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29 June 2022, 17:59

Two heroes in one family: A story of Belarusian milkmaids who redefined Soviet dairy industry

The project “The Destiny of Women - the Destiny of the United Belarus” by Alina GRISHKEVICH, a journalist, a member of the Board of the Belarusian Union of Women, continues through the Year of Historical Memory that was declared in Belarus to preserve the national legacy and the truth about various periods of Belarusian history.

The project was launched in 2021. That year was declared the Year of People's Unity. It marked the 80th anniversary of the start of the Great Patriotic War and the 30th anniversary of the Belarusian Union of Women.

The project views the destiny of women through the prism of the common history of the country, the common destiny of Belarus that has been shaped by our female compatriots humbly, confidently and tirelessly. The project features both famous and previously unknown women. Each of the heroines has her own life path, sometimes a very difficult one, but it is associated with creative energy and patriotism that cement the state, unite and bind the society.

This story is about five generations of women from the village of Borisy, Brest District. This family nurtured two Heroes of Socialist Labor – milkmaids Lydia Osiyuk and her daughter Galina Skakun. The fact is exceptional not only for Belarus, but also for the entire post-Soviet space.

The profession of a milkmaid shaped the destiny of the mother and daughter. Their dedication and hard work won them appreciation and recognition of the entire country. Lydia Osiyuk (22 February 1920 – 27 December 1984) was awarded the Hero of Socialist Labor title in 1958. Thirty years later - in 1988 - this highest labor award was presented to her daughter Galina Skakun (10 October 1943 – 25 March 2022). The two heroes were famous all over the Soviet Union.

58-year-old Yulia SKAKUN is the daughter of Galina Skakun and granddaughter of Lydia Osiyuk. She lives in the same village and in the same house where her mother and grandmother lived. Yulia Skakun devoted her life to her parents, preserving the memory of the heroes, from whom she inherited dedication and hard work.

Hardworking people as the country's biggest treasure

I strongly believe that amidst the ongoing virtualization of the lifeworld, we should go back to basics and give more spotlight to people who work the land. Growing crops, milking cows and baking bread is honorable and important. In the Year of Historical Memory, I would like to draw special attention to traditional Belarusian values - hard work and dedication, as well as the role and place of people who work the land.

Our life is full of all kinds of challenges. We are anxious about inflation, devaluation, epidemics, security threats and global uncertainty. This overshadows the increasing devaluation of morals, spirituality in the world, which entails far-reaching consequences. Unfortunately, prosperity and success are often no longer associated with painstaking work.

Alas, your personal success is now defined and measured by your popularity on Facebook and other social media. Just an observation: young people are now in pursuit of pseudo-popularity instead of learning to work hard and act smart like their ancestors did.

Sometimes I wonder why success stories of agricultural workers, like milkmaids, livestock breeders, combine operators and farmers are thin on the ground. Yet, these people create material assets for us all and thanks to them we have food on our table. We take these people for granted, though it takes hard work of many people to make a loaf of bread and a package of milk. It seems like we have stopped appreciating and celebrating them the way they deserve.

Information technology, instant messengers, computer games and artificial intelligence have become part and parcel of our life. Technology is a cool thing that is meant to make our lives better. Yet technological advancement matters only if we have peace and prosperity. Therefore, we should not forget about those who provide us with food and play a fundamental role in the domestic economy.

In wonder how many girls and boys dream of becoming milkmaids, tractor drivers and combine operators – in other words, people who will ensure food security in the age of information technology? ... I guess most of them dream of becoming IT specialists, bloggers, directors, astronauts. Young people want to become instantly rich, to have everything at once.

Meanwhile, it is blue-collar professions that are the key to our prosperous future. Such professions can also be fulfilling and rewarding. The legendary dynasty of the Heroes of Socialist Labor - Lydia Osiyuk and Galina Skakun – is a case in point. Any country can be proud of having such hardworking and dedicated people as these ladies.

Now everything is mechanized and robotized and manual labor is reduced to a minimum. Everything is much simpler, easier for milkmaids and livestock breeders, but it is still difficult to achieve 8,000kg milk yields (the average milk yield per cow was 5,300kg in 2021 in Belarus). However, ordinary women from Polesie managed to achieve such outstanding results in the 20th century, which made them a household name in the Soviet Union.

So what's the secret behind such huge yields (or ‘big' milk as it is commonly known)? Who are they, the people who know this secret?

Daughter and granddaughter of the heroes Yulia Skakun

...Yulia greets me at the gate of the ancestral home in Borisy. This family nest seems to absorb the family vibe and the energy of five generations of the family.

The courtyard is immersed in greenery and flowers. Both the house and the gate are recognizable from black and white newspaper photos. After all, numerous photographs of the Heroes of Socialist Labor, including those made half a century ago, traveled around all the republics of the former Soviet Union - they were in all the central newspapers.

Yulia is a modest and delicate person, intelligent and subtle. Her voice softens as she indulges in reminiscences about her hard-working and very modest family with a strong moral compass. This family believed in hard work, decency and grace and taught their children to follow this life philosophy.

The woman never left her home in Borisy, she has been living there since childhood.

Hero of Socialist Labor Lydia Osiyuk

Yulia Skakun recalls her grandmother and mother whom she loved so much.

She begins her story of the family dynasty with her great-grandmother Pelageya who left an imprint in her life. She called her great-granddaughter ‘my little sunrise'. She spoke Belarusian, but her parlance was full of Ukrainian and Polish words, because the border with Ukraine and Poland is running only about 3 km from the village.

Mother Pelageya with daughter Lydia Osiyuk
Mother Pelageya with daughter Lydia Osiyuk

“She was kind to people, to all living creatures, she had a big heart that never harbored any anger or resentment, and she was very hardworking,” Yulia recalls.

Four generations of women in one photo - Pelageya, Galina Skakun with their little daughter Yulia and Lydia Osiyuk (right to left)
Four generations of women in one photo - Pelageya, Galina Skakun with their little daughter Yulia and Lydia Osiyuk (right to left)

Such boundless kindness, as well as hard work became the way of life for all subsequent generations in the Pelageya family, namely her daughter Lydia, granddaughter Galina, great-grandchildren Yulia and Viktor, as well as the current young generations - great-great-grandchildren Oksana and Igor and great-great-great-grandchildren Ilya, Ulyana and Yesenia. The family is linked by powerful bonds and continuity of generations.

Grandmother Lydia

Yulia remembers very well her wonderful childhood years when her grandmother Lydia was the most significant and authoritative person in the family and, of course, at the local collective farm.

Lydia Osiyuk, Borisy, 17 October 1973
Lydia Osiyuk, Borisy, 17 October 1973

The future Hero of Socialist Labor was born on 22 February 1920. She had been working the land since an early age. Under the supervision of her mother Pelageya she grew up a strong, iron-willed, hardworking person who knew that hard work was the only key to success in life.

Mother Pelageya with her daughter Lydia Osiyuk (right to left)
Mother Pelageya with her daughter Lydia Osiyuk (right to left)

The young woman was in her prime when the Great Patriotic War broke out. The war was still raging when she got married and gave birth to her daughter Galina. Her husband died when the baby was only 11 months old, so she had to raise the child alone. Her mother Pelageya was a great handywoman. She sewed clothing both for her family and fellow villagers - many in the area wore her shirts and pants; her sewing skills earned her some money and saved the family from dying of starvation during the war.

Perhaps these first ordeals at a very young age tempered the character of the future Hero of Socialist Labor. However, by no stretch of the imagination could anyone predict that the most ordinary peasant family living in the most ordinary village could nurture such an outstanding person who would set records in the dairy industry and put Belarus on the dairy map of the Soviet Union.

Back then Lydia was an unremarkable collective farm worker. A beautiful dark-eyed brunette with a proud posture, a confident and direct look in the eyes, she immediately won over people. Her confidence was so inspiring and uplifting that other people, ordinary workers like her, immediately united around her.

Before the war and immediately after it Lydia worked in a gardening brigade, and then as a milkmaid at the local Zhdanov collective farm based in the village of Borisy, Brest District. She believed in working with full dedication and devotion.

When she came to work at the collective farm in the post-war period, in 1948-1949, the farm was dirty and messy, there was not enough feed for cows. At first, she was told to take care of only three cows and she tried to figure out where to obtain some feed to get at least a bit of milk from the cows.

The woman immediately got down to business. At first she cleaned the stalls where the skinny and dirty cows were kept. She banded together with other milkmaids to plant pumpkins, zucchinis, cabbages, and potatoes near the farm to grow animal feed. Apples, potatoes and cabbage from her own garden were also used to feed the livestock at the farm.

Her diligence and dedication made her a role model for other women. Looking at her, it was simply impossible to laze around. Although, of course, not everyone liked the zeal of the young milkmaid.

Lydia Osiyuk at the collective farm (left)
Lydia Osiyuk at the collective farm (left)

Not everything worked right away. As Lydia later recalled, she was not always sure that she would be able to milk a lot of milk from the cows kept in shabby and leaky stalls that could hardly protect the livestock against rain, snow, wind, and extremes of temperature. The cows were not pedigree and the feed was not adequate.

However, the young milkmaid who went through the ordeals and devastation of the war was determined to do something for the collective farm, to help rebuild the country that she loved. Lydia dreamed of a better life for her family. She knew that this could only be achieved by her own labor.

Cow nicknamed Lovely

Lydia later shared the secret of good milk yield with her granddaughter Yulia: “You need to milk a cow not twice a day, but three or four times. The more often you milk a cow, the more milk you get. If a cow gives birth and then is milked once or twice, she will either get sick, or stop producing milk and there will be nothing you can do about it.”

What is it like to milk a cow by hand three times a day? It means to stay at the farm from dawn till dusk, with no time to be at home, not to mention doing homework and raising a child.

Therefore, daughter Galina was raised by her grandmother Pelageya who taught the girl kindness and justice. Yet, Lydia was Galina's biggest role model. She would often show up at the farm helping her mother, watching her doing her work and learning from her. From an early age, Galina knew how to milk a cow and clean up the stalls.

One of Lydia's cows was called Lovely. It was a big, beautiful, dark cow of the Dutch breed that was brought from Germany as a trophy. At that time, some took such pedigree cows for their personal farmsteads, while Lydia got such a cow for the collective farm.

The cow began to produce a lot of milk thanks to good care and feed. Soon the milkmaid with her highly productive cow became a hometown hero, stories about them appeared in newspapers, and someone even mentioned them in a book.

In the meantime, the milk yield in Lydia's group of cows gradually became larger and larger. People in the district and then at a higher level became curious about how she did that.

Secrets behind the big milk yield

From 1950 until about 1975, she managed to get very high milk yields. In 1955 she got 4,619 kg of milk from each of the 12 cows, while in 1966 the yield rose to 7,659 kg (she had 10 cows then), in 1967 the yield made up 7,929 kg (with 10 cows).

Lydia became famous for her 8,000kg milk yields. This is a record high yield for those times. Even now not every modern mechanized farm can boast such a yield.

Records were hit by very hard work. Journalists from Minsk and Moscow started coming en masse, everyone wanted to find out her secrets, some assumed that magic had to do with it. Journalists said that many milkmaids in the huge Soviet Union worked well, but only a few achieved such outstanding results.

Being sly was not in Lydia's nature, so she laid all her secrets bare: it is important to keep a cow clean, warm and healthy. However, it was difficult to do this in shabby makeshift stalls. Later, these flimsy stalls were replaced by solid brick buildings and conveyors were installed to collect manure. However, in Lydia's time everything was done by hand.

“The secrets were simple,” Yulia tells me recounting the success story of her family. “It is important to feed a cow properly. Thus, we would often take our own feed to the farm. A cow should be milked often, till the last drop of milk. Back then milking was done by hand. Grandmother milked highly productive cows four times a day, she spared no time for that. Her working day was much longer than from 8:00 to 18:00. She stayed at the farm as much as she needed.”

“In summer, cows were driven from the collective farm to special summer camps, to water meadows at the Bug River. It is within a stone's throw from the Polish border. Back then the Poles came to us on foot and we did the same. When the river was in spate, the cows were driven to a highland to wait until the water subsided. The beauty of that place would take your breath away. We sailed in boats, among water lilies, lotuses, like in romantic movies. The water meadows were very beautiful. When the reclamation campaign was launched, the nature changed and not for the better, There was no water in the wells for a year and a half. Afterwards, roads were built, life became easier,” Yulia narrates recalling the stories of her grandmother.

Hero of Socialist Labor in 1958

Working as a milkmaid was hard, but very prestigious and familiar. After all, every household kept a cow; it was simply impossible to survive without livestock.

Lydia's hard work soon earned her broad recognition. However, no one expected that her work would be appreciated so highly. The reward for her labor achievements was just as sensational as her 8,000kg milk yield.

On 18 January 1958, the milkmaid from Brest District was awarded the Hero of Socialist Labor title for outstanding services to animal husbandry. The work of an ordinary Polesie woman set a bar high in the industry in the USSR. Many wanted to follow in her footsteps.

Lydia's life was very fulfilling and eventful. She participated in the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy (aka VDNKh) every year. The gifts that she won included fabrics, carpets and even a Moskvich car. She was elected a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.

Hero of Socialist Labor Lydia Osiyuk near the Moskvich car she got as a gift, Borisy, 17 October 1973
Hero of Socialist Labor Lydia Osiyuk near the Moskvich car she got as a gift, Borisy, 17 October 1973

Lydia handled her work with such skill that it was simply amazing. She was also very active in her community work. Soon she became a person of note not only among the leadership of the BSSR, but also of the USSR. This ordinary Belarusian woman often attended various high-ranking meetings in Moscow.

Moscow, 1989
Moscow, 1989

Yulia knows all the ins and outs of the biography of her illustrious grandmother. She recalls the following story. On one of Lydia's visits to Moscow, she was nearly killed. When Lydia was in a store, she noticed that a man secretly pulled a large stash of money from the cash register when the saleswoman was looking away. When he realized that another customer (it was Lydia) was looking at him, he grabbed her by the throat, began to threaten her with a knife to keep her silent. But Lydia managed to let the saleswoman know about the theft, and the police were called...

However, most of her visits to Moscow were quite enjoyable, she told her family what a beautiful city it was, she always brought gifts from there, which made the family incredibly happy as the country experienced a chronic shortage of consumer goods.

Lydia helped a lot of people: to get an apartment, or medicines, or wood, she even arranged the hospitalization of fellow villagers in the Kremlin hospital, although she herself never used it.

When her granddaughter Yulia was born in 1963, Lydia set out to get the authorities to move the local hospital into a new building as the old building was made of wood. She did not do it for herself, but for all the villagers. She never bragged and showed off, she just helped, because it was her life philosophy - to help people.

Fellow villagers recall that despite her demanding nature, she was an extremely kind and sympathetic person and never turned down requests for help.

Galina Skakun

The family adhered to strong working ethics and traditional values. Probably, it was the reason why the women in this family and their life stories turned out to be as strong and fascinating.

When the family had their first Hero of Socialist Labor, no one could have imagined that they would have the second one over time.

In 1958, when Lydia was awarded the Hero of Socialist Labor star, her daughter Galina was only 15. From early years, she looked up to her mother, tried to be close to her, at home and at work. She learned the secrets of milking trade by observing her mother who was an authoritative figure for her.

Galina grew up a beautiful girl. Dark-eyed, slender, kind-hearted, hardworking. Boys liked her, but she didn't really like back any of them.

You can't escape your fate

... It was a winter day in 1960 when 17-year-old Galina, in a coat wide open, red from the bright winter sun and from playing snowballs with classmates, was running home from school.

A guy in a military uniform, passing by the beautiful girl, said to his companions: "This young lady will be my wife." Everyone began to joke advising him to complete his military service first and then think of marriage later, as he would meet many more beautiful girls.

However, Dmitry, Galina's future husband, kept his word. After serving as a radio operator at an airfield in Poland, he returned home, not forgetting his fleeting promise. He could not forget the village girl he met randomly.

When back home he began to date her. Very soon he came to see her mother Lydia and grandmother Pelageya. It was a big deal: to ask for the hand of an 18-year-old girl, the only daughter in the family of the famous milkmaid. "I want to marry your daughter Galina," Dmitry fired off right on the doorstep, not being sure of a positive answer, but with a firm conviction not to retreat in any case.

"She is only 18. She has just graduated from school," Lydia said, confused by this turn of events. She hadn't thought about her girl getting married yet. But grandmother Pelageya really liked it that the young man came to ask the elders first, which meant he had serious intentions. Dmitry was from a large family and was taught to respect the elders, which the women took note immediately.

The family asked Galina: "Do you wish to marry him?" She answered in a childishly naive way: "If he leaves me, I will feel sorry." That was her “yes”. The grandmother said, "Well, then it's settled."

Galina and Dmitry Skakun
Galina and Dmitry Skakun

That sparked a lot of speculations in the village. Some would say that she was too young, that it would be smarter to wait and look for a more suitable party. Teachers said openly that the family was ruining the girl's life by letting her marry so young. However, the family was not used to imposing their will on each other, even on such young girls as Galina. The family firmly decided to go ahead with a wedding.

The young people tied the knot on 14 October 1961. That day it was raining cats and dogs. The young couple, happy and in love, walked under the rain confident they would go through life hand in hand in any weather. That's exactly what happened.

The bride gown was dazzlingly white, made of georgette, much in vogue then. Well made, with beautiful sleeves. The family kept the gown for a long time. It became a happy family talisman and was loaned to local girls, at least on five occasions. One day, in the late 1990s, a woman approached Yulia in a store and proudly said: “I got married wearing your mother's gown”.

... Immediately after the wedding, Dmitry moved to live with his young wife. Lydia was always the head in the family, and everyone listened to her word. The son-in-law accepted the rules of the house. The word of the mother-in-law, whom he considered a second mother, was a must for him. Kind, sweet-natured and hard-working, he fit perfectly well into the new family and adopted its traditions.

Two years later, they had daughter Yulia and six years on son Viktor.

Yulia would recall how she and dad would go to a railway station in Brest to meet grandmother Lydia from her numerous trips to Moscow. It was a joyful and important event in her childhood life.

Romantic village life: Waking up to nightingale singing

Yulia recalled that her mother Galina loved her work, loved the people she worked with.

... Galina would get up long before the first roosters called. She would wash with cool well water, feed the livestock, make breakfast for the family, filling the house with the aroma of fluffy pancakes hot off the stove, and would go to the farm enjoying nightingale trills on the way. Life was filled with the freshness of the early morning and the joyful anticipation of a new day.

The freshness of the morning dew, the smell of freshly cut grass under the first rays of the rising sun... The village life is about the harmony with nature and our organic existence in it. All this is familiar to someone who was born in a village and has not lost touch with it.

... The nightingale singing was replaced by the friendly mooing of cows, which marked the start of the milkmaid's working day.

How hard it was to get high milk yields is another topic for discussion. Milking a cow with your hands is a far cry from today's technology-assisted milking. Only an ignorant person can say that the work of a milkmaid is simple and uncomplicated. This work is hard. It was much harder back then, although it was a usual routine for rural women who always carried the heavy burden of village chores.

In 1965, Galina took up a job of a livestock breeder at the collective farm where her mother worked. She was 22 then. She worked hard to make her mother proud. The girl aspired to reach the high bar set by her mother.

Hero of Socialist Labor Lydia Osiyuk and her daughter Galina are preparing for milking of cows at the Zhdanov collective farm, Brest District
Hero of Socialist Labor Lydia Osiyuk and her daughter Galina are preparing for milking of cows at the Zhdanov collective farm, Brest District

Initially, Galina pledged to milk 4.500kg of milk per cow. And she did as she sought her mother's praise and appreciation. Did she think about surpassing her mom's achievements? “Of course, not. She just looked up to her and did not want to lag behind," Yulia said.

"Once we hosted a farmer from Germany who gifted my mother a Holstein-Friesian heifer, a very rare breed at that time. It is known for high milk yields. The heifer gave a rise to a whole herd on the farm,” Yulia narrated.

Galina took care of 97 cows, of whom about 70 were dairy cows. She got a lot of work to do. Husband Dmitry left work at a factory and took up a driver's job at the farm where his wife worked.

The family worked hard and took good care of cows (often using feeds from their own household). Very soon, Galina's labor achievements were noted at the government level, as evidenced by the For Labor Valor medal.

First decoration at 28

Galina received her first Order of the Badge of Honor at the age of 28.

Love for work and continuity of the best family traditions are at the heart of her awards and decorations.

In Soviet times, the professions of milkmaid and tractor driver were much respected in rural communities. How could it be otherwise, if these people laid the foundation for food security? A Socialist competition was a tough thing to win. You needed to invest your heart and soul, work hard and have your own secrets of trade in order to get a result high enough to be noticed not only in your collective farm or your district but across the Soviet Union.

Throughout her career Galina hit many milestones: she was awarded a gold medal of the VDNKh of the USSR three times, a silver medal three times and a bronze medal 5 times.

In 1978, at VDNKh in Moscow Galina was awarded a Moskvich car for her labor achievements. Buying a car was akin buying an airplane today. To get it as a gift was doubly cool!

The amazing photo of her against a brand new car at the gate of her home was published in the republican and national newspapers.

Two years later, in 1980, the Belarusian milkmaid became a winner of the State Prize of the BSSR.

Rewards did not come easy. It was hard daily work, indeed.

She surpassed her mother's record of 8,000kg of milk, setting her own record of 8,300kg.

The second Hero of Socialist Labor in the family in 30 years

The peak of her career came in 1988 when in September sensational news came: for labor achievements in the development of animal husbandry, Galina Skakun was awarded the high title of the Hero of Socialist Labor. It was a pity that Lydia passed away four years earlier, and did not have a chance to revel in her daughter's success.

Having received the high title, Galina did not turn up her nose. She took it in her stride, continuing to work in the collective farm as faithfully and selflessly as before. She was invited more often to a variety of national and republican events. Congresses, conferences, meetings with young people... All this took a huge amount of time.

Congress of People
Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR, Moscow, 25 May 1989. Head of a workshop from Brest Z.K. Mateushuk (left) and machine milking operator from Brest District Galina Skakun

В ее отсутствие на ферме трудились Юлия с братом Виктором и папой Дмитрием Васильевичем. Пока она по пленумам и выставкам In her absence, Yulia worked on the farm with her brother Viktor and her father Dmitry. While the wife was away for conferences and exhibitions, her husband Dmitry held the fort. He was happy to lend his wife a helping hand and take her place on the farm and at home.

There is a saying that behind every great man there's a great woman. But, as life shows, behind some great women there are great men. The close-knit hard-working family Skakun is an example to many.

Galina was elected member of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, delegate to the fourth All-Union Congress of Collective Farmers. She was an Honored Worker of Agriculture of the Republic of Belarus, an Honorary Citizen of Brest District and an Honorary Veteran of the Bug Rive region.

No ambitions for a career or high offices

Both women, Heroes of Socialist Labor, were not members of the Communist Party. Galina was repeatedly recommended to join the Communist Party as that would propel her career, but she would refuse every time: “I do not need this, it is not my cup of tea,” she would say.

In Soviet times, record-breaking milkmaids enjoyed true recognition and honor. They would be invited to high-level events in Minsk and Moscow. High officials knew their names. Ordinary villagers, having received appropriate education, could be promoted to high positions. But Galina, like her mother Lydia, did not have ambitions for a career or high offices.

The beloved husband and children, the grandfather's house filled with a powerful family energy, the freshness of morning dew and nightingale trills, winter snowfalls and blizzards, the smell of an autumn garden full with ripe fragrant apples… These things warmed her soul and filled her heart with love for the land, for her village.

Only twice people managed to persuade her to travel abroad. Going abroad was not easy then, but as a high-achieving milkmaid, she was offered trips to exchange experience, which she would stubbornly refuse, considering time away from her family, farm and village as wasted.

She went once on a business trip to Czechoslovakia and once to Poland. She liked it there but said she missed her family very much. She flatly refused to go abroad anymore.

The story of one Kremlin photo and an asphalt road in the village

Lydia was a delegate to the third All-Union Congress of Collective Farmers, and Galina - to the fourth Congress in Moscow in 1988 (a few months before she was awarded the labor hero title).

Yulia recalled the story of one photo from the family album featuring delegates from different republics of the USSR in the Kremlin hall. But her mother was not in it. Galina missed the photo-op in the Kremlin in order to seek an appointment with Yegor Ligachev, the Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, a member of the Politburo, who was also head of the agriculture affairs commission. The matter was of utmost importance for Galina. It was about a new asphalt road in her village of Borisy.

Yegor Ligachev was very surprised by the visit of a simple Belarusian farmer: "A simple milkmaid from Belarus got an appointment to ask not for herself, but for the village?" Galina didn't even know how to respond…

Meanwhile, the delegates were posing for the joint photo.

Galina also got the photo. It is still kept in the family photo album, as a reminder of that Kremlin story. Among family heirlooms there is also a hand watch to remember the congress, that still accurately counts the rapid passage of time.

The appointment with Yegor Ligachev bore fruit. The high Kremlin official kept his word. About two years later, an asphalt road was laid in the village. And it was thanks to the efforts of Galina, the Hero of Socialist Labor.

It is hard to say whether the locals remember this or not. In any case, during her lifetime, Galina did not like to boast about it. Being a humble person, she considered helping people a usual thing. So did her famous mother.

Meanwhile, the family recalled that in order to solve the issues of the community, home-made sausages and ham would often be sent from Borisy to the capitals.

Yulia, the keeper of the heroic family history

Yulia was born on 21 December 1963. For as long as she can remember, she has been on the farm, next to her grandmother and mother.

"If I'm not at home, I'm on a farm. No one forced me to work there, I just wanted to help them and make it easier for them,” Yulia said. “I loved to wear my father's military cap as a child and would wear it when going to the farm. People would ask me: ‘Boy, where are you from?' A little girl in trousers and a cap was mistaken for a boy. She would proudly reply, ‘I am the granddaughter of Lydia',” Yulia recalled.

"In our family, the main things were integrity, hard work, perseverance and kindness. Everything should be done properly. It manifested itself in literally everything," she continued. "There was no baby talking, yet my brother and I always felt the iron support of our grandmothers and mother."

She grew up in a family with her brother Viktor, who now works as a driver. They were good friends in childhood, helped each other. They remain friends today and live in neighboring villages.

The grandmother and mother did not want Yulia to connect her life with agriculture. They wanted an easier profession for her. Therefore, she enrolled in the Grodno Trade and Economics College in 1981, although with her almost straight A school certificate (the only B in physical training) she could enroll in any university. But she doesn't regret anything.

"For 26 years I worked in retail, nearby, in the village of Domachevo. I remember well the 1990s, when shelves were empty. We literally had to fight to get goods sent to our store. When we would receive one refrigerator or one TV set we would send them to a school and a hospital. It was a hard time. I am happy that things improved in the country, that factories are now up and running and stores are full with goods,” Yulia said.

However, the personal life was not going quite so smoothly. Somehow there was no suitable party in the village to marry... Later on, when Yulia graduated from the college, the grandmother fell ill, and the most important thing for Yulia was to take good care of her. Then she cared for her sick mother. Now an important part of her life is her father. He has suffered a stroke and needs good care now.

Often her brother comes to visit together with his son Igor and daughter Oksana and grandchildren: seven-year-old Ilya, three-year-old Ulyana and almost one-year-old Yesenia.

The great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of the Heroes of Socialist Labor have grown up to be good people. Diligence and integrity have been passed on to great-grandchildren Igor and Oksana. They spent their childhood in the old family house in Borisy, and they saw how their grandmothers lived, helped them in every way. No one taught them this much. But as is known, the best qualities are adopted from elders.

"Now many shield their children against everything. But when children experience joy or grief, when they see the example of elders then parents do not need to explain or teach anything. Then everything takes care of itself,” Yulia said.

She wishes her family to stay healthy. She wishes her dear and beautiful Belarusian land to stay peaceful, passing the national traditions of diligence and love for the native land from generation to generation, creating the basis for a stable and prosperous Belarus.

... Leaving Borisy, I had this thought: how important it would be to perpetuate the memory of the Belarusian female labor dynasty of the Heroes of Socialist Labor in a book or a feature film, in a monument, a square or museum, so that the unique female destinies woven into the labor history of Belarus do not sink into oblivion.


Photos by the author, and also courtesy of the Skakun family and BelTA.

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