A SHORT STORY of MY LONG LIFE by Tatiana Trusova

We are very pleased to present a memoir written by Tania Trusova, a congregation member. It talks about growing up in Poland and Moscow and moving to Ireland to begin a new life.

Chapter One: The Early Years

EARLY CHILDHOOD

I was born on January 20th 1950 in Poland. I know it sounds confusing as my origins are 100 per cent Russian.

My father joined the Soviet army at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (the name the Soviet Union used for the Eastern Front of World War II) as a young soldier; he was seriously wounded at the end of the war. After an intensive language course, he was sent on a mission to “restore order in post-war Poland”. He was fluent in Polish and wore Polish Army uniform there. My parents lived in Poland for five years and had both their children there. As I understand it they moved around Poland a lot due to the nature of his work; they didn’t talk much about it later.

After finishing his assignment in Poland, my father studied at the Military Academy of Logistics and Transport in Leningrad, and our family lived there for six years. Again, the family moved a lot, usually renting just one room in a tenement for all four of us, so packing/moving/settling was a normal part of life for me from an early age.

I had a happy childhood with my stay at home mother, always busy with housework (there were no washing machines, refrigerators, or any other home appliances then). Sometimes she would take me to the cinema for a midday show while my older sister was at school. I still remember watching the old American film Gaslight; I wanted to become a grown-up woman, as beautiful as the enigmatic actress in this foreign film! I also remember a big flood in Leningrad in 1956.

At the age of six, I started ballet classes and even had a small role as a mouse in a real ballet on a big stage. I still remember the excitement of waiting behind the curtain for my turn to dance on stage! Unfortunately, my ballet career soon finished as my father had completed his studies and was sent to Latvia – military families don’t choose where to live and work.

I am about three, taken in Moscow, 1953
Picture taken in Moscow, 1954, I am four.

AN OUTGOING CHILD

I was a very outgoing child, sometimes too outgoing! Luckily nothing bad happened to me, but I made my mother cry – more than once.

While living in Leningrad till the age of seven I had done the following: When neighbours from our long corridor jokingly suggested that I move in with them – I easily agreed and went home to pack my belongings. My mother got upset.

When my uncle, visiting us from Moscow, ‘wanted to bring me back to Moscow in his suitcase’, I immediately tried to see if I could fit in it – as if nothing kept me at home.

Picture taken in Leningrad, 1952.
I am in the middle, with my mother and sister.

When a complete stranger wanted to ‘borrow’ me, playing outside without supervision, I went with her. The reason was that they were selling eggs from a truck two blocks away from our house, giving ten eggs per person, so she took me with her temporarily – to get more eggs. We were queueing for a while; my mother was looking for me and panicked.

Once another woman unknown to my parents befriended me (I believe she was childless) and brought me to her apartment. I liked her place: spacious and beautifully decorated. I especially liked her figurines of children playing with animals. I promised her that I would move in with her and become her daughter without delay – after letting my mum know. My mother cried again.

Quite often I left the area where I was allowed to play to look for treasures. Leningrad had been under prolonged siege and had been heavily bombarded during the recent war and some nearby buildings were still in ruins. We children liked to dig in the area around the ruins; sometimes the lucky ones found shards of beautiful china and we proudly displayed our findings to each other before adding them to a ‘treasure box’.

Once I wandered away from my family in a big park and got lost. Sorry, mum, I had a whole world around me to explore !

LIVING CONDITIONS IN LENINGRAD

The worst living conditions we had in Leningrad were when our family of four had just moved there in 1952. We were renting a corner of a not very big room, sharing it with two permanent residents: a middle-aged woman and a young woman – her daughter. The son of the family was in prison, and they were basically renting out his bed in the corner of the room. My parents slept in this bed, while my sister and I (four and two years old respectively) both slept on the large suitcase.

I am not sure how long we stayed there, but I do have memories of the young woman brushing her long curly hair in front of the mirror beside ‘our corner’ of the room.

After that, we were renting a room from a family who went to Siberia for several years as part of Stalin’s Industrialisation of Siberia project – to work in harsh conditions, but with higher pay than they would get in Leningrad. It didn’t last as long as expected: one day, on New Year’s Eve, my parents got a telegram informing us that they were coming back as their child had died suddenly, and we had to move out immediately. We were left without a roof over our heads instead of celebrating the New Year.

Somehow my parents found another place to stay, where I slept in some kind of utility room without windows, on a chest filled with our family belongings.

Our next place was a proper room in a multiple room tenement: maybe seven rooms in a corridor, sharing the kitchen and the toilet. It was on the lowest level of the building, practically in a basement – all we could see from our window, looking up, were the legs of the passers-by. During the big flood of 1956, the upper-level residents took us to stay with them temporarily – our building was very near to the Neva river, with the big grey navy ship docked there within short walking distance, and we were in real danger of being flooded. This is when I saw TV for the first time – staying with upstairs neighbours.

From what I remember all our neighbours were friendly and supportive of each other, and I was a favourite one for getting treats and sharing jokes. One of the neighbours ‘suspected’ me of turning into a cat at night and walking around freely – and I half-believed him.

Not knowing anything different I perceived our life as normal and was a happy child (singing, dancing, and skipping rope till I got holes in the soles of my shoes!), but I am glad that my grandchildren don’t have to live like that.

Our life in Leningrad wasn’t all about survival, we also enjoyed its outstanding architecture and world-class museums, historical parks and very many sculptures, the famous ballet and cinemas with not only Soviet but also foreign films – the trophies of WW2.

My favourite game was to run from statue to statue in the famous Summer Garden, designed by Tsar Peter the Great in 1704, and copy the poses of its historical, mythological and allegorical figures. It was great fun!

Remember Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin?:

‘A mild rebuke, a sharp remark, Then off to ramble in the park.’

Russian poet Anna Akhmatova dedicated one of her most romantic poems to the garden:

The Summer Garden

I long for the roses in that singular garden
With the world’s best ironwork fence,
Where the statues remember me in my youth
And I remember them under the Neva in flood…

Chapter Two: School Years

SCHOOL AND RIGA UNIVERSITY

During my school years, we lived in Latvia, in the relatively small city of Daugavpils. It was the kind of place where you walk everywhere: to school, to a friend’s house, to the market, in the park, to the cinema, along the riverbank and to a sandy beach…

At lunchtime my father would come home, eat, and even have a little nap – all in one hour!

We didn’t have any problems with the Latvian language as historically Daugavpils was a Russian-speaking town, with a predominantly Russian population: there were ten Russian schools there and just one Latvian. Our living conditions gradually improved; at the end of my school years, our family lived in a three-room apartment with our own phone – a heavy black apparatus with a dial.

I was a good student but didn’t pay enough attention to my English language lessons, assuming that I would never have a chance to use it in real life. The Soviet Union was isolated from the rest of the world and everything outside it felt somewhat unreal.

Photo taken in Daugavpils, 1965,
I am Fifteen.

My parents enrolled me in a Children’s Folk Dance group; we would rehearse dances from around the world and perform at day-care centres, nursing homes, and even in a prison for young offenders. I was getting the spirit of other nations through their dances, not through language or history.

During my fifth grade at school, we had a Mathematical Olympiad; I got a high score and was hooked on solving mathematical problems. My folk dancing stopped then: no more dancing for me for the next forty years!

After finishing school I got a place in the Mathematics and Physics department at Riga University. From the age of seventeen, I lived in student accommodation (sharing a room with three other students), studied at university, and worked at Pioneer camp (the Soviet equivalent of Scouts) during the summer.

For various reasons, both political and personal, I never had a feeling of belonging while living in Riga, and after two years there my life changed once again.

MORE ABOUT DAUGAVPILS

My ten years of life in Daugavpils were all about school, folk dancing, music school (I endured seven years of learning to play the piano – my parents’ choice, not mine!), love of mathematics, and about playing with other children outdoors.

Every day on my way to school, I passed by the cobblestone town square. Normally it was empty but every spring there was a travelling circus based there, and I would stop for a moment to listen to the roaring tigers or motorcycles riding the vertical circular wall – in preparation for the show.

Next to my school, there was a market selling local produce. Jews bought live chickens there for their Saturday dinner. Jewish men wearing black hats would bring their chicken to synagogue for some ritual, and then chop off its head, pluck its feathers and cook it. There was a significant Jewish population in Daugavpils and many of my friends were Jewish.

My chore was to go to the market to buy kerosene since my mother cooked food for us on a kerosene stove.

It was later replaced by a gas stove. Just outside my school, there was a tram line. The tramline connected the town centre with Daugavpils fortress – the only fortress in Eastern Europe from the first half of the 19th century, preserved almost intact. There was a military school located in the fortress; some of my classmates lived there with their military families. Access to the fortress was restricted – only for pass holders. Once or twice my classmates’ parents organized an excursion for us there.

The military school was the only educational institution for boys in the town; for girls, there was a teacher training college. The usual way of life for me would be to graduate from a teacher training college and marry a graduate of a military school. It didn’t appeal to me, I wanted something different, I wanted more, and was ready to work hard for that. It meant perfecting my math skills to get a place at university away from home.

RUSSIANS IN LATVIA

During 1967-1969 I lived and studied at the University in Riga – something in between Russia and Western Europe (not just geographically, but in culture, architecture, lifestyle …).

I will give you just one example of the anti-Russian atmosphere then in this otherwise wonderful city.

We, both Russian and Latvian students, lived in student accommodation in multi-storey blocks – four blocks altogether. Every time one of the Russian football teams played a match on TV there was big trouble coming!

Russian students obviously always supported the Russian team, but all the Latvians supported their opponents, regardless of who they were and how well they played, and it had nothing to do with football, but with politics.

During each game, the atmosphere in the common area with the TV had been heating up and at the end of the game there were fights between Russian and non-Russian (or should I say anti-Russian) team supporters – Latvian students; quite often these confrontations ended badly and the police were called.

Regardless of who had won the other side was a loser! While one side celebrated, the other got upset and aggressive.

There were no peaceful exchanges between the opponents but hate from Latvians against ‘Russian occupants’. The Russians, in turn, saw themselves as Latvian ‘liberators’ from Nazi Germany – ‘Latvians should be grateful for that!’

A short historical note:

In 1940 the Soviet Red Army moved into independent Latvia, which was soon incorporated into the Soviet Union. The Independent Latvian Republic became a Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic.

Nazi Germany then held Latvia from 1941 to 1944, when it was retaken by the Red Army. They could never agree – and I am not taking sides here, but it wasn’t pleasant to be surrounded by these kinds of confrontations.

THERE WAS THIS BOY

We met in first grade at school in Daugavpils when we were seven years old; we were at the same school for some time. Also, our parents knew each other through work, and we heard about each other from our parents occasionally.

At fourteen we met again, at another school, in the advanced mathematics class. After finishing school we both continued our studies in Riga.

In Riga, we studied in different places, me – at the University, and him – at the Institute of Aviation Engineers, but we had mutual friends.

And all those years I liked him – a lot! It prevented me from meeting other boys and from having a proper boyfriend, as the other ‘normal’ girls did. I ignored all my admirers – I didn’t want anybody else.

In Riga, we bumped into each other at friends’ birthdays, students’ outings, and other similar events, and when we did – we talked, understanding each other with just a half-word, laughed, and kissed passionately (away from the crowd) – and that’s all. There was no continuous relationship between us, just occasions.

At nineteen I had an important decision to make: to move to Moscow with my parents and try to transfer to Moscow University or stay in Riga.

Deep inside I knew that he didn’t like me the same way as I liked him, which was a lot, but I needed to hear it from him, so that I could make my decision with open eyes, instead of staying in Riga with false hopes, or leaving and regretting it.

We arranged to meet and talk. We met on a cold dark evening in the park. He wore a red checked woollen scarf and it suited him.

We had a good conversation: not very long, but mature, open, and honest. I told him about my dilemma and asked if he could give me a reason to stay. He told me what a wonderful girl I was (smart, beautiful, …). ‘I like girls’ he said, ‘and you are one of the girls I like’.

We agreed that it wasn’t enough reason for me to stay. We exchanged a friendly hug and went our separate ways.

I was a little sad, but it wasn’t dark and heavy sadness (his answer didn’t shock me), my sadness was light. This rendezvous set me free, and I had a lot to do.

The Moscow State University was (and still is) the best educational institution in the whole country, and transfer there wasn’t automatic – I had to pass tests first, and now I was ready for the challenge. My ties with Riga were cut – life had something new in store for me. Cover

Chapter Three: Moscow University
The main building,
Moscow State University.

MOSCOW UNIVERSITY and FIRST LOVE

In his late forties, my father was transferred to the General Staff of the Soviet Army in Moscow. It was a dramatic change for him, from being his own boss at Daugavpils railway station to a relatively small figure in the huge military organization in the capital city. For me, it was a chance to move to Moscow as a family member (we couldn’t move freely even within our own country).

As Moscow State University ranked much higher than Riga university, in order to get a transfer there I had to prove to the algebra professor that I understood the subject! Studying at Moscow University was so much harder than in Riga, and I wasn’t one of the best students anymore. I felt so small and insignificant there…

My first love wasn’t easy either: At twenty I met a Ph.D. Philosophy student from Syria. He was ten years older than me and, as I can understand now, experienced with women. From the very beginning of our romance, we knew that he had to leave the country in less than two years. There were a lot of tears and heartbreaking conversations about what we could do… Marriage wasn’t an option: by Soviet law, I couldn’t marry a foreigner without legal permission from my parents (regardless of my age), and they strongly objected. Any involvement with a foreign person at that time would be considered as “betrayal of your own country” and would ruin my father’s military career. My broken relationship with my parents was never repaired. Nevertheless,

I got my university degree and started working as a software developer.

FIRST JOB AND MARRIAGE

There was a big group of recent graduates at my first workplace, and very soon we became friends – all young and free! We would exchange books and vinyl records, play tennis and poker, go to the cinema and theatre, play guitar and sing songs, go camping and kayaking…

We also worked together on the Soviet supercomputer project. With time we split into couples and married each other – there was nothing dramatic about it, just the time came to start families. This is how I can see things now; of course, then we all thought that we were in love! However, most of these marriages didn’t last.

The one I chose to marry, later became the father of my two children. My youth was over, and my whole life was turned into motherhood for the next 25 years – and I loved it!

I am on the right, camping in the Moscow region, 1974.
On the beach in Riga, 1974.
I am on the right, in red.

WORKING LIFE AND SUPERCOMPUTER

Most of my working life I worked on the supercomputer project as a systems programmer/software developer.

The longest project I was involved in was the Soviet supercomputer Electronica SSBIS, which was basically an attempt to recreate an American Cray-1 Vector Supercomputer; we had to develop our own SYSTEM SOFTWARE – complicated programs, which make computer hardware work.

This almost 15-year long project was never completed, as the Soviet supercomputer manufacturer ceased operations after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, and all the work around it has stopped.

Well, for years it kept our brains working!

I was assigned to computerise our Institute library and maintain its database – a much easier, but boring task. From my mid-forties, my work-life stagnated as well as my personal life – only motherhood kept me going. It was time for a change!

My daughter Olga, and me.
In Kuskovo park, Moscow, 1979
With my son Alex,
in Kuskovo park, Moscow, 1983

RAISING FAMILY

Raising children in Soviet Russia, and later during Perestroika, wasn’t easy (it never is!), but I loved being a mother, my children were my life. I would rush home after work to be with my children! They were great kids, an older sister and a younger brother, but I did lose my patience with them occasionally.

The main thing we as parents agreed on was giving our children a good education. We enrolled them in an English language school instead of a local school. They had to travel to school by metro and were getting much more homework, with English lessons every day and higher standards in other school subjects. It all paid off in the end – they both live in America, with good jobs, and raise their own children there. They both graduated from Moscow State University before moving abroad.

Paradoxically, I had a good family but a bad marriage and wasn’t happy for a long time. Our family as a unit worked, but a couple’s connection and intimacy weren’t there due to my husband’s personality. I couldn’t live like that any longer but didn’t see a way to change it.

Then Ireland happened…

In front of our apartment block in Moscow, 1984
with my children Olga and Alex.

 

Chapter Four: Move to Ireland

MOVING TO IRELAND

In 2001 my then husband got a job offer from a multinational computer company in Dublin – Ireland was looking for a skilled workforce then. By this stage, there was nothing marital between us, and I felt trapped and unhappy.

Despite our personal relationship, we decided to move to Ireland together: He needed practical help to settle in a new country, and I wanted to try something new – keeping in mind that I could always come back to Russia.

I never regretted my decision to move to Ireland, where a whole new world had opened for me! More than eighteen years after the big move, I am still here, happily retired and separated now, and dancing again!

WELCOME to the UK from VODAFONE!

It was the year 2001 when I had just started my new life in Ireland. I had permission to stay in Ireland (and Ireland only) on a residence visa, as long as my husband had employment there. We lived in a small town on the Northside of Dublin.

I felt full of enthusiasm to learn about how people lived here and what they did. Although a non-religious person I even attended both local St. Patrick’s churches, Catholic and Church of Ireland. I couldn’t believe that what I saw at the services there was actually happening (were they serious?). I took the Catholic Mass to be some kind of ‘religious theatrical performance’.

I would read all the notices in a free local newspaper and the notice board at the shopping centre. I didn’t have easy Internet access then, and it wasn’t as developed as it is now anyway.

Donabate Senior Citizens club was organizing an outing and invited newcomers to join – should I contact them? I called the organizers and tried to explain that although I was not ‘over 55’ yet, I would be grateful if they allowed me to join their trip as I was very new here and didn’t know anybody. They somehow understood my poor English and agreed.

On the arranged day and time a big coach picked me up: comfortable seats, pleasant music, friendly grey-haired people – so far so good! Until I got a message on my Vodafone mobile – “Welcome to the UK!”. OMG, I had unintentionally crossed an invisible border; I had broken the law and violated my visa! Now I could be expelled from Ireland and never allowed to come back!

It never occurred to me to check in advance if our destination was within the Republic of Ireland – I didn’t know much about the island of Ireland being divided, what kind of border existed between Ireland and Northern Ireland, about the different currency they used – any of that. And suddenly I became a criminal, an illegal border violator, and could be severely punished! I could be even prosecuted and imprisoned! One stupid mistake could cost me everything…

A friendly elderly lady (we later became good friends) beside me noticed that I suddenly got upset and asked me what had happened? She reassured me that I’d be fine, that nobody would check our documents or question me and discover my ‘crime’. To be on the safe side she asked everyone on my behalf ‘not to talk to Tanya during our stay in Northern Ireland’ – so that my strong Slavic accent wouldn’t be exposed and wouldn’t raise suspicions.

On my safe return to my new home, it was time to learn about Irish history and the current political situation – and I did.

LIFE BEFORE IRISH CITIZENSHIP

I came to Ireland in good faith that I could work there, but how wrong I was! Nobody explained to me about different types of visas, and I didn’t have a chance to research it in advance – that all happened so fast!

As a spouse of the person on a working visa, I got a residential visa – without the right to work here.

I could only apply for Citizenship after five years of living in Ireland permanently; the processing of my application took another three (!) years – Irish citizenship was in high demand then as it is now!

A lot has happened in those eight years: studying English and doing some other adult education courses; improving my speaking with ToastMasters; volunteering with the local Credit Union, and later – the Irish League of Credit Unions (on the Developing Credit Unions in Russia project); helping Russian speakers at Swords Citizens Information Centre; walking with An Oige; doing yoga and fitness classes; dancing (circle dances from around the world); attending Dublin Unitarian Church; travelling around Ireland.

Sometimes I think that I met the best people in Ireland! Friendly and supportive walkers, dancers, speakers, volunteers, and, of course, Unitarians – thank you all!

Citizens Information volunteers
Swords, Dublin. April 2008

Before moving to America my children came to Ireland for short visits – they understood why I loved living here. Later I would visit them – as often as I could.

The rules concerning the spouse of a working person changed recently for the better: new arrangements mean spouses of Ireland Green Card holders can apply for an employment permit to work in Ireland. I wish it had been done years ago! I got my long-awaited Irish Citizenship in June 2009.

Dublin Unitarian Church membership Sunday,
October 2007

STUDY AND WORK IN IRELAND

The day after getting my Citizenship certificate I went to FAS and applied for the Progression in Financial Services course at the National College of Ireland – thanks to volunteering with Citizenship Information I knew where to start for getting back to work! I was not discriminated against because of my age (59) or nationality (Russian) and was admitted to the course – the Anti-Discrimination law worked!

This short course was partly funded by big international banks, as during the time of the Celtic Tiger they were expanding and needed to fill positions quickly. By 2009 the Tiger was long dead, and we were the last on this course – the banks didn’t need it anymore.

As part of our four months long intensive studies (with most of the students much younger than my own children), we had work placements. I got a place at the State Street International banking company. Long commute, long working hours, young dynamic environment – I worked hard to fit in! Very soon I felt accepted and appreciated.

After the work experience and successful college exams I got a contract with the State Street bank – only three students from the thirty graduates of our course got contracts, the others were free to go back to being unemployed.

I understand that it sounds like bragging, but I was really excited and proud of myself – and also afraid of how I would cope.

Working on a short-term contract is hard (and pay is low) – you never know if it will be renewed, and you can’t make plans for your future. After three consecutive contracts, I was out of work again.

One day I got a phone call asking me to come back! After two more short contracts, they offered me a permanent position (I was almost 60 then)!

I had my own little glass office (I called it the “aquarium”) in the middle of the big open plan office, working alone with confidential computer documents. The workload was very high and demanded constant concentration; I often felt exhausted, but I really needed this job for my financial independence.

I applied for a legal separation (a very long and costly process!). Sharing a house during the separation was very hard and I tried to spend as little time at home as possible. I continued my circle dancing, walking weekends and the Unitarian church on Sunday; I made some good friends. I would travel to see my children every year. Being unhappy in my marriage didn’t keep me from being happy in many other ways!

In 2012 I sold my apartment in Moscow and bought a little apartment in Ireland.

At last, I became independent and free ! ! ! My legal separation went through; I never divorced – happy as I am now.

We got Jobs!
Photoshoot for the Irish Examiner at
the National College of Ireland, June 2010.

INSIDE an ‘AQUARIUM’

It was the start of a long working day. As usual, I worked alone in my little glass office in the middle of the big open plan office, processing confidential financial documents.

A work email addressed to all the staff arrived – advising about ‘a very important client’ visiting our office later that day and asking us to be sure that our workstations were clean and tidy. If this client chose our company as their financial partner it would bring us significant new income! Competition in the banking and investment industry was very great and we had to give the impression that we were the best.

‘No harm to take a little break and tidy up’ I thought. First, I arranged paperwork on my desk, then noticed some staples and small pieces of paper on the carpet and decided to pick them up. And here I was, a sixty-year-old woman, crawling on the floor on all fours, fully concentrated on finding and picking up small bits and pieces… To my horror, I realized the moment I looked up, that ‘a very important client’ was there already – a delegation of formally dressed men and women was standing just outside my office staring at me. They all were watching my strange behaviour with astonishment – not sure for how long…

‘No panic’ I told myself, stood up from the floor with elegance, calmly nodded to the group outside, gracefully returned to my seat, and resumed some unfinished work as though nothing had happened – without losing face. They left.

A lesson learned: be careful when you work or live in a glass box!

HAPPY RETIREMENT

I am not spoiled and live a simple, but decent, life. For example, I live without a car – just five minutes walk from the train station and even nearer to the bus stop.

Retirement from State Street, January 2015.

My priorities, after paying the bills, health insurance, and buying groceries – yoga and dancing classes, little trips around Ireland, occasional theatre or concert, an interesting workshop, annual trips to America to see children and grandchildren; also – buying a new dress from time to time! Being in good health I have enough energy (and money) for all that and consider myself lucky.

For the last five summers, my eldest granddaughter (I have three grandchildren now!) has stayed with me here in Ireland for a month; we do things and go places together – happy times! So many pleasures in life are free – a walk on the beach or in the park, croquet games with friends at Newbridge house, singing hymns with others, good conversations …

Knowing that children and grandchildren are doing well is important, but I do realise that I am not responsible for them anymore.

The important feature of my retirement is being responsible for myself – keeping in good health and spirit. Of course, helping your community and family gives your life deeper meaning, but now you do it by choice, not because you have to. At this stage of life, I feel that I don’t owe anything to anybody and nobody owes me anything; all I do for others or others do for me is by choice, without expecting anything in return, and there is a great sense of freedom in that.

Wishing everyone a happy retirement at some stage – after all of the pressures of life!

On a walking weekend in Kilkee, September 2018.
Visiting California at almost 70, December 2019.
Chapter Five: Family Tree

MY PARENTS

I am returning to my roots. Previous generations didn’t talk much about the past and didn’t criticize the authorities – it was dangerous. This is what I know and remember…

My future parents met in Moscow in 1945. The war was just over with the Soviet and Allied victory over Nazi Germany, and it was widely celebrated! Every family lost somebody in this cruel war. My mother, Lidia Zvereva, lost her father, Alexandr Ivanovich Zverev.

My mother, a first-year student in the Moscow Foreign Languages Institute (she studied French), was trying to get a cinema ticket and my father helped her to skip the queue, pretending that she was with him. Good looking Lieutenant, just back from the frontline, a war hero, made an impression! It didn’t take long before they got married.

ater, in family life, he was the provider for the family; she was the housekeeper and the one who made all the important decisions. As they say, the Colonel’s wife is a General.

They raised and educated two children – my sister Elena and I, and had three grandchildren.

My mother died at the age of 69 (war survivors often suffered from poor health), and my father survived her by less than two years – may they rest in peace.

My older sister Elena also died early, at seventy; we were very different people and were not close.

I am on the right, with my parents and sister.
Just back from Poland, Moscow, 1951.
I am on the left, with my grandmother, mother, and sister, Moscow, 1951.

MY FATHER

My father, Ivan Petrovich Molyakov, was born in 1923. He originated from a small village called Krasnie Holmi (Red Hills) in Voronezh Oblast in the Central region of Russia. He was a war hero, a self-made man: from a private to a Colonel of the Soviet Army. In a sense, the war gave him this opportunity. For years his local school proudly kept his portrait on its wall of fame.

There was only an elementary school in his village. To continue his education at the school in a bigger village my father walked several miles through the woods every day, with only a couple of carrots for his lunch. He finished school with high marks.

At the age of eighteen, he was taken into the army – according to Soviet law, all men of this age were drafted into the army. In peacetime, it would be for two years, but the Great Patriotic War had just started, and he fought in the war from beginning to end (1941-1945). Near the end of the war, he was taken to hospital with serious wounds (several bullets went through his leg).

My father chose to serve in the army professionally: soon after the war, he was on a mission in Poland for five years, then studied in the military academy in Leningrad for another five years. He worked for military logistics and transportation: first in Latvia, then – in Moscow. He was an honest and hardworking person, who served his country and was dedicated to his family – and yes, he was a member of the Communist Party; there was nothing sinister about that. One couldn’t serve in the army professionally without joining the Communist Party.

My father at the end of the Second World War, 1945

Nobody could say a bad word about him; well, he had a temper but was generally a kind man. My American born grandson is named Ivan after his great-granddad.

My uncle Vladimir, who was a brilliant student, also chose a military career – a natural choice with the wave of patriotism in post-war Russia. He later became an artillery General in the Soviet Army.

My generation didn’t follow in our fathers’ footsteps: we chose different careers and avoided joining the Communist Party, although an enrollment into the children’s pioneer organization and the youth communist organization Komsomol was practically automatic and unquestioned – with extremely rare exceptions. We, like all children, were accepted into the pioneer organization at the same age as Catholic First Communion here, and to Komsomol – at the same age as Confirmation (but with different rituals!). One of the many striking similarities between the communist party and organized religion.

My father when he was promoted to Colonel, Moscow, 1984
My uncle, General Vladimir Aleksandrovich Zverev, Moscow, 1984

MY PATERNAL GRANDPARENTS

My paternal grandfather, Petr Molyakov, also fought in a war – the First World war. He was shell-shocked and captured; he spent many years in Germany as a farm labourer. I heard that the farmer’s daughter in Germany had children with him. This is why I am connected by blood to some unknown people in Germany.

Later, my grandfather returned home, to a small village in Central Russia. The locals gave him the nickname ’German’. After the collectivisation carried out by the Soviet government in the late 1920s – early 1930s, he worked on a collective farm. He and my grandmother Ekaterina raised four children: my father Ivan and his three sisters – Tatiana, Vera, and Zoya; they all had families.

Our family visited my grandparents when I was seven (it was a long train journey!) – the only time I met them. I remember eating ripe juicy cherries from the tree; I remember being frightened by a big goat; I remember my grandmother lying in bed behind a curtain – dying from cancer. I also remember the earthen floor in their thatched-roof white hut. Old Irish cottages remind me of my grandparents’ house.

During my childhood in Leningrad, our family got the same present once a year from my grandfather – a slaughtered piglet, delivered by post in a plywood box; my mother roasted it whole for our New Year celebration dinner.

My grandfather died in an accident, a bad fall, in his early seventies. He tried to jump over a ditch, tripped and fell damaging his internal organs. My grandmother had died of cancer long before that.

My maternal grandparents, Moscow, late 1800s

MY MATERNAL GRANDPARENTS

My maternal grandmother Serafima Petrovna Galkina was born and raised in a farmer’s family in Chernyshevo village, Moscow region, in the early 1900s.

There were 12 children in the family: five of them died early, and seven survived – quite a normal survival rate for that time.

My grandmother’s only education was three years of elementary school with three subjects: Russian Language, Arithmetic and Religion (Russian Orthodox). She carried her religious beliefs through all her life, and later would secretly tell us, her grandchildren, stories about Jesus (I loved these stories!).

All the farmer’s children worked on the farm from an early age. As a teenager my grandmother would bring a heavy cistern of milk to Moscow for sale: she would carry it to the train station, walking through the fields in bare feet, and only put shoes on when on the train – so that her only shoes would last longer.

During the busy summer period, the family would hire temporary workers; this is why after the Great October Revolution (1917) and Civil War (1917-1922), in a period of dispossession in the early 1930s, Bolsheviks considered the father of the family an exploiter and sent him to a Siberian labour camp, where he soon died of heart failure from the hard labour.

As an attractive young woman, my grandmother met her future husband at the regular Saturday dance in her area. They married and had two children: my mother Lidia and her younger brother Vladimir.

My maternal grandfather Alexandr Ivanovich Zverev was from a well-off Moscow family: they had owned a textile store (fabric shop) on the main Moscow street (Tverskaya) and lived in a spacious apartment above the store. All that was taken from the family by the Soviet authorities, and they were given one small room in a long corridor with 40 rooms and one common kitchen and toilet.

My grandfather was well educated and during the Soviet era worked in the civil service. During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) he served in the army doing clerical work. The military office he worked in on the Smolensk front was bombed by the Luftwaffe and my grandfather was killed.

My grandmother was left alone to raise two teenage children during the war, and they barely survived a lack of food and the dangers of war (Moscow was often bombed); this affected their health all their lives.

My memories from visiting my grandmother in Moscow as a child – a strong smell from her Tatar neighbours cooking horse meat (being a curious child I tried it!). Muslim Tatars peacefully coexisted with their Russian neighbours.

When my parents moved to Moscow in 1969 my grandmother lived with us in a three-room apartment. She died from cancer in her mid-seventies. She was highly respected by her children and grandchildren.

My grandparents with their daughter,
my mother, Lidia. Moscow, 1926

MY GRANDMOTHER’S PHOTOGRAPH

This family photograph was taken in 1916 in a photo studio in Moscow. It was taken by a professional photographer.

The image we look at now is a printed copy of the original photograph scanned and saved in electronic form. I believe that my daughter has the original, as she was the last from the family who moved abroad: I was the first, and my son was the second. Before leaving Russia he scanned all the family photos so that they became available to any of us regardless of where we live.

I look at the photo now identifying myself with my young grandmother Serafima (Sima). I imagine this is what she would say:

I am with my father Petr and older sister Anfisa; I am 14 years old.

The photographer arranged our little group so that our father is sitting in a chair in the middle of the composition; he is a central figure in the photo as he was in our family.

My sister Anfisa and I are standing on both sides of our father (I am on the left) with our hands resting on his shoulders. We all have serious facial expressions. You can see the working hands of all three of us – the children helped around the farm from an early age.

On the photo background, one can see typical Russian rural scenery, similar to the area where we live on our farm.

For taking family photos we came from our village to Moscow by train; this trip was planned well ahead. Our parents told us to wear our best clothes, to wash and comb our hair so that we would look our best. It was a big deal – going to Moscow, and a big expense for the family, but it was important for us to have good quality family photos on the family house walls. Several other family photos, with my mother Praskovia and my other siblings, were taken on the same day.

The photo is black and white (colour photographs didn’t exist then), but it’s a good quality family portrait taken just before the October Revolution (1917) and the following Civil war, which scattered the family from rural Moscow to Siberia.

We didn’t know about those future tragic events and about our stable and decent life coming to an end, but we could feel the change in the air.

Based on this photograph I can be proud of my roots.