Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

My babushka

In a few weeks, my grandmother who raised me, my babushka will be turning 77. 

If you see her on the street, you’ll see just another New Yorker, a senior citizen with a big Russian accent, who walks the streets of Riverdale, grocery bags in hand. 

But if you could look closer, you would see history, walking, breathing, grocery shopping. 

After all, how wild is this, my grandmother outlived a country! She was born in 1933. The Soviet 1930s are the years of horror: those are the Stalin times, people arrested for the tiniest word, a breath of contempt against the government, the communist party, or just about anything, really. And then, one summer day, when my nine-year-old Babushka ran around her yard with a ball with a bunch of friends, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, starting The Great Patriotic War, known to Westerners as only a small part in the World War Two drama. 

When my babushka was 20 (and a year before my mom was born), Stalin died, and the Soviets could breathe, read, joke around a little in their kitchens. Fast forward another twenty years (at around the time I made my appearance in a small Ukrainian city), and the country plunged into another miserable stretch of repression, this time under Brezhnev. Twenty years after that, my babushka is an energetic 60-year-old new American, eyeing the city with anxious green eyes, while the USSR — a country that was only twenty years old at the time of her birth — no longer exists as a political entity. 

Being a grandmother, she worries  for me sometimes — actually, she worries for me often. “Poor thing,” she tells me on the phone. “I’ve been watching New York 1, I’ve been watching Fox News. Oh, the difficult difficult times you guys must deal with now. Oh, this Obama. Oh this economy.” I smile on the other side of the line where she doesn’t see me. I let her worry. She, who had seen the world change into all sorts of crazy shapes, my babushka.  



With my mom (on the left), at their apartment in Siberia, this should be the 70s, as I am already around (probably sleeping to the sounds of their partying)!


with me!


And here she is, two years ago, with her great-grandson - my son!!


March 22, 2010 - Posted by | The U.S.S.R.


  1. Katia, great writing. A cute story from life. Some time ago, I asked my son (he was in third grade) if he knew who Lenin was. He answered, of course he knows, John Lennon, he wrote Hey Jude. Now, in high school he knows not only Lenin but even Trotsky. My kids always make fun of my Russian sayings – I guess I use those all the time.

    Comment by MM | June 1, 2010 | Reply

    • Lol, about your son! 🙂 🙂 And ditto about the Russian sayings!! 🙂

      Comment by Katia Raina | June 1, 2010 | Reply

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