Interview with 'O' (Chernivtsi)

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Key information

Title: Extract about O.'s experience of exile
Date: 26/03/2012
Interviewer: Nadezhda Beliakova (NB)
Interviewee: Interviewee, V. (husband of O.) (V)
Duration: 2 hour(s) 13 minutes and 54 seconds
Location: Chernivtsi


NB Can I now ask you some questions? You were born in 1936, but in another Chernivtsi district. Was there anyone religious in your family
О My mother
NB An Evangelical Christian, right?
О Well, Baptists, Evangelical Christians, Baptists. She said that father came then, though he did not confess his sins. He was in the congregation, and he was in the congregation at my mother’s brother’s place in the house. Mother confessed her sins, but my father was arrested in 1940, as soon as the Russians came, because they were rich.
NB Kulaks?
О Yes, kulaks. He was taken away, this very day, when he was 32.
NB Forever.
О Yes, forever. In 1947,.. in 1942 mother accepted baptism.
NB During the occupation? Romanians were here, it’s difficult to call it that…
О She was a religious believer all her life, but in 1947, when they brought in collectivization, collective farms were formed and she was arrested, sentenced to 9, 10 years, she was sent to the Komi SSR, to Siberia, and in the autumn, when I was 11 years old, I was exiled on my own.
NB Were you the only one of the children?
О Yes, I was the only one. They had other children, but they died young.
NB Where were you exiled to?
О The Urals, Perm district.
NB To an orphanage?
О Like a dog. There was a collective farm here and they didn’t want me to get in the way, we had 2 houses, we had a large household, large fields, and these were kulaks. People were simply exiled from the village and I was with them. I was with people I didn’t know, even a woman I didn’t know. She was put down as my grandmother. She lived with my grandmother, my grandmother died in 1946, and she remained, my mother could hardly throw her out, she was 76, or 77.
NB Had she also been sent into exile?
О Yes, she had also been sent into exile.
V She didn’t know, I just add that she didn’t know that it was her grandmother. When she was rehabilitated, we looked for her, we found her photograph, and that she was accepted as her grand-daughter, though actually she was from an entirely different family.
О Completely different.
V She was exiled aged 77.
NB And you ended up in Perm district with her?
О In Perm district they brought us to a state farm. It took us a whole month to get there. It was terrible, we were in goods wagons, just like cattle. Cattle probably are treated better on a journey than we were. For two weeks we travelled to Siberia, they didn’t accept us there so they brought us to the Urals. When we got there we were covered in lice, suffering from diseases, they unloaded two carriages of us to the state farm, I ended up there as I was in one of the carriages. But even among these animals, as I would call them, there were decent people. Two young lieutenants, even, called me down from the carriage, we were due to be sent from the station of Luzhana, they said to me ‘come with us, we’ll buy you some sweets’. They took me into the cafeteria and bought me a bag of sweets, then sat down in the station to drink some beer. They said to me, ‘Go and see if the train has left yet’. They sent me to look three times, I would return and say the train had gone.
NB Did they want you to escape?
О Yes, they did.
V Because she wasn’t registered anywhere.
О It was someone else who should have been sent into exile. But they saw that I didn’t understand, and they couldn’t say anything. When they brought us there they said to one man ‘we so wanted to leave that child there, but she didn’t understand us’. Of course, they couldn’t say anything to me, I could have betrayed them, I was just a child.
NB Of course.
О We felt this terror when they took father away, then mother, I yelled so much the whole village probably heard me. But when they took me away, I was as meek as a lamb. They put me in a cart and took me to the district centre, there they put me on a train and transported me … to the Urals. They threw a bag of corn into the carriage for us, I don’t know whether I should tell you about that. There was a man of authority in the village, he had sent my mother to prison because she was a religious believer, but he very much wanted her to marry his brother. She didn’t agree, so she was put in prison. They wanted freedom there on the homesteads. In the evening he told me I had to clean a bag of corn because I had submitted the grain quota, but I was still delivering the grain quota.
NB Was that here?
О I would take it to another village 11 or 12 kilometres away, where the grain would be threshed. I brought it in because I was… and he says I should have brought another bag of corn, but I didn’t know that it was corn, and I prepared it for myself… because I knew that the wheat wasn’t threshed, and they threw that bag of corn to me which I had prepared with my friends. Well, I know they threw me some potatoes, too. That was 1947, a time of famine, in 1946 and 1947. They had a harvest and what they gave to me that’s what I arrived with. I don’t know how long I lived there, what else I had. On the way we moistened the corn, simply poured water on to it and scattered it, it swelled up and that’s what we ate.
NB Apart from you were there other children in the carriage?
О Yes, there were, even four from our village, total orphans, their mother died on them and their father was imprisoned, and they were exiled. They were all girls, 16, 14, 12 and 6 years old. I ended up with a family, they brought us to a barrack hut, somewhere to live, if you could call it that. They really did lord it over people.
NB How long did you live there?
О 8 years
NB 8 years. And did you go to school there, or not go to school at all?
О I finished the 4th year here, and then I went to evening school.
NB Did you work?
О No, I was a child, what work could I do?
NB I don’t know. If they could exile you then more than likely they could force you to work.
О No, God simply performed a miracle in my life through my mother’s prayers. Mother said, when she had already been brought to Siberia, that her aunt wrote to her to say that I had been sent into exile. She said, ‘I was felling trees in the forest, then I lay down on some brushwood and shouted to God, I shouted, Oh Lord, please save my daughter.’ It’s difficult to talk (cries).
NB You did end up with a good family, though, right?
О Yes, thank God. God preserved me also through my mother’s prayers, probably. I did go to services with my mother, but I was only a child, you know. Though I grew up fast at 4 years old, because already I… father had been taken away, then mother and I were then sent into exile. One day all the foodstuffs I had with me were used up. The Commandant came to register us all because every Saturday we had to be there, we couldn’t go anywhere, we were allowed to only be in Alexandrovskii region, or one of the regions. So he was registering us, and there was a mother there with two children, when he came to me he asked, ‘who are your parents?’ I said, ‘I don’t have any’. He asked ‘So who are you with?’ I said ‘No-one, I’m on my own.’ He said ‘what do you mean, on your own?’ That’s probably when I heard the worst Russian word. I said I was on my own, my mother was in prison, father has also been in prison, though I didn’t know he’d been shot, now we know. They wrote that he’d gone missing, but we know now that all those 28 people who were tried because they were rich in 1940 were all shot. When he was registering us he used that bad word to his assistant, ‘why did they bring a child on her own here?’ So we were registered, and they left, those who could went to work in the state farm, and the children went hungry and we picked the lice from our bodies. We couldn’t sleep at night because we were covered in bedbugs and cockroaches, we’d wrap some cloth around our fingers and spend the night squashing them. It was impossible to sleep. It was an old wooden barrack hut, probably used by prisoners exiled here in Tsarist times and again in Soviet times. So my food had run out, I go into the village to buy 2 envelopes to write to my mother’s sister, she didn’t have any children herself, and to my mother, to say I was about to die as I hadn’t eaten anything for three days.
NB Did people not share their food?
О Nobody had any there. Oh, it was terrible, it’s terrible to remember those times. It seems that this didn’t happen to me or I saw it in a film or read it in a book, but it did all happen to me. I’m in the village and a man, about 50, is coming up to me and smiling, even from a distance. I was wearing a coloured skirt, as we all did then, a coat with various designs on it and a coloured head-scarf. And he comes up to me and stands in front of me and says, ‘Where are you from?’ with a Ukrainian accent. Then we got talking, he asked ‘Are you with the coats?’ They called us ‘the coats’ because we arrived dressed in thick coats. I’ll show you some photographs showing what we wore back then. So we get talking and he asks ‘Who are you with? On your own? Where are you going?’ ‘I’m going to the post office,’ I say. There’s a shop there with a post office in it. I say to him, ‘I haven’t had anything to eat for three days now, I’ll die soon, I’m going to write to my mother and aunt to say that I will die’. He looks at me and says, ‘You won’t die. Go to the post office.’ So I went to the post office, and he went to the bakery. That was 1947, 1947. He comes out carrying a huge loaf of bread and a half loaf, I was surprised because I knew that workers got 400 grams and children 200 grams of bread. He wanted to give me the half-loaf, I don’t know how I looked at the bread, he obviously thought I had eaten it before, and he gave me the whole loaf. ‘Go on, take it,’ he says. 40 degrees of frost and we arrived in only ankle-high boots, with stockings, and in such cold. The shop sold boots, size 43, we wrapped some rags around them so we could walk in them. I’d walked off a little, not far, just a few metres, this man comes running up to me along the path, draws up alongside and grabs the bread and puts something into my hand.
NB Was this a different man or the same one?
V Someone totally different.
О Someone totally different. I’d already set off for the state farm. I felt so lost and frightened, I tore off a small piece of bread and put it in my mouth. It just disappeared, I don’t know where it went, and I got frightened, and the bread had gone, too. I look down and see a pile of money. When later in the state farm I counted it, there was 700 roubles. That’s how much a loaf of bread cost in those days. I thought it must be a war prisoner, there were a lot of Germans there, they went to the station and they would pull bread out from under their coats and sell it. Or it was an angel, I don’t know, but he vanished into thin air. I rush off to the state farm, and my friend tells me that we’ve been given coupons. We hadn’t been given coupons for bread, we had been living there for about three months but we hadn’t been given anything, and suddenly we are given coupons, and we can buy some bread. But I had some money now. I didn’t used to have any money. A month passes, then another, and then this money runs out. But we could buy 300 grams of sugar a month, 200 grams of bread every day, some vermicelli, I don’t remember now how much but it was also measured in grams. The money had run out. A woman says to me, ‘Do you want to sell your pillow? There are people over there who want to buy it’. I’ll tell you what happened, how that woman got to meet those people, Panteley Dmitrievich, the man who met me. Well, no, probably no need to.
NB No, please do go on.
О He asked her, ‘Are there many orphans there?’ He said yes, there were. ‘The girl who lives in room 11 of barrack hut no. 3, is she an orphan? Bring her to us.’ They probably gave her a bucket full of potatoes, and I was in that room. Let me tell you now who that man was. They were exiled back in 1932, they weren’t religious believers, just also exiled as kulaks. His wife went back home for the first time in 1947.
V In 1948.
О No, no, in 1947. She came back in 1948, but she went in 1947. When she was travelling back from there by train, as she told her husband afterwards, there was someone above her who, well, she was lying on the upper bunk, someone dressed in white leaned over her and said, ‘Ulyana Semenovna, when you get to Vilva, go to the state farm, barrack no. 3 room no. 11, and take the girl away who lives there.’ When she told this to her husband, this was repeated twice, she told her husband and he says to her, ‘isn’t the girl we are meant to take the girl I met?’ A beggar-woman came to them to beg for alms, and they gave her some potatoes, she had me by the hand. I was carrying the pillow, which they didn’t really need, but it was a pretext to bring me here. So there I am, I recognize this fellow who gave me some bread, and he recognizes me, that we have met before in Vilva. But that was about five months, maybe even six months before. And he says, at first they say to me, ‘come to us, leave the pillow, come back tomorrow and we’ll give you some money’, they’ll feed me, give me some boiled potatoes to put under my coat, just here, because I had no sleeves and I was freezing. Once I was walking along, taking some food to a woman who’d been exiled with me, she was hungry. So I was walking along, the factory there was a methanol factory and behind me was a gas locomotive that gave out a beep, I didn’t hear any gas locomotive there and I recoiled back into the snow and lost the potatoes, I was all alone. I think now of just how I looked for the potatoes. I think I’d have rather lost any gold I had, I wouldn’t have looked so hard as I did then, but I did find one. There was a lot of snow, the railway was a narrow gauge one which they cleared of snow, I found another potato and all the way I cried, I cried so much that I thought… and so for a whole month I visited them. They wanted to help me escape, the director of one factory was leaving and they wanted them to take me. When they looked at me, I can’t even express it in Russian, I was dressed as a pauper, and he says, ‘Ulyana Semenovna, do you want me to go to prison? I won’t take her’. So that’s how I visited them, they didn’t give me any money, but gave me food so I was well-fed. Then once in March they suggested I sort out the potatoes in the cellar. He worked as the chief accountant at the factory, and she was a stock keeper.
NB They didn’t have any children, right?
О Yes, they had a daughter, a student in the medical institute in Perm. Then it was called Molotov, Molotov district, but it’s called Perm now. So I sorted out the potatoes, I came out, they closed the door after me, I thought I’d sweep the cellar dust up in the kitchen and everywhere there was lots of money scattered about. I collected the money, I could have taken it but I had been taught that one shouldn’t do that, one shouldn’t steal, so I put it all on the table. When aunt Ulya came and switched on the light, I was sitting waiting for them there, in the dark. ‘What’s this money?’ ‘I don’t know, it was scattered all over the place.’ I went that night, then when I came back a couple of days later he said, ‘Do you want us to adopt you?’ I agreed. They then wrote to my mother, asked them to do that. ‘In Christ’s name, please take her, save her from hunger, just don’t adopt her because she is the only child I have.’ So they took me in, but as a housekeeper, I did everything: I washed the clothes, I did the cooking, cleaned the house, they didn’t have a broom so for eight years I cleaned without a broom, every day I had to do the dusting, sweep the floor with a wet rag… and when I was 15 they got me a job at the factory as an apprentice to the assistant equipment operator… I probably talk too much…
NB Please keep talking. How did you manage to leave this place?
О Well, after Stalin died.
NB And was your mother released?
О No-o-o! No! When Stalin died my landlord wrote a letter of complaint on my behalf to Moscow, the government had changed by then. Then when I was about 16, or a bit older, I received a passport, I was released, but I was afraid of travelling here, just afraid. A man visited his mother from our village and said, ‘You should travel because your aunt is old now and all alone’, and there was a big difference in their ages, 20 years between my mother and my aunt, probably even more, and he says, ‘you’ll get there and they won’t give you anything, you’ll be on the street, she’d have left you things otherwise.’ So in 1954 I arrived, from this sorrow, from this… it was hard for me, very hard for me, because I had dug up the garden, planted things, I did everything, even in 40 degrees of frost I washed the sheets and rinsed them down by the river. Thank God, that’s how God brought me out…
NB So you came to your aunt’s?
О Yes, my aunt’s. I couldn’t get work in the town because I needed a registration stamp.
NB So you went to the town… and your aunt was in the town? Or the village?
О No, no, there, I came to the village.
V 25 kilometres.
О 25 kilometres from here. I went to look for work here, God granted it and I was registered, the man who did it had been saved from death by my father, but then he was a KGB agent, and when I arrived I didn’t know any religious believers there, I didn’t even know that there were any religious believers there. My mother always urged me to pray, ‘pray, my daughter, always pray!’, and so I prayed and The Lord saved me through my mother’s prayer, because I could have drowned three times, and there were a lot of moments like that so that even now I am amazed I am still alive. The Lord helped me get through all that. I came here and got a job in a clothes factory, and it was here that I confessed my sins in the second year. This…
NB Did you find any religious believers here?
О Yes, but, you know, it was like a bolt from the blue. The KGB had it in for me, they yelled, summoned me, asked why I hadn’t gone to Orthodox Christians, that I had been raised in Russia and nevertheless I went to join a sect, he hit his fist on the desk, and I did too. He hit his fist, and I hit mine. And I say to him ‘What are you yelling for?
NB Weren’t you afraid anymore?
О I wasn’t afraid. They said, ‘We’ll send you back into exile’, and I said to them, ‘Now I’ll know that I’ll suffer for Christ, and why I’ve suffered the past eight years, what have I done that you, I say, you have taken away my father, my mother, my home and everything!’ You took everything, you dispossessed us as kulaks, you took everything from us. Now there are other people living in the one house.
NB Your house?
О Yes. My mother came back in 1956, she had done 10 years.