Interview recorded:Mariupol, Donetsk oblast
I am Oleksandr Salun. I was born in Chernihiv region, Novhorod-Siverskyi raion in 1942. I was officially one year younger because my mother had to be sent to Germany. That was the reason the year had been removed.
When did your father go off to war?
My father went off to war in 1939 when the Winter War began, even though he had been recruited earlier. He served in the Soviet Army and then joined the field army, fought in Finland. He used to say it was very difficult, because of the heavy frost and no proper outfits.
What was the difference between the uniform of officers and soldiers?
Officers received white sheepskin coats. And these “cuckoo” shooters, snipers probably, they chased those in white very hard. If they saw someone in white, they would always fire, no chance to survive. It was very difficult.
Why couldn’t the Soviet Army occupy Finland without heavy losses?
Father told me how they occupied one village, it was an attack. The entire battalion approached the village. Finns were excellent shooters, highly accurate and Soviet soldiers could not get close to the village. The losses were serious. Eventually they took the village and were very surprised as it was nicely built and clean. Many soldiers were comparing it with their villages of blockhouses, mud, and off-roads. You know about this. Most of the Cuckoos were skiing and shooting, even in the mountains. Then our soldiers also received skis and started to learn how to ski. Could you imagine villagers skiing? It was not working, people couldn’t ski and shoot. Eventually they have learned but it was extremely difficult to chase cuckoos.
Why did not your father participate in the Soviet-German war?
My father didn’t join the army, because he was injured during the Finish War. The heel on his left leg was amputated. Germans attacked very quickly, and there was no time for recruitment offices to draft people.
Tell us about life during occupation?
My parents lived horribly both under the Soviet collective farming regime and the German occupation. The German army did not disband collective farms, set up trade with locals selling soap and gas. The collective farming system did not change much. Locals were very surprised as Germans had nice cars, especially compared to their horses and off-roads. They wanted to have such equipment.
During the occupation, my parents lived in a dugout, the village was completely burnt down. Only 2 out of 300 houses where left after the fire. Houses made of wood and straw would quickly burst into flames.
Did locals communicate with partisans?
The village was always attacked at night. Partisans needed food. They would dress up as police and check the basements, that’s where people were hiding from bombardments. Once they got into a basement and asked: “Partisans or who is here?” A woman responded: “My husband wears same uniform.” Partisans questioned her and drowned. When her husband asked where she was, his father-in-low told him that partisans killed his wife. They found the body and buried her. He took German soldiers and showed them where the partisans were hiding. He knew the places, locals knew everything about partisans. During the war he disappeared without a trace.
Did someone from your family join the local police?
No one from our family was in the police, they would try to make my father join of course, gave him a rifle to guard something. My godfather and a neighbor worked in the police as guards, but I don’t know the details.
What happened after the liberation of your village?
After our village had been liberated by our troops there was a massive clean-up of people who cooperated with Germans even though the only reason to work for Germans was that they wanted to live. My Godfather Ivan Salun and neighbor Oleksii Pustovoitov worked in the police. They were immediately arrested, sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment and sent somewhere I think in Siberia. Same with my dad, he was not in the police, but they were forcing him to join. He became a suspect as he was opposing Germans, was sent to Makeivka, questioned and beaten. He said they were trying to make him sign papers scary to read, threatened to shoot him, beat black and blue, but he wouldn’t sign. He always complained that his liver hurts, when we took him to hospital, turned out it had been knocked off.