May 9th is Victory Day while July 3rd marks Minsk’s Liberation Day and Belarus’ major state holiday: Independence Day...
Every year, May and July are times to recall the past, which has shaped today’s Belarus. Of course, the past is a living part of our present and the holiday is always filled with joy and celebration as well as somber remembrances.
Time marches on, leaving fewer war veterans each year. Of course, every meeting with the victors of those cruel and bloody war years is valuable. Our silver-haired heroes continue to impress us with their inner strength and ability to enjoy the simplest pleasures in life: a feature our modern generation can learn from.
This year, Gomel solemnly welcomed veterans, inviting a silent drill platoon and cadets, who honoured the Great Patriotic War heroes. The elderly people bowed and smiled in thanks. Forty veterans had the strength to attend, inspiring the Chairman of the Regional Executive Committee, Vladimir Dvornik, to comment sadly, “Fewer veterans remain: around 4,000 in this region. Accordingly, the authorities aim to know each one and to do everything possible to make their life comfortable. They continue to enrich our lives, setting an example for how to live and work. Their deeds will live on for centuries.”
All the attending veterans were aged over 80 but you would hardly guess so when they start speaking. Ilya Mikhalko, from the Mozyr District, is 95; he participated in the war from the very beginning, as a tank brigade commander, helping liberate Belarus and Europe. He remains in good shape and smiles while explaining, “I head my local health club and follow simple yet efficient principles: reasonable physical exercise, healthy eating, medicinal herbs and walks in the forest.”
Another veteran — Alexander Ignatovich, from Mozyr — remains in high spirits. The former infantry lieutenant celebrated the original Victory in the Czech Republic and credits his agility with having his birthday on May 9th. “I’m only 90 — not very old!” he muses.
Victor Kovalev, from Buda-Koshelevo, a former communication detachment commander gives me his ‘Canon’ camera, asking, “Please, photograph me alongside my comrades. You need to turn it on here and then zoom. The camera was a gift for my birthday. I mastered it at the age of 85. Photography has become my hobby and I never part with the camera now. I find something new in our life each day. Believe me, ordinary peaceful life is true happiness.”
In Gomel, veterans and young people have planted an avenue of Victory in the city’s central park, comprising wild ash trees. People use to say that trees are equal to souls: on planting a tree, you give new life.
Soldier Pukalev returns from frontline
Not long ago, a Kruykovichi villager (from the Gomel Region’s Kalinkovichi District) found a Great Patriotic War soldier’s medal in the local forest. It belonged to Konstantin Pukalev, from the Kaluga Region’s village of Loshevo. Since May 1943, he had been registered as missing and his relatives knew nothing of where he had died.
The villager realised the medal was from wartime so did not open the black octagon. Rather, he called the Kalinkovichi military-patriotic branch of Poisk (Search). The club is well known in the region, headed by Yevgeny Sergienko. Despite years of experience, he was much impressed with the find. “Medals are rarely found these days; we’ve had few of the kind for some time, despite serious battles having taken place in the Kalinkovichi District. Not only the case is in good condition but the soldier’s papers,” he explains.
The medal was then sent to experts and the Ministry of Defence’s 52nd specialised searching battalion was informed of the find, leading to them locating the soldier’s remains in Kryukovichi Forest. The papers revealed his name and Mr. Sergienko joined volunteers in studying archives to find the soldier’s relatives.
“Konstantin Pukalev was called up for military service in July 1941, at the age of 19. According to documents, he was a common gunner and, before death, was serving with a tank brigade. Interestingly, Konstantin is mentioned in the Kaluga Region’s Memory Book. Until recently, he had no marked grave but this will soon be rectified,” notes Mr. Sergienko.
The remains have since been reburied in a fraternal grave for those killed during the Great Patriotic War. Another name has been moved from obscurity to eternity.
War is blood, death, gunpowder, losses and victories. However, it’s also life, feelings and emotions — as cannot be denied. Many details concerning the war are coming to light and, recently, Gomel hosted an unusual exhibition of 1940s ladies’ fashion. Far from being grey and banal — despite the challenges of the time — the dresses worn by Soviet women over 60 years ago included light chintz and airy crepe-de-chine, with spotted motifs particularly popular. Matching crepe silk capes were in vogue for those who could afford them. Men’s military dress uniforms, with triangular enamel buttons went on show beside the women’s wear.
Minsk’s Anna Kostrenkova, a secondary school teacher, donated most of the collection, having been interested in war memorabilia since childhood. She also has many photos and, three years ago, attended a reconstruction of Ukrainian Odessa’s liberation. Anna was so impressed with the show that she decided to collect 20th century costumes, finding early 20th century dresses in her grandmother’s trunk. “I’m especially interested in the period around WWII* so my collection has been formed from my personal purchases, as well as presented exhibits. I bought some outfits online and some from diverse jumble sales,” she explains.
Household items, decorations and old photos create a backdrop for the costumes and Anna notes that pre-war empty powder boxes and perfume bottles — which she acquired incidentally — are of major interest; a factory-made late 19th century wedding dress is the oldest exhibit. “My grandmother inherited it from her great-grandmother and wore it for her own marriage,” notes Ms. Kostrenkova.
Anna is truly inspired by reviving the past. She keeps her collection at home but plans to equip a separate room for her fashionable 1930s-1940s rarities, while adding new finds. She takes part in diverse historical reconstructions, works with archives and meets people who once sewed or wore old costumes. Unsurprisingly, her pupils are fascinated.
By Violetta Dralyuk
Tree of life
[b]May 9th is Victory Day while July 3rd marks Minsk’s Liberation Day and Belarus’ major state holiday: Independence Day... [/b]Every year, May and July are times to recall the past, which has shaped today’s Belarus. Of course, the past is a living part of our present and the holiday is always filled with joy and celebration as well as somber remembrances.