On the 4th May 1980 I was supposed to celebrate my 12th birthday. That year spring came late and the snow was still seen on the pavements of Prypiat. I hoped my birthday present will be sunshine, new sandals for summer and maybe a bag of fruit drops. But there were no cheerful celebrations.
The night before I must have fallen into a very deep sleep because neither the banging to the door nor loud voices woke me up. I only opened my eyes and realised the noise is not in my dream when I heard my mother's cry.
I jumped out of the bed but just then my grandma came to the bedroom we were sharing.
“Iryna, when did you wake up?” she asked and at the first moment I couldn't recognise her voice, it sounded like the words were coming from an emptied well.
“Just a moment ago. What happened?”
I wished I could see her eyes but the light was switched off.
“The police was here.”
Why? Something happened in the house - I thought – and they are evacuating people.
“They took your father. Arrested him.”
I didn't say anything just standing there looking into my grandmother's dark face.
When I went to school I noticed children are watching me with curiosity. I heard whispers and saw fingers pointed in my direction. Prypiat is a small town, everybody knows each other, most of people work in the same place as my dad, in Chernobyl. They knew what had happened. The thing was – I didn't know what happened!
The only person who wasn't treating me differently was Vira, my best friend. After school I asked her:
“Please, tell me, what do you know? My mum doesn't want to tell me!”
“I don't know either. At school they come out with many stories: from robbery in the Chernobyl's Post Office to a murder. But I heard my parents talking last evening. They said something like 'shame', 'person we thought we knew', 'Lubyanka'.” I gasped when I heard the last word. I didn't know what does it mean but I knew it's something dreadful, it's in Moscow and it's associated with the most dangerous bandits.
“They were also scared that the police might think they were friends with your dad. I'm sorry.”
For about one week I had been trying to convince my mother to tell me what was my dad's fault but she was only crying and saying that she will tell me later. Yet the children on the street and at school had started avoiding me so I had to know. Otherwise how can I defence myself? So finally one morning my mum gave me a sad and resigned look and she told me this: “your father is guilt of a treachery and acts against the Soviet Union.”
I didn't want to believe. I was sure that's a mistake, how my father would do something like that? He is and intelligent man, he has a good job as an engineer in the Power Plant, all our quarter know him as a kind and honest man.
But that was the truth. He had been a head of the local underground opposition movement, he hated the communism, he hated the government. I couldn't understand why? That was the best system in the world, that's what everybody says. Lenin was the hero who set the working people free, he gave them rights and made everybody equal. And yet my father rejected all that. Didn't he see life under the soviet principles is the best? What did he see?
I was surprised my father's imprisonment didn't prevent my holiday in the Pioneer's Camp in Crimea. I went there in a mid July and very quickly realised that news spread fast and my disgrace was following me. My former friends didn't want to talk with me, they were calling me an enemy's child. No matter how loud I tried to explain that I don't share my father's rebellious believes - I was an outcast.
I remember the first evening when during an assembly I heard somebody whispering to my ear: “What are you doing here, pruned weed?” Before I could react somebody else said: “Your silence tells us enough. Be warned.” And then it started.
For the first two weeks I was being laughed at and bullied. One day a boy who was acting as a senior of the group made me recite a “poem”, probably of his own authorship, about how the enemies of the country will be treated. It was an obvious reference to my father. I read it giving my voice all the strength and passion I could find in my aching heart. I thought I expressed my opinion clearly, unfortunately you can never convince someone who doesn't want to be convinced.
Another evening... there were some boys in the girl's bathroom. Imagine the most humiliating thing children can do...
But I was strong. I wanted to show everybody who I am, and who I am not, so I never showed despair.
I was making plans how to convince everybody that I despise my father and I will never abandon the ideas of communism. And than one day I was walking alone and sad behind the tents when I heard somebody calling my name:
“Psst! Iryna! Over here!” I looked around and saw a girl's face in the bush. I had never seen her before, she was 14 or even 15. My first though was it is another trick to insult me, but some tone of genuine tense in the girls voice made me come closer.
“Are you Iryna Tereshchenko, the daughter of Oles?” Asked the girl in whisper.
“Y...yes” I replied uncertainly.
“Come here, please.”
I came to the bush and followed her to a place where three other teenagers were seated hidden in a high grass.
“Your father is a hero! I am from Kerch, Sasha is from Minsk, Anna and Valery from Yekaterinburg,” she said introducing her friends, “but we all heard about your father and his contribution to the underground.” I didn't know what to say. I was in the middle of a guerrillas' nest and they were telling me that the man whom for the last two months I had been trying to forget - is a hero? How can it be!
Then they invited me to their tent and, not knowing that they are about to destroy my world, showed me pictures from some other planet. Shops full of goods, people on the streets wearing colourful and new clothes, shining cars. I held them in my hands trying to figure out if the photos are true or fake.
When I came back to my tent I didn't pay attention to children's behaviour, I was ignoring everybody and everything (that happened to be the best remedy to my problems – no bully was interested in seeing no reaction). And inside I was shaking.
When the next time I looked for Olga, the girl that called me from the bush, all I wanted to do was to get proof that they were wrong. What I got was respect I was longing for since may, and the story about the great famine in the early 1930s. The story once I heard from my grandmother who ended it with mysterious “and that was put among fairy tales too”. In the end instead of making my mind I started wondering what is the truth.
Every night I tried hard to remember all things my father used to tell me, looking for some clue. Every day somebody from the “guerrillas” group was saying something I could neither accept nor reject. They were causing me headache but I felt I must listen and consider everything.
I started hanging out with my new friends and learning about things that were forbidden to know. About the villainy of Communism and crimes of its clique. By the end of the holiday I finally realised that the truth has been hidden from people like me. In my part of the camp I still played a girl who tries to make others believe she is not like her father, played a loyal doll. I wished they could see what I saw but telling them what I have discovered was like a suicide. I was an outcast.
That was six years ago. Only last month my mother learnt about a person, an “enemy” of course, who might know what happened to her husband. We came to Moscow on the 25th April to find him and try to get some information. Today is 4th May 1986 and I am writing this, dear diary, looking at the Ghorki Park. Today I'm turning 18 but there will be no cheerful celebrations. My grandma, my friends, Prypiat – are gone.