Family stories
Ivan Holiak
Interview recorded: by Mykhailo Didenko Online 22.11.2020

Ivan Holiak

The history of my family reflects life in a totalitarian regime. All that my great grandfather and great-grandmother went through shows and demonstrates the lack of respect for a human being, invasion of privacy and persecution, violates morality, human rights and freedoms. That is why, under the Soviet rule, millions of people were subjected to the arbitrariness of the totalitarian state, and many were never able to reunite with their families.

I would like to tell you about the event that happened in the 50s of the XX century and the story of my grandfather, but first I’ll back this story up. My grandfather was born in the Chernivtsi region in the village of Ivanivtsi, Kelmenets district. At the time of the mentioned events, my grandfather Ivan was 9 years old and he lived with my great-grandmother, his mother, Paraskoviia (Paraska) Holiak (née Oliinyk) alone without his father (Mykola Holiak), who abandoned his family and went to live in a village called Krekhiv, Zhovkva district, Lviv region.

In November 1950, my great-grandmother worked as a field team leader. One day, while gathering beetroot there was a downpour and due to the lack of a roof on the harvester, she came down with severe pneumonia. In the early winter of 1951, according to my grandfather, people were deported en masse to Siberia, and many of his fellow villagers were deported as well. The Old Believers, Baptists were deported, as their religion was forbidden. Not only them, of course, but mostly such people. Those who had a husband or wealthy relatives managed to evade. One foreman flirted with my great-grandmother, she refused him and he reported her to the village council. Because of that denunciation, my grandfather and great-grandmother were taken away. In the middle of the night, NKVD soldiers came in the lorry, put my grandfather and great-grandmother in it and took them to the train station. At the station, they put them in a small 20-ton freight car. They constructed plank beds inside of the freight cars so that people could sleep there. Grandpa remembers people dying on the way. The trip itself lasted for 2 months. At the halt stations, the corpses were taken out and stacked somewhere in the corner. If someone wanted to go to the toilet, they were surrounded by the military and people went under the train’s, there was no other way to do it during the trip. They were not given much food, people ate what they brought with them from home. Granny Zina, as my grandfather and all her relatives called her, was Paraska’s sister and Grandfather’s aunt. She prepared a bucket of rendered lard with sausage, so my grandfather and great-grandmother had something to eat. Food was not taken away from them.

Grandfather recalls, “By Lake Baikal, I remember how we were passing Lake Baikal. We were brought to Irkutsk, a city, not a city, but a village in that area. Let me think what was its name. It was Oktiabrske. And there was the Chuna river there, across the settlement. It was wide enough and was used for drifting logs down the stream. We were settled in barracks. There were about five long barracks there, and we were settled there with my mother. The settlement was separated, on the other bank of the river. We were settled right in the taiga. There was nothing apart from those five barracks there. There was a railway there, a feeder. Apparently, they cut wood and used the feeder to transport the logs to the river for drifting. People worked there. My mom got sick there. All those people who were deported from Ukraine were cutting the wood. There was a shop there where bread was sold, as black as black soil, a coal-black one, we were given a piece of bread. Then my mother fell ill, your granny, and died there. I was lying beside her, and when she was dying she said, “Please, take him away.” You know, she told them to take me away. And she died. She was buried there, in that forest. There was nothing apart from trees and about twenty graves there, maybe more.”

That is, my great-grandmother died of complications of pneumonia at the age of 30, my grandfather was under 10 years old at that time.

My grandfather continues his story, “My mother was buried there, and I was left alone. We were short of food, everyone had their own children and tried to somehow feed them. What I was doing? There was a wide river there and there were rafts on it. I climbed onto those rafts, tied a thread to the… then fastened a piece of a dart in the form of a hook to the thread and caught fish. I set fire, grilled the fish on the fire, and ate it, and this is how I made a living. Later they wanted to take me to an orphanage, but I still had some relatives there, my mother’s sister’s children, Ania and Zhenia, my cousins, and seems like they wrote a letter or something, and let my grandfather, my mother’s dad, about me.”

My grandfather later clarified that he wasn’t that hungry, he lived with his cousins ​​because they took him in. But he often went to the river to catch something, went into the wood, played on the railway, jumped on the train cars.

Then my grandfather went on, “My grandfather came to Irkutsk, to that settlement, he stole me, and we went home. I can remember our Moscow transfer. It was the first time I saw an aquarium inhabited by fish. I have never seen it before. They were located at the train station in Moscow, these small aquariums. Then we came to Ivanivtsi. My granddad Hryhir wanted to adopt me. We went to the village council and asked how to do it, the legal procedure. But how could it be done when I still had Father. He left us alone, but my Mom was still not divorced. Then they started looking for my dad, the KGB, and he turned out to live here, in Western Ukraine, in the Krekhiv village, and that’s about it. He was already married, here in Krekhiv. And he went home to ask his wife, my stepmother, whether they could take me or not. They had no children and decided to adopt me. I was already in Ivanivtsi, with my grandparents, my uncle Hryhir and my aunt. Then my father took me to Zhydachiv, where I stayed.”

It should be noted that the relocation of my grandfather to Zhydachiv (a town in the Lviv region) was trying and complicated. He came from the Chernivtsi region. Due to the differences in culture and speech, the dialect, he was mocked by his peers and classmates. This is why my grandfather did not go to school and could not find friends and his place in life for a long time.

The interviews are given in the original language or a transliteration of it with preservation of national, regional and individual speech peculiarities.

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