After 70 years of wandering Eva Malinovskaya returns to her homeland.
When I was a sixth or seventh grade pupil, our teacher of geography asked us to decide where the needle would appear if we pierced a globe through from Belarus (it was a theoretical task, since we had no globes or needles). I don’t remember the correct answer but the most popular was… Australia.
This delicate old woman is so elegant it’s difficult to believe that she made such an adventurous journey — without a visa, or knowledge of a foreign language or her final destination. However, her story makes everything clear…
Ms. Malinovskaya well remembers the frosty February night of 1940, when she was just seven years old. Born near Volkovysk, she was using her maiden name of Makarevich. Eva was peacefully sleeping next to her younger sister Barbara when they heard a knock at the door. It was not the shy knock of a neighbour late at night asking to borrow something. Rather, it was insistent, rude and ill-boding. The men at the door demanded that Eva’s father collect his belongings. “You are arrested!” they declared. Their weapons brooked no argument. “However, this did not stop my mother. She enfolded my father with her arms while I seized his leg and Barbara took the other. The men remained indifferent to our tears and entreaties. Mother would not stay without him and demanded that they take us as well,” recollects Eva. “It took us little time to collect our belongings. We were not kulaks [wealthy people]; our house was state-owned. My father was a forester and we had no idea why those armed men had come for him. I remember a cart with our belongings being driven off through the snow, which covered our tracks. It was dark and we couldn’t see anything. However, we had no idea what the future would hold; that frightened us even more…”
The Makarevichs’ fate was similar to that of millions who were persecuted. It was several years before Eva felt warm again and she remains grateful to God for having survived Siberia with her family. Their real trials began when they boarded a freight car packed with people, like sardines. Of course, thirst was a great problem during the journey; passengers gathered snow, waiting for it to melt so that they might drink. Three long months were needed to reach their camp. Everyone staggered from the car pleased to have come to the end of their journey, but unimaginable tortures lay ahead.
On their arrival, men were separated from women with children, so Yuzefa Makarevich and her two small daughters were parted from Eva’s father. They slept on straw and were given flour boiled in water to eat — the taste of which Eva still well remembers. Yuzefa worked hard alongside other women to float logs, standing knee-deep in freezing water. Many physically strong people died in such conditions and funerals were common. They were there two and a half years, yet managed to survive.
Eva’s homeland was occupied by Hitler’s troops and all Europe was on fire. Those in Siberia also felt the sufferings of war; prisoners were dying while their work was becoming even harder. Men were enlisted into the army, regardless of their nationality. Antony Makarevich joined forces headed by Polish General Władysław Anders. Soviet authorities had agreed with the Polish Government (at that time operating from exile in London) on the establishment of a military troop uniting Polish prisoners of war and GULAG prisoners (including ethnic Poles, Belarusians, Ukrainians and representatives of other nationalities residing on the territory of pre-war Poland). They were supposed to fight alongside the Red Army against the Germans but, later, were ordered to go to Iran, where Anders’ army joined that of the British as a separate Polish corps.
Besides some 80,000 military, about 40,000 of their family members travelled from Russia to Persia, via Central Asia. Eva, her mother and sister followed Anders’ army and, at that time, the girl felt happy. It seemed that life had become easier, despite their wearisome travel — via India to Africa. “We spent six years in Africa,” says Eva. “We somehow arranged our life there and even built a small hut in the jungle. Mother bought a hen and began breeding. We planted potatoes, oranges and bananas and collected two harvests a year. We had a lot to eat. In 1948, we moved to the UK after a failed attempt to return to the Soviet Union with the Red Cross mission. At that time, our father was in hospital in the UK. He was severely wounded in the war and was disabled for the remainder of his life (unable to stand up from his bed).”
She married at the tender age of 17 and changed her family name to Malinovskaya; however, four years later, she was widowed. Eva had a small son, Frantishek, and continued working at a confectionery factory, making globally known ‘Mars’ chocolate bars.
After her son grew up, he persuaded Eva to travel the world. Having spent thirty years on Foggy Albion, she joined Frantishek on a trip to New Zealand. “I’m like a Gypsy,” smiles Eva. She lived there for two decades and, after her son found a good job in Australia, she left for there. She’s now lived on this ‘green’ continent for over 15 years. “In reality, it’s no so green,” she notes. “We didn’t have rain for several years in the region where I live. Everything withered and went yellow. However, the climate suits me. In my childhood, I hated the cold. When my son moved to Canada and asked me to join him, I refused — saying that it was too far north. I’ve stayed in Australia. However, I’ve been dreaming of visiting my homeland.”
Eva Malinovskaya has been planning her trip to Belarus since her settlement in Australia. “I didn’t know where to start,” she tells me, while waiting for her return flight to Australia from Minsk airport. “Canberra has no Belarusian Embassy and I didn’t have friends or relatives in Belarus. My sister, Barbara, who lives in the UK, couldn’t join me because her legs are unsteady. She laughed when I told her about my plans. She thought I was looking for adventure in my old age. A consular officer in Sydney assumed the same thing and tried to dissuade me. He thought it would be an unsafe trip for an elderly woman. However, I couldn’t forget the idea of the trip. The tourist agency I applied to gave me just a small map and an atlas; they didn’t even want to serve me, as they had no idea how to issue me with a visa. Eventually, I persuaded them, but they pushed me to sign a document stating that I would not ask for a refund on the $3,000 ticket if Minsk immigration officials failed to admit me. However, everything turned out as I planned.”
At Minsk airport, Eva was issued a visa and a taxi driver took her to Volkovysk. “Belarusians are loved for their soul. People here are very kind and always ready to help,” Eva asserts. She confirms her words with her story of arriving in a small Belarusian town. Several people there were eager to show her their local sights and tell her of the things she could not know as a small girl.
Our editorial office received a letter from Ms. Malinovskaya: ‘Thank you so much for your hearty welcome and for taking the time to show me this wonderful land of which I knew little. It is so green, cosy and calm!’ These words are addressed to the District Executive Committee’s specialist, Tamara Lugovich, and Nash Chas (Our Hour) local newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief, Valentina Kurilik. The women treated the Australian granny as their own guest.
“Ms. Lugovich put aside her poor legs and became hoarse telling me of wonderful Belarus and my Volkovysk,” Eva explains. Her new acquaintances helped her to search the archives and she found the location of her family farm. The house is no longer standing, unlike the Roman Catholic Church which she most likely visited on Sundays with her mother. Eva found out that her father was arrested as an ‘osadnik’ (the name given to Poles who, after the Soviet-Polish War, received land on the territory of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus). She also learnt that her brother lives in Poland, but did not dare travel 10 hours by car to visit him.
Eva notes that Volkovysk has the largest market, offering all possible products but lacks souvenirs for tourists. “It’s of minor importance,” she adds. “I’m taking back something much greater.” Eva left for Australia with many impressions and photos, which she plans to show to her son and friends. “I’ll save up more money and come here again,” she promises. “I was born in Poland — this was a Polish territory at that time — but now I think that I’m probably a Belarusian.”
[i]By Igor Kolchenko[/i]