The Abortion Question in Soviet Modernity: A Study of Doctors and Female Patients in a Provincial Soviet Ukrainian Hospital, 1946-1991
In the historians’ world, Kateryna Ruban possesses a true jewel – the memoirs of a doctor-gynaecologist Nina Golopatiuk from Irshava written between 1951 and 1980. This diary is so much more than simple reflections on her personal and professional life. For around thirty years, Nina wrote down her thoughts on the role of a Soviet doctor in the remote periphery as well as her observations on social developments in the region. For Kateryna these memoirs became a source to examine the abortion question in post-war Soviet Ukraine; women’s reproductive healthcare and the basic level of Soviet biopolitics. Nonetheless, one could discover so much more from those hand-written volumes. Nina Golopatiuk came to Transcarpathia together with her husband, a dentist by training who became the chief of the newly established hospital in Irshava, Transcarpathia. Transcarpathia was a strategic periphery, however. It was one of those newly acquired territories, which the Soviet Union gained during the post-1945 peace settlement. As such, Transcarpathia, together with Eastern Galicia and Volhynia, were subjected to accelerated modernisation and sovietisation. And Nina became one of its agents. Having graduated from Kyiv medical university, she was sent to Irshava to build socialism there. As seen from the memoirs, Nina was well aware of her special “mission”. She saw herself as a bearer of the “Soviet civilisation” tasked to overcome “backwardness” of this newly acquired region. While modernising the region and its people, the Soviet values were to be introduced consequently leading to the triumph of socialism.
The discussion, which followed Kateryna’s presentation, focused on the peculiarities of the region where Nina Golopatiuk and her husband lived and worked for decades. Interestingly enough, women in Transcarpathia, despite the importance of religion in everyday life, did not regard procreation and abortion in terms of religion. It was a secular matter, not a sin, often an inconvenience, which Nina was there to provide help with. Another interesting observation came from the discussion of the Soviet legislation on abortion. The criminalisation of abortion in the Soviet Union, as well as the family policies in general, was closely linked to Soviet social engineering. Women had a social function in the Soviet society – to give birth and bring up numerous new Soviet men and women, who would fight for and defend their motherland when the time comes.
To be honest, I envy Kateryna. Every historian would do. To have such a diary is like winning a lottery. And I am certain, Kateryna is writing more than a PhD thesis; she is working on the most exciting book, which will provide a more nuanced account on the everyday life of Soviet women and the gender question in the Soviet Union.