Bykivnya

6

Bykivnya is a pine forest on the outskirts of Kyiv, and the final resting place of an estimated 100,000 people murdered from the early 1920s to the late 1940s. Some sources say it could be as high as 225,000. After “enemies of the people” had been tortured and murdered, they were hauled to the woods and dumped in mass graves.

The burial area spans 160,000 square feet (15,000 square meters). To date, Ukrainian and Polish archaeologists have found 210 separate mass graves within it, and historians have identified 14,191 of the victims.

Though the mass graves were uncovered by the occupying Germans during WWII, the Soviets reclassified this information and conducted their own investigations in 1945, 1971, and 1987.

Poet Vasyl Andriyovych Symonenko, 8 January 1935–13 December 1963

In 1962, Vasyl appealed to the Kyiv City Council to have Bykivnya and other mass grave sites recognized for what they were. In response, cops brutally beat him, and he died of kidney failure.

The authorities discovered and destroyed many documents about the true nature of these mass graves and their victims. Only in July 1989, during the fourth investigation, was it announced that these weren’t victims of Nazi fascism, but Stalinism.

On 30 April 2004, the Bykivnya Memorial Complex opened, and on 22 May 2001, it was designated a State Historical and Memorial Reserve. That designation was upgraded to a national one on 17 May 2006.

Archbishop (now Metropolitan) Dmitriy of the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, with the blessing of Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv, conducted a funeral service for 817 victims being reburied on 28 October 2006.

Every year on 16 May, since 2004, the Day of Sorrow has been observed in Bykivnya, to commemorate the murdered. People from all walks of life, such as high-ranking elected officials, clergy, foreign guests, and regular citizens, gather to pay tribute to these innocent victims.

The way to the graves begins with a gravel track, with a bronze sculpture of a man on the left. A large rock bears the year 1937, the height of the Great Terror. Along the path to the depths of the forest are many other stone monuments.

Notable victims buried here include singer and actor Pevnyy Oleksandr Gerasymovych; archaeologist Movchanivskyy Feodosiy Mykolayovych; and actor Pevnyy Mykola Gerasymovych.

There are 87 metal crosses with rushnyki (embroidered Ukrainian towels). Many of the trees are tied with yellow and blue ribbons, representing the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Others bear red and white ribbons, to represent the Polish victims.

To represent the various faiths buried here, there are four pillars, whose placement forms a square, with cut-outs of the Orthodox cross (with a slanted bar on the bottom), the Catholic and Protestant cross, the Jewish Magen David, and the Muslim crescent.

Shamefully, on 25 January 2017, unidentified cowards defaced some of the monuments with anti-Ukrainian and anti-Polish graffiti.

Copyright Andrzej Harassek; Source

My character Velira Zhirinovskaya is taking a walk in the Bykivnya forest with her aunt Inna and older children from the orphanage when she sees her mother lying on top of a heap of dead bodies. Velira, who’s only two and a half, believes they’re sleeping, and asks if she can say hello.

Inna is horrorstruck, and hustles the children out of the forest before anyone sees them. Not long afterwards, her little brother Vitya, Velira’s father, returns from placing his baby boy Damir with old family friends in Minsk and securing phony travel documents for the orphanage’s partial relocation/defection.

When Velira says she saw her mother sleeping in the woods, Vitya knows his wife was murdered, and is overwhelmed with grief and guilt. While the NKVD were arresting his wife in another part of the house, he escaped with Velira hidden in a large basket and Damir tucked under his shirt.

Copyright Levchuk Volodymyr (UAWeBeR)

WeWriWa—Velira’s Birthday Wish

9

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m currently sharing from my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, Chapter 39, “Velira’s Birthday Wish.” It’s September 1937 in Isfahan, Iran, and the orphanage co-director’s niece is turning three years old.

Part of her birthday wish came true and she was reunited with the father she hasn’t seen in four months. When she asked where her mother and baby brother are, he explained that the baby went to America with his wetnurse, but that her mother can’t come back from the dead. Velira then realized she didn’t remember how to get home, but her father’s new friend, a former prince whom she met in June, figures out where she lives when Velira says her Persian doll was bought by her neighbor Firuza.

***

Velira clings to her father’s neck as Arkásha, holding the doll, leads the way to Firuza’s house.  When they get there, one of the servants gives directions to the orphanage.  Vítya knows which building it is even before they get to the front gates, from all the people frantically swarming around it.

“Who the hell are you?” Manzura demands. “What kind of degenerate kidnaps a little girl on her birthday?”

“Take it easy,” Arkásha responds in Persian. “This is her father, and I’m the guy who helped the lot of you with getting Nansen passports and British protection to enter Persia.  Should a girl your age really be using strong language like that?”

WeWriWa—Velira’s Birthday Wish

13

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m currently sharing from my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, Chapter 39, “Velira’s Birthday Wish.” It’s September 1937 in Isfahan, Iran, and the orphanage co-director’s niece is turning three years old. While she was in the courtyard by herself, she saw a snake and climbed a tree onto the wall around the yard. From her vantage point, she recognized a man walking to the bazaar, and has now begun following him.

She also recognizes his friend, a former prince whom she met in the Colony of Aden a few months ago, while her group was clandestinely en route from Kyiv to Iran. He helped them with getting Nansen passports and British protection/permission to enter Iran, where the former prince has lived since 1918.

***

On any other day, she’d stop to absorb the exotic scents, bright colors, and tantalizing food, but right now she’s on a mission.

Velira finds him again by a gaz stand, talking with a hazel-eyed man about his height, whom she recognizes as Prince Arkásha.  As he starts to move on again with his new Russophone friend, she continues calling after him.

“Papa, Papa, wait for me!”

Vítya finally turns around and stares at the determined pint-sized child holding a fancy doll and racing after him.  He drops onto his knees and holds his spindly arms out, tears streaming down his face.  Velira wraps her arms around her father’s neck as soon as he encloses her in his embrace.

“Where are Mama and our baby?”

Gaz nougat candy, part of Isfahan’s native cuisine.

WeWriWa—Velira’s Birthday Wish

8

 

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m currently sharing from my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, Chapter 39, “Velira’s Birthday Wish.” It’s September 1937 in Isfahan, Iran, and the orphanage co-director’s niece is turning three years old. She, her aunt, the old orphanage mother who raised her father and aunt, and some of the orphanage children and workers escaped Kyiv with false travel visas for Georgia in the spring. The ship’s captain, an expert smuggler, took them to Iran instead.

Velira has gone outside to play in the courtyard by herself after making her birthday wish. When she saw a snake, she climbed a tree and is now sitting on top of the ledge around the yard. As she’s watching the people going to and from the bazaar, she makes a very exciting discovery.

***

As she’s people-watching, Velira catches sight of a very tall, lanky man in the crowd.  He’s clearly not Persian, with his pale skin, small nose, and soft brown hair.  At first she wonders if it’s Prince Arkásha.  Then she excitedly puts her hands over her mouth.  A few seconds later, she lets out a loud shriek and shimmies down the other side of the wall, still keeping her doll tucked tightly under her arm.

Velira begins running after the man, calling for him as loudly as she can.  She follows him all the way to the bazaar and loses sight of him for a few minutes.  Not understanding enough Persian to know if anyone’s speaking to her, she weaves her way among the shoppers and merchants.

WeWriWa—Velira’s Birthday Wish

9

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m currently sharing from my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, Chapter 39, “Velira’s Birthday Wish.” Velira has been under her spinster aunt Inna’s care since April 1937, when her father escaped their house with his two small children as his wife was being arrested. Inna is the co-director of the orphanage where she and her little brother Vitya grew up, so it was the perfect place to hide a small child.

It’s now September, and Velira is turning three in the sanctuary of Isfahan, Iran. Velira has just made a wish and asked Inna for permission to play outside in the courtyard. Inna agrees, on condition she not go in the reflecting pool without an adult or older child, not nap in direct sunlight, climb trees, or pick flowers. Velira ends up disobeying one of the rules, but it could lead to the fulfillment of part of her seemingly impossible birthday wish.

Manzura is a young Tajik orphanage girl who was chosen as the translator after the orphanage’s partial relocation. There are a lot of children at the orphanage from distant Soviet republics, but the Tajik language is by far the closest to Persian.

***

Velira scampers outside with one of the porcelain dolls dressed in a traditional Persian outfit which Firuza has given her.  In the courtyard, she sets her doll down in the shade and has a long conversation with it, then turns her attention to the pheasants having a dirt bath.  After the pheasants have gone, she sees a snake slithering through the garden.  Ínna has told her that most snakes aren’t poisonous, but Velira doesn’t want to take any chances.  She disobeys the order against climbing trees and heads into her favorite tree, an acacia, her doll tucked under her left arm.  When she’s up high enough to reach the ornate stone wall around the courtyard, she climbs out onto the top of the ledge.

As Velira is looking down at the designs on both sides of the wall, which include birds, flowers, trees, and shapes, she sees a stream of people heading towards the nearby bazaar.  Ínna hasn’t yet taken her to the bazaar, for fear she’ll get lost in the crowd, but Velira enjoys watching people on their way to and fro, and looking at the colorful foods and crafts Ínna and Manzura bring back every week.