Stefan Ciobanu was six when he was woken in the middle of the night in his family home in the Moldovan village of Cabaiesti. Together with his parents and siblings, he was exiled to Siberia’s Kurgan region, travelling in overcrowded cattle wagons with thousands of other Moldovans.
Ciobanu is one of more than 100 deportees interviewed by contemporary artist Ghenadie Popescu for his new animation Childhood Memories, which tells the story of two Moldovan families deported by Stalin to Siberia between 1941 and 1951.
“[In Siberia], we went to sleep hungry, we woke up hungry, we went to school hungry,” Ciobanu says in the film. “It was only at lunchtime that mum found something to feed us.” Ciobanu’s family survived by exchanging their traditional rug, woven by hand by his mother, for a cow. “We all sat with mugs in our hands each evening, waiting for mum to milk the cow,” he says.
This summer marks 70 years since the biggest wave of Stalin’s Moldovan deportations in 1949, when, according to Soviet archives, around 35,800 Moldovans — including just under 12,000 children — were forced to leave their homes. They were accused of being “enemies of the people” and kulaks — a Soviet term meaning rich peasants.
Following Stalin’s death in 1953, Ciobanu’s family returned to their native village, like many other deportees. Upon arriving home, however, they learned their house had been confiscated by the state and were forced to move in with a relative.
“I chose to work with sensitive material — people’s memories — and transferred them into another, similarly sensitive medium — animation,” Popescu told The Calvert Journal. “We remember animation back from when we were ourselves younger and more fragile. It’s a clumsier, childlike medium.”
Interviewing more than 100 deportees over the last seven years, Popescu has collected his research and posted full interviews on an oral history portal, which he co-founded as a means to keep the memory of these dramatic stories alive. He says it’s particularly important to do so now given that the last generations who had experienced deportations as children are currently in their 70s and 80s. In the animation, he uses extracts from the interviews as voice overs to the moving pictures he created to illustrate the stories.