Olena Karpyuk

I was born onMarch 16, 1931. My father, Karpyuk Platon, was a baptist. At that time there were no Jehovah’s Witnesses in our village of Kalusiv (now it is Gryadi village, Volyn region), so we all attended Baptist meetings. Later Jehovah`s Witnesses from Laskiv village came to our village to preach. It was in 1939 -1940. At once my mother and I decided to become Jehovah`s Witnesses. To hold our meetings we met in small groups. My mother Matrona, older sister Olexandra, brother Oleksiy, and I regularly attended the meetings, which were held at the homes of different families. When the meetings were held in our home my father was also present.

At school they tried to make me wear a pioneer tie. They even threatened to expel me from school. I replied: “Expel me then, if you have the right to do that”. But those were only threats.

In 1950, I got very sick. My legs hurt so much that I couldn`t even walk or talk loudly. Everybody thought I would die. Doctors examined me, but were uncertain how to help. So no one agreed to start the treatment. One doctor said: “Either she would not survive the treatment or it would leave her disabled”. Thirty vitamin shots were the only cure my father could find. After some time, the disease has receded.

By the time of exile, my sister had already married and my older brother, Oleksiy was imprisoned for his conscientious objection to military service. When our family was exiled to Siberia I still walked with crutches.

On April 7, 1951, they woke us up at night and said: “Get ready for exile”. Police were kind to us and even let us slaughter a hog. At first they said that we could take everything we wanted except potatoes. Then a senior police officer said that we could take the potatoes.  But my father refused: “If they said we were not allowed, I wouldn`t take that”. The police had it written, that my father was a Witness. So he was exiled together with us.

They told me that I could stay as I was sick. But I yelled: “No! I’ll go with my family!” I was not afraid and I didn`t worry. We knew they would exile everyone. Our grandmother, who lived with us, was very old and sick. She wouldn’t survive the trip. So they went to the village council and took her name off the list. My older sister also stayed. They told her: “Be ready as next time we will exile everyone!” She waited for some time, had dry bread always prepared, but another exile never happened.

The trip to Siberia took 18 days. Each evening at 5 o`clock we were given some soup, bread, tea and water. Beside that, Witnesses shared the food they had taken from home, so we were not hungry. When the train stopped, those who had buckets were allowed to get some water under police supervision. But one day they didn`t give us any water. All day there was no water. Children were thirsty and they were crying. It was scary. Once a day we were let off the train to go to a lavatory under the cars.

Only one family in our car were non-Witnesses. At first we thought they were in our car to overhear us. Later we found out that they were also exiled. But the reason was different, as they were kulaks (of the rich class). There were also Witnesses from four nearby villages.

While travelling in that freight car we got lice. So, we were all treated with insecticide. We arrived in the Zalarinsky District, Irkutsk Oblast. The train cars were left at a dead end. We arrived at the town of Zalary, which was our destination. At the railway station “merchants” from Zalary and other villages came to look at us. They took some exiles to the town and even paid them for work. Life was much harder for those taken to collective farms, as only in autumn they received grain as a payment for their work. Later we learned how to make flour from that grain and sell it.

Since our car consisted mostly of women, children and elderly men, we were taken to a collective farm in the village of Bagantuy. Together, with the other five families we were settled in a barrack with two rooms, which was actually an old kindergarten. There was a forest nearby, so there were a lot of ticks in the rooms. There was a barrel with a log fire that we used for cooking and heating. Later we built an oven and a stove. We stayed in that place for a year.

Our barrack was on the edge of the village and we often sang songs. Locals came to the barrack to listen. They said that we sang beautifully. Later, locals started taking us to their houses so eventually we all left the barrack.

Shortly after arriving to Siberia I got baptized at the age of twenty. The baptism took place in a lake in the Zalarinsky District. On that one day, 12 people were baptized but is was done secretly.

Because of my health condition my work was easy – I just had to deliver mail on horseback. And thanks to that, I was able to deliver the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Zalary to the village. I can say that I was respected at work, but the master often said: “Helen, your faith lets you down.”  He denied me awards and charters because of that. A lot of people shunned me when they learned that I was one of Jehovah’s Witness. It was obvious that they had previously heard a lot of negative information. When the police commissioner found out that I’d been tasked with delivering mail, he had me taken me off this light work. He said that Jehovah’s Witnesses shouldn’t move freely, let alone deliver mail. So, I was assigned to the collective-farm brigade where I harvested, weighed grain crops, and сut grass…

As we were in exile in a small village, people there didn’t persecuted us severely and didn’t prevent us from meeting. The police commissioner even asked one woman, who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, to look after his six-year-old daughter. The woman also talked to the girl about the truth. One time, on New Year’s Eve, children recited poems and that girl decided to recite the poem her nanny-Witness had taught her.

People were poor, that’s what made them kind. They often responded to Bible truth. We saw that we were needed in Siberia as we had met a lot of people who wanted to know more about God there. Though at first it was hard, just knowing that I was suffering for the God’s name with other Jehovah’s Witnesses brought me joy.

The brigade leader was normal. He didn’t pay me but gave grain and milk. From time to time, the authorities came from the district center and suggested that we decline the faith and go home. The police commissioner often threatened: “Finish up with preaching, otherwise we’ll take you even further, to Kamchatka”.

That year when we came to Siberia, there was a large wheat harvest, so local people said: “We see that God is with you, we’ve never had such a harvest.” Siberians often asked us to conduct the funeral of their relatives and friends, because we knew the Bible and sang well. It was a good opportunity to give a witness. In the years that I lived in Bagantui, 2 local women became Jehovah’s Witnesses – our neighbor and a local doctor. Some people from nearby villages also became Jehovah’s Witnesses. The number of fellow believers continued to grow even after we left Siberia.

I remember the day Stalin died. A television set was brought to the village and all the people were gathered. The local people cried a lot, but we didn’t. The next day I delivered letters and newspapers to school. And the teacher asked me: “Look at that, all our people, Russians, cried but you didn’t”. I answered: “Would you cry if you were me? He exiled us to Siberia, why should I cry for him?” After some time, I came with more newspapers and saw her cutting a portrait of Stalin with an axe. I asked her: “You cried for him so much, how can you do this to him now? Though we didn’t cry for him, I would never do that. You’d better have put it in a corner somewhere and let it be there”. The teacher answered: “That’s because you are smart people.”

Years later we were allowed to leave the exile settlement. It was in 1965. At first, I didn’t want to as I had already gotten used to living in Siberia, but my mother wanted to leave it so much so we returned home. On our return we first had to live with relatives as our house and belongings had been taken to the collective farm. There was nothing left – neither house nor garden. Now there’s just a field in its place. I don’t even recognize the place where we had lived before the exile.

I went to work with my sister in beet fields at the collective farm. Other women got the hang of that work, but I didn’t. I took a pack lunch and carried it on my shoulders but I had so much work that I didn’t even have time to take it off my shoulders at lunch time.

It took us four days to get back to Ukraine. We were unable to get a residence permit for nearly a year because forced settlers were forbidden to return to their former places of residence. The official from the district center (Ivanychy) came to us and said: “You have no right to live here without registration.” I answered: “I wouldn’t even register in the hell where we live. I didn’t want to return but Mom really wanted to as her children and grandchildren are here. Mother would stay here even without registration. My younger brother lives in Angarsk. I’ll go there and live with him. I’ll go work at the mine rather than live here, but I won’t take Mom with me”. After that conversation, they provided me and Mom with registration.

In the 1980s, we were allowed to visit conventions in Poland. That was the first time we were present at such big meetings. We heard so much new information there that it was hard to remember. But I do remember that we saw some people there that we formerly met in Siberia.

I am almost 90 years old and I realized that life with Jehovah’s help is the best life to live. This world can’t give you anything better.