26 June 2021
In 1953, my parents lost the opportunity to live and work in Kharkov because of my grandfather’s arrest in the so-called ‘Doctors’ Plot’ (my grandfather on my father’s side, my mother’s father was shot in 1937). As a result of their subsequent wanderings, they ended up as doctors in an outpatient clinic in the mining village of Krivorozhye in the Voroshilovgrad region of the Ukrainian SSR (now part of the city of Stakhanov in the Lugansk region of Ukraine, occupied by us). Just at this time, serial X-ray installations for diagnostic studies appeared throughout the USSR. Something of the kind appeared there too. And the ministry, to which this mine belonged, issued an order according to which all miners were required to undergo X-ray tests.
The decision was logical, given the air quality and the entire operating mode of the miners, but they didn’t understand what was at stake, and refused to have x-rays. They showed their metal over this issue – in other areas the consequences of such behaviour were too dangerous. Then the ministry ordered – in no uncertain terms – that no salaries would be paid to those who did not comply with the order. The miners got even more angry and began to look for someone to blame … They thought that the decision to deny them their salaries had come from my parents. And, with some Dutch courage, a big group of them went to the small building of the outpatient clinic (where my parents lived and worked), armed with metal sticks. They went over, shouting accusations in the foulest terms and announced their intention to kill my parents.
We don’t know how it would have ended, but my dad succeeded in negotiating with them using his fantastic – “literary” – knowledge of this type of vocabulary. First, he explained that it was not worth touching my mother, it would be enough to take their anger out on just him. And then, to the complete surprise of the “visitors”, he switched to using the kinds of words that were familiar to the miners and he used them with passion and very cleverly. He ended with a proposal: if they did not have enough money (and the miners then received ten times more than doctors, and certainly did not live in poverty; all of which they knew very well), they could take three roubles as a gift from him, since he had no more than that to give. They listened in silence, and then, after a pause, the leader of the group said: “Doctor, you swear not like a miner, but like a shoemaker.” My parents’ lives were never threatened again.
Translated by James Lofthouse