Children of the Storm/Cross of Iron
I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing
is neglected, and if the best arrangement are made, as they are
being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to ...ride
out the storm of war...
The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending
the sweat of it's laborers, the genius of it's scientists, and the hopes
of it's children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense.
Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Illya was not a good boy, and he was very sorry for it. He always meant to be a good boy, but some how wasn't. Usually it was because he went places he wasn't suppose to go. Like, for example, Podol. Papa had told Illya, "Don't let me catch you near Podol!" Illya decided that was excellent advice, so he made very sure Papa never caught him when he went to Podol.
No one could understand why Illya liked going to Podol, least of all Illya himself. It was a grim, cheerless place. A nasty smell hung over the whole district, mostly from the open holes used for sewage.
The sewage and garbage drew clouds of flies, and rodents ran in the street. Stray cats and dogs slunk around, hunting the rodents. Podol was the poorest district of Kiev, so, no surprise, it was where most of the city's Jews lived.
Mama and Papa didn't mind the Jews, of course. But they did object to the rest of the denizens of Podol; the pickpockets, tricksters, thieves and hustlers.
Pavla hated the place. He would. Pavla was a happy confident soul, who didn't belong in a gloomy, dreary place like Podol. "Only you," he remarked wryly to his little brother, "would find Podol fascinating."
Illya agreed with him, well aware that he was different. He tried, occasionally, to fit in with other children, but it never worked. Anyway, Uncle Vanya constantly told Illya he couldn't be anyone other than himself.
Illya decided this was good advice as well, since he truly had no clue how to change anyway. So Illya slid around Podol, spying on the petty criminals, and listening to the strange language the Jews spoke. Yiddish is what it was called.
Illya could already read and write both Russian and Ukrainian, and he was learning that other alphabet, the Roman Alphabet, that German and English were written in. Illya liked learning different languages, and enjoyed reading.
He should have enjoyed school, but he didn't. He wanted to. He had a beautiful brand new school that Stalin had built for him because Stalin loved him and all the other children in Kiev. Illya knew this because the teachers told him so.
"You should be grateful for this fine school," they said. "Stalin built it for you because he loves you and wants you to learn." So Illya dutifully tried to be grateful for the fine school. He just wished he could learn something in it.
Mama said to be patient, and he would learn things at school eventually. "It's because you learned to read before you started school," she said. "But the other children didn't learn to read early, so they still have to be taught."
So Illya tried to wait patiently for the other children to catch up with him. But, well, he kept learning, and staying ahead, so he was starting to suspect they never would catch up with him.
Another problem he had with school is he would learn a 'fact', and then a few months later, this 'fact' would no longer be a 'fact'. For instance, they would be taught what wonderful man Postyshev was, and how he was responsible for a national holiday.
Sadly, the children were later told that Postyshev was not only not a great man, but instead was an enemy of the people. The teachers made everyone rip out pages in their schoolbooks that had praised Postyshev. It always pained Illya to have to tear up a book.
This happened a lot. It was confusing to be told a formally great man was now an enemy of the people. The people seemed to have a lot of enemies. Illya quickly decided he liked the sciences better. He was never told the multiplication table had become an enemy of the people, or that the law of gravity was now a traitor.
Also, what he was told by the teachers often directly contradicted what he was told by Mama, Papa, Uncle Vanya and Grandmother. Like the great famine for instance. Everyone knew it had happened, but the teachers insisted it didn't.
Illya was certain it had, because all of Mama and Uncle Vanya's family had died during it. It was sheer good fortune that Mama and Uncle Vanya themselves escaped dying.
Along with going places he wasn't meant to go, Illya also listened in on conversations he wasn't meant to hear. But Illya liked listening to the grown-ups talk, especially Uncle Vanya. He had recently heard a troubling conversation between Papa and Uncle Vanya.
"But Vanya," protested Papa, "it would be madness to attack us. Why would Hitler do it?"
"You haven't read his book, have you?" returned Uncle Vanya.
"What book? You mean that book Hitler wrote? Of course not, I can't read German."
"Well, I can," said Uncle Vanya grimly. "and trust me, Hitler has nothing good planned for us."
"How could it be any worse than what Stalin has already done to us? Anyway, I think you're wrong. Stalin and Hitler have a pact, remember? Besides, Germany gets a lot of goods from us," argued Papa.
Uncle Vanya smiled wryly, "Hitler's played Stalin, just like he played Chamberlain. As for our goods, that's precisely the point. Why pay for our goods when Germany can just take them?"
"Hitler can't believe he would actually defeat us, can he?"
"Why not?" countered Uncle Vanya. "Germany's beaten everyone else."
"Not the English," argued Papa stubbornly. "He hasn't beaten the English, and for the same reason Napoleon couldn't beat them; you can't march an army across the English Channel.
"Hitler will lose against us for the same reason Napoleon did too. You might be able to march an army into Russia, but eventually you'll have to deal with the Russian winter.
"Germany will be no better prepared than the French were for dealing with 'General Winter'. And their supply lines will be stretched too far and be too exposed."
Uncle Vanya hesitated, "I think you're right. In the long run, Hitler can't hold us. But in the short term he'll do a lot of damage, and unfortunately, Kiev is right in the line of fire."
"Hitler wants the Caucasus," sighed Papa, gloomily.
Uncle Vanya nodded, "Nickolai, you must understand. Hitler really believes he's starting an empire that will last for a thousand years.
"He wants land for his people to live on and food for them to eat, but mostly he needs oil. All of that is available here."
"And again, how is that any worse than Stalin and the Bolsheviks? Maybe Hitler will do us a favor by freeing us from the Bolsheviks," said Papa.
"I wish that were true," sighed Uncle Vayna. "But hard as it is to believe, Hitler will be worst for us than Stalin. Stalin at least sees some value to us, Hitler doesn't.
"He plans to actively either kill or enslave anyone he sees as inferior, and that includes the Slavs and Soviet citizens. We're both."
"We have the larger army," protested Papa. "Our army is better armed than most of the others Germany's fought."
"Thanks to the purges, there's no leaders for our large army. Our army didn't look so good in Finland, did it? We won by sheer numbers."
"Alright, you've convinced me. But what can we do?" replied Papa. "Even if we tried to warn people, no one would listen to us. And we're hardly the ones who would ever lead our large army."
"Be thankful we're not officers in the army," smirked Uncle Vanya. "They have a very short life span under Stalin. It's far safer to be a foot soldier and not end up in front of a firing squad.
"I don't suppose," he continued, "there's any chance of moving the family east?"
"Where? And with what?" said Papa bitterly. "That would cost money, and you know there's none."
Uncle Vanya's shoulders slumped, "No, I know. Well, it was a thought. Maybe there's time before we're attacked to think of something."
"Well," said Papa, "we're not going to solve the problem this minute. I suggest we give it a rest."
All of this gave Illya a lot to think about. The thought of the purges made him shiver. They had happened several years ago, when Illya was quite young, but he still had vivid memories of the sheer terror he had felt.
Adults tended to talk in front of Illya; it was almost as if he were part of the furniture. And so Illya kept hearing the grown-ups whispering about thousands upon thousands of men simply disappearing, and their families sent off to labor camps.
Illya couldn't understand it. How could people disappear? What was a labor camp? It didn't sound good. Would Papa and Uncle Vanya disappear? Would he be sent to one of these labor camps?
When Papa realized his son was so anxious, he hastened to reassure him, "No, no little one. Uncle Vanya and I are simple factory workers. Factory workers aren't disappearing.
"It's great important men who are vanishing. Especially army officers."
"But why, Papa?" he questioned.
"Why do you think?" answered Papa bitterly. "We have a mad man running the country."
Then Papa looked worried, "Don't repeat that little one. Never say anything bad about Stalin to others."
"I won't," promised Illya solemnly, and Papa relaxed. He had long realized his youngest was both very good at keeping silent and keeping vows.
"But Papa," Illya persisted, "why army officers? I thought being in the army was a good thing."
Papa sighed, "It should be. But Stalin is afraid of the army. He thinks they will try to take over the country and get rid of him."
Papa shrugged, "Who knows? Maybe some have thought of it, but most of the officers are just trying to do a good job. Being an officer in the army is very dangerous right now. They say being anything above a major ..." Papa broke off here, seeming to suddenly realize he was talking to a young child.
"Well," he started again, "anything above a major vanishes."
Illya was quiet. He didn't want to confess to Papa he had overheard Uncle Vanya say being anything above a major was a death sentence. Illya wondered what a major was. It sounded well, major. Surely a major was important. What could be above a major? Generals of course. Illya knew generals were at the top, but what else?
"Are the generals disappearing?" he asked, worried.
"There's hardly any generals left, or colonels either. The army is totally demoralized. The officers that are left are terrified.
"If an enemy would realize how bad things are and attack us, who knows if our army could even fight? An army needs leaders, and there are none," said Papa darkly.
Illya now knew that the generals and colonels hadn't simply vanished into thin air, but had disappeared into unmarked graves. If the rumors were true, conditions at the labor camps had been so harsh that most of their families had joined them.
Illya figured the purges had probably happened two or three years ago. Did the army have enough officers now? If Germany did attack, would the Red Army be able to fight?
Like everyone else, Illya was aware that Germany seemed to be defeating everybody, and like most people in Kiev, he hadn't much cared. Let Germany take over Western Europe if it wanted to. They were all snobs anyway.
Almost everyone in the Soviet Union had been positively gleeful when France fell so quickly.
No one liked Stalin of course, but Illya had thought it quite clever of him to make a pact with Hitler. But Uncle Vanya didn't seem to be impressed, and Uncle Vanya was usually right. Just as he had been right about leaving farming.
Mama and Uncle Vanya had been born and raised as peasants, committed to farming. But after the 1928 famine, Uncle Vanya had decided he had enough. It was obvious the Bolsheviks were determined to force collective farming down their throats, and he wanted nothing to do with that.
So Vanya decided to look for a factory job in the nearest large city, Kiev. There he managed to find a tiny house, hardly more than a shack, to buy in the Kurenyovka district, and he was befriended by his nearest neighbor; Nickolai Kuryakin.
Nickolai lived in a larger home with his widowed mother, his young wife, and newborn son.
At first, Lelya, Nickolai's mother, hadn't been too impressed with her son's new friend. Slight, fair, and frail looking, she had thought Vanya an odd choice for her strong, handsome son to befriend.
But she soon discovered Vanya's looks were deceiving, and he was not only much stronger than he appeared, but he had a keen mind and a fierce spirit.
Vanya, for his part, soon realized that Lelya was a tough, no-nonsense woman with a generous heart, and the two of them became friends themselves.
Although the two of them never talked about it, even to each other, they knew themselves to be united in disliking Nadia, Nickolai's wife.
It was immediately obvious to everyone why Nickolai had fallen for Nadia. She was, in a word, beautiful. Sadly, behind that beautiful face was a shallow, petty mind. But Nickolai remained stubbornly loyal to her, so both Vanya and Lelya tried to accept her.
It was shortly after Nadia gave birth to a second child, a baby girl named Yuliya, that a series of events occurred that changed everything.
First, Vanya's younger sister, Tanaya, decided that farming wasn't for her either, and joined her brother in Kiev.
Tanaya, like her brother, was slight, fair, and rather pretty. As looks went, Nadia was much prettier, but Tanaya was more intelligent and charming.
She was rather smitten with her brother's handsome new friend, and Nickolai was eyeing her back. Vanya and Lelya could only watch helplessly, and try to constantly remind the pair, both directly and indirectly, that Nickolai was married.
Then fate unexpectedly took a hand, and Nadia met a high ranking member of the Bolshevik Party, who wasn't the least interested in either getting married or raising another man's children, but was very interested in setting up a beautiful mistress.
Nadia quickly decided she preferred that role over playing house with a poor man, and so divorced her husband, abandoned her children, and moved to Moscow.
Events took their natural course after that, and it was simply a matter of time before Nickolai and Tanaya were married and Nickolai fathered a third child, Illya.
All three children called Tanaya 'mama', and indeed, Yuliya had no memory what-so-ever of her birth mother. Physically, she was the exact replica of Nadia, and Pavla was tall and darkly handsome like his father.
Illya, on the other hand, had the same slight, fair good looks of his mother and uncle.
The family was not rich, but Mama managed to get a cow, and Vanya had a couple of good hens. Between the money the adults earned working at one of Kiev's many factories, the milk from the cow, and the eggs from the chickens, they did fairly well for themselves.
As it turned out, leaving farming saved both Vanya and Tanaya's lives. The 1928 famine was followed by a much worst famine, that was actually mass murder disguised as a famine designed to force the peasants into collective farming, just as Vanya had thought.
This second famine took the lives of the rest of Vanya and Tanaya's family, and the surviving siblings clung tighter than ever together.
Illya paused to wipe his sweaty hands on his shirt, then grabbed the shovel again. He was helping Pavla dig a trench. The government said they had to dig a trench to protect themselves from shells and bombs.
Uncle Vanya was right, and on June the 22nd Germany, Italy and Rumania had declared war on his country. Germany had also invaded the Soviet Union, and then Finland declared war on the USSR, followed by Hungary.
The news they had received from the west had been dismal. Brest and Minsk had both fallen almost immediately. No one knew what to do.
At first, everyone had waited for Stalin to say something, to say anything. But he didn't. Grandmother cursed him under her breath, "Drat the man. He talks enough when no one wants to hear him, but now all we get is silence."
It confused Illya, until he finally asked Papa, "But we don't like Stalin, do we? Why is everyone so anxious to hear him?"
"No, we don't like Stalin," agreed Papa. "But right now we need a leader, and Stalin is the only leader we have, so Stalin we must have."
Stalin finally did speak, and Illya remembered that speech for the rest of his life. He was never certain if as a child he actually registered how different Stalin sounded, or if he was simply recognizing the reactions of the adults he was with.
Stalin sounded hesitant, and he addressed everyone as brothers and sisters. At the end, he beseeched people to fight for Mother Russia.
Grandmother, turning off the radio repeated in surprise, "Fight for Mother Russia? Who does Stalin think he is? The little father? Have we a tsar again?"
Mama wasn't paying any attention to Grandmother, but instead was looking at Papa and Uncle Vanya in fear, and shouted, "No!"
"We have to," responded Uncle Vanya.
Papa, shaking his head, asked, "Do you think we will be given a choice, woman?"
Pavla, white-faced, jumped to his feet, "You're not serious! You can't mean to fight for the Bolsheviks!"
Uncle Vanya looked at him, "We're not. We fighting against the Germans."
Pavla, tight-lipped and furious, spat out, "It's the same thing."
"Pavla!" exclaimed Papa, shocked. "If this is the way you dare to talk to us, I have been far too lenient!"
Pavla's face went scarlet, and he forced out a muttered, "Sorry."
Yuliya eyes anxiously flickered back and forth between Pavla and Papa, "I don't understand. Papa, are you going to fight the Germans?"
Papa's face softened as he looked at his daughter, "Yes child. Vanya and I have to. We'll be alright."
Predictably, Yuliya burst into tears, and Illya sighed. He loved his sister, she was sweet and kindhearted, but she was also rather bird-witted and somewhat tiresome.
Furthermore, he wasn't at all convinced Papa and Uncle Vanya would be alright. The Germans seemed invincible.
In any case, Papa was right that he and Uncle Vanya didn't really have a choice. Shortly after Stalin's speech all sorts of party members swept through Kiev.
Some of them were gathering up all able-bodied men to fight in the army. Both Papa and Uncle Vanya were considered able-bodied men.
Uncle Vanya took Illya over to his small house the night before they left, and handed Illya a key to his house, "Here, I'm giving this to you to look after my stuff while I'm gone."
He gestured to his overflowing bookshelves, "Read the books. Most of them are science books, and I think you'll like them."
Uncle Vanya handed Illya a book, "I don't think you'll like this book, but read it anyway. I know you can't read German yet, but I have a feeling you'll be able to soon."
Illya looked at the book, it was 'Mein Kampf''.
"It is good to know your enemies Illya, and Hitler is very much our enemy, whatever Pavla might want to believe. Don't trust the Germans," warned Uncle Vanya.
"I won't," promised Illya. "I'll take care of your home."
"That includes my hens," smiled Uncle Vanya.
The hens squawked and pecked at Illya when he collected their eggs, but he nodded anyway.
"Will you and Papa be able to stay together? Where will you go?"
"That's not for us to decide. We'll both write you when we can," Uncle Vanya hesitated a moment, then twisted off his wedding ring. "I want you to hang on to this as well."
Illya knew his uncle had been briefly married, but his wife had died. It was one of those things that wasn't talked about.
Illya carefully took the ring, "I'll give it back to you when you return," he promised.
Early the next morning the family gathered to say goodbye. Pavla was stone faced, while Mama, Grandmother and Yuliya predictably cried. Illya just tried to be brave, but he didn't feel brave.
While the men in Kiev were being forced into the army, other party members were examining all the factories, and deciding what equipment should be stripped from the factories and sent east. They were also deciding who would be needed to operate this equipment.
Almost whole factories were disassembled, loaded onto railroad cars, and shipped off. People who were considered vital to running that equipment were also shipped east. Sadly, this did not include the Kuryakin family.
The Red Army also came, but Papa and Uncle Vanya were not with this army. Stalin vowed to hold Kiev, and the army was there to keep that vow. In the meantime, the public was instructed to dig trenches to protect themselves from shells and bombs.
The Germans steadfastly moved east. Odessa was under siege, and Leningrad was being advanced on. Worse, Kiev was already being shelled and bombed, which was why Illya and Pavla were working hard at finishing their trench.
Illya hoped they could finish it today, because he was tired of crawling under the bed every time Kiev was attacked. Yuliya insisted on it, and when Illya tried to point out that any shell they could come through the roof could surely go through a bed, his sister had started crying.
So to keep his sister happy, Illya crawled under the bed, all the while thinking if he had to get killed by a bomb, he would far rather die comfortable in bed rather than cramped underneath it.
Pavla, being older, and thus bigger and stronger, was doing the lion's share of the work, but Illya was doggedly digging himself.
Pavla encouraged Illya, "We're almost done. Probably it will only take about another hour." It took two, but they did finally finish. And a good thing too since the fighting was intensifying.
They quickly developed a routine for rushing into the trench when they heard shooting and dive bombers; Illya would climb down the ladder first, and catch the pillows and blankets Mama and Grandmother threw down.
Then with Pavla at the top of the ladder, and Illya at the bottom, they would help the women climb down, and finally Pavla would scramble down last. Everyone would make themselves as comfortable as possible while they waited for the thunder of the fighting to stop.
But the fighting went on for days. Air raid sirens wailed, cannons roared, and shells exploded. The night sky was brightly lit with the flashes of the explosions. The family learned to sleep nestled on piles of blankets down in their trench.
And somebody, somewhere, made the decision for the Red Army to leave Kiev. Illya, along with everyone else, watched in despair as the soldiers, most of them dressed in faded, ragged uniforms, ran away from Kiev, and abandoned the city to it's fate.
There was a strange silence that seemed even more ominous than the clash of the battle. Illya, along with the rest of his family ran to hide in their trench. There they huddled, scarcely daring to breathe.
Finally they heard some distant shouting. The family strained their ears to hear what was happening, and the shouting got nearer and clearer: "Come out! Come out! They're here! The Germans are here! Come out!"
Illya and Pavla looked at each other blankly, then quickly scrambled for the ladder. Illya, being quicker and more agile got there first, but Pavla simply grabbed him and pushed Illya aside to go up the ladder before him, ignoring his little brother's indignant protests.
"Wait!" called Mama, "where are you going?"
"To see the Germans" they yelled back as they rushed away.
Grandmother threw up her hands, "All this fuss about seeing some Germans. I've seen Germans before. They're nothing special."
Yuliya was watching her brothers scamper off wistfully, but was too obedient to follow.
"Oh, go ahead," sighed Mama. Then she looked at her mother-in-law. "I suppose we might as well go too, everyone else will."
Indeed, all of Kiev was turning out to welcome the Germans. Kirillovskaya was teaming with people and vehicles. Illya had never seen so many different kinds of vehicles. There were all sorts of trucks,cars, and motorcycles, along with wagons and cannons being pulled by magnificent horses.
Looking at all of this, Illya's heart sank. The Red Army was mostly on foot, had few vehicles, and their horses looked tiny in comparison with the German horses. No wonder the Red Army was doing so badly.
He worried about Papa and Uncle Vanya having to fight against such a well armed force. They had received only a few letters from them, and the last had come several weeks ago.
Pavla, on the other hand, was practically dancing with excitement and joy.
"Look at them!" he urged his younger brother. "Aren't they fantastic? No wonder they're beating everyone!"
"Pavla!" exclaimed Illya. "Papa and Uncle Vanya are fighting against this army!"
Pavla's face darkened, "I can't help that they're fools. Hopefully they'll realize the truth, desert and come home soon."
Illya looked at his brother in shock. He couldn't imagine Papa and Uncle Vanya being deserters.
Pavla gestured to the Germans, "Do they really imagine they can win against them?"
Illya looked at the Germans again, only this time paying attention to the soldiers. They were clean shaven, well dressed, and relaxed. Most of them were smiling and waving at everyone. They seemed friendly, Illya thought hopefully. Maybe they won't be so bad.
Pavla wanted to stay and watch, but Illya,Yuliya, Mama and Grandmother were exhausted, and decided to go home. When they got there, they were surprised to find German soldiers in their yard. They were taking away Mama's cow and Uncle Vanya's hens.
Illya started to protest, but Grandmother put her hands on his shoulders and whispered in his ear, "No, little one. To the victor go the spoils, and we are defeated." So Illya watched in glum silence as the Germans claimed the cow and chickens.
Illya was still sulking over the loss of their livestock, when Pavla came home laden with all sorts of food. He had at least a dozen tins, some fresh vegetables, and even a tiny bit of meat. Illya promptly forgot about the cow and chickens, while the family gathered around and examined Pavla's haul in awe.
"How did you get all this?" gasped Mama.
"From the stores, of course," answered Pavla. "Everyone was taking it."
"You mean you stole it?" exclaimed Illya.
Pavla frowned, "I didn't steal it! Everyone was taking it!"
"It's called looting," scolded Mama, "and it is stealing."
"Never mind," soothed Grandmother, "what's done is done. We might as well eat this. But Pavla, don't take anything else."
Pavla sulked, and muttered, "Everyone was doing it."
"Let's put the tins up for later," said Mama, "we need to eat the fresh food first."
Lelya and Tanaya, strangely enough, were very close. Few mother and daughters were as close as the two had become.
Looks wise, they were polar opposites. Leyla, like her son, was tall and dark. While she wasn't fat, she was rather big for a woman.
Tanaya, on the other hand, was so dainty and fair she was almost ethereal. She seemed to gracefully float, rather than walk.
The women had united, first, on their mutual agreement that Nickolai Kuryakin was a remarkable man.
But more to the point, both were hard headed women with a practical, down-to-earth view on life, and neither cared over much for the domestic arts.
They took turns preparing meals that could best be described as adequate. They quickly established a rule that anyone who complained about a meal had to fix the next meal.
Illya, along with everyone else, had learned to simply eat whatever was set in front of him.
No one had any cause to complain about the meal the women prepared together for their first night under German occupation. In the years to come, Illya often looked back fondly on that fine feast they enjoyed that night.
KIEV IN THE HANDS OF GERMAN TROOPS
screamed the headlines of the next day's paper.
Illya had claimed one of the newspapers when he went out to investigate what was happening in the city the day after the Germans came. Kirillovskaya was a mess. There was broken glass everywhere from all the looting.
The current to the tramcars had been turned off, so they were sitting all over the lines abandoned. People had already started to vandalize the cars.
The Germans had also put up posters, covering the old ones the Bolsheviks had put up. The pictures on the posters were happy ones, showing Ukrainians in traditional garb doing farm things. Well, Illya's family had had a cow and some hens, but they weren't farmers. Did the Germans imagine all Ukrainians were?
Then Illya read something on one of the posters that shocked him; 'Jews, Poles and Russians are the bitterest enemies of the Ukraine!' There were a lot of Jews in Kiev, as well as Poles. They had never caused problems. And Illya himself was half Russian.
It was then that Illya grabbed a newspaper and took it home to read. He had just finished when Mama told him the water was not running, and gave him a bucket to go collect some from the river.
The Dnieper was very swift, and made Illya nervous, so he decided to collect water from Babi Yar instead.
On the right bank of the Dnieper were numerous ravines. These ravines had been incorporated into the city, and some had even become streets.
Perhaps the best ravine of all was Babi Yar. Deep and wide, the ravine was immense. It was situated between Kurenyovka, where Illya lived, and the neighboring districts of Lukyanovka and Syrets. Children from all three districts claimed Babi Yar as their playground.
At the bottom of the ravine, a cool, clear stream flowed over sand, and the children splashed and swam there during the summer. Illya wasn't the only one getting water. People were swarming all over Babi Yar with bowls and pails, collecting water. How inconvenient. Illya hoped the mains would be back on soon.
After he had taken the water home, he went to the Kreshchatik, the heart of Kiev. Evidently the Germans had decided they liked it there, since there were so many officers marching around. Red German flags were hanging over the buildings. Illya didn't think they looked much different from the red Soviet flags.
Illya saw a crowd of people standing and reading an announcement, and he wiggled his way in to see what it said. It was the first orders issued by the German Commandant, and after he read it, Illya thought he would faint from fear.
It said all objects that had been looted must be returned immediately, and anyone caught keeping looted items would be shot. Illya raced home as fast as he could to tell the family about the announcement.
Everyone stood around in a circle, staring at each other in terror.
Naturally enough, Yuliya started crying. "The Germans are going to kill Pavla," she wailed.
"Hush child!" scolded Grandmother. "Of course the Germans aren't going to kill Pavla."
"But what we will we do?" fretted Mama. "We can return the tins, but we've eaten the fresh food."
Before he could think better of it, Illya quipped, "Maybe the Germans want our poop."
There was a moments shocked silence, then everyone started giggling.
"We need to relax," advised Grandmother. "The Germans are trying to scare us. They can't know who took what. We're more likely to get caught trying to return the tins than if we just keep them."
For the next few days Pavla scarcely dared to leave the house, and both Illya and Yuliya kept a constant lookout for German soldiers. But as Grandmother had predicted, nothing happened.
After five days, Illya breathed a sigh of relief, and decided since Pavla hadn't been arrested everything was now okay. He had no clue things were about to get much worse.
The Kreshchatik was by far the most important district in Kiev. The Bolsheviks had liked it, and the Germans seemed equally fond of it. The German staff was housed in the vast Continental Hotel, and they occupied most of the buildings.
There were generators and tankers with water set up on the pavements, and Illya, along with the rest of Kiev, hung around to watch the Germans. Some more enterprising citizens had set up food wagons and small stalls. There was almost a festive atmosphere.
Illya watched all of this for a long time, but finally got bored, and decided to head for home. If he had waited a few more minutes, he would have witnessed the first explosion. It happened at precisely 4:00 pm.
Illya was only a street away, and the force of the explosion drove him to his knees. The windows in the nearby building shattered, raining broken glass down on Illya.
He was cut, but luckily, not seriously. Bewildered, Illya searched the skies, thinking a plane must surely have bombed them. But there no planes to be seen. Illya climbed slowly to his feet and swung his head around, trying to figure out what had happened.
He realized the explosion seemed to have come from the old Children's World shop, which the Germans had made into their headquarters. He made his way back there, fighting against people who were racing around in panic.
The German's headquarters was in flames, and black smoke billowed through the air. The Germans cordoned off the building, and arrested anyone nearby. Illya was afraid he would be arrested, but once again he seemed to be invisible.
The people who were arrested were forced into the nearby cinema, and then a second explosion shook the German headquarters, before it completely collapsed. After a third explosion people poured out of the cinema screaming "Run! Run! It's been booby-trapped!"
People were scrambling around mindlessly in alarm, and Illya found a convenient nook to settle down and watch the show. People were wailing how horrible it was, and part of Illya agreed. But another part of him thought it was the most exciting thing he had ever seen.
Who had set the booby-traps, where they had set them, and how they were detonated didn't, at the time, enter Illya's head. He was content simply to watch the satisfying results.
Eventually he realized it was getting rather late, and he should have been home long ago. Reluctantly, he forced himself away, and trotted home. When he got to his street, he saw Mama running toward him.
"Illya! Where have you been? I've been worried sick!"
"I'm sorry, Mama," he stammered. "I lost track of time. The Kreshchatik has been booby-trapped! The Children's World building completely collapsed!"
Mama sighed, "Don't you think I know? Everyone's talking about it. I was terrified you had been caught in an explosion and been hurt.
"What were the Bolsheviks thinking, mining the Kreshchatik?"
Illya gasped, "The Bolsheviks did this?"
"Or the Red Army," Mama shrugged. "Who else?"
"But how?" Illya breathed. "The Germans have taken over the Kreshchatik."
"Obviously, they placed the mines before they left," said Mama impatiently. "Now, let's go home."
Illya was lost in his own thoughts, and barely aware of his mother. She was right, the mines must have been placed before the Red Army retreated. But they would need some way to detonate them. Why hadn't he thought of this earlier and paid more attention?
"I have to go back!" he announced, twisting away from her.
"What do you mean go back? You're not going anywhere but straight home young man!"
But Illya was already racing back the way he had came, and ignored his mother. He winced, realizing he would probably be severely punished for this act of disobedience, but Illya decided it would be worth it to satisfy his curiosity.
The Kreshchatik district was in flames when he got back, and he could still hear bombs exploding. The Germans were trying to get things organized, and Illya impatiently wiggled his way through the crowd, hoping to see something.
He didn't want to see what he did see though. Bodies. The Germans were recovering the bodies of those killed, and had them laid out. It was a grisly sight, as many of the bodies were burned and dismembered.
Illya stopped abruptly, and fell back, staring in horror. Then he turned and run straight back home, to Mama and comfort.
Once again Illya met Mama on the street before he got home, and forgetting she was probably furious with him, Illya ran straight into her arms, clutching her and crying.
After a moment, Mama hugged him back, "Illya! What's wrong? What happened? Are you hurt?"
He could only shake his head wordlessly, so Mama started guiding him, one arm still around his shoulder, "Hush. It's alright. You're safe. Calm down."
Illya expected to go home, but instead Mama took him to Uncle Vanya's house.
They sat side by side on the bed, while Illya composed himself.
"Now," said Mama, "tell me what happened to upset you."
Illya shuddered, "There were bodies, Mama."
"Of course there were bodies. You didn't think people would be killed by these bombs?"
Illya hung his head, feeling ashamed, "I didn't think about that. I was just fascinated with the explosions, and wondering how they were done."
Mama sighed, "I know. You're just like your Uncle Vanya you know. You get so caught up in how things work that you forget how it effects people.
"You're very smart Illya. But don't get so lost in your head that you neglect your heart."
Illya blinked owlishly at his mother, "You think I'm smart?"
Mama laughed shortly, "Oh Illya, that brain of yours devours knowledge as eagerly as that stomach of yours devours food.
"Speaking of food, you missed supper. You must be getting hungry."
"I am," Illya admitted. Then remembering, he added, "I'm sorry I disobeyed you Mama."
"I'll let it go this time. These are strange days."
The explosions continued all through the night, and for the next several days. The Red Army had left behind a large arsenal, and when the fire got to it, that added to the destruction. The center of Kiev became a huge bonfire.
The Germans brought in hoses that they laid all the way to the river, intending to pump water to combat the blaze, but saboteurs slashed the hoses. In the end, the Kheshchatik was simply blocked off and allowed to burn. It took two weeks to reduce the heart of Kiev to smoldering ash.
Of course there were rumors flying around all over the city. There were tales of vast, underground tunnels under Kiev, and people nervously said all of Kiev would eventually be blown up.
The Bolsheviks came out with a statement blaming the Germans for destroying the beautiful, ancient buildings of Kiev.
The Germans, of course, had their own theory; they blamed the Jews. There were new rumors that the Jews were to be deported from Kiev.
A notice was posted all over the city that all Jews were to report to the intersection of Melnikovsky and Dokhturov Streets by 8:00am, September the 29th, and any Jew failing to do this would be shot.
On the 29th, Illya was up bright and early to see the Jews leaving the city. Uncle Vanya had once told him there were over thirty thousand Jews living in Kiev, and that morning Illya believed it. There seemed to be twice that number milling all around Podol.
Of course, it wasn't just the Jews. A lot of people besides Illya came to watch the Jews forced from the city. Some were jeering and mocking them, although Illya couldn't understand why. The Jews had always been nice enough to him.
The streets were a sea of people as the Jews of Kiev moved slowly to their destination. Everyone had a theory as to where the Germans would take them. Some were claiming the Jews were being sent to Berlin, while others insisted they were going to Palestine.
Illya followed along, trying to puzzle it out. Even if some Jews had bombed the Kreshchatik, surely all the Jews couldn't be guilty. What were the Germans planning?
A barrier had been put up near where the Jews were to report, and people were being let in, but no one was being let back out. Afraid of getting swept past the barrier in the crowd, Illya squirmed his way out of the crowd. For some reason he felt uneasy.
Illya's instincts were screaming at him that something was wrong, but he didn't know why. Not liking this, he headed for home.
As he got near home Illya started hearing a tat-tat-tat sound. Machine gun fire! Illya peered around, wondering wildly if the Red Army had returned. But no, the sound was too measured and spaced out to be fighting. It was more like practice shooting.
Growing even more alarmed, Illya hurried his steps. He saw Mama, Grandmother, Pavla and Yuliya standing outside talking to some neighbors.
Yuliya spotted him, and rushed toward Illya. Illya saw with resignation she was crying.
"Illya! They're killing them! They're killing them!"
"Stop talking in riddles," complained Illya. "Who's killing whom?"
"The Jews!" Yuliya exclaimed. "The Germans are killing the Jews!"
Illya stared at her in disbelief for a moment, and finally said, "Don't be ridiculous."
"I'm not!" insisted his sister, crossly. "Can't you hear it? They're shooting the Jews at Babi Yar!"
Both children flinched when there was another burst of machine gun fire. Illya's heart dropped. He couldn't believe this was happening.
Yuliya turned and pointed to a man talking to large group of their neighbors, "That guy climbed a tree where he could see into Babi Yar. He told us he saw the Germans shooting the Jews."
Illya knew the group of trees where the man must have climbed. He instantly sprinted off to climb one of the trees for himself.
He had always been agile as a cat, and had never feared heights. It was a good thing too, as Illya had to climb very high to see into Babi Yar.
The Germans had built a bonfire, and some soldiers were standing around it drinking coffee. Behind them was what looked like a hastily constructed gap in a dirt wall. Illya couldn't see what was beyond the wall.
Some other Germans were forcing a small group of Jews through the gap. The Jews were naked, and bloody and bruised. They looked as if they had already been badly beaten.
There were two women, one obviously older than the other. Illya guessed them to be mother and daughter. There were also two children, a boy about five and a girl who couldn't have been more than three.
What could these poor people have to do with the booby-traps? Especially the children. The Germans wouldn't really kill them, would they?
The Jews were made to line up along a narrow ledge, and then there was the tat-tat-tat of machine gun fire. Illya had never seen anyone shot before. The bodies jerked and fell, as blood spattered from the wounds.
Illya never remembered getting down from that tree. His next conscious thought was awareness that he was crouching on all fours in the dirt. He could hear an animal wailing in pain. It took awhile for him to recognize he was the animal.
Taking deep breaths, Illya managed to quiet himself, then realized his hands were burning in pain. When he looked at his palms, they were scrapped raw and bleeding. He must have half slid down the tree.
Yuliya was rubbing his back, "Oh Illya, are you alright?"
He looked at her bleakly, "You were right."
Yuliya helped her brother back to the house, where Mama and Grandmother fussed over his hands. Everyone could hear the constant tat-tat-tats the whole time.
No one knew what to do. People wandered around restlessly, staring in the direction of Babi Yar. The machine gun fire finally stopped when it got dark, and started again the next day at first light.
They're really going to do it, thought Illya. The Germans are actually going to shot over thirty thousand Jews in cold blood.
Illya thought he would be haunted by the sound of machine gun fire for the rest of his life. He felt he would never escape the sound of the tat-tat-tats.
As horrible as it was, and as guilty as it made him feel, Illya wished the Germans could just kill the Jews all at once, so he would no longer have to listen to the tat-tat-tats. It just seemed to take such a long time to shoot over thirty thousand Jews.
But when the Germans had finally managed to kill all the Jews, the tat-tat-tats continued. It was the Gypsies turn.
German Shepherd dogs were used to hunt down the poor clueless Gypsies, who had no idea what was going to happen to them at Babi Yar.
Illya, along with the rest of the children of Kiev started singing a tell-tell little chant: 'The Jews are done for and so are the Gypsies. Next on the list are the Ukes.'
And the Germans, did, indeed, start coming for the Ukrainians. And it dawned on Illya, the tat-tat-tats would never end as long as Kiev was in German hands. Unless, of course, they managed to murder everyone. Maybe that was their plan.
It had been over a month since the destruction of the Kreshchatik, and everyone, including the Germans, assumed there were no more booby-traps. Everyone assumed wrong.
On the highest point in Kiev stood the ancient Kiev-Pechersk Monastery. Of course, the Bolsheviks had chased the monks out, and closed the cathedral. They had made the many buildings of the monastery into museums.
The Red Army had liked the monastery very well because it was like a fortress. The Germans like it for the same reason. Early in November, a series of explosions rocked the monastery, and destroyed the majestic buildings.
By then, all the Jews had been murdered, so they couldn't be blamed. In retaliation, the Germans came down even harder on the citizens of Kiev.
A dizzying amount of new rules were established by the Germans, and enforced on the residents of Kiev. It seemed to Illya, that every time he turned around, a new order had been posted. A strict curfew was announced, and anyone caught out after hours was shot and left lying on the street.
Non residents of Kiev had to have special permission to stay in the city. Any non resident caught in the city was shot.
Anyone caught with pigeons in the city was executed.
It was forbidden to use felt boots, and anyone caught with them was shot.
Hitler announced that Ukrainians were expected to help Germany fight Bolshevism to create a better Europe. But since there was so much sabotage in Kiev, a large number of residents would be executed.
The residents who were executed were seized at random in different amounts. Three hundred one day, four hundred another day, a hundred a third day; anyone in Kiev was subject to being swept up and marched off to Babi Yar.
To be in the wrong place at the wrong time meant being taken to Babi Yar. And that's what happened to Tanaya Kuryakin.
When his mother was taken, Illya went back to the tree he had climbed before to see into Babi Yar, but there were only stumps. The Germans didn't like witnesses, so they had cut the trees down.
None-the-less, Illya crouched beside the tree stump, telling himself he would know the tat-tat-tat that claimed his mother's life, but he didn't. Still, when the machine gun fire finally stopped, he some how knew she was gone.
Grief is a curious thing. Everyone mourns in their own way, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Illya, Pavla, Yuliya and grandmother all mourned differently. They also all recognized that their grief wasn't for Tanaya alone; it had been far too long since they had any letters from either Nickolai or Vanya. They no longer expected any.
The Germans had lists of everyone over eleven, and assigned them work. Pavla and Yuliya were both sent to work. They had to work long shifts, but were given food. Both of them were so exhausted from work they had little energy left to grieve.
Grandmother was too old to be assigned work, and she threw herself into running the household. She spent much of her time checking all the scarce food available, and planning meager meals.
As for Illya, it was his nature to retreat into himself whenever he was in any sort of pain. He endured being fussed over, rather than enjoyed it. Illya far preferred to lick his wounds in private.
So early each morning, he left the house and simply walked. He rambled around the outskirts of Kiev, avoiding all people, but especially the Germans.
For one of the few times in his life, excepting when he was ill, Illya had no appetite. There was a giant hole in the middle of his chess, and a lump of lead below that. How could any food get past? He struggled to drink even water.
Illya was vaguely aware that his family, especially Grandmother, was alarmed over his behavior, but he was too self-absorbed in his own pain to care much.
He might have continued walking forever if winter hadn't come. But winter did come, and the bitter cold penetrated even Illya's grief. So instead of wandering all over Kiev, he wandered all over Uncle Vanya's house.
Eventually, Illya was so tired that he sat down, opened one of Uncle Vanya's science books, and got so engrossed that he forgot to grieve.
The book happened to be on physics, and Illya was immediately entranced. Physics! Why, physics was...everything! The world, the solar system, the very universe existed because of physics. Life couldn't exist without physics!
Every day Illya was rush to Uncle Vanya's house to read more books on science, especially physics. Grandmother would slide inside, and quietly place a plate with some food nearby, and without thinking about it, Illya would eat it while intently reading. The pain was still there, but it was a little less ...intense.
One book Illya didn't read was 'Mein Kampf'. His German still wasn't good enough, although he was rapidly becoming more proficient. It wasn't just constantly hearing the language, but every time the Germans posted something (and they posted a lot), it was always posted in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian, and German.
In the following months Illya often wished he still had no appetite, but sadly, he did. And he became obsessed with food. Everyone did. They had to because there was so little of it.
The household was allowed one loaf of bread a week. Grandmother would slice it in paper thin pieces to make sure everybody had one slice per day. Illya quickly learned to eat his slice slowly, making it last as long as possible. You could never cheat and eat two slices in one day, or you would have none for the next day.
There were chestnut trees near their home, and Illya would scour the ground looking for chestnuts. He would dig in the ground, searching for potatoes, and crow with delight when he found one.
Nothing of the potatoes were wasted, they ate them skin and all. Still, there simply was not enough food. They examined all their belongings for anything they could sell, but nobody wanted to buy anything except food themselves.
Then the Germans announced they would give a bowl of soup every day to children under fourteen. Relieved, Illya and his sister walked together every day to get their soup. It was watery, and not very good, but it was food. Sadly, at fifteen, Pavla was too old.
Food was not the only thing in scarce supply; people were also scrambling for fuel. The electricity remained off, and everyone had turned to paraffin lamps for light. But now no one could get paraffin.
The citizens of Kiev started looking for things to burn to cook, to keep warm, and to have artificial light. Illya learned that long splinters of wood served as a sort of candle. He would make a fresh bundle every evening for everyone to see by.
The Germans announced that Ukrainians could only attend school until they were eleven, so Pavla and Yuliya's educations were over. Illya, however, was expected to go school when it was reopened.
But the very fine school Stalin had built for the children of Kiev because he loved them was no longer a very fine school. The Germans turned the building into stables for their horses, and the school grounds had been made into a very grotesque and disgusting latrine.
The soldiers simply dug a long trench, and put beams along the trench. To Illya's amazement, there were constantly rows of German soldiers, their bare bottoms in plain view, sitting on the beams relieving themselves.
Unable to resist such tempting targets, Illya hunted down his old slingshot, practiced with it, then grabbing some handy missiles, went back to the latrine. He waited until he could get one of the Germans at just the right moment, and took aim. Bull's-eye!
Illya grinned as the soldier jumped to his feet, yelling and dirtying himself. Illya prudently took to his heels; the Germans had no sense of humor. It was a lot of fun, but it would have been more fun if Illya could have shared this with someone.
Illya wished, not for the first time, he had a friend. But he always had difficulty making friends. Illya knew he had no natural charm, and would never be a leader.
On the other hand, Illya wasn't truly a follower either. He was too smart and independent to blindly follow anyone.
When he was younger, Illya had faithfully tagged behind Pavla, but he no longer trusted his brother's judgment and instincts. Pavla recognized this, and resented losing his little brother's unquestioning adoration.
Illya realized how Pavla felt, but he couldn't help it. He needed to have faith in someone to go where they led, and he now trusted himself more than he trusted Pavla.
There was no question of school starting until the weather got warmer, as there was no fuel to heat a school. Then, the Germans evidently decided the very fine school that Stalin built was a pretty good school after all, and they might as well use it as a school.
They filled in the latrine, and cleaned out the stables to make it into a school again. Illya couldn't help but think they had wasted a lot of time and effort. If they had just kept the very fine school a school, the Germans would have saved themselves a lot of work.
The school was finally ready for students again, and Illya was back in school. The education the Germans offered was even worse than the Bolsheviks.
The only thing Illya learned that was of any use was the German language. But since he was already well on his way to learning it on his own, it was of limited value.
The Germans didn't seem to think the Ukrainians needed much education. The lessons were insultingly simplified. They were often reduced to singing babyish songs. Illya indignantly refused to sing these songs.
The teachers constantly lectured the children that their primary objection should be to learn to work hard. They were told to use the Germans as their guide and model.
Illya wasn't certain if the rest of his classmates understood what the teachers were saying, but he did. It was a waste of time to educate slaves. He was meant to be a slave, and thus only needed an extremely basic education.
Sitting at the back of the classroom, Illya always quickly got any assignments done, and spent the rest of his time finally doing what Uncle Vanya had told him to do almost a year earlier. He started reading 'Mein Kampf'. The more he read, the less and less he trusted the Germans.
Pavla, on the other hand, trusted the Germans so much he was going to go to Berlin. All over Kiev posters had been put up urging people to sign up to go to Berlin.
The posters accused the Bolsheviks of depriving Ukrainians the means to support themselves, but assured everyone that Germany was eager to offer good jobs that paid well.
Special trains were leaving for Berlin with the volunteers, and extra food was promised for the travelers. Pavla was one of the first volunteers.
Yuliya was openly jealous. "Wait until I'm old enough," she pleaded, "and we'll go together."
Pavla looked uncomfortable, "No, I'll go first, so I can find us a good place to live. Eventually, the whole family will live there!"
Illya knew Pavla saw himself with lots of money, and pretty girls to spend the money on. He didn't want his little sister around to spoil the fun.
But Pavla probably did think at some point he would arrange for everyone to move to Berlin. However, Illya had no desire to go to Berlin and said so.
Pavla's face darkened, "Why would you want to stay here in Kiev?"
"Illya!" exclaimed Yuliya. "You can't stay here alone! Of course you'll come to Berlin with us."
Illya replied flatly, "I have no desire to live amongst the people who murdered our mother. In any case, Uncle Vanya warned not to trust the Germans."
"Your mother!" shouted Pavla, angerly. "Your Uncle Vanya! A Bolshevik took my mother!"
There was a shocked silence, then Grandmother said faintly, "Oh Pavla, how can you say that?"
But Illya turned and fled from his brother, ignoring his family's calls to come back.
Once again Illya was trying to walk his pain off. He had always known, of course, that Pavla and Yuliya were his half brother and sister, but he had never counted the half. He would have sworn that Pavla hadn't either.
However, evidently Pavla did count the half. For all he knew, maybe Yuliya did as well. The thought that they didn't consider him a 'whole' brother tormented him. Maybe they hadn't mourned when Mama died, and he knew Mama loved both of them as much as himself.
Illya stumbled on blindly, lost in his dark thoughts, when he realized with a jolt that it was literally getting dark. It was almost curfew, and he was a long way from home.
Illya froze in place, and looked around wildly. What was he to do? There was no hope of reaching home before curfew.
His heart pounding with fear, Illya turned and started for home. At first he ran, than common sense took over. All he was accomplishing was exhausting himself. If he wanted to escape German patrols, he needed to outwit, not outrace, them.
Illya slowed his steps, thinking furiously. One thing in his favor was he was on the outskirts of Kiev, and even better, he lived on the outskirts. But the shortest, most direct route home would also, he realized, be the most dangerous.
No, he needed to skirt around the city as much as possible. There was a huge graveyard on one possible path home. The gravestones would make excellent hiding places, unless the Germans had dogs.
Illya heart sped up with the thought of those dogs. Ourwitting German soldiers was one thing, but it would be impossible to outwit a German Shepherd's nose. If they had dogs, he would probably be shot. After witnessing that Jewish family being murdered, Illya had no illusions that the Germans would show him any mercy.
Well, if the patrols had dogs, they had dogs. Illya would have to assume there would be no dogs, and try to snake and twist his way home before a patrol found him.
Crouching low, sticking to the shadows, Illya slowly made his way home. He hid behind any shelter he could find, and would scout out his next hiding spot before moving on. He froze in place more than once when he heard German patrols, but luckily there was never the howl of the dogs.
In the graveyard, Illya had to stay silently hidden behind a gravestone, while two soldiers smoked and talked not more than ten feet away from him. He was so frightened, that he was covered in a cold sweat. Sweat dripped into his eyes, and burned, yet he didn't dare move to wipe his face.
When the patrol finally moved off, Illya breathed a sigh of relief, and had to wait several minutes to stop shaking before he chanced moving on. When he finally came within sight of his home he felt a flash of triump.
Illya hoped the door would be unlocked, because he couldn't risk knocking. But if he was locked out, he still had the key to Uncle Vanya's home.
But the door swung open easily when he tried it, and Illya felt rough hands grab him and pull him inside. He had a moment of panic before he recognized Pavla's voice, "You little idiot, you could have been killed!"
"Illya!" cried Yuliya. "Thank God you're alright!"
Grandmother was hugging him, "Never do that again, I was terrified."
Laying in bed that night, Illya mentally reviewed his slow, careful journey home. Yes, it had been terrifying, but also exhilarating. There had been something satisfying about matching wits with an enemy, and winning.
The second thing that went through Illya's mind was the rough concern in Pavla's voice when he had scolded Illya. Comforted by the thought that Pavla did love him, Illya fell asleep.
The train taking Pavla to Berlin was leaving soon, and Illya couldn't bear for his brother to go without trying to make peace between them.
Hesitantly, Illya approached Pavla, and touched his arm. Pavla gave him no encouragement. He remained stony-faced and tight-lipped.
"I don't trust the Germans," began Illya. "But I do want you to have a good life in Berlin. So I really hope I'm wrong."
Pavla's face broke into a smile, and he hugged his younger brother, "You are wrong. The Germans were prepared to be generous to us at first. It was the Bolsheviks mining the city that made them be harsh.
"I did love Mama, you know. She couldn't have loved me more if she had given birth to me. It is the Bolsheviks that are responsible for her death, not the Germans.
"Berlin is going to be wonderful. You'll see. We'll have a good life there."
Later that day, what was left of the Kurykins gathered to wave goodbye to Pavla as the train left the station heading west. Yuliya was excited and happy, but Illya felt like he was waving his brother to his execution.
Catching sight of Grandmother's face, Illya realized she didn't trust the Germans either.
"Why didn't you say something?" Illya confronted her.
Grandmother looked at him sadly, "Because he wouldn't have believed me."
A second train full of volunteers left for Berlin a few weeks later, and a third several weeks after that.
Everyone waited impatiently for letters, and hopefully money or goods, from the volunteers. But when the letters finally arrived, they were disappointing. Whole sections had either been cut out or blacked out by censors.
One letter, though, made the rounds of Kiev. It contained the sentence 'tell it to the marines'. Obviously, the Germans hadn't understood the reference.
The Kuryakins got one letter from Pavla, and it was uncensored because it was only one sentence long, and the Germans could have no understanding what that sentence meant either.
The letter read as follows: Illya, You were right. Pavla
The masks were off, and the Germans were no longer trying to fool anyone. Instead, they started a series of 'sweeps'. The soldiers would sweep through an area, grab any youths, and drag them off to Germany to be slaves.
Luckily, Illya was too young, and looked even younger than he was. But Yuliya wasn't so fortunate. Illya hadn't really considered the danger his sister was in until one day when they were walking to get their bowl of soup and heard a girl scream.
When the children looked, they recognized the girl screaming. She was about Pavla's age, and three German soldiers had her down on the ground and were taking turns raping her. People were standing around watching in horror, but no one dared intervene.
When the soldiers were through, there was a flash of silver, and Illya had just thought, 'that looks like a blade', when blood sprayed out of the girl's slashed throat. Illya and Yuliya stared in disbelief, as the poor girl's body jerked in death convulsions, her skirts bunched around her waist and her legs spread apart.
Without a word, the brother and sister ran from the scene, and finding a secluded spot, stopped to caught their breath. Illya wasn't the least surprised when his sister started crying. To be honest, he felt close to tears himself.
However, Illya clumsily patted Yuliya's back, trying to comfort her.
"Oh Illya," Yuliya gasped, "I'm so afraid that's going to happen to me."
"Calm down, Yuliya," soothed Illya. "Why would that happen to you? It won't."
"Well, I hope I'm not vain," fretted Yuliya. "But I know I'm pretty. Enough of the boys tell me I am. And a lot of the German soldiers try to talk to me."
Startled, Illya really looked at his sister, and realized with a sinking heart what she said was true. Even half starved, and in an odd assortment of clothes, Yuliya was striking. Illya went cold with fear at the idea of his sister being raped and murdered.
He wanted to rush her home and hide her there, but Yuliya insisted they still get their soup. Illya reluctantly agreed, keeping an eagle eye out for any Germans until they were safely back home.
For weeks after, Illya would insist on escorting his sister anywhere she went, and would scout out the route ahead of her, to be sure there were no soldiers around.
Unfortunately, Illya lowered his vigilance on one of the few pleasure outings he and Yuliya were allowed. They had gone to see a film, and when they came out, there was a raid. At first, neither Illya nor Yuliya were concerned. They were underage, and not likely to be sent to Germany.
Then it became apparent that the girls were being targeted. Girls were dragged, kicking and screaming, to closed vans and pushed inside. They pounded on the sides of the vans, begging, "Mama! Help me!"
Yuliya stood frozen, terrified, while Illya frantically tried to pull her away and run. But it was already too late. The Germans had spotted Yuliya and one of them grabbed her. Illya grimly held on to his sister, trying to push the soldier away.
The German backhanded the boy, and sent him flying. Illya's head slammed into a nearby wall, and for the first time in his life, he was knocked unconscious.
When Illya came to, an elderly woman was patting his hand and asking if he was alright. Ignoring her, Illya sat up and looked around anxiously; they were all gone. The Germans, the vans and his sister had vanished.
Illya felt something in his hand and looked down. It was the gold necklace that Yuliya always wore.
Illya sat staring at the necklace, feeling defeated. He had failed to protect his sister. He didn't doubt for one second what the Germans would do to her.
Illya picked himself up, and feet dragging, slowly made his way home. Why had they gone to see that movie? 'Because there were posters up all over the city advertising it,' whispered a voice inside his head.
Illya paused while he pondered that. It had been a trap! The Germans had lured people to the movie to have a sweep! Too late to save Yuliya, Illya realized bitterly that he, along with many others, had stepped right into the trap.
When he got home, he didn't need to tell Grandmother what had happened. The two of them stared at each other, silently communicating, then Grandmother nodded her head and turned away.
Illya had never felt so desolate. His family was decimated. Only he and Grandmother remained, and Grandmother was listless and apathetic.
Illya knew how she felt. It seemed like too much bother to struggle to live. Death would be so much easier.
Then a miracle, of sorts, happened. Illya was once again wandering Kiev and paying little attention to where he wandered. He stumbled, and heard a voice exclaim in German, "Watch where you're going! You almost touched me!"
"Ugh, don't let him touch you Gerald," said another voice in German. "He's filthy."
Surprised, Illya looked up, and found himself confronted by a small group of children roughly his own age. However, these children were well dressed, and looked well fed.
Illya flushed, extremely aware of his own bedraggled appearance. Then he realized who these children were; the German children.
The German officers had brought their families to Kiev, including their kids. These children, of course, were kept separate from the children of Kiev, and had their own school.
They were all examining him as if he were an animal in a cage, and saying mocking things about him in German they obviously thought he didn't understand.
The one named Gerald had a stick and was poking him with it, saying, "Go away. You stink."
Another boy grabbed a rock and threw it at Illya, then the rest of them started throwing rocks at him as well, laughing. Shocked, Illya took to his heels.
When he was safely away, Illya stopped to catch his breath, then felt rage, absolutely white-hot rage, flood through him.
Who did these snots think they were? How dare they come to his city, his country, and act like they had some kind of right just to take it from him and his people?
Suddenly, for the first time, Illya wanted to fight back. But to fight back, he needed first to live, and to live, he was going to need food.
Yes, he would take the scrapes the Germans gave him, but he needed more. So, that was what he had to figure out first. Where was he going to find more food?
Illya was trudging along the Dnieper when he realized the answer was staring him right in the face. The river! There were fish in the river, and Papa had long ago taught Illya to fish. For his age, he wasn't bad at casting.
Excited, Illya raced home to find his pole and dig up some worms. He rose early the next morning, and made his way to the river. The Dnieper was fast, so it was necessary to constantly recast. But long before he had tired, Illya had caught three nice fish.
Pleased, he took them home in a bucket he had brought, and cleaned them. Grandmother was surprised, but happy with the fish. There was no lard to fry the fish, so she made soup with it.
Encouraged, Illya took to fishing with a passion. However, one problem with too many fish was there was no way to keep the fish fresh. Then it occurred to Illya that he could perhaps trade the fish for other food.
It worked. People were happy to trade beans, pototoes, onions and various other staples for fresh fish. The one thing Illya couldn't seem to get for his fish was money.
Illya realized if he wanted money he would have to go to the only people who actually had money: the Germans. He thought about that long and hard. Approaching the Germans could be risky. But life right now was risky anyway, so he took the chance.
Illya carefully approached some German soldiers, and asked if they wanted to buy some fish. To Illya's disgust, fear made him stutter, and made his German sound bad. The soldiers laughed and mocked his use of the language, and Illya lowered his eyes to hide the anger in them.
He suddenly realized, that, inadvertantly, his stuttering had benefitted him. The Germans considered him slow, and underestimated him.
They did like his fish though, and bought some. True, they cheated him, and Illya knew it, but at last he had cash. It was a start.
However, he was going to need another way to make money soon. Winter was coming, and the ground would be too frozen to dig up worms. Besides, the river was dangerous then.
Still, he would make what money he could selling fish to the Germans while it was possible. Illya wanted to get the Germans use to his presence, so they took him for granted and didn't pay attention to him.
However, Illya needed to figure out something the Germans would want and pay him for besides fish.
Illya had learned to keep his eyes lowered around the Germans, and it was then he got his next inspiration. The Germans had those jackboots, and they needed shined. He might as well be the one who shined them.
So Illya dug out Pavla's old shoe shining kit, and offered to shine the German's boots. They shrugged, and let him, throwing him some money afterwards. Again, it wasn't nearly enough, but it was something.
And Illya realized there was another benefit to hanging around the Germans. He was getting an earful about the war. The Germans controlled the newspapers, so the only news the people of Kiev heard about the war was how great the German army was doing.
But listening in on the Germans talking amongst themselves while he shined their boots, Illya was hearing differently. The Red Army was fighting furiously back at Stalingrad.
Illya struggled to keep his eyes downcast and school his face not to show any emotion when he heard this. It was hard, because he felt like cheering. Finally! Finally, his army, his people, had found their backbone and were fighting back.
It occurred to Illya that most people in Kiev didn't know this. How could he get the news out? In bed that night, Illya struggled with himself. He could write messages on the walls of buildings telling what he had overheard, but it would be dangerous.
He would have to do it at night, pass curfew, and he would need to do it some place where people would see it. If he was caught, he would be killed. It was daunting.
But then he thought of Pavla and Yuliya. Stories were filtering back on what happened to the young people shipped west. They were, literally, sold into slavery with actual auctions. They were worked twelve to fourteen hours a day, with little food. They were beaten for the smallest mistake.
Of course, most died under these harsh conditions, and were replaced with more slaves. Almost all girls were forced into prostitution. They wore the word OST on them, which marked them as the lowest of all slaves.
When there were air raids, the slaves were not allowed to go to the air raid shelters, and died in the bombings. Illya didn't believe for one second that either his brother or sister had survived. Thinking of this, Illya gritted his teeth. He would take the chance.
Yet there was no harm in planning it out and being as careful as possible. Illya had no desire to be a martyr and die needlessly.
Illya had always been prudent. Living under matial law had taught him to be even more prudent. So he carefully planned his next move, slowly reasoning it out.
He needed to put the message someplace where people would see it. He could safely write a message in the old graveyard, but who would see it? But that thought gave him pause, and Illya got excited. He could use the graveyard as a trial run!
It turned out to be a good idea. When Illya wrote on an old gravestone, he realized he needed to write bigger, and he needed a short message.
After he worked out what the message should be, he needed to plan where to write it so people would see it, but with little chance of being caught by the Germans.
Illya spent several nights sliding around Kiev after curfew, noting where there were heavy patrols. He finally decided where and when to write his message.
Luckily, everything went like clockwork. When Illya got back home, his clothes were drenched because he had sweated so heavily. But despite the fear, Illya was also exhilarated. He felt more alive than he had in months.
The next day, Illya heard people talking about his message in the marketplace, and was pleased and proud. The Germans didn't like it; the painted it over that day.
It wasn't long afterwards that Illya overheard even better news; Paulus had surrendered! A Field Marshal, of the vaunted Wahremacht, had been vanquished by the Red Army. Once again Illya wrote another midnight message to the city of Kiev.
Furthermore, Illya was becoming aware that he wasn't alone. The partisans were striking back. Leaflets against the Germans were appearing, a bridge had been blown up, and a building burnt down. A message on the burnt out building read: This is for Babi Yar.
Illya increasingly was feeling like he was a part of something; the hate and anger against the Germans hung thick in the air.
Illya needed something to raise his spirits because Grandmother was growing increasingly frail. More than just her spirit had been broken, she was seriously ill.
Illya recognized this, but felt helpless to do anything. The thought of her dying and being left all alone was terrible. Not that she was doing much for him now, but she was there.
But for the most part, Illya was taking care of himself. Spring came, and Illya started fishing again. However, he was no longer selling any fish to the Germans. Things had gotten too tense for that.
The Germans were increasingly under siege, and knew it. They went around armed, in large groups. More and more people in Kiev were being forced on trains to head west to Germany.
And that summer, Kiev was once again being shelled and bombed. Only this time, it was the Red Army attacking the city. The battle front had moved back west.
One summer morning, in addition to the constant tat-tat-tats coming from Babi Yar, there also came an ominious, black, oily smoke. The heavy smoke hung in the air, and came from the ravine. The Germans were burning the bodies at Babi Yar.
It took three weeks to burn all the bodies of the people they had spent almost two years killing.
While the burning was going on, gunfire across the Dnieper was coming nearer. Scouts from the Red Army appeared and shouted, "We will liberate you!"
The trains heading west rumbled constantly, full of anything and everything, but especially people. But the Germans took everything they could.
Parts from factories were disassembled and office buildings were ransacked. Even doors and windows were heaped on trains heading west.
The Germans were fleeing the city. And they planned to make everyone in Kiev go west with them.
It was the last largest sweep. Soldiers with rifles were everywhere. They were forcing people out of their homes and only allowing them to grab quick bundles to take with them.
Illya had no intention of heading west to slavery and certain death. Besides, Grandmother was so weak there was no way she could possibly walk to the train.
But that idea gave Illya inspiration. In some ways in seemed awful, for he would be taking advantage of his grandmother's ill health. But in other ways it felt as if fate itself were offering him a chance.
What Illya feared were the dogs. He could hide, but the dogs would smell him. But if he hid near grandmother, maybe the soldiers would assume it was only her the dogs were smelling. If the Germans tried to force Grandmother to the train anyway, then he would probably be discovered.
Well, if he was discovered, Illya would simply have to watch for an opportunity to escape. But first, Illya would hope the Germans would decide there was no point in dragging a dying old woman to Germany.
Grandmother was so frail and ill that it felt criminal to wake her, but Illya persisted.
"Grandmother, please. I'm sorry, but you must listen to me. The Germans are coming. They're taking everyone to Berlin to be slaves.
"I'm going to hide, but you mustn't let them know I'm here. Can you do that for me?" asked Illya, desperately.
Granmother regarded him with solemn dark eyes. She moved her lips soundlessly, and Illya gave her a little bit of water.
She kept trying to talk and finally Illya heard one word, "Live."
Illya caught his breath, then quickly kissed her cheek, "I'm going to try. I love you, Grandmother."
Illya wiggled underneath the bed, scooting as close to the wall as possible. He had a blanket that he bunched in front of him, hoping it looked like it had fallen and been kicked under the bed.
It was a pitiful hiding place, but Illya dared not be far away from his grandmother, or the dogs would alert the soldiers.
Illya strained his ears, listening to the commotion outside. People were wailing and arguing, while the Germans were shouting harsh orders.
The pounding on the door, although expected, gave Illya a start. His heart was pounding in his chest, and his breathing sounded loud.
"Open up! I know you're in there! I've got a dog!" bellowed a German soldier. After a minute Illya heard the door being forced open with the soldier yelling, "Where are you?"
Illya heard the whine of a dog, and caught his breath, but the soldier seemed to have stopped at the doorway to the room, having seen Grandmother in bed.
"It's an old woman!" the soldier shouted to someone outside.
Illya heard the person outside yell back, "Everyone has to come."
"But I think she's dying!" protested the soldier.
There was a moment's silence, and Illya heard footsteps as someone else entered the house.
"What do you think?" asked the first soldier, doubtfully. "I don't think she'll live much longer."
"No point in taking a corpse," agreed the second soldier. "Leave her."
And with that they were gone. Illya collasped in relief. He wanted deperately to check on Grandmother, but was too nervous to leave his hiding place. Finally, when it was night, Illya crawled out from under the bed.
Totally parched, he took a spare sip of water. He heard, more than saw, soldiers still outside. But at least the dogs seemed to be gone. Illya tried to give grandmother a sip of water, but couldn't get her to take any.
For a while, he sat and held her hand, trying to give and take what comfort he could. Finally, Illya slid back under the bed and fell asleep.
And so it went for the next five days. The soldiers came and went outside, but didn't reenter the house. Illya crept around cautiously at odd hours, eating and drinking what scant supplies were in the house.
It was on the second day that Grandmother died. Illya found her dead when he left his hiding place. His first instinct had been to cover her up, but he stopped himself.
If the Germans came back in and found her covered, they would know someone was here.
Illya found a different place to hide in the house. It was unpleasant being under a bed where his grandmother's body was, and it would do him no good against the dogs anyway.
Those days were among the worst in Illya's life. Although the soldiers never came back inside, they were patrolling outside, so Illya didn't dare leave the house.
He was trapped there, with a dead body, no food, little water, and the constant terror of being discovered.
But finally, after five days, when Illya crept out of his hiding spot, weak with hunger and thirst, the Germans were gone. He cautiously slank out of the house, but there was an air of desertion.
Like an animal heading desperately for a water hole, Illya went straight to the rain barrel, and drank his fill of water.
Feeling refreshed, Illya took stock. There didn't seem to be anybody around. It was eerie. Illya decided to make his way to the center of Kiev, just to be certain the Germans were gone.
It occurred to Illya that he might as well ransack the empty houses along the well. The owners would never be back, and his need was great.
It was almost fun, going into strange, empty homes and taking what he wanted. Illya didn't find a lot, but he did find some odd bits of food.
He managed to satisfy himself that the Germans were, indeed, gone. But Illya wasn't totally alone in Kiev. He caught sight of other scavengers who had also escaped the German net.
Finally Illya headed back home. He had a grandmother to bury.
But before he dug the grave, Illya decided to transfer what he needed to Uncle Vanya's house. After the last five days, he didn't think he could bear staying in his old home. Besides, he probably wouldn't finish the grave in one day, and Grandmother's body was starting to badly decay.
It was a relief to be in Uncle Vanya's home that night. Illya had made a good start on the grave, and resolved to finish it as early as possible the next morning. He owed his grandmother that much respect.
Yet, there was no way to treat the body respectfully, nor was his grandmother going to be buried in a graveyard, where she belonged.
Illya had no way to carry the body clear to the graveyard, nor did he had a coffin. The best he could do was a grave in the yard. He determined to wrap the body in the bedclothes it was lying on, as he had no desire to handle the body.
When he finally dragged Grandmother to the grave he had dug, Illya found himself talking to the body, as silly as that was. Grandmother couldn't hear him. Still, it made him feel better to apologize to her.
"I'm sorry Grandmother. This is no way a proper burial. But I'm small, and weak with hunger, and all alone, and afraid, and this is the best I can do. Forgive me."
After he had buried her, Illya sat by the grave, feeling like he should say or do something, but he had no idea what. He had never been to a funeral.
It occurred to Illya that he had lost his entire family, and this was the only one where he knew the burial site of.
Illya knew hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of Soviet soldiers had died in the first year after the invasion. He had gradually accepted that Papa and Uncle Vanya had been among the lost.
The slaves sent west were not meant to survive. Illya knew after reading 'Mein Kampf' that Hitler didn't consider his people worthy of anything, even life itself. Enslaving them was a means of getting a little bit of production out of them while working and starving them to death.
However, Illya did know where Mama had died. He didn't want to go there. His old childhood playground had become both a killing ground and a charnel house under the Germans.
Illya didn't make the conscious decision. He found himself walking to Babi Yar for the first time in two years, almost as if his body had decided for him at it's own volition.
On his way there, Illya had to go through what was left of the prison camp known as Syrets. For most of his life, Syrets had just been the name of a neighboring district. But the Germans had built a camp at the top of Babi Yar, and named it Syrets.
Illya had once seen Stumbahnfuhrer Paul von Radomsky, the man in charge of Syrets. He had been in a motor car with his dog, a German Shepherd named Rex. It was said Rex was trained to rip the flesh off of the prisoners.
It was reported that Radomsky would force the prisoners to line up at odd times, then randomly have some executed. He might decide every fifth prisoner would be shot, or pull someone out of the line because he didn't like how they looked.
The unfortunates would be forced to their knees, then shot in the back of the head. People were flogged to death for minor offences. The dead bodies, of course, were simply thrown into Babi Yar.
Just like Babi Yar, the name Syrets was no longer innocent. The Germans had tainted both of them.
Finally, Illya entered Babi Yar. 'It looks just the same,' he thought. It didn't seem possible. Surely, so much terror and blood would have left a mark, and scarred the ravine itself. But it was as if nothing had happened.
Illya slowly made his way down to the stream that flowed at the bottom of the ravine, and there, at last, he found something different. The sandy bottom of the stream had small white pebbles scattered all around.
Illya frowned at the pebbles. They shouldn't be here. They hadn't been here before the war. Illya hesitated a moment, then rolled up his sleeve and plunged his hand into the icy water.
He grabbed a handful of sand from the bottom of the stream, including the white pebbles. Except they weren't pebbles.
When Illya examined them, he realized they were fragments of bones. Here was the mark, the scar, the proof of the great wrong that had been done here.
The Germans had murdered people here for no reason except they decided these people had no right to live. Then to cover up their crime, they had burned the victims to deny their very existance.
But the victims were still here, giving mute evidence against the Germans.
Illya sat and stared at the bone fragments for a long time, then slowly lowered his hand back into the water to let the stream wash his hand clean.
Finally Illya stood up, hesitated, cleared his throat, then said, "Good bye Mama. I love you." With that he carefully walked out of Babi Yar. He knew he would never return.
For the next few weeks, Illya was living in isolation. German troops occasionally rolled through Kiev, but they didn't come near him.
But then some troops came to stay, and Illya was shocked to hear some of them speaking Russian, even though they were with the Germans.
The Russians were cheerful and noisy, so Illya cautiously approached them. They were immediately friendly, but they warned Illya he should leave Kiev.
"But it's my home," protested Illya.
"Not for much longer. We are going to destroy all of this, and Kiev will exist no more. Those are our orders.
"Besides, Kiev is going to be the new front. The Germans have been ordered to hold it, so troops will be moving in and setting up defenses."
They set about destroying Kiev systematically, burning down about a hundred buildings a day, including Illya's old home. So Illya dragged what he could out of Uncle Vanya's home, and looked around for some other place to shelter.
However, probably because it was so small, the Russians didn't bother to properly burn down Uncle Vanya's tiny home. Although it was damaged, it was still intact, and Illya moved back. But not for long, because Illya was forced back into his trench.
The Russians had told the truth. The German army moved in and set up a defensive line. And hot on the trail of the Germans was the Red Army. Kiev was once again a battle zone.
This time Illya was alone in the trench, and this time the fighting seemed to be much more intense. The earth shook so hard that Uncle Vanya's books crashed down to the floor, followed by the bookcases.
There was a constant roar. Not the explosions that Illya was use to, but a continuous overwhelming clamor.
Anti-aircraft guns thundered and filled the air with white smoke, while wave after wave of planes filled the sky. The planes bombed and strafed everything; it was like hell-fire was being rained down on Kiev.
Strangely, Illya quickly adapted to this. He spent most of the time in the trench, and when there was a lull in the fighting he would scramble back to Uncle Vanya's house.
He occasionally saw other people; some times Germans soldiers scurrying about, sometimes residents of Kiev. Illya would shout at them, asking where the front was, but no one ever knew.
After days of this, Illya saw a line of of limousines heading west. They were the front of a parade of trucks, carts and wagons and soldiers on foot. It was not an organized retreat, but a horde swarming west to safety from the advancing Soviets.
Then there were violent explosions that knocked Illya to his knees, and he realized the Germans were blowing up the bridges that spanned the Dnieper.
Night fell, and everything became quiet. And the next morning Illya heard someone yell in Russian, "Comrades! Come out! The Soviets are back!"
Barely daring to hope the long nightmare was over, Illya crept out to see if the Red Army had finally came back to reclaim the city it had abandoned over two years ago. It had.
On May 13, 1941, the Barbarossa Decree was issued in prepartion for Operation Barbarossa. The Decree basically gave the Germans the right to be judge, jury and executioner of any civilians in the Soviet Union.
On the 22nd of June, 1941, Germany invaded the USSR (Operation Barbarossa). It was the largest invasion in the history of the world. It was also the most brutal. To this day, it is not known exactly how many Soviets died.
Officially, the number is about twenty-seven and a half million. Most historians believe the real number tops thirty million, and may possibly be as high as fifty million.
About seven and a half million are Soviet soldiers, the rest are civilians; women, children and the elderly. Kiev was ground zero for this slaughter. Four out of every five civilians in Kiev died under the German occupation.
(The opening of the Fox and Hounds Affair places Illya in Kiev for the occupation.)
Kiev fell on September 19, the destruction of the Kreshchatic district by booby traps started on September 24, the murders at Babi Yar started on September 29.
The Kiev-Pechersk Monastery blew up on the 3rd of November. There were a few other booby trapped buildings inbetween, but I left them out for brevity's sake.
Because of the booby traps, Kiev was under harsh martial law. The murders at Babi Yar continued for the duration of the occupation.
It is not known how many were murdered at Babi Yar, but it was probably at least a hundred thousand. The Germans started burning the bodies at Babi Yar on August 18, 1943. It took three weeks.
I fudged a little on the timing of the youths being sent to Germany. The first train didn't actually leave until January of 1943. But I decided my story flowed better if I slightly altered the time line.
This is the only liberty I took with historical fact.
The youths were actually auctioned off. They were lined up, with buyers opening their mouths to look at their teeth and feeling their muscles. They were meant to die. Most did.
The final round up of the citizens of Kiev started in late Setember, early October of 1943. The destruction of Kiev (Hitler's orders) occurred in October of 1943. Russians who had joined the Germans destroyed the city.
The second battle of Kiev started on November 1, 1943. Kiev was liberated on November 7, 1943.
I must remark briefly about Stalin and the Great Purge. It is not known how many people died in the Great Purge, probably around 700,000. The Army was a decimated. Almost all senior officers and their families were murdered.
Stalin did this to put the country under his control. But as a result, the Red Army was in disarray for years. This is one major reason the Red Army fought so poorly at the first. In the first month of the war, the Red Army lost over 600,000 men.
By the time Kiev fell, there were 1,950,652 Soviet POW's, and more dead. Most of the families never knew what happened to their men.
Thanks for reading. Any feedback is always welcome. notsing