Tragic diary of Russia's 'Anne Frank' relives Stalinist horror

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A 13-year-old schoolgirl who kept a poignant and ultimately tragic diary that recounts what it was like to grow up in Stalin's Soviet Union has been hailed as Russia's answer to Anne Frank.

The diaries of teenager Nina Lugovskaya, called I Want to Live: The Diaries of a Young Girl in Stalin's Russia, are to be published in English on Thursday after lying in a KGB file for over half a century. They offer an unusually perceptive view of the Soviet Union in the 1930s, combined with intimate soul-searching about the kind of everyday difficulties faced by teenage girls everywhere: boys, parties and parents.

Like Anne Frank, Nina was 13 when she began keeping her diary; like the Amsterdam schoolgirl, she was writing in the shadow of one of the 20th century's most repressive regimes.

In 1937, at the height of Stalin's purges, her family's Moscow flat was raided and her diaries, which covered the years 1932-37, were confiscated by the secret police.

Nina's father, a left-wing socialist revolutionary from whom she drew much of her contempt for the regime, had already incurred the Kremlin's wrath and spent time in prison and in exile. But her negative feelings about Stalin and the repressive nature of his government, feelings that she expressed in the diaries, were to be the undoing of the rest of the family.

Along with her mother and two sisters, Nina was found guilty of treason and branded a counter-revolutionary. Their sentence was harsh; five years of hard labour in the Siberian gulag, followed by seven years of internal exile.

It was an ordeal that the young diarist's mother did not survive. But Nina did: after Stalin's death she was politically rehabilitated. She married and became an artist, and lived long enough to see the fall of Communism. She died in 1993 at the age of 74.

The diaries were unearthed in 2001 by Irina Osipova, a researcher for Memorial, an organisation that tries to keep alive the memory of Stalin's victims. They had lain forgotten, scrawled in childish handwriting on the pages of three school exercise books, in a KGB archive in Moscow.

Ms Osipova, whose own father was branded "an enemy of the people" and died during interrogation, believes Nina's diaries offer the most sharp-eyed insight into the Soviet Union of the 1930s yet. "She was very talented and bright," she said. "She read newspapers and was interested in what was going on in the country around her. It offers a more vividly observed and faithful account of the 1930s than anything else, better even that anything written by former gulag inmates."

Marianne Velmans, a senior executive at Doubleday, which is printing the diaries, hopes that they will capture the imagination of teenagers and help them understand the 1930s in the same way as Anne Frank's diaries have helped students to understand the Holocaust. "If you read a book like this you're touching the past," she said. "It brings the period to life in a way that nothing else does."

In Russia, where the diaries have already been published, they made little impact. Ms Osipova, the woman who found them, thinks she knows why. "It's shameful but people are sick of this period of our history," she said. "It was always said that we didn't know what was going on at the time, but these diaries show that even children knew."

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