The Yellow Flowers

dir. Kasia Rastockaja, 2019

Hanna Sosna (née Shyshla) is 70 years old. She lives in Vilnius, and has a happy life, a house and a daughter. But Hanna has a dream she was afraid of speaking out loud about until recently. She would like to visit the place where she was born very much.

Russia, Perm area, Gayny region, Pugvin Mys village. She’s in Ural. This is where the Shyshla family was exiled to in 1929. Hanna’s parents were just married when they were packed onto the train and taken to the Urals. They were deported because they lived in a Polish village, which, after the division of Belarus into Eastern and Western parts, was right by the border between USSR and Poland. In this way the authorities punished many people living in Polish villages, deporting them to the Urals, and in their place trusted Russian settlers were brought.

In Pugvin Mys, the Shyshla family was split up. The men were taken several hundred kilometres away, deep into the forest. The women stayed in the village. During 20 years of life in the Urals Hanna’s parents met only four times. A child was born after each meeting. Fortunately, they all survived. Hanna is the youngest of all her siblings.

In 1949 (when Hanna was born) the Shyshla family was allowed to reunite and leave the Urals. Hanna was 6 months old back then. The Shyshla family was put on a small raft and drifted down on the current of the Kama, a large and turbulent river over 1 km wide! 20 km further on the raft was fished out by people and there was no other way to leave the Urals.

Hanna’s older sister, Victoria Shyshla, now lives in Astravyets (Belarus, Hrodna region). In her flat there is a large painting with yellow flowers. This is what Victoria says about it:

“ʻWhy did you buy it, to look at and cry?’ asked my mum when she first saw this painting. But it shows our whole life. These yellow flowers were the first to bloom after winter, and gave us a sign that we’d survive another year, because winter was the most terrible season when many people died. The dark background is like the dark forest, where my mother and other women were forced to work. When people froze to death in the forest the bodies were covered with trees, only to be buried in spring. It was impossible to dig a hole in the ground. The red kerchief on the dark background is like red blood.”

Directed by Kasia Rastockaja, Belarus, 2019

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