Interviewed by Carol Zuckert; Pesya speaking through Dmitri Rifkin, translator
June 17, 1999
CZ: ...June, I'm at La Mirada. I am interviewing Pesya Yevzerova. I'm here with Dmitri Rifkin who is acting as the translator. So, when did you come to the United States?
PY: She came in January 1993.
CZ: 1993, so you've been here awhile. Are you a citizen?
PY: Not yet.
CZ: No. Are you studying to be a citizen?
PY: No, because she's sick so she is not able to study this program.
CZ: OK, that's fine. Just curious. When were you born?
PY: March 1922.
CZ: And where were you born?
PY: Kiev, Ukraine.
CZ: Did you come to the United States from Kiev?
CZ: So you lived in Kiev all your life?
PY: Yes. 70 years in Kiev.
CZ: Hard to leave. Was it difficult to leave?
PY: Yes, she said it was very hard.
CZ: Who did you leave behind? Which family members?
PY: She came here with her daughter and her grandchild in 1993 and her elder daughter came here three years earlier. Now in Ukraine she has nothing, nobody.
CZ: Do both daughters live in Tucson?
PY: Sima lives in Philadelphia.
CZ: What's the other daughter's name?
PY: Irena, she lives in Tucson.
CZ: What does Irena do here?
PY: She works in the kindergarten as a teacher.
CZ: Where, in the public schools? At the JCC? Where?
PY: St. Gregory School.
CZ: Very good. Did she do that in Kiev? Was she a teacher in Kiev?
PY: Yes. She studied in Kiev as a teacher, she finished special school, and she worked as a teacher in kindergarten in Kiev and here she continued her work as kindergarten teacher.
CZ: How old is she? When was she born?
PY: 40 years old.
CZ: How old is your grandchild?
CZ: A boy or girl?
PY: A girl.
CZ: And what is her name?
CZ: What does she do. Where does she go to school?
PY: St. Gregory.
CZ: It's a good school, isn't it. Did she ever go to Tucson Hebrew Academy when she first came or not, because a lot of kids do go to Tucson Hebrew Academy.
PY: Yes. Three years she studied at Tucson Hebrew Academy after her arrival here.
CZ: And then how come she didn't continue there?
PY: When her daughter went to work at St. Gregory her daughter obtained a scholarship because it's expensive school and they don't have money to pay for it. She decided to study at this school.
CZ: Because there was a scholarship at THA, I think, but they have to pay part of it. So, what did you do in Kiev?
PY: She worked in Kiev as a like manager, an account manager. It's like a bookkeeper.
CZ: For whom?
PY: It was Kiev city's radio network.
CZ: So it was a state run radio.
CZ: Was there much of a change in that when the Soviet Union split up? Who ran the station then? What was the effect of the union dissolution, the Soviet Union breaking apart. What was the effect of that on her work?
PY: She was a pensioner at that point.
CZ: Oh, at that point she had retired already, I see. So, did you like working?
PY: Well, she worked about 43 years as a bookkeeper for this radio network. Well, she might say that she liked her job.
CZ: Was she actively Jewish? Was there any anti-Semitism at work?
PY: Basically she didn't have any problems because people were pretty good at her job. Of course there was several people who acted like anti-Semitists but basically she had no problems. She had good people at her job.
CZ: I see. And you were married?
CZ: And what did your husband do?
PY: He worked as a technician.
CZ: OK. And he passed away when?
PY: In 1987.
CZ: What does your daughter in Philadelphia do?
PY: A programmer.
CZ: Computers. Tell me, was your life good, or bad, or indifferent in Kiev? What was life like? What did you do with yourself?
PY: She says that life here is definitely easier than in Kiev.
CZ: In what way?
PY: Well, first, home conditions is much better, and money conditions, and people in Kiev, not only in Kiev but in Soviet Union, had a lot of difficulties. If they wanted to buy anything in shops because it was deficit and they had to queue up for long time, for hours sometimes, and here she doesn't have such a problem.
CZ: What was the longest time she had, does she remember, queuing up, and for what?
PY: In the end of 80s it became much harder because people even had special cards for, for example, for butter, for sugar
CZ: Ration cards we used to call them.
PY: Yes, yes. And they had to queue up two hours or three hours.
CZ: Was there ever anything you could get without having to wait in line? Was there anything?
CZ: What things.
PY: If you want to buy anything you had to queue up.
CZ: Oh, everything.
PY: Almost everything.
CZ: OK. Where did you live? Did you live in an apartment as opposed to a home probably?
PY: Yes. She lived in apartment, in a flat and she waited for this flat for about 15 years. Before she got this flat they lived in one room. Five people lived in one room. It was not a flat, it was one room.
CZ: For how long?
PY: Fifteen years.
CZ: Fifteen years in one room?
PY: Yes, without any utilities.
CZ: No running water?
PY: They had water in the hall and all other utilities were outside.
CZ: Bathroom, outside?
PY: Yes, outside.
CZ: How did you cook?
PY: They even didn't have a kitchen so they had to cook in a hall. Later they got, they obtained something like a gas stove.
CZ: In the one room?
PY: No, in the hall. But at first they didn't even have gas stove. Well, it was pretty hard to cook.
PY: Yes. And her daughter Irina was born in this room so she became the sixth person in this room. But fortunately they lived one year more then they got the flat. It wasn't a big flat but at least they had utilities.
CZ: Awful way to live. Was that because of Communism? Why were they living in such a terrible space? I mean, is that typical? What were the circumstances of that? Were other people like that as well?
PY: Well, it was typical after the second world war because a lot of houses were destroyed. So people didn't have houses and only Khruschev, it was 50s and 60s years, he build the new houses and at that time people began obtaining flats, sm all flats. During the war they moved to Uzbekistan and when they returned to Kiev their house was destroyed by fascists and they didn't have a house. Her father worked at the plant and that is why they were given this room. This room was in a basement, an d it wasn't a dry room, so conditions were terrible.
CZ: People get sick?
PY: Yes. Even now she has some sickness from that time.
CZ: Like lungs?
PY: She had serious heart surgery here in Tucson. The surgeons took some veins from leg they moved it to her heart.
CZ: So she had a bypass. So, in this flat that you lived in, this one room in the basement, was there heat in the winter? Was it cold or was there any way of heating the room?
CZ: How did they wash clothes?
PY: They went to laundries in Kiev because they had no spot to clean clothes in this room.
CZ: To a laundress, a person, as opposed to a machine.
CZ: So there was some way of doing it. But the difficulties of life must have been, just eating and sleeping, so many people, must have been very difficult.
CZ: This mostly happened as a result of World War II, as a result of the bombings and it took them, the government, a long time to rebuild.
CZ: Were both children born in the room?
PY: Yes. Both children. Her first daughter was born in that room and she lived about 8 years in that room.
CZ: Were the children healthy?
PY: No. She wasn't healthy and even now she's not healthy, probably because of early childhood.
CZ: How big was the flat you moved into?
PY: They had two rooms in this flat. Their living room was 18 square meters...one meter bigger than a yard. Their bedroom was 12 square meters.
CZ: So they were good sized rooms.
CZ: So life was easier then. Your daughters were in school?
PY: When they got this flat it was like paradise compared to previous conditions because they had gas, they had bathroom, they had warm water. First daughter went to school. She continued going to school and her second daughter was one year old.
CZ: Who lived in the other flat with you. You said there were five people. Is that her husband and her, there was six I guess eventually. Did her parents live there?
PY: It was her parents. Her father worked at the factory and that is why she got this room.
CZ: So what did people do that didn't work? What did people do that didn't have somebody in the factory or working someplace? Where did they live?
PY: I must say that people have to work because if somebody did not have a job he could go to prison, sometimes.
CZ: OK, thank you. That's interesting information. Did that happen?
PY: Yes, sometimes.
CZ: What happened to the family?
PY: They didn't care.
CZ: I mean, how did they live? I'm being naive.
PY: They lived as poor people.
CZ: OK, does she think of herself as Jewish?
PY: Yes, she feel herself like a Jew because her relatives - parents, grandparents - Jewish people. So yes, she feels like Jewish.
CZ: How does she know that. Is it true because her passport says that or because there's been something in the family that suggests that?
PY: Her father was a religious man but his children weren't religious because they had to work hard so they didn't have time to think.
CZ: Was your husband Jewish?
PY: Yes. Her husband was Jewish and even one of his grandparents was the rabbi.
CZ: In the Ukraine?
PY: Yes, in Ukraine in the city of Zhitomir.
CZ: So nobody your age practiced because, and there was Communism. Did that affect that as well?
PY: Yes, because they had hard jobs. It was very hard.
CZ: Very hard. I'm sure. Did they have to work on the Sabbath.
CZ: Did you work six days a week?
PY: No, five days a week. Forty hours per week and Saturday and Sunday were days off.
CZ: What did you do on Saturdays and Sundays? Did you take walks? Did you stay home and read? What was your life like?
PY: They lived in a very good district because they had a lot of forests, a lot of trees, it was a very green district. There was Dnieper River. So they had a beautiful park and they went to cinemas. They went to visit their friends. Also s he liked reading very much. Usually she didn't have plenty of time to read, maybe evenings.
CZ: OK. Do you get a chance to go to synagogue here ever? Do you go to synagogue?
PY: There was one synagogue for whole Kiev and she went to synagogue a couple of times on big holidays.
CZ: But not here?
PY: No, not here.
CZ: Is there a reason? Can you ask? Is it because it's not available or she chooses not to? Do you understand the subtlety?
PY: In Kiev it was dangerous to go to synagogue because you could lose your job. It was the main reason. And also, it was very far. But the main reason is that it was better not to go to synagogue.
CZ: General pressure. What about here. Just not interested?
PY: Early in Tucson she went to synagogue but now she's very sick so she's at home all the time.
CZ: Does her daughter and granddaughter go?
PY: Her elder daughter goes to synagogue regularly, very often.
CZ: In Philadelphia.
PY: Yes. And her daughter Irena, here, goes to synagogue on big holidays.
CZ: And the granddaughter, Valerie?
PY: Usually no. In spite of her granddaughter doesn't go to synagogue usually but she attended Hebrew Academy so she knows very much traditions, big holidays. So here she studied a lot, here in Tucson.
CZ: But doesn't anymore, correct?
CZ: Did Irena have a husband when she came here?
PY: Her husband stayed in Kiev. Her former husband.
CZ: So they're divorced?
PY: They divorced before the departure.
CZ: Was it difficult to leave Kiev, in terms of the bureaucracy? Did it take a long time to get here?
PY: Yes, it was very hard and it took about one year. The main reason was that people had to queue up for a long time, again! A lot of people wanted to leave Soviet Union, to move.
CZ: But now a lot of people don't seem to.
PY: She said that a lot of people moved to the United States and Germany so now they don't have a lot of people left in Kiev.
CZ: Yes, to create a lot of Jewish people.
PY: [Dimitri] Yes, and as I know now in Moscow again we have many, many people who wish to move to other countries, because the economical conditions, and political conditions, of course.
CZ: Political being anti-Semitism?
PY: Yes. In 1996-97 we didn't have many people who wished to move to the United States but now again many people are going to leave.
CZ: We don't have many people coming here. After you is there anybody after you? [to Dimitri]
PY: [Dimitri] Yes. I have somebody came.
CZ: Anyway, I'm going to close this. Thank you very much.