Start page

Valentyn Stetsyuk (Lviv, Ukraine)

Personal web site

?

Memoirs about the war years.


The beginning of the war


I was born in 1937 in the town, which then was called Sergo, and now Stakhanov, Luhansk region. By the beginning of the war, I was only four years, but I remember the day 1941 June 22, when the radio announced the start of the war with Germany, and all in suspense waiting for an address of V.M. Molotov. In his speech, the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs at that time issued a message stating that Germany, without presenting any claims, attacked the Soviet Union without declaring war, although in a few years it became clear that Germany's ambassador Schulenberg handed Molotov a note with the formal declaration of war the same night and the Commissar asked in desperation: "Why deserve we it?"

In June our grandmother from the Kirovohrad region was to visit us and we have waited for she a long time. However but she delayed to come, and later I learned why in early June, there were rumors of imminent war with Germany. However, on June 14 TASS (Telegraph Agency of the USSR) issued a statement in which rumour of the outbreak of war were called as "false and provocative". Believing this statement, my grandmother came to us, but on the second day the war began. She couldn't back home because all the passenger trains to the west were abolished there sent troops and military equipment. Already in summer, it became clear that the Germans may soon reach the Donbass, and therefore the entire civilian population was drawn to the construction of defensive works around the city a deep anti-tank ditch with rampart was been dug and an old quarry was filled with earth, so that a road to the westerly direction could pass through it. The trouble with food began having almost from the start of the war, because I remember how I was glad when the mother brought me pie with peas from the work. As it turned out later, built structures are not given any benefit, because the Red Army was not defending the city, and left it for three days before the arrival of the Germans. The population benefited from anarchy to plunder the stores and warehouses of food and industrial goods.

Oddly enough, the enemy entered the town in the person of only one cyclist scout, who came by the same newly built dirt road. Seeing no trace of the Red Army there, he turned back and after a few hours the invaders entered the town in much larger quantities. But it was in 1942 when our family have left the town. In November, we all, except my father, were sent to be evacuated in an unknown destination. As I understand it, the families of decision makers and the Communists were sent only. Our father was a specialist in the new at that time branch of the electric automatics and simultaneously he was a member of the party, so we were among the "elite". Terrible panic was among the people before the evacuation, the German was already a few dozen kilometres from the town, charges for the journey had been made in haste, a lot of things are not been allowed to take with, only the most necessary, because the cars were not enough seats. We were put on a truck and drove to the railway station, and the remaining residents looked at the departing with a mute reproach, envy, and some with anger. The small wagons, so-called "calf-wagons", equipped with four floors in the two storeys, are filled by eight families, and as soon as possible coaches were clung to any train which was supposed to move in an easterly direction.

The father together with other specialists stayed in the town to complete the evacuation of equipment utilities to the Urals, and subsequently enrolled in a group of sappers who had to blow up factories, mines, power plants and substations before the arrival of the Germans. Already when I was an adult, I heard from him the story about the case of those times which occurred at some coal mine. Local people, mostly women with children, protested against the undermining of the mine. They said: "Mine is the only livelihood opportunities for our men" (the miners were not taken at the front, they had a reservation). The people knew the experience of the civil war that, whatever the power may be, the coal was needed by all the Red, White, Petliurists, and Makhnovists; and that it will also be needed by the Germans, therefore the mine would like to keep in working condition. It was reported about the resistance where necessary and a detachment of the NKVD came through the day. All the inhabitants of the mine were lined, and then decimied, i.e. every tenth person was shut without regard to sex and age. No more mass protests appeared henceforth. However, in late November, the Germans stopped the attack before the town, so the undermining of the assigned objects were suspended. Moreover, since the spring what has already been undermined began to be rebuilt. Obviously the Kremlin supposed that to further advance will be gone after the German defeat at Moscow. The People Commissar of Power D.G. Zhimerin came in the Donbass personally in order to lead the restoration of electricity.



In evacuation


But by the time we with the mother were already in Central Asia, in the village Kuvasay Ferghana region (Uzbekistan). The decision on the destination of evacuees was taken by some authorities during the movement to the East. Only cars with technical equipment machine tools, turbines, generators purposefully went to the Urals, accompanied by experts. Their same families can be directed or to the Urals or Central Asia. This was depended on where the road was more free, because all the roads were clogged with trains of strategic purpose. In addition, the railroad was regularly bombed by the Germans. We drove to Kuvasay exactly a month, as long stood at the stations, sometimes for three days. All the evacuees were settled in the hall of a cinema and so we could watch films almost every day gratis. There was no lavatory in the cinema therefore whole locality turned into public convenience in six weeks, until we are moved to barracks. As long as we had the money, we were not very badly off, because food prices have been on the market are quite low. And when there was no more money, my mother went to change different things on the products in the near and distant qyshlaks (villages). Our grandmother's life in foreign country was given a very heavy, she longed for his homeland and died in February 1942 and the age of 66 years.

In the summer we were joined by our father, who undermining assigned him substation before the arrival of the Germans, had to flee from them hastily, because they began suddenly rapid advance on Stalingrad. The father was sent to work Fergana, where he became job on a local CHP. My mother worked as a mistress in a kindergarten, and the older brother on a textile factory did. Despite the fact that the dependents were just me and my younger sister, we had great problems with nourishment. I remember that the portions in the kindergarten were so skimpy that the children licked the plates by tongues to shine, but stayed hungry all the time. We were gained by good fruits, fresh and dried ones, which were a lot in this country in abundance and they were pretty cheap. A year later, ie and August 1943, after the Germans began to retreat after the Battle of Kursk, our father was called back in the Donbass which was still in enemy hands, but it was clear that the Germans lost the war. The father returned to the town, which was already renamed in Kadievka for unknown reason, on the third day after the Germans release it. Then he actively involved in the restoration of the energy company, where he worked before.



Children impressions about the years of occupation


The rest of the family returned home in April 1944, when the enemy retreated far away. With child interest, I asked the children who remained in the occupation about the Germans, who were like some monsters in my mind under the influence of the upbringing in kindergarten. To my great surprise, Children had nothing wrong about the German soldiers told even told that they are even treated chocolate sometimes what struck me most as I have not seen it since the beginning of the war. True, some children were beaten by Germans for theft, because they didn't tolerate theft the only man, who was hanged by Germans on the marketplace, was a caught thief. However for stealing was always temptation, because in general, people suffered in starvation. They were saved like us in the evacuation, exchange things for food. The most valuable things were then manufactured products such as cameras, gramophones and especially sewing machines. For a sewing machine in the villages could get a sack of potatoes. Some of the peasants got those machines more than a dozen. After the war, these all was sold for big money.

One went to changing with homemade two-wheeled wheelbarrows, there was enough material on abandoned industrial plants for manufacture of which. In addition to this "invention", original improvised millstones as the evidence of ingenuity of people in difficult circumstances have to be mentioned too. Details for these millstones were also on hand. They were made so. A hexagonal rod was mounted on the metal plate. The tube of greater size was put on the rod. The interior surface of the tube was laid by rough wire segments that were curved at the ends of the tube and thus kept. The formed inside the tube ribbed surface when turning around the rod provided grinding grain, mostly corn, which had to be added periodically to the upper part of the tube. To scroll used hook handle attached to the tube. The ground grain fell on the plate at the low part of the tube and to strew it out one had periodically to raise a few the tube and the flour to shovel by hands. These millstones were used long after the war, and I myself almost every day had to turn the millstones. Annoying work.
The grain as well as other products were exchanged during the war in a distant rural area somewhere near the town of Starobelsk, where agriculture was developed during the occupation continually. It seems to me that the Germans didn't destroy the system of collective farms and used them to own profit. By the way, according to people, the Germans did not take food by force, and paid for everything their occupation marks at fixed prices, but those marks were not in demand, almost nothing could be bought for them. I do not know till now, why the people didn't trust them, perhaps they believed in the victory.

Immediately after our arrival home our neighbours who remained in occupation came in turn to us and accuse each other of collaborating with the Germans. Especially there were many complaints about the conduct of young women because of their love-making with the Germans. The women justified themselves by the fact that they seemed to have been left in hiding and using close ties with the Germans, trying to find out their military secrets. Generally speaking about the underground, which has been left in the town to fight the invaders, there were many conversations. As I recall now, at first those underground if were awarded by medals, but a year or two were tried for treason. The fact that the underground lynching killed his friend for some unknown reason whether he betrayed for the Germans, whether it was someone's revenge is to say then nobody could. In the underground there is no justice, no laws. If Soviet court dug up the truth, that no one could say surely .

Before running away from the Germans, the father hid all the valuables in the house under the floor, hoping to dig up them after his return, because he also believed in the victory. All these things were stolen by neighbours and exchanged for food. Such cases were quite widespread, but the complaints of people, who learned their belongings on or at some person, the authorities referred indifferently. It was an indication from the top, such cases were not to be investigated, because the people in occupation had to survive of some way, so the thefts were justified by the need. Also prevalence of looting during the retreat of Soviet troops were also not investigated.



The post-war years


In the first year after arrival to the Donbass, we lived pretty well, at least there were no problems with food. The American aid was felt in the rear, but I am sure that this prosperity, as in the Donbass, was nowhere else. The bakeries bake bread from American flour, mainly corn. He was sweet, but somehow unsavoury, especially callous. We became at the ration cards U.S. pork stew and other products all delicious meat meals, condensed and powdered milk, tomato juice, egg powder, biscuits, jam, coffee, even chewing gum in large quantities. All this was very securely packed in standard cans, which could have more smaller tins, and all this with were placed in waxen cardboard boxes. Such package, not to mention most of its contents, caused great surprise among adults why to spent the extra money. They agreed on the fact that the products could be drenched at the long way, so they were packed so securely. Manufactured goods, mainly clothing, were also among the "American Gifts" (so called them people), but very little. I remember that electricians were been given a jacket and pants with a lining made of artificial furas winter clothing. There was a jacket hood, which could be converted into the collar, and wool sleeve cuffs, apparently it was costume for mountain tourism, as called "alpaca". Moreover very durable boots of thick leather were given also. Also some children of poor families became some clothing jumpers, coats, and jackets. America seemed a fairy-land as the difference between domestic and overseas products very impressive.

Even the cultural influence of America was very strong. American films and American newsreels of military battles on other fronts of the war outside the USSR were shown in cinemas often. Radio broadcasted American songs, even translated some of them into Russian. I especially remember the movies "Sun Valley Serenade." Although I did not know then that the famous figure skater Sonja Henie was present in this film is, and the music was written by Glenn Miller. Passion for jazz was indiscriminate for jazz was organized in every club-house. Because of their repertoire I remember the American song "James Kennedy" and "There is a Tavern in the Town". But in 1947 the cultural sphere was put in "order" by the resolutions of the Central Committee of the CPSU(b) and jazz was banned, as well as dance foxtrot and tango too.

Soon after the war the U.S. supply was ended, and in winter 1946-47 starvation began which was caused mainly by drought. I have heard from adults that some of our friends were swollen with hunger, but had not heard that someone tried to barter. Like during the war, our family received on cards 1800 g bread daily, 700 g for the father, 500 for the brother, and 600 g for my sister and me. Our mother became nothing, as she didn't work due to illness (later, having a disability, she was given 250 g). One loaf cost 120-130 rubles in the market while the father earned 1,700 ones monthly. The brother became a student of a college at that time, therefore, had some meagre stipend. We survived thanks to him as he two times went to the city of Mariupol on Azov Sea to purchase such small fish called "khamsa" (maybe sprat). This khamsa was in abundance there and fairly cheap. We ate it themselves, and sold something of it at the market to get more penny for bread. Other people also found some opportunities for survival and said:

- "Is it famine? The famine was the year 1933 not now!"

German prisoner suffered more as local population, they were swollen from hunger and dying en masse. Concentration camps with prisoners were a few in the city and they were almost not guarded. The Germans worked in the mines, but after work they were allowed go to camp alone and they could scrounge at population. Despite the fact that people had only scanty food, however they fed the captives as they could. In the cold winter they were a sorry sight swollen, dressed in tattered rags, his feet wrapped in socks, shod in wooden shoes made themselves, hollowing of a strip of wood.

Since the beginning of summer life has improved, because it was possible to have some greens first flowers of acacia, then the soup of the pigweeds or leaf beets, green apples. When the first vegetables came, the life was much easier. Unlike the 46 th, in the 47 th year rains were so good therefore potatoes, beets, corn came up well in kitchen gardens. Seeking for additional food the people also gathered the remaining on the ground ears of cereals after harvesting on the fields of suburban farms. The crowds of people were like a market, thus many of those ears were not be found perhaps somewhere in the 200-300 grams of grain a few hours walking on the field. However it was not always allowed by mounted guards or they demanded to give them up the gathered grain.

Again about prisoners. Children bear vegetables to concentration camps and bartered aluminium combs, knifes, or German, Hungarian, Romanian minor coins. Interestingly, while children called captives by the word "Pan" (Mr) regardless of nationality. Germans taught local population just such call since the first days of occupation. After the barter prisoners eaten raw received beets or corn immediately. Some of them eaten even the core of corn-cobs. Women were also among the captives, they lived, of course, in a separate camp, but also can freely walk around the town. By their clothes obviously folk long skirts and embroidered blouses, they were peasants from Germany, Hungary, and Romania. What they were guilty that were taken in concentration camps, I could not find in anyone. Demobilized soldiers assumed that these women could oppose Red Army for example, shooting back or anything other. I never heard about the civilians captive women, but it is an indisputable fact.

Thus, not only at during the WW2, the people were experiencing terrible times, the life of civilian population was not better, but maybe even worse after the war. I would especially like to emphasize that I have never heard anything bad about the Germans from the survivors of the occupation. Therefore I, in fact, drew attention to the compassionate public attitudes to the prisoners. This is not true for the guard of the concentration camps, ie, soldiers which were at war. I've heard from people that the administration of war camp gave not all their humble food to the prisoners, and why they were dying of hunger.

No one of our family wasn't at war, my brother, born in 1927, had not been mobilized, as just like to the father, received the reservation working as an electrical mechanic on the restoration of a power-station. But four of my uncle and a cousin were at the war, two of them perished. Few of all my childhood friends had a father returned from the war alive. I understand that other families had much worse life than ours, but I think that my memories will be useful for a complete picture of the war years.