I was born Rita Orlovetsky on December 25, 1937, in Kiev, the
only child of Arkady Orlovetsky and Dora Khanokh. My mother’s
parents were Leiba and Basia Khanokh. Leiba was a
kind and pious man who regularly attended synagogue. My father’s
parents were Semyon and Shaynah Ettya Orlovetsky. Grandfather
Semyon was killed during the Russian Civil War, and I do not know
much about him. My grandparents on both paternal and maternal
sides were from Kiev.
My parents and I lived in a large communal apartment with five
other families. Before the war my father received an education and
military training, and he served as a pilot in the Soviet army. My
mother worked as an economist, and at the same time she attended
evening classes at the Kiev Industrial Institute.
My earliest memories of my childhood are connected to the
evacuation from Kiev. My mother, Dora, my maternal grandparents
Leiba and Basya, and my mother’s five sisters together with their
children left the city either in July or August 1941 to escape the
intense German bombing and shelling.
I remember being on a barge filled with civilians crossing the
Dnieper River. The long ride on a barge did not excite me; I was
scared. At some point we disembarked from the barge and boarded
an evacuation train to reach safety somewhere in the East. My
grandmother, Basia Khanokh, got sick with pneumonia and died
on that train.
The whole family had to disembark the train somewhere along
the way, and all adults went to work to a nearest kolkhoz in order
to earn some money and the means to bury my grandmother.
After Grandma was buried, we again waited for a train, and then
continued our journey to Semipalatinsk during winter 1941–42.
My father, Arkady Orlovetsky, who was a pilot in the Soviet air
force, was killed during the war. In 1942, when my mother learned
about his death, I remember she cried and cried. My mother became
a widow at age twenty-five. After my father was killed, Mother
joined the Communist Party—she thought she would be closer to
him this way. My mother never remarried but was devoted to raising
me, and she was a wonderful mother.
Several male relatives from both sides of my family also fought
in the Red Army, but only two survived the war and were disabled
for life. One came back home without both legs, and the other was
While in evacuation in Semipalatinsk, my mother again found a
job in her profession of economist. My grandfather and five aunts
also lived and worked in Semipalatinsk, and I was taken care of by
my other family members when my mother worked. The daily meal
was usually some hot water with onions and some dry bread or zhmyykh—
something that home animals would eat. In Semipalatinsk,
I suffered from a range of childhood illnesses including chicken
pox, scarlet fever, and malaria.
My family returned to Kiev in August 1945. The city was in ruins.
My mother and I lived in a big communal apartment where we
shared a single room that she received because she was a wartime
widow. We had to start again.
Never Heard, Never Forget: Vol. II, 2022