Oksana Kis’s Survival as Victory: Ukrainian Women in the Gulag (Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies, Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University Press, 2021) fundamentally contributes to the Gulag studies through its essential intervention into the conventional framework of researching the Gulag as a system of measures to control the individuals and the collectives. The work draws readers' attention to the survival strategies of the individual who has to learn how to make sense of life again under the inhumane and dehumanizing conditions.
Oksana Kis builds her research on diaries, memoirs, documents which were created by the Gulag detainees. Her main characters are Ukrainian women who were arrested and sent to the Gulag on the basis of accusation or suspicion of national engagements. A meticulously researched body of documents provides insight into the everyday life of the women who were forced to re-invent their lives, while trying to maintain some sense of normalcy. Can there be any normalcy in the Gulag? And what is “a normalcy” in the Gulag? With her book, Kis asks and pursues these questions and invites readers to subvert their horizon of expectations. There is some sort of normalcy in the Gulag, but one has to reinvent herself in order to create and accept it. In this regard, the book surpasses the boundaries of one national community: the discussion that it initiates invites readers to expand their understanding of the Gulag life. Survival as Victory: Ukrainian Women in the Gulag is a valuable addition to the scholarship on the USSR, post-Soviet studies, and Ukraine.
Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed is a PhD student in the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures.