I’ve heard stories about World War II since my childhood. So during the project, I decided to learn more about my ancestors in those trying times. I am going to start with the stories of my grandmother Svitlana Pylypivna about her parents. My mother is a history teacher, and the issues of historical memory and the history of Odessa during WWII are of particular interests to her. Therefore she helped me voice the video and process it.
What did your parents tell you about World War II?
My mom and dad participated in WWII. Our generation is children of those who survived the war. It’s not easy to talk about it, but I’ll start. I’d like to tell you about my father first.
Pylyp Slabyi is my father. He was born in 1910. When WWII started and during the war, he worked in Odesa at the factory named after the January Uprising. As he was a highly qualified specialist, he stayed in the factory. He was not supposed to go to war because it used to be a munition factory and he had to work.
When Germans started to bomb the city he was on duty throwing off high-explosive bombs from the roofs. He was one of those who manufactured the so-called NI (Russian abbr. for ‘Na Ispug’, i.e. To Scare) tanks from tractors. Pylyp was a good tractor driver, electrician, and mechanic, so he was a valuable worker. Later all factory workers had to be evacuated but their families had to stay in Odesa. They were evacuated on the hospital ship Armenia (by the way, its shipwrecks have been recently found in the Black Sea in the vicinity of Sevastopol). They were boarded on the ship and were taken to the Crimea. He told terrible things about this journey, about the planes flying over the deck of the ship which could drop a bomb any moment. This was really scary. Grandfather turned grey during that trip, after that air raid. There were several attempts to land in Sudak, then in Sevastopol, they weren’t allowed to land anywhere. I don’t remember where exactly they were landed, in Alushta or closer to Sevastopol. They were immediately given the sapper spade shovels and blankets, and they were told to go and fight without any weapon. They were told to fight off the German weapons and ammunition and try to survive or else to die.
Part of the soldiers was on Mount Sapun, others were somewhere in the vicinity of Sevastopol. Then the retreat to the station Vladyslavka began. The military leaders ran away leaving their army, and 7,000 soldiers were taken prisoners. In the area of the Vladyslavka station, thousands were imprisoned. The top leadership all fled, and the soldiers were abandoned and the Germans took them as prisoners of war. They were run towards the mainland, somewhere in the Dzhankoi area. On their way, they saw a wrecked German car and small cutting pliers lying nearby which he took with him. And there were also dead sheep on their way, he threw a piece of internal fat in his bosom, it later saved him.
They were placed in the barracks. It was a bitter cold spell, the corpses were piled up near the barracks. They were short of food, once a day they were given potato peelings and something like a wheat porridge. Father decided to escape in the most furious cold and snowstorm. He was running about as if to warm up near the barrack. The German`s turned back thinking he was trying to get warm. And he ran up and down again and again, and each time he managed to bite off a part of the wire. The metal was brittle because of the frost. He repeated this again and again until he could escape through the hole he made. He ran as far as he could and reached some village. No one wanted to deal with him, except for a woman, who let him into her house and allowed him to stay for a night in her barn. Everyone was afraid to be shot immediately, they didn’t want to risk the lives of their families, helping the prisoner. Father found a shelter in that barn. The woman gave him some wheat to eat, but one shouldn’t eat too much in case of extreme hunger, that’s why it caused him stomach aches and cramps.
In the morning, Father left the village and went to the nearest city. It was not far from Dzhankoi, somewhere in that area. On the way, Father met an electrician who was repairing the transmission line. Father helped him, and the electrician gave him a piece of bread in gratitude and accompanied him to the city. It seems like that city was Dzhankoi indeed. There my father saw a boy of around fourteen years old who used to live not far from my father’s native village Velyko-Mykhailivtsi. The guy worked as an interpreter in the German colony. He recognized my father. When my father worked as a tractor driver in 1927-1929, he liked the sister of that guy. So the boy recognized my father and called him, “Uncle Filia, uncle Filia”. The boy took my father to the commandant’s office. He told them something that made them laugh. Father didn`t understand anything, but in the end, Germans gave him an ausweis that let him reach Odesa in 10 days. Germans warned my father not to show that ausweis to Romanians, otherwise they would take it away. The most difficult part of the way run across the Varvarivka bridge in the Mykolaiv city. But it was under the Germans, who let father pass. He nearly reached Odesa when Romanians took him captive.
The camp was in the Usatove village. I don’t remember how long he stayed there. But one day, the woman came to find her husband. She didn’t find him, but my father winked at her and asked her to take him out of the camp as if he was her husband. The woman agreed and bribed them so that they let him go. And father went to Odesa on foot. He didn’t know it was under curfew and Romanians carried out shoot-ups every hour. Somehow Father went through the irrigation fields and the Kotovka village, and it took him 24 hours to reach the Tovarna station, where his family resided. His wife met him, and he turned off and slept for three days. When he woke up, Nastia gave him some food and washed him. He saw the queue of people in the corridor, the queue of wives, mothers, and sisters of the evacuated, they asked about their relatives, whom Filia could hear or see.
The family needed food to survive, so my father tried to find some job to earn for a living. The war, two children, and circumstances made him turn back to his plant which was under Germans. He worked there for a month only, and then he took his belongings, his family, and went to the village, to his father’s parents in Novopetrivka, Velyka Mykhailivka district. They stayed in the village during the whole occupation. He carried out some repairs, fixed sewing machines, cars, etc.
When our soldiers were on the advance, Germans shot all the young men they could find. And when they came to this village, Father`s brothers hid somewhere, and father went with some neighbours to another place, a barn or a cellar. And it saved him, while all of his three brothers were found and shot. Their names are still inscribed on the monument in Novopetrivka.
Dad survived, but as he was in the occupation, he went to the penal battalion. Everyone was taken to the penal battalion. Father was a member of the Iasi-Chisinau group, mostly located on the Kitskan bridgehead. He told terrible things. It was August 26, 1944. They were in the trenches with parapets of corpses, without food or water. There was no chance to get something to eat or water to drink or even some salt. Sometimes at night, they could have some little food and water supply delivered. It was infernally hot. Sometime later, they were sent for reorganization. He passed through all of Poland. Since he was from a penal battalion, he was often the first who had to go into minefields. Throughout the whole war, he had by one his birth certificate and the icon of St.Philip with his birth date and the date when he was baptized written down. We still have this icon.
He took part in the liberation of Warsaw and Berlin. He told us terrible things about the battle in Berlin. On the way to the Brandenburg Gate, he saw the military machinery driving over living people. He remembered this for the rest of his life. The only thing he didn’t remember was how he ended up in the hospital. Later, they figured out what had happened. The anti-aircraft gun fired at the self-propelled gun and vice versa at the same time. So they shot each other. The gun was damaged, the commander miraculously survived but his jaw moved out of place and he had a strong concussion. Pylyp also had a severe concussion and a massive burn on his back. His back hurt for a long time, it was literally impossible to touch it. Pylyp lived up till 2000, that is, after 1945 he suffered from backache for 55 years. He slept mostly on his side or his stomach. He could sleep on his back as well, but touching the back and even wearing clothes was painful. In 1945, he apparently did not finish his treatment and fled from the hospital, because the division had to move to Japan and he did not want to lag behind his fellows in arms. He refused from the disability status, wanted to join his fellows, caught up with them, but was still discharged, returned to Odesa, and started working at his plant again.
He worked there, but due to severe hunger in Odesa, he and his family moved to his wife’s parents in Voznesensk. Then their marriage did not work, they broke up, got divorced, and then he met another woman, mother of my (Katia’s) granny.
The interviews are given in the original language or a transliteration of it with preservation of national, regional and individual speech peculiarities.