Outliving the Century: the story of a centenarian woman from Djgerda
In the village of Djgerda, on the periphery of civilization, where even the dirt road has long been overgrown with grass, lives centenarian Fenya Latsushba, who turned 107 a few days ago.
It is impossible to listen to her story without tears and a lump in your throat. There were many misfortunes during Fenya Sitovna’s lifetime - two wars, the loss of the people dearest to her. But nothing broke her. After talking with her, there remains only one question: how can a person endure so much suffering and find the strength to carry on living?
What have I not seen in my lifetime! I have lived through everything imaginable and unimaginable. The only thing I haven’t done is be yoked to a plough,-- that is how a woman who has lived on this earth for more than a century begins her story.
Slender, of medium height, with grey hair and sunken eyes. That is a description of Fenya Latsushba. It is difficult to imagine how much grief and adversity this fragile-looking woman has proudly borne.
"The disasters began in 1941"
Fenya Latsushba was born in 1913 in the village of Djgerda. She witnessed the Abkhaz socialist revolution of 1921, the Great Patriotic War, perestroika, the collapse of the [Soviet] Union, the Patriotic War of the people of Abkhazia. Of all the well-known, memorable events, the only one the centenarian did not experience was the huge snowfall in Abkhazia in 1911.
In 1940, Fenya married a fellow villager, Tsiba Ashuba. At that time Fenya was already 27, and a deputy of the Village Council. Family life did not interfere with her work as a deputy.
In 1941, Feni and Tsibu had a son. But the young couple’s happy family life did not last for long. Soon the war began. The child was only 15 days old when his father was called up to the front. Leaving for the war, he only managed to leave a note: "Name our son Platon."
Fenya Latsushba and her son Platon | © Thomas Thaytsuk
“My misfortunes began in 1941. Since then, there has been nothing good in my life. My husband left for the front, and I never saw him again. He went missing in action,” Fenya recalls.
For more than a year, Fenya remained in her husband’s house, where she raised the child and helped her father-in-law on the farm. But when her father fell ill, Fenya returned to her father's house.
That was not the end of her misfortunes. Soon her brother, who had also been sent to the front, died. He was deployed to the Klukhor pass and was wounded in the arm and the leg during fierce fighting with the Germans. He wandered through the forest for three days before reaching Lata, where he was taken in by an Abkhaz family.
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“My brother was carried home from Lata on a stretcher. We tried to nurse him, but nothing helped. The wounds became infected and he died,” Fenya recounts.
Fenya and her sister took charge of bringing up their brother’s children. The two women brought them up together with Platon on the Latsushba family small-holding. From time to time Fenya’s son would also visit his father’s relative
Fenya never sat around idle. She worked without respite on the kolkhoz. After the death of her husband and brother, she had to work for three in order to feed her large family. The Worker of Socialist Labour award which she keeps in a matchbox testifies to her achievement.
Fenya Latsushba's Father | © Thomas Thaytsuk
“The Commissar Showed No Pity”
Her son Platon grew up to be a hard worker and a skilled horseman. He was ahead of all the other workers, and no other horseman could overtake him, Fenya recalls.
“My son was respected by the villagers. He was a wonderful son. And I say that not to praise my son, but because he really was like that,” she says.
After leaving school, Platon did his military service. Then he returned home to his mother. Soon, the local commissar sent Platon to work in the Tkuarchal mine.
Four years later, Platon died in the mine from an electric shock. That day Fenya was working in her kitchen garden. She had no inkling that “the bell had tolled” for her son.
For several hours the neighbours could not bring themselves to tell Fenya that her only son was dead – they pitied her.
Sputnik Abkhazia correspondent Saria Kvaratshkhelia and Fenya Latsushba | © Thomas Thaytsuk
“There were screams from every house when people heard that Platon had been killed. But it didn’t even enter my head that something could have happened to my child. On that dreadful day the neighbours stood at my gate and could not bring my son’s body into the yard. But then two men plucked up their courage and said to me “Be strong, Fenya!” That was how I learned that Platon had died of an electric shock,” she recalled in tears.
“I was the widow of a participant in the Great Patriotic War and he was my only son, they could have showed pity on me and not sent him to do such hard work. But the commissar showed me no pity...” Fenya bore even the death of her son with courage. “May his soul rest in peace,” she told the bearers of bad news and sat down on the steps of the staircase. Two hours later they carried Platon’s body into the house. Overcome with grief, she could not believe it was her son lying before her. “You’re lying, that’s not my Platon,” she kept repeating.
Fenya’s son, who was just over 30, had not yet started a family and left descendants. Fenya lost interest in life after his death. She still keeps a matchbox that he had in his pocket the day he died.
“Only God can cut short a life”
But even after that Fenya found within herself the strength to go on living. Because, as she says, life is given by God and only the Almighty can cut it short.
Today the centenarian lives alone in the high-mountain village of Djgerda. It is her neighbours for the most part who keep an eye on her. Her only remaining relative is Djumber, her brother’s grandson, who comes every so often to visit her. He even proposed that she should come to live with him, but Fenya refused point-blank: she did not want to leave her father’s house.
Fenya's father’s house | © Thomas Thaytsuk
“I was born here, and I ought to die here. Where should I go? I need to look after [it]. I didn’t die when I should have done. What is there for me to do now? A painless, timely death is worth a million. A person should die in such a way that people feel sorry for him and shed a tear. But I am already so old that there’s probably no one left to grieve for me,” she added.
Fenya celebrated her 107th birthday together with her relatives and neighbours. Fenya spent over five hours telling the film crew from Sputnik Abkhazia her turbulent life story. At the end, the elderly woman who had borne so many misfortunes raised a glass of red wine and proposed a toast to peace and to the happiness of all people.
This article was published by Sputnik Abkhazia and is translated from Russian.