The Letter

Mykola Shtefan 

I was ten years old when armed bands called "cheka" began to raid villages in Ukraine. One day these "chekists" suddenly appeared in our hamlet. ( Hamlet of Chervy-Bychky in the county of Kozelsk in Poltava province.) Our neighbors ran away from their homes, but our family for some reason was caught in the cottage. It was hard to understand them, not only because they spoke a different language, but because they were drunk. Shouting insults they shot at the ceiling or the floor and then fell upon my father and elder brother and began to beat them. My mother tried to protect my father and brother. The result was that soon all three of them lay insensible on the floor in their own blood, beaten by the thugs' gun butts. Having taken all those things which caught their fancy, the chekists departed. 

After some time my mother and my brother regained consciousness and, a little later, my father. He had a large white beard which seemed to have become still whiter now; it looked like a white poster with a large red spot of dried blood. 

After this incident we were almost sure that the chekists would not disturb us again, but we were wrong. They did come again, -- the same gang. They set fire to our cottage and other buildings, took my father and elder brother, and departed. On the way my brother was ordered to get off the wagon and take 50 steps to one side. They were getting ready to shoot him, but just before the command to fire was given my brother dashed away in the evening twilight, and vanished in the nearby ravine. Hundreds of shots failed to reach him. Then they fell upon my father, beat him up on the way and then, in the cheka quarters in Kreminchuk they killed him. They threw his corpse into the street and ordered the village soviet authorities of Pryhariw to take it back to our hamlet. We were glad that my brother had escaped, but on the Saturday before Whir Sunday the cheka detachment caught him together with his friend Ivan Kuzmenko, by Sytnyk pond in the county of Kozelsk. They were shot on the spot.

I saw their bodies, mutilated and shot many times. 

Now only my mother, my two younger brothers and myself remained. I went away. There were many such waifs and strays as I was at that time. After a while I went back and helped my mother to build a small cottage, and by 1929 we again had a horse and cow, and began farming again in cooperation with a neighbour. 

Then they came again, -- a different gang this time. I did not wait to be caught, and ran away before they arrived. My mother and brothers managed somehow till 1932 when all of them were driven out of the cottage, the horse and the cow confiscated and the elder of my two brothers was sent as a "class enemy" to a concentration camp in northern Russia. He was not alone, Maksym Bychok, Trokhym Cheremys, Pavlo Khvydrya, Semen Starchyk and many others kept him company. The menfolk exiled, the grain swept away, my mother and brother wandered from house to house. 

I obtained forged documents, changed my name and worked at the railway station in Donbas. By sending a letter through other people I received one in return from my brother: 

"Greetings, dear brother! 

"We were very glad to receive a letter from you. Maybe you will remain alive. Mother and I lead a very hard life. Mother has become so thin and weak that she can hardly walk, and we are in dire straits, walking from one collective or state farm to another from morning till night, but they drive us away and will not give us work. Mother's legs have begun to swell and it makes me very sad to think that soon I shall be left all alone. My legs have not swollen yet, but they are aching. The pain is so sharp sometimes that I have to try very hard not to cry, because mother may feel bad about it. To add to this it is getting colder and we have no clothes, mother has no shoes at all and mine are almost gone. No money to buy them, and yet there are no shoes in the stores. Collectiv~ and state farms are about to finish threshing and all the grain is hauled to the railway station. When it gets much colder and the snow covers the ground then we will perish because it will be impossible to glean and we have not a single grain to keep us alive in winter. Even now we are so hungry that sometimes I faint. We ask you, dearest brother, to send us a loaf of bread if you have money to buy it, if not please send us all the crumbs and small pieces of bread that may be left from your meal. It does not matter if they are very small or are burned, we'll eat them here, because mother and I are so hungry. I will remain grateful to you for this help until I die! 

"Your brother Fedir and Mother". 

Having read this letter I sold everything I could, got permission to stay away from work for a few days, bought food and went to visit my mother and brother. But before I even entered my native hamlet I was arrested, because they had been hunting for me for a long time and were ready. They took me to the county seat and thence, with three others, to a deportation camp near Kiev, called Lenin's Smithy. Then we worked on Trukhaniw island, near Kiev, building a bridge across the Dnieper and at the end of 1932, we were sent in sealed boxcars beyond Baikal to build new mines and dig coal. 

Ten long dreary years passed thus. Very few of those comrades who had arrived with me in the sealed cars were still alive. But I returned. 

When I came to Chervy-Bychky I could not find anything. The site where our cottage had stood was plowed up. My mother and my brother died waiting for me to bring them food - died from hunger. -- and no one could tell me where their grave was. 

Source: Pidhainy, S. O. ed. The Black Deeds of the Kremlin: A White Book. Vol I Book of Testimonies. Toronto: Ukrainian Association of Victims of Russian Communist Terror. 1953 p. 285 - 287