*** 

 

The beginning of World War II found the Kogevins in Kiev. Their only son Vladimir, or Mirik, as his parents would tenderly call him, was sent to the front. Eugene and Raissa stayed in occupied Ukraine. One can only imagine what they had to live through. Anatoly Kuznetsov, himself a survivor of the Nazi occupation and author of the world-famous documentary novel Babi Yar, left the strikingly truthful testimony of German atrocities.

 
Mirik was twice wounded on the front but stayed alive. When he returned to Kiev, his aunt Nina (Raissa’s sister) told him that his parents had gone missing during the war. He stayed on in Kiev to live with his aunt, graduated from university and eventually became a professor of physics at the University of Kiev. 

Vladimir (Mirik) Kogevin. Kiev, the 1960s
Vladimir (Mirik) Kogevin. Kiev, the 1960s

After Stalin’s death Mirik got a message that his parents were alive and now resided in the U.S. The first feeling of euphoria gave way to anxiety – how to live further? In the USSR, where living under the Nazi occupation was regarded as a crime, having parents who had fled the Soviet Union to the U.S.A. -- the enemy state --  amounted to treason with all that that implied.


At first, Eugene and Raissa communicated with their son via common friends but later, under Khruschchev and Brezhnev, exchanged letters directly. But in all the official forms he had to complete Mirik stated that his parents had disappeared during the war. If the truth had surfaced, Mirik would have gotten into great trouble.


My grandmother used to tell me that Eugene and Raissa “fled the USSR with the Wehrmacht,” which at that time meant collaboration with the enemy. Nobody knew how they had reached America and many years passed before I finally learned the truth.


Eugene Kogevin died in Miami in 1965. Eight years later, at the age of 49, his son Mirik died of apoplexy caused by the wounds he had suffered during the war. Raissa continued to communicate with my grandmother Zinaida. After Zinaida’s death in 1978, I carried on the correspondence with my auntie. Now, with so many years gone by, I regret that my letters were so uninteresting as I read them today. A school graduate at that time, I was a keen fan of Western rock. A “genuine” American record cost a lot of money, some amounting to one month’s salary. As our modest family budget couldn’t afford it, I often asked auntie Raissa to get me Deep Purple records which I used to lend to other fans in exchange for other favorite rock groups. Raissa fulfilled my requests without asking questions. She would also send me Agatha Christie’s novels that helped me learn English.


In 1983, I got a letter from Raissa’s attorney at law saying that Raissa had died. No other details were given. Three years later I finished university, married and Gorbachev’s perestroika was in full swing.


Miraculously, in the summer of 1992, a friend of Raissa, Klavdia Krasnicky, found me in Moscow. Aged about 80, she came to Moscow to see her relatives. When I asked her how Eugene and Raissa found themselves in America she replied: “How? They were deported to Germany from Russia. In 1945, they found themselves in the Soviet occupation zone. Fully aware of what awaited them if they returned to the USSR, the internees made the camp commandant drunk and hijacked a truck to the U.S. occupation zone. Eugene had a brother, Constantin, in America, with whom they lived for a while in New York until Constantine bought them a small house in Miami. Constantine expected Eugene to find a job in the States but he failed to do so or simply didn’t want to. Constantin, understandably, got offended and almost stopped communicating with Eugeny.” When I said that Raissa had been sending me English books, Klavdia answered that the auntie also used to mail me religious books but these were confiscated by Soviet customs officers.

 
So, Eugene and Raissa were classic DPs, or displaced persons, who shared the fate of the hundred thousands of their fellow-citizens who fled to the West after the war to avoid returning to Stalin’s “paradise”. During our brief meeting Klavdia handed me a small envelope with black-and-white snapshots of Raissa and Eugeny. The sender’s name was George Tiajoloff. My name and address were written in accordance with the pre-1917 spelling rules. “He was Raissa’s executor. He owns the papers she bequeathed to him before her death.” At that moment I didn’t attach much importance to these words.


A few years later I found George’s phone number and called him. In the receiver I heard an old man’s voice speaking in Russian with a strong accent but almost without mistakes. Introducing myself, I explained what I wanted. “Yes, said George, I do have Raissa’s photos and papers. Do I have her diary? She did keep a diary but asked me to burn it after her death.” I asked him then if he could mail the papers to Moscow. I suggested to him that he post them to my New York relatives who would send them on to Moscow. The idea didn’t seem to inspire the old chap, though. “You know, he said, I keep Raissa’s papers in the basement. We are often flooded, so I don’t even know in what condition they are. I am too weak to get them upstairs.”


Hanging up, I understood that the papers are lost forever.

 

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