* Stalinist Great Terror: Child Victims -- Al’dona Volynskaia

Stalinist Great Terror: Child Victims -- A Little Russian Girl Named Al’dona Volynskaia

Figure 1.--This is Al’dona Volynskaia with her mother in happier times, just before the NKVD arrested her father for reasons that were never explained. Her mother and eventually Al'donna herself would eventually be arrested as related to an 'enemy of the people', but they were not not executed.

By William E. Ferguson

This story tells of the experiences of Al’dona Volynskaia. She was a Russian child who lived in Stalin's soviet Union during the 1930s. She experienced first hnd the Great Terror and the Patriotic War. This is her story. Gareth Jones was Mr. Lloyd George’s special foreign adviser. His duties took him to theSoviet Union. He was travelling to Moscow. While he waited at the railway station at Kharkoff he saw a large group of homeless boys. They were ragged, malnourished and some of them were very sick. When he boarded his train he saw a little girl who was well dressed. It was her rosy cheeks that the reporter first noticed. She held a toy and was eating a piece of cake. It was the contrast between these children that the reporter thought about.

Al'dona's Family

A girl called Al’dona Volynskaia was like the girl Gareth Jones saw on the train. She came from a prosperous family. She says her father was a Communist Party member and enjoyed a comfortable existence. Her mother was an engineer. She worked in the Kamensk-Uralskii Metallurgical Works (KUMZ) and then as an Instructor on a Regional Committee. Al’dona came from a cultural background. She was looked after by her nanny. She saw to it that Al’dona was a well dressed little girl. Her nanny took her to places. In the summer she played in the park or had picnics. On rainy days she had many books to read. She had many children’s books but her favourites were books by Pushkin and Chekhov. She had toys to play with. She went to the birthday parties of her friends. Her nanny’s duties included taking her charge to cultural activities when her parents were working late. She also accompanied the child to her music and ballet lessons after school. Nanny also bathed the child every night. It was a nice comforting feeling to be wrapped in a soft cotton towel to be dried and then climb into a comfortable bed to sleep the night away. She was a child who made friends with other children easily. Her parents were very loving towards her and by all accounts the family were enjoying a comfortable life. Certainly Al’dona looked back to this period with affection to her comfortable happy early childhood.

Father's Execution

All this changed in 1937. The change came quite suddenly. Her father was expelled from the Communist Party. The NKVD arrested him and hewas arrested and subsequently executed by firing squad in 1938.


The next change involved her schooling. She had to leave the school she attended in Istra, an engineering town near Moscow, where she lived. Al’dona was transferred to another Moscow school. Its number was P.S. 275. Here she encountered hostility from the staff. She was quizzed about her parents and was forced to tell them that her mother was not a member of the Communist Party.

Mother's Arrest

One day in 1938, shortly after her father’s execution her mother was called to the NKVD headquarters. She did not return home because shewas also arrested. She was charged with being a 'family member of a traitor to the motherland'.


Al’dona was worried and knew something was very wrong because her mother had not returned. She was a home alone child for three days. Then men and woman who she did not know arrived. Their presence bewildered the little girl. Why had they come? Where was mummy? The child was asked about her grandmother. They told her that she was going to live with her. Al’dona was smart enough to know that this was a lie because they never asked for the address. The strangers searched the apartment. While they undertook this Al’dona was told to pack a few things. She packed a satchel with her favourite books. She was allowed to take 2 others. One was a book by Pushkin and another was by Chekhov. She wanted to pack her photograph album but they did not allow it. The strangers packed a suit case which they filled with her clothes. Al’dona’s neighbour saw what was going on. They exchanged winks and the neighbour slipped a piece of crepe de chine into her bag. The neighbour knew that to give the child sweets she would have to ask the NKVD officials. This generosity was allowed. This incident came as a great shock to Al’dona. She realised that no-one had the right to give her things anymore. They would need permission. Once the search was completed and the child’s things had been packed everything was done and they could depart. The strangers took Al’ona with them when they left. A strange, bewildering and frightening new world was opening up before her as she was whisked away from the happy, comfortable and secure life she had known.

Danilovski Children’s Reception Center

She was taken to Danilovski Children’s reception centre. So many people were arrested as part of the Terror, that aspcial reception center had been set up for procesing the children. When Al'donna she arrived she found that there were other children there. She made friends. When she recalled this event later in her life she remembered their names. They were Elia and Nelia Iuvian, Lida Karnitskaia, and Vera Berdelisova. Al’dona went down to the basement. She was fingerprinted and a facial and profile photographs of her were taken She held a board with letters and numbers on it. It was her police registration number. When she returned to the other children they told her they had been at the centre for about a month. It had been a very over crowded place with lots of children. They were the only ones left after the other children had been taken away to live at other Children’s Homes. One of the officials who ran the home was called Uncle Misha by the children. He was an NKVD official. It was he who told the children that they were going to live at a children’s home in Odessa. This is a city on the Black Sea Coast. Al’dona recalls boarding a Black Maria which took them to the railway station. She recalls that the van door was not closed and that an armed guard watched over them. In his hand was a revolver. The adult leaders instructed the children in what they had to say if anyone should ask. They had to say they were ‘A’ level students on their way to Artek (a model Youg Pioneer Summer Camp) to spend the rest of the school year there.

Birch Tree Special Children's Home

Eventually they arrived in Odessa. From the railway station they were taken to the Birch Tree Special children’s Home in Odessa province. The home was made up of limestone barracks in the middle of the steppe. It was an institution that held over 500 children. All had the same experience the sudden disappearance of their parents who had been arrested. The older children thought about this and realised that there could not be so many ‘enemies of the people’ in Russia. This was dangerous talk but the children did not realise this. A boy was with Al’dona and her friends; he was older than they were. He spoke about feeling unhappy to play and not to think about his parents and all the others who had been arrested. Eventually Al’dona realised that even in this place and with their common plight there were children who informed the resident NKVD officers of this and other conversations. Not very long after the older boys conversation the home was closed down and the children were sent away to other orphanages in groups of 30 or 40.

Novoukrainka: The Lenin Children’s Home No 1

Al’dona was in a group of 38 children. They were sent to Novoukrainka, in Kirovograd Province. They walked from Birch Tree to Novoukrainka. They arrived tired and hungry. They saw a dark building before them. They entered and found it was the dining hall. The tables had been laid and their meal had been put out for them. All the bowls of soup were covered in flies. None ate the soup but soon they were so hungry that soup with flies in it was of no consequence. It was at this place that Al’dona knew about being hungry. None of the children were given enough to eat. They arrived at Al’dona says that it held 400 children. There was the group of 38 that Al’dona had come with. This group came from a situation in which their parents had been arrested. The rest were there because their parents had died of starvation in the 1933 famine. (Actually they were very lucky becaue mostly whole families dies in the Ukranian Famine engineered by Stalin and there was no effort to save children.) Near the dining hall Al’dona saw a pear tree. She says that all the time she was at the camp it never bloomed. She also says that beneath it was a hole. Into it were thrown the bodies of children who died at the camp. There was the day visitors came to inspect the home. At lunch that day they were served full dishes of vegetables. They talked to the children and wanted to know if the children had enough to eat and liked what they ate. The children said they liked the food. Once the Commission left the children were screamed at by the cafeteria lady. “We have not eaten for three shifts!” She collected up the children’s unfinished meal and threw it into the waste bin. Many children were covered in soars caused through the poor diet. The orphanage nurse was called Maria Ivanovna, she was a kindly person, she explained to the authorities running the orphanage that along with the greens the children also needed meat. A few days later the children looked in wonder at the table. There with the plates of vegetables were plates full of fried meat. It was when the children tried to eat the fried meat that they realised something was wrong. The meat smelled of Kerosene. They fed it to the dogs but they would not eat it. Al’dona recalled that a sick cow had been treated with kerosene before it had died. The bedrooms were very cold. The children usually lay two to a mattress. The children slept wearing their clothes and boots. The children covered themselves with a second mattress and blanket. The children had a monthly bath. None of the children liked trying to dry themselves using wet sheets. Al’dona found this a very disgusting experience. She felt that the staff were very cruel when she wanted money for postage stamps to write letters to her mother. She had to listen to taunts and lectures about how there was nothing Al’dona could write to enemies of the people. The non-Komsomol children were watched carefully. At lessons they had not to get a ‘D.’ If this happened then they had to attend Komsomol lectures. On one occasion Al’dona got a ‘D.’ She was lectured about it being an enemy ‘D.’ This was despite the fact that they had received numerous “Soviet” Ds.

German Invasion (1941)

In 1941 the Great patriotic war began. The German and Romanian Armies rapidly advanced towards Odessa. On learning that the German army was very near, the teachers and staff fled the children's home. The director, Polina Panasiuk, also fled but not before stealing soap and valuable personal possessions of the children whose parents had been arrested. Al’dona knew that the director had taken Elia Iuian's violin. She also stole Al’dona’s piece of crepe de chine. She also took Nina Isakians' gold watch. The children thought she sold the soap and the other things for a steamboat ticket. She had abandoned the children to their fate with the Germans. There were 400 children at the children’s home. The children were then sent to a Young Pioneer Camp seven miles from Novoukrainka. Shortly after they arrived the children found that the city was almost surrounded. The only road open was the one to Odessa. Larisa Shadurskaia, the principal of the Pioneer Camp, arrived and took the 40 oldest children away to help the Russian war effort. The children divided themselves into work groups. The 14 cows were milked by Natalka Liashko and Al’dona. The children did the tasks associated with harvesting the sunflower heads. The boys also worked as well. They rubbed the sunflower heads to get the seeds out. They got the firewood. They made fuel blocks out of animal dung. They also helped the collective farm director to help gather the harvest. Afterwards they were given a sow. Later it gave birth to little piglets. This was a happy moment in their lives. Al’dona and several of her friends, (Elia Iuian, Natalka Liashko, and Aina Saulit) worked for the Germans as washerwomen. They had no soap but they managed to clean and iron the German’s laundry. The children did all kinds of jobs about the city. Children worked in a variety of places. The hair salons and the tailor's shops were the favourite places to work in. They swept and cleaned the shops. The boys looked after the horses. Al’dona saw the prisoners the Germans drove through Novoukrainka. Some of the prisoners were shot there and then. Afterwards the dead were buried in a near by ravine by the town’s people. When children were 16 they would often be taken away for Bridge construction. The fear was that they would be taken to Germany. One of the girls married old man from the village so that she would not be taken to Germany. There came the night the polizei came. All the Jewish children in the camp were gathered together. Their names were called from a list. Al’dona thought they were going to the ghetto. The next day everyone learnt that they had been shot. The children discovered that it was the bureaucracy of the Children’s Home that had given the Jewish children away. The Germans asked to see the lists of children which contained information of their origins. These were reports that nobody had bothered about before. Another time Polish refugees came through the city. Two littler Jewish boys and a girl arrived at the Children’s home. These children lived there and were never given away. They and Al’dona survived.


Her ordeal was not quite over when she was liberated she was arrested by the NKVD and committed to the Gulag. Unlike many she survived. . She now lives in Moscow and heads the Society for the Victims of Two Totalitarian Regimes.


Deborah Hoffman: Memoirs of Childhood in the GULAG - Testimony of Al'dona Volynskaia, 2002 University of Toronto : Academic Electronic Journal in Slavic Studies,


Navigate the Children in Hitory Website:
[Return to the Main Great Terror page]
[Return to the Main Stalin biography page]
[Return to the Main Stalinist era page]
[Return to the Main Communist page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]

Created: 2:48 AM 10/29/2015
Last updated: 2:48 AM 10/29/2015