reading habits; relationships, marriages and daily routine of family life. The life story also discusses: the death of Stalin and the beginnings of the ‘thaw’; the 1957 Youth Festival; and Olga Andreevna’s impressions of the ‘shestidesyatniki’. Chapter 8 Irina M Irina M, a former research scientist, still leads an active life working part-time, meeting occasionally with former work colleagues and spending time with her children and grandchildren. This was a lively and often humorous interview. This life story touches on: her childhood and schooling; higher education and professional life; courtship and marriage; the difficulties of raising a family as a working mother; opportunities for advancement in Soviet society; leisure activities and travel. It also touches on: social differentiation; housing arrangements; the 1957 World Youth Festival; and the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Appendix A: TDK TDK talks about the impact on her family of de-kulakisation, her decision to move to Moscow at the beginning of the 1920s and how her proficiency in maths allowed her to train as a book-keeper. This life story offers a glimpse into the changing labour market during and after NEP and an insight into food supply and public catering in the interwar years. TDK notes how she was able to challenge the corrupt practices of her boss, and Communist Party official. She also relates, conversely, how she was unable to save the job of her junior work colleague during the years of the Great Terror. Appendix B: BEA In this brief account, BEA offers and insight into the workings of an early-established Jewish model collective farm in Belorussia in the 1920s. The kolkhoz was prosperous until it was forced to take on peasants from the surrounding region during the period of forced collectivisation in the early 1930s. The account reveals different cultural attitudes to work and hints also at local examples of anti-Semitism.

Item Type: Book
Uncontrolled Keywords: REF2014
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DK Russia. Soviet Union. Former Soviet Republics
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Creative Arts
Research Priority Areas: Culture, Continuity, and Transformation
Depositing User: Nigel McLoughlin
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2015 11:31
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2023 08:56

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