our correspondent did, after all, get to Russian soil in… Byelorussia
was still in the Soviet era when I made an interesting discovery: on a map of
the Byelorussian SSR, I found a minuscule territory, having an entirely
different colour than Byelorussia, which was made subordinate to the
administrative structure of the RSFSR by an indicative arrow. Russian soil in
asked the executive committee in Gomel for explanation… that very same enclave
was in the Gomel region, after all. Yes, they answered me, the villages Medvezhe
and Sankovo were part of Bryansk province, Russian Federation.
very day I took off on a search in the Polesian woods and marshes for this
Russian territory. And I found it! This is the history of the enclave. In
ancient times, some enterprising farmers lived in the Brjansk village of
Dobrodeyevka, but land poorer than theirs (sand and marshland) apparently was
not found in the entire district. The farmers took a decision and went to make
their living as far away as in North America, working in the coal mines of the
Indian Company in Pennsylvania. For three years, they bent their backs below the
ground. They returned home before the First World War and bought land from the
Byelorussian landowner Shvedov. They moved to the Medvezhe dubrava (=Bears oak
wood) and Sanina polyana (=Sanya’s clearing) and built their houses there.
They ploughed a bumpy, uneasy piece of land. They got to catch fish in the
little river Iput. And the woods were nearby, just behind the gardens. And they
started to make a living there. In this way, behind the border, these Russian
hamlets (both with ten to fifteen farms) Medvezhe and Sankovo came into
existence. One spring, the newcomers hoisted an old wagon wheel on to the top of
the highest birch tree, secured it to the top with some string, so that it
wouldn’t be blown off, and waited for the storks to come. And the storks came.
storks come from our nest”, said the Byelorussians of the neighbouring village
with the name Khatki. “That means that your brides should now live with us in
our nest”. The potential grooms from Khatki didn’t leave the others wait for
them. So, in the midst of the woods and the marshes of Polesia, the Russians
lived amidst the Byelorussians. They didn’t quarrel, didn’t bargain, but
married and became kinsfolk.
1926, all problems linked to administrative boundaries were decided on the spot
by a joint committee, set up by the Central Executive Committee and made up of
representatives of each of the union republics. Taking into account the will of
the inhabitants of these villages, the committee left Medvezhe and Sankovo under
the war, the Russians gladly helped the Byelorussian partisans and fought in
their ranks. When the fascists burned down Khatki, the refugees found harbour in
Sankovo and Medvezhe. Khata Korzhova, living in the one-but-last house of
Sankovo, still being a child herself, took in the Berchenko family, five members
in all. The Belopukhovs found harbour in Medvezhe. In this village, at Stepan
Pesenko’s place, Pyotr Tarayev, with wife and three children, was housed. The
Gorevs stayed at Filipp Molchanov. In Medvezhe there was also place for the
Yurchenko’s, the Makushchenko’s, the Borisenko’s…
the bitter cup didn’t go past the Russians either: at the end of the summer of
forty three, the fascists burned down Medvezhe and Sankovo, and the red village
head Sevostyan Spravtsev and his wife Yevdokia were shot for having links with
the war, Medvezhe and Sankovo were raised from the ashes. Khatki as well. After
that, the farmers joined efforts in draining the marshes, and enjoyed big
harvests. On my (first) visit to Medvezhe I saw a prosperous village:
streetlights were shining bright from the lamp posts, and TV screens shimmered
from behind the windows. Who could imagine back then that this land, where
everything breathed prosperity and where one could live, as it were, forever,
could, from one moment to another, turn into a (I dread to say this!) zone of
death, where it is forbidden to be or enter.
is like the cry of a guard, that what you encounter on the edge of Medvezhe,
this sign saying “Stop!”, together with a sign indicating radiation danger.
A terrible sight! Empty, abandoned settlements. A fence made out of heating
tubes. A broken-off winch of a well. The weeds are more than man-high
everywhere. You’re standing there for a while, paralysed, hoping to catch an
albeit faint sound of life, but to no avail. Not the cutting of the axe, not the
sound of the bucket in the well, not the familiar cry of the cock. Just that
silence that freezes your soul, all around!
and Sankovo can only still be found on old maps; the villages don’t exist
anymore as settlements. The people left their native soil, saving themselves
from the Chernobyl clouds. Only the storks stayed behind. Also Khatki, as well
as other surrounding villages, have vanished from the face of the earth. All
were swept away by a black wind. The lands, killed by radiation, are now
overgrown with thistles and shrubs.
I went to these sad places, together with my old good acquaintance, the former
local kolkhoz chairman Vasili Lukich Pesenko, to say goodbye for a last time to
Medvezhe and Sankovo, and we immediately felt like being outsiders already.
Entering and being there is, like the sign warns you at the village entry,
shattered Vasili Lukich stands in front of his house, or rather, what is left of
it: ruins and a pole of the garden gate, on which a forgotten and abandoned
veteran star is getting wet in the rain. He is silent, but I know, that he
can’t come to terms with everything that has happened.
Translated by Mr. Peter Smaardijk from © 2002 Russian
weekly Rossija http://www.russianews.ru/index.php?body=pub&id=103