Author: Yevgeniya Ruchimskaya
There are fewer and fewer testimonies of World War II left. They become invaluable, they document that era. An example is the triangular letters from the front. Far from all recipients of these letters managed to preserve them. But my mother Ekaterina Alekseevna Ruchimskaya (maiden name Ivanova) kept over 100 triangular letters that were sent to her by her classmate Seraphim Sergeevich Fufaev. She also kept diaries of her (pre-war) school years and of the war years. During the difficult periods of her life (and there were many), she turned to her diary, and gradually, over several years, she wrote her memoirs about Sima and about events associated with him (more than 300 pages!).
Some short background information. Moscow, Krasnaya Presnya, 1936. A new boy – Sima Fuvaev – joined the 6th grade that Katya Ivanova was attending. In her diaries she called him F. Sima immediately fell in love with her. Together they went to dances, to the ice rink. The last time they saw each other after the end of school, on 3 June 1941, they kissed for the first time (after nearly five years of knowing each other! to the contemporary youth this is likely to seem incredible). And afterwards there was a correspondence that lasted for two years. The last letter was on 8 September 1943.
Katya kept all his letters and diaries and later many times she turned to them, drawing spiritual strength from them. In 1963, when she was particularly sad, she wrote a letter to Sima’s mother and sisters (with whom she was not acquainted) and met with them; she showed them his letters, and they gave her a photograph of Sima. This meeting was extremely touching both for her and for his family.
Therefore, here are excerpts of the memoirs of Ekaterina Alekseevna: as testimony of passing time, and as testimony of her love.
… I wonder: is it a good thing to turn to his letters so often? To go back to the past, and live in the past? F. told me at the time (in 10th grade) that he believed in God (I had already guessed). And his family was religious. If “the light” exists, then F. surely knows that the woman whom he loved so much often thinks about him, and remembers him.
Maybe all this seems to me so significant just now? Maybe it’s all in my mind? But there are his letters, my diaries – they bear witness to the fact that it all happened and it was meaningful.
Again and again I re-read the letters. For an entire month I read them in the evenings. Here is his writing from the school years, in 1941, 1942, 1943. I compare it with what I wrote those same days and months.
There are some quotations from his letters in my diary. Of course, they are more and more about love. This is what at the time I needed the most, what affected me the most. Now I re-read what I wrote: there are some many interesting details of daily life during wartime. At the time I didn’t pay attention to them. And how his letters reflect his personality – loving, with intense romantic feelings. How I understand him now!
“Will we see each other again?” he asked, and he himself answered: “Fate …” It was on that wonderful day, 3 July 1941, that we said goodbye and kissed for the first time (as life revealed, it was also the last) in the empty school, in an empty classroom, a classroom without desks.
He wrote: “Forever, for all my life I have loved you” and “Don’t think that I can ever forget you. I will always remember you. Always! I love you very, very much”. This is from the letters of the summer of 1941. And two years later: “My heart still feels the same”, and “you remain for me the brightest star”.
Now I cannot read about the war without crying. Now it seems much harder than it was then. Indeed, the war was a milestone. It trampled all over our hearts. It cut life in half.
F. and I could have met during the war. In fact, there were some soldiers in Moscow, although they were just passing through. But it didn’t happen. In one of his letters he wrote that when he travelled from Siberia to the front, he hoped (his “heart contracted”), that the journey might be via Moscow, but the train turned south without reaching the capital. No luck.
The war … At the time we still did not understand how it affects our destiny.
Our youth was destroyed! Youth, which had seemed infinite, turned out to be incredibly short.
From F.’s letters in Lukhovitsy before he joined the army: “Of course, I miss you very much. But it’s a good thing that you went away – here it has become very dangerous”. He was referring to the raids on Moscow, which began a month after the war started. “Yesterday I went to mass. I felt an inexplicable delight gripping my soul …” And then: “Without my faith, it would be much harder”.
When he was not yet at the front (in Cheboksary, Kurgan, Nizhny Tagil), in almost every letter he expressed this thought: it would be better to be at the front! Fighting the enemy! Getting revenge.
I keep on reading his letters, his diary of those years and it’s as if I was re-living that life. I still love him now, I reciprocate his love (more than in my youth).
From the newspapers and radio he knew how close the enemy was to Moscow in October-November 1941. He wrote: “What happiness it would be, in times of danger, to be beside you”. After all he was then in the heartland (in Cheboksary).
Another citation: “I received a letter from you. God, how happy I was about it! Your letters are my only joy”.
The mail services during the war functioned very badly. Letters sometimes took a month or more to reach their destination. F., it turns out, at one point did not receive any letter from me about six months. And I wrote often and a lot (although less than him). This means that part of the letters simply did not reach him. In addition, he frequently changed address. He asked his friends to forward to him letters from the old address to the new one. Sometimes they did forward them.
How strange that he combined faith in God and the patriotism of those days! (“I will be the first in battle. I have no fear in my heart. I give to the cause of victory my life, my Komsomol heart” – this is from one of his last letters).
He was always eager to go to the front and leave the heartland and the military exercises. He expressed this thought in almost in all the letters. From the end of July 1943 he was at the front. He sent many letters, and they were very cheerful. He wrote: “Here is where I like it”. On 12 August he was lightly wounded by a splinter from a shell. He ran away from the hospital, having learned that a friend from his tank crew had been killed. A desire for revenge arose in him. Again he was eager to fight in the war. And 9 September 1943 was his last day in combat.
Shortly before his death he wrote to me: “Believe me, I’m not a coward. There is absolutely no fear in my heart …”
Only now one can understand what the price we had to pay for victory. Then we did not really understand. We were young.
He was very brave. He rushed towards danger. A genuinely male trait. He demonstrated his courage even in school (still in a childish, over-emotional manner). There was nothing in him of a good, obedient little boy. But instead he loved all that was romantic and sublime. Many at the time laughed at him.
The army, the prose of life, subsistence, war – they were his school for two years, but he remained a romantic. The letters in Lukhovitsy say: “The military commissariat assigned to me to aviation. But I don’t like machines. I wanted to be on the sea or ride in the steppe on a fiery horse …”
What horses?! Why?! In this brutal war?! Yes, and the sea had something unreal about it. Sailing, somehow? When there are submarines and cruisers all around.
In his very last letter: “Receive my greetings and passionate kiss”. And then: “Every minute the menace of death …”
Time has made all the letters turn yellow. The ink has faded. But the triangular letter with the stamp “Checked by the military censorship” is still there. The paper, the handwriting, the ink – it’s as if they continue to radiate the warmth of hands who wrote them, transmitting his feelings, his emotions. In his letters he didn’t refer to himself as a soldier, as a Red Army man, but as a warrior. In Astrakhan he wrote: “Today I took the oath, and I became a true warrior”.
During the war, it was very common to say: “For the Motherland, for Stalin!” (now people try to forget it). F. never did, but instead he invented his own, strange slogan: “For the Fatherland, for the Slavs”. There was something in him akin to the spirit of the First World War.
I remember: one of his favorite characters was General Brusilov. He read a lot about him, and when we met he told me about it (and also about the XIX century, about General Skobelev). He never said “USSR”, but always “Russia” (this word was uncommon at that time), and he used sophisticated expressions rather than the more common ones. Romanticism was an integral part of his nature. When he was at the front, he rejoiced of the fact that danger was around him, and that one could show his courage. In the last letters he wrote enthusiastically about explosions, shots, rockets. “You know, I love danger”, he wrote in one of his letters.
F. died at the age of 21 and remained forever young. Now it is particularly poignant to think of a life cut so short. How significant that we said goodbye (in July 1941) with a kiss, and that in his last letter he took leave of me (and, in essence, of life), also sending me a “kiss” (on 8 September 1943).
He witnessed a turning point in the war. It became clear that we would win. No wonder then that in his last letter he talked about the much-desired Victory Day, when all school friends would gather at the table and raise a glass of good wine to celebrate victory.
But it did not happen. He did not live to see that…
P.S. In May 1978, my mother wrote a request to the Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense of the USSR (Podolsk) and in June received a reply:
“According to documents that record the irretrievable losses of sergeants and soldiers of the Soviet Army, Sergeant Fufaev Seraphim Sergeevich, born in Moscow in 1922, has been missing since December 1943.
… Additional checks of the documents of the 16th guards tank regiment (military unit filed post 18985) did not yield any positive results”