Ever since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we hear little on the news except what is happening there. No more talk of Covid or the January 6 investigations. Nothing but the disgusting, horrific atrocities happening against the Ukrainian people. The news has taken me back to my book, and in particular, when Grandpa’s parents and siblings were forced from their homes after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.
As a researched and wrote my book, I could only imagine what they went through as I read the history books, my aunt’s diary, and the letters they wrote to my father. Now I am watching it on live television.
Today I am going to take some time reminding us all what happened to our family as a means of understanding what is currently happening in Ukraine. The following is a brief account of what happened to them. Although this story occurred eighty-one years ago, it sounds similar to what we are seeing and hearing about on a daily basis.
As I watch what is currently happening in Ukraine, it reminds me about what happened to my dad’s family when they were pushed from their homes and forced to evacuate close to two thousand miles away from their homes eighty-one years ago. I could only imagine what they went through as I read my aunt’s diary, the letters they wrote to Dad, and the history books. Now I am watching it on live TV. For anyone interested in reading my family’s story, I am making it available for free beginning tomorrow through Wednesday. https://amzn.to/3I5tLbA
While the evacuations of some cities were organized in the beginning, hysteria and confusion often ensued as the stations became more crowded. It was not unusual for there to be thousands in a single station pushing and shoving as they tried to squeeze onto a train.
People were crammed inside like ants in a nest, sitting on suitcases or bedrolls for days and even weeks at a time as they waited for their time to finally board a train. It was nearly impossible to sleep because of the noise of the nonstop chattering of people and crying babies. Those who could not inch their way inside would be forced to sleep outside, which became increasingly difficult as the nighttime temperatures began to dip.
When it became apparent that it could take a very long time to find seats on the trains, people began leaving on foot, carrying as many of their possessions as possible in suitcases, trunks, wheelbarrows and carts. It was not uncommon to see men, women and children trudging along with their belongings strapped to their backs.
My Uncle Pete and Aunt Nancy, along with their spouses, left via the Volkhov River. They were responsible for taking most of the bulky items which could not be easily transported by train or on foot. This included household items such as linens, dishes and pots and pans. My grandparents and two other aunts intended to walk until they could reach a train station. They piled a wagon to nearly overflowing with blankets, pillows, nonperishable food, and carried the remainder of their belongings in suitcases or strapped to their backs. They believed they would all rendezvous within a few days.
The first night, they slept in a barn in a nearby village, eating raw potatoes and cucumbers stolen from a nearby garden. With the constant sounds of aircraft thundering overhead and bombs exploding nearby, they were fearful that their lives would come to an abrupt end if they ventured outside. They remained hidden there for over two weeks until they felt it was safe to move again.
Each day they continued advancing, staying wherever they could find a place to hide where they would not be in danger. Sleeping was difficult with the roars of the military aircraft rumbling overhead throughout the night. On the twentieth day, they were chased out of their current shelter by some military men who cared little about my grandparents’ age and weakened condition. The soldiers tossed all their bundles from the wagon, taking the empty cart with them. It was a time of war, and civilians were simply inconvenient hindrances.
They spent the days trudging along wet, muddy roads in weather that grew more miserable with each passing day. They trudged along awkwardly for about six miles that day, knowing that, soon, the roads would be impassable.
For anyone who has not yet read my family’s story, I am making it available for FREE beginning tomorrow, March 12, through Wednesday, March 17. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07L356G8M