June 28, 2017

On the Tragedy of One Family... and an Entire People

On the Tragedy of One Family... and an Entire People
Young Maria visits her great-grandmother Maria for the first time in her life. {Photo: Mikhail Mordasov}
As told in two letters, two certificates and the autobiography of one centenarian.

What follows are documents from Maria Vasilyevna Yevstafyeva’s (born Leonova) personal archive.

Maria Vasilyevna was born on June 16, 1917, in the village of Noglovo, Sebezhsky uyezd, Vitebskaya gubernia (now Sebezhsky rayon, Pskov oblast). She lived there for 92 years, by which time she was the village’s last living resident, and had to move in with her daughter, in the village of Ostrovki, which is 100 kilometers east of Noglovo. Maria Vasilyevna lives there to this day, and is the oldest person in Ostrovki, which has about 150 residents.


I, Maria Vasilyevna Yevstafyeva, was born in 1917, in the village of Noglovo, of the Stalinsky Village Soviet of Sebezhsky rayon, into a peasant family. From my youth until 1939 I worked in the kolkhoz named for Kalinin. Then, until 1941, I worked in the Borisenki post office, in the telephone operators section.

The war began. They did not succeed in evacuating me. It was impossible to leave communications lines intact. But by the time communications were cut off, it was too late; the Germans had us surrounded. So I stayed in occupied territory with my relatives and my husband’s mother.

When the partisans from the Latvian brigade, led by Commissar Samson, arrived in our village, I collaborated with them. Because I communicated with the partisans, the Germans shot my husband’s mother and my own mother. My husband did not return from the war. My father died. My three brothers also did not return from the war, and my sister and her two daughters were shot by the Germans near Velikiye Luki. My sister’s husband was caught – he was a partisan and the Germans strung him up.

13 January 1995

In response to your query:

Your sister and her daughters Valya and Tanya were in fact shot in October. They were buried in the cemetery in Gubany. The husband of your sister, Ivan Prokhorovich, was captured and hung.

With greetings

[illegible, undated]

Still Life. {Photo credit: Mikhail Mordasov}

List of those shot by the Germans in the war:

Leonova, Irina Trofimovna, born 1879. Shot 16 April 1944.

Leonova, Natalya Vasilyevna, born 1911.

Leonova, Tatyana Filippovna, six years old.

Leonova, Valentina Ivanovna, four years old.

Shot in 1941, in February.

The husband of this family, Ivan Kuretkov, was hung in Velikiye Luki, 1941.

Nikitina, Pelageya Nikiforovna [mother-in-law] was shot by the Germans in 1944, on April 16.

Abramenkova, Anna Moiseyevna, shot 16 April 1944.

[Appendix to autobiography. Handwritten by Yevstafyeva, M.V., undated]


Greetings, dear Maria Vasilyevna!

Yes, it was your sister Natasha and her two daughters who were shot by the fascists in the village of Gubany in early October 1941. I was 19 at the time and had to witness this horror. Your sister was shot for being the wife of a partisan.

Ten people were shot in Gubany: your sister and her two daughters, the wife of the village council chairman and her son, the wife of the kolkhoz chairman and her two children, two young boys who had escaped encirclement. It was an utter horror. Local residents buried all those who were shot in a single mass grave.

With respect,

Anast. Lav.

4 June 1971


Maria Vasilyevna and her cat. {Photo credit: Mikhail Mordasov}


This certificate is given to the citizen of Sebezhsky rayon [illegible] village council, village of [illegible], Maria Vasilyevna Leonova, to verify that, from May 1943 to July 1944, she aided the first detachment of the Latvian Partisan Brigade with labor and food. Certified with my signature:

Commissar of the First Detachment of the Latvian Partisan Brigade Rikter

Head of the Detachment Burtsev

19 September 1944


Archival Certificate

Yevstafyeva, M.B., born 1917, from December 1942 to July 1944 was a member of Samson’s Latvian Partisan Brigade and the Fourth Kalinin Partisan Brigade. As a communications agent, she exhibited bravery and courage in the battle against the fascist invaders, provided assistance to the detachment in the acquisition of ammunition, and gave valuable information about the movement of enemy troops and garrisons. She personally participated in battles and shot two fascists with her submachine gun.

Director of the Oblast Center for Documents

O. Salkina

5 April 1994 

Locals stop by for a visit, while journalist occupies a high perch. {Photo credit: Mikhail Mordasov}
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