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Rena's Memories

Part 2 (Growing Up)

Outside Play

I loved playing outside. There was always a group of youngsters playing in the street or in the back. I loved playing games and my mother always had a hard time getting me in. We organized volley ball, hopscotch contests, played hide and seek around the bell tower, and played tag.

Outside Lavra's wall there was a path up to the hill overlooking the Dnieper River. We often went there to play and picnic. In the valley there was house where cows were kept where we got our milk. When I was about five years old, I went to pick flowers there and was attacked by a pack of dogs. I knew from my mother that one should not move, so I threw myself face down on the ground and screamed. The dogs surrounded me in a circle and barked. Finally the farmer came and rescued me. It was a frightening experience and I can still visualize the entire scene quite clearly.

I continued to wander far from the house without my parents knowledge. Many of my friends were not closely supervised – they were lucky to have one parent and Lavra was mostly a lower class neighborhood. I used to ride on a trolley into town and back without a ticket by jumping on while it was in motion. My parents never knew about this.

Click on images to enlarge.


Lavra bell tower

Kiev f Dnieper.jpeg

The Dnieper River

Photo by Gubchevsky


Springtime in Kiev

Spring came in March. The snow that was piled up above my head began to melt and there were streams of water everywhere. We used to play in the slush and build bridges and dams. It took a month for the snow to melt. Real spring came toward the end of April. Spring was beautiful in Kiev; I remember lilacs, lilies of the valley, horse chestnuts blooming profusely.

May was a special month. May 1st was celebrated with parades. I could not understand why my parents didn’t like parades. My mother had no choice but to participate with the rest of her co-workers. I participated with my class. I loved wearing my Ukrainian folk costume to the parade. That’s when I had my very first ice cream. It was sold during parade time. It was delicious and full of whole strawberries.  When I was older I marched with my class past the reviewing stand and I saw Khrushchev. He was the big man in Ukraine then.

Stalin appointed Nikita Khrushchev as head of the communist party in Ukraine in late 1937.

May 2nd was a day off for everyone. Every year we went to then zoo. The zoo trip was a real treat. Afterwards we went to a photographer – my parents had my photo done once a year.

In June my father used to pick wild strawberries. He never took us with him. He started out when it was dark, took the trolley to the last stop on the other side of town, and then walked quite a distance. In the afternoon he returned with beautiful baskets of berries and wildflowers.


Summertime / Parent's Friends

In the summer my parents and their friends (and I) would go to an island on the Dnieper. It took a whole evening and the next morning to get ready. The men carried huge bundles balanced on a pole over their shoulders with food, pots and pans, dirty laundry, and soap. We had to walk down to the bridge, cross the bridge, and then hire a boat to ferry us. There were very few people using that island. We would stay on the island until dark. We cooked, swam, walked, and did the laundry. These were my favorite summer outings – even better than visiting a dacha.

We had no relatives in Kiev but my parents had their close circle of friends. I still remember parties with music and laughter. Uncle Vasya, the composer who ended up in Chicago, Vladimir Kruglov, the opera singer, Aunt Musya and Aunt Lyalya were regulars, None of these friends was a real aunt or uncle. When they came, there would be piano playing and singing and games. 

During many summers my parents rented a dacha – often in some out of the way village. I don’t remember how much of the summer we spent there. My mother’s sister, Klava, would come from Moscow where she worked for a famous biochemist  and so the sisters would see each other. And that is how I got to know my cousin Natasha. This lasted until I was seven, I think – or maybe eight.

My parents friends often rented nearby. We went berry and mushroom picking. One summer (I was approximately seven) we stayed by a river and did a lot of fishing. We cooked a fish soup called “Ukha”.

At this point I should mention that my parents knew just about all of the intelligentsia of Kiev. I only have clear memories of their closest friends which include Uncle Vasya, aunts Musya and Lyalya, and Vladimir Kruglov. These people we saw almost every week and we went with them to dachas. The others I don’t remember well. I know that mother and father were friendly with some important doctors and with well known writers and scientists. The words “doctor” and “professor” were part of my daily vocabulary. 


Music and Culture

Please tell the story about Kruglov. He came to your apartment in Kiev to give Dedushka voice lessons. 

Yes. We had an upright piano in our apartment in Lavra. My father loved to sing and Kruglov was a good friend and an opera singer.  My story is that he would come and he would say “Valentin Andreyevich, Dushichka!” (Dushichka mean's dear one) and my father would would say “Vladimir" whatever (I forget his patronymic), "Dushichka!" And they would hug and have kisses in the air and so forth.  I thought this was funny and I loved to imitate it.

Kruglov was a regular friend and we went to hear him at the opera. My father loved operas. Rigoletto was his favorite. All this happened when we lived in Lavra. When the war started everything was topsy-turvy. We had to leave Lavra and I don’t remember if we saw anyone. We lost touch with a lot of friends – my parents did. The people we used to see that were familiar to me – suddenly they weren’t there anymore.

Valentin was from the landed gentry but his wife, Polina (Bobbi), was not. Her father had an embroidery establishment in St. Petersburg. I don't know how many employees he had. Polina and her siblings all became educated. According to Rena's cousin, the children worked for their father to pay for school. Rena doesn't believe this was the case for Bobbi because she had never heard of this. Bobbi may have been too busy taking care of her younger siblings, though she managed to attend school as well.


Bobbis siblings included one scientist (besides Bobbi), one polar explorer, one poet, one journalist, and one opera singer. Obvously her family appreciated music, art and literature.


Bobbi loved opera but was absolutely crazy about ballet. When I was old enough I would take the train to New York and meet her at Lincoln Center to see whatever ballet company was in town.

Lyalya opera a.jpeg

Bobbi's youngest sister, Lyalya dressed for one of her roles as an opera singer. Bobbi may not have seen her sister perform since she left home when Lyalya was around three years old.

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