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Heroes You Should Know: Zoya Krakhmalnikova

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How much are you willing to sacrifice for love?  This isn’t a question too many of us are forced to face in the safety and comfort of the United States.  But for Zoya Krakhmalnikova, a Soviet Dissident in the Soviet Union, it was 24/7.

From an early age she understood the risks involved in fighting for freedom, and speaking truth in the face of a tyrannical regime.  As a nine year-old she’d watched as her father was arrested during one of Joseph Stalin’s many purges in the Ukraine.  And after she completed her undergraduate and post-graduate studies at the Gorky Literary Institute, and become a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, she could have played it safe.  And who would have blamed her for enjoying her hard-earned professional success as a writer, and wanting to preserve her scholarly standing along with her husband who was also an author and member of the Academy.

But in 1971, Zoya decided to be baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church.  This public statement of faith immediately led to her being fired from her job and dismissed from the USSR Union of Soviet Writers.  Essentially she would no longer have any of her writing published in her country.

But she kept writing…and writing about subjects that would eventually land her in hot water again.  She began with a series of articles concerning Christianity in the Soviet Union which she sent to a contact outside the Soviet Union to publish.  Then she resurrected a pre-revolution journal Nadezhda (Hope), focusing on the history of the Russian Orthodox Church and its role.  The journal which had been suppressed 60 years before by the Soviet hierarchy, was published in West Germany.  But before long it was being smuggled back into the Soviet Union.

And when Zoya began writing about the “new martyrs’’ in the Soviet Union, she was arrested.  Encouraging Christianity and democracy was a crime for which she could have been executed.  But in a move designed to show itself as tolerant, the court sentenced her to “only” one year in the infamous KGB Lefortovo prison.  Secretly, though, they tacked on an additional exile of five years to a remote settlement near the Mongolian border.  Zoya was allowed one visit a month with her husband and daughter, but was prohibited from going to Church or having contact with a priest.

However, when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power she was given the chance to “repent” of her sins against the State.  She refused but was still pardoned in 1987.  Undaunted and fearless she would spend the last 21 years of her life as a pro-democracy activist, speaking out against totalitarianism and even publicly challenging her own Russian Orthodox Church to apologize for the ways it too collaborated with the Soviet authorities.

When one considers that an estimated 12-20 million Russian Christians alone who were put to death by the Soviets for their faith, Zoya Krakhmalnikova seems to have gotten off easy.  But ask yourself if you’d be willing to lose your career, good standing, freedom, material wealth, home, friends, spouse, and child for the cause of faith and freedom…or anything.  If you wouldn’t chose instead to play it safe, get by, compromise conscience for comfort?  That’s certainly the typical human response, and any reasonable person would understand if Zoya had chosen that path of least resistance.  But she didn’t.   That’s the point.

Zoya Krakhmalnikova is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

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