My Father’s Siberian Blog

This blog is dedicated to my Father Vitaly Andreevich Salnikov (1933-2018)

My father was born in a remote Siberian village of Verhne-usinskoe Yarmakovkoe district of Krasnoyarsk region, Siberia on 28 Oct of 1933. He grew up in the 1930s  in Siberia where the nature of the land and its harsh climate shaped his character, personality, knowledge and his perspective on life in a very unique way.  From the early age his excursions into the Siberian taiga forest, and his trips in the Sayan Mountains, as a part of a geological survey group taught him many lessons of bushcraft and survival.   He lived through the era of Stalinism, he survived the events of WWII as a little boy, served in the Russian Navy in his adult years, before finally immigrating to Canada in the early 90s. From the deserts of the middle east to the boreal forests of North America, wherever his life took him, he carried the love for outdoors, nature and the unconditional love for humankind.  Before my father passed in August of 2018, he completed his memoirs, the entire story of his life. I dedicate this blog to his memory. I decided to translate selected chapters from his hand-written account and post them here. I am hoping that his taiga forest survival experiences, and his knowledge of the traditional ways of life could be of interest to history enthusiasts, survivalists, culturologists, bushcrafters and woodsmen.


1.  Introduction

The oldest known to me relatives are my grandparents. I remember very little about their lives, and because of that, I would like to capture those few childhood  memories in writing. I was the last child in the Salnikov’s family, and it was only from their accounts I could have known about how my family, and our relatives lived before me.   In this memoir, I will mention many events, but I would like to focus on those that I was a part of, things  I saw, heard, and experienced personally, without a third party information or tale that could be inaccurate or distorted. Therefore, my account of my grandparents will be short.

My relatives often blame me for not recording my memories earlier in life, while they were fresh in my mind. However, the modern day person has no idea about the life and the conditions of life in those days before computers and modern technology.  In those days when there was only one telephone in the entire village, at times I had limited access to paper not to mention a type writer.   The only sources of information were the radio, which was broadcasting every day from 5am to midnight, and several newspapers; local ” Red Plower” (Krasny Pahar’) or national “Bolshevik” and “Pravda” which were very rare.

Later on in life I suppose I could have utilized the official records from the local and regional archives, to make my accounts more accurate, but it is unlikely that any pertaining information could be found about my relatives. Former Usinsk region and present Yarmakovsky district of  Krasnoyarsk region were amalgamated at some point and many documents were lost and mixed up in the process. I am convinced I could not find anything about my family in those institutions.

Furthermore, my relatives were not dukes or nobility of any kind, that I know for a fact. They did not make themselves famous in any socially-meaningful event, and did not commit any extraordinary heroic acts to be recorded in the official archives. While my grandfather spend all his life fighting for “Faith , Tzar and the Country” he did not receive much recognition for this besides a cross of St George.

They lived a hard life along with the rest of the Russian people in Siberia. The major events of my family and my grand-paren’t lives included multiple Sino-Russian conflicts, including the KVZHD conflict of 1900, in which my grand-father took an active part. The events of Russo-Japanies war of 1905, the first Russian Revolution of 1905, The WWI, the October 1017 Bolshevik revolution, and the civil war of 1917-1922, Stalin’s Collectivization, and repressions against the “Kulaks”, and certainly the WWII where all those events that shaped my Siberian family’s heritage.

2. Grand-Father

Mikhail Milchakov (Михаил Мильчаков 1867-1939) Grand-Father on my mother side.

My grand-father on my mother’s side Michail Milchakov was born in Siberia in former Minusinsk region in a farmer’s family. I can only roughly estimate the date of his birth to be 1866-1867.  True Siberian born and raised, in 1888 was drafted into military service. He served in Siberian Rifles Corps (Корпус Сибирских Стрелков) for 25 years and retired in the rank of  Warrant Officer.  After retirement he settled in the taiga on a “Zaimka” (squatter’s land) and hunted and fished until his death in 1939.

I remember seeing his picture on the wall in my grand-mother’s house. On this picture he is depicted with his fellow serviceman, (a friend from the same village). He is dressed in his parade Warrant Officer uniform with his chest full of medals. Young, strong, handsome Siberian man, with wind-up waxed, spiky moustache.    In 1892 while on leave in his native village he got married. Most likely this was an arrange marriage as his parents found a suitable bride from another farming family. The bride most likely was not from a very rich household as the arranged marriage was means of improving someone’s financial status.  To clarify, what was “not-rich” in Siberia was considered very wealthy in the central Russia. Usually, in Siberia the farmers lived quite wealthy in comparison to their Central-Russian counterparts who very rarely owned the land they farmed. Siberia did not have that widespread poverty present in the other parts of the empire.

Resourceful, hardworking people, faming the land they were given to own by the Stalipin’s land reforms  did quite well for themselves.  The majority of the Siberian peasants did not join the Bolsheviks following the 1917 Communist revolution. If some of them took part in the Civil War on the side of the Soviets, it is not because of the appeal of the Communist ideas, but because of the brutality of the Admiral Kolchak’s White Army  and the Interventionists.  Independent, proud, self-reliant, never knowing the oppression of the landlords, not used to bowing to anyone a Siberian farmer could not forgive the Whites for those repressive measures they unwisely introduced and the atrocities they committed in the occupied Siberian villages.  Skillful woodsmen,  hunters and survivalists many Siberians picked up arms and took off for the taiga. These “partisan” militias played the decisive  role in Kolchak’s White Army defeat  and forcing out the Expeditionary forces of the Interventionist.

While collecting  provision and supplies for the ill-supplied Red militia units, the supply scouts knew that fur hunters have stashes of food, grain and ammunition.  Amongst others, they visited the Grigorievka village where Michail lived with his family.  I don’t know if he voluntarily gave up his ammo, or the militia scouts simply searched and took what they found. Likewise,  I don’t know if he volunteered to take the supplies on his horse or he was forced to join the supply convoy.  My Grand-mother was convinced he did it voluntarily, and I tend to believe her as the Siberian farmers did not yet experience all the “joys” of the Communist rule, but the stories of  the bloody reprimands and the atrocities committed by the Kolchak Forces and the White Cossacks were resonating across the Siberian villages. When Grand-father came back from the supply convoy, shortly after the village was taken over by the White Cossacks of Esaul Bologov. Someone in the village informed the cossacks that old man Milchakov took the bags of supplies on his horse to the militia.  The investigation and the court proceedings were rather short. The reprimand was severe. Several villagers, likely eager supporters of the Reds were hung, some were executed by the firing squad, many residents were lashed.

From my grand-mothers words, while going through their house the cossacks saw the picture of my grand-father on the wall with all his decorations. Amongst those was the order of St George, one of the highest military honers in the Imperial Army. According to grand-mother, his decorations and 25 years of service to “Faith , Tzar and the Country”  saved him from hanging.  Instead, he was lashed. Fifty lashes left life-long scars on the back of this old warrior. Now, the scars he received in the taiga after a near life-ending encounter with a brown bear, were multiplied by the scars left by the Cossacks’ lashes.

After that incident the only things that kept him from joining the militias was his age, and the fact that the militia units left the area and were moving south along the Usinsky Trakt road.    The times were terrible and the family had too look after their four children, three girls of age and the youngest son.

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