Interview recorded:Village of Pysarshchyna, Kremenchuk district, Poltava oblast
Please introduce yourself.
I am Mykhailo Vasylenko, the son of Kyrylo Vasylenko, a former front-line soldier and I am going to tell you about him. My father was born in 1918 in the village of Vasylenki [no longer exists], renamed Sliusary, situated in the Reshetylivka district of the Poltava region. That’s where he spent his childhood. In 1933, during Holodomor, his mother, a widow with four children, moved to Donetsk to save her children from the starvation. My father worked as a horse handler in a mine in Donetsk, lost 3 fingers of his left hand, only the little and the ring fingers remained. That’s why at first he had not been recruited to the army. In 1943, when Donetsk and the entire Eastern Ukraine were liberated, he had to join the Red Army. During the first days of the draft he faced a terrible injustice. At night draftees who arrived at the draft point were robbed by the officers of the military station. Every draftee had food, clothes, socks and other necessary items. The most interesting thing was that at night my father saw the sergeant-major and other sergeants stealing. In the morning he informed one of the commanders about it. As a result, my father had been arrested it and sent to another military unit drafter from a different region.
Could you tell me about the battle way of your father?
He told me he went from Poltava to Czechoslovakia with his military unit. It was the time when Soviets were winning the war. He participated in the liberation of Budapest and was recognized with a medal “For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941 – 1945.” He had two other medals, but I don’t remember for what. He also received “The Order of the Patriotic War for saving the Red banner of the regiment.”
Did your father tell you in detail about his life during the war?
Yes, he told me a lot. It’s been long ago and I don’t remember much. I do clearly remember one story though. My father took a German prisoner of war to a concentration camp [Soviet corrective labor camp], and the German thanked him with a silver watch. Back then our soldiers, afraid of falling behind their military unit, wouldn’t show German prisoners of war the way to the camps. They would shoot them and inform the commanders about an attempted escape. My father fulfilled his duty and showed the German soldier the way. As they were approaching the concentration camp the German soldier started to take off his clothes and took the watch, hidden above his elbow, off his hand. Our soldiers should have missed it during the body search. The soldier put the watch on the ground and stepped back showing his gratitude with a gesture.
In the regiment there was… Well, my father’s surname was Vasylenko and there was a man Vasyliev. His friend was fluent in German. He would often go spying and never return without bringing a German prisoner of war. He was highly valued in the regiment and used it to his own advantage. His nickname was Shveyk.
When was your father demobilized and how?
In May, when the war was over, everyone felt happy and relieved. For my father it was too early to celebrate. He was relocated to Khankhyn Gol, Mongolia. In Mongolia he had to be examined by a medical board where they have identified that he was missing three fingers, lost back in the mine. He was very lucky. The military doctor was from his native Reshetylivka district. All this time he was at war he had never met anyone from his area. The military doctor told him: “Kyrylo Fedorovych, my dear friend, you have to understand: you lost your fingers not in the mine, you lost them at war.” He helped my father to retire early from the military service on medical grounds, even though it was illegal.
Bound by the culture, the nation, the blood… It’s very difficult to explain. Well, my father was demobilized. Freight trains brought him home from Mongolia. The train stopped at one of the stations, my father went out to get water. Suddenly a gipsy woman approached him: “Oh, you soldier… let me tell your fortune”. One of the things she told him was that he would die at the age of 64. My father died at the age of 66 and right before his death he said: “Oh, that damned gipsy woman, she was mistaken just for 2 years.”
Can you tell me about the life of your father after the war?
After the war my father worked in the village of Hreshchaty as a stableman. A stableman may sound funny nowadays, but at that time it was something like a head of the transport department. Later and till the retirement he worked as a tractor driver.
My father also got married. The name of his wife was Kluka Halyna Andriivna. They gave birth to four children. The first one was a son, unfortunately he is no longer with us. The second child was my sister, then me and a younger son, who has passed away too. They lived friendly. My father loved his children very much. Both my mom and my dad were very hard-working people. Back then everyone worked a lot but my parents were really hard-working. Despite the substantial children expenses my parents managed to run the house and everything was fine.