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Valentina and Nikolai Ivanov

Valentina Ivanov, 93, died at Sullivan County Healthcare on November 28, 2006, in Unity, NH. She was born in one of the villages of the Donbas region, Ukraine, on December 19, 1912, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Schabanov.


Valentina's life was very difficult because no matter where she and her family moved, they encountered hardship and violence and struggled to survive. Raising six sons (the first child died in infancy) during and after WWII was an almost unbearable task. But even before the war, Valentina and her husband, Nikolai Ivanov, had had to escape the Bolshevik regime that had threatened Nikolai with imprisonment and permanent exile to Siberia for his anti-communist views. A few of Nikolai's brothers had already been killed. So, the young couple, scared and emotionally traumatized, fled through Russia to Poland and then on to Germany. And in each country, they encountered troubles, which forced them to continue their arduous journey. 


During one of their moves, the family was captured and held in a displaced persons camp in Bamberg, Germany. They spent several years there, and Valentina bore more sons. A post-war refugee crisis in Europe caused very harsh conditions for refugees. The growing boys suffered constant abuse from teachers and peers at school and from guards at the camp. And their father, losing all hope of a better life for his family and dealing with his post-traumatic stress, became short-tempered and violent. Poor Valentina suffered too but continued to endure!


Finally, the family was able to emigrate to the U.S. in 1951. At the border, when filing the documents, out of fear of being tracked by the Soviets, the parents changed their names and surname from Soloviev to the common, less traceable Ivanov. But in doing so, they also cut the connections with the family members that they had left in Ukraine and Russia. 


The parents and their six children (the youngest was 2, the oldest 13) received their first impressions of their new country from the back of a banana truck that took them from New York to Vermont. There Nikolai worked at a farm in St. Johnsbury and then at Cone Automatic Machine Company in Windsor. Unfortunately, learning English was challenging for him, even though in his past life, Nikolai had had a good education and had attended college. Valentina also had a problem with a new language because she had only one year of school and was practically illiterate, even in her native Russian language. Therefore, they both were able to get only manual labor jobs. Valentina started working as a room attendant and kitchen helper at Windsor House Hotel. Soon her Russian and Ukrainian dishes became popular. How while working fulltime, she also managed to take care of her boys, one can only guess. 


In Windsor, the family lived hand to mouth in a rented apartment with a big basement. That basement played a part in further trouble for them: When the local feed & supply store gave away chicks because the whole batch they had for sale turned out to be roosters, not hens, and nobody was buying them. Valentina and Nikolai, hoping later to make some money on potential "chicken" meat, ended up with a hundred growing and crowing roosters in their basement. Unfortunately, the landlord didn't like the noise and the mess they made and asked the family to leave.


Valentina and Nikolai again had to move and start their life from scratch. At least they kept their jobs and just moved across the river to Cornish, NH, where they took out a mortgage on a piece of land with an old barn. And for a couple of years, they lived in the barn before they could build a house. 


On the surface, Valentina's life seemed settled. She now had a piece of land where she could grow vegetables to supply her family and sell to neighbors and grocery stores. The list of her veggies was impressive: potatoes, beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, beans, and herbs. And the amount of produce was also incredible. For example, Valentina's pickles were so tasty that she would sell more than five hundred jars in the fall. Indeed, she had a hardworking green thumb and was physically healthy and strong. Such closeness to nature gave her some spiritual strength as well. 


But Valentina continued to worry about her boys, who struggled at school with a new language, new cultural rules, and bullying for being refugees from the "red" country. She also worried about her husband, who, although he kept working at the foundry, continued to sink into a PTSD depression that provoked alcohol dependency. And when Nikolai became violent, his wife was the first to suffer. 


Once, Valentina was taken to the hospital with broken ribs, but she thought it was her fault that triggered Nikolai's anger. She didn't know about local fire regulations and tried to burn some dry brush but accidentally started a fire instead. The fines that Valentina had to pay for her mistake and for the work of the crews to put out the fire were enormous, but the court allowed her to make reparations with community work. So, the poor woman dropped her regular job for a year and did all kinds of unpaid work around the town, primarily cleaning offices.


And throughout all the turbulent years, Valentina attended the Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Claremont. She always was sweet, smiley, and friendly to all. She gave her produce to the parishioners as gifts, but they also sometimes purchased it because it was delicious, and they knew about her hard labor and tough life and wanted to support her. Valentina kindly donated some perennials to the church backyard, and her azalea bush is still blooming. But sadly, her beautiful white hydrangea, after many years of flowering, died soon after Valentina's passing away. 


Eventually, the boys, one by one, left their parents' house after graduating from school. But their mother stayed and continued to care for her husband. When Nikolai was 58, he got sick and was admitted to Lebanon Hospital, twenty miles from their Cornish home. Valentina didn't drive a car but felt obligated to visit her husband and bring him homemade meals. Therefore for two weeks, she walked to the hospital daily with these meals. Unfortunately, her faithfulness and incredible sacrifice didn't help Nikolai much. He soon died. If he was a man afflicted with a broken spirit and PTSD, he was also a man whom Valentina loved and always forgave, so maybe God forgave him also. 


Closer to retirement, Valentina's life made a surprising and good turn. First, she learned to drive a car and obtained a driver's license. This new freedom of transportation helped her to go to different markets and stores to sell her produce. Second, a secret kept from her sons, she taught herself to read and write in Russian and was able to read the Russian emigrants' newspapers, which she continued to receive after her husband's passing. Through these newspapers and their help in searching for lost relatives, Valentina found and got in touch with two of her sisters. And the peak of her achievement in her new way of life was her sisters' visits to America, each for a month, and their happy meeting after a life-long separation. Definitely, Valentina's sons could be proud of their mother. 


Valentina was predeceased by her husband Nikolai in 1972 and by three sons: Vladimir, who died in infancy in 1935; Victor, who died in an accident in 1960; and Vladimir (Wilbur), who died in a helicopter crash in Vietnam in 1965.


Her four surviving sons were Paul of Boston, MA; Richard of Manchester, NH; Anatoli' of Cornish, NH; and Alexander of Santa Monica, CA. 


(Now, in 2023, there is only one surviving son, Anatoli', who still lives in the old Cornish house, attends the Holy Resurrection Church in Claremont, tends the garden, and makes delicious pickles and horseradish sauce using his mom's recipes.)


Valentina's burial was in Mountain View Cemetery in Claremont, NH, next to her husband. Rest in peace, hardworking and long-suffering Valentina and Nikolai!

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