Days and Lives :: Prisoners

Evgeniia Michailovna Peunkova

Introduction

Evgeniia Mikhailovna Peunkova was born in the Russian village Vad,in the Arzamasskii district, Nizhegorodskii region in 1928. She was admitted to Yaroslavl Technological Institute. Peunkova was arrested because of her participation in the student group “Triumvirate,” allegedly involved in anti-Soviet activity. She was in Temnikovskii camp from 1948 until 1956.

Arrest

“I was arrested on a street. A car pulled over, the door opened, then somebody called me. Two men grabbed me by my arms on each side. They drove me to the “Grey House” [the Secret Police Headquarters in Yaroslavl] and put me in a jail cell. It happened on March 5, 1948. Two days later I was transferred under guard to the ‘big’ house in Leningrad.” Peunkova recalled her experience at the court. She and her friends had been sentenced to death. However, the court substituted 25 years of camp for the death penalty. The court’s decision put her in a state of deep shock. “Our trial included no defense or witnesses. The “troika” faced the four of us: Volodia Kushnir, Vitia Solenyi, Alexander Saprin, who was older than others, and I. The same number of guards stood next to us. Another two held ward near the gate. The case plodded along until 2 p.m. Only after lunch did we hear the verdict. Taking into account articles 17, 58.10, 58.11 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federal Soviet Republic we were sentenced to death… However, after an intentionally long pause a clarification of the decision was announced. Because of the abolition of the death penalty and based on such-and-such articles the sentence was substituted for 25 years of imprisonment in special camps with subsequent deprivation of civil rights for 5 years.”

Labor

“A shift at the factory lasted practically 12 hours: from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., and from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. The break between shifts was 30 minutes. This time was necessary for the motors to cool down.… Production at the factory was divided into many operations, and each female worker performed one of them. They did the same thing day after day over a period of many years. An individual was becoming a robot, an extension of the machine. Output norms grew from month to month, and we had to fulfill them. Those who didn’t make the norm were sent to the “BUR” [strict regime barracks], where the transgressors slept piled one upon another on a bare floor. As a punishment they received only 450 grams of bread per day. The night shifts at the end of month were especially hard. At 3 o’clock at night workers began to fall asleep and accidents happened: people stitched their own fingers, pierced their foreheads with fallers…”

Suffering

“Gerta and I were assigned to a renovated barrack, plastered inside with clay and limed. It hadn’t dried yet. On our moving day, we were given mattress covers; bits and pieces of dusters and pieces of cotton wool were brought and piled near the barrack. We filled up our mattresses with these wet rags. It was raining hard outside already, and it seemed that we would never get rid of all that moisture. We dried out our mattresses with our bodies. A fog hung in the barrack because of the vapors… In winter the barrack was heated once a day. The camp administration distributed one wood pile for each subdivision. The temperature in the barrack was such that if you put a cup of warm “kava” on your night stand, when you got up in morning, the cup was covered with ice. (“Kava” means coffee in Ukrainian).”

Propaganda

“Gerta and I were assigned to a renovated barrack, plastered inside with clay and limed. It hadn’t dried yet. On our moving day, we were given mattress covers; bits and pieces of dusters and pieces of cotton wool were brought and piled near the barrack. We filled up our mattresses with these wet rags. It was raining hard outside already, and it seemed that we would never get rid of all that moisture. We dried out our mattresses with our bodies. A fog hung in the barrack because of the vapors… In winter the barrack was heated once a day. The camp administration distributed one wood pile for each subdivision. The temperature in the barrack was such that if you put a cup of warm “kava” on your night stand, when you got up in morning, the cup was covered with ice. (“Kava” means coffee in Ukrainian).”

Solidarity

“Here at the new labor camp we had balanda [a watery soup] every day… We wanted to eat very much. Unfortunately, they took our spoons away from us in Leningrad. We tried to use a matchbox to eat, but it didn’t work well. On our second day an old lady came to us and said: “Dear child, here is my spoon.” This was grandmother Gavriliuchka. She was the kindest person. We were grateful to her. Because I had understood Ukrainian since childhood, I could soon understand Hutsul women as well. After a little while we became friends with them and other women who arrived from Lvov’s transit prison before we got to the camp…” Evgeniia Peunkova recalls another episode: “I remember another surprise. Mechanics were supposed to wear overalls at the factory. Once Aunt Anna asked me to bring her white thread from the factory. I brought them. One day I woke up and saw washed overalls with a white lace collar hanging on bed boards. How could one ever forget that?”

Conflict

“At first, Latvian women treated us with blunt, incomprehensible hatred. Later, during winter, two elderly women, Aunt Ania Struve and Marta Ianovna Ozolinysh, worked as orderlies in our barrack… In winter they cleaned barracks and fired a furnace, but as always heat was in short supply. They warmed up bricks in the stove and put them in on bed boards in their Latvian girls’ beds. After a tough 12-hour shift I would return to the cold barrack and would not be able to sleep for a long time: I was always very tired; my arms and back ached; my feet kept freezing; and it was difficult to get warm. One day when I returned from work I found a hot brick under my blanket. It happened in the subsequent days as well. I was happy and deeply grateful to these women, who showed me such motherly compassion…”

Guards

“…Another “kum” (an authorized operations officer) arrived—a cruel man with sadistic proclivities. His last name was Radionov, but we called him “Kastriulkin.” He pestered us with endless camp “shakedowns” when guards took away not only the prohibited items (penknives, needles, threads) but also cans, bottles, etc. We were taken to the isolation cell for the slightest misdemeanors. More and more often, barely clothed women were kicked out of their barracks for lengthy inspections and lined up on the ground under the watch tower, with a search-light and a machine gun aimed at our column. It was scary. It seemed that they wanted to show us once again how defenseless we were and how little our life was worth…”

Survival

“Three women worked in our KVCh (Cultural Educational Section): an accordionist from Lvov Lesia Blavatskaya and two women artists, Alla Andreeva, the wife of Daniil Andreev, and Galina Nikolaevna Makovskaia, granddaughter of the famous Russian painter… When newspapers, radio and movie disappeared from the camp, these women decided to organize amateur talent groups. Lesia Blavatskaia organized an Ukrainian choir and engaged many young women with excellent voices. She staged what Galina Nikolaevna called “The Transcarpathian Suite”. These were Hutsul songs, dances and games. ..The show ran for over an hour. The success was great, and not only among inmates. Free workers gasped in amazement—they had never seen such a performance. The camp was shaken up after that. Poles joined the amateur activities… Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian female inmates who could sing or dance joined the ranks of both groups. Our life changed. Now many individuals after they finished their shifts spent all their free time rehearsing. The tougher the regime became, the more individuals wanted to perform…”

Fates

“In April 1956 a “rehabilitation committee,” headed by one of the members of the Party’s Central Committee, arrived at the camp. I was rehabilitated. Fifty years have passed since I left the Mordova camps. That is to say I left them. I started a new life. However I could not free myself from them for many years. The term set up by the military tribunal was supposed to end in 1973. Till then the camp lived inside me, and did not want to let me go. I dreamt of it at least once a month. A feeling of hopeless grief would roll over me, breaking my heart. I would wake up feeling sick, trying to forget everything and never to rake up the dust and ashes of the past, never to recall it. But I failed over and over. These horrible dreams disappeared only in 1973… There was misfortune. But there was also happiness. There was more happiness. My desire for happiness itself was happiness…”