And not Boldyreva 30 years old. She grew up in the countryside and now lives in the village of Zhuravka, Voronezh Region, near the border with Ukraine. Voronezh is 300 kilometers away, and the Luhansk region is just a stone’s throw away. As a child, she was badly burned – she practically lost her face. Because of this, all her life she was haunted by insults, bullying, and cruelty, but she found the strength to live, forgive offenders and seek love. When Anya began to hope that her dreams were about to begin to come true, a new tragedy occurred in February 2021, her house burned down to the ground. Now she and her family are looking for help. And not only for the doctors and the operation but also for the simple minimum of things the fire destroyed everything they had. Photographer Pavel Volkov met with her and listened to her story.
Locals say that during the conflict in Donbas, the echoes of volleys were heard in Zhuravka. Otherwise, life in this village is about the same as in many others: three streets, a post office, and a railway station, from where the train leaves twice a day to the regional center. A small house behind a rickety fence, two rooms with low ceilings, a stove in which firewood crackles slightly. In the cramped kitchen, Dasha, Anya’s daughter, is doing her homework. Water from a well, toilet outside. It seems that everything is like everyone else’s, but Anya’s life was not at all the same as that of other residents of the deep province.
When Anya was seven months old, she almost died. There was a fire in the house, and almost all of the child’s face was burned. How the house caught fire, why no one took the crib out of the fire, they could not find out then. From Anya’s meager story, you understand that her mother abused alcohol. Anya’s early childhood events have practically disappeared from her memory. I remember myself from the moment I ended up in a boarding school,” she says. I was seven or eight years old. Then they took me away from my mother. She drank heavily. Often we didn’t have any food.
Life in the government house was also not cloudless. Anya was restrained and reluctant to answer questions – memories hurt her. What is there to tell? They called names, teased. The children all tried to stay away. Some played with me, tried to be friends, while others some simply disdained, treated terribly. Anya perks up when she remembers those few orphanage workers whom she managed to fall in love with. “When I got chickenpox there, the director even spent the night with me, because I was very afraid. There were special isolation wards, and the director stayed with us until morning. Her name was Lyubov Ilyinichna, I still remember. Even when I had grown up and did not live in an orphanage, the director, if she met me on the street, always asked me in detail: how am I, is everything good, is anyone offending me. The teacher and nanny were also good. But Lyubov Ilyinichna – especially. The director always stood up for Anya, and when she became very ill (Anya was diagnosed with kidney inflammation), she allocated a boarding bus to take the girl to the hospital. Then she visited her there.
But there was much more ridicule in Ani’s life. She finished only two grades and dropped out of school, according to her, just because of bullying. The nicest nicknames she was given at school were Monster Frankenstein, Faceless Girl. Anya says that now, having already become an adult, she does not hold a grudge against offenders. I understand. Children are different: even now, on the street, some point their fingers at me she says. I don’t really communicate with my former classmates. In the boarding school, I had only one friend. But what happened to her today I don’t know. After my grandmother took me, we never saw her. There were no telephones then. Anya shared a common problem with her friend, who seemed to be called Karina she, too, was from a dysfunctional family.
After all, when I was little, at first I did not understand what was wrong with my face. Therefore, she was open and talkative with everyone. We got along with her characters: in her family, too, everything was gloomy, so common themes appeared. For example, her parents drank too. We equally loved sports, physical education, mathematics. We in the group were a little older than the rest. When two boys, brothers were brought to the boarding school, Karina and I were assigned to take care of them. These guys were only a year or two. My friend and I nursed them – fed them, changed their clothes, washed them, put them to bed. Maybe that’s why I love kids very much now. Anya was taken from the orphanage by her grandparents, and they raised her. Anya remembers rather warmly about the years she spent with them I have seen many cities with my grandmother in Moscow, Krasnodar, Sochi, Novorossiysk, Adler, Volgograd. We didn’t just travel as tourists – my grandmother showed me and denyuzhka on the road collected. That is why I am now saying that part of my childhood was spent traveling.
Of course, the girl was very worried about her appearance. Anya tried to commit suicide, says that she hated herself for her face. On the street, passers-by simply shied away from her, insulted. The girl dreamed of plastic surgery, which could somehow change her appearance. But she never had the opportunity not only to get the help of plastic surgeons but even just to talk to a specialist about her problems. Psychologists and psychiatrists who theoretically could help her accept herself, in the environment where Anya lives, are considered someone from another world.
The fear of people was even stronger than the fear of loneliness. But at some point, she found the strength to change her attitude towards what happened to her. It seemed to me that in the whole wide world I was the only one. I thought so until I saw that there are other people with a similar problem, she recalls. Once, on one of my trips with my grandmother, we sat at a train station in some city and waited for the train. There they met a girl with the same defect. They asked what and how with her. It turned out that his face was burnt after being electrocuted. It seemed to me that she looked even worse than mine. After this one-minute acquaintance, I began to perceive everything differently. If earlier I just wanted to hide from everyone somewhere in a corner, then later there was a need to strive for something, to be happy, to be loved. Ani’s first marriage lasted several years, but she is reluctant to talk about it. Former husband. We lived with him for two or three years, he raised his hand at me, then ran away. I still have an insult, even a very big one. But I try not to think about it and not think about it.
The turning point in Ani’s life was the birth of her daughter Dasha. “I began to feel that I was living. After her birth, my wings seemed to have grown, I wanted to achieve something, to fight, because it was for the sake of whom and why. With the advent of my daughter, I even began to learn to love myself. I am proud that recently, on February 11, Dasha turned 11 years old. She raised her in the same way as my grandmother did in childhood: in severity and love. I definitely won’t beat her. And the fact that I swear, scream – it seems to me that every mother does this. Motherhood for Ani is not only a gift but also a test. Her daughter spent a year in a boarding school. The child was placed there at the request of guardianship, while Anya was solving their housing problems. Dasha’s own father abandoned his daughter, no one knows where he is and what happened to him.
Anya earned her living by going to begging for alms in big cities Voronezh or Rostov. I came there for a few days, spent the night anywhere. He says that he was able to recoup the road and earn some money from above to buy the same sneakers for his daughter and groceries. Six years ago, Anya met Alexei, her common-law husband. Alexey is a laborer on a farm, his salary is only 12 thousand rubles. The family hardly has enough money for food and occasionally for clothes. She very fondly recalls the first meeting with Alexei. Aunt Ani introduced them. At first, the young people talked on the phone for several months. “I remember that during one of my conversations I said that I was going to harvest fruits and vegetables to the market now, says Anya. I was offered such a job. And he took it and came to the same market for me. So we started talking, dating, and then decided to get back together. We have been together since August 15, 2015.
Anya and her husband dream of living in a big city, finding a job there, and leading a normal life, but so far they cannot go anywhere because of Alexei’s former conviction. He has a suspended sentence, you need to report regularly at the local police station. You cannot change your place of residence. But surveillance should end in March. They dream that in May the whole family will be able to move to Krasnodar – there is more work there.
It seems to me that people are increasingly looking not at what kind of person is outside, but what kind of person they are inside the character, manner of communication, soul, says Anya. My husband says that he loved me because I have a beautiful soul. Now Anya is actively exploring social networks, started Instagram and a page on VKontakte, where she tries to find relatives there. Already signed off with a cousin from the Rostov region, the girls made friends and communicate. She dreams that she can find her father through social networks, about whom she knows nothing. In February 2021, new big trouble happened in Anya’s life. Fire again.
The house in which she and her family lived lately burned down completely. According to the preliminary version, faulty wiring became the reason. Everyone survived, but property and personal belongings burned down. The family was taken in by Ani’s aunt who lives nearby. Dasha does not go to school now, because she simply has nothing to wear. She and her mother wear the things that were given to them by caring people – it seems that now only they have hope for the family of the victims. But Anya thinks that this may be a sign it’s time to finally leave the village because now nothing keeps her in Zhuravka. At some point, Anya asks to leave it is still very difficult for her to be in the place that recently was the modest home of her family.