My grandfather and father lived in an unfinished house in Cotiujeni, a peasant village in the northern part of what is now Moldova. There I was born in December 1939. In the early 1930’s, they had become Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mother also became a Witness after acknowledging that grandfather knew the Bible better than the village priest.
When I was three, my father, my uncle, and my grandfather were deported to labor camps for their stand on Christian neutrality. Only my father survived. In 1947, after World War II, he returned home with a broken back. Although a physical wreck, he stood firm in his faith.
DRAMATIC CHANGES IN OUR LIVES
When I was nine, our family and hundreds of other Moldovan Witnesses were exiled to Siberia. On July 6, 1949, we were herded into cattle cars. After 12 days and more than 4,000 miles (6,400 km) of continuous travel, we stopped at the Lebyazhe train station. Local authorities were waiting for us. We were divided into small groups and immediately dispersed throughout the area. A small vacant school became home for our group. We were exhausted and heavyhearted. An older woman with us hummed a song composed by Witnesses during World War II. Soon all wholeheartedly joined her in singing the words:
“So many brothers were exiled far away.
They took them to the north and the east.
For doing God’s work, they were sentenced to adversity, and there they endured deathlike trials.”
In time, we were able to attend Bible meetings every Sunday at a place about eight miles (13 km) from our home. Often we left early on dark winter mornings and hiked through waist-deep snow when the temperature was 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-40°C). Fifty or more of us squeezed into a 200-square-foot (19 sq m) room. We began by singing a song or two or three. A heartfelt prayer was offered, and Bible questions were discussed. This continued for an hour or so. We sang more songs, and then more Bible questions were entertained. What a spiritually strengthening time that was!
NEW CHALLENGES TO FACE
By 1960, greater freedom was granted to the exiled Witnesses. Though we were poor, I was able to visit Moldova, where I met Nina, whose parents and grandparents were also Witnesses. Soon we were married and moved back to Siberia, where our daughter, Dina, was born in 1964 and our son, Viktor, in 1966. Two years later, we moved to Ukraine and lived in a small house in Dzhankoy, a city about 100 miles (160 km) from Yalta, on the Crimean peninsula.
In Crimea the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses were under ban, as they still were throughout the Soviet Union. But our work was not tightly restricted, nor were we actively persecuted. So a spirit of complacency developed among some Witnesses. They reasoned that having suffered so much in Siberia, working hard now to achieve some material comforts was appropriate.
On March 27, 1991, our activity throughout what was then known as the Soviet Union was granted legal recognition. At once, plans were made for seven 2-day special conventions for the entire country. We were to attend the one in Odessa, Ukraine, scheduled to begin August 24. I arrived a month early to help prepare the large soccer stadium for the convention.
Working long days, we often slept on stadium benches at night. Teams of Witness women cleaned the park surrounding the stadium. Some 70 tons of trash were hauled away. Those working in the rooming department scoured the city to find accommodations for the 15,000 delegates expected. Then, suddenly, shocking news!
On August 19—just five days before our convention was to begin—Mikhail Gorbachev, then president of the USSR, was arrested while on vacation near Yalta, not far from where we were. Approval for our convention was canceled. Delegates began calling the convention office, asking, “What should we do about our bus and train reservations?” After fervent prayers, those responsible for organizing the convention told them, “Come anyway!”
Preparations—and prayers—continued. The transportation department began meeting delegates who were arriving from many parts of the Soviet Union and taking them to their quarters. Each morning, members of the Convention Committee left their office to meet with city officials. Each night, they returned without positive news.
ANSWER TO OUR PRAYERS
On Thursday, August 22—two days before the scheduled opening—members of the Convention Committee returned with the good news: The convention had been approved! As we sang the opening song and joined in the opening prayer, our joy was unbounded. After the closing session on Saturday, we lingered late into the evening, talking and renewing friendships. Here were Christians with faith so strong that they had stood up to the most difficult tests.
During the more than 22 years following that convention, tremendous spiritual growth has taken place. Kingdom Halls have been built throughout Ukraine, and the number of Kingdom publishers has grown from 25,000 in 1991 to more than 150,000 now!
STILL RICH SPIRITUALLY
Our family still lives in the same house in Dzhankoy, now a city of about 40,000. Although there were just a few Witness families here when we arrived from Siberia in 1968, there are now six congregations in Dzhankoy.
My family has grown in number as well. There are now four generations of us still alive and serving Jehovah—our children, their children, and their children’s children.