@ Offset, Viewfind
based in Moldova
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Clary Estes is a documentary photographer from Central Kentucky who works internationally on stories about the human condition. Artist Statement: When I was young, my mother gave me...
STALIN EXILED THESE TWO SISTERS TO KAZAKHSTAN. A LIFETIME LATER, THEY’RE FINALLY BREAKING THEIR SILENCE.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
After the Soviet ruler banished thousands of “enemies of the state” to the empire’s furthest reaches, the shame and stigma kept most quiet for decades.
The first wave of deportations began in 1941.
Josef Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, ordered his forces to deport tens of thousands of Moldovans from their homes. Moldova, a small (now independent) country in between the Ukraine and Romania, became a Soviet Socialist Republic in 1940. Stalin deported legions of people deemed “anti-Soviet,” seeking to fend off trouble and unrest in his ever-expanding Soviet Union. Another wave of deportations in 1949 and lasted until the early 1950s.
They were sent to Kazakhstan and Siberia, far away from home, split from their families. Among them were the women of the Graur family, who were deported to Kazakhstan in 1951. Their father was an “enemy of the state” who fled to escape Stalin’s forces in the middle of the night; their brother joined the Soviet Army, the same military that was oppressing his family. In Kazakhstan, the Graur women, Ana, Pasha, Maria and their mother, Marusca, had to fend for themselves while hearing of dire conditions at home in Moldova.
“In 1953, after the death of the tyrant Stalin, we were not so harshly punished anymore,” says Pasha. The Graur women longed to return home to Moldova, to leave behind the harsh and stark landscape of Kazakh winters and summers and their impoverished life. But they had no money. In 1953, the principal at Pasha’s school urged her to train to become a lab technician, and gave her enough money to return home to Moldova to continue her training. Two years later, Ana, Maria and their mother saved enough money to return home. Like many others, they long kept silent about their history as deportees. To speak about one’s deportation was to call attention to the fact that you were, or had been, considered an enemy of the state. Hiding their former-deportee status allowed them to find work and return to some sense of normalcy.
Now in the twilight of their lives, Ana, 74, and Pasha, 78, share their story, along with archival family photos from the Soviet occupation and their return home. The sisters, after staying silent for so long fearing punishment if they spoke, want the history of this time to finally be heard.