I would like to share with you the story of my husband, Ermek Shakenuly, and his 71-year life journey, his native land. He was born and raised in the Pavlodar region, coming from the Karakesek tribe. His father, Shaken Zhangakuly, was born in the village of Zhylybulak on the shores of Lake Maraldy in the Kereku region.

As soon as Shaken got on his feet, he and his wife created a family. However, their happiness was short-lived, as in July 1942, Shaken was called to serve in the war, leaving behind his pregnant wife. Soon after, Shaken heard from his comrades who later went to war that his wife had safely given birth to a healthy son. Shaken’s mother, Janapia, superstitiously named him Yermek. Sadly, Shaken fell in the bloody battle of Stalingrad without ever having the chance to meet his son.

They say that trouble rarely comes alone, and indeed, right after giving birth to her son, tragedy struck again as news of her husband’s death reached her. This was a great grief for both the grandmother and the young woman. Yermek grew up in the care of his mother and grandmother, who did their best to pamper him. However, when Yermek was only eleven years old, his beloved grandmother, who affectionately called him «a foal, the only one,» passed away. This event was a tremendous blow to Yermek’s life.

It is often said that the eternal trace of war remains in one’s heart, and Yermek, though he never knew his father, always carried a deep sense of longing for him. As soon as he grew stronger, he began searching for anyone who knew his father or could provide information about his burial place. Yermek worked as a chauffeur during this time.

On July 7, 1963, Yermek and I got engaged. The betashar ceremony (ceremony of introduction of bride to the family of the groom)  took place at the house of my uncle Konkay and aunt Kamal, and I entered that house as a bride. Our lives were intertwined, as my father also went to war when I was in my mother’s womb. I understood the pain and longing Yermek felt for his father because I experienced the same emotions. My father returned wounded from the war in 1944.

Interestingly, Yermek and I are from the same village, Tolybay in Kerek. However, due to the limited number of grades in our village school (only four), my parents transferred me to a seven-year school in a neighboring village. I lived with my grandparents there, while my parents moved to Kerek for work. In the house where I lived, all the older children had gone to study in the city, so I took care of their 4-year-old granddaughter, braiding her hair and dressing her. It was a warm and cherished time of my childhood.

After we got married, we lived in Kyzyltan for only a year. In 1964, our first child was born, and we moved to the city of Aksu. We were blessed with three children, and my husband had the joy of seeing both his children and grandchildren grow up. Now, I proudly carry on my husband’s message of peace within our family.

My husband was a curious and energetic person, always seeking knowledge and new experiences. He worked as a driver for several years before pursuing further education. He graduated from the police school in Almaty and the Higher Police School in Karaganda, studying to become a lawyer. Throughout his career, he worked in the internal affairs bodies, specifically in the department of search and disclosure of crimes in the Bayanaul region, and retired with the rank of colonel. After both of us retired from our fifty-year service, we moved to Pavlodar to take care of our grandchildren and support our children.

I sensed the deep emotions and longing that my husband felt throughout the search of his father. It has greatly impacted me as well. Even after retirement, I took it upon myself to continue the search, despite the many interruptions and moments of doubt.Yermek said more than once: “It is enough, there is no more hope.” And I did not stop, again and again returned to the search. But it hit a dead end.

In 2012, ten months before our fiftieth anniversary, my husband passed away from an illness. The pain and regret I felt that we couldn’t find his father’s whereabouts before was overwhelming. On his death anniversary, the long-awaited message came about the father-in-law, the message we have been waiting for 15 years. When I heard, I was upset and said only «alas, too late.»I blamed myself for not finding the information sooner.   I would like to end my story here. And dedicate next one to the process of finding my father-in-law..

I have witnessed the truth of the phrase ‘Everything has its time’ on multiple occasions.

Although my husband may not have been able to find his father, the fact that the grandchildren will now have the opportunity to honor him brings me a sense of pride, courage, and consolation.

Years passed,  and I vividly remember the conversation I had with my husband about the ongoing efforts to locate the burial place of my father. Although he never explicitly expressed his pain, deep down, I could sense how much it affected him to come to terms with the fact that we may never find his father’s resting place. He avoided watching TV or participating in the May 9 parade because every reminder of the war brought back painful memories of his father.

Then, one day, on the fiftieth anniversary of the victory, a glimmer of hope emerged. The news announced that families of soldiers who died in the line of duty would receive material payments. My husband’s eyes lit up with the possibility that this could aid in the search for his father’s burial place. Determined to find answers, I approached my mother-in-law and asked her to provide any information she had about the funeral. Unfortunately, she didn’t have any documents.

We realized that my father-in-law’s death was not properly documented. My mother-in-law, Mynaukesh, a single mother, turned to the military registration and enlistment office for assistance, only to be met with a disappointing response. They claimed that there was no record of such a person anywhere, and the paper documenting his death had been lost.


Undeterred, I continued my search. I even reached out to various television programs, such as «Barmysyn bauyrym» and «Wait for me,» hoping they could help. Unfortunately, their responses were not satisfactory. However, fate had something else in store for me. One day, I happened to meet some Kazakh guys from Pavlodar, who were part of the organization «Zhas Otan.» They listened to my story and decided to help by contacting a man named Pavel from the Central Archive in Moscow. Pavel informed us that they had a thousand people with the name Sadyk and nine hundred with the surname Sadykov in their archive. However, our communication with Pavel was abruptly cut off, and rumors circulated that he had gone to Vladivostok or Khabarovsk without leaving any contact information.

Despite the setbacks and the discouragement from my husband, who believed that finding his father’s burial place among the twenty million war casualties was an impossible task, I persisted in my search. Being familiar with administrative affairs, I knew that if a funeral had taken place, there must be a database or records that stored information about my father-in-law. With this knowledge, I gathered all the necessary documents and headed to the Pavlodar regional archive department, as my father-in-law had gone to war from that region.

At the entrance to the building, I encountered a kind-hearted Russian woman who inquired about the purpose of my visit. I explained that I had come on a personal matter, and she directed me to an office where I found a man who resembled my brother, Bekmukhanbet Dukenov, along with a group of friendly girls. I shared my quest to find my father-in-law with him, mentioning how we had heard stories on the news about missing or deceased soldiers being found. Although this wasn’t his area of expertise, Bekmukhanbet, being a member of the author’s board of the book «Bozdaktar,» took an interest in my case. He meticulously recorded my father-in-law’s information and everything I knew about him. Throughout the search, he mentioned other individuals with the surname Sadykov, such as Gaziz or Saken, but I insisted that my father-in-law’s  name was Shaken.

During this period of intense searching, my husband unexpectedly fell ill, and sadly no one could help him.

After some time had passed, Bekmukhanbet reached out and asked my daughter to come to his office the next morning. It was a significant moment because he had recently retired and had opened his own office. The following morning, I went to meet him and he greeted me warmly. He then showed me a magazine from the Stalingrad hospital, which featured an article about my father-in-law. However, there were a few errors in the text, starting with the misspelling of my grandfather’s name, Sadykin Shokin, and the incorrect name of the village council from where he was sent to the front — Andynsky. Some letters had fallen out and were replaced with Russian ones, and the father-in-law’s name was recorded as Ametbaev Sadyk instead of Akhmetbaev Sadyk. Despite these errors, the magazine confirmed the cause of my father-in-law’s death — a wound in the stomach, and provided information about his regiment.

I was overjoyed by this discovery. That year, my father-in-law was added to the fourth volume of the book «Bozdaktar,» and I was invited to the presentation ceremony at the House of Friendship. However, when I attended the ceremony, I clarified that I was just a daughter-in-law and explained that my husband had passed away a year ago, without having the chance to witness this honor.

But I didn’t stop there. I felt a deep desire to ensure that not only my husband’s immediate family, but also his children, grandchildren, and future generations would be proud of him. I wanted the whole world to know about his heroism and courageous actions. So, I decided to visit the regional military registration and enlistment office and showed them the book. I asked them to include our grandfather in the honor roll. To my surprise, they questioned the need for this, stating that he was already in the book. However, I persisted in my efforts.

One summer, I shared my story with Madi’s grandson, and together we approached the akim (mayor) of the Shcherbakty district, Yergali Askarov. After a week, we received news that our request had been taken under control and was being executed. A month later, we were informed that my father-in-law, our grandfather, was included in the honor roll.

But I didn’t want to stop there. I wanted to ensure that the memory of my father-in-law would be preserved for eternity, not just within our family, but for everyone to remember. During a wedding I attended in Almaty, I was deeply moved by a memorable film created by the newlyweds. The voice-over narration touched my heart so deeply that I asked the hosts for the contact information of the person responsible for the film. For an entire year, I held onto the goal of creating a film about the life of our grandfather, husband, and first child, who had tragically passed away at a young age. Eventually, I connected with Arman Duysenov, the person behind the memorable film, and together with Askar Duysenbi and Rysbek, we created a 34-minute film about the descendants of our grandfather, Shaken.

And this year, I am writing a book. My aim is to complete it soon and send it for printing. I believe that the history of each dynasty is crucial and should not fade away amidst the events of society. I want this book to be a valuable exhibit, something that can be shared with future generations. After waiting for this day for over twenty years, I can proudly say that I have fulfilled my duty to my father-in-law, husband, and our first child. They say that the strength of a tree lies in its trunk, and I firmly believe that our dynasty is as strong as a tree. I have done everything in my power to honor my husband’s amanat (legacy), and it brings me immense happiness to know that I have succeeded.

Interviewee: Rauza Shakenova

Interviewer: Gulnaz Tulenova

Editor: Ainur Yermakhanova

Translator: Diana Tsoy-Davis