Galina Zakharovna San’ko (also known as Galina Sankova or Galina Sankowa) was one of a handful of women photojournalists active in the Soviet Union, and one of even fewer Soviet women photojournalists who photographed the Second World War. She began working as a professional photojournalist in the 1930s, taking part in expeditions to the Arctic and the Far East.
During the war, she worked for “Front Ilustration” (Frontovaia Illustratratsiia) and photographed combat in Latvia, the battles of Kursk, Moscow, Stalingrad, the war against Japan on the Pacific front and the Nuremburg trials. She also trained as a nurse and supply truck driver: some sources indicate that she often postponed her responsibilities as a wartime correspondent to help bandage the wounded. She was seriously injured twice during the war and was awarded the Order of the Red Star for her service as a photojournalist.
San’ko is perhaps best known for her photograph “Prisoners of Fascism,” depicting Russian children at a Finnish run transfer camp in Petrozavodsk. The image, which she captured in late June 1944, depicts young children stoically staring into the camera below a sign written in Finnish and Russian: Transfer camp. Entry to the camp and socializing through the fence are forbidden, violators will be shot. This image, however, was not published until 1966, when it appeared in the illustrated journal Ogoyek. Yet, the image depicting the liberation of the transfer camp was banned in the 1940s. Editors questioned why the Soviet children were not joyfully celebrating their release: “Where is their belief in victory? Where is the hatred of the invaders?” This attitude was indicative of the constraints placed on wartime photojournalists. As I have explained in previous posts, the desired wartime narrative the Soviet government and military was of victory over fascism, and images of genocide, grief and atrocity were, for all intents and purposes, unpublishable.
20 years later, San’ko found one of the children from “Prisoners of Fascism” when she was on assignment in Petrozavodsk and photographed the now mother of two and member of the faculty of biology at the local university in “Twenty Years Later.”
When “Prisoners of Fascism” first appeared in Ogonek the photograph was not a part of a story, and was accompanied only by small text that included the title of the image and a short description explaining that the image was snapped twenty years before. That same year the image and “Twenty Years Later” received gold medals at the “Interpressphoto-66” exhibition in Moscow. It also received the grand prize at a Parisian exhibition in 1968.
After the war, she worked primarily for Ogonek. She died in Moscow in 1981. Her personal archive has been lost; magazine archives, museums and personal collections hold her remaining images.