Interview recorded:Village Stara Ushytsia, Kamianets-Podilskyi district, Khmelnytskyi region
I was born in 1933. At the age of seven I went to school. I had just finished the first grade. As soon as I started the second school grade, the war broke out.
Why didn’t your father join the Soviet army at the beginning of the war?
When the war started, the mobilization was not ordered. The village was conquered by the Nazis at the very beginning of the war. Their conquest was as fast as lightning.
How was the invasion carried out?
The invasion of the village was carried out quietly. There was not even any shot to be heard there – absolutely nothing.
Did the locals try to resist the invasion?
Back then it was not like it is now. People just kept staying peacefully and quietly in their homes. There was no one who dared to come outside. Otherwise the Nazis would have shot them.
Were there any Jewish people in the village? If there were any, how did the Nazis treat them?
There were a lot of Jewish people in our village. All of them were shot. I guess that it happened in 1942. They were forced to go up the high hill. The Nazis opened the fire there. They couldn’t kill everyone, so that even those, who were still alive, were covered by earth. The Nazis didn’t bother killing children; they just threw them into the dug hole and filled it up. That hole was „breathing” for two days long. The Jews had dug the hole on their own. There were two huge graves. I don’t know how many thousands of people had been killed there.
How did you get to know what had happened?
My grandfather told me, because I hadn’t been there.
Being kind, we only went up to one hill in order to see what was going on. We saw millions of Jews standing on the hill opposite to that one we stood on. The Jews had been forced to go there on foot.
How did the Nazis treat the local inhabitants?
The Nazis’ behaviour was more or less human. But our people, who joined them, were terrible. According to my grandfather’s words, when the shooting was taking place, the Nazis were sitting on the benches while the betrayers were doing all the black work. Those Nazis kept laughing and saying, „The Russian man is killing the Russian man“.
What happened to your mother during the World War II?
They took my brother to Germany. My mother went to see him off. When they reached the hill, which was situated in the village next to ours, she realized that she had forgotten to take money for my brother. Thus, having come down from the hill to the valley, she returned home really fast, took the money and managed to reach catch them only in the village Grushka. On her way back home she went to our aunt’s house. Although the mother was sweating, she drank some cold water. I don’t remember exactly when it happened. Probably in October or September she caught pneumonia. My mother died in January 1943.
My youngest brother was not even 1 year old then. My grandmother was taking care of him and looking after all of us.
Did your life change in any way when the Nazis invaded the village?
We lived how we used to live before. However, there were not any collective farms. People got a piece of land and worked as they could. The Nazis were not preventing them from it in any way.
What was the Nazis’ attitude to religion, which people used to follow in the village?
When Nazis occupied the village, the church was made out of the cinema building. It was working this way until the liberation. When the Soviet army recaptured the village, the church was closed and the cinema was reopened.
Did the Nazis close the school?
During the Nazis’ occupation we were attending the Ukrainian school.
How was the liberation carried out?
There were no battles held on our territory. They came left the way they came, that is very quietly. The Nazis retreated; the Soviet Army regained control of the village. They held a battle near Kamianets.
What happened to your father?
When the Soviet Army liberated us, my father joined it. He took part in the battles in Romania or somewhere nearby. I don’t know exactly. He was killed there. We received the official letter about his death. However, I have no idea where it is now. I cannot show it to you. Maybe Fedir or Feodosii have taken it. I don’t know what has happened to it. So I can’t tell you exactly the place of father’s death. But I know that he was heading for Romania and was killed there.
What happened to children after parents’ death?
All children stayed with grandmother.
How many children were in your family?
There were six boys in my family. The eldest one was born in 1922; the one after him – in 1926. The third brother of ours was born in 1931. I was the fourth boy. Fedir was the fifth one. My mum gave birth to the 6th child when the war started.
Where did you live after your parents’ death?
Two of my brothers and me went to the orphanage in 1946. We had been brought up there, but then my grandmother took my brothers back home.
Why did your grandmother send her grandchildren to the orphanage?
My grandmother had sent us to the orphanage, because we had nothing to eat. It was the year of food shortage. Only the oldest brother stayed with grandparents, while we were sent to the orphanage.
Why was there the food shortage in your village?
The food shortage was caused by the drought, which was similar to that one we are facing this year. There was no rain at all.
Didn’t the authorities help their people? You worked at the collective farm. Did you get any money or food for your work?
We were given nothing for our work at the collective farm. The authorities kept recording our work days, but we were not paid anything. In 1950, when I was only 12 years old, I was working for 90 days straight. The only one thing I got for it was one sack of wheat. I was given 200 grams of wheat per day.
Could you please describe your life in the orphanage?
I was a musician. There were not any musical schools in the orphanage, but we were taught some music there. We even took part in musical competitions in Khmelnytskyi, which is the biggest city in the region. We played there the potpourri „Zaporozhets za Dunayem“.
Who helped you to get music education? Was there any conductor in the orphanage?
He was a musician. He played the piano, the guitar and basically all the instruments except of wind musical instruments. He worked as a conductor in the orphanage. He made us learn four potpourris. We took part in the musical contest held in Khmelnytskyi. We were playing the potpourris, he had taught us. We took second place then.
When we came back to the orphanage, he wanted us to learn twelve stanzas of the potpourri by heart in order to take first place in the musical contest next year.
Every day after school we attended the music lessons, in order to learn these potpourris. We had such a schedule through the whole year. We managed to learn these potpourris by heart. Finally we won the competition.
Has the triumph of yours been noticed?
Having come back to the orphanage, we were invited to enter the army musical college. However, the conductor didn’t allow us to do it. So we escaped from the orphanage. I didn’t come back any more, but some of my friends did. From time to time, they gave different concerts in my village, which was a town back then. So I could meet them sometimes.
As far as the conditions of the orphanage go, could you please describe them?
The conditions in the orphanage were not bad. We belonged to the eldest group there. When we became musicians, the direction of the hospital ordered to give as a separate table. But usually the whole group, including girls, had their dinner together. Now the musicians ate separately. The food on musicians’ table was considerably better. The girls started complaining, „We are the same group. Why do you keep giving good food only to them“?
Was it hard for you to serve in the Soviet Army?
I was a musician in the army too. When we just joined it, there were not any musical instruments there. But the officer said, „If we have the musicians, we will find the instruments. So we got our instruments“.
Could you please describe your life after leaving the orphanage?
Then I returned to the village. We gave some concerts. And then the real life began. I worked as a fire fighter. In 1958 I got married. My wife and I started building our life here. But we also had two students to take care of. Those were Feodosii and Fedir, who lived with us. My wife had to cook for all of us.
Was it hard to bring them up?
Well, it was too hard to control them. Who listens to adults, being ten-year оld boys? Everyone has his or her own desires.