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Rena's Memories

Part 16 (We leave Kiev)

Final Hours in Kiev

Click on images to enlarge.

Well, back to leaving Kiev. The dress that Fritz’s wife made for me had been slightly altered by my mother. She had removed all of the buttons that decorated the front of the dress and replaced them with buttons that had gold coins inside. The coins were covered with cotton and fabric. 


We were in a great rush to go we were only able to gather items that were not already buried. Important parts of my father’s collection were dug in already and we just left them.

I don’t remember if we told anyone about the items buried in our shed. We had only hours to leave and we had to walk to the railroad station. I remember my mother yelling that we must find photos because they couldn’t be replaced.


My parents were able to buy a cart to carry our belongings. With the cart full, we started walking to the railroad station. Many others were walking in the same direction — some headed to the railroad and some to the suburbs or villages where they had relatives. As we turned from the hill toward the station, we took one last look at St. Vladimir’s Cathedral, the ornate 18th century church, and sort of said goodbye to it. My father wondered if we would ever be back.

My parents never did get to see Kiev again. My father would not go back to the Soviet Union at all, and my mother chose not to see Kiev on her two trips back to the USSR.  When Luke and I went to to Kiev, we saw St. Vladimir’s Cathedral on our first walk from the hotel. It’s on this big main street. I don’t remember the names of the streets but I know their location. The same cathedral’s still there. It wasn’t destroyed. We also saw the view of the railroad station from the way I saw it when I was leaving Kiev. I was thirteen at that time. 


I can understand why my mother never went back to Kiev. There was no one there for her to visit. We never knew what happened to her close friends, Musya and Lyalya. Uncle Vasya ended up in Chicago.


St. Volodymyr's Cathedral

(Vladimir in Russian)

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Train to Lvov

Train to Lvov

So we went to the station and we got on this train and it was about seven days to get to Lvov. For some reason I do not remember the train trip and life in Lvov as vividly as the preceding years. The group we traveled with, perhaps 20-30 people, had a box car. There were families with children of all ages. I met another Ariadna, the daughter of the Ukrainian composer Lysenko. (The famous composer Mykola Lysenko died in 1912. The other Ariadna must have been the daughter of Mykola’s son, Ostap, who taught music and also composed.)


Each family staked out a territory in the car. Some people brought cots and easy chairs. We had relatively few possessions - some blankets, two forks, one spoon, and a knife. Everyone brought their own food. It was the end of September and the weather was beautiful.  In our rush we didn’t take any warm clothes.  I walked out from Kiev in that dress that Fritz’s wife made, the one my mother decorated with buttons, but I had no coat. It was getting cold so one of the very first things we had to do in Lvov was buy me a coat.

It was not an easy journey. We didn’t have much food. We must have obtained more food in the villages. The only event I remember was an attack on the train by partisans. They had mined the tracks and a few cars derailed but we we escaped injury. Our trip was delayed while the track was repaired. I think the trip took 7-8 days (I assume it normally takes 24 hours). It was very slow going.


Example of a WWII era train carrying refugees

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Kiev to Lvov.jpg

Presently Kiev and Lvov are both within the country of Ukraine. Before 1939 Lvov was in Poland but had a large Ukrainian population. According to Google Maps, a road trip between the the two cities takes between five and six hours driving time.



Upon arriving in Lvov, most of the group had nowhere to stay. We found a partially destroyed house with some walls and a ceiling but no windows. A few families, including ours, stayed there for a few days. We felt like homeless beggars.

I don’t know why we couldn’t continue on to Prague. Some people in the group eventually went on and got there but we didn’t have permission to continue so we stayed in Lvov

Lvov was considered a Ukrainian city. So my father kept going around – trying to find something – some way to live or to find some contacts — and he meets this Ukrainian who was a chemical engineer. He and his wife had an apartment and they took us in for at least a month. He had a good job making artificial honey, trying to create food for people. They didn’t know us but they fed us and they sheltered us. And I still remember them.

After the war when we were living in New York my father was reading a Ukrainian  language newspaper and he saw the couple’s name mentioned. They had recently emigrated to the United States (they eventually settled in Chicago). He contacted them and helped them to get started by sending them money. So we were able to reciprocate. That was touching. I don’t even remember their name. I keep on confusing them with another Ukrainian couple that we knew in Prague.

At the time, Lvov actually had more Poles than Ukrainians and the Poles considered it a Polish city.  According to one source, Ukrainians may have made up 26% of the population in 1944. The percentage of Ukrainians the surrounding countryside was much higher. Lvov had a local office of the Ukrainian Central Committee, an organization tolerated by the Nazis that (among other activities) helped displaced Ukrainians.

More and more Ukrainian refugees were coming into Lvov, including an entire chemical institute that evacuated from Kharkov. The Germans must of thought that these people were producing valuable work. The group had an entire train and the people brought all of their belongings with them, including a piano. They were placed in an apartment house in a suburb.

My mother was able to join this institute and thus was entitled to share an apartment with another family.  We moved in with a couple who had a young girl. I was thirteen and this girl might have been six or seven. They had a large room, we had a small room, and we shared a kitchen. The apartment building had other people from Kharkov, some of them with their nannies.

Many of these people also managed to emigrate to the U.S. and my parents continued their friendship with them. The couple we lived with ended up outside of Philadelphia. Dad and I visited them but we lost contact with them a while back.

I had a good time in Lvov. I had many friends in the apartment house and there was a movie theater in the neighborhood. I was the housekeeper and I traded on the bazaar. That’s where we got my winter coat (three sizes too large).

The Polish bazaar was very different. Everyone yelled out what they were selling while walking back and forth: “Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya” (means eggs). We were also able to get some of our provisions through the institute.

At the apartment I cooked and did wash. I still remember how I did that. Since we came with nothing, all our cooking utensils were from that lab. We used these large evaporating dishes to cook in and I cooked with a bunsen burner. I had never seen gas before and I never knew that people had gas stoves until I lived in Prague. I just didn’t know what a gas stove was. I thought that if you had gas you cooked with a bunsen burner.

Was there piped in gas?

Yes. There was piped in gas to which you could attach a stove but the apartment didn’t come with one. This is all I remember. I don’t have any explanation.

Now the reason that this institute was so valuable to the Germans — you know anyone can pull wool over someone’s eyes — they were trying to create synthetic fabrics. So they were investigating all different weeds. And they would get all the green part off of it and just have plain cellulose. There would be all of these things laying around on benches and they would work with cellulose and try to experiment with it and try to create synthetic fabric — artificial fibers from stuff that had never been used for fabrics.

Now the husband of the family we lived with was a really a veterinarian — and he ended up working as a veterinarian in this country in a chicken inspection place — but for this institute everybody had to be a chemist.  So while they were cooking these fibers, Boris — that’s our friends husband — was cooking lunch. He would be cooking potatoes and I would come and eat there.

We celebrated Christmas of 1943 in Lvov. We took a trolley, walked into the woods, brought back a small tree and made our own decorations. The young girl we lived with had fun doing this with me.


One of the events I remember was a fire. A tall tile stove heated one room. On top of it were newspapers and our dried food supplies. I built a good fire with very dry logs. Somehow the flame unexpectedly reached the top and everything burst into flames. I was alone and had no time to call for help. I ran for water and kept throwing water on the fire until it was out. Everything fell onto the floor. When my mother came home, I was sitting on the floor sorting beans, and separating grains.

Did you have any ID? Was it dangerous for you being refugees in German territory?

No. People were people. Nobody bothered you. The soldiers were very disciplined. The people who were worst were the soldiers in Kiev the first couple of days when we were still living in Lavra – the SS troops. And they were composed mostly of Galician Ukrainians. They were worse than Germans. They were just so anti-Russian. We spoke differently than each other. Even if we spoke Ukrainian our accent was different. Theirs was a Polish accent to me. Ours was Russian to them. They hated everyone and those Galicians who joined the SS troops were the worst. Of course the German SS was no pleasure to be in contact with, but they didn’t go around hounding simple people. I mean, you had to be careful and you avoided them. You tried to not be in the spotlight, but they were not disorderly. The German soldiers were well disciplined. They didn’t go around rampaging and stuff.

Was there a curfew?

Oh yes. There was a curfew and you tried not to be any place where you could be spotted. You just sort of laid low. But in Lvov it was much nicer than in Kiev because those people were western, and the Germans had less suspicion of them, so it was more relaxed.

We must have stayed in Lvov for about four months. Then the Soviet army began to approach Lvov. My parents kept saying that we couldn’t return to the USSR. If we did we would be treated as traitors. Our only option was to go west.

My parents kept trying to rejoin the group of professors from Kiev with whom we left originally. They assumed that everyone reached Prague except us. I was too young to know all the arrangements that my parents were trying to make.

As previously mentioned, I found that other members of the Kiev group also stayed in Lvov until the Soviet army was approaching. Rena must not have had contact with this group while she was in Lvov and so she doesn't remember them there. Rena's father may not have had an official invitation to go to Prague. I will be writing more about this period in a separate section,

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