Crime or Punishment: Russian Narratives of Incarceration

Faithful Ruslan

Faithful Ruslan
Georgi Vladimov (born Georgii Nikolaievich Volosevich)

PLOT SUMMARY: When the Gulag labor camp that Ruslan, a prison guard dog, works at is closed, the canine protagonist of this novel is left without the job he had grown to love. Ruslan’s master is unable to shoot him and the other dogs as ordered, so he chases them out of the camp, and the dogs resettle in a nearby town. Ruslan, however, never loses faith in “the Service,” believing that a train with the prisoners aboard will soon return, and he takes up a mission guarding a former prisoner known as “the Shabby Man.” The narrative injects memories from Ruslan’s past, including those about his training and the relationships he formed with dogs and people.

     Eventually, the train that Ruslan had been waiting for does arrive, but rather than prisoners, it is filled with workers coming to repurpose the camp as a cellulose fiber factory. Ruslan and the other guard dogs return to the camp, thinking the Service once again requires their service. But when the dogs attempt to keep the perceived prisoners in line as they were trained, the workers react violently and beat the dogs. Ruslan refuses to concede the fight and suffers a fatal beating. At the end of his life, he loses his love for humanity, but maintains faith in the Service.


ANALYSIS: Faithful Ruslan takes an unconventional approach to Russian prison literature through its perspective, creating a new angle from which to examine common themes of freedom, morality, and state allegiance. Ruslan’s point of view also goes beyond the ideas already established in previous literature, focusing particularly on loyalty, love, trust, and faith – each with respect to his relationship with humanity. Ultimately, the canine interpretation provides a brutal understanding of humanity’s flaws, as Ruslan’s loyalty and love result in nothing but pain and betrayal. The trust he puts in his master is destructive, so he must conclude that, “the world of humans … stank of cruelty and treachery” (219).

     In addition to being a scathing commentary on human nature, Ruslan is a highly political work. Ruslan’s constant defense of the prison system shows the cruelty of the system that has so completely corrupted the dog, and it makes the reader want to explain to him why he is mistaken. Even though he acts as an instrument of the state, creating the horrible conditions Solzhenitsyn and others describe from the prisoner’s perspective, the reader sympathizes with him. For the emotions that drive Ruslan’s actions are the same as those found in the purest of human hearts.



“The object to be guarded was not some storage dump, which would not run away and aroused no feelings in the dog, but it was the most temperamental and valuable of all things—people. The dog must always beware of them and must never feel pity for them; the best attitude to adopt toward them was not so much one of anger as of healthy mistrust” (118)

“Ruslan was forever poisoned by his love, his pact with the human race—that same delicious poison which plays a greater part in killing an alcoholic than alcohol itself—and however blissful a hunter’s life might be it could never surpass for him another sort of bliss: obedience to the person he loved, the happiness bestowed by his slightest praise.” (150)

“The whole answer to the riddle of Ruslan’s character lay not in his believing that the rules of the Service might in some way or another be wrong, but in that he did not regard his sheep as being guilty of anything, as did the Corporal and the other masters.” (154)

BIOGRAPHY: Georgi Vladimov, author of Faithful Ruslan, was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine in 1931 under the surname Volosevich. Like his work, Vladimov’s life illustrates the changes in Russia that he lived though. As a child, his father was killed in World War II. Years later his mother, who was Jewish, was arrested at the end of Stalin’s terror in 1952; Vladimov continued to feel threatened by anti-Semitism as he studied at the Leningrad University law school. He then became a journalist, and in the more liberal Russia, he was motivated to write Faithful Ruslan by the publishing of Solzhenitsyn’s works. After waiting too long, Vladimov had difficulty getting published himself due to backlash from the provocative prison literature. In fact, Vladimov only published two short works while living in the Soviet Union: The Big Mine (1961),
which is traditional in its depiction of industrialism but with a startlingly frank treatment of alcoholism, and “Three Minutes Silence” in 1969. Both works were published in the Soviet journal Vladimov had been editor of, Novy Mir (New World).

     Vladimov’s frustration continued to build until he was refused a visa to meet with a Norwegian publisher in 1977. At this point he resigned from the Writers’ Union and, more politically vocal than ever, became the head of the Moscow branch of Amnesty International, which was banned in the Soviet Union. A year later Vladimov was charged with “parasitism” since he officially did not have a job, and in 1983 immigrated to Germany. Although it had been circulated earlier, Faithful Ruslan became internationally available when it was published in Germany in 1982. This publication followed a long writing process than began years before with a short story entitled “The Dogs.” Vladimov published his last major work in 1994 and continued to live in Germany until his death in 2003.



Glenny, Michael. Foreword. Faithful Ruslan, by Georgi Vladimov, Simon and Schuster, 1979, pp. 11-20.

McMillin, Arnold. “Georgi Vladimov.” The Guardian, 10 Nov. 2003,

Porter, Robert C. “Profile: Georgi Vladimov.” Index on Censorship, vol. 8, no. 5, Sept. 1979, pp. 53-55.



Byford, Andy. “Political Animals: Representing Dogs in Modern Russian Culture.” Slavonica, vol. 22, no. 1-2, 2017, pp. 84-85.
This short article does not examine the specifics of Faithful Ruslan, but situates it within a larger literary tradition of Russian “dog narratives” that correlate dogs and humans, often to make a political point.

Kyncl, Karel. “Vladimov’s Dog.” Index on Censorship, vol. 16, no. 8, 1987, pp. 26–29.
In this article published at the height of Ruslan’s popularity, Kyncl provides a personal review of Faithful Ruslan that incorporates historical context and critical analysis.

Mozur, Joseph. “Georgei Vladimov: Literary Path into Exile.” World Literature Today, vol. 59, no. 1, 1985, pp. 21-26.
This article provides a biography of Georgi Vladimov that frames the author’s life and works – including Faithful Ruslan – around his political rebelliousness and exile, which had begun just two years before the article was written.   

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