Uzbekistan, Ukraine: Tashkent Blacksmith and His Children

Global Voices Online
Monday, April 21, 2008

On April 13, Oleg Panfilov - LJ user oleg_panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations - reposted an item (RUS) from a Central Asian news agency on the dismantling of the International Friendship Monument in downtown Tashkent. The news got many people upset: there are 162 comments on Panfilov's post (RUS), and 128 comments on's Russian-language article.

Below is part of the article's translation, posted on on April 16:

The Tashkent authorities had the International Friendship monument in front of the Friendship of Peoples Palace dismantled on April 12 night. The monument had been erected in memory of the Shamakhmudovs who adopted 15 orphans in the Great Patriotic War and became a symbol of generosity and humanism of the Uzbek people.


The Shamakhmudovs' story is known to absolutely everyone in Uzbekistan. When Tashkent women appealed to the women of Uzbekistan to adopt children evacuated from all over the Soviet Union in the first months of the Great Patriotic War, smith Shaakhmed Shamakhmudov and his wife Bakhri Akhmedova adopted 15 orphans - Russians, Belarussians, a Moldovan, Ukrainian, Latvian, Kazakh, Tatar, and others.

The Shamakhmudovs gave the children what they lacked - a genuine home and family. [...]

It is clear that not even the head of the city administration could made this decision entirely on his own. The monument must have failed to fit Islam Karimov's concept of the Uzbek state.

LJ user diana-ledi - Diana Makarova, a Kyiv-based journalist - read about the dismantling of the Tashkent monument on Panfilov's blog. She responded by blogging about one of Shamakhmudov's adopted children, Fyodor Kulchanovsky, and the role her own father played in helping the war orphan find his biological family. Below is a partial translation of this very moving story (RUS) - which has received 187 comments:

It happened someplace else. An outrageous, unpleasant thing, but far away, not where we are. Why am I crying then?


... The boy's name was Fyodor. He was 4 at the time when they were [in a hurry to evacuate the kids of Ukraine]. There was little time - the Germans were conquering Ukraine [very quickly]. There were not enough trains - the children were leaving without their families. No room for adults - [saving the kids was a priority]. Their IDs were getting lost, or copied by hand...

Fyodor arrived in Tashkent with [...] a notebook that stored his personal info, entered in someone's handwriting. At the orphanage, the contents of the notebook were copied when they created [Fyodor's] personal file. But they misread the handwriting. Fyodor was Kulchanovsky - but was turned into Kulchakovsky. And then blacksmith Shamakhmudov came to the orphanage and took Fyodor in. There were 16 adopted kids living in the blacksmith's house, I guess. Though they now say there were 15 of them.

But this doesn't matter. What matters is that the blacksmith and his wife brought them all up. Provided them with education and living quarters. Impressive, isn't it? Fyodor was the most difficult of the kids. He often quarreled with his father. But his adoptive mother, following the father's death, spent the rest of her life at Fyodor's house - and this says a lot about Fyodor.

[...] Fyodor didn't remember any of his blood relatives, but dreamed of finding them. And he devoted his whole life to this dream.

Just one tiny letter misread in a last name! And all the investigations that Fyodor led since childhood kept getting nowhere. And he grew up in the meantime, got married, was raising three kids of his own already. He buried his adoptive father and had his mother move in with him.

They kept telling him to stop searching. It was clear that it was impossible to trace a family about which it was only known that it had stayed back in Ukraine. That was it. No other initial data, except for the last name. Which, as it turned out later, was not accurate.

But the piles of documents, letters, inquiries were getting heavier. Fyodor kept looking. He became a grandfather himself, but continued his search.

... My papa lived in [Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya] region, worked as a journalist. [...]

His favorite occupation [...] was searching for people who had disappeared during the war. These were quiet investigations that lasted years. Piles of documents, letters, responses to inquiries.

Once, papa got an assignment to write about an old woman from [Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk] region, who had managed to survive till 104 years of age, keeping clarity of mind [...].


- [...] Do you know why she's managed to survive till 104 years of age?
- Well, I don't. Perhaps, she was a good girl, didn't drink, didn't smoke?
- That too, of course. - My papa smiled. - But here's what has shocked me. She lost her grandson during the war. A 4-year-old boy left to her by her deceased daughter. And this old woman swore not to die until she found the grandson. She said - "How will I look my daughter in the eye in that world?" And she keeps on living, still keeps on searching.
- And then what?
- Nothing. A dead end. The boy either died along the way, or in evacuation. Or someone adopted him, and changed his last name. I think it's impossible to find him.

This was what my kind papa said. And began looking for a boy who was impossible to find.

Two thin threads existed for a few years - one from Tashkent, the other from Zaporizhzhya. Papa decided to check the possible interpretations of the last name Kulchanovsky. He counted on bad handwriting and the factor of a misspelled last name.

Papa had a surgery and was diagnosed with cancer in its final stage. According to the doctors, he couldn't last longer than two weeks. But he lived another year. He worked so hard in that last year! When he was not losing conscience from pain...

Every morning, we were sending out letters with texts that he was working on at night, and, of course, the inquiries. [...]

Two weeks before his death, he asked to be taken to the hospital. Mama explained to me later that he didn't want me to see his death. My tiny [daughter] was a month and a half then. I couldn't worry THAT much, my papa believed. [...] Papa was being taken away to die, he was hugging me and kissing my children [...]. He was saying farewell. And me, I wasn't, I was thinking, it's okay, dear papa, I'll rush to your hospital tomorrow. I didn't know that he had ordered not to let me in to see him. Dinochka shouldn't worry, because she can lose her milk for the baby...

And this was when they brought that crazy telegram:

"Come urgently! The meeting of grandmother with her grandson! Grateful, happy!" [...]

Papa read it and smiled. He knew already that the two tiny threads had met - Fyodor's thread and the thread of papa's new search. And it was a matter of time before Fyodor arrived to meet his grandmother, who had sworn not to die until she found him. And to meet his aunts, brothers, sisters, cousins.

[Pravda] later wrote about this meeting, and next to this piece, there was my papa's obituary.


Three months later, Fyodor came to our house. He asked us to take him to papa's grave. When he came to this freshly laid clay hill, he knelt and kissed the ground. We don't do it here, right? But Fyodor had had [an Oriental] upbringing. He was not afraid to speak in beautiful words. He valued beautiful feelings. He said:

- Your family is my family now.

And he came for a visit every year since then - to see his grandmother, then to papa's grave.
Then - to his grandmother's grave, and to papa's grave.

Then we moved. Fyodor also moved from Tashkent to Rostov. Difficulties of the post-Soviet period began, and we lost each other...

Two years ago [...] Fyodor found us. It hadn't been difficult for him to - he was used to searching. He came to ask about our lives, whether we were healthy. Whether we needed any help.

We were drinking tea. I was again asking him about his life in the renowned family of the Tashkent blacksmith. And he was telling me about the construction of that monument in Tashkent - a monument to their family. With his [...] finger, he was pointing at the stone figures of the children on the photograph, explaining which of them was devoted to him.

... On April 12, they destroyed the monument to the Shamakhmudovs family in Tashkent. [...] I'm crying. I always cry when someone hurts children.

And I'm also crying because my papa is dead. It's as if he died the second time today. [...] My kind papa - journalist KONSTANTIN SALNICHENKO.


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