Evacuation and Escape

Leningrad Blockade

Rubina (Zhukovskaya) Rita


Rita Rubina (Zhukovskaya) was born in Poltava in 1924. When the war broke out she was evacuated to Tashkent and remained there until the end of 1990 when she made “aliya” to Israel.
She graduated from Tashkent University, taught history at schools and the Theater Institute.
Rita Rubina was awarded with the title The Honored Teacher of Uzbekistan.
She resides in Jerusalem.


Before the war, my family – father, mother, older brother Yakov, and I – lived in Poltava,[1] Ukraine.

On June 20, 1941, we danced at the school leaving prom, and on June 22 the war began. Then we could not imagine full horror of the impending future: for many years we were convinced that “we are invincible and the enemy will soon be defeated.” All the boys in my class immediately went to the tank school which was located in Poltava, and in the very first months of the war all of them, except one, were burned in the tanks.

The war was in full swing; the Germans advanced taking more and more territory, and there were persistent rumors that the mass killings of Jews encountered no protest from “the people,” that is, the local population. It became obvious that the only way for salvation was immediate departure. My father was a manager at the Poltava Flying Club; in the first days of the war he was drafted and he did not return home. My mother, a housewife who always used to rely on her husband, was unable to make decisions. So I had to become the head of the family.

I went to the recruitment office and got permission to evacuate. We were all sure that this was temporary, the Germans would soon be beaten and we would return home.

Hence we left with light luggage – we took as much as we could carry in our hands. In hope of the speedy return we left the house as it was. My favorite bike went to the attic but our beautiful Passover dishes mother wanted to hide better. Without thinking I dug a pit in the courtyard garden and lowered into it the Passover set – and five volumes of Lenin’s works.

A hard time began for me and my mother. We managed to get by train to Kharkov. They unloaded us at the station square. The whole area was packed with people who had fled there from many cities in the area. Everybody waited for trains. And then, in broad daylight, the German planes suddenly appeared over the square. Admittedly, they did not bomb us. But the buzz and roar of the engines were scary and disturbing. Each time when the planes made a U-turn and flew over us again, my mother threw me to the ground and fell on top. How often I (now three times a grandmother) recalled that episode! I was indignant, I struggled … but again and again at the sound of a coming airplane she fell on me, covering my body with hers.

Our train reached Yessentuki in the North Caucasus. We were put in an apartment of some decent, educated people, where we were given a separate room. But things very soon became complicated. The Germans were quickly advancing, the fighting was hard. There was a danger that the German tanks would break through and reach the Caucasus. So everybody more or less capable of moving was mobilized to dig anti-tank ditches. We worked all week from seven in the morning until the evening, with one day off. For the night we were housed with the local residents. (Much later I learned that the German tanks safely bypassed these ditches and went on to attack.)

The Germans advanced and we had to flee again. In the military registration and enlistment office I obtained a direction for evacuation to Kazakhstan. All the trains were overcrowded. We found a good guy, a porter, who shoved us into a car but did not have time to throw our things in as the train began to move. Mom was in tears: what shall we do in the cold Kazakhstan without anything? At one of the major stations they put us off the train and told us to wait for the next one that will go further.

I went to the platform and … the first person I saw was our porter with our things! He was looking for us! Such luck!

But my mother and I had no idea that true luck was just three steps away from us! As soon as we boarded another train my mother said, “We should have tea on the journey.”

I took a teapot and went to the water pump where I had to stand in line for hot water. While standing there I looked around and … Lord, even now as I write these lines I have the creeps! In the line was my father! Since the start of the war we did not know where he was or what had happened to him, and he did not know anything about us either. We both burst into tears when we saw each other!

It turned out that father was going to the Caucasus from Kazakhstan to look for me and mom, and at this, precisely this station, he had to transfer to another train. I cannot describe what happened to my mother, when I brought my dad into our car, and what happened to him when he saw his wife whom he loved so much. I stepped to the side so as not to disturb and they both cried! I still feel like crying when I write about this meeting. I cry also for my generation, for my classmates who died in the war.

After the happy reunion, we arrived in northern Kazakhstan, in the village Stepnoye to where the dad’s Poltava Flying Club had been evacuated.

I decided to study. By that time the family of mother’s sister Katya had been evacuated to Tashkent, so I decided to go to the Central Asian State University. At the admission board I was asked, “Do you want to philological or historical faculty?” I was a girl from a Ukrainian school; I did not know the word “philology” and was ashamed to admit it. Although I loved literature and wanted to pursue it, I said, “The historical…” Thus I became a historian and indeed have no regrets.

I had luck: the first 2 years I actually studied at the Moscow State University – it had been evacuated to Tashkent with all its famous professors and brilliant lecturers. In addition, all my study years I worked at the munitions factory. During the day I was sitting in class and at night kept watch at the factory, a short girl with a big rifle, in a sheepskin coat … To lose such a “wonderful” job would be a tragedy: a guard at a military plant received eight hundred grams of bread per day, and a uniform, which was equally important: it was that terribly cold Tashkent military winter …


After the war, my family stayed in Tashkent. My brother Yakov joined us after his demobilization. So we linked our lives with Uzbekistan that had warmly received us in the most difficult years. It warmed us not only with its sun but also with its sympathetic people.

After graduation I worked for 33 years as a history teacher, then retired.

I visited Poltava, my native town, 17 years after the war’s end. I came with my eldest daughter Dina, she was then four. We stayed with friends; our house was occupied by a foreign family. When I knocked on the door and asked to let me look at the room where I had grown up, they did not want to let me in. I could understand them: I would have seen all our stuff that they “inherited” with the house, including my favorite bike in the attic. And then it occurred to me to check on our Passover dishes in my naive cache. Friends gave me a shovel and I dug out the rotted volumes of absolutely unneeded Lenin. The dishes were gone.

The main purpose of my trip, however, was not a meeting with my childhood and adolescence. I went to find the graves of my murdered loved ones who could not or did not have time to escape: my grandmother, Haya Koganovskaya, and Aunt Vera Brusilovskaya with her husband Yakov Brusilovsky and two girls, my cousins, Kira 9 and Polina 5.

From the neighbors I heard the terrible story of their execution.

My Aunt Vera, as she understood where they were driven, went crazy, and all the way to the terrible firing pit she sang and danced so that my grandmother, who was 80, was led to her death by her two granddaughters.

In the same tomb as the Jews, two hundred imprisoned Soviet officers and soldiers were buried. They had been held in the church and shot all together. At that grave I cried and also said goodbye to my youth.

I never went to Poltava again.

[1] Poltava is a regional center of the Republic of Ukraine (formerly UkSSR). In 1939, 12,860 Jews (9.86% of the total population) resided in Poltava. Most Poltava Jews had time to evacuate; many men were drafted into the Red Army. The city was occupied by the Wehrmacht on Sept. 18, 1941. From the first day of the occupation there were shootings of Jews. On Nov. 11, 1941 Sonderkommando 4A shot all the Jews surviving by that time (1,538 persons). Altogether about two thousand Jews were killed during the occupation.