This is the story of a Russian girl who remembers famine and Soviet collective farms and was able to survive by finding salvation in Ukraine. This is about my grandmother, who is of Russian nationality. Starting from her birth in 1943, she spent her childhood in Soviet Russia. Her most painful memories apart from the ones described in this interview are the memories of the famine in her grandmother’s family. They lived in a small house (as a child I visited it and I can remember it). My grandmother, Raisa Tokarevych, lived with her mother, father, grandmother, an aunt, and a brother. She remembers her mother swelling up with hunger, her brother Tolya being on the verge of dying, her father (a teacher and the head of the collective farm) having been wounded during the war. My grandmother told me how she took turns with her brother to prepare their homework sitting at a small table and using the only candle. However, despite the constant misery she still tried to do something that brought her spiritual joy and inspiration. She used to embroider the on the stove in low light keeping out of her father’s eyes. These paintings are our pride today. Grandma’s life was not easy. Listen to her interview and you’ll find sincere emotions and memories of my family history.
My name is Raisa Tokarevych. I was born in Russia, in the village of Beloe, Kursk oblast, Oboyan district.
In what year?
In July 1943.
Please tell me about your childhood, about your parents.
Well, my childhood was… I was born during the war. Well, as I can remember myself, my childhood … [crying]. My childhood was very difficult. We were starving [crying]. I can remember, as a child I used to collect rotten potatoes in the autumn garden and my mother cooked pancakes out of them. She cooked borsch with orach, with all kinds of weeds [crying]. We ate mill cake. We were told that it was delicious, it was sweet [crying]. These were very trying times. Nevertheless, I still went to school. My father worked, he taught people. My mother was a collective farmer. She was completely illiterate, but my father was literate of course. When he was shot in the arm during the war, he was not taken to the war, he stayed here at home and was teaching. Later he started working as the chairman of the collective farm, but we continued living very-very poor.
When my mom went to work she had nothing to wear. I can remember her tattered green jacket. It was cool, she had to go early in the morning to reap wheat or rye. She cried because she had nothing to wear [crying]. It hurts me to remember [crying]. We were starving. My mom used to keep a piece of bread, divide it between the two of us, my brother and me. Then it became a little easier, but life was still difficult. Our family consisted of my mom and dad, my granny, us two children, our aunt. We all lived in… well, a house which wasn’t really a house, but rather a hut. We also used to have a cow, and it made life easier for us. Then they deprived us of the cow, we all cried [cries]. I remember my mother pouring us little cups of milk and saying, “My dear children, please drink it, we won’t have a cow soon, we won’t have milk” [crying].
Later our life turned easier. I went to school and finished it. Parents kept us in everything we needed. They provided us with the most necessary things. Necessary food and clothes. Then Dad [pause] tried to help leave the collective farm because they wanted the children to stay by the collective farm and work there. But my father wanted me to leave the collective farm. We had relatives in Novohrodivka, in Donbas. And in order to get a passport… I can remember how I received it. I was not allowed to leave the collective farm, I… I cried, I went to arrange the passport several times. My dad was demanded to pay for letting me go. Somehow or other, I managed to get a passport and left for Novohrodivka.
Dad didn’t want me to work as hard as they did. Here I got a job as a day worker at the second mine, and then they put me officially on the staff. I worked at loading, then they made me a supervisor as a hardworking girl [smiling]. Here I met my husband, Yurii Mykhailovych. He is also a miner, he had been working in the mine for more than 40 years.
How old were you when you arrived here?
I arrived here when I was 18 years old. They took me as a day worker. I was still a minor. Then I married my husband. Then after he came from the army, he could get an apartment. He got a two-room apartment. Miners were on the waiting list for housing, so we immediately settled in a two-room apartment.
In view of the famine back in your childhood, do you remember what people used to say about the Soviet government? Did the government do anything about hunger? Were there any payments or food provided, at least something?
I was a child back then, I didn’t know anything about what the authorities did. I can remember when I was already going to school, Joseph Stalin died. We went to some old woman and listened to his funeral, and everyone cried. Everyone cried when he was being buried. Then after Stalin, whoever was there… no leader could provide anything good to people. I can remember when Malenkov came to power, my mother said that collective farmers were immediately given a lot of grain and sugar. He provided an opportunity for collective farmers to live better. But he was soon removed from his position.
Could you please add something about the Soviet government? As an adult, what was your attitude towards the government and what was that of your surrounding?
Well, what shall I say? At all times, regardless of who was in power, never have they done anything good for people… No matter who was elected, no one could keep the lasting peace on Earth, and assure that people live in plenty… Of course, when I came to Ukraine and engaged myself with a miner, they used to get good wages. That’s what we’ve made a living off of. But now they get offended with the fact that there is no coal, no heat in their homes, and they have to buy coal, even though they have been working in the mine all their life long.
Thank you for being so honest, thank you for the interview. Hopefully, this is not the last one.
The interviews are given in the original language or a transliteration of it with preservation of national, regional and individual speech peculiarities.