“And the next day... It was a hot summer. They suddenly set eight villages on fire. Those were Karpauka, Malinauka, Khatki, Lyasuny, Byerazhystiya, Kuzminka... There were two barns in the field, where the kolkhoz stored the grain, and those barns – they set everything on fire within an hour. We stood outside, it was terribly hot, the sun shone. But we couldn’t see the sun for the smoke. All we had was fear. And a big lesson. In Khatki, they said that anyone not feeling well, anyone old, should go to one side. They thought they would transport them somewhere, but they herded them into a barn and set fire to it. The grandfather of our son-in-law died in the flames of that barn. They built them a memorial there after the war.”
“No sooner had we woken up, there were tanks booming around us. They had surrounded the village, it was not big. The Germans were going from house to house. Pack your things, hitch up your horses, we’re off. Off where? They’re taking us to Germany. I have a brother, born in 1926; he is young, but healthy, tall, they’ll surely take him to Germany. So Dad laid him into the wagon, covered him with a jumble of stuff, sat me and my sister up on the top, and off we went. They led us through our village. Those who were home, stood in their yards, and we drove on. I cried the whole way. One German said: ‘Don’t cry, lass, you’ll be in Germany, you’ll eat soup.’ – ‘Bummer off, you blighter,’ I thought to myself. And Mum, as she walked along, no one took notice of her. So she returned home. And we drove on. There was a hospital in the next street, and the convoy stopped at the hospital and the German left the wagon. A woman ran up from the other side of the street and took my sister into her arms. And she told me: ‘Leg it here while the Germans are gone.’ She took my sister, and I ran.”
“Mum and I decided to go for a walk. It was a clear, sunny day. When we went out, Mum noticed some white aeroplane smoke high, high up in the sky. She was surprised that the planes were flying so high... There was a military airbase nearby, and the planes would fly low down there. When we got to the square, they had put up a pole with a black radio dish there. A crowd of people was gathered round it. We walked up, and the radio was announcing that we had been attacked by Hitler’s Germany without any declaration of war. And that very night they bombed Homyel. A terrible panic broke out. There were many children in the house, everyone was young. They huddled up, everyone screaming, and then the factory manager came along and took everyone into the cellar. In the morning, the order came not to use any lights. Not to hang out the washing. To paste up the windows. And everyone was to dig a hideout for themselves in the forest. So we waited out days on end there. Preparations were being made for an evacuation, but there weren’t enough vehicles. The manager said that whoever wanted to leave should take their horse and go. Dad took our wagon, and our neighbour took his. So we packed up our bits and bobs and set out. As soon as we were under way... the roads weren’t made of asphalt back then, they were ordinary, with a railway going alongside them. The things going on there! Soldiers walking, cows mooing, horses neighing, sheep baaing, children crying. And above us planes fighting it out. And then suddenly a huge explosion – one of the planes had been shot down and had crashed into the forest.”
The only thing I’m afraid of is war – I’ve witnessed too much suffering, seen too much death
Alimpiyada Alyashkevich (Russian transcription: Olimpiada Oleshkevich; née Kashalava) was born in the village of Uborki in Loyew District, Homyel Region, former Belarusian SSR, on 30 January 1930. Her father, Mark Parfyanovich Kashalau, was illiterate and worked at a kolkhoz. Her mother, Yeudakiya Stsyapanauna Kashalava, was a housewife who looked after their four children. In 1932–1941 the family lived in Karynyets, where her father found employment at a brickyard. During the Nazi occupation, they lived in Uborki and hid in other villages and in the forests. In 1947 Alimpiyada finished primary school in Uborki. She then graduated from a secondary medical school in Homyel. She was assigned to work as a feldsher (rural physician) in the village of Kruhovichy for two years. She married Ivan Ryhoravich, an employee of the district party committee in the village of Hantsavichy. They had two daughters, Larysa and Tamara. Her husband went on to head the kolkhoz in the village of Khatynichy, while Alimpiyada worked as a feldsher in Khatynichy and Razdzyalavichy. When her husband was appointed chairman of the village council in Napa, Alimpiyada continued her work at the Napa Medical and Maternity Centre. After her husband’s death, she was given a flat in Minsk. She completed a physiotherapy course in Babruysk. When she retired, she continued to work as a physiotherapist for seven more years. Alimpiyada was publicly active until recently – she would speak of the wartime at events in the local library. She used to help in her church, whitewashing walls and cleaning up. She displays her embroidery at exhibitions.