closeup of Litvyak monument
The Memorial to
Soviet Ace Lydia Litvyak

by Henry Sakaida

We promised to do our best and departed.
For those of you who have traveled in Eastern Europe and Russia, getting from point A to point B is not an easy matter. The sales clerk at the train station looked bored, made no effort to be accommodating, and her attitude was that she was doing us a favor by selling us tickets. We had to wait in a long line, show our passports, and hope that there was seating. On our first attempt, the seats were full and we missed our departure.
The next day, we were lucky. We took a 1st class cabin which cost $50.00 each, and it had 2 beds. We went to the main station at night, ate at a McDonalds across the street, and departed around 9pm. It was interesting to stop at these small stations along the way; there were old babushkas hawking cigarettes, dried fish, and snacks. We arrived tired early the next morning in Donetsk.
It was almost impossible to sleep because of the constant clickety-clack and the rough ride. Donetsk is the major city in Eastern Ukraine, and this region is famous as a coal mining area. We were surprised to find out that our destination was so far away! For some reason, I thought it was less than 20 miles. There was only one bus going to Krasny Luch and it had left very early. There was no train service to there. So we decided to go by taxi.
A flat tire means a chance to enjoy the scenery
On the road to Krasny Luch: the author stretches his legs while the cab driver inspects the flat tire acquired on the long drive to Lydia Litvyak's memorial.

Several taxi drivers turned us down, saying it was too far. We found one who was willing to take us. And the first question he asked us was: "Why do you want to go to Krasny Luch?" He explained that the last time he drove anyone to that town was over ten years ago. He said there was nothing there. I began to worry. The ride would take an hour and a half and the fare was $27.00. I didn't like the condition of his tires,
but we were desperate. I climbed into the back and put on my seat belt. The driver looked at me, said it was unnecessary, and shook his head in disbelief (people in Ukraine and Russia do not wear seat belts even though their cars have them!). We passed numerous small villages, which were very old. When the Germans marched through the area in 1941, it probably looked old even back then! We saw a few abandoned coal mine operations along the way, with rusted equipment and vehicles scattered here and there. I was thinking that Krasny Luch was a collection of old decrepit buildings and homes, out in the middle of nowhere, with a dirt street, and very few people…a place where they didn't have to roll up the sidewalk at night because none existed!
We finally saw the sign to Krasny Luch (Krasny Luch means "red ray"). I was surprised to see many buildings and an outline of a major city far in the distance! When we got into town, our driver stopped to ask for directions. He was told that the memorial we were seeking was located in front of School No.1. As we drove around, I was pleasantly surprised to see stores, a bank, a movie theater, and other signs of life. Krasny Luch wasn't a hole in the wall after all! And then I finally saw it. (continued)

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