And Then My Childhood Began…

My very first childhood memory is a bunch of dead rabbits. After graduation, my father looked for work, and we moved to Artyomovsk, where the head of the family got a job at the salt mine. Parents rented a room from the hostess who bred rabbits. With no livestock knowledge and no medical supplies, she ultimately failed, the rabbits were struck by some kind of disease, and they died out.

But I learned this later, when was an adult. And the flashback itself reminds me a picture made with a flash: a bunch of dead rabbits, and that’s it…

My parents said that then I was less than three years old.

The following recollection of my earliest childhood memory refers to my grandfather Clause: father’s father. I was born in 1955, my grandfather died in 1958, I do not remember his funeral, but I remember him when he was alive, and two flashbacks were preserved in my memory with photographic accuracy: how my grandfather carried me on his shoulders as he allowed me to hammer nails into the ground. I remember the face of my grandfather and a piece of land, studded with nails, and a little miner’s hammer.

And then my childhood began…

I was born in a mining village on the outskirts of Donetsk. Whipping children there was an ordinary occurrence. Residents almost did not pay attention to the heart-rending roar of children and the female squeal of angry parents. Perhaps, giggling, they told their neighbors: “Zinka, again belabour their children!” Daddies rarely participated in executions, but when they did so, father’s whippings didn’t compare with a maternal flogging

The Korovin Family

My grandmother was Nepman’s daughter-in-law. Grigory Korovin, the great-grandfather, ran a sausage shop. He and his sons traveled around the villages, bought livestock, slaughtered animals, and made sausages out of them. Grandmother also participated, washing the entrails of carcasses, kneading minced meat, and filling in clean guts. The sausage was strictly natural. Now, such an enterprise would be called private, small, family, or something like that. Labor was mostly manual. The working people were relatives, with the exception of one person. It was a village fool. Sometimes such people live in villages. His strength was extraordinary. Korovin didn’t instruct him to do anything serious—he wouldn’t understand how—but to submit, bring things, hold them always with joy, with a smile. He was fed the same that they ate themselves; they gave him clothes, shoes. There were many skins: sown sheepskin coats, shoes. The family dressed him. He began live with the Korovin family. The fool loved to sing. True, his singing was more like the mooing of a calf, but if a glass of wine was poured, then he was howling all over the village.

My grandfather Nikolai, Grishkin’s son, got married early, at fourteen. Grandma was sixteen. Grandfather’s family was one of the richest in the village; grandmother was the greatest beauty, and hardworking.

“Kolka, will you marry Sanka?” asked Grishka, the youngest son.

“I’m getting married,” he said. “But will she agree?”

They sent matchmakers: the girl agreed.

There was a curious case with my grandfather, a painful one: he fell down in the meat grinder with his hand and lost half a finger. The finger was bandaged, the blood stopped. Over time, the wound healed, dragged on, but that was later. At that time, they were looking for the stump; they rummaged through the whole machine but did not find it. A couple of days later, a man came, unfolded a bundle; my grandfather’s finger was in it. They gave the peasant money, good sausage, he left satisfied, and they hushed up the problem.

The enterprise flourished. The great-grandfather bought a two-story house under the iron roof with a large courtyard in the county center; he wanted to live humanly and, of course, develop. On the ground floor, Korovin opened a tea room; the second floor was for the family. The wife asked, cried: “Don’t, Grisha!” The sons persuaded father to go to America or to a distant relative, Kosta Korovin, the artist, in Paris. He called, sent a letter: “Come, Grisha! Comrades, the Bolsheviks will destroy you…”

Gregory was opposed: “Where would I go, aside from mother Russia?!”

Yes, he only spent one night in the new house. In the morning, NKVD agents came, arrested Korovin and his sons. One of the neighbors wrote a denunciation about a fool, accused them of abusing hired labor, exploitation of man by man. The daughter-in-law and wife were released to her parents, the men were taken to a prison under escort, and from there, they were sent to the Arkhangelsk province. And so the fates of the Korovins diverged: one died in Paris, and the other perished in the bowels of the gulag.

The grandfather, the youngest son in the family, looked like a teenager. He escaped from a convoy, returned home on the sly. In the village council, a relative wrote him a certificate that he was sent to restore the mines of Donbass. After the Civil War, there was such an order in the village: this saved them. The elder sons of grandfathers from the camps from the beginning of the war were sent to the front; letters were also sent, but went missing in the battles. There were six of them. Great-grandfather Gregory was conscripted later because of dystrophy.


I remember Mother from the moment I remember myself. I remember my father from the moment we visited him in Sevastopol. Dad served in the navy until the institute in Sovetskaya Gavan demobilized as a senior sailor. The submarine was familiar to him. Sevastopol, where he was called upon to retrain after graduating from the institute, pleased my father, and having decided to spit on the career of a rural electrical engineer, he became commander of the BS-5. Our visit with Mother was supposed to solve the problem, to write a report to my father with a request to transfer him to staff officers or not.

Mother was delighted with her gallant husband, and we went to visit him. The command promised his father, in the event of a family arrival, a separate apartment. It was in March 1960. Mom, the head teacher of the eight-year school, outlined the final relocation in the summer after the end of the school year.

But the plans of my parents did not come true. Initially, the command postponed the provision of the apartment, and then the father himself fell under the Khrushchev law “On a new significant reduction of the U.S.S.R. Armed Forces.” He was seemingly offered to continue serving in the Northern Fleet or Pacific Fleet, but in the younger category. Father, even for his captain-lieutenant position as a warhead commander, was considered “aged,” and command planned to leave him with the prospect of relocation to a nuclear boat, and suddenly this.

Losing his career, serving in the North and Far East as sailor, which he “ate” as a sailor, forced him to abandon the transition from “jackets” to “staff,” and my father returned home.

The Day Father Returned

I remember the day my father returned. He was in his naval uniform, but his courage and gallantry were gone somewhere. My father was taciturn and did not communicate with me at all. He brought me a valuable gift: a carpenter’s toy set. Although everything in it was small—it had a bow saw, a mortice chisel, a plane, and a hammer—everything was real. I did admire my father’s present, but grandfather Korovin decided that I would lose these things precious to his carpenter’s heart, so the very next day, he took my kit away without giving me anything in return. This did not particularly upset me; at that age, I did not know how to use such tools. But having taken away this set, grandfather Korovin completely killed in me the desire to master the joiner’s and carpenter’s craftsmanship, which he himself possessed in perfection.

In general, taking away toys and valuable (from a children’s point of view, anyway) things was the norm in the mining village. Only in our family this trick sometimes did not work out: as soon as I took away from my younger cousin a toy machine gun that imitated shooting—when I pulled the trigger, it rattled and sparkled with a red light at the end of the barrel—my mother flogged me mercilessly. The machine gun was returned to its owner. Soon, my brother took revenge on me in the most insidious way: he tore up two of my albums with a collection of match labels. My question is how he found them, because I hid them in the sideboard drawer; my grandmother categorically answered that she had let him play them so that he would not cry. With this, my career as a phillumenist ended, and I no longer collected match labels.

Upon learning of my misfortune, Sashkin’s father—Uncle Vitya Zhigalko—bought me a toy gun, famously clapping with ribbon percussion caps. Inspired by this gift, I rushed to the boys to show it off, and was immediately punished: my gun was taken away by a passing street bully. My child’s heart was breaking apart from the loss suffered; in the evening, when my father came home from work, I told him about my torubles with tears in my eyes. He silently got up and left.

The whole street knew the bully who took my gun away from me; he often got caught in garden thefts, took things from younger children, and simply mocked the boys, distributing clicks, pokes, and slaps. After a couple of hours, my father returned and gave me the gun, but it was completely broken and could no longer shoot. Neither Father nor Grandfather nor even the  skillful Uncle Vitya Zhigalko could bring the toy back to life.

Mother took the gun from me, hit the back of my head several times, and forbade me to take the toys out of the house. Subsequently, my parents acted even more radically. They just stopped buying me toys.

Everything Happens for the First Time…

I remember very well when and why I was flogged for the first time. It happened in the last summer of the preschool period. A distant relative on my maternal side worked as the head of the kindergarten, and my friend Mishka Shchipanovsky and I often visited the kindergarten territory to ride on the carousel.

Officially, only kindergarten pupils were allowed to ride, under the mandatory supervision of educators. Local children were strictly forbidden to do this. Kindergarten workers drove us away in spite of family ties, but they did it without malice and did not beat us.

Usually, we tried to come to kindergarten during the attendants’ lunch break. In the summer, the kids were not there, the watchman went to have a meal at home, and for at least two hours, we could enjoy flights on swaying and spinning devices.

We expected this to happen that time as well, but in the middle of the playground, we found a group of three workers repairing the carousel and having a snack at that moment. Having received permission to ride, Mishka and I began enthusiastically to ride the wooden circle that the craftsmen were repairing, but without grab bars, it was inconvenient to do this. We had already set out to go on a swing, as one of the workers, the youngest, offered to see which of us would last longer on the carousel. We agreed, climbed into a circle, and the worker began to accelerate the wheel.

Mishka was the first to drop out. He rolled head over heels into the grass. But I managed to take a more stable position, which almost ended in tragedy. The centrifugal contraption turned out to be stronger than me, I flew off of the carousel and flopped down on the ground with my face in a bag of nails. I was lucky; my eyes remained intact, but one nail tore the skin under the eye through the entire cheek, almost to the chin.

With a roar, I rushed home, blood gushing, pouring over the shirt and palms with which I tried to close the wound. With a cry, I ran home; my mother was there, but she did not sympathize with my misfortune, but instead grabbed a twig and began to whip my legs frantically. I was stunned with pain; my cheeks burned, my legs burned, and my mother continued to beat and whip.

Grandma ran out to the noise and screaming. She, too, was a defender of physical punishment, but at that moment, she decided that it was enough for me, and demanded to take me to the doctor. Mother grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and dragged me to the trauma center. I remember her discussion with the paramedic regarding suturing; for this it was necessary to go to the hospital, located a dozen kilometers away from us. The head of the mine did not have a car, and walking such a distance with a bleeding child was clearly beyond his power. The paramedic, however, was able to stop the bleeding; mine physicians have a lot of experience in this matter. We went back home. Mother continued to curse, but did not beat me.

For many years, I was tormented by my ugly scar, but by the end of school, it had completely healed and was now almost invisible. Another thing surprised me: how could a woman with a university education beat her bleeding child?

I did not feel then and do not hate to my parents now; after all, they gave me life. But also love for my parents I don’t have.

Sailors Beat Like That

The second time I was flogged because of a fight. Actually, the brawl as such did not happen; there was a need to find out who was stronger: tankers or sailors. My friend’s father served in the tank forces, which is something my young friend was proud of. I was proud of my submariner father, and this led to a fierce debate. I don’t remember which of us was the first to throw our fists, but shouting out the phrase, “And the sailors are beating like that!” I slammed Sasha straight into the patch of his nose. He fell on his back, jumped up, and, wiping away his bloody snot, ran away home with a roar. A few minutes later, his grandmother came running, shouting “Bandit!”, “Robber!”, “You crippled the child!”

To her cries, my grandmother came out of the house and promised an infuriated neighbor that I would be perfectly punished. The indignant woman calmed down and went home. The flogging took place in the evening when my mother returned from work. But the reprisal was short-lived. Father, hearing that I was defending the honor of the Navy and submariners, immediately removed my mother from my body and broke a twig.

I must admit bitterness; this was the first and last case of paternal intercession. In the future, he never did this, and if his mother did not ask him for help in flogging her sons, he went into the yard. Our mutual friends, having learned that Sasha complaining about me to his grandmother, subjected him to ridicule and ostracism. Logoev’s further attempts to play with us failed; deprived of the attention of his peers, he poked around in his front garden until the end of the summer holidays and did not go outside. Sasha did not live with his grandmother. His parents took him on vacation. The following summer, our friendship with him resumed, but was no longer as strong as before. By the end of school, we completely lost touch with each other.

Behind the Barns…

Playing War

From ages five to seven, our favorite game was “war.” Although in those years, many front-line soldiers lived on our street, we rarely divided into “Soviets” and “Germans.” Nobody wanted to be a fascist.

We were divided into “friends” and “strangers,” and “strangers” were really strangers; these were the boys from a nearby street, a neighboring block, or even a neighboring village. Such games were fraught with the fact that we could “kill” not only in words, cracking our tongues, imitating a queue from an automatic machine, but also really stick a bullet from a slingshot stretched over the fingers, or even from a actual catapult, which was made of a wooden slingshot and elastic stranded rubber. Such hits were fraught with serious injuries, up to broken eyes; that was war. But time passed, the pain was forgotten, and the games resumed again.

Machine Gun

Mishka had the best toy machine gun. Uncle Zhora always tried to make life enjoyable for his son when he did not need to spend money. The submachine gun was damn similar to a PPSh: the stock was cut from round timber, and along with the barrel, it was painted black; the butt was brown and there was a trigger made from a nail and a safety clip. And even the barrel was imitated by a metal tube inserted into a drilled hole.

The machine gun was the pride of the street. Village teenagers and hooligans made several attempts to take this work of art from Mishka, but, having met with the fists of Uncle Zhora, they completely failed.

For another friend of mine, Serge Dokukin, who had been orphaned and left without a father-miner, the uncle bought a tin factory toy, emitting a clatter, clicking pistons, and not like any kind of firearm familiar to us from the movies.

At first, I didn’t have a machine gun at all. My father, a submarine officer demobilized by Khrushchev, went from under the water to under the ground. The only requirement that he made to me was that I should not interfere with his rest before and after work. Naturally, with such an attitude, there could be no talk of any manufacture of an automaton.

My relationship with my grandfather Korovin, my mother’s father, didn’t work out. At the age of three, I cracked him, sleeping, with a hammer on his forehead, and when he came to, I ran away to my grandmother, who covered me with her angry husband. Of course, it was necessary to punish his daughters, my mother and her sister, who, playing with me, incited a three-year-old child: “A-na-na of dad, a-na-na of grandfather…” My father managed to fill me with fear when I made an “a-na-na” attempt, but my grandfather did not take the threat seriously, for which he received a hammer on his forehead.

The hostility towards me remained with him for life and was aggravated by the fact that they did not believe him when he said that I, his grandson, had entered the military academy after middle school. His peer counterpart, the well-known mine busoter, nearly pounced on him with his fists, accusing him of lying.

The village of mine named “Chelyuskintsev” is small, and on my very first vacation, I came across this “unfaithful foma” nose to nose. I was in military shape, but he began to accuse me of lying; he did it with a cry, using idiomatic expressions, grimacing and trying to make fun of me. I got tired of it quickly. My right fist immediately brought him to his senses, or rather to insensibility. In the future, no one heard his words of mistrust about my studies at the military academy.

The only person who could make an automatic machine gun for me was probably my paternal grandfather Pavel Clause, “Honored Miner of Ukraine,” a man of outstanding fate and outstanding qualities. He loved me, allowed me, the child, to hammer nails into the ground, which was categorically forbidden for me to do by my mother’s father, Grandfather Nikolai.

Grandfather Pavel, with his 198-cm height, carried me on his shoulders, which enthralled me, and, according to my aunt, his daughter, devoted more time to me than to all his sons put together. But grandfather Pavel died tragically and ridiculously back in 1958, when I was barely three years old. Therefore, in the mid-60’s, he could no longer make a toy automatic machine gun for me.

I, a seven-year-old child, made an automaton myself. Of course, it didn’t really resemble the formidable weapons of the Great Patriotic War, but unlike my happy friends, I could proudly say that I made my machine gun myself.


That evening, the game of war dragged on. It was already getting dark when my friends began to disperse home, and only Mishka Shchipanovsky, Serega Dokukin, and myself remained near the railway and were in no hurry. Around eight in the evening, a passenger diesel engine was supposed to pass by us. We, like the heroes of the play of the Romanian playwright Mikhail Sebastian Nameless Star, were waiting for its appearance, but suddenly our attention was attracted by the music coming from the end of the next street. Like real scouts, we, hiding among the trees and shrubs, went to the rear of the “enemy”; in the courtyard of the last house adjacent to the thickets, a wedding was happening. It was interesting to watch the dancers. The tipsy people were not embarrassed by their grimaces and jumps; they tried to give out dashing dance moves.

How Did We Find Out About This…

However, we quickly tired of the dancers. My friends and I were about to leave our observation post and go home, when suddenly, a young man from among the guests moved towards the forest stands and bushes, along the trod winding between the trees of the garden. At first, we thought that he was going to the toilet. But the man passed us and went into the forest belt. We, holding our breath, fell silent under the bushes; he walked literally a meter away from us, noticing nothing.

Nearby, in the depths of the plantations, there was a small clearing on which the locals built a table and benches. The kids used them during the day for their games; in the evening peasants pounded dominoes, and sometimes boozers showed up as well.

The man sat down on a bench and lit a cigarette. We faced a dilemma: reveal ourselves and risk getting slapped by him, or continue watching. We, believing that, having smoked, he would leave, decided to continue our reconnaissance. And we were mistaken. Another man came up to him. He also lit a cigarette, and, laughing, they began to discuss something. After a while, a woman appeared on the garden path and, bypassing the toilet, also headed in our direction. One of the men got up and hid in the bushes.

By that time, of course, we knew how boys differ from girls, but we saw a spectacle that unfolded before us for the first time. At first, he hugged her and whispered something. Then he began to kiss the woman on the lips, stroking her breasts and knees. A bright moon in a cloudless sky shone through rare trees, illuminating the table next to the couple, and all the action took place as if on stage.

The man put the woman on her feet, lifted her skirt, and pulled off her panties. She stood hugging his neck. The man lifted her and set her on a table, then unzipped his fly and pressed himself against the woman. She let go of his neck, laid her back on the table, and grabbed the edges with her hands. The man began to make strange movements. We realized what they were doing.

Just a few minutes later, almost simultaneously, they let out a moan and stopped moving. We heard their weary breath, but at that time, another man stepped out of the moonlight. The woman stood up and made an attempt to break free, but her partner held her by the legs, preventing her from jumping off the table. An approaching one grabbed her knees; his friend took the woman by the shoulders, knocked her back on the table, and held her until she stopped struggling.

The woman swore quietly, called the men bad words, but the second, like the first, unzipped his fly and began to make the same movements as the first. After a while, he moaned and froze. The woman wept, raised herself, and hugged his neck. This went on several times, but the men did not leave the table and only changed places.

From afar, we heard a heart-rending grandmother’s cry; she was looking for me and calling me home. Fearing discovery, we could not get up and leave the ambush. Finally, the trinity ceased their work. The men tucked in their shirts and returned to the wedding party. The woman sat at the table for a while, then took the panties lying on the bench, put them on, and went along the path along the forest belt.

We jumped out from behind the bushes and ran home. An enraged grandmother met me at the gate and, whipping me with a twig on the ass, promised to tell my mother everything. I was surprised: “everything?” What would she tell my mother about? She didn’t see anything.


For all installments from In the Shadow of the Belt, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Introduction