30.10.2007 | Gennady Sakharov

Children of victims of repression


This year marks 70 years since the largest-scale repressions of the former USSR. The repressions were planned with quotas for the numbers of arrested and executed “enemies of the people” to be fulfilled and exceeded. Some top officials in Ukrainian regions actually asked for the numbers to be increased. People became victims for speaking “the wrong language”, with charges trumped up over alleged spying and nationalist organizations. They looked for enemies everywhere and found them.

There are people today who try to prove that there was no Holodomor [Famine of 1932-1933] in Ukraine and that the repressions under Stalin were a necessary step to protect the Soviet regime against saboteurs, spies and other enemies.  Let such arguments be on the conscience of those who circulate them.  There are ever less witnesses of those events.  Each account from people who lived through those times is particularly to be valued.

I spoke with Ida Vasilivna Borodai [Styopkina] in her flat in a five-storey block on Kirov Avenue. She is eighty years old, but has a good memory and told us about the events in her life in detail. She spoke of how she became an “NKVD child” as they called the children of parents who had been repressed and who were themselves kept in special children’s homes.

In 1937 Ida lived with her parents in the large village Andriyivka in the Kharkiv region. Her parents were village teachers. During the night of 22 September NKVD men came to their house and carried out a search. Ida’s mother took the half-asleep nine-year-old from one room to another. When the search was ended, the men took her father away. One said: “Say goodbye to your daughter”. He kissed his daughter and left. He left for ever, since as Ida Vasilivna later discovered after her father had long been rehabilitated, he was convicted in 1937 and executed for “his part in a counterrevolutionary  nationalist spying organization”.  The main “crime” of village teacher Vasyl Fedorovych Borodai in the eyes of the NKVD was clearly that he belonged to the village intelligentsia and he spoke Ukrainian.  The village teachers often met, played the bourgeois game of “preference” [a card game] and discussed events in the country. Perhaps somebody expressed a view considered seditious at the time.  There was an informer present, one of those “secret employees” whom the NKVD had in all places of work, particularly among the intelligentsia. And as was also customary, they manufactured a case about a nationalist organization in Andriyivka.  That night eight teachers from the school were arrested. Soon they arrested Ida’s mother. That very day they came and took Ida away from school. The teacher told her she had to leave the class because people were waiting for her.

The stranger waiting there was polite and kind. He took her to the police station where in a large room there were around forty children since the NKVD had taken other families from the village as well as teachers’ children.  The children were told that they would be taken to their parents, were put in open trucks with benches to sit on and in a cold winter night taken to the Balakliya district centre. There the children were held in a building with forty to fifty children in each room.  From there they were taken to Kharkiv. On the way the children saw columns of people being led by armed convicts. They were stopped at one point by a person shouting: “Who’s in the truck?”  The answer was: “NKVD children”.

They brought the children to an NKVD reception and distribution centre where the children were held in groups of forty – fifty. They weren’t allowed outside, there was nowhere to wash and neither their underwear nor clothes were changed. The windows looked out into the courtyard.  It was effectively a transit camp for children. In a month the children were placed in children’s homes. They were taken to the railway station and given a packed meal for the journey. 

Among the 300 children in Ida’s children’s home, there were Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Germans and Jewish children. All were children of those repressed.  The children did not go hungry and the staff treated them well.

In the winter of 1939 Ida’s mother was released from prison in Kharkiv where she had spent more than a year without any investigation or trial. They’d demanded that she “confess” to subversive activities, to helping her nationalist husband and had intimidated her. The conditions in the prison were terrible. Perhaps they realized that they wouldn’t get any incriminating information from her, or they’d already over-fulfilled their quotas.  They also released two other women teachers from Andriyivka, whose husbands had also been executed. The women came and collected their children.  It should be mentioned that not all children in the home were so lucky.

Labelled “enemies of the people”, the teachers did not return to Andriyivka following their release, and in fact there was nowhere to return to – all their property had been confiscated, and the homes devastated. The Borodai family lost their library which had been collected by not just one generation.

Ida and her mother ended up in the village of Shevelyovka in the Balakliya district which was populated by settlers from Russia.  They had a very hard time, labelled enemies of the people and Hitler supporters. With one bag of possessions they moved to another village Vovchy Yar where nobody knew them. They lived in poverty, supplementing their diet from the vegetable garden. Ida’s mother again worked as a teacher.

Up till the collapse of the USSR they didn’t say anything to anyone. After her mother’s death, Ida Vasilivna found no record among her documents of her release from prison. There had obviously never been such a document.

On making a formal request for information to the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor, Ida Vasilivna received documents regarding his fate and subsequent rehabilitation.  It was only from those that she learned that her father had not died in prison, but been shot. She has been unable to find any documents about her mother’s period in prison or her time in the children’s home. It would seem that there were no records kept of such “NKVD children”, and nothing is known of their later fate. If those children deprived then of their parents and families are still alive they cannot receive victim of repression status. According to some sources, the NKVD, later renamed the MGB and then KGB brought these children up to be saboteurs, intelligence agents, people for use in special operations since no one would worry about their fate and they had no other parents, save the security service.

“I want people to know that there was such a category as children of the repressed”, Ida Vasilivna explains. “Everybody knows about repression with regard to poets, artists and prominent people. We need to remind them about the ordinary teachers, simple people and about their children who lost everything for human memory is short. I was lucky since my mother survived, was not killed or sent to the camps. Not all were so fortunate”.

Ida Vasilivna is trying to find the children she knew.  She wants to establish how many such children’s homes there were, and how many “NKVD children” in order that people learn about this. And she would very much like to a monument to be erected to the teachers who brought people what was good, reasoned and eternal and who were murdered by the Soviet regime.

Slightly abridged

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