At 98, Rozalia Choba carries a part of Ukraine’s history within herself: anti-Nazi resistance, Soviet gulag and exile. To all this is now added the Russian invasion, which she hopes to survive.
“I love my land, my people […] need peace, freedom. We Ukrainians want to have our own state”, says this lady who lives in Solonka, a village in the Lviv region of western Ukraine.
– Forced labor in Germany and Siberia –
Since October 2021, Choba has been following on television the escalation of tensions with Moscow and the concentration of Russian troops and war material on the border with Ukraine, which preceded the invasion and the war she had predicted.
“Germany did the same with Poland”, says the old woman, alluding to the beginning of the Second World War (1939-1945).
In 1941, when she was 18 years old, Choba was sent to do forced labor in Germany, from which she would not return until the end of the conflict.
Upon his return, he supported the resistance against the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a part, which earned him a sentence in 1947 to ten years in a penitentiary colony in Siberia, the so-called ‘gulags’ of the communist regime. “It’s nothing to brag about, I did what I could to help,” he says modestly.
In her traditionally decorated room, with lace curtains and an icon – a religious image of orthodox Christianity – on the wall, the nonagenarian shows a Soviet accusation and childhood photos: here we see her in a dress in the middle of the countryside; there, at Christmas, in the gulag with his companions.
“In a word, I survived, I have lived until now and, God willing, I will also survive this war”, says the almost centenarian.
– ‘Let us live in peace!’ –
Choba’s thin voice is soft. But when she talks about Russian President Vladimir Putin, this grandmother, whose head is covered with a scarf, stands and leans on her walker as if it were a pulpit.
“Think about what you are doing, let us live in peace, all of Europe, not just Ukraine, because the whole world will have problems!” he exclaims, waving his hands. “Listen to me, I’m old, I’m 98 years old!”, she continues.
“She is our hero, defended Ukraine; without her we wouldn’t be here today”, says her son Myroslav, entering the salon with a bouquet of roses, which she gives him as a gift on the occasion of March 8, International Women’s Day.
As in many former Soviet republics, it is customary in Ukraine to give gifts to women on this international day that celebrates their rights. In this conflict, as in Donbass, in eastern Ukraine, women play a key role, both in combat and in the rear.
Faithful to the family history of resistance, Choba’s granddaughters weave camouflage nets for the army and her son organizes humanitarian aid in the village.
This elderly woman does not wish harm on anyone, “except Putin”. “If the tanks reach Solonka, I’ll tell them to go back where they came from and I’ll even give them bread for the way!” she says determinedly.
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