Irina Borisovna Ratushinskaya was born in Odessa in 1954. She studied natural science at university, where she also experimented with writing scripts for revues, but she did not begin to write in earnest until the late 1970s, when she discovered the poetry of the Russian `Silver Age'. That discovery led to her reading the banned work of Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Pasternak and Tsvetayeva, an intense and profound spiritual experience which spurred her into writing her own poems with a greatly increased seriousness and sense of artistic commitment. In 1979 she married the human rights activist Igor Gerashchenko, a childhood friend, and moved with him to Kiev, where she became involved in the human rights movement. In December 1981 they were both arrested in Moscow's Puskin Square, where they had gone to demonstrate their support for Andrei Sakharov, and sentenced to 10 days' imprisonment. She was arrested again in September 1982, held in prison for six months, and sentenced in March 1983 to seven years' hard labour and five years' internal exile on a charge of `agitation carried on for the purpose of subverting or weakening the Soviet regime'. Cited in evidence was the fact that she had written and circulated poems critical of the Soviet Union. The poems which a Soviet judge had called `a danger to the State' were published in Britain by Bloodaxe in her book No, I'm Not Afraid in 1986. She herself was unaware that they had been smuggled out, and that an international campaign was being mounted on her behalf, spearheaded by a book of her own poetry. She was held for three years in the Small Zone, a special unit for women political prisoners in a strict regime labour camp at Barashevo in Mordovia. Many of the poems she wrote in the camp were first written with burnt matchsticks onto bars of soap, then memorised. She first learned that her poems had been published around the world when the KGB came to see her in the labour camp. They told her she would get another ten years for having her work published in the West. The rest is history. Gorbachev and Reagan were given copies of her book, and in October 1986, on the eve of the Reykjavik summit, Irina Ratushinskaya was released, after serving four years of her sentence. She was allowed to leave Russia in December 1986, and has since lived in America and Britain.