On this day 67 years ago Nazi Germany capitulated to the Soviet Union in the Second World War (also known as the Great Patriotic War in the Soviet Union).
Heroines of my story were all active participants of the war. They are “Heroes of the Nation”. I was portraying women – veterans of the Second World War. I was inspired by Svetlana Alekseyevich’s book War’s Unwomanly Face. I wanted to meet women who were brave enough to be soldiers.
All these brave women of different origin were fighting in World War II for their homeland. The war was difficult for them. They were very young when the war had started (16-18) and they had to learn plenty of things necessary during the war. They were nurses, truck drivers, work in communications, they were partisans. Most of them went to army as volunteers because to defend their homeland. They had to fight and to share difficult living conditions with men soldiers.
Soviet and post-soviet propaganda didn’t forget about them. They were given medals and prizes and stated “Heroes of the Nation”. They were taking part in the parades, invited to schools to tell pupils about heroic time of war. They looked strange surrounded by men heroes but there was a equality of men and women in the USSR so no-one could forbid them to be heroes. It didn’t change after the fall of the Soviet Union. All Belarusian history and identity is about war - this is what my friend's Andrey Liankievich's story is about.
Now the old ladies I met are at the end of their lives. Belarus is their home. A lot of them miss Soviet Union. They don’t understand why the empire collapsed.
In Belarus no-one asks questions about the war. There is no public discussion about it. The veterans are heroes and they have good lives with good pension. Every year in May their faces are on propaganda posters in Minsk, Brest, Grodno and other cities. No-one realizes that not everybody was happy of freedom brought by Soviet Army.
Meetings with these old Belarussian women made me also aware of how differently the history of my own country (Poland) and that of her heroic veterans’ country are written.
There is a lot on history and propaganda in this summary. But in the end the story is just a record of intimate meetings with brave, old women, who experienced a lot and who are at the end of lives. Most of them are happy. This is so optimistic! It is like a happy end.