Peace to you, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!
Father Vitali Gavrilov of the parish of the Transfiguration of the Lord (in Tuim, Khakassia) wrote:
What a rich and often sad history our people have, and how little we know about it! Even about the closest of our people, sometimes we do not know much about them.
Today one of our parishioners, Anelia, celebrates her 93 years old. I have already told you about her, but I really would like to tell again, with some more details, because we all need to know this story. So, everything in order.
There are two special babushkas in our parish. One’s name is Anelia, it was she who has a birthday, and her sister Zoe, she is about 92 years old.
They both are Latgalians, from the eastern part of Latvia. Around 1920, four families left Latgale, they were so-called “khodoki” (in Russian, “walkers”). From this term it is clear that they carried out the journey on foot.
They heard a lot about the good fertile lands in Siberia. And so, in search of a better life for their families, the men, having gathered their families and belongings, went to the land “where milk and honey flows.”
Now it is difficult to find out how long this travel took. But they covered almost three thousand miles and reached the taiga in the Krasnoyarsk region. They named their settlement as Kreslavka (in Latvia there is a town named Kraslava, perhaps that was the basis of the name). This was a place where Anelia and Zoe were born.
The walkers’ dreams came true only partially, and later turned into serious tests. The area of Kreslavka is a deep taiga, where midges and gnats wore out both people and livestock. However, the land there was really solid and fertile. It was possible to sow wheat and plant potatoes.
The main trouble came in 1937 during the brutal Stalin’s repressions. All Latvians, Germans, Estonians who lived in those Siberian lands were recognized as the “enemies of state.” In the 37th, the NKVD took Anelia’s father, and after long tortures they sent him into the Gulags in the Kolyma.
And around hundreds of men and women were arrested and shot, forced to dig their own “mass graves” before that. “But my father was lucky, he was in the camps for 12 years, but he survived,” says Anelia.
However, the families by that time had no property left, and it became too difficult to live in the taiga, and they moved to Khakassia, to work there on collective farms (“kolkhoz”).
Babushka Anelia says, “We worked on the collective farm fields every day as long as was necessary, without any rest, and did not receive anything for this work. We didn’t even know that the work could be paid.”
And what did they eat? Anelia says: “What can you find while collecting sheaves, while walking from one end of the field to the other. When you see a berry and pick it, throw it in your mouth. That was what we ate. But the main delicacy, it was always a piece of bread.”
In 1950, Anelia’s father returned from the camps and went to the village of Tuim to work in a mine.
And his daughters already worked there at the mine. When Anelia turned 20, she and her sister went on foot, and three days later they reached the mines. They were fearless young girls who walked through deep forests and country roads for almost 80 miles in January! But as Anelia says, “We were forced by the need. We had no food with us, we had not seen bread for a long time. Only we had, it was a small pack of tea. We took a pinch of tea and chewed it, and instead of water we used snow. And in order not to freeze, we walked very quickly. This is how we became residents of Tuim and have been living here for more than 70 years.”
“We have been believers all our lives. Our parents and grandparents taught us about Jesus Christ and His Sacrifice for us. We always read “Our Father” in our Latgalian language, which sounds like a medieval river.”
This wonderful prayer accompanied the sisters throughout all their difficult life, strengthening their hope and exhorting about the presence of God in their lives.
There was no church, the Christian faith was forbidden, but fathers, mothers and children remained faithful to their Lord and Savior. Children were secretly baptized and studied the faith.
Now there is a church in Tuim, you can freely believe in God, and this is the most important thing. Life goes on. Anelia and Zoe have many children and grandchildren. And the babushkas keep the faith and live a busy life. Please pray for them.