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Victory Day

Although I don’t normally use this blog to write anything too personal, this is the day when I would like to do so. It is 9th May, and in Russia this is the state holiday – the Victory Day.

I grew up listening to my grandmother’s story of her life during the war. Between June 2005 and January 2006 I was taking part, as a story-gatherer, in the BBC’s campaign, People’s War. The aim of the campaign was to create the living archive of wartime memories. And since stories from all countries were accepted (as long as they were in English), I contributed my grandma’s account of her life during the war.

I have always adored my grandma, Lydia, despite the fact that we belong to the two quite different generations, which results in occasional “culture clashes”. She was a working pensioner when I arrived, and when I was two, she left her job altogether, to stay with me. (Another reason was that I adhorred a nursery, and after three attempts my family realised that I wouldn’t be staying there, so someone would have to stay at home with me).

My grandmother held a BA in Law and has always been telling me to use my logic, as well as recalling various stories that had taken place at the Central Forensic Laboratory in Moscow where she used to work. She left when she met her husband, Alexei Sokolik, a Ukranian sportsman of Czech origin, and went to live to Lviv (Western Ukraine) with him. She eventually had to return to look after her parents. My mother was already born in Moscow, and my grandfather died of cancer in 1970. Since her return to Moscow until her retirement, my grandmother had worked for the Soviet Railways as a cinema instructor. Being a member of the Cultural Office at the Committee of the Railways Trade Union (Dorprofsozh – ДОРПРОФСОЖ), she supervised cinema clubs, cinema releases and box offices across all 15 regional railway committees.

So, what I decided to do is to republish the story from the BBC archive. Being a copyright holder, I nonetheless would like to acknowledge the fact that this story has originally been posted on WW2 People’s War website (Article ID: A8998933). It is one of the recommended stories in the archive, and I would like to say that I cannot praise my grandmother enough for collecting her strength to talk on the phone while I was recording. I subsequently translated her account directly from the tape.

This is what you’re about to read (quoted from my own entry on the website):

The story of evacuation of the Alekseev family spans from 1941, when they left their village with the last bus, until 1943, when they were given a derelict house to live in just outside Moscow. In these years there were many moments of joy, as well as of desperation. The evacuation camp set up in the Old Orthodox community was anything but friendly. Upon leaving it, the family was then caught up in Yaroslavl in the winter 1942/43, during the Stalingrad battle, when the prospect of Hitler’s victory created panic in the city. Throughout these years there was a constant fear for two brothers and a sister who joined the forces, which culminated in grief when the eldest brother was killed in 1943.

There are several reasons for republishing this story. It is dramatic, and many years after I heard it for the first time its dramatism has finally caught up with me, and I wondered how I would be able to survive in the similar conditions. I am sure some experiences will echo other people’s, and at best this memoire illustrates exactly where our grandparents got their will of steel. Then, of course, I am an historian, so I can also read my grandma’s story as a historical source. This is also a testimonial of a formidable personal memory, but also makes one wonder how a person goes on living with this experience. Ultimately, such stories should remind us of the devastating effect wars have on the civilian population. The Victory Day, which is celebrated as a state holiday in France (8th May) and Russia (9th May), is the good time to think about it.

The story is quite long, so I will break it up in chapters, which will all be collected under ‘My Life at War’ label. I also won’t do this in one go, so the chapters will appear in the course of this week.

I understand that, as I am publishing this and subsequent posts, they will be read and possibly shared and/or commented by my readers. However, I hold the image and text copyright, and also the BBC holds a non-exclusive right to sublicense and use the content. May I therefore ask, please, that you 1) read carefully the BBC’s Terms of Use, and 2) link to ‘My Life at War’ label and a specific post whenever you’re planning to quote from them. Otherwise, please feel free to leave a comment.

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