Kazakhstan will always be my first Motherland

My name is Eske Erna Ivanovna and I’m thrilled to share the incredible story of my family with you. It is filled with strength, resilience, love, and unity, that has helped us overcome the most difficult trials. Our family’s story is a testament to the power of fate and hope, and it fills us with immense pride.

My mother, hailing from the Lutomir region of Ukraine, was a remarkable woman fluent in both German and Russian. Her linguistic abilities represented the cultural unity between two nations, allowing us to easily adapt to new surroundings after being relocated.

It was in Kyiv, by a stroke of fate, that my parents first met. My mother, working diligently for wealthy Jewish families, was caring for her younger siblings after the untimely passing of their parents. Meanwhile, my father, serving in Kyiv, crossed paths with my mother and instantly knew she was the one. He proposed to her and brought her to Crimea, where his parents resided.

Unfortunately, their blissful days together were interrupted by the ravages of war, which spared no one.

The deportation from Crimea to northern Kazakhstan was an incredibly difficult time for our family. I was only two and a half years old at the time, so my knowledge of those times is solely based on the stories my mother has told me. It was especially challenging for my mother, who was pregnant with my younger sister Lida, and my father, who was sent to the Labor Army, leaving us to fend for ourselves.

We were a large family, and we lived together with my father’s sisters. Initially, we stayed with a Kazakh family in a village where life was incredibly tough for everyone. However, after a few months, we made the decision to move to another place. It was a long and arduous journey, and we had to cross the Ishim River on foot.

Eventually, we arrived in the village of Voznesenka, where my mother, siblings, and I settled. However, my father’s parents continued their journey and settled in a different village.

In the golden pages of our family’s history, there is a special chapter dedicated to the cozy village of Voznesenka in Kazakhstan — my homeland. This small village holds a significant place in my heart, as it is where my journey began. It is where I took my first steps into the world of education, where I experienced the excitement of young love, and where I made cherished memories with my friends at the local dance club. It is also where I found love, got married, raised my children, and eventually remarried the man who became my rock and the love of my life. This is the place where I spent most of my life, until in 2003 fate brought me and my husband to the beautiful city of Bad Mergentheim in Germany. Since then we have been living in Germany, and our children have remained in Kazakhstan. For me, Kazakhstan will always be the first homeland, and Crimea — my second homeland!

For the majority of my life, Voznesenka was my home. It was the backdrop to countless moments of joy, laughter, and even hardships. I remember a particular moment from my childhood that left a lasting impression on my young mind. Our house had no roof, and during rainy days, I would cover the cracks with clay to protect us from the elements. It was a time when everyone in the village, regardless of their background, experienced difficulties. However, my father, a skilled craftsman, returned home one day and immediately set to work renovating our humble abode. He was a shoemaker by trade, and his talent was renowned throughout the district.

I recall one occasion when I traveled to the city and bought myself a pair of shoes without heels, which was a new fashion trend at the time. In a moment of excitement, I showed them to my father upon my return. He was amazed and suggested that he could make me heels for the shoes. However, I insisted on keeping them as they were, explaining that this was the latest fashion. After some time, as he saw how good they looked on my feet, he admitted, «They really do look great.»

I graduated from school after completing only seven classes, as that was the education system back then. I started working right away. My first job was at a kindergarten, where I had the opportunity to work with young children and help shape their early years. It was a rewarding experience, but I soon moved on to become a postman.

In our village, there was a significant population of Kazakhs. They had a rich culture and traditions, and I was fortunate enough to interact with them during my time as a postman. There was one particular elderly man who always stood out to me. Every time I delivered his pension, he would insistently offer me a glass of kymyz, a traditional Kazakh drink made from camel milk. At first, I hesitated, but his persistent persuasion eventually convinced me to give it a try.  I enjoyed the taste and looked forward to our interactions (laughs).

It was during my work as a postman that I met my first husband. I was 18 at that time.  One day, as I was picking up letters at the post office, I noticed him sitting with a friend nearby. I was focused on my work and didn’t pay much attention. However, the next day, he was waiting for me after work, ready to walk me home. That’s how our story began. It was only later that he confessed to his friend that he had claimed me as his own the moment he saw me. His friend, in a playful manner, responded that he would marry me if my first husband didn’t. We laughed about it later, realizing how fate had brought us together.

We spent twelve years together, building a life and raising our two wonderful children. In 1959, our daughter Galina was born, bringing immense joy and laughter into our lives. Two years later, in 1961, our son Vladimir came into the world, representing our hopes and dreams for the future. We cherished our family and the memories we created, but life doesn’t always follow the path we envision.

After my divorce, I made the decision to focus on raising my two children, Galina and Vladimir, on my own. I wanted to distance myself from relationships and prioritize their well-being. However, my heart still longed for love and care. It was during this time that my nephew Sergey, who was just eight years old, was left orphaned. Although he was meant to be sent to an orphanage, I couldn’t bear the thought of him being separated from family. Taking care of loved ones seemed to be a trait passed down from my mother, so I made the decision to adopt Sergey. From the moment he came into my life, it felt as if he had always been a part of my heart. I remember seeing him off to the army and feeling immense happiness at his wedding. Sadly, he passed away in 2000, but his memory will forever live on.

The 70s brought difficult times, and the challenge of raising three children became even more daunting. However, amidst the trials and uncertainties, I managed to find happiness and joy. One day, while visiting my aunt in Omsk, I had no idea that I would meet my future husband along the way. Despite the age difference, my divorced past, three children, and all the challenges that came with it, his love and proposal to marry him inspired me and allowed me to open my heart to love once again.

With the Lord’s blessing, our lives intertwined. He became my rock, my companion, and the source of unconditional love. Together, we raised our children, and now we take joy in our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Years passed, and it was now the 80s. Our children had grown into adults. One day, I caught sight of a girl on the doorstep of a neighboring house. She seemed like an angel. My son Vova was already studying at the railway school, and I thought I could play matchmaker. At work, I asked a neighbor who was staying with my grandmother next door about the girl. It turned out that she was Raina’s daughter, Lena. I bought a watermelon to invite her over and introduce her to my son. However, I soon discovered that Vova and Lena had already met on the bus while traveling to our village. Fate had a way of surprising me. Lena was studying to become a confectioner in Petropavlovsk and had come to visit her grandmother in our village. Her parents, like us, were German migrants who used to live in our village but had since moved to Semey, leaving her grandmother behind.

When Vova went off to serve in the army for two years after finishing college, the young girls from our village started competing for his attention. They all wrote letters to him, hoping to catch his interest. However, as the village postwoman, I took it upon myself to intercept their letters and not send them to Vova (laughs). Secretly, I had decided that Lena, that beautiful girl, was the one meant for him. When Vova returned from the army, he married Lena, Aunt Raina’s daughter. To this day, they are happily married and raising our grandchildren and great-grandchildren together.

As I sit here, reflecting on the many years that have passed, I am filled with a sense of overwhelming joy and gratitude. My husband and I have been blessed with a beautiful family that continues to grow and prosper. Our children, now adults, have achieved great things and brought us immeasurable happiness.

I can’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude towards the great Lord for bringing us together and allowing us to experience the joys of parenthood and now, grandparenthood. It is a blessing that we cherish every day.

In this moment, my heart is filled with a wish for peace. Peace not only in our own country but throughout the entire world. I hope that every person’s heart is filled with harmony, love, and care for one another. It is these feelings that truly make our lives happy and meaningful.

Throughout my 85 years of life, I have faced many trials and tribulations. I have experienced both joy and sorrow, adversity and prosperity, separation and true love. But through it all, I have learned that it is our strength and resilience that shape our character.

So, my wish for the young is to be persistent and brave. Know that all the conditions for your development and happiness have already been created. It is important to turn your love into action and be a source of goodness and happiness for your loved ones.

As I look back on our family’s history, I hope that every thread remains woven with love, support, and mutual understanding. May our eternal connection be a source of joy and inspiration for future generations. May our family always be an example of unity, spreading light and warmth to those around us.

Interviewee: Eske Erna

Interviewer: Gulnaz Tulenova

Editor: Kymbat Kalieva

Translator: Diana Tsoy-Davis