Like many of his generation in Russia, Eduard Kochergin suffered a horrendous childhood.
He never knew his father because his birth coincided with his dad's arrest at the height of Stalin's purges.
His mother went into premature labour after experiencing the shock of seeing her husband dragged away in the middle of the night.
Three years later she was also arrested.
During the Second World War, the small boy was sent to the Urals in Central Russia to an orphanage for the children of 'enemies of the nation'.
But he ran away - determined to make his own way back to his mother in Leningrad, now known as St Petersburg - making a journey of more than 2500 kilometres.
The future set designer survived thanks to his artistic talent.
He learned how to do tattoos and to bend wire in the shape of Soviet leaders' profiles to sell to patriotic soldiers on their way to the Japanese front.
But the journey was epic - it took him a total of six years to make his way back home.
He was taken in by several orphanages along the way, but each time managed to run away and move on - on foot and by train.
He became known as 'the shadow,' as he could nip in and out of train windows without being noticed.
Eduard was finally reunited with his mother at the age of 14, but the meeting turned out to be bittersweet.
Today Eduard Kochergin is Russia's most famous stage set designer, and he has recently written an award-winning book about his childhood, called Baptised with Crosses.
Outlook's Lucy Ash spoke to Eduard Kochergin from his home in Russia.