Soviet poet Irina Ratushinskaya, 33, spent four years in labor camps, much of the time alone in cold, damp cells. Though ordered not to write poetry, she scratched out verses with matchsticks on bars of soap, committing the verses to memory before washing them away. In all, she memorized some 300 poems.

Ratushinskaya was released last October, two days prior to the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Reykjavik, Iceland. She regards herself as a gift to the West.

Recently she addressed an audience at Wheaton (Ill.) College. Mark Elliot, director of the college’s Institute for the Study of Christianity and Marxism, noted that in Russia writers are revered, much like sports heroes in this country.

Elliot said U.S. sports writers trivialize the meaning of courage “as they speak of injured players courageously stepping to the … scrimmage line. But how can we compare the foam-padded bravery it takes for a superstar to face six-and seven-figure contracts … with the reckless integrity of character it takes to face imprisonment for writing … the unvarnished truth?”

CHRISTIANITY TODAY talked with Ratushinskaya about her faith and her native land.

How long have you been a believer?

I turned to God as a little girl. After our lessons our teachers wanted us to sit still for two hours more and listen to antireligious propaganda: “God does not exist.” It was the first time I didn’t believe my teachers. I wondered why grownups speak so much about those things which do not exist.

How did your faith sustain you when you were in prison?

I knew they would try to break me, to ridicule me. I expected hunger and cold. I did not know if I could go through this without denying my faith. I could not have succeeded ...

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