of the Gulag
Yaroslav Petrovich Pogarskiy was born in western Ukraine in 1940. His village came under the Soviets, then the Germans, then the Soviets again, but the family took no notice until one day in October 1947, when officials of the NKVD political police came to take them all to Omsk in Siberia. His father was probably accused of supporting the Ukrainian nationalists, the banderovci [followers of Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist organisation OUN], but he could never find out for sure.
During the early days in Omsk, he lived in hard conditions. Two years later he was sent to another village where he finally went to school. He was a good pupil and managed to take a degree at Omsk technical university, but as the son of an exile he was still considered a pariah.
When his father returned to Ukraine in 1957, Yaroslav had already settled in Omsk and decided to stay. However, he often came up against his origins as the son of a Bandera follower and his friends urged him in 1967 to return to Ukraine. He moved to the eastern part of the country, which had long been under Soviet influence and was hostile to Bandera’s nationalist movement, making it hard for a western Ukrainian. Police control was strict and the people unfriendly. Shifting from one homeless refuge to another for a year in Kyiv, he got a real job on a sovkhoz state farm in Pereiaslav, where he lived until his death in June 2010.
The old Kalmuk woman
“I was all alone in the cowshed in the cold, with a freezing nose, when an old Kalmuk woman came in, unwashed and toothless. Kalmuk women are not very attractive anyway, and old Kalmuk women even less. And in those days I didn’t know that there were people with yellow skin. I didn’t know. I was afraid.
I still remember. I was rooted to the spot. I couldn’t stop staring at her, I’d never seen anyone like it, I didn’t know there were such people.
She looked at me and smiled. I could see that she had something in her hand. I was starving and she held out to me what she had in her hand. Then I realised that it was a small piece of cake, you know, the sort made from what’s left of the grain, that’s what she had. I was so afraid of that Kalmuk woman, I’ll never forget her.”
His first birch trees
“In April there was still a lot of snow in that part of the country. It was an area of forests and steppes. A dense forest with white birch trees and black branches. That’s the picture I see when I shut my eyes.
White birch trees, I’d never seen anything like it. Back home in western Ukraine, there are none. I didn’t know there were trees that had white bark.”
“I couldn’t join the Pioneers, or the Komsomols, none of the youth organisations. You can imagine how that hurt.
When the Komsomols in the class had a meeting, me, Pogarskiy, I had to leave the room.
When the class went picking medicinal herbs, “Pogarskiy, you’re not coming”.
When the class went cleaning the street, “Pogarskiy, you stay here. Only the Komsomols are to come.”
You know, that makes you hurt deep inside.
My father used to say, I remember his words, “My boy, while you can, study. Every door is closed to us. While you can, study.”