A change may be as welcome as a holiday; or it may mark the beginning of the end of times.
For three generations the Mihailov family had farmed the hundred hectares of their black, fertile land in Southern Russia. It was the best farmland in the world. They grew wheat, dozens of varieties of fruit and vegetables, and kept cows, pigs and varieties of horses.
They prospered on the land and the land prospered.
The large family had eleven children of whom five were adoptees. Life moved joyously to the constant, annual rhythms of sowing and harvest, storing and marketing, family and church celebrations.
Cataclysmic events soon disrupted these halcyon days.
In 1931 Joseph Stalin decided that this class of prosperous farmers must be extinguished to make way for his collectivization plan and to build 'kolhozi'. These farmers were branded as 'kulaks'. This program of extermination was therefore called 'dekulakization'. A term worthy of that revolution.
Yuri was the youngest in his family. He was twenty five and married with two sons. The local authorities took his father and his brothers away to be 'dekulakized'.
One day they came for Yuri too.
"We are arresting you."
"On what charge?" Yuri asked.
"You are the son of a kulak."
"There is no such crime on the books."
A soldier looked hard at him and with a hateful smirk replied, "Good thing for you there isn't."
The train to Siberia was full of men. One was a man named Peter. He was a communist who fell out with his comrades. Yuri rebuked him for not believing in God.
They passed through Kazakhstan and unexpectedly stopped at Karaganda.
A soldier slid aside the heavy iron door of the train, shoved his head inside and shouted,
"Any tractor mechanics here? We need one for this labor camp."
Peter nudged Yuri, "Nu, here's your chance, you've been on a farm long enough, you'll pick it up quickly."
"I am," Yuri called out.
After eight years they set Yuri free but forbade him to enter forty cities, including his home. Yuri turned to a family friend for help.
"Colonel Rostov, you knew my father, can you do me a favor? I need new papers. I cannot live like this. I cannot even see my family."
Yuri's new I.D. was a military ticket. He suddenly became an army officer! He was even four years younger! The colonel managed to find a man matching Yuri's details and whose mother even had the same name.
The Great Patriotic War began in Russia. Yuri showed aptitude as an officer on the battlefield. He was promoted to Captain and battalion commander in Stalingrad. His commanding officers recommended him to train for high command, but he refused.
After bitter fighting, the Russians were defeated in Stalingrad. Yuri was captured and taken as a prisoner of war to Germany.
The war ended and the Russians recapitulated, but for a captured Russian officer there was no hope of a safe return to Russia. Yuri married a fellow prisoner. With his wife and another man they fled on foot through the woods towards Italy. They slept in flea- infested haystacks, stealing chickens and eggs to survive.
After many months they arrived at a Red Cross refugee camp run by the British in Italy.
When everyone was to be repatriated, the commandant of the camp put the proposition to Yuri, "By your Soviet ID papers your nationality is Greek. All Soviets with Russian nationality must be repatriated, but you have a choice. You may go to Greece or Russia?"
Yuri grabbed at the opportunity.
After two years in Athens, he received a letter from some friends he met in Italy.
We are in Australia. Come as soon as you can. It will be easier together.
Yuri arrived in Australia. He lived there with his wife and family for fifty three years - more than half of his very long life. The last five years were lived alone.
In the 1970's he met an evangelical pastor. Peter and Yuri immediately recognized each other. Peter was the communist in the train. They became close and Peter tried to teach Yuri the way of salvation.
Yuri eventually died of a weak heart at ninety-five. At the morgue his face was twisted as if his soul was in pain. The changes in Yuri's life had evidently continued until the last moments. Hopefully, his last change resulted in eternal peace.
(non-fiction. Some names were changed.)
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