Yuri Kurov promised he would find the girl last seen outside a work camp
War-torn Russian family united in a country pub
From The Western Mail — Tuesday, 19 August 1997
Picture: TONY PARADICE
FOUND AT LAST: Yuri Kurov with his great aunt’s long-lost daughter Evadokia Stafford
He brought a photo of my mother’s grave for me to see. I was a bit upset and it made me cry.
A family separated by Hitler and kept apart by Stalin have been reunited in a small Welsh country pub.
Three weeks ago 34-year-old Yuri Kurov sold his motorbike, said goodbye to his wife and three children in the newly independent republic of Kyrgyzstan on the Chinese border and made his way to the Beehive Inn, Pencader, to fulfil a promise he made to his great aunt: to find the daughter his great aunt last saw outside a work camp in Nazi Germany.
Evadokia Stafford, possibly the longest-serving woman licensee in Carmarthenshire and known to everyone in Pencader as Dusha, had invited him to stay after receiving a letter out of the blue from Yuri last year.
He had traced her through the Red Cross.
And as they exchanged family news in Russian, Dusha took time out from looking after the pub and the magnificent array of flowers she grows around the building, to talk of a life that began outside Stalingrad and will end, she says, in the village that has been her home for 42 years.
Dusha was born near Stalingrad, now Volgograd, on the river Volga in the west central Soviet Union in 1925 amid the chaos and famine caused by the collectivisation of farming by dictator Stalin.
A childhood of deprivation and starvation came to an abrupt end when the invading German army arrived outside Stalingrad in 1941.
Dusha was 17.
“In 1942 the Germans decided to get rid of the population and my mother and I were put into cattle trucks and taken to work in Germany,” she recalled.
“We were seven days packed in the trucks until we got to the German border where they transferred us to passenger trains — they didn’t want the German people to see us being transported like that.”
Dusha does not talk much about the horrors she endured as a teenager in Germany.
“I was young and it was hard and when I think of today’s young people and the life they live, I can’t help remembering that I spent all my youth over there without knowing anything about luxuries.”
Dusha and her mother, Yuliana Bura, spent three years in Germany working on the land 12 hours a day, living on a diet of root coffee for breakfast, a bowl of soup for lunch and potatoes boiled in their jackets with a bit of gravy for supper.
“When the war ended everybody wanted to go home and some of us took a lorry from the Germans and piled on board,” said Dusha. “The older people went first and the young ones were left behind. My mother went first to look for our family and I had to stay in Germany.”
They never saw each other again.
Dusha stayed on the British side of the River Elbe and her mother had crossed to the Russian side in what later became East Germany.
The Iron Curtain kept them apart. “She wrote to me every week but the letters never got through, but when we came to live here I went to the post office and sent her a letter.”
“It went to my uncle who passed it to my mother and we corresponded regularly until 1970 when the letters stopped coming.”
“She never wrote very much, just a few things about the family, but I never knew about Yuri and his family before. I thought my mother had gone and that’s how it all ended.”
In fact the letters probably fell foul of the increasing tensions of the Cold War for Dusha’s mother was still alive.
She had moved east to Kyrgyzstan to be with her brother and his family. There was work there in the post-war Soviet Union building roads, railways and factories and modernising a region where the Turkic-speaking Muslim population still followed their traditional way of life herding cattle, sheep and goats.
Dusha’s mother looked after Yuri while his parents were out at work during the day in what was then called the Kirgiz Soviet Socialist Republic or Kirgizia.
She died in 1984.
Meanwhile in post-war Europe, Dusha lived in different camps for displaced peoples and it was in one of these that she met, by accident, her future husband John Stafford from Kidderminster in Worcestershire.
He was second-in-command of one the camps and she recalls their first meeting.
“He came to the house one evening to look for girls to come to a dance and was so cross because we were going to bed and there were these men with gin bottles hanging from their pockets.”
“Then we met again by accident on the road and he asked me out.”
She spoke no English and he no Russian, so they courted in their shared language of German and were married, 48 years ago, in Kiel, in the north German province of Schleswig-Holstein.
The minister was an army padre who coincidentally, was Welsh.
“We got married and packed our bags and came straight to England because we wanted to start somewhere on our own.”
“John went to work in forestry in Bala and I stayed in Kidderminster with his parents where I picked up English.”
After a short time in Bala, John got job as manager of the Falcondale estate, Lampeter, and when the job came to an end Dusha told him she was fed up moving around.
“He asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to run a pub. So we looked for one and found the Beehive and we have been here ever since.”
The couple rebuilt the pub and Dusha’s green fingers have made the car park area brighter with flowers every year.
Older residents recall that the arrival of a beautiful Russian landlady in an historic centre of Welsh nonconformity created quite a stir in 1955, but Dusha is now as much a fixture as anyone.
“This is the best country to live in. People may grumble sometimes but nobody is starving and if you have work you should be all right and if you don’t have work they still keep you,” she said.
“Over there you have to work in the summer to provide for yourself in the winter. The winters are very hard and there’s no dole there.”
When she first arrived in Pencader she sought help from her MP, Megan Lloyd George, to get her mother out of the Soviet Union, without success.
The letter from her cousin, Yuri, came out of the blue last year.
“I thought my mother had gone and that was that, but Yuri said he kept going to see my mother and her sister after he grew up to run errands for them.”
“The old ladies would speak about me and my mother knew there was no way she would see me again, but he promised that he would look for me.”
“Nobody took up his story but someone told him to go to the Red Cross and they told him they did not have much to do with Russia.
“But he sent them a photo I sent to my mother, taken in Germany in 1948, and they found a 20-year-old address which he tried and he found me here.”
“He brought a photo of my mother’s grave for me to see.”
“I was a bit upset and it made me cry, but it was something I should see and know about and it was nice for me to know that she was with her family when she died and that they are looking after her grave.”
Wales has been a culture shock for Yuri.
The little green hills of the Teifi Valley area complete contrast to the mountains of Kyrgyzstan where farming, mining, oil and gas are the economic mainstays for a population of 4.4 million people.
Just getting here was hard enough.
Dusha’s friend Vicky Knight, who runs the Eden Travel agency in New Inn, Pencader, travelled to Heathrow with her to meet Yuri off the plane after a 48-hour plane journey.
“I can’t thank Vicky enough because I would not have been able to do all that myself. But she knew exactly what to do and where to go.”
Other friends took Yuri to the Royal Welsh Show.
“He had never seen such a thing and he was a little upset at seeing parents with their children and thinking of his own family,” said Dusha. “But he is very happy to be here and thinks it’s free and easy and nice.
“He has never been out of Kyrgyzstan before and it’s an eye-opener.”
John took him to the seaside and he had never seen the sea before.
“It’s lovely to see him. He is a nice lad and everybody has taken to him.
“Now he wants to come over again next year and bring his wife and one of his children.”
Dusha knows she will never return to Russia, even now the end of the Cold War has made it possible.
“Meeting Yuri has been great and he has told me so much that I did not know and given me the whole family tree,” she said.
“When you are young these things don’t seem to matter.
“It’s when you get older that you want to know about your ancestors and where your family are.
“It’s been a long time since I left Russia as a 17-year-old girl, but I feel al home here and have friends in Pencader.
“And I survived to tell the tale.”