​​​​​Compassion Without Borders

Fate sometimes picks us at random. Just yesterday I was walking down the Champs Elysees, marveling at the infinite gallantry of French men and flawless Parisian elegance. Now I lay in a Moscow hospital on an operating table, wide leather belts shackle my hands with ruthless grip, and I am crying at the inability to survive losing my free will. Looking too closely into the icy eyes of death, I struggled to start life anew, thirsting for life, free from the husk of unnecessary problem.

My trip to Paris nearly coincided with the phrase, "See Paris and die."

But, let me start from the beginning. Everything started very well - a tour to the city of light was a gift, the tickets were purchased and a suitcase packed. The first bad sign came with the number 13. I was leaving by the train number thirteenth at thirteenth of December in car  № 13 in what else - seat 13 !

Heart throbbed with apprehension, but what do I do ? In the train my traveling neighbor was a very handsome young man, a student, Meskhetian Turks, he said. We had a fun evening, but at night I awoke with a sharp pain in my side. The pain grew by the hour, and the next day the train doctor called an emergency medical team to a station near Ryazan.

A middle-aged woman doctor arrived and examined me, then invited me to leave the train and go directly to the hospital for further examination.  I listened to her words and though only this is impossible! I am for the first time going to Paris, but instead the kind doctor tells me I have to go to the  hospital now from this small rail station!

I gathered my thougths and replied: Please, understand me, I've never been to Paris, and I'll be there tomorrow. I can not go to the hospital ! - I said with uncharacteristic hardness.

The Doctor replied slowly and quietly: I understand you. But you are very sick and it is very risky to travel to another country in such a state, and I saw her eyes were full of sincere and wise compassion.

Seeing my desire to travel on she saw I wanted so badly to press on and said: Well, then in Moscow buy antibiotics and painkillers and maybe you will be alright. She smiled and touched my arm saying, Take care of yourself !

So I flew along the rails to the city of boulevards and cafes, and charming  Parisian chanson. In Paris, I gave myself an order not to ache until the end of the trip. Once I allowed myself to ask a guide, a beautiful Russian Parisian, what I have to do if I will be quite bad . She replied: Call doctor – but be prepared to pay € 100, and further payment too according doctors demands!

In her eyes I saw the icy cold, which instantly froze my motives to seek the  mastery of French doctors.

My body obediently folowed my order and I returned to Moscow. But that night I was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

The decision of the doctor in Moscow was unquestioned - immediately on the operating table. I tried to convince him that I would be OK if I can only return home to Chelyabinsk.

You will die on the way! - The doctor replied.

Left with little choice death continued to stalk me in Moscow. The surgeon saved me that night and I thankfully gave him the few remaining rubles I had left.  However, the anesthesiologist, whom I could not pay, had not not cleared the airways after surgery and left me to care for myself alone in an empty room with a closed door.

Eventually, my breathing became more difficult and beacme loud enough to attract attention from the corridor. My death rattle raised concern among those caring passersby and the doctor was urgently summoned. So I came back to life.

While I barely returned to consciousness a woman with natural maternal skills  constantly inclined me and easied my suffering with her kind and caring efforts.

From the first day she took care of the others, running to smooth bandaged arms and other limbs, to adjust pillows and blankets to make those lying in the beds more comfortable. At the hospital's atmosphere everyone easily tells casual ward mates intricately tangled personal life stories. But what she told me these days was so remarkable I remember every detail even after these many years.  Ludmila’s story was a life injection for me, it pushed me out of bed and gave me energy to take the pen and begin to write this wonderful and truly unbelievable story. Lyudmila leisurely told me how it happened she one day became a mother of four babies of different nationalities at once. Today we would call them all persons of Caucasian nationality.

She began her story so casually it was difficult at first for me to appreciate the significance of her experience.

It so happened that my husband stole me...

I came to the village of my parents on a vacation after my second year coursework at Tomsk University.  In the evening the village arranged social dances to allow young people to meet and enjoy the spring season. There I met a cadet named Victor Borisov. The next evening, he invited me to a concert. On the third – he called me to meet his family at their home. I was  embarrassed because I was not ready to meet with his family. But he said his family will celebrate the birthday of his favorite aunt and we are going to congratulate her. At a long table with all of Victor’s relatives seated and anxiously considering me, he introduced me and suddenly announced: "She is my fiancée. We agreed to get married!" I broke out in surprise, wanted to run away, but all were very pleased at this joyous news so I had little choice but to smile and absorb the well wishes of Victor’s family. Victor's father said: "We know Luda, she is a good girl... But she will not marry you, I think! because her parents will be against it." Victor and I have agreed before that if my or his family will be against our decision about our future, we’ll run away. And so it happened. Once at the evening I threw a touchstone in the calm lake of the parent’s mood, the big storm has started: "You know him just for three days, you are still a student, so how are you going to continue your study? " I quickly went back down, ran into the bedroom, saying that I was joking. Then in the very early morning I opened the window and with my suitcase quietly moved into the arms of Victor. My alert grandmother spotted my manipulations with the suitcase and squinted suspiciously so, but as soon as she relaxed her usual vigilance, I followed after my luggage through the window. An hour later I was with Victor on a train, rushing us to Uzbekistan. Thus began my new life. Military wife - it's always a nomadic life, moving, the ability for an hour to pack up and follow after her husband in another city, republic, country ...

As I listened, her story was very romantic but hardly anything from ordinary for Russian village girls and boys coming of age in the late Soviet era. But as Luda pressed on her tale it transcended usual stories of young lovers escaping and finding their way in the world.  

Luda continued: It happened in Shymkent, where she lived with Victor, now a Major in the Soviet army and their nine year old daughter Irina.  Shymkent, was the capital city of South Kazakhstan Province, the most populated region in Kazakhstan. In 1988 a terrible earthquake struck the Armenian city of Spitak.  The earthquake wiped out everything that could be demolished, so much so that the city was rebuilt eventually at another site altogether. But, at the time of the disaster the ruins drew rescuers and military forces to help those who could still be saved, or to bury those for which help arrived too late.  My Victor was among the rescuers. A few days later he came back from this trip severely shaken and deadly tired, his eyes overflowed with pain. He stepped into the apartment, holding a big cardboard box. Put it on the table and almost guiltily looking at his wife, said: "They had nowhere to put it. Everything is destroyed. Our helicopter was leaving quickly, and I had to take them with me. Anyway please, have a look as he somehow hastily left the room. Lyudmila looked into the box and immediately her heart raced and nearly faltered.  There were four babies, scratched and dirty faces from tears and sweat mingled with bloody bruises all around their tiny bodies. They squeaked slightly. Among their clothes were sewn labels with names and dates of birth for each baby.

So in our house happened a sudden massive family addition. Borisov family members became Georgian boy Grisha,  Azerbaidjany Leila, and Armenians Sasha and Angela. As relatives of these children could show up, adoption has been ruled out , and the Borisov’s took custody of the children .

How did you raise them? - I ask, because I have twins also, and I know well how much care falls on mom during feeding, nursing, educating more than one child. For example, it is impossible to attach to the breast two babies at once, so you take one girl, and while she enjoys having milk and socializing with her mother, another stays unhappy and desperately cries complaining to the world that she was left to starve.

- Everything was pretty simple, as long as they did not know how to walk. This is enough just to feed them - they are currently satisfied and always on the spot, under control. But when they begin to move aroung, it is not a joke. They fled in all directions, and I was in the wild panic , trying to find them. We had to tie them with string, so as not to lose anyone. Of course, people in the garrison helped us a lot. Given, the  garrison commander when he received a lovely three-bedroom apartment for his family, conceded it to us in a fit of generosity as a family where growing quadruplets. Our daughter Irina adopted the children as her little brothers and sisters, she liked the role of older sister. She could be strict, children obeyed her implicitly, though the characters of all the kids were in Caucasian testy, very hot. Father, coming from the service, carefully checked diaries, asked about the events at school, and then, after dinner, all sat down to play backgammon. Those were happy times. We lived very amicably. My husband once said, "I hope, you were not be offended that I took upon your shoulders such a big load? When I was taking these kids home, I thought," Luda loves children. She will take care of them. " He himself loved them truly. You just should have seen his face when he went with the boys on a motorcycle on a fishing trip. So passed fifteen happy years. All ended suddenly. We never hid from our children the secret of their appearance in our family. We understood that they may be looking for relatives, and they must be willing to change their life. But still, it all happened so suddenly. First, an uncle of Leila came and took her. We said goodbye to our thin black-eyed easy going like a baby deer Leila, rejoicing that she has found relatives, and weeping with bitter separation. Later in our house a very old, with a crutch , grandmother of Georgian Grisha appeared. She was the only survivor of his family. Again, we collected a bag for our boy for his trip home, saying goodbye and hiding tears. Then, Sasha and Angela left us for their home. Again hugs, tears, goodbye forever.

So once our home emptied, our children's voices no longer ringing through the house. This all happened within two months. Relatives of children came with big bottles of Caucasian wine, with cheese heads, with fine carpets - gifts in gratitude - and took away those who over the years have become our sons and daughters. Tears and hugs of joyful meeting, tears and hugs for goodbye.

Lyudmila told this story sparingly, almost without colors, and I figured out why. Immediately after Sasha and Angela left, Lyudmila was taken to the hospital with a massive heart attack. Her heart was not able to accept such devastating havoc in the family. She does not know how to live just for herself, as can many other women - with trips to the beautician, barber, massage therapist and psychiatrist. The whole world revolved around her children, sent her own destiny as a generous gift, and then its suddenly taken away. Of course, children do not forget their Russian mom and dad.  Letters come from Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Numerous relatives from the Caucasus arrive to Moscow, where daughter Irina lives. Tired from endless travel from town to town, from place to place. Borisov’s family settled in the Tver region, with Victor finally able to do what he had dreamed all his life – care a private garden and a small farm. He likes to get up early in the morning to tackle his home, and very proud of the success, which he manages to achieve in this little world of cares.

I think that the best monument for the USSR (and I am sure it must be honored  by a monument, this great Union, which has mixed and melted and combined many cultures and so many destinies) would be the story, embodied in stone, - the figure of a woman who held in close and safe maternal embrace babies bestowed with her destiny.