A long time before her tonsure, Mother Maria Litvinova was a little girl named Lidya. She grew up during World War II, but she has fond memories of her childhood. On the eve of the anniversary of the war's end, we asked her to share her memories of her wartime childhood. Here is her story.
I grew up in Chuguev, a small town near Kharkov. I remember my father before the war. He liked the Ukrainian language. It was like music to him. I loved to hear him read Ukrainian poetry. He was twenty-eight, and that seemed like an improbable age to me!
My father was an excellent guitarist, and I was a dancer. He had a remarkable musical ear, and my mother had a marvellous voice. She sang wonderfully with my father. I often sang along, too. Everybody sings in Ukraine. One would hear groups of people singing everywhere, and it was beautiful. They were improvised choruses singing in multiple tones.
Suddenly, it all stopped. The war began. I cannot recall very many details about that day. The war was in the air. Everybody talked about it.
I will always remember the day my father left for the front. My uncle Valentin, who was only seven years older than me, cried out to my mother: "Anna! Anna! Run, quick! Ivan is flying!"
"What are you talking about?" answered my mother. "Who told you that?"
He is flying in circles over our field. Look! He is doing it again - a third time! I saw him stop the plane over our house in his second circle and shake the wings! We all ran outside to look. He was right. The plane was flying very low, right above the apple trees. Then it hovered over our garden for a few seconds. My twelve-year-old uncle cried:
"Look! He dropped something!" He ran to the garden and brought a handkerchief. My mother looked inside and found a rock and a piece of paper with a note. It was from my father. He wrote, "I am leaving for the front. They gave me no time for good-byes." It was moving... and sad. I still cry when I remember that day.
All the pilots and instructor pilots from my father's unit went. Most of them died in the first weeks of the war. My father lived. He fought at the front right until the Stalingrad battle. A few days before the battle, he was wounded in a mission and went to the hospital. He wrote letters to my mother, and I remember how happy she was to know that he was alive. Another day passed, and we knew our father was well. But how about tomorrow? We would think about it when it came. We lived by the day to protect ourselves from the uncertainty of the future. My mother wrote to my father, and he wrote back to her. We lived from one letter to another.
One day, my father wrote: "I am now stationed in Arzamas, far from the front. Come join me, it is not good to live separately." So we went. My father was a marvellous pilot - a real virtuoso, like few others. His best friend, Zelenkin was one of those few.
"When you are on a mission with him, you know that you will return safely. With him, everyone returned," said my father about his friend. Unlike Zelenkin, my father had fewer front-line missions, but both enjoyed incredible good luck.
In those times, the wings of most planes were made of percaline. Percaline is a type of flax fabric covered with a thick layer of paint for smoothness. The paint was extremely flammable. A tiny spark could send a plane burning like a torch. My father burned five times, but he survived. It must have been his guardian angel - or so I believed. He was keeping him from harm for his exceptional kindness, his aversion to self-advancement and his infinite love for his homeland in battle and during peacetime.
When a pilot perished in a mission, someone had to break the news to his family. There were so many deaths that we had to do it often. Every time, it was the same team of six people - the unit commander, military commissioner, a friend of the deceased and the wife of one of the pilots. Most of the time, my mother was one of these six. She always brought me with her because I was too young to be left at home.
We would go to someone's house - my mother, father, the unit commanders and me. We would knock on the door and come in. Before we said anything, the dead pilot's widow would collapse at the door. The war was taking our best people and brought enormous grief. There are no words to describe it.
Even when the war was over, it was still in our minds, stories, and, surprisingly, songs. We sang war songs at our parties. We did not sing with sadness, but with joy. My mother and father sang war songs, too. But they never stopped singing their favourite songs from peacetime. My father returned to playing the guitar, and I went back to dancing. After the war, I no longer danced at home. I went to the city park.
What else can I say? Despite the war, I still had a happy childhood. Both my parents were alive and were with me all the time. How can I not thank God for that?
Recorded by Tatiana Dashkevich
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