Destinies from the Saharan-Siberian Space (3)

The Sorocean* Man

Who Was Mutilated

by a Shell in Peacetime

Stefan Basarabescu, whose friends called Fanel, was a native of Soroca. This was a place where the banks of the Dniester are just separated enough from each other to form a shallow ford, where the limpid water comes to the knee and whose bed is paved with small flat stones that make many jumps when they are thrown across the water. The topography, flora and even air are characteristics of Bessarabia Plateau, beyond the Prut, which is near the Hills of Bucovina.

A strong fortress built in the time of Petru Rares, where, as evidenced by the chronicler Grigore Ureche, the monarch “rested after the wars”, has overseen since July 12, 1499, on this region. Petru Rares was an illegitimate child – great men have weaknesses too – son of Stefan cel Mare and Maria Rares of Harlau. Since March 27, 2004, exists a phallic construction, called «The spark of recognition» and it is situated five kilometers downstream, which also oversees those lands and waters.  The monument is consecrated to Badea Mior, name given by Ion Drută to the unknown author of the ballad Mioritsa. Maybe that’swhere  Badea Mior is seeking always a paradise for his eyes.

Fanel was born March 5, 1954, exactly after Stalin’s death, which told Churchill that «a man’s death is a tragedy» and «the death of several million men is statistics».

His father, Alexandru, a native of Dumbraveni village, beside Soroca, had his right leg atrophied as result of polio contracted at the time of his childhood. The disease had mutilated many children in this region. So he was always receptive to human sufferings. His ambition was to become a doctor. He enrolled at the School of Nurses  and Midwives in Soroca, where he attended classes until 1939. Then he was hired in one of town hospitals.  He wished with all his heart to carry his dream forward and  continue his studies in Chisinau. But the occupation of Bessarabia, following Stalin’s ultimatum of June 26, 1940, ended his desire. In the days following the ultimatum, Alexandru did not flee to the west, beyond the Prut, as did many young men of his generation. His physical handicap was behind his decision. Because the Soviets did not consider him  dangerous, they allowed him to continue working at the hospital. With his handicap, he also escaped the wave of purges of June 13, 1941, when twenty-nine thousand Romanians were deported. The Bucharest authorities returned there after June 22, 1941, when General Antonescu gave the famous order: «Soldiers, I command you cross the Prut, crush the enemy who lies to the east and north, free our captive brothers from the red yoke of Bolshevism!»

Alexandru continued to do his job, which was also in great demand during the war. He worked to exhaustion, slept rarely and, most often, in the hospital. On August 23, 1944, when the Red Army broke through the line Iasi-Chisinau, he was still in the hospital, administering care to the wounded from the front. He had experienced famine in the summer of 1946 and many other sufferings.  But he was not involved in the thirty thousand political trials, after which more than eight thousand people were executed or died during interrogation. And like that, perhaps due to his handicap, he was able to escape the waves of deportations of July 6, 1949 and April 1, 1951, when thirty-five thousand inhabitants of the area between Prut and Dnietre, from whom about thirty thousand Romanians, were sent to Siberia, the Caucasus and beyond the Volga.

The name Basarabescu, with strong Romanian resonance, brought him many annoyances. He did not speak Russian well. All his studies were in Romanian. When he tried to enroll in the Medical School, his documents were not admitted.  Hoping to improve his russian language and to avoid, thereby, persecution and terror of the communist regime, Alexandru married Bejenitsa («Refugee»), a beautiful Russian woman, who camed with her parents from the shores of Volga, Kazan, to avoid the persecution of the majority Tatars. His father, a specialist in boilers, worked at a central heating plant in the neighbourhood. This is how the Russians came in Bessarabia, as great «specialists», when in fact they had only secondary school or they were  just caretakers, cleaning ladies etc.

After getting engaged, Alexandru became Sasha, since Bejenitsa called him that way. They celebrated the wedding in a restaurant in Soroca and, after the civil ceremony, they went dressed in their wedding attire to the medieval fortress. They entered through the the door of the imposing tower and stopped in front of the fountain in the middle of the fortress, where they drew water using a bucket. Tradition says that whoever drinks water from this fountain will have a long lasting marriage. Even the Russians themselves were tempted sometimes by local traditions out of curiosity or because they liked this kind of folklore. They traveled the circular walking way with an outer diameter of thirty-seven and a half meters, the path that overlooked the eighteen meters high ramparts. The newlyweds stopped in front of each of the four cylindrical towers and took many pictures.

Stefan came into the world shortly after marriage. Despite the pressure from the his wife  and from other «good men», Alexandru named his son after the great Romanian monarch and not Stepan, in Russian. To avoid being seen by neighbors and reported to KGB, the couple organized the baptism in a church in Balti. That’s  how people lived in Bessarabia until the second half of the 50s. The baptisms were not allowed by the authorities, religion being considered, according to Marx, as the «opium of the people.» Alexandru chose the name with great respect for the «knight in Christendom», after he had the opportunity to talk about it with a historian of Chisinau, who was hospitalized in Soroca, following a heart attack:

– Fragmentation of Moldova began during the era of Stefan cel Mare, in 1484, when he lost the citadels Kilia and Ackerman. The great monarch had many legitimate and illegitimate children, recognized by him. But we must not believe that it was the struggle for the throne between the son and grand-son of Stefan cel Mare, which led to the «dismemberment» of Moldova. The most important territorial losses occurred much later. On May 7, 1775, Bukovina was taken by Habsburg Empire, and May 28, 1812, Bessarabia was incorporated into Russian Empire.

Fanel was educated in Russian, with Russian textbooks learning that Vladimir Ilici Lenin devoted all his energies to the struggle for the happiness of the people («Vladimir Ilici Lenin otdal svoi sili boribe za schastye naroda»). Much later, in 1979, Grigore Vieru published for the first time in Romanian a book entitled The little bee, but written in Cyrillic. He learned Romanian language at home, especially at night, thanks to his father. His mother  stammered few words in Romanian or «Moldavan» as she used to say. His father compared the «Moldavan» language to the fifteenth Army, which was attached to the Fourteenth Army stationed on the banks of the Dniestr. The Romanian period between the two wars was presented in the Soviet textbooks as monstrous, because the police of the kingdom indiscriminately beat both guilty men and innocents. Article seventy-one in the Penal Code provided that the mere declaration of the Romanian identity should to be labeled as proofs of nationalism and punished, usually by deportation to Siberia.

By  the   age  of  fourteen, Fanel remained fatherless. Alexandru Basarabescu died, taking with him to his grave his handicap which helped him so many times to overcome many problems.  His mother guided her son to a military career that could ensure him a steady and more than adequate income. Fanel enrolled in the School of Officers of Kiev, where he met people from all over the Soviet Union. He had the opportunity to discover that Bessarabians were not alone in hating Russian occupants, but also Ukrainians, not to forget the Armenians, Georgians or those from Baltics: Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians. After finishing his studies, he was sent, to become quenched, in a military unit of Kamchatka, where the temperatures dropped frequently at minus thirty Celsius. What seemed the hardest to endure was his turn as the guard («karaul») in the dark of the night, under the sky of ice. Home, especially over a glass of vodka, he was accustomed to confess stereotypically to his friends:

«So I took refuge in a hut for my feet not to become frozen. There, I dried my socks on top of a cast iron stove, next to those of my colleagues. Do you know how they stink, the soldiers’ wool socks?» he asked with a coarse laugh, hiding himself behind it. «Well, the stench», he continued, «the stench, I always feel into my nostrils!» But what he did not love to talk about was that the soldiers, taken by  annoyance, even Bessarabians, tattooed themselves on their shoulders, in Russian, «Maya rodina» («My Homeland»). Commanders congratulated them for this type of tattoo. So it was the change at the end of military service, from young men to what was called the «new, Soviet men», with a lingering heavy smell of soldiers’ socks in the nostrils and Russian inscriptions on the skin. Fanel resisted that temptation. for him, these words should be written in Romanian. After being accustomed to Siberian cold, he was transferred to a garrison near Tiraspol. And even there only Russian was spoken in the Army. His Romanian name was frowned upon by the commanders and, therefore, he was transferred to a military unit in Chishinau.

At the entrance to the Jardin Public, Fanel saw, for the first time, the statue of Stefan cel Mare, made in 1932 by Alexandru Plămăseală. The monarch was sad, as he foresaw the fragmentation of Moldova. The young man was interested to read the inscriptions in stone and placed around the cylindrical base. He scored seven victories: those of Lipnic, Baia, Vaslui, Valea Albă, Cit of Bug, Scheia and Padurea Rosie.  He was proud to bear the name of the monarch. However, it was a question that worried Fanel:  «Why was the battle of Codrii Cosminului against the Poles not mentioned? Maybe because the Moldovan army was assisted, according to some historical sources, by the Turkish army?» Close to another park entrance, guarded on either side by two marble lions, Fanel discovered the Alley of the Classics which opened onto green area and a fountain. Next to the fountain climbed a statue of Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin, dating back to 1885. The lane contained the statues of twelve native writers from Carpatho-dniestrean territory: Vasile Alecsandri, Gheorghe Asachi, Dimitrie Cantemir, Ion Creanga, Alexandru Donici, Mihai Eminescu, Bogdan – Petriceicu Hasdeu, Alexandru Hasdeu, Nicolae Milescu Spataru, Costache Negruzzi and Costachi Stamati. A passer-by even informed Fanel that Pushkin often went into the house of Costachi Stamati  «to dance for fun and to practice fencing between 1821 and 1823, when he was expelled from Moscow». «Nice exile, from the sub-polar cold of Moscow to the mild climate of Chisinau, where the platan trees are still living! exclaimed Fanel himself. Then another question gripped him: «Where is the statue of Mihail Sadoveanu?» He could not know that the Alley of Classics was to be expanded after 1989 with the statues of the following writers: Tudor Arghezi, Lucian Blaga, George Călinescu, Lucian Blaga, George Coşbuc, Mircea Eliade, Octavian Goga, Mihail Kogalniceanu, Alexei Mateevici, Mihail Sadoveanu, Nichita Stanescu, Constantin Stere, Nicolae Iorga and George Bacovia.

White skin, blond hair, green eyes, medium build, the officer had a uniform that suited him. He was young and he had money… On his first holiday he went to a hotel chain  for militaries («voienaya gostinitsa»), where accomodations were free throughout the Soviet Union. As he had never seen the sea and as he had heard that, since the time of Peter I, many beautiful women around the country, attracted by high salaries of naval officers, came to Leningrad, he opted for this city. At the hotel there were daily dances organized, where, with the exception of patrons, only women had access. When he entered the saloon, Fanel noticed that there were more women than men. Suddenly, the lights went out and someone approached him from behind and covered his eyes with soft hands while whispering: «I live on Vasilevsky Island. Will you take me  home?» When the lights returned, Fanel made the acquaintance of a komsomole girl. She was to his taste, inviting hips, large breasts, sensual lips, eyes pale green. She introduced herself: Liubiashchaya («Lover»), or, for short, Liuba.

They danced and immediately bonded to each other, without reservation and with some despair. He kissed her, barely perceptible on the neck and felt a mixture of sweat, cologne («odekolon») and pheromones. They didn’t hear the music anymore and focused on discovering each fold of skin of the other.   The undulating, soft, warm and welcoming body of his partner wrapped him in an intoxicating manner. The music no longer mattered. He was forced to excuse himself and go to the toilet. Being pressed by time, he had to implement an effective procedure, learned in the military school. He came back one step lighter, more relaxed but still focused on the tactile exploration of the body of his partner. Around midnight they detached from each other and left together walking down  to Vasilievsky Island. In Leningrad, in August, the nights are white until one o’clock in the morning. Everything was magical, romantic, only mosquitoes, true little beasts, bothered them with their needles sharp and long as syringes. The two young people arrived at the point where the Neva split in two to include between its arms the largest island among a hundred islands of the delta.

When they arrived before the house of moderate rents where Liba lived, the draw bridges on the Neva were raised to allow passage of ships, which made it impossible for Fanel to return to the hotel. It was one more reason to spend the night with her…

The holiday passed quickly, as always. The two lovers separated with difficulty, pronouncing vows of eternal love. But everything changed  suddenly. Fanel went with his infantry platoon to a shooting range of Boudjak, north of the Danube Delta, where the training was done in real war conditions. The shells were falling at a distance of five hundred meters from the young people. But as everything was done in haste,  because of socialist competition, one of the shells contained more explosive powder than it should have and lasted longer. Boom! Fanel was taken to hospital as quickly as possible.

By the time he recovered after the concussion he suffered, the surgery was already over: he lost an eye and, more gravely, all his «manhood». He was urinating through a rubber tube. Fanel was disgusted with himself. He wrote to his beloved to tell her that he was wounded by a shell, but out of fear, he did not provide any details about the incident. Liubiashchaya came by air to Chisinau. When she saw that he lost an eye, she thought it was the only injury produced by the shell, and she accepted the situation. But, when she also noticed the rubber tube, she could not live with it. Fanel understood;  in fact he expected such a reaction from her part. They separated in tears, definitively. Then another misfortune occurred. The same day, Fanel found out that his mother, receiving the news about his injuries, had a heart attack and died. A misfortune never comes alone!

Fanel received a studio in Chisinau, a military pension, and another income, this time for invalidity, which allowed him to live decently. The military people were the highest paid during the Soviet regime. Finally he got used to his status of a wounded major. He had plenty of spare time and participated in all activities that occur on the Stefan cel Mare Boulevard. He had the sublime satisfaction of attending the manifestation of August 31, 1989, when, under pressure from an impressive crowd assisting there, the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Republic of Moldova appoved the appointment of «Moldovan» language, indeed Romanian, as state language and the transition to the Latin alphabet.  The conscience of the nation and of the country was the born. He was really proud to be Romanian. And besides, this was his last happiness. The next day, an infection in the urethra had spread and a rampant septicemia took hold of his body.

Fanel was burried in the cemetery Buicanii Vechi, in Chisinau, attended by some of his neighbors. At his grave site was installed a simple cross, made of fir wood from the Carpathian Mountains, on which was written: Stefan Basarabescu / 1954 – 1989. The first epitaph written in Latin letters since 1944.


Doru Ciucescu


*Sorocean: inhabitant of the town Soroca in Republic of Moldova.

The translation and the adaptation are realized by the author himself.