• Anatoly Uvarov,
    Saint-Petersburg, RussiaMORE...

    My name is Anatoly Gavrilovych Uvarov. I was born in Moscow, to a family of government workers. Both of my parents worked in the Supreme Soviet of the People's Economy - that was a large government institution. At the time, both of my parents were planning engineers.

    In 1931 I started first grade at a public school. I studied there for nine years, then in 1940, there was the possibility to attend one of several special military schools. I wanted to be either a pilot or a sailor, and I went to the first one that became available, which was the naval school. So in my tenth year, I continued my education at the military school and graduated exactly a week after the war broke out.

    Everyone who graduated was then sent around the country to continue their military education. I was sent to Leningrad, which is now Saint Petersburg, to be trained at the Dzerzhinsky High Naval Engineering School. In summer of 1941 I went through basic training. That autumn, the school had to be moved from Leningrad because the Germans were steadily approaching the city. We managed to move everything just days before the Siege of Leningrad began on September 8, to a town called Gorky, which is Nizhny Novgorod now.

    We attended lectures and further training at a nearby town called Pravdinsk, but the number of students had been reduced by nearly 70% because many of the cadets had been sent off to the front, or had stayed behind in Leningrad to fight. Most of them died because they were basically a shield. You have to understand that this was a very hard period for Russia - someone had to stop the German war machine. Their soldiers were well-trained and well-equipped and we didn't have much of an army at that point, so we did what we could. About a million and a half kids who had just gotten out of school were killed within the first two months of the war. Some were my classmates.

    Out of about 2,000 people, there were around 500 left. I was among them. This was October 1941, and the German army was approaching Moscow. The Soviet government needed to act to defend the capital, so they were creating new battalions. One was a Marine battalion that was joined by another half of our school. So just a few months after the evacuation, there were 250 students. But those who were on the front line weren't there for long. Stalin ordered to return all of the students from the front lines to their schools.

    We trained on military ships in the summer. Even though it was wartime, my classmates and I attended our first naval training with the Caspian Flotilla in May 1942. There was a lot of action there, because there were a lot of Germans going through the Caucasus trying to get to Baku and capture the oil rigs. The 'floating anti-aircraft battery' I trained on was basically a regular vessel that had been rebuilt for war use with one anti-aircraft gun on the bow of the ship and one on the stern. We were acquainted with its operation, but mostly we carried the shells and handed them off to the gunners. There was a lot of fighting there.

    The oil traffic was busy. Tankers came from Baku and transferred the oil to smaller tankers that would go up the Volga River to the refineries, and the Germans learned this was happening. They began to bombard the transfer points. All of the Caspian flotilla was involved taking down German planes.

    Our ship was called Polyus. We were effective and active enough that the Germans were forced to bomb from higher altitudes, reducing their accuracy. I remember only one bombardment that reached a tanker. It was a night and the oil had spilled and caught fire over the water. A terrifying scene. It looked like the sea was on fire. I could see people jumping from the flaming vessel. There was nowhere for them to go but into the fire in the water.

    I spent the summer of 1942 on this floating battery. Initially, we were defending the oil traffic. Later, we transported soldiers from Astrakhan to Makhachkala. The Germans were still approaching Baku and we tried to get more army personnel there.

    We went to Astrakhan to pick up the soldiers. God, it was hot, so many mosquitoes you wouldn't have known where to hide from them. We made eight trips because we could only take up to 500 people each time. Most of the soldiers came from Central Asia and barely spoke Russian. They were poorly dressed. Some didn't even have shoes. But we needed to take as many as we could. It was nearly impossible to get through the deck, it was so full of soldiers. When we needed to change shifts near the engine, we'd have to search for gaps between them.

    The Caspian Sea isn't big, but it's very unusual. After a storm, it has these strange, swelling waves - long and very tall. And many of these soldiers were uneducated, poorly fed. We would lose them during a storm. They would sit on the edge of the deck to, you know, relieve themselves. A wave would throw them off the ship. It was pitiful to watch.

    Soon I returned to the academy and was there until the winter of 1943. I graduated in early 1944, and that winter I was sent with the other cadets to join the Northern Fleet, where I served on a small submarine M-201, a so-called Malyutka, which means "the little one." It broke down almost immediately after I joined the crew and was recalled for repair. I was approached by my direct superior and asked if I wanted to join one of the submarines that was headed into battle. Of course I said yes. He sent me to the town of Molotovsk, which is now Severodvinsk, where another submarine was being repaired and was almost ready to rejoin the Northern Fleet. The submarine was a beauty, an S-16 (Stalinets series) - new and large, with a powerful diesel engine, six torpedoes and a crew of about sixty people. I was appointed to the engine team, because I was formally educated in diesel engines. We did some drills, and soon headed straight to Polyarny, where the base of the fleet was located. In October of 1944, we embarked on our first combat mission, to Nordkapp, which is the northernmost point of Norway. This was a crossing point for the Northern Convoys, a group of vessels that carried strategic supplies to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk: food and various goods, military gear. These convoys were formed in various ports of Iceland and Scotland. Each would consist of fifteen to thirty vessels and would be guarded by few military ships until they reached their destinations. German planes regularly attacked those convoys. These were goods delivered under the Lend-Lease program between the Soviet Union and the Allied Forces.

    The day the war ended, I remember I was on night duty at the submarine. Everyone was asleep. I heard on the radio that Germany had surrendered, but I couldn't celebrate with anyone because I wasn't allowed to wake people up. I had to wait until morning, when I woke up the crew with a fife. Everyone was ecstatic. Someone started a pillow fight. We didn't have much of a celebration. When we returned to the base, there was a fireworks show, with pistol signals on the outskirts of the town we were stationed. We went to a small restaurant nearby, had a bottle of wine to warm up, then returned to base. I continued to serve for another five years, on submarines in the Baltic Sea. One of them, interestingly enough, was a trophy boat from the Germans. It was very well-made. I spent two years improving it and learning how it was put together. After finishing my service, I decided to continue my involvement with the military and went on to teach. First, I was sent to Sevastopol, where we just reopened a Naval academy. Then I returned here, to Pushkino, near Leningrad. In 1983, I retired from the military sector. I continued to help out with classes, as a civilian.

    I was awarded a medal, "For the Victory over Germany" and this happened during the Victory Parade in Moscow, on June 24, 1945. It was . . . something outstanding. An incredible parade that occurred just a month and a half after the war, by order of Stalin. About 15,000 soldiers took part in the parade. I will never forget the day. It is something that's stayed with me my entire life. I have some footage of the parade. Sometimes I show it at schools during talks, or to cadets at military academies. The youngsters are always so interested.

    I learned English and can proudly say that I achieved a good comprehension of the language. I've been to the United Kingdom a few times, meeting with my brothers in arms - people who took part in the Polar Convoys. Also, I've been writing articles about the experience, I have been active in sharing my experience during the war.

  • Pyotr Koshkin,
    Odintsovo, RussiaMORE...

    My name is Pyotr Koshkin. I was born in Obolenki village, in the Mikhayov district of the Ryazan region, on July 2, 1924. In 1939, my dad took the whole family to Likino, which is in the Zvenigorod district, Moscow region. There I went to school, first to our local school and then to a different one in the neighboring village. However, in 1940 they introduced a tuition fee for studying in high school. Our family had six kids and we weren't rich by any means. Dad used to work in a kolkhoz (collective farm), which meant that we could hardly afford to pay for my education. So, I had nothing to do but to get enrolled in a technical school. I received my cum laude degree in 1941 and started working at the aviation factory that was located near the Aeroport subway station in Moscow.

    One night a policeman, accompanied with the officer and the head of the village council, came to our house and took me to the army. No questions asked, no military enlistment officers, no medical check-ups, no documents, nothing! They simply took me to the Minsk highway where there were already a lot of trucks standing by. I wasn't the only guy who was captured this way. There were many more of us around the same age as me. It was a real manhunt rather than a normal draft.

    First we came to the Ershovo, Zvenigorod district, Moscow region, where we were busy building fortifications. Then they gave us the uniform of the 144th Infantry Division, where I actually remained until November 28, 1942, training as a mine picker and putting land mines. Then, on November 28 there was a massive air raid, and during some moment of silence between the bombings our platoon commander sent me out to place some land mines. It was just at that moment that a new air raid began, and I was wounded in my left arm. They stitched and dressed the wound, and on the next day I was summoned to the officers' dug-out. There they told me that according to the new decree of the National Defense Committee, I, together with 14 other soldiers, would be released from the military service and we were to go to work at some plant in Moscow. I asked them to commission me back to the factory I used to work at, and so they did.

    I showed up at my factory on December 1, and got immediately put to work. I was technically inclined and already had some experience, so I quickly gained the trust of my new supervisor. I used to train young workers and made samples of the manufactured parts to show them how everything worked. It was all young kids, 14-15 years of age. Many workers were evacuated to the east of the country and a lot of people got sent to the front, so we had to train brand new personnel. Most of the time we were patching up Shturmovik IL-2, which was the battle plane most commonly used by our air force.

    Sometime in late February or early March of 1942 we had a crush landing on our strip. The plane was pretty beat up, we could see trails of bullet holes in the fuselage. The pilot was in a bad shape himself, his face and his hands were all badly damaged, and there was blood all over his uniform. But he jumped out of the cabin like nothing happened and came towards us. He said that he wanted to talk to the main specialist, and all the guys pointed at me. The pilot didn't believe them at first, as I was a 17-year old kid, quite short and skinny. So he found our senior foreman, and the latter pointed at me too, saying that there was nothing I couldn't do. So we sat down with the pilot and he told me about his IL-2, which was the best of its kind, with bulletproof armor and four missiles. It could melt down a tank with only one strike. Besides, it had two bombs, 250 kilos each, and a large-caliber machine gun in the front part, which was very effective against enemy infantry. However, it had no protection whatsoever in the rear part, which meant the German fighters could fly up as close as they wanted and destroy both the plane and the pilot. Just like that his regiment lost 60 planes in a single battle near Moscow a few days before.

    So the task was to make another cabin for a co-pilot and gunner. I will spare you the technical details. More importantly, two months later the new modified plane was ready. In its very first battle, on May 1, it shot down two German fighters. From then on, our planes could not be brought down as easily as before. This helped to boost the morale of our soldiers significantly as it happened in the sky over the battlefield. A commission came later to the plant to examine our work. Then a package arrived with a government seal on it, and a letter of commendation inside.

    I was awarded a medal for special merit. Later on, we had a visit from Ministry of Defense specialists, and not long after that they began mass producing IL-2 planes with the second cabin, just like the one I designed.

    After the war I decided to stay in the military. I continued my study at the Murmansk Academy of Communications, and I was specializing in wireless and radio. I stayed in the military for 27 years, traveled all around and worked on improving communication methods in the army.

    In 1950, I got married to this great woman who is sitting here with me. Please meet my wife Lydia. We had a baby boy in 1951 and named him Victor.

    Now we live here in Odintsovo, near Moscow. I am really into gardening these days. I love to spend all of my time in the backyard. I always remained devoted to the ideas of Lenin, Stalin and Marx and I am still active in trying to spread the word of socialism. I give out leaflets and write for a local Communist paper.

    I am also active in the veterans' affairs. I often meet with youngsters and tell them about the war, I also meet with the veterans and reminisce about those days occasionally.

  • Alexei Georgiev,
    Moscow, RussiaMORE...

    I am Alexei Vasilyevich, my last name was Priemyshev, which I inherited from my dad. But he went missing in 1937, and my family changed our last name to Georgiev. We didn't actually know what happened with my father, one day he just disappeared and no one could ever tell us anything. It's a long story, my mom, and later myself, spent years trying to find a trace of him... But we found nothing. I never believed that my father could leave us like that, and the circumstances of his disappearance were very mysterious.

    I grew up in Kirilov, where all my ancestors came from, it's in the Leningrad Region. After dad disappeared, my family was forced to relocate to Kirov, where my mom got a job in the garage. When the war broke out, the Germans were advancing very quickly, and we were evacuated along with the others to the east. My family ended up in a village called Khalturino, and my mom got a job at the local school as a cleaner. I was studying in that same school. Life was poor, to say the least; we barely had anything to wear and we were very happy when we had something substantial to eat. Nevertheless the locals were understanding and we felt welcomed. And when I look back on all those years, I still think that I had a happy childhood.

    As the front line was moving eastward with the Nazis advancing, we had to move again. This time we got evacuated to a city called Gorky, it's called Nizhny Novgorod now. My mom found a job in the hospital. I think she took up some courses to become a nurse and began working in that hospital. I finished the eighth grade and started my technical education when I was 14 years old. The war meanwhile changed its course, and we were kicking Germans' ass.

    In 1944, the hospital where my mom was working was ordered to be transformed into a field hospital and to be moved all the way to the Carpathian mountains, to the front lines. So we were called to move as well. The trip took a whole month. On the way there I saw total destruction - cities and villages turned into rubble, burned-out railway stations, true horror. By the time we got to Western Ukraine I turned 17, which was the draft age. We arrived on December 5, 1944, and on that day the hospital warden offered to enlist me as a hospital aide. He said to me, "Just stay with your mother. And after the victory is ours, I'll give you a good recommendation and send you to a medical school." But I said, "No, I want to go and fight." That was it, I went to the nearest recruiting station with my papers - it was in a town called Kolomiya - and enlisted in the Red Army. They gave me a gun right there, dammit! So there I was... A soldier. I already went through my Army training and knew the basics, back then it was part of the school program. So I was ready to go. My mom didn't argue with me, she understood that I was capable of making my own decisions.

    I started my service right there, in the Western Ukraine. The situation was complex - we didn't really know who our enemy was. First of all, most Ukrainians didn't want us to be there and didn't recognize us as their liberators. Our mission was called "Giving a brotherly hand," meaning that we were freeing them from the Germans. In the meantime, we were just grabbing a part of their land, to be completely honest. So a lot Ukrainians were fighting against us, they had partisans hiding all over the place, and the local people didn't exactly welcome us with open arms. And, of course, there were the Germans too, mostly the ones who didn't manage to escape.

    It was nasty. Sometimes we would surround a small village, if we had information that Ukrainian insurgents were hiding there, and just shoot everything out. I was just following orders. But I never thought that I was doing anything wrong, never thought about dying myself. I never shot a person in front of me, only shot from far away. If I killed someone - that I will never know. We arrested a lot of the people from the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and sent them to the concentration camps in Siberia. Of course, back then we called them "correction camps."

    I didn't really feel hate either towards the Ukrainians or the Germans, but war was war. I feel like the people who were fighting there didn't care for their life as much. It came to that point.

    We heard over the radio that Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. I can't even explain how ecstatic and happy everyone felt, it was a real euphoria. We were shooting rounds after rounds into the sky. Well, Germany had surrendered, but the war didn't actually end. The fights with the Ukrainian partisans continued all the way into 1950s. And the war with the Japanese was still going on, and a month or two after celebrating the victory over Germany I found myself with my comrades on a train to Vladivostok, going to fight Japan.

    The train ride was not luxurious to say the least, each car had about 50 people in it and just bunk beds. No sheets or anything. Couldn't sleep on those beds. It was a very, very long journey through the entire Soviet Union. Even though, of course, we saw great deal of destruction along the way, but also a lot of beautiful nature. I specifically remember Lake Baikal - it was if someone had put a perfect piece of mirror onto the land, it was so still and gorgeous.

    Once we arrived at Vladivostok, we boarded some boat and shipped to an undisclosed location. The trip took 20 days and I found out what sea sickness is in full. We went through some horrible storms, and I was more scared for my life on that ship than at any time during combat. Ironically, that boat then brought us back to Vladivostok, because Japan had surrendered while we were at sea.

    After arriving back to Vladivostok I thought I was going to be demobilized, as the war was over, and I didn't think there was anything else for me to do in the Army. But no - I was sent to work at a POW camp in Kamchatka. Almost all of the prisoners in my camp were Japanese. The Japanese were nothing like we were told and what we saw from those propaganda caricatures and posters, you know where they would draw Japanese soldiers like some sort of short idiots with tiny eyes and crooked teeth. No, these guys were disciplined, tough and well trained. Even as prisoners they maintained their order and showed their pride. Mostly everyone got along - they worked all day long and tried to study Russian. They would surround me, holding their notepads and pencils, all smiling, and ask pointing to a table or a chair, "What is that or what is this," and I'd tell them what's what. They all would nod and write it down. Funny people.

    I served as a guard in Kamchatka for 5 years - 2 years over my term. Many of us back then over-served in the military for 2-3 years, some more. And none of us complained, I didn't hear a single person say a word to the higher-ups that they want to be demobbed. We all understood that we are there for a reason, and that we will stay as long as our country needs us to stay.

    I got back home in 1951. My mom didn't recognize me when she first saw me - I left a boy and returned a man. Shortly after returning home, I continued my education - I wanted to become a geologist at first. I knew that education was the key to life, and I spent 7 years studying. The last two years were at the Moscow State University. Then I went into teaching, and would go on numerous expeditions all around the Soviet Union. I got married, had a kid. After 25 years of hard work I retired.

    I took part in two Victory Parades. One of them was attended by Bill Clinton, by the way! He was up there standing, looking at us marching through the Red Square. That was in 1995. Yes, I have things to reminisce about: I've traveled through the length and breadth of USSR, been to all 16 republics and drank vodka in each of them! I've always written poetry, it just comes to my mind, and sometimes I write it down. But I never considered myself a poet, it's too much of a title for me. I had a long and exciting life and now I often sit here in this room, browse through my photo albums and proudly look back at all those years.

  • Tatiana Kouznetsova,
    Kapustino, RussiaMORE...

    My name is Tatiana Stepanovna Kouznetsova, I was born in Moscow in December of 1924. My mother was a doctor, father was an accountant. Childhood wasn't easy at that time, but I studied well and almost finished my school in 1939 when the war intervened. Just a few days before the war broke out my brother and I were sent to Samara.

    We left Moscow approximately on June 20 and came to Samara literally a half day before the beginning of the war. Our grandmother met us there and everything was fine. And next day the war was suddenly declared. Of course it was terrible. We didn't know what to do. We tried to call to Moscow, but we didn't manage get ahold of anyone.

    And then the war started and I stayed in Samara. I continued my studies and worked in a hospital. II wasn't employed officially because I was underage, but I went there every day to help: applied bandages, ran some errand for doctors, later on I was making injections and taking care of the patients. It was a hospital for wounded soldiers and there were some very serious cases. Soldiers were always very happy to see me. We read to them, told them stories, we recited poems and I danced for them occasionally. So we were doing our best. And of course they fed us at the hospital. It was another thing that stimulated me, because people everywhere really starved at the time. My stepfather worked in the Department of Agriculture and was evacuated to Middle Asia, where he got sick with tuberculosis. So he couldn't help us. And my mom was sent somewhere toward the front lines to work in a field hospital.

    It was a tough time for my family - my grandma was very ill, my mom worked long hours and I felt responsible for my little brother so I took care of him. Besides, I had to study and work in the hospital. I don't remember exactly how I started there - I think someone I know mentioned they could use a hand in the hospital. First I was just helping to make beds and do laundry, then later they started giving me some jobs like tending after injured soldiers, bandage them, bring medicine. Later they would even trust me with working in the operation room during surgeries; nothing serious of course, just general assistance and cleaning.

    Some of the patients got really stuck in my memory. I remember one day a young soldier was rushed in. He was covered in blood, his guts were hanging out of his stomach, burned legs and arms. But the face... His expression was of absolute calmness. He looked at me and said: "It's ok, everything will be fine, sister." I remember this very well. He survived.

    One of patients was very old, and we all nicknamed him Grandpa. He was in a bad way, but he had such a positive attitude and funny way of talking that he made everyone laugh. He'd always tell me "daughter, first we eat and then we talk". I would read to him and he often helped me with my algebra. Because I didn't have any free time, between the school and the hospital I would have to do my homework when I had downtime in the hospital. And often the patients helped to do my it.

    Of course I recall doctors and nurses as well. It was something else... The war can really bring out maximum out of a human being. They worked non-stop and lived in that hospital. Doctors would wake up early in the morning and operate all day and throughout the night, catch a nap here and there and have a bite to eat. Same with nurses. I don't know how these people were living like that but it was a miracle how much they were able to do.

    Even to think about those days is frightening. We had no idea where our parents are and everyday there were the rumors that Germans are getting closer and closer. Finally in the my mom came to visit us on her leave. She was exhausted and sick, she caught typhus somewhere along the way. Thankfully soon she got better. The front was moving westwards so we decided to go back to Moscow.

    In the summer, after we got back to Moscow I was sent with other young kids to a so-called "Labor Front". The country was in ruins towards the end of the war and the State was trying to utilize people to do all sorts of work - general labor, construction, cleaning up the debris etc. Our camp was about 100km south of Moscow and our mission was actually quite funny. Apparently a lot of people in that area had lice and we had to go door to door and inspect each head, literally, for lice. If the family did have lice we would help them get rid of it with pretty old-fashion methods - by sitting them on a very hot furnace, washing and burning their clothing and bedding.

    The war was over soon. It's impossible to explain and describe my feeling when I found out it was over. I was overjoyed, I felt ecstatic. It was like a new beginning, start of a new life. It was pretty funny that day - my little brother who was maybe 12 came back home totally drunk. My mom and I were absolutely shocked. "How?! Why?!" And he looked at us and said very seriously "I was celebrating the Victory Day".

    It sounds strange now but back then everyone was drinking and toasting "To Stalin"! We all believed that he got us through this mess and he will lead us to better life after the war.

    I graduated from my school with very good grades and enrolled in a medical institute after the war. I studied for 5 years and worked in a clinical laboratory. Then, maybe on the third year of my studies I started working as a nurse. I didn't have my diploma yet, I did have my experience in the hospital so they hired me.

    I wanted to go to a graduate school, but due to the fact that my father was repressed because of his political views in the 30's I wasn't accepted. It wasn't clear for me why with such good grades and recommendations I couldn't enroll in 2 separate colleges. And afterwards my mother told me one day, that my real father and academician Nikolai Vavilov were arrested for their scientific and political views before the war. My dad was an agronomist and Doctor of Philosophy. He spent many years in camps and I only saw him one last time at his funeral.

    Later, after Stalin's death the name of my father was restored, and I was treated differently. I did my post-graduate studies and started working in scientific research institute. And in 1960 the Institute gave recommendations to join the World Health Organization. I was among the first group of Russian doctors, who went to work abroad.

    We were sent to study in Geneva for a few months and then ended up in Egypt. I worked with WHO Regional office In Alexandria for more than two years. I concentrated on outbreaks of various diseases in Africa, specifically cholera.

    And when I came back, I was asked to work in the Ministry of Health. I worked there for more than 20 years. I retired in 1984 only because my husband became very ill, but the Minister didn't let me leave the job for another year. My husband was a disabled war veteran, suffered 3 heart attacks and had big problems with his heart. So my only choice was to retire and take care of him.

    First five years after retirement I spent all my time taking care of my husband, his cardiologist even said once that I saved his life by being with him. But I lost him eventually and my life never been the same without him.