A Russian Legacy in Lingering Sleep
The late afternoon sun warms gravestones, which cast their long shadows on the wet ground after the spring rain.
A strong wind, northbound geese honking in the sky and running cars interrupt the tranquility of the Richmond cemetery, where Ukrainians and others from the former Soviet Union rest in peace. Its gray and marble stones depict Orthodox Christian crosses and names of family members, who are buried next to each other.
"Here, is where most of the Russians are," says Kendall Merriam, a Richmond resident and writer, who is interested in the Russian history and culture.
Merriam says people don't know how many people from the former Soviet Union live in Richmond, a small town of 3,100 people and located seventeen miles south of Augusta. Most of first wave immigrants, who fled to America and settled here before or after World War II died. Their children settled across the United States.
In the 1950's Richmond had in fact the largest rural Russian-speaking population in the United States. It consisted of about 500 Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians. By now their numbers in the cemetery have soared, for many of them died. Russians voices on the Kennebec River have been fading away since then.
Today there is little in Richmond showing evidence of the Russian culture. The Soviet immigrants, who are still alive, live in similar houses and eat similar food like their American neighbors.
In the 1950's Richmond had three Orthodox churches, and only two (a Ukrainian and a Russian ) churches are still holding services now. Father Chad Williams, a priest at St. Alexander Nevsky Church says 22 Russians and converts come to services. When Father Williams came to the church in 1987, there were 75-80 Orthodox followers from the former Soviet Union. Since then he have had 65 funerals.
Those who are left do not want to go back to Russia. Some of them have visited Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but economic conditions and death of many relatives in early war years make it difficult to connect them back to their homeland.
The Soviet Communist regime was a major threat to its own citizens. A swift nationalization across the country took away people's private properties. The poor economy after WW II forced many out of the country. Some people who were drafted during World War I or II and survive dthe war never returned to the Soviet Union, because they feared the Stalin administration would kill or send to work to Siberia. Instead, they went to America through Europe.
Some of the younger generation, who came to the United States with their parents, recall stories of their parents and relatives.
Oleg Winokurzew, a native of the Ukraine says his parents were taken by the Germans as prisoners of war. They went through the Second World War and German concentration camps before they met each other in Belgium. They did not stay longer there because "things were unsafe for him," says Winokurzew of his father. "He wanted to go to places where the war did not touch."
Because of fear to be sent to Siberia, his father, Anatol Winokurzew, took his family to South America. He later moved to the United States with help from the Tolstoy Foundation, a Russian organization to help Soviet immigrants to come to America.
Vera Nikolaeva (who does not want to be identified by her real name) is an 83-year-old native of Belarus who was one of the first immigrants. After World War II she left the Soviet Union and came to the United States with her husband, who served in resistance, and a little daughter. They settled in Richmond in 1955.
Hand-knitted designs on her pillows, a Russian samovar in the kitchen and many Russian books on her shelves are only indicators of what was left from her culture. Nikolaeva has not changed much, she still considers herself Belorussian and reads novels by Lermontov at nights when she cannot sleep. In contrast, her 46-year-old daughter Nina is prefers to speak English, because she "has spoken it all her life."
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