Olga Andreyeva was the wife of a successful peasant and the mother of five children, living somewhere near Kiev, Ukraine. Her family was able to farm large portions of land (e.g. 100 acres) and sell the surplus for profit. Once the state forced Olga and her family into a collective farm in 1930, her husband was accused of “anti-Soviet activities” and thrown in the gulag for ten years. His real “crime” was hoarding grain which became more apparent as famine and pestilence started to make their deadly march through the Soviet Union. Doing as much as she could to keep herself and her family alive, Olga was sentenced to ten years in the gulag at the age of 40 in 1932; her “crime” was the same as her husband’s. In fact, she was only arrested because most of the people and two of her children in the collective had starved to death, leaving a surplus of food and unharvested grain in the fields.
Unlike many other prisoners, Olga was never interrogated by the NKVD, an ominous sign even in a state run with an iron fist and show trials. Standing before a panel of judges, Olga was labeled a “counter-revolutionary terrorist” and put on a transportation barge. With no food and proper sanitation, many people on the barge died of starvation and were thrown overboard to make more space. Once the barge reached a small village, Olga and the survivors were forced to walk to their new gulag, which was two days away. Threatened and abused by guards if they slowed down, the prisoners eventually reached the camp, but not without losses. Placed in a women’s barrack with shockingly warm temperatures and little space, Olga was lucky in the sense that she had her own bed.
Given the job of chopping timber (presumably due to her being labeled as a “terrorist”), Olga had to cut astronomically large amounts of lumber to meet her daily quota. Used to hard labor but never having had to cut down a tree before, Olga quickly tired herself out and was put on starvation rations. Barely able to replace the calories she lost with the horrid and low amount of food, Olga turned to sewing to help get herself more food, usually from the privileged prisoners. Where the rations failed her was where her “business partner” Nadya came into play. Nadya was a convicted felon who murdered a collective worker, and therefore had an easier sentence than political prisoners. Given the job of “unit commander”, Nadya’s job was to control Olga and other prisoners with any means necessary. Although she said crude things and harassed Olga on a daily basis, Nadya protected her from other violent criminals in the gulag.
Olga never found a different job other than timber cutting and remained on starvation rations for the rest of her time in the gulag, not able to devise a plan that would save her life. Losing weight, energy, and her sight, Olga finally fell asleep in the barracks one day and never woke up. She didn’t get to learn that her three surviving children were put in an orphanage and one of them eventually died of hunger.
Her total time in the gulag was three months.
Do Svidaniya, Comrades