So we landed on the other end of the terrestrial sphere after having spent 11 hours in the air straight.  American gave us a warm welcome.  We already have lived 6 months in the state of Pennsylvania.  They gave us a good apartment.  They gave me an undeserved pension and financial aid to my wife.  These sources of funds suffice to pay for our rent and all utilities.  They give us coupons for our food.  They welcomed us into the local Christian-Baptist church.  We are learning English.  We are clothed, have shoes, and drive our own car.  Both of my daughters live in Germany.  My elder Galya has 8 children.  Tanya has 2 daughters.  Sergey in Kaliningrad, formerly, Konigsberg, has 5 children.  The elder son of my wife lives in California.  He has 5 children.  Vitaly and Vera live near us in a new apartment.  They have 5 children.  Between my wife and I, we have 25 grandchildren.  All our children and grandchildren serve God and glorify Him.  My sister Pasha has 10 children, 8 of whom live in America.  My brother Sasha has 12 children, most of whom live in America.  My sister Anna had 4 children.

I had intended to write a book about my childhood for a long time, but I procrastinated.  Living in Kazakhstan when our children and grandchildren met at our home, I told them stories about my life in the evenings.  I am not a politician, neither a philosopher, nor a writer.  Let the dear reader forgive me if I too candidly expressed my feelings or in some moments did not accurately cite several events or dates.  May God forgive me for my many sins which I committed in my childhood and youth.  For all that He sent in my life, both joys and sorrows, I hold unbounded appreciation to Him, the Creator of the whole universe and every living thing in it.  To Him may unbounded praise and thanksgiving sound from my lips as well as those of our children and grandchildren.



Boalsburg, Pennsylvania

Peychev, Viktor Aleksandrovich


As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,

Or if due to strength, eighty years,

Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;

For soon it is gone, and we fly away.”

(Ps. 90:10, NASB)

Some time, my daughter Galina sent me a card on my birthday which stated:

“The years fly away, they fly away…

Like birds in a distant flight,

Only birds once again fly back,

But no one can ever give back our years, try they might.”


I deeply pondered these words and desired to continue the thought.  I took a piece of paper, a pen, and went on.

“The years left are quite few since our birth,

Maybe this is the final flight,

But there at the end of our path on earth

Our Creator with delight does await.

Yes, how quickly the years fly away…

Ten, twenty, forty, sixty, they say.

Oh, what a pity, that not everyone understands,

That standing before the Judge is their end.

And holding their tongue for every abuse,

Before the stern, impartial judge.

With him there is no excuse,

Every punishment they will hear without a hedge.

If in your life you brought God the glory

Good deeds that you lived and performed

If you did not abandon the path so thorny,

But in humility walked and conformed

Then on the Day of Judgment God will say,

‘Friend, come enter My joy!’ He will tell.

If your path went astray,

Then you will end up with the Devil in Hell.

So quickly our years fly, fly far away,

Even in a severe, very treacherous flight.

Only I beg you, do not go astray,

Else you only will look forward to eternal death in fright.

Young friend, or elderly man or lady,

Do not spend your days in vain!

Hurry and reconcile with God Almighty,

Hurry quickly, today!

Hurry without hesitation, my friend,

How the flight of our years pushes ahead!

Rebirth in Christ should be our desired end,

By the Lord’s severe mercy, so He has said!

He even for us has added one more year,

And given us warmth and something to eat.

How can we give Him our glory and fear?

How can we repay Him with some kind of feat?”

Chapter Thirty: New Wife

The wise author of Ecclesiastes wrote: “All the rivers flow into the sea, Yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, There they flow again.”  (Ecc. 1:7)

Such is our life.  It does not just stand still.  Some depart for eternity.  Others come and take their place and continue their affairs so that they can give place to still others.

After 3 months, I married a Christian widow, Vera Dmitrievna Shiyanova, who had 2 grown sons.  Her elder son was named Volodya and her younger Vitaly.  The man who married us was our brother in Christ, Nikolay Gavrilov, who worked with me in the same work brigade in the furniture factory.  Our wedding took place at home.  Soon we moved into the house of my new life, and my home was left as a gift for my son Sergey.  We gave the dacha to my younger daughter Tatyana.


Soon my younger daughter Tanya married a young man named Volodya Gerhardt, also a German by ethnicity and a Christian.  Both sons of my wife were also married.

Soon thereafter began the emigration of Russian Germans to their historic homeland, namely Germany.  Nikolay and my daughter Galina were the first to leave, and then Tanya and Volodya followed.

The day my wife and I said goodbye to our dear grandchildren at the beehives near the banks of the Syr-Darya River was unforgettable.  They came to spend some time with their grandmother and grandfather.  During the day we all swam in the warm water of the canal.  At night we drank tea with sweet honey.  When the mosquitoes began to bite us, we burned smoke.  All of us crawled on the roof of the bee hive structure and sat on blankets and pillows.  We sang hymns accompanied by mandolin from which I never separated even at the beehives.  My older grandson Yura played the accordion.

The sun slowly set behind the river.  The silence was so thorough that not one bird in the trees did not chirp.  Even the mosquitoes became quiet.  This evening even in this distant place was a setting for the farewell sounds of hymns.  When Yura played “The Raspberry Chime of December” on the accordion, we all cried.  Then we were silent for a while.  Who knew the next time we would be able to see our dear children and grandchildren?  Where would we ourselves be living?  What had fate prepared for us?

It was as if the world went insane.  Russian people started to bother everyone.  For so many years, different nationalities lived in peace with one another, but suddenly ethnic tensions arose.  Refugees appeared.  Peaceful life ceased to exist.  Everyone began to leave.  Some departed for Israel, others to Germany, Greece, America, or Russia.  But God was merciful to us, and He had His own plans in relation to us.

Exactly one year later, we received a guest visa to visit Germany.  We took advantage of the opportunity and visited Germany.  We saw our daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren.

During the 3 months spent in Germany, we came to know a lot about the people of this country and their wise policies thanks to which the German people ended up as one of the most advanced and wealthiest economies.

Our children received such benefits that provided for all their needs in the beginning.  Words would not suffice for me to describe the life of the people of this country.  You have to be there yourself and see it with your own eyes.  Goods and food in the stores were in complete abundance.  We were very pleased that at least our children and grandchildren could live like normal human beings.

Since we had nothing else to do, my wife and I did a little bit of work for an old German lady by taking care of her garden and flowers.  My daughter and son-in-law categorically opposed our work, but we persuaded them.  At the same time, my son Sergey and his wife Vera also came to visit us in Germany.

We took it for granted that all Germans were considered Fascists.  Yes, during the time of war with Germany many atrocities were committed.  But the German people were not to blame, but rather individual Germans like Hitler and others.  Was Stalin really better than Hitler?  We simply were unaware of all the barbarities committed by Stalin and those like him.  Only in recent years did the world learn of those atrocities committed by him, not only against enemies, but also against his own people.  We only found about them during the years of glasnost.

While we were in Germany, we visited a park in the town of Verden.  This park was surrounded by a large parkway.  On each side of the way stood large rocks of rubble directly across one from another.  We asked my son-in-law what they meant.  He answered that these rocks were placed in remembrance of those people who in 1941 refused orders to murder people and for which Hitler ordered them to be shot.  So one cannot categorically put blame on the German people as a whole.  While we were in Germany, we never saw one drunken bum.  In the city of Bremen we saw only one poor guy who receives 10 marks a day from the German government, as they explained to us, so that he would not die of hunger.  I would remember this trip for the rest of my life.

We returned home in foreign-made cars loaded to the ceiling with goods and produce.  We went home via Poland, Belarus, and Russia.  We spent 7 days on the road.  It was an amazing trip.

When we traveled along the endless expanses of our former indestructible Union, we observed the wide gap in standards of living and human relationships one to another.  We were quite sad for our country which had such vast wealth, but lacked a wise leader who went to extremes and about whom it is shameful to mention.  Was it really so impossible for our peoples to live how they deserved?

For a second time, my wife and I with her sons visited Germany.  This time, our goal was to help our daughters who had bought land and took a 25-year mortgage from the government to begin construction.

We spent 3 months in the winter which passed by as if they were only 3 days.  Construction in Germany was a pleasure.  They do not pour burned bricks out of dump trucks, turning them into a pile of trash from which they put up walls.  In Germany they prefabricate everything from basic material to universal molds.  Prices for building materials appeared awfully expensive to us.  But for them, they were completely affordable.  While we built, we never lacked food, clothing, or materials.

Maybe our people someday will live this way, too.  May God grant that opportunity!  And God desires this, for God all people are His children.  And there is peace, abundance, and prosperity.  But wherever they do not accept him, where they blaspheme His Name is no peace and utter chaos.

One example of this is our own country that has suffered so much.  70 years ago, the rulers of our land proclaimed to the whole world that we would live without God somehow.  The success of such a policy – we and you are witnesses of that.

In the spring we returned home once again in cars, but road conditions were not as good as before.  These conditions can be compared with the time in Russia during the reign of Ivan the Terrible.  There were bandits who robbed merchants and traders on the roads and fled to villages and the countryside.  And there was no way to save yourself from them.

Something like this took hold on the roads starting in Poland and in all the former Soviet republics.  Organized crime in the form of all varieties of crime rackets armed to the teeth with modern weapons, machine guns, and pistols controlled the roads.  Neither governments nor police forces were up to the task in fighting these crime gangs.  Yes, and the police needed something to live off of.  You could not avoid stopping at a police checkpoint without giving them either Deutschemarks or goods or at least a can of beer or a piece of chocolate.  Passing through Moscow, one policeman stopped us.  When he saw that we had nothing much of value, he told us, “Well, at least give me a piece of gum!”

Many of our friends who visited Germany and returned back home suffered raids from gangsters.  We also encountered them.  To spend the night on the road, we gathered into a group of 5 or 6 cars for safety and spent the night at a police guard post or near towns at gas stations.  These were the conditions under which we returned this time from Germany.  As we left, we asked the church to pray fervently that God would protect us on the road.  God heard the prayers of his people and sent protection.

We spent 10 long days on the road and endured many difficulties because of poor weather conditions.  March is the most capricious month, and we had to traverse snow banks and ice.  We had to repair technical damage in temperatures of -30-35 degrees Celsius.  On the eleventh day, we finally make it home in one piece.  The prayers of the church and our children were heard.  We bowed our knees and thanked God for His protection and love for us.

Life in Kazakhstan became very difficult.  In the city of Chimkent, there used to be 11 factories.  All of them closed down.  There was rampant unemployment.  There was neither electricity nor gas for heating homes.  People in multi-story, concrete buildings particularly suffered.  The darkness of poor people, both adults and children, appeared.  A great number of thefts and murders rose. It was not safe to go outside at night.

Then trading grew like never before.  Instead of 2 bazaars like before, the number of bazaars in the city grew to 44!  Long fall evenings dragged on under kerosene lamps and candles.

And once again, our children in Germany invited us to sit out the difficult winter in Germany and paid for our tickets.  We agreed.

We traveled by train up to Alma-Aty and saw the following picture: in the past on both sides of the railroad grew forests full of fruit and decorative trees.  Now instead of trees protruded small, short stumps.  Yes, those people also came and chopped them down.  There was nothing to heat their homes with, and it brought in people from cities and villages to come and chop down trees.

From Alma-Aty we flew to Germany by plane, and thanks to our children, we spent the winter in warmth.

We safely flew back home in the spring, excluding some difficulties caused by a lack of fuel for the planes.

At home we learned that my wife’s sons Vitaly and Volodya obtained visas for America.  The parents of our daughters-in-law already had already immigrated to that country.

My son Seryozha moved to the city of Kaliningrad where he was needed as a choir director by a church there.  My wife and I decided to travel with our son there in order to help him get established.  In Kaliningrad I managed to locate a parcel of land, and my son decided to build his house.  We liked Kaliningrad so much that I found yet another piece of land, and we also decided to move to this place and began with great enthusiasm to build our future nest.

With great difficulty we acquired the needed amount of molten brick.  We hired a truck driver who for big money brought to our land bricks and dumped them on the ground.  Half of the bricks turned into waste.  For several days, my wife and I gathered bricks in order to wrap them in cellophane and protect them from rain and snow.  We lived in the apartment of one Christian widow who out of the kindness of her heart did not accept from us any rent for the apartment.  Our land was located 7 kilometers from the city, and we traveled there by train.

One day early in the morning on the first train, we went to the land in order to finish packing up the bricks.  When we came to our land, through the morning sunrise we saw the running figure of a man with a white sack on his back.  He ran from our piles of laid bricks and ran on the gray autumn field toward a ravine behind which were dacha houses.  I realized that he stole our bricks, and apparently, not the first time.

I chased after him, but since he knew the area well, he went down into a stream bed, crossed the stream on a bridge, and hid himself.  When I ran up to the edge of the stream bed, he already stood on top of his house and looked in my direction.  Well, if you are not caught, then you must not be a thief!  But I was utterly convinced when in the evening all the dacha visitors had left and I passed by his house.  Through the glass in the window I saw in his room white bricks covered by a cloth.  When I returned in the morning to our land, then we were missing 12 bricks.  The next morning, once again we were missing 12 bricks.  That day, we finished gathering the bricks and covered them well with old cellophane.  On top I fastened a wooden board and wrote in big letters, “Take, go ahead, but understand that God all the same will punish you.”

For the winter my wife and I went back to Chimkent in order to return again in the spring.  We sold our car and used the sales proceeds to shuttle back and forth between Chimkent and Kaliningrad, buy building materials, and feed ourselves.

In the winter time I actively participated in the construction of the church in Chimkent.  The construction was in full swing.  At the church they organized a kitchen and eating area.  All the builders, young, old, and children, ate once a day.  My wife worked in the kitchen and helped the cooks.  Everyone worked ferociously without any pay.  If someone could not help in the building, he or she baked bread, biscuits, cakes, and brought them to the work site.  Many brought fruit, vegetables, and flowers.  There was an overall atmosphere of excitement.

In this manner, for 3 years, exclusively using our own means, the Christians built out a wonderful church building.  It was so professional that city officials came and gave a good evaluation of the quality of the construction.  My wife and I could not attend the christening of the church building, but I wrote a little poem, which I present below, called “Construction of the Chimkent House of Prayer”:

  1. On one of the streets of old Chimkent

Stood an ancient, clay construction

Not of brick, and not of cement,

But covered simply with bulrushes.

  1. In it on weekends on their way

Christians, who on the earth dwell,

Here in quiet they did pray,

Sang hymns as well.

  1. Windows closed with blinds

From rocks and mockery

Lamps burned at nights

So all the people one could see

  1. After persecution it was a difficult time

After prisons, camps, and dungeons,

But… winter passed and the spring’s light

Warmed fathers, mothers, and children.

  1. God pronounced, “If something I close,

Then no one can that door open,

If the door of freedom I open,

Even the devil lacks power to close.”

  1. Encouraged by the Lord’s voice of thunder,

The house of prayer filled with people by occupation,

Suffering from spiritual hunger,

They came to accept the gift of salvation.

  1. And already those walls could not contain

All the sinners who came forward and repented

And then they thought and ascertained

And to this conclusion they assented

  1. To wreck the old house – and a new

Bright one out of glass and brick

To build.  Time passed, and it grew

To stand.  Where a hut could not stick.

  1. We fly like wind over Chimkent

We circle over all its bounds

And so many fine homes were sent

But others like our house cannot be found.

  1. “House of Prayer” on the sign they did write,

Everyone can enter for free.

God to Himself does invite,

All who wish salvation to see.

  1. Here Christians slaved

Voluntarily whoever could do so was here

Strength and means they gave

All who to God were dear.

  1. And now the house is filled with saved souls

Hurry, friend, and don’t be late

To the temple of saved, revived ones who are holy

To His feet hurry, don’t wait.

  1. Run while the time is not yet done

While Heaven still pours out grace and does not desist,

While the Holy seed is still being sown,

Soon the time will come to gather the harvest.

  1. Because God will close

The door to Heaven through which anyone can come

And which no one will later be able to loose

Life or death – look and choose to come!

In the spring, we returned to Kaliningrad to continue the construction of our home.  Coming to our land, we saw that our bricks were untouched.  The sign on the board remained in place.  I do not know, but I am certain that God intervened for us.  Apparently, the thief read the sign, and his conscience spoke to him.  In the past, I saw him every day at the train station stop, but this spring and summer, we no longer saw him.  Pity the man, if God did punish him for his sin.

During this season, my wife and I as a twosome poured the foundation, built up the walls, and covered them with cellophane.  Inside we laid fabricated window frames and doors.  We installed windows and doors.  Then we prayed and departed for the winter to Chimkent.

Now we visited a brand new church building.  Despite that massive emigration from our country had begun, our church was not empty.  People came and repented.  Soon when we exited the church after the worship service, we already had challenges in finding familiar faces.

And so approached the third and final summer of our construction in Kaliningrad.  That summer we nearly finished building our home and moved into one room to live.  During that summer, my wife and I dug a deep well.  I dug the well from within, while my wife dragged away a bucket with water and dirt.  We worked hard so that her sons would move to Kaliningrad.  But God had other plans for us.

During our 3 seasons in Kaliningrad, we became acquainted with a young family of Christian believers.  A friend and I often traveled to visit small churches in the towns of Sovetsk and Bagrationovsk, 120 kilometers away.  My friend was also called Viktor Aleksandrovich like me, only with a different last name.  His wife was named Tonya.  God’s love brought us close, and we were nearly inseparable.  In our free time we also participated in the early construction phase of the church building in Kaliningrad.

My friend told me how he came to God.  His father was a drunk.  He cooked up homemade alcohol and got drunk with his son until they passed out. One time after getting drunk, they closed the gutter in the oven and overheated.  His father died, and Viktor barely managed to crawl out to a house next door to some neighbors.  They helped him come out of it.  When he met Tonya, who was already a Christian, he repented.  They had one daughter and lived well.  When we traveled to go on visits, we loved to sing.

By the fall, my wife fell seriously ill as a consequence of working hard at construction and digging a well.  During this time, my wife’s sons returned from Germany through Kaliningrad to our house.  Seeing their sick mother, they told me to urgently take her back to Chimkent.  I had to put the house up for sale and urgently flew out to Chimkent.  We asked the church in Kaliningrad to pray for us.

We also asked the church in Chimkent to pray for my ill wife.  The prayers of the church, children, and grandchildren were heard, and God sent recovery to my wife.  This would be the final summer we spent in Chimkent.

My sister Pasha went to America.  My sister Anya with whom I lived in Karlag had died.  Soon Volodya, the older son of my wife, departed with his family for America.  Finally, our call to America came.  We went to Moscow to the meeting at the US Embassy and received “Refugee” status.  We quickly sold our things, did not bargain over our house, and gave everything else to our neighbors.  We bid farewell to the church with our whole family, our children and grandchildren.  We embarked on their long journey.  Farewell Kazakhstan!  Farewell my second motherland, where I had lived for 62 years.  And greetings to American the land of the free, about which I read and heard many good things.  What awaited us there?  Only God knew.

Chapter Twenty Nine: New Life

We lived in our own house, 3 homes from my wife’s parents.  We owe a lot to my mother-in-law who helped us to raise our children, for both my wife and I were working.  I worked in the carpentry shop, and my wife worked as a nurse in the local hospital.  My wife worked shifts.  Often when she had to work day shifts, then there was nowhere to leave the children.  Then my mother-in-law stepped in.  Besides her own 6 children as well as ours, Zoe’s children also came.  Like a kind grandmother, my mother-in-law found enough time and affection for everyone.

I looked up to my mother-in-law, although I did hurt her sometimes with unpleasant situations.  They occurred on paydays after I got drunk.  Although it happened rarely, as they say, it still hurt.  Sin did its job and firmly held me in its clutches.  Although God out of His love for me kept His guardian angel over me, still Satan sometimes managed to get me and do damage.  Such as what happened this time, when on payday, I was detained by my friends at the break room and got drunk on wine.  I recall how I was one of the last ones to leave.  I sat on my bicycle and pedaled home.  It was still light outside.  My daily route to work went near the cemetery.  I rode along the tall dam over a canal which passed through the cemetery.  How did I still manage to hold onto the bicycle on such a narrow dam with a width of only 2 meters?

Suddenly, I lost control of the handle bar and went off the dam.  My wheel smashed right into a wooden cross of the nearest grave.  In an unconscious state, I embraced the cross and fell into a dead sleep.

I woke up late at night.  Over my head stars shone brightly and illuminated the crosses and grave monuments around me.  Some night bird gave out a ghastly cry.  My bicycle lay nearby.  Once I remembered where I was and what had happened, I slowly got up, sat on my bicycle, and went home.  At home waiting for me were my suffering wife and mother-in-law.  They sat near our sleeping children.  Quietly, not saying one word to justify myself and hearing out all that they told me, I went to my bed to sleep off the rest of the night.

The next day, the same scene repeated itself.  After a long, tough day, we decided to get drunk, and everything started again.  This time, again under strong intoxication but without accident, I made it home in all of 2 hours.  Once again, I saw my crying wife and upset mother-in-law.  They began to scold and blame me.  At that time, in order not to hear their harangues, I chose to leave home.  My mother-in-law blocked my way at the outdoor steps.  Both of them dislodged me and attempted to bring me inside the house.  I escaped and ran outside.  They did not chase me.  After some time, I came into the house again.  In an unconscious condition, I seized my little daughter Galyochka.  Whatever she was wrapped in, I took her into the darkness of the night.

No one chased me as apparently neither my wife nor mother-in-law had noticed me.  I stumbled around on foot but did not fall, for in my arms was a precious cargo, my beloved child.  I came to my sister’s, who turned pale from fright.  She took my daughter from my arms who amazingly did not cry while I carried her on that scary journey.  Pasha put her in her own bed and then put me to sleep in that room already familiar to the reader.

I awoke in the morning and could not fathom how I wound up in that room.  My sister told me everything in order, how I came utterly drunk and brought in my hands my baby.  It took an hour to walk to my sister’s house.  When she put us both to sleep, two hours later, my wife and mother-in-law found us here at my sister’s.  They did not wake me up but took our baby and went home.

It was a hard blow to my soul.  I myself was not happy.  Sin tortured me.  I knew that I was inflicting immeasurable pain on my wife and relatives.  I tried not to sin.  When I found strength not to sin, I myself spent time in happiness.  But again and again, I burst out.  Of course, living in such a way was intolerable.

So the time came when my wife declared to me that she would have to divorce me if I not stop drinking.  I deeply became aware of my guilt and asked her forgiveness.  I promised her this would never happen again.  Similar to the time when I enrolled in the seventh grade at the Klokov School and restrained myself during probation of one month, so this time I decided resolutely to part with this sin.  I understood that if I did not change my life, then a fatal resolution inevitably would result.  I quit smoking a long time ago right after my wedding.  Although the temptation to smoke was strong, I firmly suppressed this desire within myself.  Yet still, 10 years later, I could no longer hold out and smoked.  Then I started to vomit.  Since that time, I cannot stand it when I smell tobacco smoke from people near me.

Now I broke with this sin, the sin of drunkenness.  I constantly went to church with my wife and children.  I tried hard to understand the essence of Holy Scripture.  I thought a lot about why God tolerated my sin for so long, why with his unlimited power and might He put up with me and the deafness of people, His creation.

It seemed to me that God could in one moment exterminate from the face of the Earth this pathetic creation and create for Himself a new, obedient one that would have brought joy to His eyes.

Many incomprehensible questions took root in my head.  Sometimes I thought to the point that my brain ached, but I could not receive a clear answer.  I envied those people who came to church after several sermons, repented, and changed their lives.

Once, I read a place in the Bible that states, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.”  (Isaiah 55:8)  “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  (John 15:16)

Then I heard a sermon in which one brother explained the condition of human faith like the action of a driver.  He said this, “When I drive a car up a mountain and realize that the car won’t make it, I put it in third gear.  Then second gear, and if it still does not make it, then I put it into first gear.  Finally, with higher speed I make the ascent.  That is how life is, when I can understand nothing about what God is doing with us.  I rely solely on faith, for only faith can carry us to where we need to go.”

I firmly resolved to take this path.  I remember one church service.  A young brother from Alma-Aty preached a sermon.  He spoke about God’s mercy to sinful people.  For comparison, he used the example of how a king came to a prison and ordered the prisoners to line up in formation.  The king announced, “Whoever can prove his innocence will receive absolution promptly.”  The whole formation stepped forward and each person justified himself.  Only one prisoner stayed in the corner and stood silently.  When the king asked him why he did not defend himself, the prisoner humbly answered that he was completely guilty and did not deserve absolution.  Then the king promptly gave him freedom and left the rest in prison.

I felt that the prisoner standing quietly in the corner was me.  I deserved no justification after so much suffering which I had inflicted upon myself, my wife, and my children.  And I loudly declared so everyone could hear it, “Now or never!”

I got up, went forward, and repented.  I wept.  It was difficult to communicate in words that joy which I finally felt in my heart.

After the service, brothers and sisters came to me and sincerely congratulated me with my wise decision.  In other words, I put my trust in faith.  I understood that everything that ever happened with me, beginning from my very childhood up to that day was under the will of God.  He ordained that I underwent that fire of suffering and sin, so that as a result I would truly become His child.  It meant there was no other alternative.

From that day, I firmly changed my life.  At work they quickly learned of my decision.  Friends began to mock me.  One friend told me, “What happened, did you become a Baptist?”

“Yes,” I answered.  “I would advise you to become a Baptist, not a Barstoolist.”

Even the director of the factory, Pyotr Pavlovich Lebedev, summoned me to his office and talked with me for a long time.

As much as I was able, I explained to him that I thought I had made the right decision,  I believed in the existence of a creating power called God.  It was a lot easier to believe in a rational power than that everything had created itself, as they attempted to indoctrinate us in the lectures on atheism.  “Some microbes crawled out of a swamp and gradually evolved and multiplied – and then appeared man.”  The director smiled at my words and wished me the best of luck in my decision.  He let me leave.

Soon we had a third child, a son whom we named Mishutka.  He grew up a healthy and strong baby.  But tragedy struck.  I was at work, and my wife was with the kids at home.  She was about to work the night shift.  At 11 AM, my wife went to the store located 10-15 minutes from our house.  She commanded Sergey and Galya to watch Mishenka who she put in our bed in our room.  The bed was moved toward a locked door that at one time connected the bedroom with the hall.  Between the bed and the door formed a crack of about 30 centimeters.

While their mother was at the store, the kids got caught up in playing outside and never once looked into the room.  But Mishenka, who had just turned 7 months, played by himself and fell into the crack between the bed and the door.  His body was stuck, and his head was placed facedown into the mattress.  He suffocated.

When my wife returned and stopped by the room, it was already too late.  She took the still warm baby and tried to do artificial resuscitation.  It was all in vain.  They called the ambulance.  The authorities ruled it was asphyxiation – death by suffocation.  They summoned me from work, but what could I do?  Whom could I blame?  My wife, who had put her trust in the children who got carried away with playing and forgot about her strict order?  It was very difficult to endure such sorrow.

We buried him in the new cemetery 5 kilometers outside of the city.  Out of extreme emotional stress, my wife fell ill.  Even here, utterly despicable people put out the rumor that we Baptists offered our son as a sacrifice.

What unfair cruelty and deception!  The enemy of human souls uses all kinds of tactics in an effort to inflict woe on Christian people.  He utilizes all possible skills.  Here he invented even this device.

It affected my wife so deeply that her blood pressure rose up to 220 and never declined again.

As a man who had experienced so much pain and suffering in my own childhood, I endured this grief more easily than my wife.

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.”   (Job 1:21)

The long suffering Job whom God permitted to suffer much once uttered these words.  But he remained faithful to God.  God blessed him and gave him more than what he had lost.  We read about this in the book of Job.

Soon we had another daughter named Tanyochka.  Finally, our life went into a normal routine.  Children grew up obedient and healthy.  We had abundance in our home.

I took up beekeeping without taking a break from work.  At first I had the necessary transportation – a bicycle.

Technology in our country advanced.  Motorcycles appeared, and I bought a motorcycle called “Korovets”.  Then I bought an “Iva”.  Then my demands and opportunities grew, and as soon as they produced the first model “Zhiguly”, the men in the organization assigned me that automobile.  It was in 1973.  It was a very good, reliable model.

We raised rabbits on our property.  They multiplied up to 200 rabbits.  The younger brother of my brother helped me a lot in this endeavor.  With me, they prepared hay and cleaned out the rabbit cages.  For this I drove them first on my bicycle, then on the motorcycle.   When I bought the car, we took our whole family and drove to the hives and to the cities of Alma-Aty, Karaganda, Fergana, and Tashkent.

We lived on friendly and happy terms.

Beekeeping is a very interesting and profitable venture.  Children always helped me.  Time passed, and my children grew up.

And then the time came for my son Sergey to join the Army.  Two years later, he returned intact and honestly served out his tour of duty.  Like birds that grow up and leave their parents’ nest, the time came for my children to flee their parents’ home.

The first to flee the nest was my daughter Galochka.  She married a believer named Nikolay Leven, a German by ethnicity.  They moved in with his parents.  Later they built their own house and lived happily and got along well.

Following Galya was my son Sergey who married.  His wife was Vera Georgievna Anisimova, also from a Christian family.  They moved to our house, and my wife and I moved to temporary housing.

Praise God that our wife and I managed to raise good, obedient children and show them the love of God.  All of them became church members.  My son became a choir director in the church.

Of course, the credit for raising our children belonged to my wife and mother-in-law.  As I could, I tried to help them in this affair.  I am happy that the Lord changed my life at the root and did not allow my children to undergo that which He allowed me to experience in my years of childhood and adolescence.

I bought musical instruments: a mandolin, violin, accordion, and later on, a fortepiano.  In our house every evening, music and song were heard.  We organized our own home orchestra.  We had a large and warm family.

Almost every evening, all the Chemurins, Shumeykins, and Christian neighbors gathered at our house.  When the orchestra played, I banged with spoons in rhythm.  Instead of drums, we used a converted empty saucepan.  Some could play music with combs.  It turned out to be joyous and noisy.  We sang many Christian hymns.  Our home was hospitable.  I think I will remember it the rest of my life.  All our neighbors respected us, and we lived in peace with them.

One time I bought a television.  And the enemy of human souls almost sucked us in with this achievement of science and technology.  In the beginning, we began to watch only harmless and, I would even say, good films like “Animal World”, “Travelers’ Club”, and kids cartoons.  These films were useful for curiosity and could not bring us harm or exert a negative influence on our spiritual state.

But then, subtly we got used to it.  We were glued to the screen and watched everything in a row, all that had a harmful influence on our minds and souls, especially those of children.  The films showed murder, robbery, rape, war, perversion, naked men and women, sex, kissing, etc.  I personally am not opposed to television if it is used wisely.  You can learn many useful things and watch with pleasure Christian films like “The Life of Jesus Christ” and others.

But to a degree among Christian families who have televisions, Satan weakens the watchfulness of the Christian and begins to feed him spoiled food without noticing it and makes his heart cold toward serving God.

That is what occurred with us.  We hurried home from church for we knew that at a certain time an interesting film would begin.  All our family got together in our home at the television screen.  Then there was nowhere to sit, so they lied and sat on the floor.  If a film dragged on, children even fell asleep in front of the screen.  We watched all kinds of fighters and other such genres.  Even my mother-in-law came over on a regular basis.  She sat wherever it was comfortable and knitted socks for her grandchildren while she sat and watched the screen with her eyes above her glasses.  She never fell asleep in such a position.

Our singing and orchestras almost ceased.  I felt a growing depressive heaviness in my heart.

So one time on the screen appeared some unclean spirits dressed in black robes with guitars in their hands.  Beating the music in rhythm, they cried loudly, “God says, ‘Yes!’  God says ‘Yes!’”  The largest demon among them, a naked creature with fully grown long hair with large horns on its head, shouted above them, “But the devil says, ‘No!’  But the devil says, ‘No!’”

I looked at the children, whose hair stood on end.  Looking at one another and crushed, they smiled.  Everything in the room became quiet.  And my heart beat!  I quickly turned off the television.  Quietly, everyone who was depressed departed.

And I thought – what was I doing?  How much effort we invested in raising our children, making them real people who followed the Creator, the all-high God?  We had such success!  So much joy and happiness was in our home, and then suddenly…

The next morning, I wrapped the television in a cloth and took it to the department store and sold it for 10 rubles.  Not only did I have no regret, but I had joy.  From that time onward, I consider a television in a Christian family without wise use to be a cleverly disguised trap placed by the enemy of men’s souls unnoticed to capture the souls of both children and adult Christians.

After being saved from the television, music and song once again filled our home with the joy we used to enjoy before.

Since that time, when I visit Christian families who have television, I observe this sort of scene.  Adults sit at the screen, and children as usual sit on the floor.  The television shows some perverse film.  Lovers are kissing or begin to have open sex.  Instead of turning off the television, the adults tell their children to close their eyes.  The kids obediently close them and wait when everything is over.  They close their eyes, but their minds are pondering what is happening.  In the future, they can even repeat the act themselves.

Yes, in those years, television just got started.  Now it is already 1998 on our planet!  Here are several examples from the Russian newspaper published in America:

“Tupelo, Mississippi: According to the latest data from the American Family Association, violence on television in the last 6 months declined by 30%, but sexual acts rose by 31%, and uncensored speech rose by 26%.  Studies show also that 94% of television shows during prime time contain violence, sex, and cussing.  88% of sexual acts were outside of marriage…  For the year, the four major television networks showed 16,822 sexual events, 26,195 scenes with vulgar language, and 9,412 scenes of violence out of a total of 526,429 scenes!”  (Newspaper “Our Days”, June 20, 1996)

It is frightening to read about such data.  After getting rid of my television, our home once again hosted music and singing.  I have never ever regretted disposing of the television.  Our life returned to its old routine.

And then new joy – our daughter Galya gave birth to a son whom they named Yura.  From that day, my wife and I had become grandparents!  We had our first grandson.  Then Sergey and Vera had a daughter Inna.  Cares and people grew.  Grandchildren were spreading like mushrooms.

But along with happiness, sadness also paid a visit to us.  Each day my wife’s blood pressure rose and attained a terrible number of 240.  No folk medicines, regular medicines, or professors to whom I drove my wife could help.  We wrote to famous professors at a prestigious institute in Moscow asking for help.  They answered that they would put us in a cue and told us to wait.

But our turn only came the next year, when my wife had already entered Eternity with God, where there are no illnesses, and where doctors are not needed.  She died in the hospital where she had worked putting others to bed for 22 long years.  Not long before her death, our children commemorated our silver 25th wedding anniversary, but then premature separation.  She was 45 years old.  We lived together for 26 years.  She was a kind, faithful wife, tender and intelligent mother, a model Christian, having raised 3 children for the Lord.  I am indebted to her for with her patience and affection she helped to free me from sin and become a Christian.  I was a great sinner.  I had brought Nina much woe, but God heard her prayers, the prayers of the church, and the prayers of our children and all my numerous relatives.  In 1962, I concluded my pact with the Lord and was saved from inevitable death.

We buried here in the same cemetery where our Mishutka was interred.  The children put a marble monument in their mother’s memory.  I am certain that the memory of any mother always remains in the hearts of children and grandchildren.  I was 50 years old when I became a widower.

I often ponder human life and often ask myself the question: why along with joy does tribulation often visit us?  One poet answered me with these words:

“Sometime in a world without shadows,

Not here, but there in the heavenly azure,

We will understand the meaning of woes

And… we will understand this treasure.

Why everything grew dark all around

Why success was nowhere to be found

And the song…  suddenly everything was visible,

In the heavenly country all to us will be understandable.

God knows all things – He holds the key,

Our entire life in His hand.

Only there at peace we will be,

In that divine heavenly land!

Trust God in all always –

He guides us in our ways.

Now it is dark – but close is the heavenly land

And there?  There we will all understand.”


Chapter Twenty Eight: Discharge

I arrived at the base at night.  My friends were waiting for me.  We sat on our beds.  I opened up my suitcase, took out the apples bought in Chimkent, and distributed them to my friends and neighbors.  Naturally, in my youthful trust, I told my friends about my grief.  They tried to comfort me the best they could.

The last year of my tour of duty passed without special incident.  The year passed as if I had served for 5 years as each day came closer to the day of discharge.  As it is well known, minutes of anticipation are longer than hours.  I no longer had any desire to go out on leave and spent all my free time reading books.  My whole tour of duty took place in the forming of all kinds of boards and schematics, some in the headquarters, some in the hangar, some in the Lenin Room, where I became an artist.  They even relieved me of my duties as a weapons mechanic for this job.

When Josef Vissarionovich Stalin fell ill, at the request of the political officer, I drew a chart on a large board that tracked the condition of his health.  On a daily or sometimes even an hourly basis, I noted the condition of his health, his heartbeat, temperature, blood pressure, etc.  Soldiers who walked through the Lenin Room read the latest information on the bulletin board.  Stalin’s health and the deterioration of his heart were tracked by the entire large country and perhaps even the whole world.


When one time the political officer stopped by, I asked him what news he brought.  He answered, “That’s it.  You don’t have to write anything down anymore.  Stalin died.”

For an entire week, radio and television broadcasts were canceled.  The only programs heard were dour, funeral music.  On the airbase pilots sat under red alert in their warplanes nonstop and rotated for one another.  Officers’ wives constantly cried.

So, one man who had unlimited power could influence the fates of millions of people.  Many who heard only good things about him sincerely cried and worried about the future of the country.  Only this man could be at the helm of this country for so many years.  But if people had only known how much sorrow he and his henchmen had wrought, then they would have rejoiced.

But life does not stand still.  In his place came another leader.  For me, soon the expected day arrived.  The order for my honorable discharge arrived.  Several of us men were summoned to the headquarters.  They read our order and made us a proposal.  Since they did not expect to form a divisional train to ship discharged men home, they wanted us to repair the hangar and the headquarters building and clean them.  In exchange, they would let us leave independently on the passenger train home.

In those years, enlisted men and discharged soldiers were transported in freight cars.  Of course, with pleasure we accepted their offer.  We bought with our own money the necessary supplies: paint, brushes, etc.  We went to work.  It took us all of 10 days to conduct a full renovation.  The commanding officers were pleased with us.  They expressed their gratitude, bought us tickets, and gave us our personal military documents.  Farewell Primorye!  Farewell military service!  Had it not been for Arsenyev’s book, I could have served my tour of duty in China or Germany like many of my classmates, but “such was my fate,” as one song says.

Again 10 days on the road, again through the window “Glorious sea – holy Baikal”, again wonderful smoked omul, again passing by swamp, towns, villages – and finally we survivors were pulled under the sun of the Kazakh steppe.

I arrived in my native city Chimkent on October 1944, having served 4 years in the military.  The familiar train station, familiar Kreger Street, familiar house number 138 – the only unfamiliar thing was my heartbeat.  I knocked on the door, and on the porch appeared my sister Pasha.  Hugs, questions, stories.  My sister told me that Valya had come by to say goodbye.  She finished medical school with honors and asked to be sent to work in the Karaganda district on one of the collective farms.  She thanked us for all the good things she had experienced in that home and asked not to hold any grudge against her.  Then she left.

I went to her father.  He answered the doorbell.  When he saw me, he rudely answered that Valya was not home, that she was gone.  Everything was over.  I had to get a grip on myself and start life all over again.  Inside of me everything overheated.  The only thing that remained was the unpleasant remnant of my own guilt.

But youth demanded to live for oneself!  I was almost 24 years old.  I completely admitted to my error.  I did not blame anyone.  With my own hand I myself broke the tie between Valya and me which was called true “first love.”  I knew that I was incapable of loving anyone else on earth the same way, but I had to live and start from the beginning.  I was full of health and creative energy.  Everything within me demanded one thing: life!

I got a hold of myself and tried no longer to think about the past.  I promised myself never to repeat the same tragic mistake.

During that time, a group of Christian young people often visited me.  They talked with me and invited me to their worship services.  I knew many girls from my prior visits before my army service.  I attended church services, heard sermons summoning me to repent, and heard wonderful singing.

All this somehow mortified my heart, but I could never admit that I was a sinner.  I went through too much in my childhood.  I could not understand how an all-powerful God could permit such sorrow for my entire family.  How was this punishment deserved by my father, mother, brother, sisters, and us three?  This and many other things were incomprehensible to me.  So despite the fact that I went to church, sang hymns with everyone else, and read the Bible, I remained self-sufficient and far from the love of God.

I respected in their teaching purity of relationships, kindness, honesty, and order.  I saw a great difference in the behavior, living, and works of the young men and women from church versus those whom I knew from my past.  I no longer traveled in such circles, although my old friends still invited me to their meetings.  But to admit I was a Christian and to repent, I could not do.

I even defended the moral principles of Christianity when I was in the military as well as here in talking with people.  When they told me that Christians would offer children as sacrifices and carry out all kinds of perversions, I challenged them to visit church services and see for themselves before spreading out such rumors.

Once again, I found work in the same expedition.  They received me with pleasure, and I once again went out on business.  This time, our work brigade had to conduct a survey of the depth and banks of the Kirov Grand Canal, beginning at the head of the canal starting in Uzbekistan at the Varkhatges Dam until the mouth of the canal which went up to the very sands of Kara-Kum.  When we conducted our work in the Jetisay region, I saw the very village, the very house, the same canal bank where my first love so quickly took place.

The Hungry Steppe was beyond recognition.  During my four year absence, in place of a bare steppe, everywhere stood cotton fields, irrigation canals, planted young trees, and numerous settlements in which lived hired people from all over Kazakhstan.  But the picture of these settlements brought despair.  The settlements were half empty.  They did not pay people their salaries for years.  They gave up everything and returned to their old homes.  They abandoned their old homes for robbery.  There was no coal neither firewood to buy.  The people who remained at night broke into vacant houses, broke windows and doors, took off the roof tiles, and used it for heating fuel.  It was an awful picture.  Students brought from the cities conducted cotton picking.  It served as free labor.  One must conclude that such help caused more loss than gain.



Seeing all this chaos, I lost interest in my work and thought about quitting.  When my business trip ended, I arrived in Chimkent again for the winter.  Loneliness troubled me, so I decided no matter what to find myself a girlfriend for life.  There were many women both among my old acquaintances and those at church.  Choices abounded.  Naturally, not every girl would have married me since they knew my past.  Regardless, I felt compelled to search.

So I started to examine the Christian ladies.  I even chose not to look for a girlfriend outside.

So one time, a girl came to our home.  She was a cousin of my brother-in-law.  She was of short height, plump, a girl pleasant to look at.  Her name was Nina Chepurina.  I knew her before my military service when she was an annoying girl who often irritated me.  Now she was different.  She was more mature and a completely formed lady.

From first sight, I liked her and thought for some reason that she would become my wife, my destiny.  That is how it turned out.  We started to meet.  She was also studying her final year at the medical school.  She was raised in a Christian family.  I completely appreciated that fact about her.  Her father was also repressed and served a prison sentence of 10 years for his faith in God.  At that time, her mother was forced to raise 4 children by herself.  I attentively watched Nina and recognized that she would become a good wife.  She did everything at home neatly, cleanly, and very quickly.

Once we came from the street which got hit by a heavy downpour.  We were soaked from head to foot.  Our shoes were dirty.  Not expecting any help, she quickly took off the foam inside the boots and washed them out.  Then she washed our boots and put them on the oven to dry.  I liked this very much.  I was convinced that she would be a meticulous wife.  Of course, the love that I had for Valya was not the same, but I was satisfied that I liked Nina.  She knew literally everything about me.

Gradually I came to know Nina.  It turned out that when she was still a girl, when she bothered me, she got the idea in her head that I would eventually belong to her.  During school she had a suitor whom she dated.  They expressed their love for one another, but then they had a falling out.  He left for the Army and still wrote her letters.  She also loved him.  When I proposed friendship to Nina, she did not hesitate and gave her consent.  She wrote her guy in the Army so that he would no longer have hopes for her.

Of course, I understood that there was no true, pure, first love.  Not, but we were united as one.  We both wanted to raise a strong Christian family.  After she finished school, they sent her to work in the collective farm “Lenin-zhol” located 30 kilometers from the city.  Dating became more complicated.  I had to buy a bicycle to meet Nina for dates.  Once I had to carry my bicycle 20 kilometers on returning to Chimkent.  One of the tires had a hole in it.  I did not have a spare tire nor something to patch the hole.  But what does not happen in one’s youth?!  So for 20 kilometers I looked like a fool, but afterward I always took with me a spare.

The time came to seriously consider marriage.  When I proposed marriage to her, she gave her consent.  I went courting, a custom of our people, by myself.  I had no friends, and I always made decisions on my own.  Her parents gave their blessing, and we named a wedding date for the fall of 1956.  They married us in the Evangelical Christian Baptist Church of which Nina was a member and I was a regular visitor.  The church’s pastor, Grigory Semyonovich, read us exhortations from the Bible.  They asked us if we agreed to merge our lives in love.  Of course, we answered in the affirmative as everyone does.

But then we had a little confusion take place.  Before the wedding ceremony, we realized that we had left the actual document attesting to our marriage at the home of her parents.  I had to run home. Her house was under construction.  Since the door was locked, I had to enter through the chimney of the furnace, take the document, and go outside through the same way.  This operation took nearly an hour of time.  I ended up getting my wedding outfit a little dirty.

After the wedding, her parents, relatives, and girlfriends congratulated us.  My best man was Gena Ivanchenko, the future choir director of our church.  In the future we would work together in the same work brigade of carpenters.

The wedding banquet took place in the garden of my sister’s home.  Two long tables were set up.  The time was postwar, thus the meal was rather modest.  Nothing to boast about.  But tea with sugar abounded without limit.

We invited about 50-60 people.  My mother came from Karaganda, and my brother Sasha came from Tashkent.  As if they all made a deal, they brought us the same gifts.  Single glass pitchers, 30 by our count.  For many years, we preserved them without ever using them once.  It is true that when they invited us to other weddings, we would grab a glass pitcher and give it to other young couples.

At the height of the feast, a strong wind blew and knocked out the electricity.  We had to finish the meal with lighting a single candle.  Of course, this was not particularly pleasant, but we were not very upset.

That is how our wedding went and then our troubled marriage, in which we took vows of happiness, turned into various arguments and even dramas.  We lived with Nina’s parents in their new house where they gave us one room.  In the spring they sent me on a business trip to field work.  But since I was separated from my young wife at home, I could no longer work.  I gave notice that I was quitting.

In those times to quit, you had to give one month’s notice.  However, they released me earlier, and I went home having been surprised at how quick things transpired.  So I departed from my beloved profession, and now I had to seek new work.  I did not have other skills, so I went to a factory that made clay bricks.  The work was hard, but it generated income.  Then I changed professions like gloves.  I had to work as a gravedigger, then a simple construction worker in a work team building a cotton factory.

Then I worked in repairing textile molds at the Chimkent textile factory.  Finally, out of utter luck, I became a carpenter in the builders’ guild.

I met an elderly man with whom I had worked in the construction brigade.  He invited me to work for him in the brigade.  He recommended me to the foreman for a position as a carpenter, even though I understood little about carpentry.  They accepted me into the team without suspecting that I had no experience whatsoever.

At our wedding, no one gave us anything besides glassware.  So we had to build our nest ourselves.  Nina could sew well on the sewing machine.  Out of any rag she could sew curtains, shades, and all kinds of napkins.  Out of swamp grass I made excellent pillows and feather bed.  I assembled a double bunk.  Using wooden cigarette boxes, I constructed closets and a kitchen table.  We were completely satisfied with our clever arrangement.

Our generation lived in difficult postwar circumstances.  The stores did not sell furniture.  Many years, we had to wait in line for a loaf of bread.  But we were satisfied with everything.  Now, in the 1990’s, young people are completely different.  At their weddings, you have to donate an apartment, imported furniture, a car, china, in other words, anything and everything.

In our time, everything was different.  So when they accepted me into the work brigade, I could do almost anything.  I just had to watch the carpenters and how they did their work.  Then I quickly picked up on all the subtleties of the carpentry profession.  After a month, Lyusya, the director of our collective, looked at my labor book and realized that I had no carpentry experience.  She asked the foreman, Nikolay Ivanovich, about my work.  He answered with satisfaction that my work was no worse than anyone else’s and even better than some.  I tried with all my might to build up my credibility before others.  Then they decided to formally register my profession.  They gave me a quiz that I passed with flying colors.  They registered me as a fourth level carpenter.  This was the lowest position in the brigade.

So I worked in this organization until my retirement.  The work was difficult.  I had to haul heavy boards in the heat.  In the winter, I had to work on the machines at the workshop with broken glass.  But the members of the brigade, aside from a few people, were all young.  Not sparing our energies, we “applied ourselves” under the compelling command of the foreman to “keep going!”

It was a strange system.  Building materials were plenty.  Boards and planks were scattered about the yard and the adjoining street.  But finished product was forgotten in storage. Because of its poor quality, no one could use it.  Everyone built things out of raw material.  Almost every year, they increased the work quotas, yet our wages remained the same.  To our harm, they gave us daily ration coupons for half a liter of milk.  Yet we never saw milk.  And when we began to complain about these poor conditions, they took away the harm.  Complaining was futile.  People dragged out what they could.  The accounting department juggled all kinds of false papers, lists of dead people, and etc. in an effort to turn a profit for itself.  Management stole large packets of finished goods, for which they were often caught and punished.  But some of them, particularly the “distinguished ones”, actually received promotions.  Workers took away wood, boards, planks, nails – anything they could get their hands on.

The brigade used to utter an Uzbek proverb in jest: “Do not go home with hand empty.”  And no one went home with an empty hand.  You could take whatever you wanted in your bag.  Breaks as a rule went overtime.  During breaks, we would wrestle right in the break area.  After we got paid, we gathered together and stayed in the main building until we got drunk.  Sometimes I participated in such episodes and arrived home drunk.  Logically, it all ended in an argument.

Two years after the wedding, we had a son, Seryozha.  Our happiness knew no limits.  Amazing!  A son!  A father’s pride!  I walked about all the stores in search of a baby carriage for him to sleep in, but I could not find one.  Finally, I discovered one in another region and bought it.  He slept in it while we took him for walks.  I was so happy and became quite attached to him.  How much joy his childish babble gave us!  How much we laughed when he began to crawl.  He could only crawl backwards, and we nearly fell down laughing because of it.

When our son was born, we decide to show him to my mother who happened to be with my sister Pasha.  Recently, she was working in light trade and shuttled back and forth between Karaganda and Chimkent.  On her last trip, she became quite sick and was lying in serious condition at Pasha’s.

Our wife and I brought our son and showed him to her.  She lied in the bed and then lifted herself up.  When she looked at our son through her tears, she smiled.  Then she pulled out 300 rubles from beneath a pillow.  This was her entire savings from her trade.  She extended it out and gave it to us.  She explained it should be savings for us, as she knew we were building our own home.  Deep in her heart she was hoping to spend her old age with her youngest son.

I do not know how long it took her to save this money.  So now, perceiving her death was at hand, she gave the money to us.  I deeply appreciated her behavior, for I knew it was hard for her to save up this money, which equated to two months of my salary.  In fact, we bought with this money tiles to complete the roof.

But Mother did not live long enough to be with us.  Ailing for 2 months, she died relatively young at the age of 56 years.  They buried her in a local cemetery.  That was the end to her life full of much suffering.

One time they told me that my sister urgently wanted to see me.  I woke up at 6 in the morning hoping that I could stop at my sister’s and find out what was happening before going to work at 8.  When I came to my sister’s, she led me into her home.  She gazed at me deeply and told me to enter the room where I used to live with Valya.  I opened the door…

I saw lying in the bed under the covers Valya.  Everything inside of me exploded!  But I immediately got a hold of myself.  Our gazes met each other.  I read in her eyes an inexpressible emotional wound and somewhere in the depth of her heart a desperate hope.

I asked her how she came here.  With tears and a muted voice, she told me about herself, starting with the day she left our home.  Her father was rough with her.  She was happy when she had finished medical school to be sent off to work in the Karaganda region.  There she lived in a dormitory on a collective farm and worked in the local hospital as a nurse.  In the evenings, she frequented a club, where she became active in the Komsomol working with youth and was even chosen to be its leader.  Guys from the collective farm began to take an interest in Valya.  Soon she married a handsome guy from the collective farm who played the harmonica.  She moved to his house.

His parents loved her.  She gave birth to a daughter.  It had appeared that destiny was smiling on her.  But then that young husband started to drink and cheat on her.  Life became unbearable for her.  He criticized her that he took her as an older lady.  Often, when he was drunk, he beat her.  He forced her to take off his boots.  Then he beat her with his boots.

And so, running out of strength to endure any more humiliation and beatings, she ran away from him and came to her father.  Late at night, she visited my sister and spent the night there.

That is how our meeting went.  I imagined her entire family tragedy which to some extent I was at fault.  No, she did not ask me for anything.  Yet, I realized that deep down in her heart, she was hoping that I also had family problems and would come back to her.

Right before me showed my entire childhood, my bitter orphan days.  In front of my eyes arose my firstborn, my beloved son.  How could I dare even consider abandoning my family and making my son an orphan?  What would he say to me if he were to grow up an orphan and meet me again?  No!  Not for the world would I even consider doing such a thing.  Never in my life!

I sympathized with her and advised her for the sake of her daughter to return to her husband and courageously endure whatever fate sent her.  What else could I have told her?  I was very sorry for her, but there was nothing I could do to help her.  That is our difficult conversation concluded.  I had to go to work, and she expressed her desire to visit my mother’s grave with my sister.  The cemetery fortunately was located near my guild.  After visiting the cemetery, we and Valya said goodbye and would never see each other again.  It was impossible to return what was already lost.

Several years later, Galyockha, our second daughter, was born.  When I had lived in the boarding school, I liked one girl named Galyochka.  Although our daughter was blond, we still named her Galyochka.

Once, when I came to Pasha, she told me that she had met Valya’s sister.  She told Pasha that Valya had died.  She returned to her husband and after giving birth to a second child, she died from hemorrhaging.  None of the techniques the doctors attempted could prevent the bleeding, and she died right in the hospital ward.  Fortune in life is unpredictable: for one, it can turn its smiling face, but for another, it can turn its back.

Chapter Twenty Seven: Vladivostok

All of the school graduates before us were assigned to platoons as privates, junior sergeants, sergeants, senior sergeants, and even elders for those who were distinguished graduates.  So each of us already knew how we fared on our examinations and prepared our caps, sewed onto them emblems, and awaited orders on the day of dispatch.

So the order came: “For the mission of strengthening discipline, release from school only enlisted men.”  Clear and concise.  We threw all of our prepared hats with emblems and spread out to the various military enlisted districts to strengthen discipline.

They sent 20 of us without an escort to the passenger train headed for the Far East military district.  The special document of conduct bored the address of our final destination: “The city Vladivostok, Voroshilovsky Region, Station Manzovka.  V/4 32824.”  I wrote my final letter of farewell to Valya and asked her to answer when she received news of my new place of service.

We traveled 9 days to arrive at our destination.  Along the way we behaved ourselves seriously without any outrageous youthful behavior, rather like true soldiers.  We crossed the Volga, the Ural Mountains, and Novosibirsk.  The scenes through our windows changed, as did the types of homes.  In one place stood wooden homes, in another clay homes stood.  People’s accents also changed.  We traveled along the endless expanses of our country.  After Novosibirsk went the crowded Siberian taiga.  Then appeared the beauty of Baikal.

All day we traveled along the banks of the beautiful lake, constantly entering and exiting tunnels carved into the rocks.  The way was curvy and barely visible when the front car entered into the dark hole of the tunnel.  When it exited, the rear car had still not exited another tunnel.  Along the whole bank of Baikal were built 48 tunnels.  Merchants sold a delicious fish called “smoked Baikal omul” at the stations.  But we could not afford to buy anything.  We just could inhale the pleasant smell of the omuls.  Passengers bought and ate this delicious fish.  We ate dried pike given to us as a ration for 10 days.  They also gave us tea for free.

I remember a Russian folk song:

“Glorious sea – holy Baikal,

Glorious ship – a barrel full of omul,

Hey, Bagruzin!  Pinch me!

Let us swim to the excellent place nearby!”


During the times of the czars and the years after the Revolution, they sent exiles here to the Far East and to Lake Baikal.  This song was composed by one exile who ran away from prison and floated across the lake on a barrel full of omul.  And we were going to the Far East on a passenger train, not knowing what each of us should expect beyond Lake Baikal.

After Blagoveshchensk, we saw through the windows swamp and rare, bare taiga.  I became anxious: did I make a mistake in choosing where to serve?  Is it possible that what Arsenyev had written was all fake?  Farther on we passed short hills grown over with light bushes.  I became utterly depressed here.

At night we approached the station Manzovka.  We came out of the train and asked the train station warden where the military base was located.  We set out on foot in the darkness toward our place of duty.  Our base was located 4 kilometers from the station.  We crossed a large military airbase with parked, armed military jets.  We were yelled at by a guard.  Finding out that we were looking for the base, he showed us directions.  Soon the silhouettes of large hangars surrounded with barbed wire appeared out of the darkness.  I remembered the prisoner barracks in Karlag.  Were we actually going to spend 3 years in this camp behind barbed wire?

The warden of the armory met us and took us to the battalion headquarters.  The next day we were separated into squads of the fighter air battalion.  New duty began for me.

Our battalion flew the newest MIG 17 fighters.  Each contained weapons of 3 cannons and 1 machine gun.  I was named mechanic of the air weaponry with a monthly salary of 500 rubles.  This was good money for that time.  Soldiers who finished ShMAS, the school for junior air specialists, only received 50 rubles a month.  It was a stark difference.

At first it was quite difficult to work. The main part of the battalion consisted of mobilized men, sergeants and officers, while we were simply enlisted men.  They did not want to submit to us enlistees, but the entire responsibility for the mandatory work on weapons belonged to us.  Before every jet sortie, we mechanics recorded our signatures affirming a given jet was ready to fly.  They dressed us warmly since it was winter.  They gave us fur coats, pants, warm gloves, caps with ear flaps, and mittens made out of dog fur.  They fed us well in the battalion.  Generally we worked on servicing the flights and cleaned the weapons after training rounds.

Everything took on its own routine.  Here I admitted my error in choosing this place to serve.  That wonderful nature which Arsenyev described was in some place far away.  Just as the director of the school had told me, I got trapped in such a deep hole that all went completely contrary to expectations.  Around the little village of “Khorol 1” were situated 6 military bases.  The whole area was littered with small, almost bare, hills that had an occasional blooming of nut trees.  From the coast which was somewhere like 200 kilometers away, a fierce snowy wind blew constantly upon us and gave us nowhere to take shelter.  It mixed snow with dust and beat on our faces.  Summer up until noon, from the sea came “exhaust” – complete fog.  Only in the fall did it become warm and quiet, but not for long.

Even if at times I got rest and recreation, then apart from the village, where some soldiers from all of the 6 bases were in search of the only café where you could drink something, there was nowhere to go.  I tried not to go to the village during my R and R.  I took skis, went to the hills, and spent my time skiing on the slopes.  I spent most of time reading books which I took from the wealthy battalion library.  During 3 years of service at Primorye, I read nearly 140 books.  I wrote many letters home and preserved responses in my suitcase and often read them over and over.

There came the hour when I committed a fatal error that could never be corrected even in spite of my desire.  There was a time before I brought Valya to live in my sister’s home.  After a business trip when I was home and Valya lived on the Hungry Steppe, sometimes I visited a girl named Natasha who lived near us in Chimkent.  She was 3 years younger than me and also was a kindly, attractive girl.  I fooled around with her and pretended to be in love with her, which was never a reality.  I was simply trying to show her respect.  Naturally, any young girl would have been touched by such a tender relationship toward her, especially a lady who was not taken.  Apparently, Natasha in her mind had plans for me in the future.

But all my attraction to her was shallow, a way to kill time.  My true love burned in my heart for another lady with whom we had a temporary separation.  When I took Valya to my sister’s home and started to live with her, I had completely forgotten about Natasha and simply said to hello here out of politeness when I saw her.  Natasha never bothered us.  She also became acquainted with Valya and almost saw her every day.

So during my third year of duty, suddenly I remembered Natasha.  Not thinking of the consequences, I wrote her a letter and recalled our meetings and asked her to write me back.  After she received my letter, Natasha went to Valya and read her my letter.  And then the irreversible happened.  I know, I felt it, that Valya with here whole pure girlish soul and heart loved me.  She was confident in the perfection of our mutual love.  She lived in expectation of the time when we would be together once again.  She like me also dreamed about our future and patiently bore all adversity and deprivations of our separation.  She believed in me so much.  But then this letter came!

It was a horrible blow to her.  She was a faithful girlfriend.  Being in separation, she had resolutely rejected all the advances of potential boyfriends who swarmed like flies around a tasty cake.  She was not a beauty, but an attractive, quiet, and modest girl.

Because of this letter, everything in her soul was turned upside down.  Love was extinguished.  Her dreams about future joy were shattered.  Everything about her became dark.  She lost interest in life.  She recognized that I was a deceiver, just like many people.  Is there really no such thing as love, so she thought, that was capable of staying faithful until death separated, in spite of all the problems that surrounded the lovers?  Up to that moment, she had believed that such love did exist, and she had it with Viktor.  But all between them turned out to be a fantasy mirage, which no matter how close you could come, it would always stand far away and inaccessible to you.  What happened with you turned out to be mere vanity.

So this poor, deceived girl heart wailed with unbearable sorrow.  Everything was over.  Such a beautiful flower of the field, brightly blooming and stretching out its petals to the spring sun, suddenly was stepped on by some rude pedestrian’s foot.  It wilted, dried up, and perished.  That is how love and hope were extinguished in Valya’s heart.

She tried to assure herself that it was a mistake.  It was only a little mischief on her beloved’s part.  Everything would be clarified.  This too would pass, and once again happiness would shine upon us.  But she could not persuade herself in spite of her hopes.  About all this, Valya wrote me in a voluminous letter and asked me to forget all that was pure between us.  She asked that I no longer touched the wound in her heart with my written excuses.

When I received that letter and read it, it was as if something in my heart burst.  I realized that with my own hands and my stupid carelessness I destroyed my happiness with one stroke of the pen!  How could this be?  What could I do to fix it?  Could I try once again to explain in a letter that all of this was an accident and that I loved her as before and even more so?  I felt that it would have been in vain.  Maybe I would have reacted in a similar manner had she betrayed me.  I was so crushed by my own sorrow that I did not know what to do.  That happens in life – one careless step and then – off the cliff.

My friends in the service saw my suffering that I could not hide.  Indeed, a person’s face is the mirror to his soul.  Everything that was taking place inside is expressed on the face.  But who could understand me completely?

Soon I received a letter from my sister and brother-in-law.  They rebuked me for my behavior and told me that Valya packed her things and left to live with her father. He had divorced his wife and lived now in Chimkent near the medical school.  Despite their efforts to speak with her, she was irreconcilable.

After this letter, I became more depressed.  One Sunday, Sergeant Khoroshilov proposed to take me and one other soldier to a very interesting place on the weekend.  I consented.  We signed out for the weekend and went together to the village.  In the café we bought 3 bottles of “sulka”, vodka as the soldiers in Primorye called it.  The sergeant sent us on our mission.

I saw a long, earthen barracks, similar to those barracks seen in my childhood in Karlag.  We entered one of the rooms where sat several women.  Their appearance explained everything.  I immediately understood where I was.  Earlier I heard that Khoroshilov visited “the 17th Republic”, as they nicknamed this barracks.  It was an actual night brothel.  We drank up one bottle of “sulka”, then the second, and the third.  There was almost no food, and I quickly became intoxicated.

Through my foggy intellect, I realized that I needed to get up right away and get out, otherwise I would be stuck in this abyss.  I arose, put on my coat, and went into the cold.  It was winter.  The women tried to restrain me, but I escaped and left.  Then Khoroshilov went after me and tried to turn me back.  I stood with my back to the fence and clutched the post.  Seeing that I did not want to return and instead desired to return to the base, he jumped on me, ripping me off together with the posts, and both of us fell into the snow.  I was stronger than him and quickly freed myself of him.

Cursing him, I quickly marched off.  It was a dark night.  I remember that I stopped in some furnace room and asked how I could get into the summer base.  The stoker, a civilian guy, led me out and pointed me in the direction of the air base where our base was located. I saw the identifying lights of the jets which performed night sorties and headed in that direction.  “Suchka” did its job and soon I was completely intoxicated.

Limping around, I fell into some hole.  Apparently, I thought I had arrived at the hangar.  I took my coat and boots off and lied down in the snow to sleep.  Of course without coat and boots, even though I was very drunk, I could not lie down for long in the snow.  But I slept for a bit.  The strong night cold quickly sobered me up.  I could not understand a thing. Where was I?  What happened?  With my teeth chattering, I put on my coat.  I did not find my cap.  I tried to put on my boots, but I could not, for my feet were hardened.

Then I put the foam flaps from my boots in my coat pockets.  Somehow I put my bare feet into the boots and wanted to button my coat.  My hands refused to comply.  I also could not find my soldier’s belt.  In such a messy appearance, I moved along the snow toward the planes standing on the tarmac.  I was fully convinced that the hangar was there.

I arrived at the hangar at 4 in the morning.  Entering the hangar, I saw the hangar warden, a soldier from my wing.  He saw my terrible appearance and understood everything.  He told me that at 2 AM, a drunk Khoroshilov returned from leave and realizing that I had not returned, told the guys how I left.  Some soldiers put out an alarm and went with Khoroshilov to search for me.  But they were unable to find me and returned empty.  And he ordered that they put me in bed until morning.

I got undressed, lied on my bed, and fell asleep quickly.  I slept until 11 AM.  They did not disturb me.  The commander of the wing gave the order not to disturb me.  When I woke up, I myself was to come see him in the headquarters.

I somehow got dressed and put my shoes on.  I went to the commander.  He heard me out and sent me to the commander of the battalion.  When I entered the war room, there sat the commander as well as the commander of the political activity division.  Both men were old.  They listened to me carefully about what had taken place.  When they learned the reason that spurred me to such action, they reacted quite unexpectedly.  They let me go without any disciplinary warning.  I even escaped without having to sit in “the lip” where they could have sentenced me at a minimum for 5 days.  By the way, during my entire 4 years of military duty, I never once sat in “the lip” (solitary confinement).

And so the emergency situation turned out to be a light frostbite of my feet along with my suspension from being a mechanic for 3 months.  Instead of paying me 500 rubles, they now paid me just 50 rubles.  But it could have turned out worse.

One sergeant Ajigitov arrived from the Caucasus military district to our battalion.  He was to continue his extended tour of duty.  That winter, he also fell asleep drunk in the snow.  His hands and feet were frostbitten.  As a result, they amputated his feet up to his ankles and his hands up to his wrists.  That man was paralyzed for life.

Once again I was convinced that God loved me and had sent me His guardian angel.  There were no Christian soldiers in our battalion.  After taps, soldiers in the darkness conversed with one another and told fantastic tales about Baptist Christians.  They said that they close themselves in their homes, blacken the windows, turn off the lights, and commit perverse acts.  I always stopped them and said, “That’s not true, guys.  Don’t believe that nonsense.  I myself as a civilian visited their churches and never saw such things.  When you finish your tour of duty and return home, find a Baptist church in your city, visit it, and see the truth for yourselves.”

“Who are you, a Baptist?” they asked me.

“No,” I answered, “I would like to be a Baptist, but I cannot, but I believe in God.”

The guys laughed at me, but they respected me.  And I got along with a lot of people.  I continued to service jets.  Because there were not enough weapon mechanics and in spite of my demotion, I still signed off on the readiness of the planes and wrote my name in the journal for verifying them.

After 3 months passed, they restored me to my previous rank and monthly salary of 500 rubles.  The director of the headquarters, Major Shulgin, often relieved me from all duties and utilized me in his office as a cartographer.  I had excellent calligraphy skills.  I sketched on the whiteboard all kinds of schematics for air battles.  I cut out of rubber bands figures for various planes which were used for plotting air attacks.  In this manner, I became an important person in the headquarters.

Sensing this, I told Major Shulgin that I wanted to go on extended leave, even though up to that time I had never left the base for extended leave.  Respecting me and appreciating my skills, he promised to give me leave.

And so, after a regular training session on air combat, during which I was in the hangar and working on repairing the floors, they called us to attention.  Commanders came and issued orders to reward those who distinguished themselves with a short-term vacation home.  My name was not among those they read off the list.

I came out of formation and came up to the group of commanders from behind.  Where Major Shulgin stood, I asked him, “Since you, Comrade Major, had promised me leave, then why is my name not on the list?”

He smiled and told me to stand in formation.  After 5 minutes, they blurted out an addition to the order.  “For outstanding accomplishment during air combat training, enlisted man Peychev Viktor is permitted a short-term leave home for the duration of 10 days, including the payment for his round trip travel home and back.”

Hoorah!  If I had kept quiet, who knows how I ever would have managed to come home for leave.  But here, having gotten up the courage, I received the opportunity to be home in my third year of duty.  Finally, I could be home, see my Valyusha, and perhaps solve everything.  I no longer received letters from her.  Since I did not know her address, neither did I write her.

It did not take long to pack.  The next day, I went south on the passenger train “Vladivostok-Novosibirsk”.  They gave me 20 days leave to account for my travel home and back.  October was a warm “Indian summer”.  I went in a clean, warm car and fell in love with the scenery passing through my window.  All my thoughts were already home.

Before my eyes stood a harsh, offended image of Valya.

Passing along the banks of Baikal, I bought 5 kilograms of smoked omul, several bottles of beer, and put it all in a small travel bag.  I had money and did not spend it all.

When we went near the city of Ulan-Ude by night, the conductor announced that we were about to pass by a huge bust of Stalin.  They turned off the light in the car.  We saw from the right of the train an enormous rock on top of which was carved a large bust in the profile of Stalin.  Beneath the bust was a bright light emitted from a projector.  The conductor on the public address system recounted that this bust was cut out by a prisoner.  All the work was completed in 2 years, after which Stalin released him early from his sentence.

Along with me in the car traveled a prisoner freed after having spent 10 years in prison.  I entertained him with omul and beer.  As we talked, he opened up to me everything and told me the details about his life.  Then he told me, “I am going to my brother whom I have not seen in 10 years.  I have no one else, no parents, no girls, no relatives.  I will come to my brother, but then what will I say?  Probably I will punch him in the nose.  Let them send me to prison again.”

I understood such people well.  When I was in Karlag, I met similar people who were utterly fed up with life.  Whether in the zone or prison, whether for 10 years or for several prison terms, it all became for them home.  I understood that prison does not educate people to stand on their own, but rather it handicaps them.  I understood this in Karlag, and now was convinced once again of this after my conversation with the prisoner.

Like a dog tied to a chain for many years and then released to the wild, after doing a few laps will once again return to its chain, for it cannot conceive of life without it.

So without any special incidents, I arrived in the city Chimkent where my beloved girl whom I had deceived was living.  I came to the city in the evening and arrived at my sister’s home.  With tears in her eyes, she told me how Valya, after receiving my letter that Natasha had shown her, cried for a long time.  Then she left without saying a word.

The next morning, I went to the medical school.  During a break, I saw her there.  We went to the side under the gaze of curious girlfriends.  When we were alone, we looked each other in the eye.  In her morbid look, I felt her deep hurt and frigid calm.  I asked her for forgiveness and said that the letter written to Natasha occurred because of my idleness without any serious intention.  This was truly the case.

But Valya answered, “Vitya, you know that I loved you with all my heart, gave everything to you, believed you, and waited for you.  What you did truly hurt me.  I went through a lot, cried a lot, and decided to forget everything.  Better sooner rather than later, when we would have formed a family, and had children, and then you would have betrayed me.  I would have been happy to forget everything, forgive you everything, and once again love you like I used to.  But understand me.  I cannot do this, no matter how hard I try.  You cannot order a heart to go against its will.  You do this, if you can do it rather than me.  Let everything return to what it once was, but I know that you are unable to do that.  So let us forget everything, build your happiness with others.  I have decided to remain alone.  That will be better.  Do not torture yourself or me.  Do not visit me, forget about me, and farewell.”

With these words, she departed and bowed her head lowly.

And that is how it all ended!

I do not remember how I made it home.  Life was not so kind!  I wailed like a little baby.  My sister could not comfort me.  In vain did I walk to the house where she lived with her father.  In futility did I ring the bell and call for her – she never came to the door.

That is how I spent my leave.  I returned to the base, overwhelmed with grief and indifferent to my surroundings.  On the way back, I no longer enjoyed nature.  No longer did the wonderful scenery of Lake Baikal bring me any joy.

Chapter Twenty Six: Military Service

All of my peers were already in the military.  I was almost 19 years old.  I began to worry that the people on the draft board failed to notice my existence.  So I voluntarily went to the draft board to receive a notice.

In fact, for whatever reason, I was not on the list.  They gave me on the spot a draft notice that compelled me to report before October 10 to the military draft center with my belongings for a medical inspection with the goal of being sent off to the Armed Forces.  In response to such an unexpected turn of events, it pleased me in the sense that soon I would serve out my mandatory time in the military and then begin to live out my hard-earned family life.  However, in another sense, it saddened me that soon would begin a prolonged period of separation which would be difficult for both of us to endure as we had already tasted the joy of family life.  During the day, Valya spent time in study at the medical school, while I lazed around in idleness and boredom waiting for the evening when we would reunite.  With all my burning energy I was determined to suck out of life every last minute and hour of happiness possible that remained on our account.

I settled up completely with the prospectors’ group.  They remitted my full compensation and release me on my way.  They wished me the best during my time of military service and desired that I came back to work upon finishing up.

The day of departure for military duty approached.  I passed medical inspection and was considered fit for carrying out military service.

Many fields in our area were planted with cotton.  When the cotton became ripe, all sources of labor, including students from middle schools, technical schools, and institutes, were assembled and sent off to collective farms where they harvested the cotton.  The collective farms lacked sufficient labor on their own to manage this work.  At this time, Valya also was sent to gather cotton in one of the collective farms in the Sayram region.  All the drafted soldiers had escorts such as fathers and mothers, families, and relatives.  Out of all the people in the city, all I had was my sister, brother-in-law, and my young beloved bride (no one knew at the time that she was already my wife).

Having become accustomed to acting on my own, I went to the director of the technical school and requested that they released my bride so she could see me off to the military.  They politely denied my request and said they had no right to go against the plan for harvesting cotton.  Then I stopped at one of the “Amerikanka” bars and ordered for myself 2 glasses of Yersha (a mix of beer and vodka), which soon gave me additional courage.  I decided to head straight to the head of the city, the head of the Administrative City Council, Comrade Lopayev, with whose son I studied in the seventh grade.  At the entrance to his office, a young female secretary cried out to me:

“Who are you looking for, young man?”

With an appearance of resolution, I walked past her, opened the door without knocking, and asked, “May I come in to ask you a personal question?”  He courteously allowed me inside and waved his hand at the female secretary standing behind me to leave.

With a firm step, trying not to give away that I was drunk, I walked along the long, soft carpet toward the long, red, velvet table standing by the wall where the official sat.  He rose, came to meet me, and politely shook my hand.  He asked, “Tell me what is going on, young man?”

Right before me hanging on the wall hung portraits of our leaders: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Lenin, and Stalin.  I explained to the official that I was drafted into the Soviet Army for service, but because I was an orphan from my childhood, I had no parents to send me off.  My request to him was that he would release my bride, Valentina Popov, who was studying in the medical faculty, for a few days from the cotton harvest so at least she could see me off.  The director of the medical school denied my request, and thus I came to make this request of him.

He praised me for courage and shrewdness, slapped me on the shoulder, and told me that there was a time when he was young and had a bride who escorted him to the front.  Apparently reminiscing about his youth of long ago, he cried, pulled out a handkerchief, and wiped his eyes and nose.  Then he sat at the table, lifted up the telephone receiver, and made a phone call.  When someone picked up the phone on the other end, he brusquely gave the command:

“A young, handsome man will come to you now, and you will promptly issue him the written authorization to release from the cotton harvest Popov Valentina for a term of 10 days.”

After thanking him, I flew out of the official’s office like a bullet and dashed to the medical school.  This time, the director of the school politely directed the secretary to type immediately an order to release Valentina Popov from the cotton harvest for 10 days.

With this letter, I wasted no time and packed a bag with candies, cookies, and beer bottles.  Grabbing a mandolin that I played very well, I quickly set off for Sayram where I used to live in an orphanage.  From there, I went to the Fourth Division of the collective farm, where the brigade of female medical students was housed.  I arrived toward evening.

With ease I found the place where the girls were living.  They received me with hospitality.  The girls were astounded by Valya that she had such a brave, independent gentleman.  After giving the supervisor of the work group the document of release, with such difficulty I received permission to take my bride home.  But going to Chimkent in the night made no sense.  So we along with the entire work brigade had dinner, drank tea with such delicious candies and cookies, and danced to the accompaniment of my mandolin.

I played the waltz “On the Hills of Manchuria” and others.  Not having any accessible gentlemen, the girls whirled slowly one with another.  Then without music, I drank beer and did tap dances of “the Gypsy” and “Chechyotka” for them to encouraging clapping.

When everyone had gone to their places to sleep on their straw mattresses and pillows, Valya and I got dressed and went to the bank of the River Sayram-Su.  Again just like at the bank of the canal, I stretched out my jacket on the ground.  Until the sun came up, we merged as if into one and forgot everything on earth.  We ignored the autumn cold, the cries of nocturnal birds and frogs.  We simply enjoyed this happy moment of time in the universe given to us by God Himself.

In the morning, we said farewell to the female work brigade.  Valya and I walked on foot to the city.

The day to say goodbye arrived.  I came to my friend, also a draftee, Viktor Belokopytov, who lived near us.  His home echoed with music and the sounds of drunk voices.  I stopped at his house and saw his mother pressing her son to her bosom and patted his head with her hand.  An unexplainable feeling arose in my chest.  My heart was about to leap out of my body, and tears began to choke me.  I never knew maternal love, and now seeing its manifestation for her son, I could no longer bear to watch them.  I burst out of there because of the unpleasant feeling of loneliness.

At the appointed hour, people came outside.  People went in groups.  Each drafted man was surrounded by parents, friends, and neighbors.  Somewhere an accordion played while someone sang songs from war times.  We joined the profession.  Right by my side went in silence my bride, sister Pasha, and brother-in-law Ivan.  We went in silence.  Along the way to the draft board joined other groups of escorts.  In some places we heard the playing of harmonicas, loud crying, laughter, and jokes.  In my soul it felt as if cats were screeching.

Two contradictory thoughts nested in my head.  I regretted that I myself volunteered to go to the draft board.  Perhaps they would not have summoned me to serve for a long time.  On the other hand, my comfort was that the earlier I did it, the better.  Sooner or later, I would have had to serve, and after military service, I would soon once again be living with my beloved.  We would have our own family, children would follow, and we would be happy.  We did not realize, not I, neither she, that this day would be the final day of such hot love, such loyalty, such purity and joy abounding in all its depth.

But I will discuss this later.  For now – now we approached the building of the draft board.  The command was given for the escorts to leave behind the draftees.  Loud crying was heard along with farewells and wishes.  I said goodbye to my sister and brother-in-law and clutched Valya to myself.  I did not want to let her go.  They hurried us.  For the last time I glanced at my crying sister and bride, and the gate of the draft board closed behind us.

They herded us into the yard and put us in a line.  They began a roll call of the draftees and immediately separated us into groups.  They included me in a team of 10 people.  They gave us an escort, junior sergeant Aksyonov who came for us from the war zone.  The sergeant then separated us from the rest and took us outside where accompanying families still lingered.  He allowed us once more to say goodbye to our families.  Once again I came up to my sister and kissed her along with my brother-in-law.  They had done so much good for me.  I asked them to watch out for my Valyusha.  Then I went to my weeping Valya and kissed her one more time.  I told her these words with a loud voice quoted from one film: “Wait for me, and I will return!”  Our last kiss was the final farewell.  Except in letters, we never ever kissed again.

The junior sergeant gave the command, “Attention!”  Throwing our backpacks on our shoulders, we moved toward the train station where in a couple of hours, we would sit in the passenger car and say, “Farewell, beloved city!”  The junior sergeant told us that we were lucky.  They would teach us many special skills for the maintenance of airplanes.  The school where we would be studying admitted only guys who had finished technical school or institute.  They included me in this group apparently based on my work records, where I was considered a surveying technician.

So we, future students of the military school, traveled along the endless steppes of Kazakhstan and crossed the wide Volga River and turned to Rostov.  Along the way, we had outrageous behavior.  We drank a lot, each was blessed with a lot of money, and we were able to purchase vodka at any stop without problem.  It was more difficult to buy bread, especially in Russia where the war had taken place.  We sang songs, and in revelry tore each other’s clothes.  Our caps were bereft of their labels.  We also threw each other’s caps out of the windows of the train cars.  Our escort could do nothing with us.  He was happy that at least we arrived at the war zone alive.

I heard that large teams of drafted men, or even the union of several teams, were loaded into freight cars.  These trips could take a long time, including prolonged stops at stations.  And incidents occurred when two such cars filled with draftees met each other and were delayed a long time at one of these train stations.

And if we, a team only of 10 people in a passenger car, behaved so outrageously, one can only imagine what would happen in a freight car filled with such men!  There were fights, actual combat, and even casualties!  I often ask myself why God puts up with such outrage?  After I became a Christian, later on I read the book Heroes of the Faith by Martsinkovsky where he describes his encounter with the leader of the Russian Revolution, Lenin.

Lenin told Martsinkosky, “Without God, we will live somehow.”  Yes, the Christian professor answered, without God you will live somehow.  But our entire life, and all our economy in the country, and all our affairs will go on “somehow”.  But the Bible states in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Chapter One, Verse 28:

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

And we were convinced of this living in the USSR.

The reader might ask: why do I write in such detail all the dark sides of my life?  I write them not as an example to be imitated, but rather as a warning, so that adults would not carry out poorly thought out decisions from which will suffer not only they themselves, but also their children.  And children and young people who read my book would not repeat in their lives what I did.  And although I behaved very badly, I realized that it was wrong, since in my heart was sowed that good seed that quietly took root in me and in its time ripened and gave miraculous fruit: salvation from eternal death.  I accepted Christ in my heart and live by Him to this day.  But in that time, I still went by another path, my own, that path by which most people travel.

I knew that nearby was another path, but I did not want to travel on it.  I often made mistakes in life that at any minute could have cost me my life.  But God loved me.  He put up with me, waited, and did not punish me unto death.  But I will discuss this later.  For now, I will continue with how I wound up at the summer military school.

So we were fortunate.  Although we were all in a mess, we were alive and arrived at the base located at the station Morozovsk, Rostov region.  At night they brought us to the yard of the camp and drove us to the club.  We slept right on the floor for the rest of the night.  In the morning they took us to the cafeteria and fed us delicious army oatmeal.  Then a barber came and shaved our heads.  Then they led us to the army bath and ordered us to take off all our torn clothes.  We folded them and put them into backpacks and wrote our last names on stickers attached to the flaps.  We then carried them into storage.

Naked with bald heads and wash basins in hand, we ran about the bath, laughing and joking as we did not recognize one another.  Our outward appearance resembled that of naked birds with bald heads that fell out of their nest.  After the bath, they gave us military uniforms: white underwear, green breeches and shirts with bright buttons, military boots with wool socks, soldier belts, hats, and caps.  Of course, the uniforms did not fit every soldier’s size.  For some, including me, the uniform was too large.  For others, it was too small.  We were basically all alike.  We could not stop laughing until the stern shouts of the senior leadership and harsh gazes of more experienced soldiers calmed us down.  Gradually we adapted to our new conditions.

They separated us into various squads.  They assigned each of us a place and showed us our bunk.  Thus our military service began.  We were registered as students of the air school and together underwent training as young soldiers.

Drills ensued from the very first day.  They made us run to the point of exhaustion around the stadium.  Because we were not used to it, we barely crawled with our heavy soldier boots.  They gave us rifles with bayonets attached to them.  Day and night we learned rules.  Almost every night they set off alarms.  We drowsily jumped out of bed and somehow put on our gear like some herd of sheep.  We descended the stairs, running into one another, dragging ahead our rifles and gas masks, and finally making it outside into the yard into our squads.

And then the commanders announced that it was a false alarm done for training purposes.  They examined the results of our fighting readiness.  In the first days and weeks, our results were pathetic.  Even the commanders themselves smiled when the young soldiers went into formation.  Not one “taps” (the command to go to bed) took place successfully.  The head of our company with the last name “Tyros”, a Ukrainian, an old man, mocked us.  Five or six times he gave the commands “Go to sleep!” and “Get up!”  Each time he forced us to get dressed and undressed.  He added that we should obey his order in 4-5 minutes.  In the first days, the evening call brought much laughter to us and our leader.  There were Russians, Ukrainians, Armenians, and Georgians in our company.  Organizing us into 3 rows along the path to the armory, he shouted out in his Ukrainian accent our last names, distorting and dismembering them in the process.

His pronunciation of each last name drew out laughter.  The entire company laughed, even the sergeant who stood on top of a box in front of us laughed.  Hearing his name, each recruit was supposed to yell loudly, “Me!”  Once, pronouncing some Georgian’s name, the sergeant laughed so much that he fell off the box which evoked wild guffawing from the entire company.  Instead of Peychev, he used to cry out, “Pevchi”, that is, “Having been sung to”.

One time after a regular drill, the command to wake up and everyone had managed to get dressed and assemble in formation.  In the back rows there was heard some noise and commotion.  Finally, a tall enlisted man exited the formation and held in his hand his other leg without a boot.  The Georgian was hopping and yelled, “Comrade Sergeant, one boot is different!”  A friendly laugh broke out.

The sergeant looked at his bare foot and saw a little boot that did not reach his ankle.  The sergeant also burst out laughing.  Then he shouted, “Who put on someone else’s boot?”  The company was silent.

“First row, 3 steps forward, march!”  The row stepped forward.  The sergeant inspected the feet of each soldier.

Once again, he yelled, “Second row, 3 steps forward, march!”  And the second row stepped forward.  The sergeant also inspected them.

In the third row calmly and unaware stood one soldier, the shortest of the whole company, a Tatar named Akchanov.  He wore his own boot on one leg, but on the other was a boot one and a half feet too long.  The sergeant realized what had happened.  He asked him, “Private Akchanov, do you have your own boots?”  Not looking at his boots, the recruit answered, “Precisely, Comrade Sergeant!”  A friendly laughter again broke out.  The Tatar had to change his boot with the Georgian. In the midst of the confusion, they confused their boots.  That evening, we could not stop laughing nor go to sleep.

In the first days of boot camp, I wrote a long letter to my Valyusha.  I wrote her about my longing which accompanied me day and night from the first day of our separation.  I was very emotional and sensitive.  I often wrote her letters.  They ended up being 5 or 6 pages in length.  I also received from Valya thick letters.  She also wrote me about how much she missed me.  But this was only 3 months since our day of separation.  We still had four more years ahead.

They took photographs of all of us during the first month of our service for our soldier’s books which took the place of passports.  All my friends already had soldier’s books.  After taking oaths 3 months later, we received the right to leave the base on weekends.  Because they ran out of film, I did not have a soldier’s book.  The photographer no longer came to the base, and I had nowhere else to be photographed.  Every day I asked my closest officers, the commander of the platoon, junior sergeant Nechayev, and the squad leader, senior sergeant Medvedev to go in town with me to get a photo.  But they never responded to my request and did not relieve me of duty.

Somehow I received 50 rubles by mail from my sister.  I had an idea.  I showed my commanders the money and promised to treat them to vodka if they would take me to get a photograph.  They consented.  Behind the back of the company sergeant, the first Sunday, we three left the base.  After the photo, we went to a store nearby, bought vodka, and right there in the square drank without anything to eat.  I was quickly intoxicated since it had been a long time since I had drunk, let alone on an empty stomach.  I began to accuse them of being unfair with their subordinates.  In my civilian life at home, I had no fewer subordinates than they did when I worked in the expedition and never addressed them so rudely the way my officers related to us.  After a few words, we got into an argument.  We entered the base, they took me to the boiler room, and beat me up.  I escaped from them and ran to the second floor of my armory.  They replaced our rifles with the newest Kalashnikov semi-automatics.  They stood along the wall in special pyramid shelves.

The sergeants ran after me.  I quickly ran up to the pyramid of rifles, hoisted up a rifle, loaded it with bullets, and ran after the offenders.  One brief moment kept me from the worst of trouble.

But fortunately for me in that moment, some soldiers from my squad stood nearby.  Understanding the situation, they quickly snatched me, took the rifle away, and prevented me from doing one shot.  Seeing I was completely drunk, they quickly took me to the third floor where our iron beds were and covered me with pillows.

When sergeant Tyros heard the noise, he came.  Not noticing anything suspicious, he asked, “What is this noise?”

The guys answered, “Nothing, Comrade Sergeant, we were just fooling around a little.”

“Look at me in the eye, or else I’ll punish you with kitchen duty to clean potatoes!”

With those words, he left.  The other 2 officers were also drunk and hid themselves.  The incident ended for all of us with no negative repercussions.

Soon friends brought me my photos.  The headquarters registered my soldier’s book and gave me the chance to leave base on weekends.  It is true that I no longer drank until training camp ended.  First of all, we were paid very little.  We only received 5 rubles each month, sufficient only to buy toothpaste or polish for our buttons on our uniform.  Second of all, I had no desire to drink.

Our training was very busy.  We went through 30 subjects both necessary and unnecessary.  For example, among simple, purely military subjects, we studied metallurgy and medicine.  We studied the history of the Communist party, metal cleaning.  There was a medical lesson taught by the Jewish base doctor that showed us how to protect ourselves from syphilis and other contagious diseases.  Many subjects were secret.  We took notes from the lectures in secret notebooks which were sealed.  The guard brought them, made us sign for them, and then brought them back to a secret place.

During the political lessons they constantly repeated that our country was surrounded by hostile capitalist countries.  They were preparing us for war which could break out at any moment.  None of them made us happy and brought us despair.  All of us in our childhood experienced the recent war with Germany.  Once again they impressed us day and night that America was enemy number one.  So in such physical and moral conditions we trained exactly one year and 3 months.  I studied in the mechanical department ordnance, that is, I had to know and service all kinds of weaponry used to arm our fighters and bombers.  I finished school and passed the state examination of the first level.

Consistent with the current situation, I had the right to choose any war zone except Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, and Odessa where to serve.  Along with my training, I found time to read fictional literature just like my time in the boarding school.

I particularly liked the book Ursu-Uzalu by Arsenyev.  He ecstatically described the nature of the Far East: the wonderful taiga, mountains, valleys, and rivers.  So I chose to serve in such a wonderful place.

But before making this decision, I went to the base commander.  Like talking to a father, I told him that I had a young wife and confided in him that I loved her deeply.  If possible, I wanted to end up in the nearby Central Asia military zone to have the potential to be closer to her.  I remember that he permitted one married soldier to live a whole month in a rented apartment with his wife who came to him.

He attentively heard me out, empathized, and told me he could not help me.  He said that even if he were able to send me to the Central Asia military zone, they might send me to such a remote, barren place where not only would I not see my wife, but I might not even see people in general.  That is how it ended up.  I firmly resolved to serve in the Far East military zone.

Chapter Twenty Five: First Love

This was the very place.  This little work camp that consisted of around 30 little houses spread about the Kirov main canal.

Here I met a young woman named Valya Popova.  Her father was a strict former officer of the Soviet Army.  He ended the war in Potsdam and was decorated.  He was recruited with his family to relocate to the Hungry Steppe.  Her mother was a humble housewife.  Valya also had a younger sister named Tanya.

In the beginning we met outside the house on the bank of the canal and in the yard.  Then, somehow one day, I was emboldened to enter Valya’s house.  Her father had a cold attitude toward my visit.  Apparently he thought his daughter was a little young for such an acquaintance, but her mother warmly received me.

That was our summer in this settlement.  Every evening after a long day of work in the heat for many hours, I rushed off to see this young lady without feeling tired.

But then, the day of separation came.  Our work brigade shut down all field work for the winter and departed to Chimkent.  We wrote letters to one another and expressed mutual longing for one another.  Impatiently, I awaited spring to start.  I requested my foreman of the work brigade to return me again to the Hungry Steppe.  Finally, the warm spring days arrived.

Spring that year started early.  Already by the start of March, pears, apricots, and cherry plums were blooming.

On International Women’s Day, March 8, our work brigade well-outfitted with all the necessary materials and products arrived on the “one and a half tonner” at the Hungry Steppe and stopped at the old apartment.

I impatiently awaited the evening when I would be freed from work connected with the surveying and could see my beloved lady whom I missed all winter, a form which did not depart from my imagination.

Finally, the evening approached, and like a bird I flew to her house.  When I knocked quietly on the door, her mother opened the door.  She saw me and joyously shouted into the room, “Valya, Vitya came, come over here quickly!”

Out came a sad Valya, and without even being aware of it, we embraced each other.  Her father was not home and that made our reunion easier.  We talked freely.  We asked how each other’s winter went and how we could not bear being alone.  And then, as if they understood our wishes, her mother and sister went to another room.  I pulled out of my pocket a large crimson apple and put it under her nose.

Then I took her by the hand which was also gentle and warm.  We went out to the orchard and went toward the edge of the canal.  Holding one another, we walked along the dam of the canal further out from the village to the places of our previous encounters.

Walking 2 kilometers, I took off my jacket and stretched it out on the grass at the very edge of the river.  We sat on it and clutched one another tightly.  Our young heartbeats, breathing, and feelings merged into one.  Out of joy, we could not speak for some time and only more tightly clung to one another.

Around was the silence of the night.  There was not one sound of the wind, but only the spring croaking of frogs.  A bright moon shone its rays on us and on the surrounding nature as if it were illuminating our reunion.

No words can describe “first love.”  It burned within me.  Everything within me sang out of excitement.  I wanted to yell into the depths of the night with some particularly high and gentle voice about my happiness.  My feeling was that God Himself had given her to me as a reward for all that bitter suffering which I had to endure in the years of my childhood and adolescence.

She shared similar feelings.  I completely felt her happy condition with all my being.  I could not err.  I understood that we were made for each other, that we could not live apart from one another.

That is summer went by in daily, tense work in the field followed by meetings on the canal bank with my beloved girl who became an inseparable part of my life.

By the end of May, the Hunger Steppe transformed from a spectacular carpet consisting of a multitude of tender spring flowers and green grass into a gray, lifeless, dark desert along which roamed herds of sheep, which sought out that sparse growth which still had not yet dried up.

Sometimes dust storms came.  They usually took place after lunch. The sky grew cloudy like some dark curtain on the horizon.  The darkness quickly approached.  It appeared as if thunder would boom and raindrops would fall. But suddenly, darkness swallowed up the sky from end to end.  The wind bore clouds of dust.  All that dust traveled rapidly toward us.  Then over a long time and deliberately, the dust fell on homes, trees, and people.  The dust even flew inside homes.  But then the sun came out again, as if the dust storm had never taken place.  And life went on.

We worked entire days under heat at temperatures toward 45 degrees Celsius.  Sunburn made us black.  Our shirts became sticky from salty sweat.  We did not know that extreme sunburn was harmful.  We were slowly killing our bodies.

One time, a shepherd, a Kazakh from a neighboring village, came up to us on a donkey.  Having looked at us with our sunburned skin, he said, “Hey, Russian fool, why you walking around naked?  Your heart soon be bad.  You cannot be in sun without clothes for too long.  Soon you die.  See, I sits on donkey.  See, my robe is fat and warm, but me not hot.  Me cold.  Look, put your finger in your mouth and it will be cold.”

He was actually right.  The robe he wore on his bare body, as well as the pants made out of sheepskins with fur inside, allowed him to sit whole days on the donkey while his flocks grazed.  His body was constantly wet from sweat.  In contrast to a dry body, which would not even notice it, a wet body could sense the slightest movement of air, which would cool off the body.  Under conditions of an absolute lack of wind, we wet our pointer finger with saliva in our mouth and put it on our head.  At once, the wet finger felt the coolness and could even determine the direction of air movement.

I already described dust storms that often blew through the Hungry Steppe.  I remember the words of a song which they sang in those years.  I memorized it and often sang it.  Even when I was living in the boarding school, I had a notebook in which I recorded my favorite songs.  The first words went like this:

“In our lives anything is happening,

Thunderstorms in clouds are flying,

The wind calms, the cloud floats away,

And again the sky turns blue.”


One of life’s storms flew over me, too.  It was completely my fault.  It almost cost me my freedom and would have banished me to “some very distant land.”

This is what happened.  In the summer many people from work brigades settled in our village in the Hungry Steppe.  These members of mechanized work brigades dug the ditches according to the specifications of us surveyors.  During evenings and Sundays, people got together in the summer clubhouse which included a wooden ticket booth inside which the film projector guy sat and a small square surrounded by a fence.

The film projector guy himself collected tickets from people and allowed them to enter through a narrow gate.  Whoever did not have a ticket could purchase one right from him.  People went inside, sat on the wooden benches, and waited.

That Sunday, our work brigade chose to relax and not go to work.  During breakfast, the guys decided to fool around a bit.  At the table they served some bottles of “elixir of youth”, the name we gave in jest to Russian vodka.  In reality, the name “Farewell to youth” more accurately applied to this terrible drink.

With good reason does the Holy Bible, which I also read along with other books, have a place that describes the consequence of taking this drink:

Do not look on the wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup,
When it goes down smoothly;
At the last it bites like a serpent
And stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things
And your mind will utter perverse things.
And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea,
Or like one who lies down on the top of a mast.
“They struck me, but I did not become ill;
They beat me, but I did not know it.
When shall I awake?
I will seek another drink

I must say that during my time of friendship with Valya, I almost never drank.  But this time I stumbled.

By nature, I was calm, but in a drunken stupor, I was wild.  That is what happened at that moment.

We three young people were quite intoxicated.  We stumbled toward the direction of the summer club as we bellowed out with all our lungs a popular song of that time:

“Give her up, sailor.  About her do not fret,

Do not call for help from the northwest,

This Miss is from a family of wealth,

This Miss is already someone else’s bride.”

The public in front of us stepped aside as we came up to the admission gate.  The film projector guy asked for our tickets.  Of course, we had no tickets.  Then he told us to purchase tickets from him. In a stammering voice, I retorted, “What?  Don’t you know who you are dealing with?”

And suddenly I snatched him by the belt.  Obviously, I clearly remembered the tactics of street fighting in the orphanage.  I pulled him toward myself.  As he had not expected such an attack, I picked him up and threw him away from me.  Then I jumped on him myself.

A commotion was aroused.  I do not know how that brawl would have ended had not some sober guys from the neighboring mechanical brigade who knew and respected me seen us and broke up the fight.

They took me to the location of our brigade and tucked me into bed.  For the moment, everything ended.  I slept the rest of the day until evening.

Then a group of young people including the film projector guy entered my room.  They demanded that I apologize to the film projector guy in a public act of humiliation.  Then they showed me a document of accusation, a clean piece of paper with witnesses’ signatures.  If I were to refuse, he could have submitted this document to the police in which case I would have had to serve 2-3 years in prison for a misdemeanor.

I naturally consented to ask forgiveness for what I had done because of this threat.  Moreover I knew him well, as Valya and I often went to the movies.  After this incident, I put away the bottle of vodka and made peace with him.

That was the peaceful end of that foolish history that otherwise could have ended in my imprisonment and thus the loss of my job and separation from my beloved girl.  Yet again, the truthfulness of the Bible was demonstrated.

On our next date, Valya gently scolded me for getting drunk and asked me never to repeat it again.  I sincerely regretted what had occurred and promised her never again to drink that poison.

So life went on: work by day and dates at night.

We had in our brigade a technician named Valentin Yakovlev.  He was my senior by 10 years.  He had served in the Army and experienced the war.  He was single.  Like me, he used to spend his evenings with one woman, a bartender.  Late at night, after he came back from his date, he openly boasted to me about his good time with his girlfriend and described all his romantic adventures.  It was unpleasant for me to listen to his perverted boastings.  He taught me how to do it.  I needed no academic training.  In spite of it, I already knew all of the subtleties of human depravity.   I controlled myself.

During one date with Valya, I refused to even think about spoiling her young life before her time, even though we did not have much time to preserve our childhood.  She studied in school.  She was still a girl, a Pioneer in her class.  If something were to take place, it would have been a total disgrace.  For this reason, we devoted ourselves to pure young love by restraining and protecting ourselves from one another.

Love which takes place among adults who have gone through much emotional heartbreak because of betrayals, jealousies, and treachery – such love can be only called a smoky curtain.

And so Valya finished the seventh grade.  Now she had to think about her future education.  We along with her mother discussed her situation.  In the settlement the school stopped at seventh grade.  Valya and I decided to go together to Chimkent to my sister.  There we would attempt to enroll her in the medical technical school.

Whether my sister agreed to allow us in her home or not, I never even considered it.

So at the start of September, asking for time off from the boss of the brigade, we packed into two cases all her female items and set off for Chimkent on a truck.  At that time, buses did not run between cities.  The driver’s cabin was occupied, so we had to ride in the back of the truck and held onto one another as we shook from the bumps on the road.  That is how we made it to Chimkent.

Late at night, we came to my sister’s house.  I knocked on the door.  My sister and her husband Ivan came out.  I introduced them to my girlfriend.  They let us into the house, and I explained the situation to them.  My sister and brother-in-law approved our plan and permitted us to live with their family.  They welcomed my girlfriend with great hospitality.  Valya was a quiet and meek girl.

It reminded me of the words of one emotional people’s song.  Rephrased to apply to us, I present the first verses of this song:

“Do you remember, my sister, how a strange girl

I brought to your house without asking you,

Sternly you looked her over at the young girl,

And suddenly you started to cry, but forgot to congratulate us,

But you forgot to congratulate us…

I surrounded her with warmth and care…”


And I really did surround her with warmth and care.  We went to the head of the medical technical school.  There, when they examined her documents, they enrolled her into the nursing program of the school without giving her any exams.  She would have to study 4 years.  I no longer went surveying and took up cameral refining of field materials.

One time, we remained home alone.  Sister and brother-in-law went to church.  It was a warm autumn day.  We locked up the home.  What happened next would be impossible to undo…

Losing strength to restrain ourselves, we gave in to one another and drowned in the intensity of pure youthful love.  When we realized what happened, it was too late.  We became husband and wife.  We had restrained ourselves for so long, but now it was gone…

We quickly tried to cover the traces of physical evidence of our activity.  We awaited the return of my sister and brother-in-law with anxiety.  But all took place very quietly.  And so began our conjugal family life.  Along with unexpected happiness came worry.  “So what will be next?  What if?”

But now I was faced with joining the Army, and she had to finish technical school.  But for the time being, everything went well.

[1] Proverbs 23:31-5.  NASB.

Chapter Twenty Four: Chimkent

I searched a while for the street called Karl Liebknecht.  Yet no one could tell me exactly where it was located.  Finally, I figured it out and stopped at the main post office on Soviet Street, where they told me how to get there.  Locals knew the street by its old name “Eighth Curve.”  Just when I asked how to find Eighth Curve, people pointed me the exact way.  Effortlessly I found the street and the house I required.

I knocked on the gate.  An elderly came out and asked what I wanted.  I answered her that I had arrived from Karaganda to my sister Pasha and her husband Ivan.  She answered that they indeed lived there, but they were not home at the moment.  They were at a construction site nearby.  A girl with big eyes came out and took me along the street.  We became acquainted on the way.  Her name was Nadya.

My sister and brother-in-law were building nearby half a block away where a section of land was cordoned for them and cut from their neighbors.  At that time, properties in town were even larger, around 25-30 mills.  My brother-in-law was assigned a property of 8 mills.  They had already built walls for the home from clay adobe.

We had a happy reunion.  It had been so long since we had seen each other.  How much water flowed under the bridge, and so many events had taken place.  We had endless questions and stories.  So I blended into the new family and became its newest member.

My brother-in-law Ivan and I had good relations.  He was a sumptuous young man of stature, a Siberian from a Christian family.

In 1944, under pressure from the Allies who opened the second front during the war, the government permitted a church building to be opened on Third Curve at the very edge of the city.  The good news spread throughout the whole city and surrounding villages.  Despite persecution which took place throughout the country, now having received freedom, people with joy could gather in the house of prayer.  Brothers walked 30 or even 40 kilometers on foot from the surrounding villages just to be at the worship services.  At that time there were no buses neither private automobiles.  Despite this, the house of prayer was constantly filled with people.  This was the true fulfillment of the words of the Lord who said:

“He…  opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.”  (Revelation 3:8)

The Lord ordained that the church was to be under persecution in order to test her faithfulness, so that the persecuted and outcast people of God would endure all forms of trials and imprisonment.  Now the Lord gave His people reason to rejoice, for He gave freedom to preach His Word, which with renewed strength was spread throughout the country, reaching its remotest corners.

People were drawn to the Source of light, and churches everywhere began to grow and multiply.  That was the case in Chimkent.  The Zudilin family who owned the apartment where we lived were Christians.  The owner of the house and my brother-in-law also sang in the choir as tenors.  Often they invited me to the prayer meetings.  I sat in the general pews and heard the Word of God, but it did not penetrate my heart because of the sin deeply entrenched in it.  I liked the choir singing as well as the general singing of Christian hymns.  Out of respect to my brother-in-law and sister, I began to visit services regularly, but in my free time I led an utterly different lifestyle.

Within me dwelled a different form of energy.  Outside with new male and female friends, we played all kinds of games.  After the games, I would tell my audience about my adventures.  My vocabulary consisted partly of criminal slang and the other half crude and vulgar words.

Out of habit, sometimes my conversations with sister and brother-in-law let out crude language.  Naturally they made me feel ashamed and asked me to change my language.  Having come into totally foreign circumstances, logically I did what I could to control my language and behaviors, though it was very difficult for me.  Gradually and secretly I continued to smoke.  By day I watched my language, and at night I tied a kerchief around my mouth so that my obscenities would not be heard when I slept.

By the fall the new house was ready, and we moved into it.

The time had come to think about school.  My brother-in-law and I went to the school called Klokov.  We stopped by the office of the principal and asked him to enroll me in the seventh grade.  The principal looked at my documents and saw my prominent grade of “1” for behavior.  She never had such students before.  She advised me to seek another school.  They advised us to go to Oblono and explain my situation there.  Once they heard us out, the people at Oblono called the school at Klokov and convinced the principal to enroll me in the seventh grade under a probationary period of one month.

So I enrolled as a student in the seventh grade in class B.  And I started to attend that school.  How difficult it was to restrain myself in order not to cause trouble in my classes, but nevertheless I firmly held my cool.  At the end of the month long probation, our class teacher, Idita Frantseva, the German teacher, told me, “Peychev, I cannot believe that you received a grade of 1 for the year for behavior.  I cannot believe that such a student could calmly sit for an entire month in class without once even but pinching his neighbor, let alone causing some greater trouble.”

And she lauded me before all the students.  I studied well.  I had an outstanding visual memory.  I loved to read a lot.  Even when I was living at the boarding school, still being such a mischievous boy, I found time to read books.  Just when they turned off the lights and everyone went to sleep, I began to tell jokes and stories that I heard from the prisoners to the guys in my room.  My stories took a long time to end because I kept on making up their continuation.  When I sensed that no one was listening anymore, since they fell asleep, then I called out to some guys.

“Vanka, are you sleeping?”  Silence.

“Grishka, are you sleeping?”  Silence.

Then being convinced that everyone was asleep, I got up, turned on the light, and got a book from under my pillow.  Turning my head on my pillow and lying on my stomach, I read for a long time.

So when I studied in seventh grade, I always had a “5” (A) in Russian penmanship, composition, and writing, as well as dictation.  I loved to read books aloud.  I particularly remember a book called “Redhead.”  The fate of the hero of this book was similar in many ways to my own.

I devoured all kinds of books, including novels, fantasies, and children’s books.  I also loved history and geography.

And then I finished the seventh grade.  In those years, compulsory education lasted only seven grades.  I had the desire to go to work.  But my brother-in-law advised me to go to technical school for, as he liked to say, the shovel will not depart far from me.  I sent my documents to the hydroengineering technical school at Kzyl Orda and awaited their answer.

But in order not to be lazy, I found work in a state administration as a surveyor.  I worked all summer as I dragged around with me a 20 meter measuring tape, signs, and rail.  I got money which I gave to my sister.  We spent evenings in noisy games.

Kreger Street where we lived was wide and overgrown with green grass.  Almost no cars drove on it, not even bicycles.  There were no light vehicles in those years in Chimkent.  In the entire city there were no more than 2 or 3 buses, and even those never came to our part of town.  So we played on the whole street, and no one ever bothered us.  My favorite game was lapta.  Even adults played with us.

By the fall, not waiting for an answer from the technical school, I quit my job at the state administration and found work in the engineering team for “Kazgiprodenergo”.   The work included business travel.  Our reconnaissance brigade headed by our leader Zolotaryovy conducted the mapping of the canal Arys-Turkestan.  It was easy to carry the bag with pegs, measuring tape, stakes, signs, and rail.  The workday began with the rays of the sun and ended with the rays of the moon.  All day we took no pity, nor could we take pity on our health, as we worked as some cowards.  Sometimes we wore shirts.  Under the hot, dry, southern sun we became black like Africans.  The salt from our sweat came out on our skin, and our shirts became sticky from sweat.

All the workers were young men from 15 to 18 years of age in perfect health and strongly energized by good money.  We were not home for 3 or 4 months.  When we arrived home, we paraded about our peers like kings and tried to look mature.  Naturally, when you have money, you have friends.

Here it is appropriate to recall the parable of the prodigal son in the Bible.  So long as he had money, he had friends.  When the money ran out, the friends disappeared.  That is what happened with me.

I had a friend named Pyotr Bushuyev.  We became very close to one another.  When I came for a visit home after my business trip, we got together and spent time hanging out with our peers, boys and girls.  I paid for all the expenses for drinking liquor since he neither worked nor studied in school.

Once, when my money ran out and a week before my next business trip, my friend Pyotr stopped coming to see me and tried not even to look me in the eye.  But at one of my final evenings, walking by the “American”, I saw Peter in the company of new friends.  “Americans” as we called them in those years were “fast food joints” scattered throughout the city, just about on every street corner.  There you could without any special conveniences get something to eat and drink on the run.  So my friend Pyotr and his circle of friends were standing at one of these “Americans.”

He saw me and turned away as if he had not noticed me.  The next evening he did not appear.  It hurt to tolerate such betrayal from my friend, or so I considered him.  Although he was a good friend, in the moment of difficulty, when he discovered that my money had run out, he joined a new circle of friends.  This was a good lesson for me to make me more careful about choosing friends in the future.

Of course, I did not spend all my money away on drinking.  When I returned from my trips, I gave a lot of it to my sister Pasha.  This money paid for her to sew a new custom dark suit and to buy rain boots, a hat, and a jacket.

I looked more handsome and the girls outside looked on me favorably.  There were not that many guys in the postwar years who could be seen in such suits.

After the evening games, we split off into pairs in dark corners and played the game of love.  There was not one girl of ours whom I did not like in reality, so I spent time with one, then another, without giving anyone preference.  It once happened that because of me several girls from our company got into a fight and scratched each other on the face.  In the evening, our neighbor Aunt Katya told my sister, “Your Vitka is totally to blame.”

I really did like one girl, Vera Firsova.  However, she was in a different crowd and rarely spent time with us.  For some reason, I got lost in her presence and never could find a way to approach her.

Once I arrived with a good sum of money and got acquainted with the different crowd.  There were guys who were older and worked like me.  The girls here were also more mature.  We gathered in a house on Dostoyevsky Way where one poor widow and her daughter Natasha lived.  The guys put down their money, bought vodka and beer, and the girls cooked food.  All this took place not far from our house.

We gathered on evenings and drank “yersha” – a mixture of vodka and beer.  We then ate what our girlfriends prepared.  Then we sang songs from the time of war, “Katyusha” and many others.  Then gaining our courage, we danced waltzes and foxtrots which were in style at that time.  I did not like to dance because it was difficult for me to find a dance partner given my short height.

But on the other hand, I loved to hop, and I could do that very well.  I loved to beat out a “tap dance”.  When we danced, frequently I stepped on the girl’s foot or she stepped on mine.  The dance did not work out.  Where I learned to hop, I have no idea even to this day.

I had my music – guitars, mandolins, and even harmonicas.  I quickly picked up on the mandolin.  Evenings were happy, noisy, and lasted late until 2 or 3 in the morning.  Then getting our courage up, we dispersed into the city night, some by themselves, others in pairs.  I remember after such evenings, when I returned home, the door was always unlocked.  I quietly went to my corner, got undressed, and went to bed.  In the morning naturally we had an unpleasant conversation with my sister and brother-in-law, but they could not persuade me otherwise.

I carried on with my young party life.  Although on Sundays at the persistent request of my sister and brother-in-law, I went to the prayer meetings. I agreed with them that I needed to end my sinful way of life, but I continued to remain by myself and was unable to change my life.

Once at the very peak of another evening out, when we got up the gumption to dance and hop, suddenly the door in the room opened.  At the foot of the door appeared a huge boss of a man (as we learned later, this was the widow’s brother).  Apparently he heard on several occasions what took place in his sister’s house and came over to take a look and be convinced himself.  Out of shock such a silence ensued that you could hear your own heartbeat.

A tense silence ensued for 5 minutes. Then, the man put a shovel against the wall.  He ordered us, “Well, guys, one at a time, get out of here!”

Insanity arose.  Everyone took his clothes and hat in his hand and ran out onto the street.  During our exit, he received a farewell punch in the back and a kick in the rear.

Suddenly, the room emptied.  The girls hid in another room.  I alone remained.  Unable to find my coat and cap, I slowly came up to the sphynx.  He raised his fist, and when he wanted to punch me in the head, I suddenly reacted, jumped on him, and punched him under the nose.  The crackle of a wooden post and a terrible howl of anger rang out.  He yelled, “Just you wait!”  But I was too far out on the dark street.

A light rain fell, but my boots, raincoat, and cap remained there in the house where we were having fun.  And suddenly I was ashamed and angered by my cowardliness.  Even though there were 10 of us guys, not to mention how many girls, we were still intimidated by this jerk?  Even we could crush him, tie him up and throw him outside, just like he threw us out.  And suddenly such bravery welled up inside of my breast that right at that moment I turned around and bravely marched toward that house where the conqueror remained.  Suddenly in my head I had a plan: in case of attack, I would give him a quick blow to the groin.  When the opponent would double over in pain, I would carry out a sharp punch to his Adam’s apple.  Victory would be assured!

I courageously entered the yard and saw a masculine figure standing in the darkness by an apple tree.  Dim light from the window shined on him.  He held the shovel with one hand and a cigarette in the other.

Without saying a word, I proceeded to the room.  I removed the raincoat, put on my shoes, and wore my cap on my wet head.  Then calmly with a firm step I went outside.

The flames of the cigarette in the garden did not budge.  I have no idea what happened to that Goliath.  Maybe he was truly shocked by my courage that I returned by myself, or else he got lost in thought about what had just occurred, that he alone chased off the partying youth without running into any resistance.  In any event, no one chased me.  I arrive home earlier and went to sleep.

The next day our whole crowd met at the nearest “American” to discuss what happened the other day.  We all were in accord that we had cowered and had run away in panic.  We were all ashamed, especially before our ladies.  So we resolved in that same spirit to devise a plan.  If he chose to show up again, then no one would run off but would give him a worthy resistance.

So we acted accordingly.  The first evening we gathered again at the very hospitable hostesses’ home and continued our partying. Our guest of last night no longer came, apparently having soberly judged that things might not have worked out so well the second time.  So he left us in peace.

By winter I received a promotion in responsibilities working for the engineering crew.  From a line worker I became a junior surveying technician.  This is how it happened.  In our group there was one young female practitioner from the Alma-Aty Hydraulic Technical School.  Her name was Valya.  She headed the survey of land for a future canal.  I carried the surveying rod.  Each evening she recorded the measurements in her journal, but she found an unacceptable technical measure.  The next day we redid the work of the day before, and it was unpleasant for both of us.

During smoking breaks, I asked one of the guys to hold the rod, while I myself became the surveyor and began to teach myself how to take measurements.  I asked Valya to verify the accuracy of my measurements.  When she verified them, she confirmed that they were done correctly.  She taught me how to adjust the rod and the method of surveying.

Once after our routine check of a track we had gone over, I proposed Valya to change places.  I took the survey, and Valya held the rod.  I worked in her place the entire day.  Valya rechecked my measurements and was pleased with my work.  The measuring error turned out to be minor and tolerable.

From that time secretly kept from the boss of the brigade, every morning a car brought us to the needed track zone.  I took the survey, Valya took the rod, and we successfully carried out our work.

But then it happened that the director of the brigade demanded to verify something in our area.  He caught us – me in the role of the technician and Valya with the rod in her hands.  He knew about the frequent editing of her work.  When he took the journal out of my hands, he immediately understood it all.

In the evening he summoned me to his tent and checked all our surveying journals.  He praised me.  Then in detail he inquired about my family situation and learned that since the age of 5, I had lived in an orphanage because my parents were sentenced to the concentration camps.  He asked me what I wanted to do in the future.  I told him that I applied to study at the Kzyl-Orda Hydraulic Technical School, but for some reason did never received an answer.

Then he told me, “The fact is, Viktor, you are an orphan.  It will be very difficult for you to study 4 years at a technical school because you have no hope of getting financial support.  You have the gift of adaptation.  You can even say that you are a technician.  Spend the winter in the office, and we will equip you with the material you need.  Whatever you do not understand, we will help you with it.  By spring we will graduate you as a junior technical prospector.  Do you agree?”

Of course, I accepted with joy, and soon they sent Valya and me to Chimkent.  They placed her in the chamber of material refining, while I took up my studies.

The director of our brigade was also an orphan in his childhood.  When he grew up, without finishing technical school, he took up the specialty of surveying and even became the head of the brigade.  Thus he cared like a father for my fate.  He helped me in just 3 winter months to learn the most critical skills.

In the spring I went out with the brigade to continued prospecting work for the branches of the canal in the role of a junior technical prospector.  It brought me great joy.  I did not have to go to Kzyl Orda to study for 4 years.  My salary was raised, and most importantly, I loved my job very much.  First of all, I was always outside far from the noise of the city, plus I gained full satisfaction from the work I produced.

The next season they sent me to the field work in “the Hungry Steppe.”  This was what they called a vast territory completely deprived of water and almost uninhabitable that boardered the sands of Kzyl-Kum.

Our brigade rented an apartment in the village of Kazkirisupr, which later was renamed “Jetysay.”  Our job was to survey the terrain of the Hungry Steppe which was projected before the war by the Germans.

The Hungry Steppe was spectacular.  The endless steppe, flat like a table, stretched out as far as the eye could see.  A rug of green grass and all kinds of ground flowers enraptured the eyes.  Triangles of geese and ducks preparing for migration flew in the sky.  Flocks of steppe partridges flew like clouds and spun around the places of drinking water.

Somewhere by the small, dry creeks dwelled Kazakhs in their huts and yurts.  This people was very hospitable.  They shepherded rams, cows, and camels.  They divided the land into small earthly plots and grew watermelons, muskmelons, sunflowers, and corn.

Yet we came to violate this tranquility established through many centuries by cutting up the entire steppe with lines of future irrigation canals.

One time the branch of a canal passed right through such a peaceful Kazakh aul.  Of course, the inhabitants of these auls were unhappy with us and brought us much harm.  After several years, the Hungry Steppe became a place of growing cotton, and the authorities disbanded all the auls in this area.  They took the water for the irrigation of cotton from the Syr-Darya River such that they fenced off many areas with dams.

After several decades, the whole earth of the Hungry Steppe became full of salt.  Then they were forced to dig deep waste disposal pipes through which the salty water exited toward the sands of the Kzyl Kum Desert.  The waste formed salty lakes.  Hundreds of steppe saigak antelopes died because they had nowhere to graze.  Man violated the natural balance created by God.  Catastrophe arrived as a consequence.

The gigantic Aral Sea nearly dried up.  People living around this sea and depending on it for food became impoverished.  The same problem also affected the Amu-Darya River.

But we prospectors did not seriously think about consequences at that time and worked with great excitement.  I managed to adapt the total array of tools for the purpose of building the future branch of the irrigation system.  As a result, I overfulfilled the plan by 250-300%.  Instead of 10 kilometers of marking off the canal, we managed to mark off 25-30 kilometers.   Because of this, we were rewarded with wage increases and a bonus.  Everything was good.



Chapter Twenty Three: The Flood

Summer departed as quickly as it had come.  Yet again, it was time for me to continue my rather “productive” education at the boarding school in Dolinka.   Nothing noteworthy occurred during my time in school up to winter break.

In December I came down with parotitis.  They sent me home to an early vacation with my sister.

The dog which I raised at the kennel had grown.  It became an enormous, powerful dog.  Sometimes I took it to the Churbay-Nura River, where prisoners had assembled heaps of coltsfoot leaves.  I used to gather several bundles of coltsfoot  and pile them one on top of another.  Then I tied a rope to the lowest bundle and attached it to the dog.  I urged my dog forward and forced it to drag them home.  We used the plant to heat the oven.  The dog did not want to haul the bundles, but it did love playing with me.  So I took off my hat and waved it in front of the dog’s nose.  It ran after me in an effort to catch my hat.  Against its will, the dog dragged the coltsfoot to where I wanted.

Another time, I hooked up the sled for my nephews Yura and Shurik to the dog and made it run after me.  Then I cleverly changed direction, and the dog also ran after me.  My nephews rode the sled in the snow.  People scolded me for such endeavors, but I repeated them again and again because I enjoyed them.  My dog also enjoyed them obviously.

Often our dog ran into the zone, but the prisoners never touched it.  They knew it was my dog.  However, once I returned to the boarding school, the prisoners did eat my dog.

The anniversary of the end of the war approached.  As I had mentioned before, 25 kilometers away from Dolinka was the Jartassk Dam.  Between the hills they built a large dam.  The area beneath the dam was also named “Dam.”  There prisoners lived in barracks surrounded by barbed wire.

The spring was very rainy with frequent thunderstorms.  Then light, persistent rain continued for a whole week.

No one could figure out what had happened to the dam.  It was said that someone had deliberately detonated it.

But it was also possible that so much water had accumulated in the reservoir that the dam simply could no longer hold it.  So the wall of water moved downward and suddenly engulfed the prisoner camp located beneath the dam.  Very few people in the barracks escaped with their lives.  Even some soldiers died.  For a long time after the flood, bloated corpses of prisoners and livestock, including cows and sheep, were found in the bushes.

The news of the flood quickly permeated the entire village of Dolinka.  By evening, someone said the water was approaching the school.  We dashed out to peer at the water.  The water truly flowed like a cylinder with a height of 20 centimeters and a wide front.  It moved toward the school and the dormitories.  We ran in front of the watery wave.

Ivan Ivanovich gave the order to seal all the openings in the low brick foundation and the toilet drain.  The water surrounded the boarding school.  Everyone ran inside and sealed the entrance door as well.

It quickly became dark.  Water began to ascend higher and higher around the boarding school.

Suddenly a little fountain of stinking water burst from the toilet.  We quickly hammered the toilet cover shut with nails and sealed the cracks in the doors with cotton balls.  Our collective restlessness grew.

Then fountains of water started to burst from the cracks onto the floor.  Mice darted out of their underground shelters and drowned in the water.  Some tried to save themselves on the brooms or shoes floating in the water, but we drowned the mice.

Still ignoring our trouble, we tore up our books and notebooks in the excitement.  We made them into paper boats and floated them in the water.

But then as the water started to rise up to our mattresses, we cried out in panic.

Right at that moment, our director entered the room.  He waded through the water and calmed us down.  Then he opened up all our windows, and we prepared for evacuation.  Right through the water carts pulled by horses came to the dormitory and stopped opposite the windows.  It meant someone was thinking of us.

We took a wooden bed and put it across the window sill to the edge of the cart.  The bed served as a plank for us to go from one cart after another.  Our room filled up two carts.  The first evacuation consisted of the male dormitory as it was the strongest building.  Then they evacuated the female dormitory and the school.  Just as the last cart departed, one wall of our invincible dormitory collapsed, and the roof caved in.

Lights throughout the whole village went out.  The night was illuminated by the moon.  They drove us along the streets in Dolinka flooded with water.  All around people shouted.  Cows mooed, sheep bleated, chickens crowed, and dogs howled.  And bright evening stars high in the night sky shined over all this terrible noise.  The moon shined its light upon the unleashed sea out of which half-flooded homes protruded.

They separated us into three places.  Part of us wound up in a three floor administration building. Another group was in a club which stood on a high elevation untouched by the water.  But my group, essentially everyone in our room, ended up in the kindergarten building which also stood on a mound.

The water filled the whole village of Dolinka with an average of 1 meter in height.  But in some places the water barely touched homes, while in others such as the lowlands it nearly touched the roofs.

The flood caused a host of problems.  There were human casualties, especially among the prisoners.  But we were saved!  Praise God!  Someone cared about us and sent help just in time.  After several days, when the water began to decline and ground became visible in some places, I convinced my friends.  All five of us decided to wade our way through to the boarding school.

We moved along the path.  In some places, we walked on wet earth.  In other places, we were on our knees, our stomachs, and even to the point of swimming.  We successfully made it to our boarding school.  When we crossed the neighboring street, we saw this scene.

Our entire football field, two gates, the volleyball field, school, and two dormitories stood in the water, as if they were floating in a lake.  The school building suffered cracks within as if someone had broken it into two pieces.  The female dormitory was intact, but our dormitory was a ghastly sight.  Out of the water protruded a long triangle which was on the verge of shattering, since the building was old and made out of clay bricks.

We got inside the female dormitory through some open windows and started to examine the nightstands.  Then we threw two beds out the window.  We used them as a raft and broke apart some tree branches from some neighboring willow trees.  We managed to get to the raft by walking in water up to our ears.  Pushing off with the tree branches as oars, we began to float about the stadium and around the sunken dormitory.  Then we sailed around the school.

When we floated by the window of our director, she saw us.  We did not know that she was staying with Headmaster Buslay and refused to be evacuated.  Buslay immediately jumped outside, to be exact on the porch, where his big raft made out of beds was.  Having launched the raft with a large pole, he quickly overtook us.  He banged hard on the edge of our raft and ordered us to scram out of there.  We ended up in the water and abandoned our boat.  Then we bolted out of there.

We returned with wet, dirty, and virtually frozen ears.  Of course, our adventure was reported to the school director.  Once again, I was suspended from the school and the dormitory.  We were fortunate not to get sick.

That spring, we no longer studied.  The school and dormitory were in need of substantial repairs.  Our male dormitory disintegrated into dirt once the water receded and things dried out.  It was as if that house where we spent so many happy and terrible days had ceased to exist.  They gave us our school documents and sent us home.  They joyously gave me “the wolf’s ticket”, that is a report card with an annual grade for Behavior of “1” (the lowest grade).

I successfully made it back to my sister’s and showed them my documents.  Then our family council resolved to send me to Chimkent to 20 Karl Libknecht Street.  This was where my sister Pasha and her husband lived in an apartment belonging to a Christian family named Zudilin.  Dressed snugly and equipped with edible rations and a small sum of money, this time I also had the document about my rather “successful” completion of the sixth grade.  Without incident, I safely arrived in the city of Chimkent.

Chapter Twenty Two: Prisoners

I recall another incident from farm life.  Our farm had a milk engineer named Ishkov.  He was serving out the last year of his 10 year sentence of imprisonment.  Soon he was going to be set free.  The last 3 years he had been released from the prison gang and lived on the farm.

I often rode with him to the central division where we transported milk.  He always tied up to the cart a one-eyed tribal bull.  The bull was so old and almost twice the size of typical bulls.  So we often had to tie an additional gadget to its bridle.  Ishkov always sat in the front of the cart while I sat in back.  The whole way he told me all kinds of stories.  He reminisced about his home, his wife, and his children.

Once he told me, “Hey, Vityok!  Vityok, soon I am going home.  But I don’t know who will need me there.  Who will entrust me with a pair of horses or a bull like this one?”

His voice revealed such longing and despair that I was unsure how to answer him.  I perfectly understood how he had gotten so used to the conditions here after 10 years.  It was impossible for him to conceive being anywhere else.

Even I got used to this harsh existence, to life without the affection of a father or mother.  Even when I was near my mother, I could not bring myself to call her, “Mother.”  Now my relations toward her were so cold that I was resigned to it.

Once this incident took place.  As usual we were transporting milk.  It was a hot day.  Our bull barely made it along the dusty road.

Ishkov was telling me some story when the bull suddenly stopped.  The cart came right under a tall drain pipe.  The bull raised its head with its mouth opened wide and its huge teeth visible.  Sensing the situation, Ishkov turned to the bull and shouted, “Tsob, tsobe!”

Ishkov struck the bull with his rod.  Shocked, the bull groaned and sneezed loudly.  Ishkov was completely covered with wet manure that flew out from underneath the bull’s tail.  His whole face and torso were buried in that wet manure.  The bull surged forward with the cart as rapidly as it could run.  It ran off the road and toward the river.

It turned out that the bull’s trouble was caused by an attack of a “bzik”.  This is a type of fly that lands on an animal’s back, usually cows or bulls, rarely horses.  The important issue is that the fly lands on a spot safe from being swatted by the animal’s tail.  So the animal runs either into a thick of trees or toward water.

Our cart jumped on the bumps and flew right into the water.  The river was not very deep in that spot.  The riverbank had an incline that was one meter in height.  When we crossed that incline, the cart almost flipped over.  The bull and the cart stopped in the water which reached the bull’s stomach.  The bull stood in the water.  It dipped its tail into the water and swatted its back.  Its eyes were turned up, and the bull breathed laboriously.

I cracked up in laughter, but Ishkov showed impotent anger at the bull.  I helped Ishkov to wash up.  Then we washed out the flasks splashed by the manure.  During this time the bull calmed down.  Ishkov led it by the collar out of the riverbank.

We safely arrived at the division and distributed milk.  Then we went back to the farm without further incident.

The farm stable was in need of repair.  Pyotr Egorovich requisitioned a brigade of prisoners under the guard of one soldier to come to the farm.  The soldier sat on a rock near the wall of the stable.  He placed his rifle between his knees and observed the work of the prisoners.  The prisoners worked all day without lunch.

When the soldier wanted to smoke, he twisted a cigarette butt and ordered the prisoners to light a fire.  Obviously, he had no lighter.  Then a prisoner came half the distance between the soldier and the others, left a lit fuse on the ground, and walked away himself.  The soldier came up to the fuse, lit his cigarette, and left the place. The prisoner then took away the fuse.

This scene repeated itself several times a day.  This showed that the soldier did not trust the prisoners.  He never allowed them to come near him.

But there were other soldiers who trusted prisoners.  When such a soldier brought a prisoner brigade to work at the farm, he immediately set his rifle down in a corner.  Prisoners surrounded him and carried on conversations.  They talked happily, smoked, and lit their cigarettes from the same fuse.  Such soldiers never had prisoner escapes from their brigades.

They told me about one situation.  A trusting soldier put his rifle in a corner.  When the prisoners were talking with him, another prisoner suddenly stole the rifle and ran away.  Then the other prisoners themselves caught him and beat him up.

In general, prison escapes took place frequently.  But rarely did anyone manage to escape without leaving behind footprints.  Indeed, where could a prisoner hide in those endless steppes or between the hills where there were no free settlements, only prison zones?  The fugitive was caught usually after three or four days.

I witnessed firsthand  the results of a typical escape.  Two senior guards traveled on a cart while dragging a half-conscious runaway along the ground.  He no longer had the energy to walk, so they simply dragged him along like a log.

Prisoners had to wear soldiers’ uniforms consisting of coats and baggy pants that had been shot up and washed in blood.  They brought these clothes from the front except for the belts and stripes.

The prisoners were poorly fed.  Each prisoner wore on his belt a pot and spoon.  When they worked in the potato or carrot fields, the prisoners had permission once a day to start fires and cook whatever they could find.  Naturally, they got smart to bring something back to the barracks and share with those working in construction where there was nothing edible.  Winter was an especially difficult time of the year.

I witnessed this scene.  A column of prisoners worked at a river chopping down white willow trees, from which they made woven nets to catch the snow.  Famished and damp prisoners barely moved.

Suddenly a cart arrived.  Two soldiers hoisted up a frostbitten prisoner from the ground and threw him like garbage into the cart.  They took the prisoner back to the zone.  I did not invent any of this.

On several occasions, I wandered about the fields in search of something to eat.  Sometimes we got lucky.  Once during winter, we found in a bunch of old potato remains an entire bucket of potatoes.  Apparently, prisoners had hidden it in hope of retrieving it at an appropriate time.

But one time, also during winter, when we were skiing, we stopped at an apple orchard.  One of us crashed into a large pile of old branches.  A big apple got stuck onto one of the skis.  When we sorted through the pile of branches, we found there a bucket of half-frozen apples.  We dragged all of these to the boarding school and feasted for an entire week.

If a dog by chance happened to run into the zone, then the prisoners caught and devoured it.

Sometimes they took prisoners to the bathhouse.

I remember an incident that occurred during winter when I was at the boarding school.  They also took us to the common bath. We bathed together with prisoners.  They put our snow jackets and clothes in iron bins and heated them up to a high temperature in order to burn off lice.

One time I witnessed a living skeleton.  When we exited as a group from the bath to the changing room, a group of naked prisoners arrived.  It was a terrible sight.  Emaciated and weakened, they barely moved.  Many had tattoos.

A living skeleton walked right up to me.  A thin head, arms hanging like vines on a bar, a straight spine, and a pelvis with his leg bones protruding out.  How he still moved was simply a miracle.  Then etched on his chest in black highlighted letters were the words “Fighter for Freedom.”

In general, tattoos were a fad among prisoners.  No one knew where in the world they managed to find highlights and paint, except only those talented artisans and technicians among the prisoners.

I saw a lot of pretty drawings on naked prisoners.  Some of them wore tattoos on their arms, others on their fingers, stomachs, shoulders, chests, and legs.  One prisoner’s head was bald and had a drawing of an Uzbek skullcap on his bald spot.  One young man had the etching of two butterflies on his butt.

Another guy’s back was completely tattooed.  On his waist was an angry sea.  From the sea protruded the mast of a sinking ship.  On the perch of the mast sat a sailor holding in his outstretched hand a sailor’s cap.  The sailor was etched on one of the guy’s shoulder blades.  The hand with the sailor’s cap was on his other shoulder blade.  When he would wiggle his stomach and back, his shoulder blades would move.  It resulted in the waves moving, the person in the mast shaking, and the sailor waving his arm with the sailor’s cap, as if he were bidding farewell.

But one criminal woman had a vulgar inscription tattooed into her forehead.  With good reason sounds the proverb, “The wild man is used to tattoos, both in old and in new situations.”

And we children saw these tattoos in the baths and the zones.  We also were tempted and got the brilliant idea of getting tattoos.  On my left hand was a tattoo of a sea anchor.  I also got a tattoo of my first name on my fingers.  Once I had become a young man and started to pursue young ladies and attend church, I tried to burn the tattoos off with sulfur.  I managed to burn the tattoo off my fingers, but failed to erase the anchor.  Even now I still have it on my hand as a reminder of my childhood, my orphan years.

Do not have the misconception that all prisoners were wild men hooked on tattoos.  There were also normal people among the prisoners.  There were many Christians.  There were many military officers.

I remember one tall officer.  He carried his own uniform, naturally without stripes.  He always sat somewhere on the side and read a lot.  He probably used to have a prominent rank.  The story went that he was sentenced to the camp for a piece of paper, a propaganda leaflet with which the Germans frequently bombarded our front lines.  He picked up several pieces and used them as toilet paper.

Some tattlers  among the soldiers saw this and reported him to the headquarters.  The authorities searched him, found papers in his pocket, and sentenced him to 10 years in the camp as a traitor.

Soon we moved to the central division where Pyotr Egorovich was named as director of the milk factory, the place where Ishkov and I distributed milk.  They named another man as director of the farm.  The mother of Pyotr Egorovich returned to her home, and our mother lived with us.  That summer gave me greater opportunity to be right in the barracks where prisoners were living.

As I have already stated, I was the only child here.  I was accepted everywhere, including the milk factory, the dog kennel, the soldiers’ armory, and the barracks in the zone.  I was in demand everywhere.

The fact is that when Mother and I walked and traveled to Karaganda to sell sorrel, both soldiers and prisoners always gave me orders to bring them tobacco.  It even occurred that I had to bring them vodka in bottles of 250 grams they called flasks.

Mother also apparently had things to trade.  Besides sorrel, which we sold in bundles, we used the money we had earned to buy one or two loaves of bread.  Mother also bought a lot of tobacco and sold it here in the zone at a profit.  Sometimes she bought homemade candies.  In a word, Mother became a speculator, while I became a secret courier for the soldiers and prisoners.

Frequently I stayed the night in the barracks.  I slept with prisoners on the wooden bunks.  During the summer we slept without any bed sheets.  They slept in their clothes on the bare boards.  After taps, which was announced every evening by a bell, everyone was supposed to go to the barracks and sleep.  But they did not sleep for long.  They told all kinds of stories.  Some talked about the crimes for which someone was sentenced.  Others told all kinds of jokes.  Others reminisced aloud about their homes, families, and friends.  Still others counted the days remaining on their prison terms.  This happened every night.

Here in the zone, I experienced much good and bad.  Of course, I ran into more of the negative, from which I could not free myself for a long time, even when I became an adult.  I remember how one prisoner recounted how he “earned” his sentence of 10 years, as he phrased it.

“Our brother and I lived in the countryside in Russia.  Almost every night, a Black Crow came to our village and took away one or two ‘unfortunate’ men.  We sensed that soon they would come for us, since we lived ‘in luxury’ – we had a small mill and earned income from it.  So we decided that if we were to sit in prison, then let’s find some cause to do so.

“We sharpened our axes and waited for the right moment.  The Black Crow came at night.  The Chekists (NKVD secret police) knocked on our door.  We had locked the doors and did not open them.  Then the Chekists used their rifle butts to break down the door and burst into the house.  At first we managed to fight them off with our axes, but there were too many of them.  They soon overran us.  They gave us 10 years, but at least we know why we are in prison.”

And then I recounted how and why they arrested my mother, father, brother, and sister.

So summer passed.  The first postwar summer.  And although there was no longer any war, the consequences of war were still felt for a long time.  Bread at the bazaar cost 500-600 rubles for a loaf.  No one ever spoke of its quality.

I had one other occupation which I loved: fishing.  There was a lot of fish in the Churbay-Nura River.  No one caught them.  They prohibited the prisoners from catching fish.

Sometimes without permission I took a gun and loaded it with bullets.  One time, my mischief nearly ended up in tragedy for me.

I took a gun and went to the stream to shoot ducks.  But I saw no ducks anywhere.  I started to shoot at robins and centipedes.  One last bullet was left.  I loaded the gun and pressed the trigger.  Blank!  I took out the bullet, twisted it, and reloaded it.  Again I fired.  Blank!  Several times I repeated this procedure with the same result.

Nearby a herd of cows was grazing while a shepherd, also a prisoner, walked near them.  I knew who he was.  Once again I loaded the useless bullet, went up to the shepherd, and thought about scaring him.  I was so confident that the bullet was a dud.  The whole capsule was already crumpled.  I pointed the gun at the shepherd and shouted, “Hands up!”

The shepherd turned white and with a trembling voice said, “What are you doing?”

I pulled the trigger and… blank again!  I broke open the rifle with my knee, twisted the bullet, and put it back inside.

After putting the rifle down and not picking it up from the ground again, the trigger was pressed and… bang!  A shot thundered.

I groaned.  Everything within me shook.  What would have happened had I once again pointed the rifle at the man?  I took the rifle back to its place and never again pointed a weapon at people.

Life goes on.  Once again my mother and I were going to the bazaar to transport our goods.  We were going at night through the steppe toward the train station.

As usual, Mother walked quietly and thought her sullen thoughts.  How much sadness she was forced to bear all because of one fatal error!  Her heart became hardened.

I also went behind her in silence.  Only I stayed a bit further behind so I could smoke.  I always took a lighter with me being such a chain smoker.  She knew perfectly well that I smoked and never condemned me for it.  She never tried to talk me out of it.

She even began to use my “skills.”  I became her connoisseur.  She would summon me over to the tobacco vendors and ask me to choose the strongest tobacco.  I tested the tobacco by taking it, turning it into a cigarette, and taking a smoke.  Thus I could figure out the strength of the tobacco.  The stronger the tobacco, the easier we could sell it.

One time, Mother laid down on the bench her wares, including all kinds of buttons, scarves, sorrel, and candies.  She told me to watch over the goods, while she went to scour the bazaar.  Nearby stood identical venders with various goods.

I had already purchased the orders for the prisoners several flasks of vodka, which I held under my nose.  Out of boredom I smelled one flask, opened it with my teeth, and took a gulp out of sight of the neighboring vendors.  Everything inside me burned with a pleasant sensation.

After waiting a bit, I repeated this maneuver.  Then again and again.  Inside me it did not burn like before.  Everything around me seemed more cheerful and unusually without emotion.

Suddenly I felt the bench and the goods were falling on top of me.  I tried to hold up on my legs, but everything was spinning.  I fell into some hole.

Not knowing what was going on, the neighboring female vendors started to lift me up, expressing their shock.  Then my mother came. When she saw a nearly empty flask under the bench, then they understood everything.  They laid me under the bench, put some wet rags on my head, and I lied there for several hours.

When I returned to my senses, the bazaar was nearly empty.  Mother took me to the train station, and we went home.  From that time onward, I understood that it was dangerous to let out the “fiery jinn” from the bottle.

But as I grew up, regardless I repeated this practice.  Because of it, I myself suffered a lot and brought suffering to my family members.  All because sin entered into my inner world, into my life, and built a strong nest there.  More on that later.

Now I will continue with how I spent my time living in Karlag.