As we left Sarakin or Krasnadon near the Caspian Sea at midnight in a snowstorm, my mother told me I was dancing and singing with excitement, like I knew everything would be O.K. My grandmother blessed us one by one and gave us salt bread and an Icon of our Savior, and on our way we went. All over the Crimean region, people were coming and going with no idea what was going to happen, except that it would be bad.
There were Russian partisans on one side, Germans on the other–supposedly coming to save Russia from communism–Americans bombing overhead, and refugees like us going in all directions.
My father and I sat at the front of the caravan, leading the horse-drawn wagon we had found as we fled. My mother was busy inside the wagon, cleaning and organizing our few belongings. She piled up our pillows around the sides of the wagon, imagining that the down stuffing would cause any stray bullets to ricochet away from us!
The Cossack wagon train stretched for miles behind us, winding its way through smoke-filled, burning villages where the unlucky inhabitants had either deserted their homes or died in the bombing. Sometimes we found shelter in abandoned barns or empty houses; more often we just camped in the fields. Wherever we stopped for the night, I snuck out to forage for food- bags of beans or sacks of potatoes that had been left behind in the rush to evacuate. Even in the most deserted villages, we could not find peace; we were unwitting targets for the American bombers seeking out the lines of the fleeing Germans and Italians. The first flight of planes would perform surveillance; the second flight would mark the target; then the third would drop the bombs, with infernal explosions that seemed to come at all hours, without warning.
As we drove the wagons and herds of horses through the passes and down from the mountains into the first village on foreign soil, it became apparent that armies were approaching from all sides, and chaos took over. My father grew tired of answering the same questions over and over-What should we do? What did we hear? Finally, when he hesitated to reply to another wanderer wanting to know where we came from and where we were going, I piped up in my four year old’s voice to give the answer I had heard my father exasperatedly give to many of our fellow travelers–“From nowhere…to nowhere!”
For the first and only time in my life, my father turned to me and gave me a smile and a hug. I remember feeling that for once, my father had actually recognized and acknowledged my existence as his daughter. Perhaps he did not think I was such a fool after all! Maybe my older sister was not his only beloved, maybe not even his favorite! Alas, this gesture was to be the only real display of love and affection he ever gave to me.