Red Girl on the Steppes – Chapter 2

Growing up behind the iron curtain – a serialised story of childhood

There were not many Latvians who lived in Kazakhstan. It didn’t really matter because we were all the Soviet Union, and the Kazakhs were used to gulags on their territory, and sudden influxes of removed people from other parts of the country. There were Russians, Volga Germans, Greeks, Koreans, Crimean Tatars and many other nationalities who were forced to move to the country in the 1940s, yet the Muslim Kazakhs remained a kind and hospitable people.


Red Girl on the Steppes – Chapter 1

Growing up behind the iron curtain – a serialised story of childhood

If I bumped into you by accident on a busy street, it might well be because still after all of these years I have a habit of looking around me in amazement while I am in my stride. Its not that I love walking, but I got so used to it I can never really stop. –


Carpe Diem Haiku *Birobidzhan*

Located between 2 rivers – the Bira and the Bidzhan, the town Birobidzhan (Биробиджан) seems to have gotten its name in a rather natural and logical way. In 1915 there was only a railway station Tihonkaya (the Silent One) on the Trans-Siberian rail route in the Russian Far East but with time it transformed into a town and the administrative center of the Jewish Autonomous Region. Jewish culture was revived here much earlier than elsewhere in the Soviet Union.

In 1980s – 1990s during the wave of emigration many residents of Birobidzan moved to Israel therefore the statement “Birobidzhan – a place where there are no Jews, but everyone keeps pretending they are still there” is not very far from truth. The number of Jewish people currently living in Birobidzhan is only around 5 percent of the town’s total population.

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migratory birds
unknown routes to discover
trees with empty nests

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Carpe Diem Haiku Kai

Līgo Haibun Challenge: Remember To Forget


This week there are two prompts for the Līgo Haibun Challenge: Siberia or South America. Since all the way through January I have been writing haibun for Carpe Diem Haiku journey across the Soviet Union, the word I have chosen couldn’ t be different…

He never talked about it. At first because it was a secret to be kept – a personal secret, a seal of shame. The one you want to keep only to yourself, trying to avoid from spreading like some disease also on the ones you love. With time it became trendy to talk about the past and reveal everything but he still preferred not to. He didn’ t want people to glance at him with that look, that mute “I am so sorry!” in their eyes. He didn’ t need neither their sympathy, nor their promises about how history will never be forgotten. He didn’ t need to tell to remember.

After returning he never took a train again. Not even once. Maybe because he would still flinch in sleep, almost feeling the odor of human fear in a stuffed cattle freight wagon. Or freeze from the clickety-clack sound of the railroad…it reminded him of that word. The one he had avoided mentioning for so long. S…i…b..e…r…i..a. And then there was winter. Yes, he couldn’ t…he just never could fall in love with it again. White stopped to be the colour of innocence and hope for him many years ago. It was the colour of bitter cold and silent forests where his own thoughts were louder than axes and saws. Anger was white. And dispair. Hope could be only green, the colour of the first burgeons because it meant he had survived. Survived yet another winter. And after everything else had gone numb, hope was the only thing he had left. Hope to return. Not to return and to tell, just simply to return.

year’ s coldest day
behind the locked door
memories survive

PS: Shortly before, during and immediately after World War II, Stalin (de facto leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953) conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale which profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union. It is estimated that between 1941 and 1949 nearly 3.3 million were deported to Siberia. By some estimates up to 43% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition.

Līgo Haibun Challenge

Carpe Diem Haiku *Tayshet*

In the mid-1970s there was a very popular expression among the young people across the Soviet Union – “to go to build the BAM”. In fact it was more than just an expression – like a hope, a dream… Or the plan for the bravest ones. Partly a duty, being a good Soviet citizen who helps to build his/her country but partly it was also about adventure out in the wild Siberia.

The very first kilometer of the BAM (“The Baikal–Amur Mainline” – broad gauge railway line in Russia) is in Tayshet, with the mainline streaching all the way to the Pacific Ocean at Sovetskaya Gavan. By the end of 1974 approximately 50 000 young people from all the 156 000 applicants had moved to the BAM service area. In 1975 and 1976 there were inaugurated 28 new settlements there as well as built 70 new bridges, including the Amur and Lena ones. Although In 1930s one section of the BAM was built by the Gulag system labor camp inmates, in 1970s the Soviet General Secretary L.Brezhnev announced that the BAM will be contructed with clean hands only, rejecting any use of prison labor.

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empty bus stop
road disappears in morning mist
time to follow dreams

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Carpe Diem Haiku Kai

Carpe Diem Haiku *Krasnoyarsk*


Krasnoyarsk (Красноярск) was a major center of the Gulag (government agency that administered the main Soviet forced labor camp systems from the 1930s through the 1950s) system during the Stalin era. The most important labor camp was the Kraslag or Krasnoyarsky ITL (1938-1960) with two units located in Kansk and Reshyoty but there was also the Yeniseylag or Yeniseysky ITL labor camp in the city of Krasnoyarsk.

About 14 million people were deported to the Gulag labor camps from 1929 to 1953. Some estimates for total number of deaths there go beyond 10 million.

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dead silence of taiga
pine resin drop frozen in palm
glimpsing memories

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Carpe Diem Haiku Kai

Image courtesy of Google

Carpe Diem Haiku *Irtysh River*

The Irtysh (Иртыш) – a river in Siberia and Kazakhstan, is the chief tributary of the Ob River and also the longest river inflow in the world. On the right bank of the Irtysh, on the outskirts of Pavlodar City, is a very unique place – the monument of nature, called the Goose Passage (Гусиный Перелёт). Paleontologists have discovered there the bone remains of giraffe, rhinoceros, hyena-like animals and hypparion (a small tridactyl horse) which have lived 7 to 10 million years ago. The total amount of Neogene period fossils found in the area is very significant. They are likely from thousands of species.

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imprints from the past
serene up the river bank
passage of geese

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Carpe Diem Haiku Kai

Carpe Diem Haiku *Tyumen*


It was February of 1944 when inhabitants of Tyumen gathered their cats for them to be shipped off to the State Hermitage in St.Petersburg (Leningrad) as “rescuers” of artistic treasures from rats. After the 900-day period of the Siege of Leningrad (the Leningrad Blockade), when millions of people starved to death, there was no cat population left at all. The rats had survived, of course, and started to eat everything, including the priceless art. 238 Tyumen cats were sent to the northern capital where they saved the day and became heroes to the nation. Nowadays in Tyumen there is located the only Siberian Cat Square in the world (with alley and 12 different sculptures of cats) for this historical fact not to be forgotten.

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cat mobilization
killer instict awakens
in the name of art

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Carpe Diem Haiku Kai

Image courtesy of Google