After years living in Greece, one Russian looks back on a life of war and peace

THESSALONIKI – At 82, Vera Alexandrovna is one of the Russian survivors of World War II now living in Greece. Her compatriots commemorated their fallen heroes at a ceremony on May 9, the date World War II ended, in a ceremony at Nea Santa, in Kilkis, northern Greece. Veterans of the Soviet army and their families laid wreaths at the monument there and sang Russian war songs. Kathimerini talked to Alexandrovna at her home in Thessaloniki, where she had lived with her Greek husband Angelis Anagnostopoulos. In early 1941 Alexandrovna, who was then just 17 and a member of Komsomol, started working at Tashkent airport. A few months later when war broke out she volunteered as a nurse but was soon called up to serve on air force bombers. «I presumed they would use me as a nurse, but they needed wireless operators and so I was trained. At first I was receiving Morse code messages without knowing what they said. One day I was asked by radio to send information about the number of aircraft at the base and when they were flying. I suspected that Germans had managed to enter our frequency and so did not reply. That was in fact the case,» she said. The top brass soon chose her to fly on PO-2 bombers where she operated the bombing mechanism. «When there was a need and the situation arose I left the wireless and took up position at the pedal that dropped the bombs. It was a job, I was doing my duty. I was lucky because I didn’t have to kill civilians,» she says. «Death was all around us; even when I wasn’t flying and on duty at the base, the German bombers were still flying over our heads.» For two years, from 1941 to 1943, Vera Alexandrovna was at the frontline until a pregnancy resulted in a transfer. Her son, now a diplomat, was the outcome of a brief marriage with Mishka, who was called up into the navy. After the war ended, a letter arrived at her home informing her that she had been awarded the Lenin Prize, the highest distinction, but also telling her that Mishka had been killed. «Not long afterward, an officer came to my home and asked me if I wanted to see Mishka. I was furious until he pulled aside a curtain and Mishka was there. He had been taken prisoner by the Germans who had sent him to the Mauthausen concentration camp, where the Americans had found him half-dead.» Some years later Mishka died and Alexandrovna married Anagnostopoulos, a Greek political refugee whom she later followed to Thessaloniki. «Hopefully the generations to come will never live through wars,» she concluded. «It is terrible to live with the fear of annihilation.»