Born in Russia: my summers in a Cossack village

I had beautiful summers in Russia. Children are quite lucky in Russia as they get three months off during summer months! It is a nightmare for the parents, but total delight for the kids. Three full months of fun, three full months of the joy of childhood, freedom and exploration!
I was sent each summer to my grand-parents in the south of Russia, right at the border with Ukraine. It was a small Cossack village, quiet, remote, and oh my god, so peaceful! One could go out at night and hear only the sound of an owl, and see the stars far away in the sky.
My grand-parents had a farm, and it was the best farm in the village. Both of them survived the hardship of the area of Stalin, both of them returned to the house which had been confiscated by Bolsheviks at some point, and rebuilt everything from scratch. 
They built two houses instead of one, created a bathhouse, planted a vineyard, had three cows, several chickens, and lots of fruits and vegetables in a big garden. We even had watermelons.
My grand-parents would wake up at five in the morning and go around with their tasks. My grand-dad would milk the cows, while my grand-mum would make breakfast. It was a feast every day, especially when we, the children (numerous cousins) would come for the summer.
Pancakes, pastries, cakes, we would devour it in the morning before proceeding to help around the farm. It was organised to perfection. We had to do several tasks, each of us in the morning, before getting free time till the rest of the day.
My cousin Olga (same age as I) and I would usually take out the weed. We would work around the field of strawberries, sing songs, eat some strawberries, spot occasional snakes in the grass.
At twelve we would have lunch, usually some soup and a salad, sitting around a big cheerful table in the garden with apple trees. After lunch my grand-mum would take out some sweets and give one to each of us. We never had more than two sweets a day. It was hard to get them in the shops, and eating too many sweets wasn’t encouraged. Instead, we would get lots of fruits, and fresh milk from the cow.
In the afternoon, Olga and I would go down to the river. Calling it a river is perhaps a big word, it was a tiny, narrow, patch of water, surrounding the village on one side, with vipers liking it as much as us. But as children, we weren’t afraid of the snakes and would dare to go for a swim. We would build castles out of stones, run around the river, meet with other children of the village, play games. We would go back to the farm for the dinner (potatoes, eggs, vegetables, and chicken once a week), and then would go out again for the night. It was a party in the park every night.
Boys would bring their guitars, we would make a fire, and sing till late at night, usually with my grand-mum coming to fetch us, to send us to bed.We would return to the house, drink some milk and eat some fresh bread, and fall deeply asleep, to wake up the next morning to another beautiful day.
If I think of happiness, I always have the image of my summers in Russia. It was pure happiness, because it was so simple.

my younger cousin and me

Born in Russia, born into a privileged family

Before I re-launch myself into the 1990s in Russia, quite remarkable time by all standards, I should probably tell more about myself.

I was born in the 1970s (more towards the 1980), to an interesting family. My mum, originally from Saint-Petersburg, had met my dad when they both studied at the University of Friendship of People, very famous place, where lots of international students came to study. From my mum’s side, it was always a family of teachers and academics. My grandma, her mum, was a daughter of a headmistress of a gymnasium, while my granddad, her dad, was a professor of geology at the same university. At home talks around the dinner table were always around philosophy, books, theater pieces to visit, music to discover, students to help. My granddad was so popular among students that some of them would show up on occasions for tea, just to have a chat with him around matters that mattered. There was also a secret within a family, which became less dangerous under Gorbachev, such as that my great granddad on the side of my grandma was a baron who had left his relatives in Russia all his fortune, by the letter with notification was well-hidden and never shown to the authorities, to avoid being sent to Gulag.

On the side of my dad, it was the Cossack’s gene. His parents run a beautiful farm in the south of Russia, where I would spend most of my summers. It was a truly amazing place, built from scratch by the hands of my granddad. He had met my grandma in a remote village in Ural, where he was sent because he had come as a prisoner from Germany after the second world war, and under Stalin, back in the Soviet Union, all prisoners were sent to such ‘installments’, remote places in the middle of nowhere, to build entire towns from scratch for the benefit of the country. My grandma’s family was also sent to such a place due to some black spots in the biography of the family, with their fault being that her dad, my great-granddad, was the head of the Baptiste Christian church in whole Caucasus area of Russia. But I will come back to that story in due term, for now, I want to just say that my granddad, once he and my grandma returned to his land, the Cossack village, destroyed and taken away by the Soviets, built two houses, and created an amazing farm, where even grapes could grow, and we had our own wine, and fresh fruits each summer.

They had three sons, with my dad being the middle one. He wanted to study in Moscow, and he achieved that. By the time I was born, both he and my mum worked at the University of Friendship as lecturers, and we lived in the best area of Moscow, known as ‘Yogo-Zapandii’ area, now popular among the Russian celebrities.

Our apartment had only two rooms, and was on the sixteen floor. There was something wrong with that place, but till today, I am not sure exactly what, apart from a weird dream I had once, that I was reborn there following a very difficult, terrifying life. I also saw the devil there for the first time, staring at me outside the window when I was sleeping in my cot, at the age of 2 or three. My parents reassured me that it was just a bad dream, and I tried to believe them for a while, but of course, I know now, and probably always did, that what I see and hear, is indeed real, as scary as it sometimes can be. I have to add here that the first appearance of the devil in my life was how he is often portrayed in references to the Bible, even if I wasn’t really afraid, just curious and amazed. Parents and adults would always say that all that wasn’t real, but I kind of, made to myself a note, at the age of 2 or three, that they could be wrong sometimes, and magic is real, and one didn’t even need to try, to see its manifestations on a daily basis.

Some strange problems with our apartment apart, I was born into a privileged family by that times standards. Everyone was an academic, I would go to one of the best schools in Moscow, and we always had nice food, and holidays in either Latvia or Crimea. I spent my summers in the Cossack village, helping on the farm (you can read about my summers in here), and was blessed with great friends, and lots of opportunities to express myself, such as learning French, practicing piano, ice-skating, and many other beautiful and really not mundane things.

But then, everything changed in the 1990s when Yeltsin came to power, and Soviet Union collapsed, becoming a monster in the eyes of all those who weren’t born here, and that image influenced also those who were born there, like I was.

And that’s why I probably talk about the 1990s so much. It was the time that something really bad happened to my native country, and when I go back there, I still see the manifestations of what went wrong then. The wild capitalism became an ideology as if it’s a must, a prominent way for people to live their lives. But it isn’t the best ideology, far from it. When I was growing up, under the socialism, everyone had food on the table, and children run happy outside, because there were no worries and everyone was more or less equal, even when one was born into a privileged family.

moscownationalgeographic