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Siberian childhood

I was born in a small Siberian town called Achinsk and had a 'proper' communist upbringing. The town of Achinsk is situated in eastern Siberia on the Chulim river, the population of the town is about one hundred thirty thousand people. Achinsk is on the Trans-Siberian Railway and is said to have been visited by Lenin on the way to his Siberian exile in the village of Shushenskoje.

School 12, Achinsk They say that Lenin stopped for a night break in Achinsk and stayed in a small house not far from the railway station. The house was later demolished and a school was built on that site. As all schools in the country it had a number. It was Achinsk secondary school No12.

It also so happened that that was the same school where my brother and I went as children and where our mother was the head mistress for twenty-two years. But that was much later.

My father was a military officer working for a technical military school of Civil Aviation in Achinsk. I could never quite understand how 'military' and 'civil' went together in this particular case. He explained to me once that the school prepared workers for civil aviation, but they would all become military in case of war.

Achinsk Military School of Civil Aviation was quite popular in the country. The boys from all parts of the Soviet Union came to get education there.

The school was popular in town because it provided a pool of eligible bachelors for the local girls. The young officers preferred to have found a fiancee by the time they graduated from the school, and to take a young wife to their place of service to share hardships of an often isolated life in a garrison.

My mother was one of those girls who liked to come to the Military School when they organised dancing parties for the cadets. As I have already said my father was not a cadet at the time but a young officer who had been sent to work there as a platoon commander after graduating from the Military School in Vilnus, Lithuania.

Father was quite handsome with a dark complexion, dark hair and brown eyes. He was Russian but could easily be taken for somebody of a southern nationality. Mother told us he had looked quite mysterious with a cigarette in his mouth and not dancing much. Maybe he was not supposed to dance but to keep an eye on his cadets.

She was also a good-looking girl and in spite of being a tartar she was always taken for a Russian, maybe because of her beautiful fair complexion. She had a nice full-breasted figure and very beautiful brown wavy hair. She taught Russian language and Russian literature in one of the Achinsk schools at the time.

One evening he invited her for a slow dance. Then again and again. Every time when a party was over he walked a group of girls to their homes, and he always managed to arrange that my mother's home was the last. Once she invited him into the house and introduced him to her family, she still lived with her mother, sisters and brothers at the time. Her father had already died.

My mother told us with laughter that father had never proposed to her in the way people normally did. It was 1950, the country was still struggling after the war, there was not a lot of food in the shops. If my father managed to get hold of some nice food he brought it to my mother's family and shared it with them. When she told us about it she always remembered pryaniki, sort of biscuits, maybe because it was her favourite treat.

Once father brought mother warm winter boots called valenki, made of sheep wool. They are very popular in Siberia in winter even nowadays, especially in villages. That year the winter was very severe but mother only had some light footwear which was not suitable for the season. We think that particular gesture was meant as a proposal to marry and, together with the boots, it was readily accepted! I was born in 1951 and my brother in 1955.

After my parents married they lived at the Military School, where other officers and their families lived. That part of town was called voyenniy gorodok which literally meant 'military town'. My brother and I were born there, we only moved out of voyenniy gorodok when I was twelve and Yura was eight years old.

There was a big fence all around voyenniy gorodok and it was only possible to get there through a special check-point. If we invited guests from the 'outside' they had to leave some sort of identification at the check-point.

Boys from all over the Soviet Union came to be trained in the Achinsk Military School. Looking back now I see them as 15-16 year old boys, almost children, often insecure and homesick being so far away from their mummies and daddies for the first time. In those days they seemed to me big, strong, experienced men and certainly not very young.

For their summer vacations the cadets went back to their homelands like the Ukraine, Belarussia, the Caucasus or Uzbekistan and coming back they always brought us, "their captain's children", some exotic fruit, like very big red apples, huge tomatoes, walnuts and some other fruit. The boys were very proud of the gifts and we were intrigued by the countries where they came from. Deep down we hoped one day to be able to see the fairy lands where these exotic things grew!

From the girls' point of view it was quite prestigious to marry an officer and many of them could not dream about anything better than a handsome young man in a uniform, with a stable salary and a prospect of becoming a general one day!

Both my parents were members of the Communist party. They had to be. They would not have been able to have those responsible posts and not belong to the party. It was not necessary for a teacher to be a Communist, but the head teacher had to be. The same applied to an officer who was responsible for the upbringing of the new generation of Soviet officers.

Being party members did not give my parents any privileges, but more duties, responsibilities and more time away from home. Communist meetings were not rare happenings, and for my brother and me it meant staying at home on our own looking after each other. However we did not mind doing that and were never bored.

While our parents were out at a meeting there was nobody there to stop us jumping down onto a bed from the top of the high wardrobe. I expect my mother to be very surprised at this late confession!

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