A resident of Kantemirovsky District Maria Cherepkova is an owner of the award “For Participation in the Heroic Defense of Leningrad”. The woman had worked at turf mines near the besieged city for 872 days. On the eve of the Day of the Complete Liberation of Leningrad from the Nazi Siege – January 27 – Maria Yegorovna told the RIA “Voronezh” correspondent about how she had ended up in the Leningrad Region and what had helped her survive during those terrible days.
Maria Cherepkova was born in Khreshchaty Khutor of Kantemirovsky District in 1924. Her father was dumb, her mother worked in a kolkhoz. The girl finished four grades of school and started working in the kolkhoz as well.
In April of 1941, residents of the khutor were assembled and heard an announcement about the enlistment of people willing to help their country at turf mines in the Leningrad Region.
– When you have little food and no clothes to wear, you don’t have much choice left. That is why 15 people from the khutor decided to go, - Maria Cherepkova recalled.
The khutor resident took a freight train to Rakhya station of Vsevolzhsky District of the Leningrad Region. It was the location of the plant producing turf briquettes used for heating the city. People of different age came there to work from all over the country to feed their families.
– I remember how we left the train at the station and saw different kinds of fish, buns and other food we had never seen before being carried around and sold on the platform. But we had no money to try those delicacies because we came to earn money to buy clothes and shoes, - Maria Cherepkova told. – At the plant, we, the youngest ones, were called “the incubator” though we worked just as hard as the seniors.
The Khreshchaty residents were housed in a single barrack. They were given bread, tea, sprat, and lentil porridge.
And in three months the war had begun.
“You rush to help… and leave”
Maria Cherepkova did not leave the Leningrad Region in the first days of war but kept working at the turf mine.
– There were only four members of our brigade left, the rest were gone, and the city had to be supplied with heat, - Maria Yegorovna continues. – In September, when Leningrad was surrounded, we were offered to relocate to a hospital. Two girls went there, but my cousin Nina and I stayed. Estonians were gathered to help us because they had all died during the siege. It was a terrible time, a time of hunger and cold. It was getting worse by the day. First, the food rations were cut to 120 grams of bread and a spoonful of lentil porridge; then all the street dogs and cats went missing. You go to work in the morning and see people snooping around the dumps or lying right in the street all blue. At first, you rush to help them and then you leave as you realize their bodies are lifeless. Then you get used to sights like that and simply walk past. We didn’t see the Germans, but their airplanes were constantly flying around in the air.
By the middle of the siege, the workers kept receiving 120 grams of bread every day. The turf mining continued: the city had to be provided with fuel.
– You spread these 120 grams of life for the whole day and try not to think about food, - our countrywoman recalls. – Bread is of special value to me to this day, because it helped me survive those terrible 872 days. I didn’t snoop around the dumps, didn’t look for food, I simply tried not to think about it.
“We were simply stuffed into a train car”
When the siege was lifted, Maria and her sister received an entire loaf of bread for the two of them and were allowed to go home.
– We exchanged the bread for tobacco, sugar, and vodka, - Maria Cherepkova said. – Why, you ask? A driver agreed to take us with him. He was transporting empty barrels from Leningrad across Lake Ladoga. We gave him the tobacco and vodka, and he drove us to a railway station.
According to the woman, the train cars were stuffed with people. Families of soldiers were the first to leave in heated freight cars. The girls were let into neither heated nor regular freight cars.
– People were rushing, yelling, flustering. And we stood on the platform unable to force our way through the crowd. Then came some man, grabbed us and simple stuffed us into a car of the departing train.
The girls reached Gryazi station and changed trains to get to Kantemirovka.
– We got out on our native land and could not believe we were home. At the train station, we went to a snack bar to buy gifts, it had such great bread rolls for sale! But we weren’t supposed to eat much at once. We understood that after such starvation we had to gradually get used to food. But the saleswoman refused to sell more than two of them to us. So we stepped away – we realized that the times were hungry. At that moment, a man approached us and asked where the two of us had come from so skinny. We said we came from Leningrad. He turned out to be the head of the station, he went to the bar clerk, told her off and gave us free bread rolls. We felt awkward taking them. Then my sister stayed at the station waiting for me, and I went to our aunt who had lived in Kantemirovka before the war. But it turned out that she and her family had left the town prior to the invasion. I came back to the station and met our fellow residents of Khreshchaty there. They were transporting sowing wheat from Kantemirovka. And so we went home with them.
Maria’s father, mother, and brother were home.
Misspelled last name
The girl started working in the kolkhoz. And after the war, a friend told her that those who had been at the turf mines in the Leningrad Region were receiving food rations. Maria Yegorovna told this to her friends she had worked there with. Together they wrote a collective letter with a list of last names. After some time, all of them except for our heroine had received packages.
– I was surprised but I thought that somehow I wasn’t’ supposed to get any. When I found out that people were again enlisted to go to the Leningrad Region to work after the war, I went there again. There, my aunt talked me into going to sort the situation out. It turned out that my last name was misspelled in the letter – Cherenkova instead of Cherepkova. Do you know how handwritings were in those days? Unreadable. So, I guess, someone made a mistake. After that they rechecked everything and fixed it, - Maria told.
After some time, the girl received a letter from her neighbors that her brother had enlisted into the service and her mother got sick. So she had to return home.
In Khreshchaty, Maria went working in the kolkhoz. She had worked at a piggery for 25 years and then retired.
“Not to recall those times”
Today, the participant of the Great Patriotic War lives with her cat Ugolyok in a small house with an old furnace not connected to the sewer, gas and water supply systems. She is helped by social worker Svetlana Goptareva./p>
– It’s my 29th year of servicing elder people. The youngest of the people I take care of is 80 years old. They are like family to me. I try to visit them every day. Some need food, some – housewares. As for Maria Yegorovna, I bring her water from the well, help her stock firewood and coal for the furnace. I also do what she asks me to, - the social worker reported to the RIA “Voronezh” correspondent.
Maria Cherepkova is often visited by her neighbor, 87-year-old Maria Goptareva.
– I would drag myself to Masha’s house, and we would sit around and reminisce. And so another day passes. We need to look out for each other, - Maria Goptareva noted. – In times like this, it is scary to be alone. People say there are many con artists around. And in the war years, we used to welcome soldiers into our homes, give them the last food we had, hide them from the Nazis. We didn’t consider them strangers – everyone was a friend. Nowadays, you can’t even leave the front door open.
In Kantemirovsky District, there are only five people left who were in Leningrad or the Leningrad Region during the Great Patriotic War. Three of them were residents of besieged Leningrad, two women have wards “For the Participation in the Heroic Defense of Leningrad”.
Maria Cherepkova is the only one alive among the khutor residents who had gone to the turf mines in 1941.
– With every passing year, the Great Patriotic War becomes farther away, and those who have seen its horrors are leaving us, - she says. – Every January, I try not to recall those times, but I will never forget the value of those 120 grams of bread.
RIA “Voronezh” note for information
During the Great Patriotic War, Leningrad was held under siege by German, French and Spanish forces with volunteers from Northern Africa, Europe, and Italian Navy. The only line of communication with the city was the route across Lake Ladoga which was in the range of the Nazi artillery and aviation. The enemy’s naval forces also operated in the lake.
The traffic capacity of the arterial road could not meet the city’s needs. Leningrad was swept my massive starvation. The situation was aggravated by the especially severe winter of the first siege year and heating problems. All of it had led to hundreds of thousands of deaths among the civilians.
After the breaking of the siege in January of 1943, the Nazi army and navy continued blocking Leningrad until January of 1944. From 1941 to 1943, supplies were brought to Leningrad via the Road of Life through the Rakhya village. In the winter of 1944, the Leningrad–Novgorod strategic offensive resulted in casting the enemy back 220-280 kilometers away from the southern outlines of the city.The Day of the Complete Liberation of Leningrad from the Nazi Siege is the Day of Military Glory of Russia.