“We didn’t even understand at first what ‘the war began’ meant. Then hunger and cold came”

Memories of a homefront worker about life during the war and afterwards

“We didn’t even understand at first what ‘the war began’ meant. Then hunger and cold came” Photo: Maksim Platonov

Defenders of the Fatherland are remembered and mourned in Russia on 22 June. Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union without declaration of war 78 years ago on this day. On the Memory and Mourning Day, Realnoe Vremya publishes memories of homefront worker, honourable worker of the Kazan CHPP-3 Zinaida Zaripova. Our interlocutor explained how she lived during the uneasy war and post-war years and the work and rest in the Soviet Union.

Children of war

Mrs Zaripova’s devotedness catches our eyes at the very beginning — transmission of a religious service sounds loudly in the home, icons and a burning candle are in the corner. The owner of the house invites us in with a friendly smile. She immediately turns the radio off with the words: “We will pray later,” and willingly starts to share memories. Mrs Zaripova remembers that when it was announced the war began, she was 9 years and 3 months.

“We didn’t even understand at first what ‘the war began’ meant. We did it later when hunger and cold came. Life was tough — we ate rotten potatoes, collected all kinds of herbs, green tops and cooked them. I remember to be given half a litre of milk because we were four and had one mother. My father went to war. Child benefit was 75 rubles. And when my father was awarded the Order of the Red Star, we were given 99 rubles 20 kopeks. Our neighbours were surprised then: ‘Couldn’t they have added 80 kopeks to have 100 rubles?’” Mrs Zaripova doesn’t understand.

“I wore the bast shoes for three days, everyone stared at me,” Mrs Zaripova remembers. “Then I stopped wearing them. And how can one wear them in winter? This is how I began to work.”

The woman says she was the eldest in the family, this is why she always worked and even leave school. When Mrs Zaripova completed the fifth grade and went to the sixth, she had to wear bast shoes — there were no other shoes.

“I wore the bast shoes for three days, everyone stared at me,” Mrs Zaripova remembers. “Then I stopped wearing them. And how can one wear them in winter? This is how I began to work.”

The girl worked in the kolkhoz.

“We are young, we were taken to weed together with adults. We weren’t allowed to weed carrot because there was grass similar to a carrot. So we weeded beetroot, cucumber, onion, pumpkin. And then we worked with rakes during haymaking. We were little — 10-12 years, so we were given lightweight rakes. My Aunt Varvara helped me — she was my father’s sister. I raked first, then she did so that it would be easier for me. Then I began to cut down buckwheat. We were given scythes and wooden rakes. And buckwheat is soft,” the woman knows the business says, “you go this way, cut it down, and it is tied up behind.

I cut down for two or three days, since then the periosteum of my finger has felt nothing. I cut down at the age of 10 years for a half a portion of pea soup. Adults were given the full portion, and teenagers — a half. We have everything now — eat as much as you want, but I don’t have teeth,” the grandmother smiles through her tears.

Mrs Zaripova is an emotional woman, she can both shed a tear and laugh within a minute. However, she isn’t sad for long and doesn’t lose optimism. The interlocutor says about deceased relatives and friends with a hint of sadness wishing them to rest in peace.

Years of work

After the war, astute girl Zina worked on the railroad: she dug holes for poles together with other girls.

“It was in 1948, our director gave us 3 kilogrammes of flour and half a kilo of sugar, which was blue lump sugar, we don’t have it now,” Zaripova says. “And we worked well. I had to dig 20 holes in winter, while we did 30-40. The director said as soon as he saw it: “Guys, come here, I will give you another 3 kilogrammes of flour and half a kilo of sugar for the good job.” I took this all to my mother: 6 kilogrammes of flour and a kilogramme of sugar. This cost much in 1948. The money reform, the card system took place in the 1948-1949s.”

On 5 December 1953, on the Day of Adoption of the USSR Constitution, the girl got married. She gave birth to the first child in 1956 and went to work to the kolkhoz again in 1957. Those who worked in the kolkhoz were given land, and Mrs Zaripova got her 15 ares. However, the kolkhoz went bankrupt some time later, and she went back to work to the railroad.

“I never slept during my shift, though everyone slept for two hours by turn. I was asked: ‘Why don’t you sleep? You said you have to cut down hay the following morning!” And I would do because I had the energy for everything then. This is how we lived, what could we do?”

“What happened after the railroad? Perhaps I got tired,” the woman laughs. “I went to constructors’ canteen in the Construction and Assembly Administration No. 45. I worked in the hall. I was running fast, while other girls were slow. I was thin, only now I am fatter probably because I am sitting at home,” the interlocutor laughs. “My director says to me: ‘Dear Zina, you run fast, can you work in the hall?’ I say: ‘I can’. I cleaned there, wiped tables, put salt, mustard — all what was needed. Then this canteen closed, I had to go somewhere again. This is how I turned in the canteen at the CHPP-3.”

“And then I was invited to work in security, they needed people. I made a mistake and quit the job,” Mrs Zaripova waves her hand. “A woman worked in the HR department there, she told me off then like why I quitted, she could have transferred me, it was anyway the CHPP-3. I was worried. Because I… I don’t want to say but I have to,” the woman is embarrassed. “I charmed her children’s hernias. I have many children whom I charmed, even in Moscow.”

“When I went to work in security, we were ordinary people there. We guarded the entrance at the central gates, the equipment department, at railroad gates, in the mazut room. We were supposed to be seven people but were five — they needed people, this is why they hired me. Then I became a commander of the guard several years later.”

“People at the CHPP-3 are good. I have only good memories of this job. And the administration was good. Director Ilgizar Alekhmerovich ordered to provide my house with heating, gave pipes for the good service,” Mrs Zaripova remember with gratitude. The woman’s voice is shaking when she remembers her ex-boss, while her view becomes warm.

“What I liked there that you work for a day and have three days offs. One can cut down hay, weed potatoes with cabbage, work in the garden. We had livestock, too — sheep, goats, pigs. We lived in the countryside. I liked it. People in the city don’t have to work so hard, while if you have a household, you have to rush. In our family, who works eats,” she notes wisely. “I never slept during my shift, though everyone slept for two hours by turn. I was asked: ‘Why don’t you sleep? You have said you have to cut down hay tomorrow morning!” And I would do because I had the energy for everything then. This is how we lived, what could we do? It was hard to work for 24 hours, of course, but we got used. And it is good even in hell when you get used to it,” the old lady joyfully smiles.

With accordion since 7 years

Mrs Zairpova says more about work and in detail than the way they rested.

“What can I tell? Yes, we had fun, we had parties. My father was an accordionist, I also played the accordion, too. When we had a farewell party before my father went to the Winter War in 1939, I played soldiers’ song on the accordion. I was 7 years in 1939, only my eyes could be seen behind the accordion,” Mrs Zaripova notes obviously seeing nothing surprising that the 7-year-old girl played soldiers’ songs on the accordion. “Farewell parties used to be different, noisy, joyful, with the whole street.”

My father was an accordionist, I also played the accordion, too. When we had a farewell party before my father went to the Winter War in 1939, I played soldiers’ song on the accordion. I was 7 years in 1939, only my eyes could be seen behind the accordion

“Holidays were also celebrated merrily — Easter, Maslenitsa, 1 May… I exhausted three accordions on the holidays. We played, sang songs, danced, had fun, didn’t feel sad when we had holidays. Ask any old person here if Sharipova Zina played the accordion. Everyone will say she did,” Mrs Zaripova claims with confidence. “I hosted weddings. Everyone was surprised and said: ‘The woman is playing the accordion!’ Why were they surprised? Was I the only one playing it? How many people are there like me?”

“And I don’t know how many limericks I know, I also know those with swear words,” the old artist laughs embarrassingly. “When my nephew married, he played the accordion himself, while we sang, danced. Then he didn’t know I played the accordion myself. Don’t ask me what limericks with swear words I sang,” Mrs Zaripova waves her hands. “And he approached to me and says: ‘Aunt Zina, do you know other limericks?’ I say: ‘I do.’ ‘Will you sing?’ I say: ‘Certainly!’” the woman laughs contagiously.

“This is how we lived and worked on working days.”

Realnoe Vremya online newspaper