A Village School
May 19, 2013
Zoya Nikolayevna: “In four years, we’ve turned it into a normal school.” Sergei Alexandrovich: “The parents now see their children as human beings.”
This is the school in the tiny village of Nikolskoye. You can get to the village by bus from Tula: the trip takes an hour and a half. There is no public transportation between Nikolskoye and the nearest large village, Krapivna, and the district center of Shchyokino. The locals rarely leave the village.
This is the school’s director Zoya Nikolayevna and her husband Sergei Alexandrovich, a teacher and the school caretaker. They live in Krapivna, and until 2008 they worked at the Krapivna boarding school for orphans and sick children. When the boarding school closed, Zoya Nikolayevna, Sergei Alexandrovich, and a team of Krapivna teachers transferred to the Nikolskoye School.
Around eight in the morning, the couple leaves for work by car. The trip takes them through hills, a forest, and fields.
“It’s been flooded for a month.”
The road from Krapivna to Nikolskoye crosses the river Upa. In the spring, the Upa floods, completely covering the bridge. During the floods, the Emergency Situations Ministry organizes passage across the river. Previously people were ferried on a military amphibious vehicle, which resembles a tank without a gun. Now they are ferried in a small motorboat. The motor constantly stalls, and an ESM guy has to row all day from shore to shore, battling the strong current.
“There is no spare motor, mooring or field kitchen,” the ESM guy complained as he plied the oars, “but the brass flies in an expensive helicopter and shoots everything on an expensive screen.”
The teachers from Krapivna make the crossing twice a day.
Teacher: “Children calculate on their telephones. They have no use for mathematics.”
There are twenty-three pupils and ten teachers at the Nikolskoye School. There are four pupils in the biggest class, and one in the smallest.
Several pupils commute from the neighboring villages, where there are no schools. In summer, they come on bicycles; in winter, they go on foot. When the roads are drifted over with snow, and the local authorities have not had time to clear them, they stay at home.
The school in the neighboring village of Kuzmino remained open for a long time with five pupils. There were more teachers than pupils.
If there is no school, a village is doomed, the teachers say.
By comparison, there are no fewer than twenty pupils in each grade at the Krapivna village school, and a total of 226 pupils in all.
There are classes in which half the pupils are children of migrants. Families from Dagestan are moving to Krapivna in large numbers and buying homes. Migrants from Central Asia settle in hostels on the outskirts of Krapivna. They work in gardens and storage facilities.
In the class depicted in the drawing, above, there were two pupils who were Uzbeks, a Tajik, a Lezghin, and an Azerbaijani.
The children get along with each other.
“They’re all local kids to me. We have a friendship of peoples here,” said the teacher smiling.
But there are problems, too. Not all the children of migrants speak Russian passably. Not all the children are sent to school on time. For example, the Tajik boy was three heads taller than the other pupils. It turned out he had been enrolled in the first grade at the age of ten.
Teacher: “Is ‘Moscow’ a person’s name or a place name?” First-grader Sasha: “It’s a street.”
For now, there are only ethnic Russian children at the Nikolskoye School—no migrants.
The village has a single employer, Nikolai Kurkov, former chairman of the Lenin Komsomol State Farm and now the owner of two farms, a grove, and a dairy.
The parents of the pupils at the Nikolskoye School either work for Kurkov or have moved to Shchyokino or Tula, leaving their kids with their grandmothers.
The kindergarten closed back in the 1990s and, unless their grandmothers raise them, the children turn into rural Mowglis.
There are two pupils in the first grade, but the teacher has a hard time coping with them.
“At the beginning of the school year, they ran around the classroom during lessons and screamed,” she recounts.
It would be unprofitable to open a private kindergarten in the village: Nikolskoye residents would not be able to pay more than a thousand rubles a month (approx. twenty euros) per head to send their kids there.
The village school lacks a gym and a cafeteria. A kitchen has been set up behind the bookshelf in the most spacious classroom. The tables there are laid when the children have lunch.
They are fed buckwheat kasha, macaroni, and rice with gravy, sausages or hamburger patties, and a delicious compote. The grandmother of one of the students, a former employee of Kurkov’s dairy, works as the cook.
A chauffeur drives the village’s “gilded youth,” Kurkov’s numerous grandchildren, to a more comfortable school in the district center.
Chorus on stage: “These are the victims who have come to life from the ashes and risen once again, and risen once again!”
On May 9 (Victory Day), the pupils at the Nikolskoye School put on a holiday concert under the direction of the music and physical education teacher. Guests arrived: two war veterans, who had got tipsy for the occasion; two female graduates of the school; three old women; and an elderly former teacher who cried throughout the concert.
The upperclassmen have been touched by the events of the Great Patriotic War (World War Two). Many of their grandparents had told them how the fascists marched through Nikolskoye when they were children. But other events of Russian history are dry, boring texts in textbooks to the kids.
The first-graders do not know the name of our country’s capital.
“Well, and what of it?” winces their teacher, who believes Moscow is a big dump.
Indeed, what of it? Moscow residents are also uninterested in the life and death of lost villages like Nikolskoye.
Recent publications in English by and about Victoria Lomasko:
Victoria Lomasko (right) teaching an art workshop at the girl’s juvenile correctional facility in Novooskolskaya, September 2014