"Motherland" is a monumental sculpture in Kiev on the right bank of the Dnieper. Located on the territory of the Museum of the History of Ukraine in World War II

Soviet Memories

by Emma Green


In the summer of 1980, a few days after the Moscow Olympics ended, my family and I arrived in Ukraine for a holiday.

My father, for reasons that are still unknown, went to the USSR a few times during the 1980s, always on his own, but that year he took us!

We departed Gatwick on an ancient Aeroflot, with seats that slid around on runners to enable quick conversion for military use down, to Simferopol in what is now Russian-occupied Ukraine. The wide road from the airport to Yalta, our final destination, was almost empty aside from a constant stream of military vehicles in the other direction, depositing young Soviet conscripts for the war against the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan.

The hotel’s check-in form

At the hotel, we “westerners” were separated from Soviet bloc guests on a floor of our own, with an ever watchful “babushka” monitoring our comings and goings, sitting on a chair at the end of the corridor. I vividly remember my small Snoopy doll going missing from the bedroom and a radio that could never be clicked off. Downstairs in the huge dining room, we were again segregated, being served after a contingent of East Germans, who had better food. I had so many gherkins on that holiday that I’ve never eaten another one since!!


On a blistering hot summer morning, my brother and I were taken, slightly apprehensive, to Artek Young Pioneer camp up in the hills above Yalta. Similar to the Woodcraft Folk, most young people in the Soviet Union joined. Artek was the best-known camp and only the most academically able young people from throughout the USSR were invited to attend here. The day started with singing, not speaking a word of Russian, of course we were not able to join in. I do remember helping to make a campfire in the forest and later, baking either bread or cakes.

A certificate for the exchange of roubles

The heat of the Ukrainian summer was relentless and the day at the collective farm was no exception. We seemed to walk for hours in the heat, nodding and smiling at solemn “workers”. I discovered later that this was a “model collective farm” with lots of crops on “show” during a time of food shortages in the USSR.

Our hosts were also very keen to show us Livadia Palace, where Churchill and Roosevelt discussed the end of WW2. It was a very gentle, peaceful place where we took afternoon tea under huge wisteria trees and walked around the well-kept gardens interspersed with statues of Lenin, slightly incongruous I thought bearing in mind the palace’s history!

For a variety of reasons, neither my brother or I have ever been back and during this appalling time in the history of the Ukraine, the memory of the summer spent with friendly people in a beautiful landscape fills me with sadness, but also with hope that Ukraine will rise again as it has before and that once again it will become a country well worth a visit. I do hope so.

NorthernLife May/June 2022