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Life in a Military Town

After my parents married they lived in the military compound with other officers and their families. It was known as voyenniy gorodok which literally meant 'military town'. One had to show a special pass to get through the entrance check-point.

Living where we lived made me feel secure and to some extent different. We had extra protection which the rest of the town did not. There were military everywhere some of them had guns and there was no chance for any criminals to get to us.

Achinsk itself was a quiet little town and we did not hear much about crime. When I started school in 1959 the school was outside voyenniy gorodok and I always went about a mile there and back on my own. There were two shifts in our school and often in the winter I had to go back home in the dark. I never heard my parents worrying about it as the place was thought to be absolutely safe and nothing bad ever happened.

One of the things that I liked about gorodok was that it was full of flowers. Flowers were all sorts and they were everywhere. There were big and little flowerbeds in every yard, in front of big buildings like the club (we had a club where they often showed films), there were flowers along the roads. Sometimes when I look back it seems to me that first twelve years of my life passed in a big beautiful garden.

One of the saddest things was that when I came to voyenniy gorodok years later with my son to show him where I had been brought up I did not see a single flower anywhere. I felt very sad. It was like an indication to me that Russia was on decline if nobody cared about such nice things as flowers any more.

Voyenniy gorodok consisted of high-ceilinged three-storey red-brick heavy buildings built at the beginning of the twentieth century. Most flats were communal which meant we had to share the kitchen and the toilet with other families.

We did not have all the modern conveniences which blocks of flats have nowadays. There was no running water or central heating. Water and coal we had to bring up four flights of stairs in buckets. The toilet was a very deep hole in the floor. We went to public baths every Saturday. The kitchen and the toilet were shared by three families. The communal parts of such a flat were usually cleaned by the families by rota.

We had to see something positive in that sort of life, we had no choice. We had to live the way we did. There were some advantages, for example if my parents were out at work my brother and I were still not on our own at home. If something bad happened there was always somebody there to help. When it came to celebrations we often invited each other or had joint parties.

Naturally arguments were also common: somebody had not cleaned the floor properly or put something in the wrong place. Occasional rows were inevitable after which the 'sides' did not speak to each other for quite a long period of time.

Sometimes one was stuck in the communal flat with a person he could hardly bear. We had a single mother in our flat called Klava who constantly irritated my father. It had started with an argument the reason for which was long forgotten but my father still left the kitchen every time Klava appeared at the door.

In spite of these small 'inconveniences' we were all very happy. There were many reasons for our pure genuine happiness. Our parents were young, beautiful and healthy working enthusiastically for even better life under Communism.

We children were as happy as only children could be, especially when the schoolwork was done and mother's tasks for the day were completed. The games were numerous and there was no lack of imagination.

Lyuda,Natasha,Sveta in parade uniform The children from the neighbouring blocks got together to play every day and night. In the summer the games lasted until dark, the number of the participants gradually getting smaller after the each mother's shout from the window: "Lyuda ( Sasha, Sveta, Natasha), it's bed time!"

What I did like in the summer was climbing up the trees. It seems to me that half of my childhood was spent up in the trees. We had many birch-trees, poplars and wild apple trees in voyenniy gorodok. The apple-trees had fruit by the end of the summer which were called "ranetki". They were the size of a five pence coin, apples which grew on long stems in clusters of seven or eight in each. Some of them were sweet and some were bitter, depending on a tree.

We children knew where the trees with the nicest fruit were. When the frosts came and the first snow covered the ground and trees (somewhere in October) the 'ranetki' became soft and especially tasty after being touched by frost.

I wonder whether it was the lack of vitamins in Siberia that made us want to eat the wild apples or whether it was just the childish curiosity.

The grown-ups did not mind us climbing up the trees and it was very rare that we were asked to get off. Maybe the sight of children up in the trees became too familiar or they took us for birds.

I think what was good about our childhood in voyenniy gorodok that we could do what we wanted. There was plenty of freedom. Most of us were not naughty children, we were doing well at school and after the lessons we were free to use our imagination.

Another good thing was that we were never lonely. Most of our games were played in groups and there was a lot of fun in them. We knew many ball games which were played in the yard. We did a lot of skipping, not just straight forward skipping but all sorts of competitions which made it more interesting.

Sometimes we prepared a concert and invited parents, friends and neighbours to see it. We collected all our talents whatever each of us could do, made a program and 'sold' the tickets. We hang 'bills' on the blocks of flats saying where and when the concert was going to be. There was a lot of excitement on the day of the concert.

I enjoyed riding bicycle when I was a girl and was good at it. I could even ride it without using my hands! There was not much traffic in voyenniy gorodok and the roads were not dangerous. We could ride either round the block, "round the four" ( a square of four blocks) or even "round the eight".

It was a real revelation to find out that if we rode fast alongside a wooden fence we could see what was on the other side of it. Walking, it appeared solid and we could not see through it at all. It only became magic if we were riding past it really fast.

In winter my favourite pastime was skating on the open-air skating rink. We were very lucky to have it as it added a lot of fun to our lives during long Siberian winters. Grown ups also went skating. We skated with our friends and our parents skated with theirs.

The skating rink was big and there were lights all around it. It got dark early in winter and we often skated by the lights with snow falling softly in the beams of light. There was usually nice music playing from the PA which made the whole thing even more romantic. If we were cold we could go to a little house at the side of the skating rink to get warm.

Not far from voyenniy gorodok there were high hills known as Horses' Hills. I did not know why they were called that way. In winter that was the best place for sledging. The cadets had their skiing competitions there too, so they were real big hills not just little ones only suitable for children.

It took perhaps two minutes to sledge down the hill, which is quite a long time for sledging. The speed was breathtaking! It was one more our very good winter entertainment and was very exciting.

My brother and I sometimes liked to run and jump in the snow without skies or sledges. Away from the block of flats there were long wooden low buildings where the families kept their coal. In winter there were big drifts of snow near the sheds. We liked to get on the roof of a shed and slide down into a big soft snowdrift. We came home all wet from the melting snow but rosy-cheeked and very happy.

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