closeup of Litvyak monument
The Memorial to
Soviet Ace Lydia Litvyak

by Henry Sakaida

We exited the taxi and I walked briskly to the large statue of Lydia Litvyak in the courtyard in front of a school building. My friend and I placed the bouquet of white daisies at the base and snapped some photos. I said, "These flowers are for you, from your friend Maj Mariya Dolina!" I gave a snappy salute.
I knew that the museum dedicated to Litvyak was located in the school somewhere, so we walked around to the back, and into the corridor filled with high school students. We found a teacher and Sergey asked if the curator of the museum, Yekaterina (Valentina) Vaschenko, was around. He explained our reason for being there. She said to wait, and promptly disappeared. A few minutes later, the teacher returned, with the principal, their English teacher, and
ABOVE: Yekaterina (Valentina) Vaschenko in uniform on the left, is the curator of the museum. Author is flanked by Principal Valentina Rak, and English teacher Yelena Sivolap. BELOW: Vaschenko by display case which contains some mementos of Lydia Litvyak. The large poster shows a scene where a German fighter pilot has met his match. Litvyak explains to the prisoner how she shot him down.
Vaschenko dressed in a military uniform.
My friend Sergey and I became instant VIPs and were escorted into the museum, which was superbly maintained and a joy to visit. There were many photographs on the walls, along with display cases full of wartime memorabilia. There was one display case, which contained Litvyak's letter, photo, and tunic. In the room, there were rusted remains of rifles and machine guns.
Our hosts were very surprised that an American had come all the way to Krasny Luch just to visit the memorial and museum! I signed the guest book. So if you ever make the trip, just look up the date October 21, 2002 and you can see my signature!
Vaschenko explained to us that the museum has a boys/girls service club. They work to promote the war history of the area and work on various historical projects. Vaschenko's name is well known there because she had organized an effort in 1971 to locate the remains of Litvyak. She led her students to comb through the area around Krasny Luch, trying to locate crash sites of Soviet planes, but their efforts were unsuccessful. But in 1979, they learned that people in the village of Dmitriyeva had found the remains of a small pilot in the wreckage of a plane in 1969, and was buried there. The remains were disinterred and forensic examination proved that they were the remains of Lydia Litvyak.
Litvyak became the victim of Stalin's strict directive that anyone missing in action was not eligible for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. He had contempt for anyone surrendering or having been taken prisoner. After Stalin's death, his directive was changed. Vaschenko led the effort to have Litvyak recognized as a HSU. Thanks to her and many others, on May 5, 1990, President Gorbachev made her a Hero of the Soviet Union. (continued)

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