Salvation

I am going to tell you an incredible story that happened in the early 50s of the last century.

After the war, at a time when the victorious optimistic fanfare sounded thousands of needless cripples roamed, the arrests and arrival of black cars within the USSR resumed. They talked about the conspiracy of doctors, ideological perversion among the artists and other supporters of Weismann’s and Morgan’s ideas. Propaganda curses, searches of external and internal enemies hovered like a black cloud over the people who survived the terrible war with Nazi Germany.

It was 1951. One young man, Andriy from the Lviv region, was sent to the Soviet concentration camp after the war. He was accused of something (it didn’t matter because he could have been accused even of the fact that he cast an anti-Soviet look a few months ago).

In prisons, there was either pestilence or almost starvation mixed with overbearing labour. And also contagious diseases. People died daily. The guards took their bodies and drove them away from the camp where they were torn by bears…

Those, near dying, didn’t have hope for salvation. King Hunger and King Cold several times a day, systematically strolled around the barracks, where still alive enemies of the people were dying.

On the eve, Andriy felt his heart slowed down, the body got heavier and the head – indifferent to everything. Strange light started to embrace everything the boy could see…

The guards, having thought that Andriy was already cold, threw him on a bunk bed and away from the camp borders. To be outside, on the loose, was the ultimate dream of every political prisoner. Those who dared to escape were shot dead on the spot or turned back. What happened to them next I would like not to describe. It turned out that only death could take outside the camp, to freedom…

Accidentally, the wife of the warden, a Ukrainian from the Poltava region, went out from the hell created by people for people (like many Ukrainians who didn’t speak their native language for a lifetime, denied it, said they had long forgotten it, but in moments of severe shock or deathbed when they called mother, in convulsions, then a forgotten language, like a palimpsest, sounded everywhere, even where others didn’t understand or hated it! And it was the last, too late, but still a Conversion).

The wife of the warden didn’t speak Ukrainian for years. She didn’t even think about it. All of a sudden she heard:

(speaking Ukrainian) “Mommy, I only wanted some bread with jam but they…”

What is it? Spoken Polish? Still alive Pole? But… Suddenly the wife of the warden, Madam Likeria remembered:

her mom, who survived the Great Hunger told that Likeria’s brother went to the city “to find some bread for Likerka” and… and never came back. Nobody talked about this at home. This word… “bread”.

“Oh my goodness, this is a man from west Ukraine, this is a Ukrainian!” she was suddenly pierced with a guess.

She realized that in the junkyard someone got delirious in Ukrainian. She came closer. Quite a young man seemed dying. He said something unintelligible so she failed to understand. He was still alive! She was scared of herself but something aroused in her soul. Could he be a member of the anti-Soviet rebellion? Or a personal enemy of the comrade Stalin? Then she’s gone…

Madam Likeria rushed about as a fatally wounded lioness in a cage… Brother, Ivanko… bread… The wife of the warden cried and finally she mastered the courage, come what may…

In the end, she with such vigour that she had not felt for ten years rushed to the camp, ordering two guards:

(speaking Russian) “You’ve mistakenly thrown away a still alive man. I vouch for him! Release him unconditionally!

And the guards rescued Andriy, who has already tolled the death knell and whispered in a language native in Lviv and Poltava.

They began to feed him better, placing in some hut next to the bakery. Bit by bit, he started to recuperate. Later, he helped with fuel preservation. Then he baked bread. He knew that someone had rescued him. But Madam Likeria never talked to him even though she came around later, briefly ordering something in Russian.

Nobody knew that two months on end she was overwhelmed with fear: they could snitch; they could destroy her husband’s career. She loved her husband, the Russian from Saratov and her children. She couldn’t but do this.

Brother. Bread. Language. Language. Bread. Brother. Bread. Language. Brother.

So Andriy survived due to a woman from central Ukraine, due to language so native to both of them. Although neither of them mentioned this aloud.

After Stalin’s death, in a little while, he was released. And he returned to the native village. Got married. Had two sons.

Madam Likeria together with her husband still worked but, of course, not in the working camps. Then she retired. She twice went to Ukraine to her relatives from Poltava.

One day it seemed to her that she saw her brother, Ivanko, in the fields, with a piece of bread in his hand for her. Another day she heard some voice:

“Likerko, why don’t you speak our language?”

She didn’t go to Ukraine anymore. More often, she saw in dreams Andriy, once rescued by her. She talked to him in her dreams, cried and several timed they even made love.

Then her husband from Saratov died. Children had their lives. And then she died, in the end, raving in Ukrainian because she again saw her brother who stretched his pale arms towards her and asked not to be afraid.

Andriy led a more or less quiet life. Comparing to his experience, he was all happy. Only sometimes he told his sons, not forbidding, of course, but strangely worrying:

“Why spreading the jam on the bread! What a blatant luxury! Bread alone is not enough?”

Stepan Protsiuk

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