Remembering Soviet Women: Irina Nikolaevna Bugrimova (1910-2001)

By sheer coincidence I came across reference to the name of a Soviet woman about whom I know very little, but because today is the anniversary of her death (on 20 February 2001, at the age of 90) I thought it worthwhile to do some online digging around – and I’m glad I did. Irina Nikolaevan Bugrimova is of interest to me not only because her life spanned the whole of the Soviet period, but also because of her unusual profession.

Irina Burgrimova was born in 1910 in Kharkov. From a young age, she started to study music and ballet, and then became very interested in a range of different sports. By 1927 she was a champion at shot put and discus. She also began to ride a motorcycle, a rather unusual pastime for a young woman even in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s. In 1929, she joined Moscow State Circus, initially performing daring stunts in the circus tent. She initially worked with leopards, but soon went on to incorporate lions into her act. She worked with one lion, Ceasar, for 23 years from when he was a cub. She went on to become the Soviet Union’s first female lion tamer!

She toured the world with her act – working with lions on a tightrope and a trapeze. The lions rode on the back of a horse, and Bugrimova even road with them on a motorbike. Her troop of animals eventually grew to include 80 lions, 8 horses and 12 dogs. She continued her act until 1976, when on one occasion the animals turned on her and she had to be rescued from them. Her retirement years saw her maintain active participation in various circus and performance veterans associations and in the Society for the Protection of Animals. She received many Soviet awards in recognition of her artistic achievements and an envelope and stamp were designed in her honour.

Melanie Ilic

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