Let me tell you stories of four people who once were led by circumstances to the town Slavyansk, in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, in the summer of 1939.
Two of them, Lev and his girlfriend of eight years, Lydia, where slightly older that year than I am now. Lev was 38, and Lydia, 36.
Lydia was one of the three children born into a solid middle-class family who, before the October Revolution, had two properties in Moscow, a small restaurant in the city center and a large apartment nearby, and who, because of it, very nearly were not granted Soviet passports in 1917. They did become citizens in the end, but the mother was sent outside of Moscow and forbidden to live closer than 100 kilometers from it, a very common restriction laid on criminals, homeless and various other undesirables during the Soviet era. The children were not obliged to join her, but the youngest, Kira, left with her mother while Lydia and their eldest brother Apollon remained in Moscow.
Apollon went on to become a Dr. Sci. in Technology and a Professor at the Moscow Aviation Institute, which was not easy for someone of his origins. It was rumoured that at one point he either denounced or was pressured to denounce his mother, another common practice in the Soviet Union, and this understandably caused a lot of tension between the three siblings.
Lydia, for her part, occupied a senior administrative position in a publishing house which was where she met Lev, an accountant.
Lev came from a family with seven children that, while less well-to-do than Lydia's, was still solid enough to put all of their children, two boys and five girls, through gymnasiums and then give them whatever career education they desired. Lev's elder sister Tanya, the one he was closest to, became a school teacher and taught Russian and Russian Literature for more than 50 years.
Before meeting Lydia, Lev had served in the Red Army and been in a short relationship in which he had a child, a girl also named Lydia, who died when she was two years old.
Lev and Lydia spent their summer holiday in Slavyansk and returned to Moscow, where three years later they had a little girl of their own.
In the same year in Slavyansk there also lived a younger girl of 21 whose name was Anya.
Anya was born in a large peasant family in a village near Orel town in Russia, and was the only girl to survive infancy along with her five brothers. As the only girl, she was her mother's favourite. As her mother lay dying, she made Anya, who was only 11 at the time, promise that the girl would continue to learn past the primary school in the nearby village where all of the children went on foot, or on ski, or on rare occasions in a neighbour's cart.
Anya kept her promise, something she would have been unable to do under the "Old regime", and first went to a boarding school in Orel, and then to a railway college in Moscow, where she stayed with the family of her elder brother Mikhail. After graduation, she was sent to Ukraine, worked on the railway in Slavyansk and was also part of the town's komsomol committee.
Both in college and in Slavyansk, Anya had many suitors, and then a fiancé called Boris, a miner. And it was in Slavyansk that she met Nikolai, another railway worker who came from a family of railway workers living in the Russian town Tuma. Nikolai, who was then 24, was smitten with Anya, but she was neither free nor interested.
But then tragedy struck, and Boris was killed in a mining accident. Nikolai continued to pursue Anya and ask her to become his wife during his work trips to Slavyansk. After two years, she gave in, married Nikolai and returned to Russia with him. This happened not long before Ukraine was occupied by the Nazi Germany. All of the members of Slavyansk's komsomol committee who remained in town were killed during the war.
Nikolai and Anya moved a lot during the first years of their marriage due to the nature of his work. At one time, Nikolai was assistant head of the entire railway system in Vladimir, a town 200 kilometers from Moscow. He would hardly have been given a post this high under the "Old regime". Eventually, they settled in Vladimir and had two boys.
Lydia and Lev are my maternal grandparents, and Anya and Nikolai are my paternal ones. They never met in Slavyansk to our knowledge, and Lev died before my mother finished school, but it is curious that that one long ago summer all four of them were in the same small Southern town so far from home.
- Current Mood: nostalgic