During World War II, the Soviet army engaged in vicious battles on the European front. Thousands of miles East, many Russians, far removed from the physical battle, suffered through another kind of warfare - a fight for survival. The survivors of this war, to this day, consider themselves veterans. In 2014, Katerina Arzhayev had the opportunity to travel to Minusinsk and interview many veterans, all of whom shared the same story: starvation, forced conscription of boys as young as 14 into the army, and the constant fear of any success.
Many of these veterans are now in their 90s, living on a pension of just 10,000 rubles a (just over $130). Isolated in buildings without consistently working elevators or any handicap accessible infrastructure, many struggle to find community or support. This holiday season, Girls Education Nation is pairing youth with our veterans and sponsoring groceries, a meal, and other holiday cheer. Our current budget allows us to celebrate with 35 individuals, but with your help, we can expand this to 50 elderly veterans.
One basket of groceries, including meat and dairy, fruits and vegetables, candies and tea products, can be sponsored for just $40.
With this program, we are encouraging the youth to ask about and listen to the stories of the veterans, so that their histories can continue to live on.
One veteran shared with us a letter her father wrote from the frontlines, a letter she read and re-read until it was engrained in her memory. We have translated it for you here.
“My darlings, Marusia, Valechka, and Marochka. Goodbye my sweethearts, I am wishing you farewell forever. This letter is written by me the day before I die. If it gets into your hands, consider it a sign that I am no longer part of the living. I have been buried, or perhaps torn apart by enemy fire in the far away forests and plains of Smolensk.
I will write just one thing, that it was rough, and I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live another ten years, to see my lovely children and raise them. With you, Marusia, it is as though we didn’t even live. My heart goes out to you, I know you won’t be remembering me. I was faithful to you as much as I knew how. The years will pass, history will write about this Great Patriotic War. The kids will ask, “Where are my parents and did they participate in the battles?” Maybe even our kids will ask, “What about our Dad?” Marusinka, tell them wholeheartedly that I served our people honestly, and in battle I didn’t spare neither blood nor my life.
On many occasions when we were in the trenches I took out your photographs and it became easier and not as terrifying to watch the soldiers around me be torn into pieces. But this time, nothing could save me, not even the anguish you endure. Several times it was me who led the men into battle with ferocious cries - ‘For the Motherland!’, ‘For Stalin!’. With these shouts, I did not die.
Marusinka, here is my suggestion to you. Live in the city. Live, just the three of you. You will receive social welfare and maybe it will be enough. To get married, I’m not sure you’ll find someone suitable as the war will cleanse us all, and the children still won’t have their father. I am almost certain you will be alone.
Marusinka, cry once and then don’t cry no more. Be reasonable, protect yourself for the sake of our children. If you are no more, they will perish - this worries me most of all.
My lovely children, listen to your Mother. Valechka, protect and comfort her. You are the most precious and close thing she has left on this earth.
Goodbye Marusinka. Goodbye my daughter, Valya. Goodbye my son, Marochka. Goodbye all my close ones - my Brother if you are alive, my sister and Grandmother. Your lives will be good. Live and hold dear the minutes. Lovingly, Timofey.”
He was 29 years old when he died in the Epatevskaya Village in Smolenskaya Oblast.