Alexander Fufaev
My name is Alexander FufaeV and here I write about:

2004-2005: Living with Grandparents in Kharkovskiy, Rostov Oblast

Alexander Fufaev and his sister in front of their grandparents' house in Kharkovskiy

When driving into Kharkovskiy from Azov, you could already see the distinctive elongated house from afar. With its light gray roof tiles, orange bricks, and six windows with black frames, it exuded a certain uniqueness throughout the village. Facing the scarcely traveled country road and the vast fields beyond, it was the built home of my grandparents, Grandpa Yura and Grandma Lina.

It was divided into two halves. The three rear windows of the house, visible when driving into the village, belonged to the half of the house that was not renovated. In this uninhabited half, there was a mishmash of old stuff: various metal parts, screws, tools, wooden crates, a few unused beehives, and plenty of other things. The three front windows of the house, on the other hand, belonged to the inhabited half. That's where I would live for the next few years with Mama, Dasha, Lina, and Yura under one roof.

As soon as you entered the house, you were in the large entrance room. Immediately to the left upon entering was a very small room with a stove that Grandpa Yura used to heat the house with wood on cold days. Two steps further, on the left, was a second door leading to the bathroom, where a house outhouse was ready for the cold winter days. The bathroom also had a bathtub, but amusingly, no faucet. What was the point when there was no running water in the village anyway? The water, partly brought by a truck and partly rainwater, was drawn from our well in front of the house. It was used for washing dishes, making tea, or bathing. Grandma Lina would heat up a full bucket for us, from which we would scoop water with a large jug and pour it over ourselves while standing in the tub.

Exiting the bathroom, you faced the side of a small wardrobe, at the other end of which stood a tube television. In the entrance room, there was also a long folding table where we ate. For lunch, Grandma Lina usually cooked borscht, pelmeni, manti, chebureki, pancakes, or Russian pies. Leftovers from lunch were eaten for breakfast. If you weren't full from that, you could have bread with sausage and cheese. Dinner hardly differed from breakfast. Next to the dining table and right against the carpeted wall was a bed. It served as both a seating area during meals and Grandpa's sleeping place. Strangely, he never slept with Grandma in the same bed.

From the entrance room, you could directly access the kitchen, where Lina cooked and washed dishes in a small tub. Although there was a large white table there, we never ate there. The kitchen also had a gas stove operated by a large gas cylinder because there was no fixed gas connection in the village. If the gas cylinder ran out at an inconvenient time, Grandma used a small electric stove for cooking. The problem was that the village experienced power outages for a few hours at least once a week, for inexplicable reasons. If the lights suddenly went out in the evening, candles were simply lit. Then the meal had to be postponed, or there was an alternative from the fridge that needed to be eaten quickly before it went bad.

In the middle of the entrance room, right next to the TV cabinet, was a wide, doorless passage to a kind of small transitional room. There was actually only a tall, narrow bookshelf in that room – nothing else. From that room, you could enter a bedroom both to the right and to the left. I sometimes slept in the left bedroom with Grandma Lina and Dasha in a large bed. But I also slept in the living room or the entrance room because I didn't have my own room. Grandma's bedroom was the darkest room of all because the window there didn't lead outside but into the built-in garage where Grandpa's car was parked.

Turning right in the transitional room, you entered a bright bedroom that originally belonged to great-grandma. The second window of the house belonged to this room. Positioned exactly between two cherry trees and adorned with bright wallpaper with pink flowers, it was the brightest room during the day. This was where Mama slept.

If you didn't turn left or right into the bedrooms from the transitional room, you could continue straight into the living room. It wasn't really a proper living room since it wasn't inhabitable in the winter. It was always freezing cold, and a large red carpet in the middle of the room was the only protection from the icy floor. In the room, there was a large wall unit with old dishes from Uzbekistan, a non-functioning tube television, and books by famous Russian writers like Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Dostoevsky. There was also a bed here, which you could only sleep in during the summer or with at least ten thousand blankets in the winter. There was a piano where my mother taught me "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic, and a non-functioning fireplace with a huge real elk skull on it, which Uncle Sasha had shot.

In the summer, the living room was the coolest room of all. When it was too hot outside, you could cool off in this room.

Sometimes, a gray mouse would dart out of a slit in the wall unit only to disappear behind it again. Although Grandpa Yura placed mousetraps, which always crushed a mouse, this battle was hopeless. Mice kept coming from the fields.

From the living room, you could enter another, last room. Even though Grandpa sometimes slept here, this room – apart from the bed – was more of a storage room, like the other half of the house. There were containers of kerosene here, which Grandma rubbed into our hair if Dasha or I had lice. It was simply the best remedy for lice – after a day, they were all dead.

Through the window of the storage room, you could see into the large garden with apple trees, pear trees, apricot trees, currant bushes, and blueberry bushes. Among them were inhabited beehives, and the sunburnt grandpa, shirtless, held a bee frame in his hands, inspecting it. At the right end of the garden, you could see a small warehouse where part of the harvest, in the form of sunflower seeds or wheat, was stored. Sometimes, I sorted the sunflower seeds to earn a little pocket money for sweets. Uncle Sasha paid me a hundred rubles for a hundred-kilogram bag of sorted sunflower seeds. It took forever, but afterwards, I was rich. Grandparents' garden behind the house, Russia

From the window of the uninhabited room, you could see, at the end of the garden on the left, the lawn where the chickens, ducks, and turkeys grazed. Grandpa let them out every morning until dusk, and even without a fence, they always stayed in the yard. Sometimes, a daring rooster would chase me. To escape, I quickly climbed onto a trailer or ran into the outhouse and locked the door behind me. Sometimes, while waiting, I looked into the pit and imagined how deep I would sink into the brown stuff if I fell in. Or I tried to identify individual feces, most of which had already merged into a homogeneous mass. Then I looked out through a small hole in the wooden wall of the outhouse. Since the rooster was still lurking nearby, I squatted with my arms crossed. The sunlight streamed in through the hole, enchantingly reflected by the floating dust particles. I just had to look at those glowing particles in the air for a moment, and they would put me into a hypnotic state, from which I could only escape by an external stimulus, like the meowing of the cat Vasja, who was lurking outside the outhouse. After a few minutes, the rooster was no longer visible, and I cautiously went out.

The old, plush Vasja was already rubbing against my leg, begging for petting. But once you petted him, the next day you had a terribly itchy butt and little white worms in your stool, which, in turn, disappeared the following day if you ate two cloves of garlic. Trying to avoid petting Vasja as much as possible, I continued walking towards the three barns, which stood a few meters apart. Barns and trailers in Kharkovskiy, Russia 2002

One barn was empty because all the chickens and ducks grazed outside during the day. In another barn, there were half a dozen pigs, which grunted all day long. When the grunting got louder, it was a sign that Grandpa was in the barn feeding the pigs. If you went behind the barn, you reached a slightly larger field where the grandparents grew cucumbers, tomatoes, spring onions, potatoes, even watermelons, and much more. The grandparents also allocated a small plot for Dasha and me to experiment with planting. Behind the field was another, even larger field, and beyond that were more fields. Far away in the distance, you could see something like a factory.

In front of the third and last barn was a cage with two or more rabbits, which Dasha liked to feed through the cage bars with individual blades of grass. Inside the barn, there was a free area covered with hay. Next to this area was the large, gray dog Marta, tied up, who guarded our cow Dora at night. At that moment, Dora was in a meadow, where she grazed with other cows from morning until night. A person from the village took on the task of looking after all the cows for a small fee.

Every evening, I went with Ksjusha and my uncle to fetch Dora and Tante Olja's cow, Mila. The entire herd, consisting of well over a hundred cows, approached with a confident gait on the dirt road, intimidating me because the cows were so massive compared to me. Therefore, I always stepped aside to avoid getting in their way. Meanwhile, Uncle Sasha and Ksjusha kept an eye out for our cows. Dora had a black coat with white spots, while Mila was brown. That was the usual appearance of most cows.

"Dora, Dora," my uncle called into the herd.

"Mila, Mila," echoed Ksjusha from another side. One cow moved purposefully toward my uncle. It was Dora, who had apparently responded to his call and was heading towards him.

After my uncle and Ksjusha identified our cows, we herded Mila, supported by a stick on her hindquarters, to Aunt Olja's yard. There, Ksjusha took charge and led the cow to the barn, then stayed in Aunt Olja's yard. Together with my uncle, I accompanied Dora two houses down directly into the barn on my grandparents' yard. By this time, it was already getting dusky outside, and Grandpa made sure that the chickens and ducks also entered the barn. Grandma Lina approached the cowshed with an empty bucket to milk Dora. Meanwhile, Uncle Sasha headed home to Aunt Olja's, and I went into my grandparents' house.

When I opened the front door, the TV was on, usually showing the evening news. The table next to the TV was already set – with white bread, homemade butter, halves of salted cucumbers and tomatoes from our garden, along with warm milk with honey or kefir. For dessert, there was green or black tea together with Aljonka chocolate.

As Grandma and a little later Grandpa came into the house, I was already sitting at the table with Dasha and Mama, watching the entertaining animated series "Nu, pogodi!" in which a wolf tries in vain to catch a hare.

After dinner, the clock already struck nine, and my grandma changed the channel because she wanted to watch the show "DOM 2." Over time, Mama and Dasha got tired and slowly went to bed, while I stayed a little longer with Grandma and Grandpa in front of the TV. But around half-past eleven, I also went to bed to avoid the embarrassing feeling of seeing the usual sex scenes at such a late hour in the presence of my grandparents.

The Monkey

One evening, I stayed overnight at Ksjusha's place. It was already ten o'clock. Before going to bed, we jumped a little on Ksjusha's double bed as if it were a trampoline. Aunt Olja was in the kitchen washing dishes, while Uncle Sasha was already snoring in the living room.

We jumped up and down, spun around, and giggled softly. The bed squeaked with every landing. At some point, my eyes fell on the piano and the army of stuffed animals standing on it. While Ksjusha continued to jump, I looked at a slightly creepy-looking dark brown monkey right in the middle of all the stuffed animals on the piano. Its eyes seemed to follow me, and an uncomfortable feeling came over me as if I weren't alone in this room with Ksjusha.

I jumped up once more, never taking my eyes off the monkey's gaze. Slowly, I hopped to the left side of the bed, then to the right. No matter where I jumped, the monkey's gaze was always fixed on me.

"Ksjusha, I'm scared. The monkey keeps looking at me," I said with a trembling voice, which was hard to ignore, and pointed at the monkey.

"Oh, come on, you're just imagining things. He's looking at me too," Ksjusha replied, continuing to jump on the bed as if nothing had happened.

Uncomfortably, I went from the bed to the left edge of the room, then walked to the right edge, and then back to the bed. But it was no use; its black, seemingly moving pupils followed me everywhere in the room. The atmosphere in the room became increasingly eerie, and a shiver ran down my spine. I started to black out, and panic set in.

"Aaaaah," I screamed at the top of my lungs at the monkey, who with its grinning face seemed to be laughing at me. My heart was racing with fear, and I jumped out of bed in a panic, wearing only my underwear. I slipped into my slippers and ran out of the room and out of the house as fast as I could, without hesitating for a moment.

Outside, everything was tinted bluish by the moonlight, and the crickets chirped loudly. Without thinking, I ran as fast as I could to my grandparents' house. As I ran, I kept looking back at a cemetery erected in the field, where my great-grandmother was buried. Birds perched on the power lines, their shadows visible in the moonlight, made eerie noises. A suddenly barking dog startled me, making me run even faster to my grandparents' house.

Arriving there, the entrance door was still unlocked. Grandma was still watching TV. After I explained to my grandma, exhausted from the race, why I was only in my underwear, Aunt Olja came into the house shortly afterwards to ask why I had suddenly run away. When I eagerly told her about the monkey, she just laughed about it with Grandma and then disappeared back home.

After calming down, I went to my sleeping spot in the living room. There, I first turned on the chandelier, which emitted reddish light because of its color. Then I took a piece of folded paper lying on the floor and stuffed it into the gap between the door and the frame to be able to close the door at all. I kept my hand on the light switch and briefly looked into the dark interior of the fireplace and at the mounted moose head. Then I turned off the light and jumped directly into bed under the covers. With my face towards the wall - that's how I felt safer. It was so pitch black that it made no difference whether my eyes were closed or open. I closed my eyes and shivered for a while because of the still cold blanket. The distant, faint sounds of the TV gradually lulled me to sleep.

zzZ…

When I opened my eyes in the morning, a small mouse was sitting on the blanket, staring at me in shock. At least it was a small mouse and not some fat rat, like the ones that sometimes lurked in the other half of the house or in the attic. With my legs under the covers, I threw the mouse directly onto the floor. As soon as it landed, it darted quickly into the gap behind the wardrobe.

On the weekend, I went straight to the courtyard after getting up - without having breakfast or brushing my teeth beforehand - to see if Uncle Sasha was already there. On the way to Uncle, I greeted my colorful budgerigar, Kescha, whose cage was on a low chicken and duck coop on the roof. Then I hopped straight to Uncle, who was tinkering with the engine of the combine harvester.

I enjoyed spending time with him. He was the main reason why I didn't get bored at my grandparents' house. He always worked on the house of the grandparents, because that's where all the technology was. I liked driving with him and our blue tractor to the fields to plant sunflowers, grains, wheat, or barley and then harvest them with the red combine harvester that we had bought used later on. With a cigarette in his mouth, Uncle handed me the steering wheel on a straight stretch in the field. As soon as I reached the end of the field, we exchanged places again, and Uncle turned for me, because I didn't dare to do it myself.

One day, my grandparents even bought another used, slightly more modern blue tractor. In my free time, I installed a music system together with Uncle Sasha and tinted the windows to be protected from the sun.

When my uncle wasn't working in the fields, he was often busy tinkering with the technology or building his own harvesting machines, such as a plow. I always enjoyed helping him with this. I particularly enjoyed painting the harvesters red or cleaning the tractor engine so that it shone clean and silver.

While Uncle took a break from work and my grandparents and mother went into town with Dasha, he always had a cigarette. He preferred Prima cigarettes without filters because they were the cheapest in Russia and only cost two roubles and fifty kopecks - the same as the cheapest Russian Plombir ice cream or five pieces of chewing gum with stickers.

During longer breaks or when there was nothing to do, we worked together on cool fun projects. For example, we made wooden swords and bows with arrows for me, Ksjusha and Dasha. Sometimes we also made cartridges for Uncle and Grandpa's double-barrelled shotgun for hunting. Our creativity knew no bounds. We even dared to make a real metal crossbow with sharp arrows, which we used to shoot into the air or aim at wooden targets.

After a good harvest, another leisure activity was added, as my grandparents bought a computer, which they had set up in the living room by a specialist. It consisted of a tube screen, a metal box, a keyboard, two loudspeakers and a part with lights that made strange noises. It later turned out that you could use it to access the Internet. I didn't quite know how a computer worked and was therefore only allowed to use it under supervision at first. One evening, I accidentally discovered a shooter game called Quake III on the computer. I was curious to see what would happen if I clicked on the red symbol in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. The screen briefly went black, so I was briefly startled, thinking that I might have broken something. But then the game's trailer started and I realized that I had made the coolest discovery that had ever happened to me.

"Mom, mom, look, I can shoot," I said with joy while my mother ironed clothes behind me. The next morning I told my uncle about it and we played the game together before he started work.

When I had mastered the basics, such as using programs and dialing into the Internet by phone, I sometimes browsed the Internet for porn pictures with Uncle Sasha while my grandparents and mom were in town and Uncle Sasha took a break from work. The Internet thingy made all sorts of different beeps when you dialed into the Internet. When you were finally connected to the internet, it took minutes for the dirty search query to show the first results. You spent more time waiting than looking at naked breasts. Sometimes loading was interrupted because the internet card you had to buy for internet access had run out.

To get a new card, I sometimes accompanied my mother and grandparents to the city. While Grandma Lina took care of her business, I briefly visited Galja and Gogi and walked with them to the Azov Market to get new slippers, socks, or T-shirts. Sometimes, when Grandma Lina took a very long time, I went to Petrovsky Boulevard to see if my friends were playing in the yard. If nobody was there, I rang Sanja's doorbell. Then I went with him to an internet cafe to play the very popular shooter Counter-Strike 1.6.

Once Grandma Lina had finished everything, I was picked up by Grandpa Yura at the agreed place. Then we set off back to Kharkovskiy. From the point where you could be sure of not encountering any policemen on the road, I sat on Grandpa's lap and steered the car all the way home. Later, I was allowed to drive the car home alone and received compliments from Grandma, who sat in the backseat and praised my smooth driving style.

Natasha

In Kharkovskiy, I first attended the sixth grade at Orlowskaja School, which I commuted to every morning by school bus to the neighboring village of Orlowka. My mom also went there, as she worked in the same school as a first-grade teacher, where Dasha was also enrolled. In my class was Ira, a friend of Ksjusha's. Whenever I was at my aunt's house, Uncle and Aunt wanted to set me up with her.

"With her protruding front teeth, she looks like a caveman," I would awkwardly reply. It made me uncomfortable to talk about girls in front of my aunt, so I came up with such excuses. In reality, she was the prettiest girl in the whole village school with her curly, dark blond hair braided into a ponytail and freckles. The hottest girl, however, was Natasha from the ninth grade, the daughter of my history teacher. With her short skirt, red lipstick, and high heels, she made the boys at our school weak.

During the long breaks, Kiril and I would go behind the school's disgusting outhouse and smoke a cigarette, as the teachers couldn't see us there. We would discuss who and how would "do" Natasha or our also hot history teacher.

During lunch breaks, we had enough time to play soccer or go to a village shop to buy cigarettes or something sweet.

Fight

Once, during the big break, as Kiril, Anton, and I were strolling towards the village shop, we encountered a smoking boy about our age. As he passed by, he casually threw his cigarette butt in front of my feet.

"Hey, asshole," I shouted.

The guy turned around.

"Did you do that on purpose?" I asked him confidently, with a condescending tone. Anton and Kiril laughed.

"Come on, Sanja, give him one," Kiril whispered in my ear. Without much hesitation, I approached the guy and pushed him. He pushed me back. I just laughed, got very close to him, and slapped him, making his cheek turn red. A few seconds later, before I could react, he punched me right in the eye. Trying to keep my distance from him, I attempted to kick him in the knee, but he dodged it, jumped at me, and brought me down. Then he continued to punch my head while I lay on my stomach, trying to protect my head with my hands.

Eventually, Anton and Kiril intervened. The guy stopped hitting me. I took the opportunity to get up. The guy glanced at me briefly before turning away and walking off, while I brushed the dirt off my pants. My eye was swelling badly. I couldn't go to class like this. I decided to take the next school bus home. I tried to sneak past the bus driver as inconspicuously as possible.

"Haha, look, he has a swollen eye," one of the teenagers said, while I passed by him unresponsively and sat in the back corner, with my head down and facing the window. Later, my grandparents also asked me why my eye was so bruised. I just replied that I had been in a fight, and turning to Uncle Sasha, I added that I had, of course, won the fight.

Unfortunately, a black eye didn't exempt me from homework. I had particularly little enthusiasm for math. Uncle Sasha helped me with my math homework because I struggled with the subject. He, on the other hand, was very good at it. When I couldn't figure out how to solve equations, he would do it for me.

When Uncle Sasha was dealing with bureaucratic matters in the city with Grandpa or was alone with Aunt Olja, Ksjusha and I would cruise around the whole village on our bikes on warm days. We often played hide-and-seek with other village kids in an unfinished, two-story school or just climbed around on the scaffolding. On cold days or during heavy rain, I stayed indoors and built "bases" with Dasha and Ksjusha in my grandparents' living room, using stuffed animals, Lego figures, and other toys that then fought against each other.

Hunting with Uncle

On the cold, windy days of early spring, Uncle Sasha, Ksjusha, and I often went hunting for colorful pheasants and ducks. I proudly carried Uncle's double-barreled shotgun like a real hunter on my back. Once it was so windy that while hiking through the reeds, I fell into the still slightly frozen water. I quickly jumped out of the water, but I was soaking wet up to my waist. Uncle Sasha then made a campfire for me, took a bottle of vodka from his backpack, and poured a cup halfway full with it.

"Here, Sanyok, this will warm you up," said Uncle, handing me the cup. After that, I lit a cigarette. As I took a drag, Uncle stood up and aimed a rifle into the air. *BANG* A duck fell from the sky a few meters away from us. Back home, we handed the bird over to Grandma Lina, who prepared a delicious roast from it. If the roast wasn't from hunting, then it came from the farm. A chicken or a duck were not extraordinary meals. Shashlik, made from one of our pigs, however, was. When we had shashlik, it usually meant someone had a birthday.

For the shashlik, the pig had to be slaughtered first. My grandpa preferred to leave the slaughtering, whether it was pigs, chickens, or ducks, to Uncle. Probably, by taking care of the animals, Grandpa formed a closer bond with them. Whenever Yura passed by the yard with a bucket in hand, a whole horde of chickens, ducks, and their chicks followed him. Uncle never fed the animals at the farm, so it probably wasn't a problem for him to slaughter them. But slaughtering the pig was not comparable to slaughtering a chicken or a duck. The bird didn't bleed as much as the pig and didn't make any more noise after its head was chopped off with three or four axe blows. I found it amusing how the headless chicken would hop around for a few seconds.

With the pig, it was different. Dasha wasn't allowed to look at it and had to go inside. Slaughtering the pig took longer. While Uncle cut the pig's throat with a long knife for several dozen seconds, the pig screamed so loudly that even the wandering chickens and ducks stopped grazing and froze to watch the slaughter. The grass around the pig gradually turned dark red. The pig's ear twitched, its snout was open, and its wide-open eye stared at me. When it became too much for me, I often fled to the garden to help Grandpa harvest tomatoes and eggplants for the grilled vegetables. When the vegetables were brought into the house, Grandma would already be preparing the pork for the shashlik. Then I would rush outside again to chop wood with Uncle for the shashlik fire.

As soon as Grandma called out "Sasha, bolshói!" from the open front door into the yard, she meant my big uncle, not me.

"Sasha, málenkiy," Grandma would call out when she meant little Sasha, which was me.

When the shashlik skewers were ready, I would pick them up with my uncle to prepare them on the grill afterward.

My uncle was my big role model, from whom I learned a lot and with whom I enjoyed spending time. After school, I already knew exactly what I wanted to do. I would follow in my uncle's footsteps and work in the fields and on the farm. But my life will take a different course than hoped, and soon it will take a radical turn...

Legal Matters

I constantly had to go to Azov with Mom, Yura, and Lina to settle legal matters regarding my parents' divorce. I would have preferred to always stay with Uncle in the village, but I couldn't always choose the trips to the city...

On this day, one of the unwanted visits to the city was on the agenda again. It was hot. I waited with Grandpa Yura sweating in the car and drank cold kvas from a plastic cup that Grandpa had fetched from the kiosk next door. We waited for Mom, who was taking care of some business at the court. After a few hours, she returned to the car and told us that she had met Dima there. He had bought her a coffee while they were waiting in front of the judge's door. As Mom talked about it, she suddenly felt sick and had to lie down on the back seat.

"I feel dizzy. My vision is going black," she said in a trembling voice, as if she were about to lose consciousness.

"That bastard must have poisoned you!" Grandpa yelled and, without paying attention to the red light, stepped on the gas pedal to get my mother to the hospital as quickly as possible. My heart started racing. I was terribly afraid that my mother would die before my eyes. Upon arriving at the hospital, she was taken care of by the paramedics, and I was once again doomed to wait with Grandpa. After a few hours of treatment, she was brought back to the car.

Since that incident, Grandma Lina constantly drilled into me that my father had tried to poison my mother. If the police or the judge asked me anything about it, I should always stand by my mother's side. I should also tell how Dima had beaten my mother. Allegedly, he had hit her head against the wall four times, causing my mother to become hard of hearing. I couldn't remember seeing that, but every time I argued with Grandma, she repeated it so often that after a while, I started to believe her.

Eventually, the day came when I had to testify against Dima at the police station because of his violence against my mom. It was incredibly difficult for me. If I had a choice, I would have preferred not to testify at all because I was never sure if Dima really beat my mother so brutally or just pushed her to escape her chasing and accusations. But maybe I didn't want to see it either. As many times as I was told that my father was to blame, I couldn't deny it with certainty. In any case, I had no choice but to testify.

To avoid testifying directly in front of my father, I was led to another room. There, a policeman asked me what I had seen.

"My father hit my mother. He grabbed her by the back of the head and then hit her head against the wall four times," I said like a robot who had only learned one sentence. Then I was done. The policeman didn't want to know more.

After I testified, I walked out of the room and waited in the corridor. When I noticed Dima leaving another room, I ran up to him.

"Dima, I betrayed you!" I shouted after him. He turned around, and I jumped into his arms. I hugged him tightly and started crying. Dima returned the hug.

"Sanyok, it's okay," he comforted me.

A few seconds later, Mom arrived at us. I took Dima's and Mom's hand and looked at both of them with my tearful eyes. It was the last time I held Mom's and Dima's hands at the same time.

I said goodbye to my father before he left. Then I hugged my mother, and we drove back to Kharkovskiy.

Eating with Knives

Even though I no longer had to express anything in court, Mom still occasionally took me to the city in case my presence or a second statement was necessary. Like this time.

The trip was to Rostov. Grandpa Yura was at the wheel, Grandma Lina in the passenger seat, and Mom, Dasha, and I were in the back seat. We had no idea what this trip had in store for us.

After the highway, Grandpa drove at about a hundred kilometers per hour on a two-lane road until we caught up with a truck. Then Yura began to overtake. As he had already passed half of the truck, a white car suddenly appeared on our left, overtaking both us and the truck in the narrowest space imaginable. It startled us, especially Grandpa, so much that he hastily turned the steering wheel and collided directly sideways with the truck. The car started to drift and almost tipped over.

Fortunately, Grandpa managed to regain control of the car in time. The white car next to us accelerated and tried to flee. But my grandpa didn't give up - despite the totally destroyed right car door, he pressed the gas pedal and tried to catch up with the fleeing driver. Our Lada, which reached a top speed of a hundred and sixty kilometers per hour, could hardly keep up with the foreign car brand. The stranger was much too fast. But the chase lasted at most half a minute until he was stopped by the policemen standing at the roadside.

We were all in shock. After Grandpa spoke with the policemen, he asked us if we were okay. When Mom hesitantly answered his question with yes, I noticed her very conspicuously holding her stomach. It was only at that moment that I realized it was thicker than usual.

Naturally, I asked about it when we were back home. My grandparents assured me that my mother had just gained a little weight, but I didn't believe them. Especially because in the following weeks, they unexpectedly began to renovate the house. The doors and floors were painted, new wallpaper was put up, the yard and the house were completely cleaned up. It all happened so quickly, as if they were preparing for something important.

At lunch, there were suddenly knives next to the forks, which was never the case before. We usually always ate with just a fork, and if something needed to be cut, we did it with the edge of the fork. It was initially confusing, and I didn't know which hand was more comfortable to hold the knife. It was absurd, and slowly the stories my grandparents came up with to explain all these changes became unbelievable.

Eventually, the time came when they revealed the true reason to me: My mother was pregnant. When she allegedly disappeared for a few weeks for a training course a few months ago, she had actually traveled to Germany.

She had met a German man online and visited him. From this trip, she brought back the gradually growing belly in which my half-sister, Laura, was hiding.

Shortly after I found out that Mom had made a secret acquaintance, Joachim, who was to be my future stepfather, also came to Russia to meet us all. He was a dozen years older than my mother. He had short, dark blond hair, wore glasses with round lenses, and often made funny faces combined with a distorted, muffled voice. He looked exactly like I had always imagined a German to look like. All he was missing was the uniform worn by German officers. The only thing I associated with Germany until then was Nazis and Hitler.

After his arrival in Russia, we showed Joachim around the village of Kharkovskiy and, of course, the city of Azov over the next few days. It was one of the most embarrassing moments for me when we sat in a crowded café in Azov Park and Joachim took out his handkerchief to blow his nose very loudly. Everyone around us turned and looked at us as if we were savages. Blowing your nose at the table in Russia is like intentionally farting loudly. My mother laughed anyway. It was nice to see her happy again after all the difficulties with my father and all the court visits.

Especially the seventeenth of December was a very special day for my mother because on this day she married Joachim. We traveled with the whole family - except for Grandma Lina, who was taking care of the household at the time - to Azov. There we picked up a few friends, and then we went straight to the registry office, where a new chapter in all our lives was initiated. I was aware that from now on, my life would experience another major change.

After the wedding, we took a short walk to the Don River to capture this beautiful event in a few photos. When we returned to Kharkovskiy in the afternoon, Grandma Lina greeted us with champagne and a festively set table. It was customary for us to set the table abundantly on holidays and birthdays, with at least one bottle of vodka being essential. In the presence of my uncle, the others always turned a blind eye, and I could join in drinking a few shots for everyone's well-being. Joachim apparently had no problem with that.

He brought me two of my very first CD-ROMs from Germany, with two computer games, one of which I especially loved. It was a fantastic role-playing game called "Gothic," although it had nothing to do with people dressed in black. When I first immersed myself in the world of Gothic, I was overwhelmed by all the details, the atmosphere, and later also by the rough dialogues and the story.

The dialogues in Gothic were of course in German, so at first I didn't understand anything. But as my German improved, I also fell more and more in love with the game. With the help of my mom, who sometimes translated the game missions into Russian for me, I finally figured out how to pick up a forest berry. Until then, I didn't know that controlling a computer game could be so puzzling. You had to hold down the mouse button first and then press the arrow key to pick up the red forest berry. These complications initially led me to resort to the second shooter game brought by Joachim, "Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis." But I also found it difficult not to get shot and especially always crashed the plane...

My first impression of Joachim was positive. He wasn't as bad as I had initially imagined him to be. So I didn't find it so bad when my mother told me that we would soon be emigrating to Germany. But at that moment, I was not yet aware that people in Germany not only don't speak Russian but also tick quite differently from here in Russia...

The Departure

Before our departure, the legal matters between Dima and Mom were finally settled, especially regarding the apartment and the adoption of Dasha and me. During this time, Joachim returned to Germany. For the upcoming move, I had to interrupt the seventh grade in the middle of the school year.

A few weeks before our departure, I said goodbye to my friends, at least those I could still reach on the schoolyard. I also rang the doorbell of my best friend Sanja and told him that I would probably be emigrating to Germany forever. His parents stood next to him at the door and were as shocked as he was. But none of us could do anything about it. After a warm hug, I had to set off again.

One very early morning, the time had finally come. We packed the last suitcases into the car, then we set off. Before we went to the airport in Rostov, we made a brief stop in Azov at Galja and Gogi's place. When Galja opened the door, I jumped into her arms. I could hardly believe my eyes. Galja was normally always in a good mood, but this time she had tears in her eyes. I had never seen anything like it in her. It was a painful farewell, but what else could I do? The tickets to Germany had long been bought, and without my mom, I wouldn't have been able to stand it anywhere.

After a long drive, we finally reached the airport in Rostov as the sun was rising. I said goodbye to Dima, who was already waiting for us. We sat in a huge hall, through which annoying announcements blared repeatedly - I sat next to him and waited for one of those stupid announcements to be directed at us. Eventually, it happened: one last hug, and I, Mom, Laura, Dasha, and Opa Yura headed for the airplane. I kept turning around to see my father one last time. Each time, he became smaller and smaller, and my fear that I would never see him again grew bigger and bigger...

From Rostov, we first flew to Moscow, accompanied by Opa Yura. Since our flight was only the next day, we spent the night on the uncomfortable airport chairs. I couldn't sleep, just lay there staring at the high ceilings of the airport. Thoughts about what awaited me in Germany and about my parents' separation circled in my head: Maybe my parents emotionally ignored us, Dasha and me, when they argued with each other. Maybe they weren't even aware of the influence their separation had on us. Maybe they just couldn't understand it, since they themselves had never been in this situation as children, where parents forever separate.

Despite my parents' divorce and the associated drama, my childhood was adventurous and wonderful. My childhood in Russia - it was the most beautiful time. But on this day, it was time to say goodbye. Farewell to my friends, to Opa Yura and Oma Lina, Aunt Olja and cousin Ksjusha, to Uncle Sasha, Galja and Gogi - and to Dima. On this day, four days after Dasha's birthday, it was: Goodbye, life in Russia! At thirteen, I emigrated to a completely unfamiliar country.


Future Learning from the Time in Kharkovskiy: Children and adolescents have role models, people they admire and like to emulate. Uncle Sasha was my great role model, and one day I wanted to be a farmer just like him.

Future Learning from the Divorce Process: If I ever become a father, I will not instrumentalize my children to solve my relationship problems. I will protect my innocent children from feelings of guilt.