Today we are be celebrating 75th VE Day (Victory in Europe) – the day when the Second War Ended. Most of Europe celebrates it on the 8th of May, but all post-Soviet countries special day is the 9th of May – purely because of the difference of the time zones at the moment of signing! 🙂
But the date isn’t important. What’s important is to remember our heroes.
My great-grandparents were my heroes. Here is their story.
Valentina & Vasiliy Prokopovich
Valentina was only seventeen when she left her home town of Yaroslavl and went to the Mining University in Leningrad (Now St Petersburg). In her first year, on her course, she met a handsome man – Vasiliy.
There were courting for over a year, and were planning on getting married in ’41, but…
The war has started, and everything has changed.
Leningrad was under Nazi siege. Noone could have even imagined that this will end up one of the longest sieges in history, and the largest loss of life ever known in a modern city – with over three million casualties, one million of them dead.
Since summer, the students of the Mining University were working at the military factory, but Vasiliy wanted to go to the front. At nineteen years old he wanted to join the military and protect his homeland: honour and loyalty to his country was above all. But he was rejected.
He was the son of the Enemy of the State.
Vasiliy’s family – The Prokopovich family – has been through a very tough time, with the worst year being 1937 – the year of the most brutal Stalin’s repressions. Russian nobility was being destroyed by the Soviets, with all of their lands and belongings repossessed by the State. Anyone who stood in the way of the new ideology was murdered. Vasiliy’s dad was announced as a British spy and an Enemy of the State, and was shot to death.
It was tricky to live with this stamp of shame, so after two months of trying, Vasiliy was finally accepted to the military and in November of ’41 he was setting off to the Volkhov Front.
He took this picture to leave it with his Valentina.
They said their good-byes and promised to write each other letters. He left her all of his tobacco, not even realising, that it will save her life…
This is when the famine in Leningrad became extreme. Having worked at a military factory, Valentina had her bread vouchers, which really kept her going.
One evening, on the way home after a long shift, Valentina got attacked and beaten up. When she woke up, her bread vouchers were gone.
Vasiliy was at the Volkhov Front, fighting alongside other young men, most of them under twenty, and just like so many of them, he got wounded. Many of his comrades died, but for him it was pure luck – he was found in the swamps, shell-shocked, with his toes frostbitten. It took him a good couple of months to recover from partial amputation and all of the injuries, but he was alive, and he could go back to war.
In Leningrad people were dying from hunger. It’s been weeks since anyone has eaten any solid food. Tobacco was more valuable than gold, and when all of the pets were eaten, people were boiling anything leather or making porridge from any wallpaper that they could find – most walls were painted, so it would be a luxury.
Valentina was dying from dystrophy. When she stopped turning up to work, her great-aunty heard about it and went on a search for her. Great-aunty Natalya has somehow managed to get herself a spot to the Road of Life – the only available path out of Leningrad, and she gave it up for her great niece. Blockade victims were taken to Yaroslavl.
Valentina was going home.
Vasiliy was studying in military medical school through his recovery, and was about to be sent back to the Front to work as a military paramedic, when he received terrible news: his twenty-two year old brother Vsevolod was dead.
Vsevolod & Vasiliy
He lead the intelligence mission, which helped his battalion win, but unfortunately he didn’t survive. He was awarded with the order of Red Star posthumously, but the family never found his grave.
Vasiliy & Vsevolod
It’s been two years of loving letters, but in 1944 they managed to briefly see each other – part of Vasiliy’s army was formed in Yaroslavl, Valentina’s home town.
The war was over, Valentina was back in Leningrad. Vasiliy would only be de-mobilised in the summer, but he came to Leningrad, and on the 23rd of January they got married.
Wedding Day. Vasiliy, Valentina and her parents Maria and Aleksander
1947: They were going to have a baby, but the boy wasn’t carried to term and didn’t live… Something that happened to the most of young girls who survived the blockade.
January 1948: A daughter Elena was born (my grandma – dad’s mum).
August 1951: A son Vladimir was born
Vasiliy with his childen
At the International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties, Stalin’s ideology was condemned, and Vasiliy’s father and family were rehabilitated. They were no longer Enemies of the State.
1976: Vasiliy and Valentina attended the opening of the Monument to the Fallen at their university, where Vasiliy’s brother – Vsevolod is commemorated for his bravery.
Both of them have since passed away, but I’m lucky to remember both of them, as I was their first great-granddaughter. Thank you for being my heroes.
This is the last ever picture of Vasiliy, my hero great-granddad with my little brother and his military awards behind him ❤
Valentina Prokopovich (Ershova) 28.02.1922 – 13.06.1997
Vasiliy Prokopovich 23.02.1922 – 18.03.2008
Я помню. Я горжусь.