“My darling, where did you go?”

It is no secret that the nature of war can change a person, mentally, physically, and emotionally. It is also no secret that a society is rarely ever fully ready nor capable to accommodate for the men and women who return from the front lines. The USSR was no exception to this assumption, as their veterans returned home only to be met with unrealistic expectations of how they should grieve and heal. The years after the war was known as the “Big Deal” as the USSR began to reconstruct itself in order to reabsorb the veterans while healing its own war wounds.

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The Demobilized Soldier by Vladimir Vasiliev (1949)

The painting by Vladimir Vasiliev in 1949 “The Demobilized Soldier” portrays a female Soviet soldier being fitted for a new dress. One of the first parts of the painting that the audience is normally drawn to is her uniform, sprawled out on the chair in the corner. The juxtaposition of her uniform and the brightly colored dress she is being fitted for shows how she is trying her best to feel like a woman again. She is trying her best to assimilate back into the life she knew before she left. Another portion of the painting that discreetly depicts her as a veteran is how she is wearing her boots and how strong her calves are. Observing this portion is important in understanding her pose and her look into what we can assume is a mirror off to the side. Vasiliev did a phenomenal job in representing the delicate nature of a woman trying on a dress while following it up with reminders that she was a Soviet soldier. This painting is also a display of one of the ways that veterans tried to absorb back into society, back to their normal lives.

Being away from the country you call home, the life you knew, and the people you love can take a tremendous toll on someone. Being on the front lines also takes a toll on someone. When combined, both of these aspects traumatized the Soviet soldiers and scarred them on a level that cannot be described. Veterans returned home seeking refuge in the country they left behind to defend, but they were only met with a society that refused to acknowledge its own war wounds, let alone theirs. Many of the Soviet veterans returned home to find that they no longer had a place to live, let alone afford one.

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Example of Землянкы: shelters made out of the earth

The make-shift shelters that the veterans were driven to live in where known as “Землянкы” which translates to “dugouts”. The fact that veterans returned home and had nowhere to turn to and lived in huts that were made out of earth portrays how little the USSR knew about the cost of war. This also illustrates how little the communist government truly did to provide for the people who fought for them.

Socially, there was a stigma that surrounded the soldiers that followed them into new romantic relationships. Healthy veterans had the possibility of starting a family once they returned while deeming hurt or sick ones invaluable. In the post-Great Patriotic War Soviet society, women dramatically outnumbered men, so healthy veterans were highly sought after. This made both the marriage rate and illegitimate childbirth rate skyrocket.

The deepest wound that was felt by the Soviet Soldiers were psychological ones. The Red Army differed from all the other armies because it did not offer a leave of absence to its soldiers during the war. The Soviet soldiers could not return home to their lives. They were completely isolated from their loved ones, and many of them died trying to get back to them. When these veterans returned home, nobody wanted to sit and listen to them. The USSR did not allow them to grieve properly, yet they just bestowed them with a very heavy noble status in society. Soviet Russia did not have institutions such as psychologists and did not advocate for mental health as they should have. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder impacted many, if not all, of the Soviet soldiers and it wasn’t able to be diagnosed or treated when the veterans returned.

Although the veterans were left in the cold while their country started reconstructing itself, they proved to be a strong social resource during the post-war era. The communist regime desperately tried to control the force that the veterans had in order to fuel its own support, but the veterans inspired fear amongst the Soviet citizens of a regime that was still subject to resentment. The emotional bond, that was often written in blood, that the veterans shared threatened the control that the regime had over the USSR. Their return home threatened everything that Stalin’s communism built during the war.

Regardless of the losses, it felt before, during, and after the war. The USSR still sings about its victory in the Great Patriotic War. The song honors the veterans and their triumphs they had over the enemy, Nazi Germany. The song “Victory Day” is a song for the people of the USSR. This song represents everything that the USSR has to be proud about during the postwar era.

 

If you are interested in learning more about the veterans return to the USSR, please check out these sources!

https://alchetron.com/Zemlyanka

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJr2zT2o8ME

http://brewminate.com/history-of-the-soviet-union-1947-1954-cold-war-to-xenophobia/

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1947-2/veterans-return/

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

 

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10 thoughts on ““My darling, where did you go?”

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  1. Oh wow. I really like how you worked out from the painting (one of my faves) to address so many important topics – demobilization, the transition from war to peace, gender, and of course, PTSD. At least now we know it’s a thing and are starting to be proactive about helping people with it. One can only imagine how awful it was for the millions of people who suffered from PTSD and had to just (try to) carry on. And the zemlyanki — living in one of those would be traumatic in and of itself!
    You’ve given us so much to think about here — thank you!

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  2. Hey Meredith! This is a super interesting post, especially since the painting emphasized both her feminity and her soldier background. It is certainly a unique combination for this era. What I’m interested in, though, is the abandonment of veterans after the war. Were there any movements or protests against the state’s abandonment or were they simply left to melt into the nothingness? Great post!

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  3. This is excellent! The overlooked PTSD was such a huge issue, and your post shows how the USSR did not know how to address these soldiers. The painting analysis is great, too. I can also imagine that the female soldier maybe doesn’t want to be wearing a dress again, but to re-enter Soviet society, she feels she must project a stereotypical “lady-like” appearance. I cannot believe that soldiers had to live in dugouts… how horrible that must feel for them to have risked their lives for the country and then be “rewarded” with no shelter, no food, no job, no assistance. Thank you for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I thought the same thing as I was reading through this. I thought about how sad this was and how it was awful this kind of thing happened to them and then remembered how some U.S. soldiers are in the same situation. They are praised for being heroes and they put their lives on the line and have to return and be ignored.

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  4. Great post!! I was waiting for you to address the PTSD aspect of coming home from war, as PTSD is a universal concept, but one we hear little about from World War 2. These conditions and psychological traumas have always existed, we are just now more aware of them.

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