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The Gulag Collection is a unique collection of 50 paintings by Ukrainian artist and Gulag survivor Nikolai Getman, who spent eight years in Siberia and then worked for 40 years to create this stunning visual chronicle of the Gulag. “I undertook the task,” Getman explained, “because I was convinced that it was my duty to leave behind a testimony to the fate of millions of prisoners who died and who should not be forgotten.”
Born in Kharkov, Ukraine, in December 1917, Nikolai Getman began drawing at an early age and became a professional artist after graduating from the Kharkov Art College. He served with the Red Army in the Second World War and saw military action. Following his discharge in October 1945, Getman was with other artists when one of them drew a mocking picture of Stalin on a piece of cigarette paper. The whole group was quickly arrested for anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation. Getman was sentenced under Article 58 of the Criminal Code to ten years’ imprisonment and five years’ suppression of civil rights. He spent eight years in one of the most notorious camps of the Gulag, Kolyma, located in the Russian Far East. He was finally freed in August 1953.
From the day he was released, Getman began painting a series of pictures from memory about life and death in the Gulag. Because the Gulag was a forbidden topic, even under Stalin’s successors, he had to work in secret, telling no one what he was doing, not even his wife. It was not until 1993 that the paintings were publicly exhibited in Russia. After a long illness, Nikolai Getman died in Russia in 2004, at the age of 86, but his haunting pictures of the Gulag Archipelago, the biggest and most deadly prison in the history of man, remain with us.