Written by Piney Kesting
Photographed by Islam Utegenov
Born in 1893 in a village near Kazakhstan's border with Russia, Akkagaz Doszhanova in 1922 became the first woman from her homeland to graduate from a medical university in the Soviet Union. Over the decade that followed, she advocated for women’s access to education and health care, as well as famine relief and rural health care, until her death from disease, perhaps contracted in the course of her profession, at age 39. Pioneer, role model, heroine—these are the words used to describe her in Kazakhstan today. Yet her legacy was almost another casualty of Soviet purges of the late 1930s. Only now are her descendants and historians uncovering her story.