Tetiev, Last Day

Quick update for today as we hit the road tomorrow morning for Lviv, which is in southwest Ukraine. Thanks to everyone here who helped make our journey productive and pleasant. Kudos to the mayor Руслан Майструк for his efforts to highlight the town’s Jewish history. And thanks to Oleksandr Oberemok for helping us make sure our historical facts are accurate. We’ll continue our conversations with both of them for some time to come.

Some highlights from today:

While we were talking with some ladies this morning in the market area downtown, an older woman tapped Svitlana on the shoulder and said, “I’m going to take you to where the Zaika’s live.” Of course, we followed her.

She went up the hill from the town center and into a small apartment building. We went up to the second floor and met Anna Zaika, a tiny 76-year-old widow who limps in pain as she walks because of a bad hip.

She welcomed us into her apartment – it’s a holdover from the Soviets but pretty spacious. Svitlana said she would have gotten the apartment for free during the Soviet times, but probably had to buy it at a discounted price following Ukrainian independence.

Anna’s husband Anatoly was a submariner in the Russian navy – he was not Jewish and she’s never heard of any Zaikas who were Jewish. She did say there was a story in the family about someone having a child with a Jewish woman who worked (before the pogrom) for a wealthy, land-owning Jewish family.

Site of the Jewish merchant district

playground Kids swing on playground equipment in a park in Tetiev. The heart of the Jewish merchant district, located in this area, was destroyed in a pogrom in 1920.

So now we’re theorizing that the Zaika’s who were Jewish sprang from the illegitimate son of an illicit romance. Maybe he was Anna’s father-in-law’s half brother. The mother was Jewish, so the child was Jewish but took the father’s Ukrainian name. Perhaps Yona, Bruce’s great grandfather, was the son, since he didn’t seem to have any brothers or sisters, at least that we ever heard about.

Sounds a bit like a Danielle Steel novel.

A man called from the U.S. about seven years ago, Anna said, asking about Zaika relatives, but she doesn’t know who it was. She has one child living locally and one child living in St. Petersburg, so we’ll try to follow up with them at some point. She also said her husband’s sister Nina is still living in Kiev. Four other siblings of his are already dead.

This evening, we went back to the cemetery one last time. We found several more stones, most in the woods and overturned. One stone we hadn’t seen before was still upright and had very readable Hebrew characters.

As we walked down the hill toward the three stones from the 1950s, Bruce and I talked about the possibility of somehow restoring this graveyard – at least clearing the brush and trees and finding all the stones and putting them in an upright position. This is a sad situation and it’s been weighing on both of us.

As we said our farewell to this place we left stones atop all the grave markers and said the Mourner’s Kaddish to help ease these souls on their journey.

Farewell, Tetiev. We’ll be back.

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