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This is a story about Yana

This is a story about Yana. It’s also a story about her friends, family, the forest and grouse salad. It involves Stalin and his death, but this isn’t a story about Stalin.

Yana’s father was a prominent doctor. He was also Jewish, and also a member of the anti-fascism committee. In 1948 he was arrested “for 10 years without the right to letters”, which, as was later discovered, meant that he was killed right away. At the age of 19, Yana didn’t just lose her father, she also became the daughter of an “enemy of the people”.

Yana, her mother and brother remained in Moscow for another 3 years until they were sent away to a small town in Kazakhstan. They arrived there in early March 1953, just days before Stalin died.

They returned to Moscow in August 1954 (families of those purged were allowed to come back 2 years before the victims themselves were freed), but were promptly told to leave again. The passports allowing them to stay in Moscow were confiscated. Yana’s mother refused to leave. A relative who shared an 8sq.m. room with her daughter took them in. Then another person helped them get an apartment. An official who had known Yana’s father helped them get the documents that allowed them to stay in the capital.

On May 12, 1958, Yana’s friend Asya invited her on a forest trip. There was a close group of friends who used to go, and Yana says Asya waited a while before inviting her. The trip was so memorable that Yana still recalls the exact date. It was on that trip that she met my grandmother and Svetlana.

Yana struggled to get a job in Moscow because of her family “situation”. But eventually a friend helped her find employment as a Russian language and literature teacher and editor, which she did for about 30 years. It was there that she met Irina.

Today, March 5, Yulia celebrates the day Stalin died, along with my grandmother, Svetlana and Irina. Svetlana is from the nobility - her mother was arrested when she was 6. Irina’s uncle was killed in the purges.

Yana first invited people over to celebrate many years ago, no one remembers exactly when. There used to be more of them: some emigrated, while others passed away.

Today Yana is 90. She lives alone in her 1-room apartment in central Moscow. Her place is packed with books, mostly about the Soviet period. She remembers all the names and dates - her memory is extraordinary.

She is still scared to cross the road in the wrong place because she’s afraid of having to deal with the police. Sometimes she will leave a queue because the person behind looks suspicious.

Yet she is surrounded by people she’s close to. She Skypes her late brother’s wife in the US every night. She has a collection of photos and videos of her brother’s great grandchildren, who live in Israel - she watches them on her computer every day. She goes out to art exhibitions and concerts with the same group of friends all the time. When she comes over to my place, she always has a new book for my son.

Today Yana is celebrating with her closest friends. She has prepared beef legs and grouse salad (“Where is the grouse? It’s flown away!”). My grandmother brought her famous pirozhki. Irina brought sour cabbage, and Svetlana brought red wine. They are pouring the wine and laughing at my 2.5 year old son, who has had 5 pirozhki and is looking for more.

Yana says there have always been good and bad people. Today she is happy to be around the people she loves. I would say that Stalin lost, and love won, but this isn’t a story about Stalin. This is a story about Yana.


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