We had nowhere else to go but to my birth city in Ukraine. I had my brother there, and counted on his help with finding a place to live. We couldn’t live with my mother as she disapproved my partner choice. My mother found Vlad unsuitable as a husband for not having even a college under his belt. She believed that I deserved someone educated.
On arriving in Kryvyi Rih, we first stayed in a stadium hotel for a day. My brother was already married, and moved to a small town, rather a big village, Shirokoye, to join his wife, Vita, and her parents. The next day we travelled to that place, and stayed in a tiny hotel for a couple of days. As we knew that both of them worked in a music academy, we went there to find my brother.
Vadek and Vita were very surprised to see us, but they agreed to help us with finding a rented accommodation in Kryvyi Rih. After two or three days of searching, they found a cheap room for us, where we stayed. The house belonged to an elderly couple, who had two spare rooms for rent. There was a family with kids in a large room, and a smaller room was for us. There was nothing in the room but a bed and a broken table. We didn’t have much belongings with us, so it wasn’t a problem. But at least the heating was excellent – despite a snowy and cold winter (as it can be in Ukraine), the room was very warm – it was nice to come inside after using a wooden toilet in the garden.
We didn’t have time to waste, and began to look for work straight away. As Vlad held a trolleybus driver license, he applied and got accepted into one of trolleybus depots. I also got a place at the same depot as a learner, in fact, enrolled on 6-month course to become a trolleybus driver. The course was interesting, especially when we were assigned an instructor and went on the road. It was exciting to drive a trolleybus, and I had a chance to see a lot of the city. I was surprised by how large Kryvyi Rih was – it was spread across 120 km, and from above its shape looked like a crooked horn, since its name (that’s what ‘kryvyi rih’ means in Ukrainian language). And to mention, the city was only 200 years old, quite young for a city, was it not?
After completing the course and passing all the tests, I got a driving license, and started to drive with passengers on board, under instructor’s supervision first. After three weeks I was on my own. Just to mention, as a new driver, I was getting an old vehicles to drive. Often, there were issues on the road, and on multiple occasions, I had to return to the depot to get a replacement machine. Once, I experienced breaks malfunction on the downward road, just before the turn. There were two kinds of breaks on a trolleybus – electrical first, then pneumatic (which actually stops the machine), and pneumatic was missing. Yet, I didn’t panic, and managed to slow down the vehicle only with electrical breaks, barely making the turn without an accident. Passengers were a bit scared during the turn!
The place where we lived was quite far from the depot, and it was a bit problematic to get to work, as we were either getting up very early, or were coming from work very late. It became necessary to move somewhere closer, so we started to look for another home. It didn’t take long to find a new place, and just a few stops from work. The house owner was an old man living alone, with a large dog he took off the streets. He had a very tiny house, rather a shed I would say, which consisted of a kitchen and a tiny room. He rented this shed for single people or childless couples. It looked much better than the previous place, so we took it, even while the rent was a bit higher.
For a few months we both worked without big issues. Then my husband started to have problems with the management. The situation at the depot wasn’t very good, drivers had to work long hours, often after sleeping just 4-5 hours. It was shift work, the earliest morning shift started at 5am, and the latest afternoon shift ended at 12.30 am. It happened quite often that after finishing afternoon shift late at night, we had to start the morning shift at 5am the next day! My husband argued with the management about that, as it was quite dangerous to drive being sleepy. But the management ignored the complaints, saying there was staff shortages. Eventually, the depot dismissed my husband, without stating the reason, though it was obvious.
Soon he found another job in a garage, as a truck driver. I continued to work as a trolleybus driver. At that time I was already a few months pregnant. At some point, my mother appeared at our place, and after seeing in what conditions I lived, decided it was time to get a bigger flat. The factory where she used to work, had a 9-storey block of flats in Inhulets to be given away for workers, and my mother declared she needed two separate flats, one for me and one for my brother. The time came for flats to be allocated, and we moved soon after that. It was a one bedroom flat (just one big room, no living room; it was the standard there, not like in the UK).
As my belly was growing, and I couldn’t drive anymore, the management moved me into an accounting department. My job was to count the all drivers’ hours they worked, write the results into the journal, then pass them on to the accountants. There was no calculator, so, I had to work with an abacus. If you are curious of what it was and how it was used, please watch this YouTube video. I learned how to use it back at school, and I quite enjoyed working on it. Also, the pay for this job was even better than for driving .
At that time we already lived in a new flat in Inhulets, which was an hour and a half journey to the depot. When I was already 8 months pregnant, the depot sent me on a maternity leave. Yet, there were problems detected with the pregnancy, and I was sent to the hospital . The doctor stated that the baby was too small, and there was some staph infection found. So, I spent several weeks in the hospital, prior to giving birth.
The disastrous came when I gave birth to a still-born boy, who weighed only 1.5 kilos. I was devastated, couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t even eat. The shock was too great, especially that it was the first baby, we were awaiting it so long as I couldn’t conceive for a year. The doctors couldn’t determine the reason for that, only said it was due to the infection. After two months of mourning the lost child, we had to move on, and started to try for another child. Soon I got pregnant again, and was only hoping that everything would be alright with the second child. We also both got a job to clean staircases inside the blocks of flats. It was very convenient as no one supervised us, and Vlad did most of work himself, letting me to rest most of the time.
The situation in the USSR was becoming very unstable, it got worse with food supplies, as well as other goods, and the prices started to grow up. We realised it wouldn’t get any better, and started to consider preparing our exit out of it, as we didn’t see any good future for us there. Till that time, all houses or flats belonged to the government or companies, not a single person owned a property. But the privatisation was announced by the government, and people could buy out the homes they lived in, really cheaply.
That was the chance for us. My brother knew someone who wanted to buy a flat, so he suggested he could buy from us. The guy visited us to view the flat, and agree on the terms and price. As we had no money to pay for the privatisation, he did it for us, then gave us money for the flat, after all documentation was finalised. Meanwhile, we already applied and received our international passports (different from inner ones). I forgot to mention before, that while I was still single and studying in Astrakhan, I got in touch with a few people in Poland, by writing letters to them (I found their addresses in the magazine dedicated to the friendship between Poland and USSR). Since then I was corresponding with a few Poles, and even visited them in summer.
Just to mention, in order to apply for an international passport and get the authorities approval, a citizen had to present an invitation from the country in concern. One of such Polish friends agreed to send an invitation for me and my husband. That’s why we obtained those passports and were ready to go. I was already pregnant, again (and thankfully there was no issues with the pregnancy), but I didn’t mention it to that Polish friend. For the property money we bought golden earrings and rings (I knew gold popular in Poland), as it was very difficult to exchange currency at that time. Then, after purchasing train tickets, we started to pack our suitcases. There was quite a lot to take with us, including baby stuff, as we didn’t know how soon we would be able to buy anything there.
I need to mention that my mother was inviting me to visit her sometimes, and she always gave me something to eat. I felt very sad for her, after all, she gave us the flat, so I thought she must have accepted my husband. I couldn’t tell her we would be leaving for good soon, I suspected she would burst into tears and ask me not to go anywhere. But I knew we had to leave – we wanted a better future for our children, and as we saw what was happening in the country, it promised nothing good. As the departure day approached, we headed to the train station. Finally, we were on our way to Poland, with a great desire to settle there. It was October 1991, and at that time it wasn’t meant to happen as we planned.