[b]Vitebsk veteran Georgy Sladkov’s centenary coincides with 65th anniversary of Great Patriotic War victory [/b]On March 29th, Vitebsk war veteran Georgy Sladkov hosted a full house of guests: his children, friends, relatives and journalists. All were wishing the retired lieutenant colonel a happy 100th birthday. “Living a hundred years isn’t as easy as crossing a meadow!” jokes the veteran.
On March 29th, Vitebsk war veteran Georgy Sladkov hosted a full house of guests: his children, friends, relatives and journalists. All were wishing the retired lieutenant colonel a happy 100th birthday. “Living a hundred years isn’t as easy as crossing a meadow!” jokes the veteran.
Hospitable Georgy and his 91 year old wife Lyudmila welcomed a range of different people — both familiar and unfamiliar — into their home, doing their best to create a warm atmosphere. Even the Chairman of the Vitebsk City Executive Committee, Victor Nikolaikin — who brought flowers and a gift for Mr. Sladkov, could not hide his emotions. He was deeply moved, addressing the old man as his son, saying, “I congratulate you! Thank you for your service to the homeland and for your deeds. Let me kiss you.”
Mr. Sladkov’s long life has not been easy. He was born to a poor family in Gorodok (Vitebsk region) and was the only boy among eight children. He went to school for five years and only later received his secondary education. From childhood, he worked alongside adults, learning various professions and even building stoves. This proved useful during the war years, when his detachment was sent to the forest.
Mr. Sladkov has his own recipe for long life, having never drunk spirits and never smoked. He asserts that he has never envied others or behaved against his conscience. Moreover, he has been happily married to Lyudmila for 60 years, always able to reach compromises and get along.
Mr. Sladkov joined the Red Army in 1931 and the Great Patriotic War began as he was studying at Riga Military College. His detachment was sent to the North-Western frontline and, for his bravery there, he was awarded the Red Star Order. He was seriously wounded. “Enemy planes began bombarding us and I was hit; I don’t remember what happened later,” he recalls, thinking of 1941. “Soldiers placed me in a car and took me to Pskov.”
Mr. Sladkov spent several months in hospitals and, on recovering, was sent to Moscow — as a specialist in antiaircraft defence and a commander of the balloon team. He then participated in the defence of the capital. He may be a hundred years old but his memory is still good. With a strong voice (achieved during his military service), Georgy is ready to tell stories for hours. However, he cannot hide his tears when speaking about the war. Accordingly, it’s his relatives who tell me about him rescuing people and conducting observations from balloons. The stories have been passed on from one generation to another. During a storm, the balloon lost control. However, the commander kept his head and gave orders which saved everyone on board. He saw no heroism in his deeds but his superiors recognised his courage, awarding Georgy a Great Patriotic War Order of the 2nd degree. The veteran also has other medals: ‘For Service in Battle’ and ‘For Moscow’s Defence’.
“During my service, I met Zhukov, Rokossovsky and Timoshenko, alongside almost every commander and head of each division and corps,” he tells us. After the war, he continued his military service, helping airborne troops. Georgy commanded a detachment, piloting and instructing a separate aeronautic corps of the airborne division. In 1956, he retired — after making 500 parachute jumps.
Mr. Sladkov is grateful for the life he’s led — especially for finding Lyudmila once again. “During the war, I lost him but, in 1950, he found me — with my sister’s help,” she recalls. “I was so surprised to receive a message from him. We can’t change our destiny.”
After retirement, Mr. Sladkov went to live with relatives in Sochi. For many years, he worked at a local seaport and headed the trade union organisation. Fifteen years ago, he decided to return to his native Belarus. “I want to die in my homeland,” he told his son Eduard who, with his wife, has come from Russia to congratulate his father. “Despite his age, my father is active and, I’d say, modern. He knows how a mobile phone works and is familiar with other hi-tech devices,” Eduard says proudly. He’s used to working hard and was always busy at home. However, last year, while making repairs, he fell down and hurt himself. This is why he’s greeting guests from a wheelchair today.”
The veteran believes that his life has been a success. He has a son and a daughter and even a great-grandson! Fate has given him a healthy and long life. Mr. Sladkov admits that he is still strong, “My grandfather died at 118 but I wish to surpass him. I’d like to extend my passport, which expires today, keeping it valid until my 120th birthday.”
There are only 62 people aged over 100 in Vitebsk region, including only seven men. Every year, the number of Great Patriotic War veterans falls, sadly. May they all be healthy and live long!
By Sergey Golesnik