Vladimir A. (born 1932) came to Vilnius together with his mother, foster-sister and his uncle’s family from a village not far from Romodan in Poltava region, Ukraine, on 10 01 1947. Vladimiras grew up in a village in Rostov region. After the beginning of the war, the family was evacuated from there to Samarkand; and subsequently moved to Ukraine. Graduated from the Vilnius University from Russian Philology. Professional sportsman, winner of medals in several branches of sport, initiator of the professional volleyball in Lithuania. Nationality: Russian. (Interview carried out in Russian with interruptions in Lithuanian by J. Jonutytė. Transcribed by J. Jonutytė. Translated to English by A. Gedžiūtė. Translation edited by L. Būgienė).
I would like to start with a short introduction. I think that everyone who lives in the territory of any other republic must know the local language more or less. I cannot force anyone, by all means, but I think it necessary. I graduated from school here [in Vilnius], and I graduated from university here. […] Truly, there is no big difference for me whether to speak in Russian or in Lithuanian. But if there is a need for some details, nuances, I find it easier to express myself in Russian. But I speak Lithuanian fluently. I have even received some compliments that I have no accent and people take me for a Lithuanian. […] I am 85 years of age [the interview took place in 2017], I was born in 1932.
Before the war, in the 1930s, my mother and I lived in Rostov region. My mother was a midwife. We both lived in a province, in a settlement of workers, not in a city. When German army approached Rostov, we were evacuated to the Central Asia, to Uzbekistan, to Samarkand. […] Later, in March of 1944, my mother was sent to work to regions liberated from the Germans, to the region of Poltava, where there was the biggest railway junction in Ukraine – Romodan. […]
How did we happen to come here to Vilnius? My mother had three brothers; they were all younger than her. One worked in Samarkand. There was the biggest factory of canned fruit in the Soviet Union there. They produced dried fruit – apricot, raisins, walnuts. He worked as a chief of a supply department. Although he only had the education of four grades at a parish school! He was a clever guy, I can see him now, right in front of my eyes, uncle Vania! You cannot imagine, what kind of person he was, there are no better ones! The second brother was Viktor. He was sent to the front but conceived tuberculosis and they released him. He died in 1948. He had a daughter. My mother then went from Vilnius, took that daughter and brought her here. She lives in Vilnius, she is 81 years old now, she’s my cousin. She grew up in our family as a rightful daughter. And there was the third brother of my mother’s, he was born in 1916. When the war began, they would only take to the front those born between 1908 and 1918. […] On September 2 he went to the front, and on September 5 he turned 25. […] That is, since September of 1941 to the end of the war he survived through the whole Stalingrad, then finished the war near Konigsberg and came back home safe and sound. He had good luck. […] And he came to us, got the address and came. My mother’s name was Aleksandra. “Oh, Sania, hi, hello, what are we going to do, where are we going to live?” Then he says, “Listen, Sania, while at war, I was in a battalion with a guy from Vilnius. He said Vilnius was a very good city, very good people lived there. Come to Vilnius! So I thought, let’s go to Vilnius”. In October of 1946 he arrived to Vilnius with his wife. He sent us an invitation and on the 6th of January in 1947 we left [for Vilnius]. We were going in a wagon where cows were carried. On January 10 we arrived to Vilnius. The two of us: my mother and me. Since that day I am a resident of Vilnius [says in Lithuanian] and later a citizen of Lithuania. Since January 1947. I turned 15 in March. But from all these 70 years, I worked one year in Kaunas after the graduation of the university. I lived a year there, in 1956. Not only I played volleyball, I also played basketball for the university, and football. I have various medals from the three branches of sport. Well, you see, I’ll tell you shortly something about the sport. It’s nothing bad that I started speaking in Lithuanian, isn’t it? I was working as a lecturer in Kaunas polytechnical institute and then there was Stepas Butautas, a famous basketball player, in that department. There was the newspaper “Kauno tiesa” in those times. And there was “Kauno tiesa” Basketball Cup. And when I was playing, we were playing basketball together with Butautas for one year, can you imagine? Butautas, that is, you know, oh, who Butautas is, and who I am. And we played, and we won that Cup. Later I played football. Teams of masters of all branches of sports from Vilnius and Kaunas met. So, all basketball players played for Kaunas, they all, apparently, could play football as well. Three masters of football played for Vilnius and all others – it didn’t matter, who could play at least a little bit. And we got 1:1, now! All satisfied, that is, we also can play, not only they, from Vilnius. Here, that is, I lived a year in Kaunas. […]
I was corresponding with a girl from Leningrad, we would phone each other, and later, in 1957 she came here, and we went to the civil registry hall and [got married]. And this year in November it will be 60 years that we are together. As they say: [further in Russian] as an old suitcase without a handle – it’s a pity to throw away even though you can’t carry it anymore. […] She was a student at Leningrad Aviation Instrument-Making Institute, she only had a couple of years left until graduation. Well, what to do? So, I left for Leningrad and from November 1957 to September 1960 we lived in Leningrad. Afterwards she finished her studies, worked for a year or something and in September 1960 we came here [to Vilnius]. And we have lived here since then. […]
How did you come to sports, how did you start, how did you get interested in sports?
Excuse me [switches back to Russian and apologizes for this]. When we came to Vilnius, it was 1947 – no sport schools, no sport unions, no sport halls. Nothing at all! Zero, zero. Well, nothing to do. We, teenager boys would play football in the yard, there were basketball boards at every school, so we would play after school. To make it short, when I finished school and entered the university, I was already playing football and basketball. I did not play volleyball. Later, after two years, the community “Dinamo” was established, they took me to play football for the youth, there I got acquainted with two lads, they lived nearby. We lived near the railway and there were fields nearby, as in a village, well, it was a suburb of Vilnius. And they lived there – two Polish guys. And they offered playing volleyball. I was 19 years old then. I went to the first volleyball training together with them. I liked it! I stopped attending football (I was still attending basketball, but I quitted football) and started playing volleyball. Besides, I liked it so much that I would go every [week]day except for Sundays – only on Sundays there was no volleyball training. So, I started volleyball in 1952, while in 1955 I was invited to join the team of the Soviet Union. In three years. Nobody can believe it. I am baffled myself, how that is even possible. You cannot imagine: I’d put on skiing boots in summer and would run to Vingis park, would make a pile of sand and jump on the sand so that it would be harder. Then, I’d put a belt on my waist during training sessions, full of sand, and I’d play with that sand. And when I’d play [during competitions] – I’d take everything off, the shoes are light – pure pleasure! That’s how I got into this branch of sport. […]
Could you tell us, where and how you lived when you just arrived to Vilnius with your mother and uncle?
When we arrived, my uncle, my mother’s brother [and his family] lived there on the edge of the town. When you go to the airport, it’s to the right from the road – you pass the bridge and there are such ravines there. There used to be a street there and we lived on that street. That was my mother’s brother, his wife and they had already a 2-year-old daughter. They lived in a one-storied little house, there was only one room there, approximately of the same size [about 12 sq. m.], a kitchen of some 8 square meters and a small corridor, and that was all. So, they lived there, the three of them. When we arrived, my mother, I and that girl who was brought later, my cousin, and she also had a brother, so we were all together [in total] 7 people – and we lived in that one-room house for three years. When my mother’s brother returned from the front, you know, right from the front, officers as well as private soldiers, they’d all bring everything they could, various odds and ends: clothes and things, things, things. While my uncle, a master of all arts as he was, a welder, a milling-machine operator, a radio fitter, he brought back a luggage of this size [shows] with instruments given to him in the battalion where he served. […] Yet, he was wearing the very same greatcoat with which he was at war and a uniform. My place for the whole two years was under a table. There was a table in the middle of the room, here, that high [shows]. We’d all eat at that table. So, during a day there was much to do – school, here, there [you go]. But I slept under the table. Under the table. That very greatcoat – I’d put its one half underneath myself, and the other – on myself. Under my head, I’m even ashamed to say, I’d put some wood and a shoe. And I slept. That’s how we lived.
Did you sleep like that for two years?
Yes. It’s difficult to say who slept where: somebody on the floor, somebody on a chest, that’s how we lived there. It was even worse with food, even worse. Here, where there was “Tauras” beer fabric, in front of the Lukiškės Square, and there was a diary enterprise nearby. They’d get milk and pass it through separators. I’d go there with a bucket of 10 litres and they’d give me for free that milk after separators [butter-milk], where there was neither fat nor butter. So, I’d take these 10 litres and go home. We’d add some pieces of bread, in a day or two this would turn into sour milk and we’d eat this sour milk for two days. That’s one thing. Besides… [is moved to tears] Besides… My aunt, my uncle’s wife, would buy cow udder in the market and make meat jelly, cholodec. She’d make 10 plates, 15 plates. I’d put them into a basket and we would go to the station with my aunt. Trains would come at that time – that was 1947-1948 – people returned from the front, the evacuated ones would go back, all sorts of people there. And there were as in the market, you know, [long, narrow – shows] tables, and people would sell stuff at them. My aunt and I would sell that meat jelly. And then for this money we’d buy bread or something like that and we’d eat. I have eaten that meat jelly that much [shows], I can’t even look at it anymore. That is the second thing what we ate. And thirdly, I had two friends who would do such a thing: they knew the schedule of the trains that came from Leningrad (I say Leningrad because it was called so at that time, is it OK?). So, they knew attendants of those trains who would bring them such packs of cigarettes [shows the size of the cigarette packs]. Then there were no cigarettes but smokes [papirosy]. There was “Belomor kanal” – I remember it even now – and “Nord”, that is, “North”. So, I joined the group and the three of us would go to these attendants, buy and then open the packs and sell those smokes separately, several at a time. This lasted about two years. […]
Now, what else I wanted to tell. [Vilnius railway] station was destroyed because this station is a junction of railway, Germans bombed, bombed, and bombed. Areas around the station were all destroyed – there were no brick left on a brick. You know the Old Town, don’t you? So especially this part of the Old Town near the station – everything was destroyed, ruins there. When you go out of the station building, there is hotel “Gintaras” [now hotel “Panorama”] just in front of you, and the bus station. And in that part [then] there were remnants of a three-storied house – only the walls. There was nothing inside – neither roof nor windows. Ruins. But inside there were remnants of the roof, bricks. And all this around the station. […]
An order was passed: all the residents of Vilnius, including schoolchildren from the ninth grade and higher, have to work 100 hours at rebuilding of Vilnius. So we would grab litters, gloves and go. We went to the ruins, we’d put those pieces of brick into piles and then [load them] onto trucks. […] And there beside the stadium, there is a hill with cemetery, have you paid your attention? There was a second huge hill [instead of the stadium]. And then they built a narrow railway with wagonettes (like carriages). They built it from the top to the bottom. We’d throw the soil, they’d carry it down, again, and again, and thus they built the stadium out of that hill. But that was not in one year. So, I had worked 100 hours for myself and then I had worked for my mother as well. They’d allow this. Uncle worked in the factory so he didn’t have to, aunt later also worked in the factory so she didn’t have to either, while the little sister was very young, in the sixth grade. That’s how we worked, and I think that it was a very useful and healthy thing – we, so to say, put our own effort into rebuilding of Vilnius. […] We worked for the whole summer. The whole summer. When warm season began, in May, then we worked for the whole summer, and some was left for September. I remember that there in the Old Town, in those streets that are now Vokiečių, Žydų, you’d look forth and there were only bricks and bricks, not a single house. Terrible, that was real horror. So we did such a job. And that is very good, of course.
And when was Vilnius rebuilt, when was it?
You know, of course, not everything was built at once, one cannot build everything at once. I’ll tell you, I don’t know whether I’m right or not – Lithuania was incorporated into the USSR. And everything that was built was regulated centrally not on the scale of a republic but on the scale of the whole country. All roads, highways, all buildings were built on the scale of the former Soviet Union. And we cannot run away from this anywhere. Of course, the republic also did build things, they built a lot, but essentially everything was [centralized]. […]
For instance, in 1944 or 1945, they opened higher education institutions but there were no lecturers. There were no local lecturers! So they were invited – from Moscow, from Leningrad, from Kyiv, from Yerevan. I remember myself, such Gavrilian from Yerevan taught us philosophy, Vasiliy Ivanovich Kuliashov from Moscow taught some other subject, there was a teacher Neupakoyeva from Leningrad. And that was as some kind of help, or else what to do?
How did you enter [the university], and what profession was that?
You know, I intended to enter the Faculty of Law [at the Vilnius University]. But there were no [studies] in Russian, while I didn’t know enough of the Lithuanian at the time. We checked what else was available in Russian: there was one faculty [program] – Russian philology. So, I had to apply there. When I was in the third year, they launched a law faculty [program] in Russian. I wanted to transfer from the third course, but situation at home was difficult and I also had to work in a factory to help my mother, thus I couldn’t. Later, when I was doing sports already, there were camps often, for instance, a 20-day-long training camp before a competition. They’d give us coupons for food. So, I’d take the coupons to bring something [home]. […]
Tell me, how did you move from the little house into a flat with the family?
My uncle worked as a milling-machine operator in the factory ELFA – there was such a factory on Švitrigailos Street. And he was allotted a three-room flat in a house just like the old one. That house was in the place where the building of ELFA factory management stands now on Švitrigailos Street. Later they destroyed that house and built a brick building there. And three rooms – a separate three-room flat! You see, [earlier] we lived in one room and had a landlord, while here – three rooms. And later, after some eight years (we lived there that long), my uncle was allotted a separate three-room flat in Lazdynai. In a good house, a good flat and they moved in there. But I left for Leningrad. In Leningrad, my wife had a room of 18 square meters as it used to be earlier, in a hall of residence […]. When we were going to move [to Vilnius], we read an advertisement that a woman who lived right here [in a flat on Algirdo Street where the interview takes place] wanted to exchange a four-room flat in Vilnius for [an accommodation in] Leningrad. And we exchanged that room [in Leningrad] to get this flat. Yet this flat… there was no floor, there were no radiators, only a telephone, it seems to me, the telephone was here. Here, everything had to be renovated on a large scale. And then again, in one small room, 10 square meters, in this flat where we live now, a man lived here, so he stayed from 1960 until 1970. So, we’d lived together with him [in this flat] for 10 years. So, we exchanged that room [in Leningrad] for this flat. And since then we have lived in this flat without leaving anywhere. […]
Tell me about the everyday life after the war. Where did you fetch water from when you lived in that small wooden house?
All facilities were in the yard. A cowshed, a toilet behind the cowshed, a water pomp in the yard. In winter or in summer – it didn’t matter [when]. Of course, water was only available in this way. […] But you just imagine, let’s say, in winter… By the way, winters were colder than now. I remember, in 1956, there were minus 30 degrees! Heating – buy the wood or cut it yourself. Stove would heat a bit, yes, our little dearest stove!
Did you get acquainted with any neighbors? Whom did your family associate with?
You know, there on the edge of Vilnius, well, maybe our family associated with someone, but to tell you the truth, it was not much. There was some cold [between the people]. I associated more in Ukraine, when we lived in a village. It was completely different there. […]
And here in Vilnius, did you find the knowledge and skills of agriculture useful, maybe you planted something near home, didn’t you?
We planted, yes. […] When we arrived to Vilnius… If you know the city well, so on the way to the airport, as you cross the railway, there is a monastery to the right, and in front of the railway there used to be a ravine. Near that ravine, from the ravine to the railway, there were gardens there. So, we also had a garden. And we would dig, and plant.
Did the garden belong to you officially?
What do you mean, officially? Just go and plant! Nobody said anything – the land was there for you! Otherwise, the land would be wasted, so we could go and dig as much as we needed.
What did you plant?
Potatoes, mainly potatoes. […]
Did you learn the Lithuanian language at the university?
I learned grammar at the university. During the first two years it was mandatory to study the Lithuanian language. So, I learned grammar. And afterwards, there were two Polish guys, and all the others were Lithuanians in my volleyball team. Football team: one Jew, several Russians, others – Lithuanians. Basketball team: all Lithuanians mostly. So [I had to learn] whether I wanted or not… Moreover, that was my principle: I had to learn. I wanted because I had. I was practically speaking already – at school, and at the university where I had to pass the entrance exams in Lithuanian. That’s how it was. Volleyball players, the volleyball team were my friends. We were all friends. Football team – no, because we would scatter. As summer came, we would all go in different directions. We would gather in September again and then we would start training again, but we were all students from different faculties. Whereas the volleyball team were always together and there were many competitions. […]
Did your wife want to come to Vilnius, did she want to move here?
We were really sorry for having left Leningrad, oh! Oh, how sorry we were! But later everything settled, everything was fine and well. But the first two years [in Vilnius]!… Not for me, but for my wife. I grew up here, all my friends were here, and my work. Whereas my wife, she was born there [in Leningrad], she finished school there, and graduated from the institute there […]. Without her friends, without those [relatives], it was very sad for her. She would cry all the time. She worked as a radio engineer at “petiorka” [secret military factory] in Vilnius. The staff there were Russian speakers. So, she made some friends there. And later somehow naturally, everything settled. Now she has several friends with whom she still associates. So, everything is fine. […]
It was really a pleasure for me to meet you and tell you all this. Because I have never told such a story to anyone. I started from that far – from Rostov region.
Is it pleasant for you to remember all this or is it difficult?
Something is pleasant, something – not so much.