Failed emigration, 1991 – 1992

After a long journey, we arrived to the city Ostroleka, from where we received our invitations. My friend Grazhyna, a woman at the same age as us, at seeing me pregnant (it was 7 months already), felt uncomfortable and constrained. I deliberately hid my pregnancy from her when asking for invitations. I suspected she wouldn’t invite us in fear of possible medical costs. It was the responsibility of a person inviting someone to bear any costs if they occurred. I apologised for hiding my condition, and explained we just had to get out of the declining country. She agreed for us to stay for the time specified on the invitation, I think it was a week or so. She also had to report us to the authorities according to the regulations.

We had to sell our gold, just to have some cash for travelling and food. Little did I know that we couldn’t receive a decent price for the items as they were counted as metal-scrap by shop-keepers, obviously, at a much lower price. We could sell the jewellery on the marketplace, but it required lots of time and travelling to check multiple places, as it wasn’t that quick to find a willing buyer. So, we had to accept much less money, but at least we could get some cash to survive. Yet, the money was running out quickly as it wasn’t that much, and we had to think what to do next.

I also had another pen pal, Iwona, who lived in Putsk, a small town at the seaside up north. She was inviting me to visit her at some point. We took the risk to travel there to found her. Iwona, though being an adult, still lived with her parents, who were in a fish business. They were quite sympathetic to us, and because they didn’t have a spare room in their house, they booked a room in a cheap hotel, where we stayed for several days. Her father tried to sort out some work for my husband, but it turned out impossible without proper papers. After that, they said with pity that they were unable to support us any further.

It was good to have some friends in a foreign country. Well, not real friends, but pen pals. At least we could survive a few weeks thanks to them. But I didn’t have anyone else left to turn to. I don’t remember how it happened and why, but we chose to head south to Rzeszow, travelling through all Poland, from north to south east. We stayed in a hotel again, and Vlad was desperately looking for charities there, trying to get some help. We also needed warm clothes as the winter was approaching and it was getting cold, so, one charity offered some jackets and sweaters. We met an older man in the charity, who said his friend had a small house in a village, where we could possibly stay for some time.

The house owner’s son, Andrzey, drove us to the village, which was half an hour by car from Rzeszow. The house wasn’t inhabited for a long time, it was very cold inside, so he turned an electric heater on. He brought some food with him, as well as soap and shampoo; then, after asking the neighbours to have an eye on us, he left. He promised to come back in a couple of days to see how we were doing. It was very hard for us, the conditions were very tough, but at least we had a roof over our heads. Two neighbours brought us potatoes, apples, and some cooked food in pots. There was an old TV in the house, so we could watch movies sometimes as there was nothing else to do.

We didn’t know for how long we could stay there, though, and what would happen next. We were worrying about the baby to be born in December, just in the middle of the winter. Desperation and fear overwhelmed us, and one day Vlad became frightened and scared of potential deportation, and destroyed his passport. In a few days Andrzey came back, saying he would take us to his flat in Rzeszow, where he lived with his father and a sister, Ewa, who was a divorcee with 10-year-old boy. Andrzey and Ewa were nice people, they took care of us and fed us well. Andrzey also tried to find some work for Vlad. But as Vlad didn’t have the document anymore, they advised him to go back, try to obtain a new passport, and then come back. So, he went back to Astrakhan, where his parents lived.

Meanwhile I was still staying with the family, and when I was close to the term, Andrzey drove me to the hospital. On 28 December, Katie was born, with blue eyes and blond spiky hair. She was very pretty for a newborn baby, and for a while I even forgot about my distress and worries about the future. In a week, I was discharged, and Andrzey came to pick me up. It became problematic for me to stay with them with the baby, as their father was after a stroke and wasn’t well. Katie was crying at night, disturbing his sleep. After two weeks, they decided I couldn’t stay with them any longer as their father complained he couldn’t sleep at night.

They found a place for me to stay with nuns in a monastery, about two hours drive south, near Krosno. I was given a small room with the bathroom inside. Nuns, who were called sisters, were very kind, brought meals three times a day, as well as provided milk for little Katie. I befriended three sisters, they always stayed with Katie, while I was doing laundry in another part of the building. Sisters were self-sufficient – they did farming,  cultivated the soil, and had some tractors and other machinery. There were a dozen of children in the monastery, aged between 8 and 16, I think sisters ran an orphanage. But I was the only adult staying there. 

I forgot to mention that we left most of our luggage in Grazhyna’s house in Ostroleka, upon our agreement, promising to take them as soon as we could. We also left some bags in a hotel in Putsk where we stayed. The lady in the hotel agreed to keep our things until we could collect them. It was impossible to travel with so much stuff we originally had, especially when I couldn’t carry much due to pregnancy. When I shared this with the sisters, they suggested I should go there to collect our luggage. They believed it would be impractical and unwise to leave so many things behind, while we may need them. They provided a car and a driver, we travelled to those two places, and luckily for me, the luggage was still there, safe and waiting for me to collect it.

My stay with the sisters lasted three months already, but there was still no sign of Vlad. One day he called the monastery from the international call centre in Astrakhan. He told me that he got in touch with Andrzey, who informed him about my whereabouts, and gave him the convent’s number. Vlad said he couldn’t obtain another international passport due to some issues, and wouldn’t be able to come back to Poland. He suggested that as there was no other way for me to stay in Poland, I had no choice but leave to join him in Astrakhan. I was devastated and didn’t want to go back to that place. But sisters also said they could no longer have me there as the room I occupied was for short time guests only, and they didn’t keep adults in the convent.

The sisters contacted Andrew asking to help me prepare for the travelling to Russia. So his family and some of their friends ran a campaign in their church, to gather some money for my travel. In a few days they informed the sisters that they collected the necessary funds, and even bought a train ticket for me to Kiev in Ukraine. The next day Vlad called again, and I told him the date I would be crossing the border in Lviv, so that he could meet me there and join my train to continue the journey together. He had to do this as I couldn’t cope with the small child and lots of luggage on me.

That was done exactly as we agreed; I arrived to the border in Lviv, Ukrainian city. As trains normally stayed at the border for 2 hours (they needed to adjust trains because of the difference in railway width), I had enough time to find Vlad at the station. I took a risk leaving little Katie alone in the train compartment, she was sleeping, and I was only hoping nothing horrible would happen to her. When I found Vlad I asked whether he bought a ticket for himself back to Kiev. He was silly enough to forget it, so I sent him back to the station to get one. He had to run quickly as there wasn’t much time left and the train was departing soon. It made me worrying a lot, I was so scared that he might not make it, but he appeared just in time when the train was about to depart. Then, we were on our way to Kiev, not knowing what was lying ahead of us.

I need to mention a significant event. During our stay in Poland, Soviet Union collapsed, and independent countries were formed. All USSR registered citizens ‘inherited’ citizenship of a country they lived in. For example, people living in Ukraine got Ukrainian citizenship and so on, provided they were registered at a certain address. Address registration was mandatory there, it was even impossible to get a job without that registration. As we sold our flat in Ukraine when leaving, we automatically lost the registration. We also weren’t registered in a former Russian Republic, as when we left to Ukraine a few years back, we had to deregister from the address we lived at. As the result of all that, we didn’t inherit any citizenship, and became stateless. But we found out about that later on in Russia.