By Heather Nina Kubik
Some people are born to face courage. One person that I want to share about is my Grandmother, Nina Kubik. Nina Kubik was born on April 16, 1926 in Ukraine, Soviet Union. She was born shortly after the Soviets had overthrown the Russian Czars. During the 1920’s, land was taken away and collective farms were organized. There was a large conflict from Ukrainian landowners. Nina, being a young girl, remembered a time in the middle of the night, a car drove up to her home, her father was arrested and she did not see him for seven years. When she was eight and living in Kharkov, Ukraine, Josef Stalin’s Soviet government allowed seven million of her fellow citizens to die of starvation. Instead of feeding its own people in 1932-1933, the Soviets sold their grain to finance building factories.
On August 19,1983 a newspaper article written about my Grandmother says, “She has walked among the dead, through the landscape of death that was her homeland during the year of the famine.” She remembers, “the valleys near my house, where all you could see were bones and bones of people who have died. My mother traded her wedding ring for three or four loaves of bread. That fed all of us (family of five) for a week,” she said. “During the long, cold winter months, flour added to ground up corncobs was sometimes the only food available to her family. When spring came, people perked up. They could then eat dandelions and grass. Chaff, the waste product from wheat, was another substance used to fill growling stomachs.”
My Grandmothers difficulties did not end during the famine. The German’s attacked the USSR in operation Barabarrosa in a massive invasion in 1941. When Nina was only sixteen, her town was bombed. In one of the bombings, my Grandmother was walking a herd of cows when the bombs struck. She was terrified as she ducked for shelter among the cattle. Her hands never stopped trembling from that day forward.
The Germans then took one teenager from each family back to Germany to work in factories while the men went to the front. Nina was chosen from her family. She was told that this would be for only 6 months. Little did she know that it would be 27 years before she would see her mother and family in Ukraine again.
Nina worked in a shoe factory in Magdeberg, Germany for about three years until the war ended. During that time, my Grandmother met and dated my Grandfather, Igor Kubik. Since they were foreigners, their life was very difficult. Their living conditions were very harsh. One day my Grandfather was arrested by the Gestapo and was put in a concentration camp. Many months went by with out any word or conditions about Igor. After months of hard living conditions, Igor escaped as a prisoner and was put up as a fugitive. One day my Grandparents were trapped in a bomb shelter while bombs were raining down constantly and every one was hungry and thirsty. My Grandpa volunteered to go out and get water and food. He returned with a few eggs and water only to be disappointed when opening up the eggs to find some chicks in the shells. During the war, Nina survived air raid after air raid often to find many of her friends dead.
As the war was coming to the end, foreigners were used as human shields as the German armies were retreating from the city. One time, Nina along with her friend Dusia were used as human shields from attacking allied planes and tanks. Igor and Walter (who later married Dusia) saw the girls in line and found a way to distract the guards and snatched the girls away. They took them to a farm and hid them in the attic of the farmer’s house. After the war the Americans liberated the foreigners from their harsh situation.
The war was over and Walter, Dusia, Igor, and Nina moved to the village where Walter was living. They finally had plenty of food and freedom, but not for long. The Americans moved out and the Russians moved in. Things went bad for so called Soviet citizens as they were treated with suspicion and mistrust. The Soviets were now forcing people to go back. One day they were loaded up and sent to a transition camp. The living conditions were unbearable as they were interrogated and threatened to exile to Siberia. So the group of four made plans to escape from camp. After Walter and Igor scouted out possibilities to escape, they decided to bribe certain Soviet soldiers and escape to get to the British zone fifty miles away. During the dead of night, the four of them broke through a barbwire fence and headed for the railway station that took them closer to the border. They bribed another border guard at midnight as they began to cross the border under a hail of bullets, but they were determined to get to freedom. They made it to freedom and were in a displaced camp until they were sponsored to come to the United States. They settled in Minnesota.
Now in a free country life would be easier, but all of a sudden, another change for my Grandmother. Her husband died with a heart attack at the age of 42. Now my Grandma Nina had to raise five kids. My Aunt Tanya shared the courage that she had to face as a young widow. She now had to go out and get a job to support the family and leave the children. She had limited education and spoke broken English. She worked at a factory and had to leave early in the morning so the children had to get ready for school by them selves and come home to an empty house, which really bothered her. At night she would run the kids to activities. She never complained and tried to make her kids lives normal. On the weekends she had a lot of people over and her home was a fun place to be. A few years later she was able to get a job cleaning homes and now had more time for the kids that made her happy.
She never backed down from difficult times and was determined that her family was not going to have the difficulties that she had. One of her kids once asked her why she never remarried. She said that she was married to her kids. She was determined that all her kids got an education. One of her proudest days was when her daughter Lydia graduated from the University of Minnesota. That day my grandma wore Lydia’s graduation robes because it was like she lived through her kids. She always helped people out in life and gave of herself in serving others. She was a woman who had a great belief in God and lived her life relying on Him everyday.
My Grandma even had courage on the decision of death. When she was 58 years old, my Grandma started having problems with her gums in her mouth. Her dentist could not help the problem, so she went to the Doctor. She was told that she had acute leukemia, a blood related cancer. She was told that if she a treatment and went to the hospital, she could live longer, but she would be isolated from her family and have a difficult life. If she chose not to have the treatment she would not live very long. She chose to spend time with her family and not take the treatment. During that short time, she was able to share her life with her kids and the dreams she had for them. She chose to die with the warmth of her family and loved ones around her instead of a cold sterile environment in fear. It was a courageous way to die. Just before she died, she told her children not to be afraid and to go on and be courageous.