• Dmytro Verholjak,
    Markova, UkraineMORE...

    My name is Dmytro Verholjak and I was born in Manyava, in the Ivano-Frankivsk province of Ukraine. When the first Soviets came, my brother told me he'd rather flee to the West than serve the Russians. Later, I searched for him, and with God's help found him, after fifty years of not seeing him. He was in Australia. Our family had been heavily repressed by the first wave of Soviets, then the second wave almost wiped us out.

    During the German occupation in the war, I moved to the Ternopil province and found work on a farm. There was no work where I lived, and when I left home my mother told me: "The bread you earn with your hands will taste the best." It was hard to say goodbye to my mother, we loved each other very much. Another thing she told me was that no matter how hard things got, to never take my own life, that it was the biggest sin you could commit. I remembered that so clearly, how she said it, especially later on, when I was in a camp.

    The people I worked for on the farm were very nice, civilized. I am very thankful to them for all they did for me, for what they taught me. I was there for four years, and by the time I returned home to Ternopil province, the Russians had arrived as so-called "liberators" - throwing some people in prison and sending others to work in the mines in the Far East. I saw how they tortured people and humiliated Ukrainians. I felt there was little for me to do but join the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. I spoke with the partisans in my area and said, "I'm going with you." They didn't want me because I was still a kid. They said, "We have our path, but you have to wait to follow this path, in twenty or thirty years." I told them I wasn't leaving them. So one of them shrugged his shoulders and turned around so I followed them.

    The first time I was injured was a year after I went underground. Five bullets in my foot. I was living in the forest with a few others, all young kids. We were busted in the forest by the NKVD, the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs. There were five of us and they fired at us. I got hit then, in my left foot. I wanted to blow myself up with a grenade so they wouldn't take me alive, but once I realized I could still walk, I threw the grenade in the direction they were shooting from and ran with the others. They fired more shots, blindly, but didn't hit anyone else and we were able to escape. I had a total of three injuries when I was with the insurgents. That first injury has haunted me all my life. A nurse bandaged me once after that incident and for three or four weeks after that no one took care of the wound and it was literally crawling with bugs. It smelled badly enough that people didn't want to be around me.

    One time I was left alone, because I couldn't walk, while two others went off to the village to get some food. I was found by Honta, an older member. He asked why I was all by myself and why no one took care of me. I told him the story of how I got injured and no one attended the wound for a month. He got angry and told me to hang tight, told me that wasn't the order of things, that he would take care of it and I would never be left alone again like that. Then he left.

    Later that night, my guys came back and told me that they'd never leave me again. The next morning the nurse found us in the forest with another partisan. When she took the bandage off, we saw that the wound was crawling with all kinds of insects. She kept saying, "Don't worry, if there are bugs it means there are no germs." I don't know what kind of medical school she went to, but at that time, I had no idea what she was saying. Now I understand she was trying to get me to calm down. As she was cutting my pants with scissors, I was thinking these are my only pants, what am I going to do? The nurse said that when you're alive, you can get new pants, but if you're dead there'll be no pants for you at all. She stepped away momentarily with the other partisan she'd arrived with, our commander, and started yelling at him: "How could you let this happen? How is it that your soldiers aren't even trained to change a simple bandage?" Soon after, those in command decided that the nurses would need to train the soldiers to treat each other. I knew a little Latin, so it was easier for me to learn than for others. But for the most part, we didn't even know simple hygiene at the time. We didn't have paper or pencils, not to speak of medical instruments. And I was learning to do everything with my own wound. After I learned many of the simpler things and could walk, they asked me to travel to one of the insurgent centers in a different village, where there was a wounded person that needed to be taken care of. I learned how to give injections there. I practiced on pillows, of course, before I did it to people. After this, I was sent from one village to another, taking care of the wounded as well as acting as a message courier between groups.

    Doing that, I learned all the paths through the mountains. I walked everywhere - my legs were so huge that if I sat, my knees would practically be under my chin. I was a big, healthy guy at that time. They gave me a nickname: Oak, like the tree.

    Even after the war ended, we carried on fighting against the Soviets. They were as bad as the Germans, if not worse. The NKVD were everywhere, looking for insurgents. They tried to bribe or scare people for information. So many of us were killed or sent away. I was finally arrested in 1952, after being sold out. They tortured and interrogated me, put chemicals in my food. There was an agent with me in my cell that was on a "special diet" while they basically fed me poison.

    My health declined there and eventually I was sent to a camp in Potma, somewhere near Vorkuta in Mordovia, for twenty-five years. There were Poles, Russians, other Ukrainians there. Everybody. They quickly learned I had been a medic and I was sent to work in the camp's hospital. The warden was against this, he was screaming, "Do you know who he is? He's a nationalist, a Banderivets!" and the nurse told him, "I don't care who he is, as long as he is treating others, he will be working here." That was twenty-five years of my life. They were "correcting" me and didn't correct anything. When they released me, I was very nervous. My sister arrived to meet me at the gates. It was 1980 when I finally got back to Ukraine. But even free, they didn't let me do much. I couldn't work as a doctor or a medic with my record. I had to stay in my village all the time and I wasn't allowed to leave my house after 10pm. This was my freedom.

    But I got a job as a masseur. It was tough to even get that job, but I managed it. I worked as a masseur for ten years, from 1981 to 1991, when Ukraine finally gained independence. Now I'm here in Markova and the people from the village help me a lot. I have a pension. 

    This is how I only started to live freely after I turned eighty.

  • Lidya Dolzhnikova,
    Kriviy Rih, UkraineMORE...

    I am Lidiya Dolzhnikova. I was born in the Kherson region, in Kotovskiy district, somewhere on a farm. My childhood was not that memorable. We worked a lot and I grew up with my mother and my brother. Of course, I remember the famine of 1933 and 1934. My little brother was bloated from hunger. So my mother took us to the seaside with her while she caught fish.

    When the war started, we were in Crimea. My brother and I were very active in the resistance from the beginning. I was only fourteen and my brother had just turned twelve. We dug trenches and dugouts around Ishun, at the big defensive line guarding the entrance to Crimea. The Germans were coming at us on land and we were doing everything possible to keep them from getting into Crimea. But in the autumn of 1941 there was a horrific battle. The Germans broke through the defense line. So many of our soldiers were killed and had drowned in the salt lakes that surrounded the trenches. It seemed like water, earth and skies were on fire. Our soldiers were falling left and right, and Germans were just coming through, one tank after another, one motorcycle after another. I couldn't see the end of it. How we didn't die there I don't know.

    All the kids that were helping the soldiers there and managed to survive were taken to Ishun. Meanwhile, the Germans were moving along the western coast of Crimea. They made it to Balaklava, where they won another battle, and then went all the way to Sevastopol.

    Before the Germans came, we had anti-aircraft guns sitting in our backyard and they were firing all the time. I was very scared. One time I was outside and they started shooting those guns, and something hit me. Apparently the side of a shell had just brushed my side. The doctor told me, "You must be a very lucky girl." Our soldiers took good care of me. Then our house was bombed and destroyed. We were moved to another place to live, where we stayed for the duration of the war. This was in a village called Pravda. We shared the house with another family. Then some Romanian soldiers who were coming through with the Germans took over the house. They made all of us live in the kitchen while they took the living room and the bedrooms. They would come to the kitchen and ask for food. They didn't speak Russian so they would try to explain that they want some food. My mother would say: "No food. I have my kids to feed, not you."
    Then they left to go down to central Crimea, and all of them, as far as I know, were sent to Sevastopol. There were horrible, bloody battles there too. Life under German occupation was frightening. They started sending people back to Germany to work. We were lucky to avoid it - my brother had to hide in a chicken coop, or wherever he could, during raids. I was saved by an old woman by the name of Tanya Shedavchenko who hid me in her stack of straw. I was a healthy young girl, and I was afraid of being taken to Germany. My mother poured acid on her shoulder, so every time Germans would try to take her, she would show them her shoulder and they'd leave her alone. They wanted to avoid any deformed or sick people.

    Nevertheless, life went on. Our mother was an educated woman. We were very artistic. She spoke Russian and Ukrainian, and taught us languages and literature. My brother and I would stage little plays in the Village House of Culture for the people in the village. We staged scenes from Gogol's Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka. Our mother taught us to dance and to draw. We wanted to be children. There were good aspects and there were difficult aspects.

    I remember a German officer came with a goose once. He handed it to my mother and pointed to the stove. He said, "Cook it." So she did. When it was ready, the officer cut edges of the wings with his knife and handed them back to her. He pointed to us and made a motion like he was eating with a spoon. He was saying, "Feed your kids too."
    Most people from that time are gone now. Crimea was different before the war - it was very diverse. After the war, the Germans left, the Estonians left. Jews were killed or left. The Tartars were displaced. There were very few people left. Then Russians from the Tver region settled here.

    After the war, I studied at a technical school. After graduation, I worked as an electrician for a year. I was transferred here to Kriviy Rih, where I worked in the coal mine for a while, as an electrician. Then I was transferred to the Factory of Mining Equipment, because that would allow me to get an apartment through work.

    My husband had passed away by then. We had a son together, but we lost him when he was young. I live by myself now. My nephew lives nearby and helps out. There is a social worker that comes around and also helps. I need it sometimes. I have Parkinson's disease. She comes around twice a week, making my life much easier.

  • Alexei Svyatogorov,
    Kharkiv, UkraineMORE...

    My name is Alexey Svyatogorov. I was born in 1925, in the Caucasus, as my father used to work there at that time. He was a civil engineer and they would give him commissions in different parts of the country. So we traveled to Siberia, Ukraine, and many other places. I had two elder brothers - Anatoly, born in 1913, and Pyotr, born in 1917. We were in Luhansk in 1941 when the war broke out. My brothers were students at Dnipropetrovsk University of Civil Engineering then. In spite of the difference in age, they were both in the same year of study. As for me, I was at school.

    Hardly had I finished my ninth grade that our troops retreated and the Germans took Luhansk. It was in July of 1942. The German vanguard detachments were the first to enter the city, followed by the Italians a couple of days later. So we had to discover what it was like to live under occupation. I remember there was a girl, Lida Teppel, who was the secretary of the Komsomol (Young Communist League) unit in our school. At the beginning of the war, her father, who had a German background, was deported to Siberia, beyond the Ural Mountains. She must have held a grudge against the Soviet state because of that. In fact, when the Germans came, she immediately put on their uniform and an SS armband, a piece of red cloth with a swastika on it. Our family, together with other remaining citizens, was supposed to be evacuated, but my father had just undergone a serious surgery and we had to stay put. He had cancer, and the doctors told us that he would die in about a month. And so it happened.

    It was not long after my father's funeral that I got arrested. It was Lida who had betrayed us. They took us in November, and I was released only on February 14, 1943, when the Soviet troops finally took the city back. When the Germans retreated, they blew up the prison, the former KGB building. The walls of the basement, where we were kept, were massive, so they made sure that the explosion was really strong hoping that the prisoners, who were presumably working for the Soviet state, would die under the ruins. We were actually buried under the debris but, fortunately, rescued by our soldiers. When I finally got home that evening, my mother was so full of emotions that it took her some time to get the key into the keyhole. She had already lost all hope to ever see me alive.
    My two brothers were at the front. They were supposed to be graduating from Dnipropetrovsk University and they already had their diploma theses ready. Naturally, because of the war everything was cancelled, and they were drafted and deployed first to Kharkiv, and from there to Moscow, and from there to Nahabino, where there were instruction camps organized by Kuybyshev Military Engineering Academy. There they studied for six or seven months to qualify as military engineers. After that, they both joined the troops that defended Moscow. As far as I remember, one of Anatoly's assignments was to blow up Krymskiy bridge in Moscow, and Pyotr had to blast some railroad bridge. The conditions for blasting were quite peculiar in both cases, but I won't go into the technical details now. Luckily they both survived those assignments. Pyotr got into the Guards unit and was appointed deputy commander for military engineering, and Anatoly was a bridge builder in a different battalion. Pyotr was killed on March 23, 1942, near Moscow, and Anatoly survived. He marched all the way through to Germany until the Victory Day. Later, when the war with Japan began, he went there as well. Nothing ever happened to him, no wounds, no shellshock.

    As for me, I was supposed to be drafted right after I was rescued from the ruins of the building, but I was too feeble and weak after the imprisonment. So they let me stay at home for some time and gain back my strength. In March, however, I was already in the army, with the 5th motorized infantry brigade that came from Stalingrad and had a camp in Peredelsk, which is near Luhansk. I stayed with them during the whole summer training, and my mom came to see me sometimes. It was sheer luck that I and all the other young guys like me did have some training before we were sent to the front.

    I was trained as a mortar gunner. My first battle was in Donbass, in a small town Yama, which is now called Seversk. It was terrible but successful, and it certainly made a huge impression on us, especially on those of us who saw a dead soldier for the first time in their lives. That was a man called Okrainets, the commander of the battery. He would urge us to go faster, which wasn't an easy thing to do, as it was autumn already and it started to rain. A 82mm mortar weighs around fifty-six kilos, and you and your partner have to drag it up the hill, and the wheels are all covered in mud! It happened so that Okrainets got killed. He was standing with his back turned to us, when a stray bullet, a shell splinter to be more precise, hit him in the chest and tore out his heart. It was extremely depressing for us. Nevertheless, we successfully marched through Slavyansk and took Kramatorsk. I think it was September 5. Interestingly, the day of liberation of Donbass is celebrated on September 6.

    I took part in the liberation of Ukraine all the way from Luhansk to Izmail. After Donbass we headed for Nikopol and crossed the Dnieper there. The Nikopol beachhead was known as the cemetery of German tanks. There were as many as six rows of tanks stuck in the mud along the distance of eighty kilometers. We had to blow them up in order to get through. Then there were Ingulets and Belozerka, but it wasn't until late in the fall of 1943, that the infantry finally managed to clear the way for our motorized detachments and we could rush towards Zaporozhye. We had good German machines, brand new two-axle Opel Blitz, taken as trophies at Stalingrad. We drove those trucks across the whole Europe.

    In Izmail our 5th motorized infantry brigade, which used to be an independent unit, had to join the 57th army, with Gagen as the commander-in-chief. Later, in Belgrade, we were renamed, and by the end of the war we were known as the 32nd Guards mechanized brigade. Zavyalov was our commander who stayed with us until the end of the war. In fact, whenever I have a talk with young people about the war, I always mention people who distinguished themselves and received awards for their bravery. So, there were as many as eight people in my brigade who were awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest distinction in the country. Zavyalov was one of them. He received this award for liberating Izmail. So we went all the way through Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Austria. As for me, I was also awarded the Order for Bravery for liberating Kramatrosk and many other medals as well.

    Well then, later we were heading for Budapest, when suddenly, 200-260 kilometers away from the city, we received the order to turn left. Who knows, maybe it was the thing that saved us, as all the major troops were directed to Budapest and the battles were quite severe there. We were sent to Pecs instead, moving in one big column: the tanks in the front, followed by AFVs and artillery units, then machine guns, mortars and motorized infantry. It was night and I fell asleep. I had a dream as if I was standing near the truck, disassembling my watch. Suddenly the mechanism fell out of my hands, but I managed to catch it just in time. I listened carefully and made sure that the watch was fine. I woke up and told the guys nearby that I was about to be either killed or wounded.

    At that moment the Germans who were moving at a certain distance from us decided to start a fight. By the time our trucks came closer, the battle was already in full swing. We stopped and some of our guys jumped from the trucks into the side ditch without waiting for the command to get to the ground and get the mortar ready for action. Not daring to jump after them, I was waiting for what was going to happen, listening to the sound of bullets swishing over the truck. Suddenly I felt as if my head was torn away from my shoulders. I touched it, making sure it was fine, then turned around and felt an awful pain in my chest. I suddenly stopped being afraid of the bullets and jumped into the ditch. There the guys took off my shirt and saw that a shell splinter, the length of a finger, went through my clothes and got stuck in the chest injuring the lung.

    They took me to the medical unit. I remember lying there in pain when I saw some other soldiers who were not injured as badly as me. They were drinking wine, so I pleaded with them to help me, and they did. Funnily enough, it was the only shell that actually hit us. Besides me, its razor-sharp fragments also wounded Klushin, the commander of the battalion, and Suhachev. As for the latter, a tiny splinter, as small as a needle, got into the white of his eye. All they had to do was to take it out carefully and that was it! Another man, Shcheposhkin, the platoon commander, wasn't wounded at all. A shell splinter got stuck in his pocket, which was luckily full of documents, money and other stuff. So the guys in the medical unit brought me a mug of good Hungarian wine. When I drank it, I suddenly felt so light and easy! I even thought, "Why on earth should I go to some hospital?" The thing is that after hospital they could send you to any first unit that would come across, and I really hated the idea of having to join any detachment other than my own.

    I was evacuated to a hospital in Timishoara. I had to wear a funny sort of a bra with a suction drain and a small jar. As I didn't have to stay in bed all the time, I would put on my coat and my boots and sneak away to some restaurant, where I would place the jar directly on the table. However, I stayed in hospital from November 1944 till March 1945, which gave me plenty of time to get to know all the ins and outs of its bureaucracy. So when I was about to be discharged, I asked the girl who was in charge of issuing references and sick leaves, to give me a referral to my former unit. They gave me all the necessary papers, some money, clothes and food supply, and I set off to catch my unit.

    Our unit hardly ever failed a battle. In fact, we were special in a way. I mean that other troops would make a breakthrough for us, and our job was to use this opportunity and drive as fast as we could deep into the territory, trying to gain the rear of the enemy. We could cover several dozens, or even hundreds of kilometers in one go, gaining lots of trophies such as cars, trucks and other equipment.

    I remember how we entered Tatarbunary. It was a dark night and our commander ordered us to switch on the headlights. Much to our surprise, the officers showed us the way through the whole town taking us for the retreating German troops. That was unbelievable! The trucks were German indeed, but our soldiers were sitting on them without even trying to conceal their identity! Yes, we frequently found ourselves far ahead from the rest of our troops. From time to time, they would send a small airplane that would drop some food and ammunition for us. This is the way the whole brigade gradually moved further gaining the rear of the Germans.

    Not long before the victory we had a major breakthrough towards Graz. I remember we were approaching the city when we saw the bright lights in the distance. We were sure that we were facing a head-on battle, the most dreadful thing that could happen to a motorized infantry unit. In this case, you are lucky if you manage to turn around and get everything ready for the fight. But if not, you are in for a smashing defeat. You can't imagine how surprised we were when we came closer and saw that those were not headlights, but street lamps! We hadn't seen any since 1941!

    One peculiar thing happened to us in a village near Graz. Our assignment was to take the city by storm, but we realized that there was nobody to fight with. Here and there we met scattered German troops who told us that the war was "kaput", meaning "over." They were completely dispirited and passive, sleeping in the streets, leaving their guns almost unattended. However, when one of our soldiers ran after some of them, trying to attack them, they turned around and shot him point-blank.

    We were quartered at the outskirts of Graz. It was May 9, and we were planning to celebrate Kolya Astakhov's birthday. So we set the table, gathered some food and drinks. In fact, we had a lot of alcohol available then. Cognac, wine... There were two handicapped German soldiers staying in that house as well, and the Austrian woman, the landlady, took care of them. One of the Germans was wounded near Odessa, and the other lost one arm and one leg at Stalingrad. We switched on the radio and heard the Moscow news saying that the 9th of May is the Victory Day. I can't describe to you the euphoria that overcame us. We were beside ourselves with joy and we even invited those Germans to share our food and drinks, and memories about the war, of course. Several hours later, however, we had to move on, further into the Alps, where some German units would not give up the fight. So we were in a war for another few days. As for Graz, there was an agreement with the Americans that the city had to be taken by them. Our task was merely to get hold of as many cars, trucks and other equipment as we could. It meant that anybody who could drive at least a little was to get hold of the steering wheel.

    We stayed for some time in makeshift camps in the Austrian mountains, relaxing and enjoying the most beautiful landscapes I had ever seen. It was during that time that they sent us a message to delegate a representative for the parade in Moscow on June 24. One of our guys, Kolya Chumakov, the commander of the submachine gunners' unit, was sent there. Funnily enough, when he came to Moscow, he refused to take off his boots, which he had actually borrowed from his commander especially for the parade. They couldn't change his mind, and he returned back to his unit. Later he moved to Rostov and became a pilot, the commander of Tu-124.

    After the war I stayed in the army for another five years. It turned out that it was not possible to organize a new recruitment, as there were no people available. It wasn't until 1948 that they could finally make a new draft. So we were sent to sergeants' schools to receive additional training. There we spent two years and were finally promoted to the rank of sergeants. As a sergeant, I was in charge of a platoon, and I am really proud of that.

    In 1948 those guys who had been wounded at least once could finally leave the military service. If I had been wounded twice, I could have returned home as early as 1945. But, like I said, I was hit only once, in my chest, near the city of Pecs in Hungary. So, I remained in the army, and in 1948 we were obliged to stay at the sergeants' school to train young soldiers who had been drafted after the war. So it wasn't until two years later, in 1950, that we were finally discharged.

    When I left the army I went to live with my brother in Poltava. He was busy re-building airfields and roads destroyed during the war. In fact, Anatoly had been moving around the whole country, together with his family. He had built hundreds of airfields across the whole Soviet Union. Siberia, the Caucasus, Ukraine... you name it! Later he went on to build rocket launchers. Somewhere in the 60s he came to Kharkiv, where he took part in the construction of the Opera house, the peak of his career as a civil engineer. He died in 1999 here, in Kharkiv.

    I followed my brother wherever he was commissioned. No sooner had I joined him in Poltava that they sent him to Novosibirsk. So I went there with him. There I finally finished my high school studies and received the certificate of secondary education. I entered Novosibirsk University of Civil Engineering and I was finishing my first year of study when Anatoly was sent to Tbilisi, where he was to build another airfield. I followed him and got transferred to Tbilisi Polytechnic University where I studied until 1953. It was the year that Stalin died, and I remember enormous crowds of people in the city commemorating the death of their compatriot. That was the time when I decided to move to Kharkiv and live there with my mother. We had some relatives here, my mother's sister in fact. She had a big family, and me and my mother stayed at her place.

    As I yet had to obtain my university degree, I did a part-time evening course in Kharkiv University of Civil Engineering. After I finished my studies, I took various engineering positions there, and was finally promoted to the head of the department that dealt with construction organization. Altogether I worked there for forty-one years and eventually retired in 1994. I still keep in touch with my co-workers. They do remember us, veterans, and help a lot indeed, even financially.

    After the war our lives became extremely busy, as a great many of enterprises in Donbass had been destroyed during the war and had to be rebuilt. I was lucky to be at all the steel plants there, doing my bit to restore their industrial facilities and infrastructure.

    We did work hard at that time. Besides, I got married and received an apartment. I had two children, a son and a daughter, but my daughter Olga died two years ago. Life does have its ups and downs.

    Today many of my fellow-soldiers are already either confined to their beds or can hardly move. Most of them have lost their eyesight. My eyesight is not great either, I should tell. I can't read or write without a magnifying glass. I try to write by touch but it's no good, as the lines keep getting on top of each other. This is how my wife, Valentina, and I live now, helping each other the best we can. We have a son Mikhail and a grandson Misha. He works at the same factory I worked. Recently his daughter Dasha, my great-granddaughter, was born.

  • Valentina Kulinich,
    Irpin, Ukraine MORE...

    My name is Valentina Gavrylivna Kylinych, and my maiden name is Smolyar. I was born in what it is now Cherkassy region, in a village called Vilshana. My family were peasants, though not very typical ones. The thing is that my father, when he was only a kid, was sent to a big city, Dnipropetrovsk, to a Jewish tailor so that he could teach him his trade. As for my mother, she was a peasant. Before collectivization we had had two hectares of land, a cow, and a couple of pigs. That wasn't a lot, but it was our own, which is most important, as my parents had five kids to feed.

    I was born in 1920, and I was the eldest child in the family. Then, two years later my sister was born. A little bit later in 1925, our brother Ivan was born. Then there was another boy, Mykola. Much later, when my mother was already thirty-nine, as they say, in the evening of the youth, she gave birth yet to another child - Volodymyr. He was the most handsome of all the brothers. Unfortunately, he passed. So, our youngest brother is no longer with us, but my two other brothers and the sister are still alive.

    Before the war my parents had to join the collective farm (kolkhoz), like all other peasants. They had no choice. It was difficult to earn one's living while in kolkhoz, but we had our own cow that gave milk and helped to feed the kids.

    However, in 1932 this cow could not help us any more, as it was the year when Holodomor began. I was twelve then. Some people say that it was a man-made famine, and some say it wasn't. I know for sure that it was Holodomor, meaning that it was planned by the regime. If it hadn't been for my father, nobody from our family would have survived. I remember very well how it all happened. It was the time for reaping, and I used to help my mother in the field to cut the crops and make sheaves. Hardly had we finished this job and left the sheaves to get dry that we were all sent to build some dirt-road, around 10 kilometers long, allegedly because of the threat of the war. They took all the horses and the bulls from the village, and all the adults were obliged to put all the other work aside, take their spades and build this road. In the meanwhile autumn rains began, and by the time the people were allowed to return to the fields and take away the crops, the grain that was lying on top had already started to sprout. Everything that remained dry was taken away straight to the regional centre in Vilshany.

    It was always like this then. Most of all the crops a kolkhoz managed to reap were to be given away to the state. They took the harvest to the regional centre from where it was to be distributed, but none of us knew how. We were allowed to keep and store in our local granary only those crops that had begun to sprout. I remember the head of our kolkhoz violated this rule and secretly hid some good dry grain in the local granary. Somebody reported him and one day all three of them, the head, his deputy and the granary manager, were taken away and were never to be seen again. Since that day they were known as public enemies.

    My younger sister and I used to roam the fields and gather occasional ears of wheat that were left after all the crops had been removed. However, it was forbidden, and there were special officers who patrolled the fields on horseback and drove away all the people like us.
    Looking at this alarming situation, my father understood that we should better go somewhere else where it would be possible to feed the children, before it was too late. And so we did. One day we boarded up all the windows and the doors of our house and left the village. As for our belongings, we only took the sewing machine - as my dad was a tailor - and some clothes - no more than a couple of shirts for each of us. My father had definitely heard something about the coming famine, as we went as far as to the Volga. Somewhere in Kuybyshev region (now - Samara, Russia). We stayed in different houses, where my father sewed clothes in exchange for food and shelter.

    This is how we survived through that winter of famine. In spring we decided to come back to our home in Ukraine. My father didn't want to return so fast, but my mother insisted saying that we shouldn't lose the precious time for planting vegetables in our garden. And so we went, although, in fact, we shouldn't have. We ourselves were in bad shape, but when we came to our village we saw some terrible things indeed. Half of the village had starved to death. Anyway, I don't think it is time to speak about it now. It is enough to say that it was difficult to survive, and besides, it seems we had a sort of bad luck. First we lost our cow, and then my father had been cheated out of money trying to get a better house, but in the end we lost both our house and the money. In a word, everything was going downhill.

    In 1937 my sister was already studying in a vocational school, but I decided to finish secondary school and enter the so-called workers' courses (rabfak) that gave the possibility to get enrolled in the university without admission examinations. I was really eager to study and after finishing rabfak I successfully entered a teachers' institute.

    It was the year of 1938. I began going out with a young man, Petro Kulinich. He was a soldier who was doing extended military service and planning to go in for further military career. He proposed to me, and I agreed. It was the best choice for me, since my parents were still staying in some other people's house, and they had younger children to take care of. Three months after our wedding my husband received an invitation to a military school. It was his dream to become an officer. Though he was from a poor peasant family, he was made for this career, as he was an extremely organized and self-disciplined man, my husband. But on the other hand, I was already three months pregnant... So, what were we to do? I supported my husband, and he accepted the invitation. It was a good choice, and some time later he even received an apartment. My parents came to live with us, together with my little brothers: Ivan, Mykola and newly-born Volodya, who was only six months older than my first-born daughter, the one who already died. We lived together with my parents until the beginning of the war. In March 1941 my husband finished the military school and became an officer. At that time I was staying in Western Ukraine, working there as a Ukrainian teacher. It was a common thing then - to be sent somewhere far away from your home place. Being a member of Komsomol (Young Communist League) I couldn't refuse. In March 1941 Petro finished his studies and brought me back home. We had to give up our apartment, as he received a posting in Kuybyshev. So we all went with him.

    In Kuybyshev I got a job in one of the military units. The thing is that many of the officers did not have secondary education, which was an obligatory condition for an officer. So, they organized schools where they could catch up on their education. I for one taught them Russian. I worked there from March to May 1941. And in May the whole unit went to a summer training camp some place in Orenburg region.

    Two weeks before the beginning of the war, our commander-in-chief announced to us that instead of the summer camp training, the unit was supposed to go to the western border of the country to take part in some training maneuvers. We all came back to Kuybyshev, and on the very next day the war broke out, and the unit did go to the western border. And this time they were going to a real war instead of a shooting range.

    Some time later there was a threat that the Germans might take Moscow, so the whole government moved to Kuybyshev. A lot of Ukrainian plants and factories had already been evacuated deep into the country, beyond the Urals, while the Moscow-based ball bearing plant was transferred to our military camp in Kuybyshev. The officers' families that still remained in the city were given a choice either to go to Central Asia or to stay here in Kuybyshev but with accommodation reduced to only one room per family. As we were a big family: me, my daughter, my parents, three brothers and a sister, it was hard to imagine how we could squeeze into one room. So we decided to move to Central Asia. As for me, since the beginning of the war I had already been doing a training course to become a nurse. After all, my husband was at the front, and many other school teachers had already re-trained as nurses. Why couldn't I do the same? So I received a diploma of a nurse, which gave me the right to work in hospitals and at the front. It happened so that on the way to Central Asia, my daughter fell ill, and she died on the very first night when we came to our final destination. After that I decided to go to war as a volunteer.

    First I worked as a nurse in a hospital. Then there was a massive retreat from Kharkiv towards the east, all the way up to the Volga, and my hospital was evacuated deep into the country. I didn't want to return back to where I started so I asked for a posting in a fighting unit. As all our fighting units retreated massively up to the Don river, there was a huge confusion and before too long it became almost impossible to figure out which army was where. I remember the horrible mess at that crossing over the Don, with German air raids from above and a huge congestion of our trucks, tanks and other machines on the bank of the river. I came up to some tank that belonged to the 6th Guards tank brigade, which was moving from Belgorod to Stalingrad. They took me across the Don, and I stayed with them, as a combat medic, in the 2nd separate tank battalion.

    When our military unit finally left Stalingrad, there was in fact only one tank left, and even that one had been badly damaged. You should understand that, as privates, we never knew the full picture of what was happening around. It was only after the war that I met one commander who told me that out of every hundred people in his unit who went to Stalingrad, only three people would remain unharmed, and another five would end up in hospital. It means that only eight people out of hundred survived that great battle.

    Having crossed the Volga in early November, our military unit was transferred from the 62nd army to the newly-formed 28th army that was to go to Kalmykiya, and from there to Rostov and further to Ukraine. It was there, in Kalmykiya, near Elista, that I was wounded. I spent a month in hospital in Astrakhan and then I was sent back to the front. As many other soldiers after some time in hospital, I had to join a reserve battalion, instead of returning to my former unit. A "buyer", as we called them, from a reserve battalion would come to a hospital and recruit necessary people.

    So I found myself in a front-line military hospital for cranio-cerebral injuries. We received the wounded straight from the battlefield. There I stayed until the end of the war. When the war was over, all the hospitals returned to their former locations, but I, as an educated person, was to remain in the headquarters of the 28th army, to work with papers. That was in Bautsen district in Germany.

    As for my husband, I received a "killed in battle" notice as early as in September 1941. But in fact, he wasn't dead. He was taken prisoner but managed to escape. During the whole war he fought in two partisan regiments: the 28th and the 15th, and was awarded the orders of Red Banner and Red Star, as well as the medal of Partisan. He was wounded twice, and after the second injury he was able to come to Ukraine, which had already been liberated by that time. So he came to Poltava region which was his homeland. As it was a liberated territory, people were allowed to return to their places from evacuation, though not all at once. One had to receive an invitation first. It happened so that by some mistake they issued an invitation to his sister (his mother and two sisters had been evacuated as well) instead of me. So his sister met Petro and told him everything she knew about me. They offered him to stay in Ukraine, but he refused and went back to the fighting unit to the front. He was killed in the very end of the war, on April 29, 1945.

    After the war I got demobilized and returned to my home in Ukraine. As I didn't have a husband any more, I decided to take my parents to live with me. Moreover, I was their eldest child and I had a degree with the prospect of a good job. So I got back to teaching at school and besides I was actively engaged in Party work. Soon I married my second husband. Five years younger than me, he was also a veteran. It's recently been twenty years since he died. Together we built a house in Mironivka and lived there with my parents. So, step by step, life returned to its usual routine. As for my brothers and sisters, the eldest brother Ivan had been drafted in 1943 and was sent to the Far East. Volodymyr, the youngest, got enrolled into a law school. My sister also got married and was working. My parents were staying with me all the time, first in Mironivka, and then here, in Irpin, where they died.

    In 1946 my second child was born - a daughter. She was a still a student in Kyiv when she got married and gave birth to a child. In order to help her somehow, we sold the house in Mironivka and bought this one in Irpin. I have been living in Irpin for forty years already. I got a degree from the local Academy, which is now the National State Tax Service University of Ukraine. Funnily enough, I am considered to be veteran of the University, although it used to be a mere college when I first came to Irpin and started to work here, teaching social science. In Mironovka I used to work as the head teacher at school, but parallel to that I was studying part-time to get a degree in social science. Besides teaching, I was also actively engaged in social life. In Irpin I organized the Club of veterans of war and labor. It is called "Pam'yat", meaning "memory". We have a good choir of veterans where we sing a whole range of war-time songs, Ukrainian folk songs and classical music.

    I believe it is important to enjoy life as it is. To move forward against all odds, to follow this stream of life, if you understand what I mean. Love for life and for other people - this is what has always given me a lot of energy.

  • Anna Potapova,
    Kharkiv, UkraineMORE...

    I was quite young when both of my parents died. I used to live with my elder brother and his wife, and I didn't get on particularly well with her. So when the war broke out I told them that I would go to the front. Quite timely I should say, as they were enlisting young girls of my age then. One of the officers wasn't quite sure about me as there was nothing in particular that I could do. But I pleaded with them and told them that I was a nurse. There was a great turmoil in the beginning of the war, so they didn't go into detail and got me enlisted. They got us all packed into wagons, which had been earlier used for cattle. A political instructor got inside as well, and when the train was already in motion we started to give the oath. It wasn't long before someone opened fire on us, and we were lucky to get through.

    Our destination was the 189th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion in western Ukraine, and when we finally came there they gave us our first assignment which was to dig trenches. I was 15 then, and I spent two years on the frontline. The Germans used to shell us from Messerschmitts and Henschels 111. When the bombing became too heavy, we would move to a different location. Sometimes we changed our positions as often as three or four times during the day. In fact, we moved quite a bit around the country. Almost the whole western Ukraine, Bila Tserkva, and even as far as Rostov. I can't remember now the exact locations. Once we were lodged in some village and I remember a woman, the mistress of the house where I stayed, who was very kind to me and treated me to some homemade crackers.

    In fact, I had several jobs during the war: a combat medic, an instrument technician on the anti-aircraft artillery unit and a telephone operator. As an instrument technician, my task was to watch the gauge of some huge device and tell this information to our gunmen. You know, the bearing angle, the altitude and the distance of the plane. This is how we managed to shoot down a lot of planes from the ground. There were 90 girls in my squad, and whenever a girl at the machine gun got killed, I would take her position. The device itself was tricky enough as you had to watch it all the time almost without blinking in order not to miss a plane.

    Once the telephone line got torn, and the commander ordered me to fix it. I remember going out there all by myself, finding the damaged place, fixing it and coming back. And there was another case when they sent me to the command post with an important message to deliver. I can't say that I was very scared. But it was already getting dark in the forest, and the birds stopped singing. I was walking through the quiet of the forest, thinking of my chances of being shot, and repeating the name of the Lord quietly to myself, for it was the only prayer I knew. Somehow I managed to get to the command post and delivered the message. "Well done!" they said, and asked me if I was afraid to return back to my location alone. Afraid? Who said anything of being afraid? Nothing like that!

    My commander would always tell me to go straight to the shelter in case of shooting or an air raid. But how could I? When I saw so many wounded people I couldn't do anything else but go out there and drag the wounded back to the trenches. The commander would curse me for that. I remember one wounded soldier with his guts falling out. He was pleading for help, and I tried my best to save him.

    There were people among us who used to encourage others to desert from the frontline. They spread all kinds of demoralizing rumors saying that the war was as good as lost. I should say that I was pretty good at identifying this sort of people. I would watch them closely and share this information with a special unit. Some people were even tried by a military tribunal. And I received an award for that.

    Once there was an air raid with plenty of Henschel planes. They started dropping the bombs, and I got buried under the ruins of our shelter. When they dug me out, I was shell-shocked. I guess it happened somewhere near Bila Tserkva. I was sent to a hospital straight away. When I came around, I found myself stammering badly. I even asked my doctor - the one who had a funny beard just like biologist Michurin - to give me some medicine that would make me fall asleep and never wake up again. "Darling," he told me, "how could you ask me for such a thing? You're so beautiful. Just wait and see. You will get over it! You are in for getting married yet. I am your doctor and I promise that you'll be fine. You are a nurse yourself, so don't you worry!" And he gave me some medicine that was so bitter it almost made my eyes pop out! Later, in September, they sent me to Ryazhsk, in Moscow region, where I fully recovered.

    The war ended and I decided to train as a nurse. I read in a newspaper about a medical college in Makhachkala, Dagestan. So I got enrolled in that college and studied there for a year. I was a good student and I think I would have continued my studies there but for one accident. The thing was that I rented a room with one Armenian family. Once my landlady wrote a letter to her son Borya, who lived in Baku, and told him that she had found a fiancee for him. I was out dancing the evening he came. I used to have a good dancing partner, a very handsome young man, who would always pick me up and see me home after the dancing. So Borya came to the dancing club and made a great fight there scaring away a lot of people. It was 11 pm when he finally came home, threatening us with a knife and shouting at his mother blaming her of failing to prepare Ania - that is me - for his arrival. We couldn't sleep that night. In the morning I came to college only to find the principal, who asked me to leave the city and stay somewhere for a while. So I returned to Ryazhsk and found a job as a nurse there. I never told this story to anyone.

    There in Ryazhsk, I had a job in a military college that trained officers. I worked in the college canteen, checking the quality of food and tasting the meals. I looked lovely indeed in my snow-white uniform and with a nice headpiece in my hair. No wonder I had a lot of suitors! Some of them were really handsome. There was a pilot among them - a top-class navigator, to be more precise. He proved to be the most persistent of all. He would follow me wherever I went. But I didn't like him very much and I didn't want to marry him. However, I could see that he really loved me a lot. I remember once I saved up some money for a pair of new shoes and went to the shop. And guess what? I was about to pay for the shoes when he appeared as if out of nowhere and paid for the shoes himself! My landlord - I used to rent a room then - kept praising him. "You are so dear to him! No other man will take better care of you," he would always tell me. But the fact was I didn't love him! However, sometime later our military division was to be transferred to Sakhalin, and I had a difficult choice to make. So finally I gave up and agreed to marry him.

    On our way to Sakhalin we spent nine days on board a ship. We all felt so sick that we could hardly move. Everybody, except my husband. He was very healthy, so he took care of us all, bringing the food and taking away the waste. Besides, he did know a lot about planes. It wasn't a big deal for him to approach a top general or an admiral and ask them all sorts of questions about planes. And those generals would ask our commander to quiet the insolent Potap. They used to call him this because of his surname: Potapov.

    We spent six years at Sakhalin, altogether. When we first arrived there, it was barely habitable. There was nowhere to live, and everything was extremely expensive. Besides, there was deep snow everywhere, which made life even more difficult. At first, we stayed in some basement with a group of soldiers, having nothing to eat but canned pork. There was no running water, so my husband made an ice hole in the river and used to bring water in a small mug so that we could cook something to eat. I caught a bad cold then, with a terrible fever, which was even more dangerous as I was pregnant at that time. Soon they gave us a separate room to live. When we first came there, it was all entangled with all sorts of cables and wires, for our neighbor used to keep chickens there. Finally, six years later, my husband got discharged, and started wondering where to go. Some clever people advised us to go to Ukraine. It was believed that one had more opportunities there. So we decided to take this advice.

    When we arrived here, we were completely broke and with no place to live. My husband found a job at the Malyshev plant and worked tirelessly. He was a very good worker indeed and stood a good chance to get a nice flat. And he did. In fact, this is the same flat where I live now. As for me, I had an eventful social life then: dressmaking classes, volleyball, all sorts of things. I was the captain of the volleyball team. We had a lot of amateur clubs, a very good choir, dancing classes.

    In the evenings, we used to leave our husbands at home babysitting the children and went dancing. It was a beautiful life regardless of all the difficulties. Food was very expensive then. Milk, meat, apples, everything was expensive. However, we were young and full of energy, so nothing seemed too hard or too frightful.

    Much time has passed. We are still at the same apartment. I have to take full care of my husband; he is almost disabled after having two strokes. Sometimes I think what would have happened with me if I didn't marry the man I never loved.

  • Elena Garkusha,
    Kriviy Rih, UkraineMORE...

    I was born in Kovarivka village, which used to be in the Kolarivka district, in the Zaporizhzhya region. I went to school when I was eight years old, which was a common primary school starting age at that time. I enjoyed school and had excellent marks. My father was working in a local union of consumer organizations in Kolarivka. When Nogaysk (modern Primorsk) became a new administrative center for the district, my father took the whole family there. I was about to start my fourth year at school when the German Army attacked us.

    My dad was a driver and a car mechanic, so when the Nazis were approaching Nogaysk, he was told to take important documents elsewhere so they wouldn't fall into German hands. They loaded the cars with all the important papers and equipment. And using his position, my father managed to spare some space in the last car for us and our neighbors. We didn't have time to take anything of our belongings - no clothes, nothing.

    On the next day, early in the morning, my mother with that other woman, a neighbor, walked back to Nogaysk to get some clothes. They covered 20 kilometers on foot and took everything they could carry. On their way back they were caught by Germans on motorbikes right in the middle of some field. They scattered all the clothing and belongings about shouting, "Russo soldat?" The women got scared out of their wits, but the Germans saw that there was nothing in their bundles but children's shoes, clothes and some other household things. So they let everything lying about the ground and their chief said something which sounded like an order, and they all got on their bikes and sped off.

    When my father came with the last car to the river crossing - we needed to cross Dnieper - it turned out that they transported only military equipment and soldiers to the opposite bank and refused to spend precious time on refugees and civilian cars. And hardly had they transported our troops and the Germans appeared. My father suggested hiding our cars in a ditch. The Germans didn't notice us, so we waited until they went away before we could return to our homes.

    During all this time, my grandmother remained in our old house in Kovarivka. There was a big cellar in that house where my great grandfather used to store homemade wine. He used to have vineyards and made his own wine. So they gathered all the local children in that cellar, which seemed to be a safe place. In the morning, the Germans came to the village riding their motorbikes, and started to bang loudly on the doors shouting, "Russo soldat!" My grandmother unlocked the door and came out to meet them. With a machinegun against her back, she showed them the house. The Germans rummaged around the place but found nothing suspicious.

    Besides the children in the cellar, my grandmother also had a young Jewish girl hidden in the attic. It happened so that she hadn't manage to leave the village with the rest of her family who used to work as doctors in our village. So my grandmother had her hidden in a pile of straw in the attic. There was no firm decking in the ceiling - just wooden beams and some reed between them, the one you couldn't step on, of course. So the Germans just walked a little on those beams but never reached that corner where that Jewish girl was hiding. My grandmother was really worried about her and did her best to help her to go to some place safe.

    The Germans went from house to house looking for Russian soldiers, but found nobody. There was a whole swarm of those motorbikes. Just like bees.

    Then the Germans started to gather the local people. We had our own tractor repair station in our village. People from all over the area used to bring their tractors, sowing machines and other equipment so that we could repair them. The Germans told us to gather all the people who knew a thing or two about machines. So we gathered six people together, with four who were from our street, and they began to work at the station. Among them there was an elderly Russian man named Egor. He and another neighbor often used to come by our place for tea. Once I heard him say that it was high time to start doing something. By something he meant small diversions against the Germans. For example, to add some sand to tank engines. Soon one tank failed to reach its destination, then another, then a third one; and before too long the Germans smelled a rat. They took them - Egor, my dad, our neighbor and one more man - to prison in Berdyansk.

    It was a big two-storey building at the foot of the central hill. They started to interrogate them. You know how they did it: with shouting, beating, all sorts of things. Egor tried to protect his colleagues and took the whole blame upon himself. After all, my father and our neighbor had five kids each. They spent a long time in prison. As there was no transport to Berdyansk, my mom used to go there on foot to see them and bring something to eat. Eventually they released my father and our neighbor. As for Egor and that other man, we never knew their destiny. The only thing I know is that when our army was approaching and the Germans started to retreat, they set the prison on fire. People shouted for help behind the bars, but in vain. It's impossible to describe.

    Then there was the so-called labor service. People were sent in batches to Guryev to work at the plants. My father was sent there as well, as he was a mechanic. So he worked there for five years transporting coal. It was hard work, and when he finally returned home, he found us almost dead with starvation. There was a terrible famine during those years, with no harvest in the fields. People literally had to crawl in the grass in search for something to eat. So when my dad returned home, he borrowed a bicycle and rode all the way to the coast, which wasn't very far away after all. He brought a whole sack of small fish called sprat and he told our mother to do whatever she could with it. You know: dry or fry it. In order to feed the kids.

    He also used to go to his younger brother who lived forty kilometers away from our village. Uncle Vanya worked as a storekeeper and he managed to provide us with some food: a little bit of grain or a bottle of oil. Looking at these hardships my father decided to go to Berdyansk and find a job there. He found a job which was to wash some peculiar black sand on the coast of the Azov sea. I don't know what it was, probably uranium ore, because a small sack of this sand weighed as much as 50 kilos. He used to take this sand to Mariupol where they would dry it and send somewhere further.

    There was a lack of equipment after the war, so my father was sent far away to Russia to some big car factory to get some cars. He and three other men went there by trains, but on the way back after they had finally received three cars, they were majorly delayed because of bad roads and rain. It took them a month to get through. That was in 1948.

    Little by little life became better. We received some food rations from the state, and eventually our father took us to Berdyansk. My three brothers still live there. My forth brother was already dead. When in Berdyansk I used to do a lot of sports - athletics to be more precise. In 1953 I graduated from technical school with a degree in mechanics. And as I was a good student, I was allowed to choose my future place of work. So I chose Dnipropetrovsk, because there was good a train connection between Dnipropetrock and Berdyansk. All my fellow-students were sent to various places across the whole Soviet Union.

    I worked for nine years in a tool-making workshop at the plant that produced metallurgical equipment. During the first six months I was learning from the foreman of that workshop and then I started to work as a manager of technical processes. It was hard work, but it was ok. Soon I got married and gave birth to a child. However, the living conditions were not very favorable. The plant could only provide a small 13-square-meter room. No wonder that I grabbed the opportunity to get transferred to Krivyi Rih to work there at the plant that repaired mining equipment. They gave flats to their workers! So I got that job in 1961 and in the same year I received this three-room flat, where I am still living.

    I worked at that plant until my retirement in 1985. Then there was the time of Perestroyka, and my grand children were born. I tried to support them with anything I could. I have two daughters. They both have university degrees. One lives here in Krivyi Rih, and the other lives in Dolinskaya. She moved there to work at the newly established ore processing enterprise, although it doesn't function as well as it used to.