“I was an eight-year-old boy in 1940. My father, a former participant of the Civil War, understanding the actual unpromising tendencies, including repressions, and other negative developments, following his intuition and forecasts, we decided to go to live in a different region of the country – as far as possible from the imminent war. So, the family packed some belongings, and left the place, heading to the south, to Central Asia. I cannot recall much about the trip. Dirty crowded stations, buzzy people. I always wanted to sleep during the trip, and one day I was sleeping at the station, under a bench. During each stop, I run for boiling water. It was the only ‘service’ that the passengers could get for free.
Our route led us to Baku, capital of Azerbaijan. From there, we took a boat to cross the Caspian Sea, and arrived at Krasnovodsk where we finally heading to Stalinabad (now Dushanbe) in Tadjikistan. I was very impressed by the boat trip – it happened to me for the first time to see the infinite sea. It was quiet, of green color. We had a long wait for departure.
I remember the passenger vessel ‘Telman’ in Baku Seaport. It was overcrowded. After its whistled, the people on the pier started to cry, and wave off, some of them were sobbing. The vessel began to move slowly. The passengers huddled on the one side of the desk, and someone in seagoings was loudly ordering them to leave the ship’s rail. When the vessel made the turn, and started heading to the open sea, people on the pier began to disperse.
I found an empty vial, and filled it with the sea water, as a memento. Then my mother came, scolding me for leaving them, and coming to the shore without permission. A strange woman told her that I was seen strolling towards the port.
We were boarding at night. Following the orders, we went to the empty lower hold to rest on some dirty rags. Next morning, I went to the deck, and saw the limitless green sea. I explored the vessel, but it was not as beautiful as ‘Telman’ yesterday – it was a cargo ship, looking quite worn.
The Caspian Sea is a closed sea, so its rocking is also specific – it is called boltanka in Russian. I got motion sickness, and decided to return to the hold. There, the situation was the same – practically all the passengers were suffering from the sickness. Eating cannot help. I returned to the deck, and spent many hours there, just looking at the waves. The travel took a whole day. By night, we arrived at Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan). Before our final destination, we needed to cross the sands of Turkmenistan, and the whole territory of Uzbekistan.
During our railroad part of the trip, all what we saw on the windows was only the sands of Turkmenistan – Kara Kum deserted landscapes. Again, for the first time in my life I saw yurts – their ‘houses’, kishlaks – ‘villages’, loaded camels, people with strange clothes. During one of the stops, I left the carriage, and took a small quantity of Turkmen sand, also as a memento about Kara Kum.
When the train was crossing Tadjikistan, at the certain moment, all the passengers scurried to the windows crying, ‘Look! Look!’ The picture outside was really superb: the endless fields from both sides of rails were covered by beautiful red wild poppy flowers. I never saw something similar in all my life. The captains warned us from taking the flowers during the stops as they droop quickly from drought, and become rubbish.
When in Stalinabad, we were very surprised by the enormous quantities of fruits and vegetables sold at the street markets. Especially because the prices were low. However, there was a kind of tension in the air, something like a pre-war atmosphere…”