“The things that happened in childhood, at school, and what happened afterwards, are two different epochs. I remember how we used to cut out coupons to be allowed to buy something. I remember how little bread they would deliver. I don’t remember the year or the month. Those are just flashes of memory. Mum sent me for bread, but they’d delivered too little. People crowded in so desperately that they almost crushed me. I remember the feeling of not having enough oxygen. But when I was studying at university, it was all different. The city was bigger. The culture had changed. And people had probably grown kinder. All of the changes happened naturally somehow. There was no sudden jump. So I guess life can be divided – before 2000 and after 2000. It can be divided like that. When things could be bought, places could be visited.”
“I came to Ireland for an exchange visit. It was the Chernobyl programme. And again, I was quite a late-comer, arriving in 1996. But I guess that is the way it is with programmes like that. And the people who assign the spots. The first to get there were the relatives of those in power. Then the children of teachers. It was the usual process, the way it was everywhere. And then, when everyone who could had been there, they let the good pupils go. That’s how I saw it. Maybe there were some other criteria as well. I never spoke about it to anyone. But I remember that to begin with, everyone would visit Italy. Then other countries joined in. Of course, at a time when everyone had everything the same and the children would come back with beautiful pens and pencils and lovely clothes, I obviously wanted to go as well and see – not so much the country itself – but mainly those material things. Because we were children, after all. Here, you bought everything at the market, everything was the same. That was the first time I had feelings like that. And the, when I was studying, things started to change here. You could buy anything you wanted to here. And I would feel differently abroad. But back then... I tried a lot of things for the first time. Food, like chips and hamburgers. Basics like that. But I remember that the first thing that struck me the most in Ireland were the people walking about, smiling. You’d go along the streets, and they’d greet one another. You’d ask: ‘Do you know him?’ ‘No, he just wished me a good day.’ We didn’t have that. They said ‘nice day’ and ‘thank you’ to shop assistants. We didn’t do that back then. And many people, when they came back from abroad, started greeting and thanking shop assistants, but it wasn’t accepted.”
“They taught us how to work from an early age, I’m not exactly sure when. That meant weeding beets, digging and planting potatoes. Putting the cows to graze. Feeding the hens. It was a matter of course, no one forced us to do it. But children could see their parents constantly at work, they would go with them and pick potatoes from a very early age. I remember how they would bring in a heap of those potatoes, and you’d sit there and pick through them, separating the big and the small. In the evening, we would drink freshly milked milk. I’d skim the cream with a spoon. Everyone has such memories, I guess.”
My childhood and adult life are two utterly different social phases
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (Russian transliteration: Svetlana Tikhanovskaya), née Pilipchuk, was born in the town of Mikashevichy in the Luninets District, Brest Region, former Belarusian SSR, on 11 September 1982. Her mother, Valiantsina Pilipchuk, worked as a cook in a factory canteen. Her father, Heorhiy Pilipchuk, worked as a lorry driver at a reinforced-concrete production plant. As a child, Sviatlana spent a lot of time in the village of Sinkevichy, with her grandmother Marya Afanasyeuna, her grandfather Mikalai Ivanavich, and her great-grandmother Natallia. In 1996 she participated in a British programme for children affected by the Chernobyl disaster. She stayed in Ireland in the family of the charity fund organisers Henry and Marianne Dean. In 2000 she graduated from Mikashevichy School No. 2 with a gold medal. In 2005 she completed a degree in English and German at the Faculty of Arts of the Mozyr State Pedagogical University. During and after her studies, she worked as a translator for commercial and non-profit organisations. In 2005 she married Siarhei Tsikhanouski; they have two children.