Teachers... They are like second parents to us. We remember them our entire life. Teachers hold a special role and place in our society, they are selfless and devoted, highly educated and intelligent. No matter how much has been said and written about teachers, everyone has their own perception of teachers.
In the Year of Historical Memory, BelTA journalist Alina Grishkevich continues her journalistic project “Women's Destinies are the Destiny of United Belarus” with a story about a fascinating life journey of one Belarusian teacher. Tatiana Karpechenko, who will turn 100 in 2024, lives in the village of Alexandria and she is a gem of a teacher. For four years she was a class teacher of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko when he attended the Alexandria school. The life of this ordinary woman is so amazing that it deserves to be made into a film. Inter alia, she has four children, five grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren.
Tatiana Karpechenko was born in a taiga village in Vologda Oblast (her maternal family members stem from Shklov District). At the age of 18, during the Great Patriotic War, she began teaching in Arkhangelsk Oblast and decided to devote her whole life to teaching her favorite subject – mathematics. After a number of twists and turns she settled in her mother's homeland, Alexandria. Tatiana Karpechenko remembers the path to her ancestral village in greatest detail. She recalls unpredictable ups and downs of her life, life-changing encounters and the study of her famous student, unforgettable meetings with his mother, a simple village woman who passed on values and truths to her son.
Sharing the country's fate
The last month of summer turned out to be surprisingly sunny and hot. On one of those serene and warm August days, Tatiana Karpechenko met me on the threshold of her village house in Alexandria. Blooming red zinnias in the courtyard next to the gazebo caught my eye.
The woman is donning a trendy dark blue dress, her gray hair beautifully emphasizes her blue eyes.
Tatiana Karpechenko is 98 years old and looks strict like a teacher, speaks logically and clearly, remembers many amazing stories from the times that today's children study at history classes.
The mathematics teacher cherishes the memory of her students in whom she put a piece of her soul. She does not brag about being a class teacher of the future head of state: “I was not the only one who taught him”.
Her life journey was hugely impacted by the events that took place in the country and was full of difficulties and achievements, courage and patriotism. A teacher is about creation and love, these are the two things that really define a teacher. After all, it is not enough to pass knowledge, it is just as important to teach young people to love their Motherland and to encourage them to work hard and be useful to their native land. Such a difficult task can only be accomplished by dedicated people who love their work and the Fatherland.
Having the wisdom of hindsight, Tatiana Karpechenko talks about simple truths that were passed on to her by her grandparents and great-grandparents and which she, in turn, passes on to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. At the core of this unshakable continuity of generations is love for the native land, for the spikelet of golden grain growing on it, for the spring water in the grandfather's wellspring, for the delicious and unforgettable taste of fresh milk milked by callused hands of the mother, for the cornflower as blue as the peaceful Belarusian sky. This continuity is underpinned by the memory of the ancestors and all those who defended their home from a fierce enemy, who fell in an unequal battle and whose names were inscribed on the obelisks we come to bow to together with our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And in this infallible vital essence there is room only for peace and goodness.
Tatiana Karpechenko considers herself a Belarusian although she came to Belarus, the ancestral land of her maternal relatives, from Russia where she was born. Her destiny reflects the eventful history of Belarus, including contemporary history. This remarkable woman has an unwavering moral compass and sets an example of true patriotism and love for the Motherland.
I am sure that such women with a difficult past create and embody the age-old ideas of goodness and spirituality, unite and cement society and the state by their example. They make a huge contribution to the development and prosperity of Belarus, pass traditions from generation to generation, preserve the memory of the heroism of the Belarusian people both in peacetime and during the Great Patriotic War. By doing this, they help raise true patriots and preserve the cultural and spiritual values of the Belarusian people.
Tatiana Karpechenko was born in 1924 in a beautiful taiga village of Fominskaya, Verkhovazhsky District, Vologda Oblast where her father Nikolai came from. Her father was a military man.
During the First World War (1914-1918), he ended up in Shklov District where he met his future wife Matryona (Tatiana's mother), a native of the village of Chernoye, about 12 km from Alexandria.
The calm and beautiful village girl Matryona immediately caught his eye. When the First World War ended, they got married and moved to his homeland in Vologda Oblast, although Matryona did not want to leave her ancestral home for a remote and cold land more than a thousand kilometers away. Everyone wept bitterly during the farewell, as it was clear that the family would not be able to see Matryona any time soon.
Several decades passed before Matryona got a chance to visit her homeland. She came back to Belarus to help one of her three daughters, Tatiana, to raise children. Yet, it is a different story how the youngest daughter got to Alexandria. Indeed, God works in mysterious ways.
Now, let's turn the clock back to 1918. The young Belarusian Matryona received a warm welcome in the severe taiga region. Her husband's parents allocated half of the hut to the young couple.
Nikolai soon found a civilian job. He was a literate person, a rare thing at that time, therefore he was hired by the village council as a secretary, which was considered a good job. And his wife took care of the household.
It did not take Matryona long to get accustomed to the local life. She revered her husband's parents and loved them like her own parents. She missed her family a lot and rare news from them was akin to the greatest holiday. She read short lines written on pieces of a school notebook over and over again cherishing and enjoying every word of these letters.
Growing up in taiga
Life went on and the family welcomed three baby girls. The eldest Anna was born in 1918 (she became a teacher, had one child, lived for 82 years), the middle Glafira was born in 1920 (she did not want to study, she was a housewife, gave birth to six children and died at 95) and the youngest Tatiana was born in 1924 (she has four children).
Tatiana grew up a calm and happy kid, she was raised in love and care. The three sisters were friendly, strong, hardworking and looked up at each other as role models. The girls were taught to honor elders, remember their ancestors, be great housekeepers, see the beauty of nature and protect it.
“We were surrounded by taiga forests, these places were beautiful beyond imagination. Locals built huge, spacious houses to accommodate several generations. We shared the house with grandparents and the father's parents. Winters were cold, up to 40°C and people adapted their housing to this. There was a part of the house where you could live in summer, and a part for winter. Grandparents lived in one half of the house, and parents and us in the second half. By the way, this house has survived to this day. I remember my grandmother's stories about the old days, about her great-grandfathers, the customs and traditions of the family,” Tatiana Karpechenko recalled.
“We kept a large farm - a cow, a horse to cultivate the land (we would not be able to do without it), sheep, chickens and a land plot. It was before the collectivization policy was launched. You see how old I am, I remember that period. We ate mainly what we grew, we had bread, meat, milk. Of course, we did not starve, but we had to be very frugal. We were taught all kinds of village work and household chores, parents would say that all these skills would come in handy and they were right,” Tatiana Karpechenko said.
“I remember my grandfather and grandmother well. Grandfather Aleksei worked at the post office, he was a very high-handed person. He insisted that we, his three granddaughters, be named after his sisters. Our grandmother Vera was very religious. I have flashbacks of her taking me to church to pray when I was five or six years old. Those religious tenets formed my moral compass. I still remember my grandmother's messages and some prayers,” she continued.
“It was 1926. All of a sudden, my father fell sick with a disease that was not curable at that time – diabetes. He was also treated at the district hospital, but, alas ... My mother was left with three small children. It was a heavy blow for her when my father died and I do not remember him. My mother did not only have three little kids to take care of, but also a household, a land plot to work on. It was more than a young woman could handle.
Cornflower blue eyes
“Mom was a beautiful young woman, and there was a guy from a village about 15 kilometers from ours who liked the young widow. He was not discouraged by having to adopt three girls or to move to my mom's house. He tried to replace our father, he treated us well, spoiled us. And then we welcomed a baby boy, our brother,” Tatiana Karpechenko recalled.
In that taiga region, men worked the land in summer and did logging work in winter to earn some money for the family. That region had good forests and logging was a good, albeit difficult, trade for the village men. Small settlements were built at logging sites, people lived there, there were even shops there.
“In spring, my stepfather would return home from the taiga, bring gifts to us - gingerbread, sweets, pillows and peas, which made us incredibly happy. When we were kids, there was not such abundance of goods as it is now. Each candy was like a gift from heaven. Our stepfather gave all the hard-earned money to our mom, she went to the store and bought calico for her daughters, from which local dressmakers sewed dresses for us, and we donned them around the village. Not everyone had money even for such modest clothes. But for us those dresses seemed like fabulous outfits, we felt like real princesses,” the woman recalled.
The mother would try to get blue calico for her youngest daughter Tatiana who was her favorite child. The black-haired blue-eyed girl looked gorgeous in blue dresses, as this color perfectly matched her cornflower blue eyes. “Later I realized: after all, my mother also wanted to dress up, she was very young. However, she gave everything to us so that we could keep up with others. She gave the best she had so that we could study and get education,” Tatiana Karpechenko said with sadness in her voice.
“After a while a commune was set up in our village, this was even before the establishment of collective farms, I was very young back then. All the cows and horses were taken away from the villagers to be used collectively by the commune. I remember that my older sister and I went for milk, with cans and buckets, it was distributed according to the number of children in the family. There was enough milk, but not as much as if we milked our own cow. The commune was set up in autumn, and in spring people took their cows and horses back to their farmsteads, and the commune fell apart. I still remember those ‘prehistoric' times. A year later people were gathered again to vote for the creation of a collective farm. There were families that kept several cows, had a large land plot. If, for example, there was a sewing machine in the house, then the family was considered well-off and referred to as kulaks (prosperous peasants),” the former resident of Vologda Oblast recalled.
Studying in a taiga school
Tatiana entered school prematurely. She attended a village school in the neighboring settlement of Morozovsky. The school building was large, had two floors and many classes.
“My older sisters were already school students, so I learned to read and count with them. I remember one day my middle sister Glafira took me to school and seated me next to her. When a teacher came in, she asked who I was. Glafira replied that this was her younger sister who already knew how to read. The strict teacher did not believe it and handed out a textbook with a smile and asked me to read it. I was not embarrassed at all and began to read, but not letter by letter, but like a real schoolgirl, whole sentences. The teacher was amazed and advised me to go to school. Thus, I started school at the age of seven, though back then kids were admitted from the age of eight. Later in life there were many fateful events like this in my life,” the woman recalled.
Thus, all the three sisters became school students. The eldest Anna studied well, and the middle one was a little lazy, her mother scolded her for this. Parents' evenings were held at students' homes. Since Tatiana Karpechenko's house was large and spacious, often all parents and teachers gathered there. Everything that the adults were talking about reached the ears of the girls. Some were praised, like the sisters Anna and Tatiana, while others, like Glafira, were asked to show more diligence.
Glafira, whom teachers tried to encourage to study harder, left school after the sixth grade following the example of her friends and never regretted it. Obviously her vacation was to become a homemaker and she was unbelievably good at it. She gladly shared many housekeeping secrets with her sisters.
Glafira, like her older sister Anna, got married and gave birth to a baby before the Great Patriotic War. Unfortunately, their husbands died at the front. However, after the war, Glafira and Anna remarried like their mother.
By the way, the younger sister Tatiana got married after the war and it was far away from her home.
You never know that life has in store for you…
Trick to join the Komsomol
The Communist Party ran a network of children's and youth organizations such as Little Octobrists, Young Pioneers, and the Komsomol. Tatiana was also member of these organizations. She believes that such organizations play an important role in shaping the worldview and promoting and active civil stance of young people.
She well remembered joining the Komsomol. The girl studied in the 7th grade and many of her classmates, who were 15 years old, applied to join the Komsomol. They were born in 1923, while Tatiana was born in 1924. Since Tatiana entered school a year earlier, she was one year short of her 15th birthday, but she so badly wanted to become a Komsomol member that she did not want to wait a whole year to do it and she took to action. The school somehow did not pay attention to the fact that one of the seventh-graders was still 14 years old, so her application was accepted and forwarded to the district committee of the Komsomol.
“All our applications were approved at school, and then one day our class headed to the district center to the district committee of the Komsomol. I was walking and thinking: what if they found out that I was under 15 years old, what would happen then, I would have to say that I could not live without the Komsomol. That was how strong my determination to join the Komsomol was. Fear overwhelmed me, my legs became heavy, however the desire to become a Komsomol member gave me strength. And, lo and behold, people in the district committee did not even ask me about my age, they were rather interested in my goals and ideals, about my worldview. They gave us Komsomol certificates, as well as badges, which we immediately pinned and walked back home with our heads held high: we were Komsomol members! Words fail me to express how proud we were. It was such a huge responsibility for each of us. It seems to me, I was the happiest of them all. I still remember those wonderful feelings. By the way, as a Komsomol member I wanted to do a lot of useful things for the country, for the community. And these were not just words, we did a lot of good things. In those days, activism and patriotism were really cool. These ideas were rooted in the October, Pioneer and Komsomol movements. The core values promoted by these movements were age-specific. It was like a second religion for us, that's how we were raised by our parents, school, university,” Tatiana Karpechenko said.
She studied well, she wanted to live up to the expectations of her mother and teachers. She did not have a favorite subject: she loved equally the Russian language and German, mathematics, geography, biology. She loved physical education. Moreover, her rural school had a large sports hall (unusual for that time) where children could learn to play volleyball, basketball, climb a rope and do some gymnastics. And winter brought a lot of fun for children, since they could do skiing and even get marks for it, and Tatiana always had excellent marks in this discipline.
She often joined her friends to race along the taiga paths to the forest, where they admired breathtaking and indescribable beauty of snowy landscapes. These ski trips were undertaken at 30-40 degrees below zero. It was a real ‘cold training'.
By the way, Tatiana Karpechenko believes that the reasons for her good health are her taiga childhood and ski races in severe frosts, as well as physical education lessons. It was no easier in summer when she had to do weeding, milking a cow, grazing sheep and horses in scorching heat. This hard work in the village was akin to high intensity sport. Nevertheless, no matter how hard life was, Tatiana still cherishes the memory of her childhood and youth spent in faraway Vologda Oblast…
From Vologda Oblast to Arkhangelsk Oblast
She was a happy kid who enjoyed school and was loved and adored by her mother. However, joyful school years flew by very fast. When the girl finished the seventh grade, she had to take a decision as to what to do next. She could continue studying further. However, the nearest high school was in the district center, which meant daily trips on foot 20 km from home. Another option was to continue her education in the town of Velsk 45 km away from home in the neighboring Arkhangelsk Oblast. Velsk had a bunch of educational institutions, including a teacher training school, an agricultural school, a nursing school and she could apply for a place in a dormitory there. Although she was very young, she understood that good education was a path to financial independence. Providing for herself, she could be a helping hand for her mother. Her fellow villagers decided to go to Velsk, some applied to a medical school, others to an agricultural school, and she and her classmate Tonya chose a teacher training school. The girls did very well at school and it was not surprising that they successfully passed the exams and were enrolled.
By that time, Tatiana's older sisters had already gone into adulthood, having married and started their own families. Tatiana went away to study, and her mother remained with only one son. The home became empty...
Arkhangelsk Pedagogical Institute and Dietary Canteen
In 1941 Tatiana graduated from the pedagogical college, majoring as a primary school teacher. The 17-year-old girl was sent to work in one of the districts of Arkhangelsk Oblast.
Excited, she and her friend Tonya came home in June for the last school vacation ahead of her first day of work. Everything was so fine in her life, the summer was full of bright sunny colors, and the young life was full of anticipation of something new and important that the first job would definitely bring about. Her mother tried to hedge her about with even more care and attention before she was to leave for an unknown place with no relatives or friends nearby. The peaceful summer days were racing by like waters in mountain rivers.
On 22 June, Tatiana and her mother saw from the open window of their house how the villagers suddenly started approaching the loudspeaker fixed to one of the houses. Through the loudspeaker Molotov's voice was heard across the whole street where men, women, and children gathered. He said that the non-aggression pact with Russia had been broken by Germany, and that war had started. He added that men had to go to the local military registration and enlistment offices.
In a heartbeat, the sunny beautiful day turned into a nightmare. Women began crying and wailing, and scared children started crying, too. Men's faces became stern and impenetrable at once. Many of them had first-hand knowledge of World War I. They fought, survived and remembered all the horrors of the war years. A little more than 20 years of peaceful life passed and here was a war again.
“Suddenly everything I heard sent a chill down my spine. I knew about the war from the stories of both my military father and my mother who knew that the greatest misfortune had broken their peaceful life again. No one knew what would happen next. And I was still to leave for Arkhangelsk Oblast,” the woman says.
She was fast to get ready for her trip, as she had nothing much to take with. Tatiana took a canvas bag with a dress and underwear, a small grocery bag, where her caring mother put a piece of bread, some lard and a jar of milk. And Tatiana embarked on her journey.
Mother, wearing a dark shawl for some reason, saw off her youngest daughter with tears in her eyes, knowing that ahead was total uncertainty and understanding that it was senseless to think about the time of their next meeting.
Tatiana left her home feeling uneasy. She was confident however that on 1 September she would become a primary school teacher in some village school and was even thinking about the words she would say to her first students. But life had other plans for her.
Upon arriving in Arkhangelsk, she learned that she had to take a training course for high school teachers at the Arkhangelsk Pedagogical Institute. Although the 17-year-old girl was not ready for it, she had nothing to do but attend it.
“The war made big adjustments in school education. Earlier, mathematics and biology were mainly taught by men at schools. Most of them had to go to the front to defend the Fatherland. Women were left with no choice. They had to replace them,” she says.
Tatiana was set to be trained as a high school maths teacher. First, she had to sit exams in Russian and mathematics, and she passed them successfully. Then, she was enrolled on the training courses.
...The war was going on. Reports from the battlefield were far from cheerful. Every piece of news spread fast among the youth. Some of them wanted to join the army. Someone, however, had to stay and teach children at schools.
The study schedule was intense, with everything taught at an accelerated pace. They had four classes every day except Sundays. They, mostly girls, lived in a dormitory. The only desire was to survive those times.
Bread ration card for 400 grams and a matchbox of salt
Students received a daily bread ration card for 400 grams. Those rations were meager, of course. The student canteen did not offer much too: some kind of soup - barley boiled in water.
There was no food anywhere. With the beginning of the war the stores, which already lacked goods and food products, became instantly empty. Everything was sent to the front, to those who fought for victory, and Tatiana was well aware of this. The then slogan was - everything for the battle front, everything for victory.
“But the stomach wants what it wants. The young body demanded food. I was hungry so much that my stomach was constantly cramped by that forever feeling of hunger. Hunger accompanied me all the time and never passed until the war ended,” the woman recalls. “The realities of wartime: all commodities were scarce, especially bread and soap. As a student I was most impressed by the fact that salt and tobacco were sold in matchboxes at the market. It was the biggest consumer shortage. At home, a tiny box of salt, bought at an expensive price, would be emptied offensively fast.”
Going forever hungry, young people resorted to all sorts of ruses to make money or get food. One day a rumor spread among the students that in the dietary canteen, located not far from the dormitory, students were given either extra 200 grams of bread or two rye flatbreads. For lunch they had borscht made of real beets and tea with saccharin. That was a real treasure at the time.
Some students, whose stomachs were constantly rumbling and singing hunger songs, managed to get into that dietary canteen, which was considered an unheard-of luxury in those hungry and terrible times. Tatiana was also somehow lucky to get a foothold in that canteen for just 20 days.
Students wrapped two precious flatbreads they received in the canteen in sheets of paper torn from their school notebooks and went to the market where they sold them very fast for 30 rubles each. Those 60 rubles were enough for the girls to buy stockings or a cheap used dress. They needed clothes, too. Some would sell their stuff and buy a piece of bread, some would do the opposite. Those were the times.
Air raid sirens
“Everything was mobilized to strengthen the city and provide all possible assistance to the front. The war became a real test for the vast country and society,” the woman continues her story. “Arkhangelsk always played a special role as the main frontier for the defense of the northern Russian territories. The city's military fleet, merchant ships, river and railroad networks, shipyards were involved in the battle for the overall victory over the enemy. The city also had a large evacuation point and dozens of hospitals. The city residents were dying from enemy shelling, and also from hunger, although thousands of tonnes of food products were transported through its sea port to the front.”
Tatiana Nikolayevna still remembers that feeling of fear from the sound of the siren announcing an air alert of possible German bombings.
“The Komsomol spirit was manifested here to inspire young people to do heroic things. The students, who were mostly girls, were assigned to units that had to be on duty on roofs to put out “lighters”, provide first aid in the sanitary unit, and also guard order. I happened to join such a unit, too. We were given special passes which gave access to any point of the city during the air alert. All people were running to shelters, while my classmates and I raced in the opposite direction. I will never forget an old man standing near a building in the center of the city, shaking like a leaf of aspen, either from fear or from some disease. I myself was very frightened, but I had to reassure the man that everything would be all right. After an “all-clear” signal life continued as normal,” the woman describes that period in detail.
The woman is still haunted by the sound of those air raid warning sirens.
A rye flatbread in exchange for a theater ticket
The situation on the front began to gradually change, with bombings coming to an end. “Artists and musicians started coming to the city. We read the announcements about the Silva operetta, Eugene Onegin opera, and various plays. I wanted to see them all, because I had never been to the theater before. Rye flatbreads were a salvation for us - we exchanged them for theater tickets. We used to put on our best old cotton outfits and were glad to show ourselves in the theater,” Tatiana recalls.
Once the training courses, which were credited as the start of higher education, ended, the young woman was sent to work in a 7-year school in the village of Ploskoye, Ustyansky District, Arkhangelsk Oblast. It was 70km to the nearest railway station. By the way, from there it was possible to reach Veliky Ustyug, the current capital of Grandfather Frost.
That was the first working place for the young maths and physical education teacher. Tatiana's certificate as a physical education teacher also came in handy here.
“It was easier to teach physical education than maths,” the teacher laughs. “The school was quite big, with a good teachers' room, classrooms, and a gym. The best thing was that next to the school was a two-storey, four-apartment house for teachers. We lived in one room together with a primary school teacher. It was a real blessing for us, young teachers, because we did not have to search for housing. The workload at school was heavy, with six lessons every day except Sundays.”
The young woman immediately felt the benefits of an independent life. Her first salary was similar to a miracle. She could afford to buy a few liters of milk and a basket of potatoes in the village. The ration card was now given for 500 grams of bread, not 400 grams as before.
It is impossible to forget the preciousness of those grams of bread, although several decades have already passed.
The young teacher was impressed with the beauty of nature and the depth of the wide northern rivers at the new place. The village of Ploskoye was located on both banks of the Ustya River. Locals called the village's parts as left-Ploskoye and right-Ploskoye. The local old men used to catch fish in the river and sell it to the canteen. That is why the canteen offered plenty of fish soups, which the young teachers loved very much. They were also served tea with saccharin there. For Tatiana those couple of years spent in Ploskoye are associated with hearty lunches and dinners compared to the hungry wartime.
A school district inspector gave her a start in life
No one knows what would have happened to the young teacher and whether she would have stayed in the profession at all if not for a person she met at the very beginning of her working career, who gave her a start in life.
...School district inspectors were a menace for schools then. Everyone knew the names of each of them as well as their biographies. The school in Ploskoye got a new school district inspector, who had escaped with his family from besieged Leningrad. He was given an apartment. He also asked for a plot of land, which his family dug up, made beds and planted potatoes. This came as a great surprise to the locals.
“One day we heard that an inspection was coming to the school. I came to work and saw a stranger sitting in our director's office. As it turned out, it was school district inspector Matyshuk. I do not remember his name,” Tatiana Nikolayevna says. “I saw him approaching the timetable to choose which lesson he would like to attend. He asked who taught algebra in the 6th grade. It was my class. He asked my permission to attend the lesson, to which I had to agree. Now, those fears seem ridiculous, but then I was neither alive nor dead. I was very much frightened. The inspector sat silently at my lesson. During the break he said he wanted to attend my lesson at the 7th grade. All sorts of thoughts began to swarm in my head. I thought then that I should expect no good from that. After the second lesson he went to my geometry class. During the break, all my co-workers looked at me with undisguised pity, sympathizing me with such an ordeal. At my geometry lesson I checked homework, told the children a new theorem, and gave them a task to solve. They solved it. While I was making notes in the school progress record, the inspector suddenly came up to the blackboard and started studying my notes there. I got really worried. I thought maybe I had done something wrong. He said: “You chose a more complicated way to solve it, you could have used an easier solution”. You can solve any task in different ways, I thought. I did not dare to say it aloud. I was sure that the inspector decided to remove me from the school. Be as it may, I thought then.”
At the meeting of the pedagogical council at the end of the second day of the inspection, Tatiana sat, mentally prepared for the most unfortunate outcome of events for her. However, when the inspector started speaking, she heard only praise addressed to her. He said that the young maths teacher conducted lessons very well, had excellent diction, gave clear explanations to students. He praised the young woman so much that she felt embarrassed at some moment. For her it was not just a praise but a great incentive to work further.
“You are still a young teacher, and should know that you will make a very good teacher. Don't give up this profession, teach the children,” those were the inspector's words which Tatiana remembered throughout her life and which guided her in all her future life decisions. The kind words from a completely unfamiliar inspector became fateful for Tatiana Karpechenko.
The most interesting thing happened to her later, however. Many years on the fate brought Tatiana Nikolayevna together with this wonderful man again, thanks to whom she devoted her life to teaching mathematics. It was no longer a personal meeting, but articles in the Mathematics at School journal. One day she read a scientific paper by Professor Matyshuk there. It turned out that the man achieved great scientific success and became a candidate of science. It was fate that brought her together with such an outstanding person in that Arkhangelsk village.
Medal for Valorous Labor in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945
The woman received this award for her labor contribution to the Great Victory. She, like all Komsomol members, considered it her duty to do everything possible to bring the victory over the enemy closer.
“While working at school, we paid not only an income tax. We paid another 10% to the state and in exchange received bonds with the promise that the government would return the money later. We, Komsomol teachers, were also bond distributors. But who was there to offer those bonds? Farmers worked for their labor days. They did not get any money. Other families got death notices. How could you go to a widow with five little children? We were able to distribute only a small part of the bonds and had to pay for the rest ourselves. We could not do otherwise; our conscience would not let it. We also paid out of our salaries for other good campaings aimed at supporting the front,” the woman said.
They did not spare anything for the common cause. They wished only one thing: that the war would be over as soon as possible.
“We were Komsomol members and we had a patriotic spirit. We had enough money for food, but there were no outfits and there was no need to buy them yet. We lived with other aspirations. For example, I was once given the field post addresses of two persons and I had to send them parcels to the front. But what could I send? We ordered wool from the locals who kept sheep and knitted gloves and socks for the front-line soldiers. If we managed to get home-made linen and cottonwool, we sewed mittens. We also made pouches (embroidered the words “For Victory!” on them) and filled them with tobacco bought from or donated by old people. They grew and dried tobacco themselves. We would visit those smokers, and there was not a single instance of someone refusing us tobacco. We got many letters back with the words: “Thank you for the tobacco”. By the way, the correspondence sometimes started when the war was already over. There were cases when soldiers came from the front and married those whom they corresponded with,” the woman recalls her young wartime years.
Tatiana Nikolayevna also remembers how the Komsomol members helped prepare bread supply trains.
For example, they were given a task to produce a certain amount of grain by a certain date. Young men and women picked sheaves in the field and threshed them with chains in the threshing floor. The Komsomol teachers could do this only after school hours, often when it was already quite dark outside. Just a dim kerosene lantern lit the room in which the young people hit the sheaves with their chains and threshed the grain through a manual winnowing fan. Tatiana Nikolayevna was engaged in grain cleaning. Buckets of grain were heavy for the thin girl, but she had to work and keep up with the others. The grain was then sacked and taken in horse-drawn carts to the mill, ground into flour, and used to bake bread. Such bread supply trains were then sent to the front. That was the young people's contribution to the Great Victory.
Every person has but one destiny
Tatiana's mother tried her best to keep in touch with her Belarusian relatives during the war. Her brothers and sisters did not forget her, wrote letters, which often included the words of advice to do her best to get a specialty, education for her daughters.
Her mother's cousin, that is Tatiana's uncle Boris Lalayev (six years older than she), worked as a teacher in Kopys before the war. This is another person who played a fateful role in the life of the young teacher. First things first, however.
“When the war began, Boris (he later worked in the Education Ministry of Belarus) got into the military headquarters, which by an amazing coincidence was stationed in Vologda Oblast. It was simply a miracle that he had my mother's address and sent her a letter,” says the woman. Her mother did not remember Boris, only his sister. However, kinship was proved, and postal communication, though not very regular, was established. Tatiana began exchanging short letters with her uncle, which subsequently led to a steep turn of change that unexpectedly brought her to her mother's homeland.
“...One day my uncle wrote in a letter that the village of Chernoye was liberated, as well as the whole Belarus. He also wrote that his sisters were alive and well and wanted to meet their relative from the taiga countryside. He asked me how I was doing. I wrote back that my work in Ploskoye was coming to an end and I wanted to move closer to my homeland. My uncle invited me to come and see how my Belarusian relatives lived,” she recalls.
Her mother immediately jumped on the idea and advised her daughter to go and see how her cousins lived. Since she had already quit her job and returned to her mother by that time, she took her suitcase and went to Belarus by train. She did not know then that she was leaving Vologda Oblast for good.
A fateful meeting in Shklov Park
It was 1946, the first year after the war. My uncle had already demobilized by that time and held a good post at the Mogilev Oblast Committee of the Party. He met his niece from Vologda at the train station.
When she arrived in Chernoye, she was really happy to meet her numerous relatives. The sisters were alive, but her mother's two brothers had been killed at the front. The girl stayed for a week with one aunt, then with another one, where she was treated with draniki and pickles. Tatiana was getting used to the local nature, the local manners and traditions, realizing what wonderful people her relatives were.
Her uncle came from Mogilev one weekend and offered her to go to see Shklov. A neighbor took them to the district center on his horse cart. They strolled through the park, around the town, which immediately appealed to the young woman.
They suddenly came across a young man. That meeting became fateful for the young woman and bound her forever to Belarus, to Alexandria: “He turned out to be my uncle's groupmate - they studied together at Mogilev Pedagogical Institute. They were friends, both went through the war, and survived, so there were many reasons to rejoice. There was a bench nearby, and we sat down and started talking. It turned out that his friend worked in the district department of public education. My uncle quickly asked if they needed math teachers. He started asking me where I worked, what I graduated from, what experience I had. I had never even thought about staying in Belarus. I planned to stay here for a while and go back to my mother and work at school there. I was at a loss, of course, and he kept on persuading me: stay here, we will find a good school, a good place. We were sitting and talking for a long time. We agreed that if I decided to stay, I would come to the district department of public education. We went back home, and I did not know what decision to make. Boris said: I would stay here if I were you.”
In the end, she was persuaded by her relatives to stay. They were only too happy to have the opportunity to keep their niece here.
The young teacher was offered two schools to choose from, one in Alexandria.
At first, she decided to visit the Alexandria school. The then director, front-line soldier Dmitry Illarionovich Galanov, met the maths teacher very warmly and kindly and promised her a lot of things that she did not want to go anywhere else.
She was assigned to an apartment with a really good hostess. The young woman began working at the school, got to know the local people, and immediately felt a great respect from the villagers, each of whom greeted the new teacher from afar.
On weekends, she went to the village to visit her aunts, who were trying to support her in every way and dreamed of finding her a husband among locals to keep her in this place.
Matchmaking through a school principal
Even while working in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Tatiana had an admirer, who joined the army later on. Everyone was crying when they saw him off and then feared receiving mail since death notifications came painfully often. He survived and then wrote to his girlfriend that he would come to Belarus and pick her up.
However, fate prepared the girl for a completely different betrothed. Tatiana Karpechenko smiled, remembering her meeting her future husband, whom the school principal proposed to her.
“Instructors from district committees of the Communist Party came to local collective farms all the time and sometimes went to the school and gave lectures mainly about the international situation and about collective farm affairs,” the woman recalled that interesting period of her personal life. “I saw that Grigory Stepanovich, Head of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, tried to get to know me. But I didn't pay any attention to him, he was eight years older than me. I was 24 years old, and he was 32 as it turned out. He was from the village of Gerasimovshchina, which is not far from Alexandria and was a friend of the school principal. Both were frontline soldiers, they had a lot in common. Grigory Stepanovich served in the signal troops, went through the whole war and had his fair share of hardships at the frontline. He went all the way to Berlin and has a medal for the capture of Berlin .After the war, he completed his studies at the History Faculty of the Mogilev Pedagogical Institute.”
“As they told me later, the school principal jokingly offered his matchmaking services to Grigory Stepanovich. Seemingly they talked about me because on one beautiful autumn day I was going home after lessons and when I was near the principal's house the principal's wife Lyuba called my name and invited me to come in. We were the same age and talked sometimes. I went in. I saw they had a table laid out and Grigory Stepanovich was a guest. The principal introduced him as a potential groom: he is a good man, he likes you, if you get to know each other, you might get married. We talked, talked jokes and the man walked me home, however, I didn't invite him into the apartment. He asked whether I will kick him out if he drops by next time. Tatiana just smiled," that's how it all started.
After that, Grigory Stepanovich went on frequent business trips, he found a reason to drop by more and more often. It was interesting to communicate with him, he knew a lot, but the young teacher was filled with thoughts about work and there was no room for thoughts about marriage yet. And so everything was just fine in life. Tatiana Karpechenko was respected at school, the students loved her, there were many caring relatives nearby. Post-war life was getting better, everything was gradually rebuilt around, more and more goods were appearing in stores.
True, sometimes a girl sadly watched how married friends got children and how they furnished their family homes.
Tatiana and Grigory communicated more during meetings at the collective farm and in school, they went to dances sometimes. He rented an apartment in Shklov and she rented an apartment in Alexandria. When this distance became too painful for them, they started thinking more and more about being together. It was in February 1949, three years after Tatiana's arrival in Belarus.
...One Saturday, Gregory simply arrived in Alexandria because on Sunday he and she had to work at the polling stations. The guy somehow very simply suggested to his fiancйe: let's get married. She had already mentally agreed to the proposal, so she did not turn it down. They went to the village council. The bride was dressed in a coat with the usual teacher's outfit underneath – a skirt, a blouse and a jacket. In the village council they were met only by one secretary, no music or pathos. By the way, it was not necessary to apply for marriage in advance.
Everything was simple, no complications. Meanwhile, this simplicity and routine did not prevent the family from living together for 37 years in love and respect for each other.
And then the newlyweds quickly signed the paperwork and already went to work in different directions from the village council, each to his and her own polling station.
Now Tatiana Karpechenko recalls how simple everything was with a smile. But in those days it was very difficult to organize a wedding, there was not enough money or food for it. By the way, the teacher was then given flour instead of a salary. It's good that while living in an apartment, she ate with the landlady, who cooked lunches and dinners.
Tatiana got married, clearly realizing that her husband was as poor as she was herself. In addition, he had elderly parents, for whom he was responsible, because his brothers had not returned from the war.
After signing the marriage papers in the village council, the newlyweds did not see each other for several days. They agreed that Tatiana would soon come to her husband in Shklov by train. She dressed up, put on a weekend dress, her mood was high, but for some reason she did not have the confidence that Gregory would meet her. She thought he might forget about it. She came to the railway station and accidentally met the school principal there. I told him: if my husband does not meet me, then I will go back along the track to Alexandria and will never be with him again. Upon arrival she saw the young husband standing on the platform, waiting for her.
And then, taking him by the arm, the girl and her betrothed went not simply to his house, but to a long and wonderful family life.
Soul rooted in Alexandria
The wife worked in Alexandria and her husband worked in Shklov until 1950.
“When I got pregnant, we had to live together. I grew very attached to Alexandria and didn't want to leave the place, so I said: whatever you want, I won't go anywhere from Alexandria. I was brave like that.” Tatiana Karpechenko is surprised by her decisiveness now. “Well, we decided to go and consult my mother-in-law, who was a wise woman and did not argue with me, the daughter-in-law, but supported me.”
There was no head teacher at the Alexandria school at that time, so Grigory Stepanovich started working alongside his wife. The young family was granted half of a house, which was absolutely empty since there was nothing to buy and no shops to buy things from. However, the young husband did not come empty-handed. He had an iron bed, a radio, and he built a table from wooden planks. They began to settle in, very slowly, but then it did not matter. They rejoiced at a peaceful and calm family life, good relations and believed that everything would be fine ahead in our life and in our country.
As early as in the winter of 1952, the family moved into their own new house where Tatiana Karpechenko still lives.
Since the family gradually grew larger, Tatiana's mother returned to her homeland, moved to help her daughter raise children. A cow, pigs, chickens appeared in the teacher's family, there was a large garden, they planted potatoes. Four children of Tatiana Karpechenko are her happiness and pride. The son Vladimir was born in 1950, now he lives in Vorkuta, he has one daughter and a granddaughter. Anatoly was born in 1952. He lives in Mogilev, he has two children and three grandchildren. In 1953 the daughter Galina was born, she is now in Moscow, she has two children, four grandchildren. In 1957, the son Aleksandr was born, who now lives with his mother.
Four children, five grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren – they all come to Alexandria whenever possible to visit their beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
Class teacher in form 5A
Tatiana Karpechenko remembers her students well, including those for whom she was a class teacher.
“The classes were large then and the Alexandria school worked in two shifts: the first one was dedicated to senior students and the second one to junior students. I became the class teacher in form 5A, which mainly consisted of kids from the villages of Alexandria and Mezhnik. Ordinary village boys and girls, calm and mischievous, obedient and not very, eager to learn and at the same time wanting to misbehave. All were very different. Aleksandr Lukashenko stood out tall in class, he was taller than other classmates. He was always neatly dressed, with red tie, tried very hard to study,” the former teacher recalled.
Yekaterina Trofimovna Lukashenko
“As a class teacher I had to know the family conditions of each student, so I had to visit the Lukashenko family. Aleksandr Lukashenko's mother, Yekaterina Trofimovna, was a very modest and hardworking person.
“She worked as a milkmaid, not an easy work, especially in those days when almost all the work on the farm had to be done manually - milking cows, cleaning up after them, carrying huge cans of milk and fodder. Milkmaids in the village were very respected people because everyone understood how hard it is to produce every liter of milk and how much women have to work,” Tatiana Karpechenko said.
“Yekaterina Trofimovna was a member of the Communist Party, and this says a lot. After all, the Communist Party accepted only the most worthy,” the teacher noted.
Wellsprings of native land and the power of mother's love
“Yekaterina Trofimovna lived alone with her son in Alexandria-2. Like most of the village residents the family had farm animals - a cow, a piglet, chickens,” the former teacher recalled. “Everyone saw that Yekaterina Trofimovna thought the world of her beloved son and yet she taught him to work hard and love nature from a young age. From childhood, like real village boys, he was accustomed to ploughing, cutting grass, and procuring firewood, all in all, to do all the rural work. And he could even milk a cow.”
“By the way, it was customary for children to help their parents on the farm after school (these days kids keep staring at their computers all day). And Aleksandr spent a lot of time on the farm where his mother worked, tried to give her a shoulder like a real man, although then he was still just a child. Of course, Aleksandr from childhood grew up in maternal love and tried to reciprocate his mother, and this filial care manifested itself in concrete deeds. At home, he also helped his mother, tried to take care of some of the household chores. I want to say that if children were so taught to work from an early age now, then both people and the world would probably be different, they would be kinder," Tatiana Karpechenko said.
The wellsprings of native land and the power of maternal love are very important in life, this is the platform on which the life journey of a person is based...
The best student of history - Aleksandr
“My husband taught history in Aleksandr Lukashenko's class. We used to discuss school affairs at home, talk about our students, who excelled at what. And I asked my husband which of his students were the best. “My best student is Sasha Lukashenko”, my husband would constantly say. I was very pleased to hear it as a class teacher. The future president preferred humanitarian subjects, philologists also praised him, he wrote essays and expositions well,” the former teacher continued.
“Aleksandr was also the best in class at sports. The physical education teacher would often say in the staffroom: Lukashenka was the best at competitions. I was very proud of his success, as I was proud of all the kids that had achievements. I was proud and am proud of my students,” Tatiana Karpechenko said. “Aleksandr also actively participated in extracurricular activities.”
Tatiana Karpechenko recalled that a foreign journalist once asked her: what would you do if you knew that the future president was in your class? “If I knew that the future president was in my class, I would keep a separate diary and write down everything in detail,” the teacher answered.
“Aleksandr read a lot, he was especially fond of literature on historical topics, he borrowed a lot of different books from the local library. We met once in a street, the guy was just returning from the library, I asked him which university he had in mind. He mentioned the pedagogical institute in Mogilev,” the former class teacher said.
“Aleksandr successfully finished 10 classes of the secondary school. And then one summer he came to our house and said: “I applied to the History Faculty. Grigory Stepanovich, please, tell me what I should focus on when preparing. "They talked for a long time, my husband gave advice and additional books on history to him. Aleksandr took them and left to prepare for admission. We mentally wished him good luck. And when he was admitted to the Mogilev State Pedagogical Institute named after Kuleshov, he returned the books, thanked her husband and said that he had passed history with flying colors. They even asked him who had taught this subject at school,” Tatiana Karpechenko recalled the details.
All the men shook hands with the son of Yekaterina Trofimovna
“After the end of each term, we teachers had to go around the villages in which our students lived and hold parent meetings and give lectures about the international situation. And then one day I and another teacher were sent to hold a meeting in the village of Vyshkovo. And I suggested that Aleksandr Lukashenko should come with us and give a lecture. He was in our school, I think, for internship purposes, I don't remember exactly,” Tatiana Karpechenko continued. “The meeting was scheduled for 19:00 so that people would have time to take care of their farm animals first. We were walking, five kilometers was no distance at all as we talked about his studies at the institute, his grades as well as our school affairs... And so we came, a lot of people had gathered, mostly men while women remained to do household chores.”
“We talked about the education of children, some were praised, some were scolded. Aleksandr gave a lecture about the international situation. I remember that the villagers liked his speech and once it was over, the people surrounded us, asking me who had told them so well about the situation in the world. I said this guy is a local from Alexandria, he had finished school and was an institute student now. They asked about his parents. I said he was the son of Yekaterina Trofimovna. And people approached Aleksandr, shook his hand in gratitude for the interesting information. No one then could have imagined that they were shaking hands with the future head of state.”
...Listening to Tatiana Karpechenko, I thought that we are not yet writing loudly enough about mothers, their role in shaping a person's life position. It is unclear whether everyone could become what he or she has become. The majestic role of a mother, her self-sacrifice, her courage in life and immeasurable kindness - this is the foundation that forms a person and then helps them to live, make well-considered decisions in the most difficult life situations and hardships...
Tatiana Karpechenko also recalled the following episode: “It was after the first presidential election. I was on the way to the store. There was an outpatient clinic not far from my house at some point in the past and Yekaterina Trofimovna was coming out of it. We met and I said hello. I asked her whether she was sick. And she told me that she is very worried about her son, her heart hurts. A few days later I met her again, Yekaterina Trofimovna said that everything was fine.”
Yes, a mother's heart is always filled with excitement and anxiety for her children, even when they are already adults...
Meeting with the president
“Once Aleksandr Grigoryevich [Lukashenko] was elected president, it was revealed that he would come to Alexandria. Then a lot of people gathered to meet him, they came from the surrounding villages. I took my youngest grandson and also went to the meeting. I was walking and thinking: all kinds of things happened in the four years when I was a class teacher, those are boys after all, I was strict with them at times, I scolded them for small pranks in which all the guys participated. Maybe I was too strict with him. But then I calmed down: I did everything right back then. During the meeting I stood on the sidelines. He spoke to people for a long time, he was asked a lot of questions. And then he saw me, came up and introduced everyone: ‘This is my class teacher Tatiana Karpechenko.' He took a picture with us He warmly greeted us, teachers,” Tatiana Karpechenko continued her story about the student.
The teacher also spoke about other meetings with her student, including in the building of the village school where Aleksandr Lukashenko had studied.
One of these exciting meetings happened on 1 September 2018, in the Year of Native Land, at the Alexandria secondary school.
“Aleksandr Lukashenko talked to us, teachers, asked everyone about health and life, wished us all the best, and we also wished him all the best. He also took a picture with us,” said the former class teacher of the president.
Is the long-liver happy?
Tatiana Karpechenko considers herself a happy person. “I have seen it all in my life just like everyone else but I went along with the country. I am a happy person. I have a normal, prosperous family. My children became pensioners a long time ago, they visit me and bring the grandchildren. For over 40 years I did my favorite job, which was 800 meters from home. I'm not offended by my old age, my son takes care of me, the state provides. The veteran organization of the district, the district administration, social services do not forget me, they honor me on holidays as a veteran in the first place,” she noted. And she joked: "My body turned out to be hardened and healthy. I was in hospitals only when I had to give birth to children.”
Dream of a 100th anniversary gift
We sat in Tatiana Karpechenko's house and talked about life and dreams. I wondered what the woman dreams of.
She replied: “I want to live till I die just the way I am now. If I live to see my 100th birthday, and this will be in 2024, I would like to greet it standing on my feet, as healthy as I am now. And, of course, I dream of seeing my students at the anniversary, especially Aleksandr Lukashenko.” These are the dreams of a teacher from Alexandria. She went on saying: “I dream of inviting my former student to the 100th birthday. And I want to wish him to work for the good of his native Belarus, as long as his health lasts and that there will always be peace and tranquility in our country.”
...The fate of a simple rural teacher is like a guidebook highlighting the history of the country and the life of the Belarusian people, like part of the chronicle which pages are full of personal events. All of them are like links of the common destiny of the people. And may the tomorrow of our beloved Belarus be peaceful, creative, sunny.
photos by Oleg Foinitsky and Nikolai Petrov.