Knowle and Dorridge Christadelphians are responsible for the welfare of all Christadelphians in the former Soviet Republics of Tatarstan, Marij-El and Bashkortostan as well as Kirov Oblast in Russia itself. Here is the story of one of our members there, as told to us when we visited in August 2013:
Valentina has had an interesting life. She was the youngest of five children born to an Austrian mother and a Polish father in the 1930s. Their marriage was regarded as treasonous by both communities and they fled to Russia at the outbreak of the Second World War, hoping for sanctuary there. Instead, Valentina’s father was shot as a spy and her mother died shortly afterwards. The eldest boy – aged 15 – was conscripted into the Soviet army and the younger children were put on a train to Tomsk in Siberia. One girl died on the way and the remaining three were incarcerated there in an institution for children of the enemy. The regime was extremely harsh and another two died leaving baby Valentina the sole survivor.
Valentina’s birth certificate was lost in the confusion and her precise age and date of birth are unknown. She thinks she was 12 or 13 when a clerical error (Valentina calls it divine providence) led to her escape from the institution. In an apparent mix-up over names, Valentina was summoned to commence teacher-training. She was far too young and very small (she still is), but nobody dared question an official document – and Valentina was exceptionally bright. So she attended college and undertook teaching practice where her pupils were often her own age or older. She duly qualified as a teacher, though she recalls playing with the children during the evenings and teaching them during the day. She says she was very strict with them.
Life was tough as Valentina had no home and earned very little. But her eldest brother had survived the war and was sent to the Kuril Islands in the Far East. They were annexed by Russia from Japan at the close of the war, and were now a centre of oil exploration by the Russians, with a need for forced labour. Passing through Siberia, he was allowed to stop off to look for his four young siblings. He was devastated to learn that three had died but eventually he traced ‘baby’ Valentina, and was amazed to find her a qualified teacher. But she was in poor health and difficult conditions and he took her with him. In the bleak Kuril Islands, Valentina met Viktor, a young construction worker from Zelenodolsk in Tatarstan. They fell in love and married, eventually getting permission to move back to Zelenodolsk when Valentina fell pregnant with their first child. Viktor built them a little house in a village near the city and they have lived there ever since.
Viktor and Valentina both believe that God has governed their lives and guided them to the Truth in 2000 when both were baptised as Christadelphians. They used to make the journey to Kazan (capital city of Tatarstan) for our monthly breaking of bread services until late last year when a medical error during routine treatment left Valentina in constant pain and without the use of one of her legs. Viktor still travels to the meetings while Valentina is now housebound. She receives Christadelphian Isolation League exhortations translated into Russian. We journeyed to Zelenodolsk in August to break bread with Valentina and were delighted to find her strong in faith and full of gratitude to the merciful God who has given her the promise of a kingdom to come, and a home and loving husband even now. Viktor grows large quantities of potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes, watermelons, peppers, cucumbers and grapes in their small garden to augment their tiny pensions, and he always brings a lot of fruit and vegetables to help with the catering at our Weekend Bible Schools.