By Lusine Musayelyan
“… I wonder how we survived,” says Eleonora recalling the horrors of their past.
Eleonora and her son on their first day in Shushi.
“Beating, hunger, mockery while in captivity; beggary, poverty after it – this is how I imagine Shushi,” says heartbroken 53-year-old Eleonora who has lived in Shushi with her son since 1994.
Eleonora and her son, Dmitri, were in captivity, for about two years.
“In 1988, a few months after Dmitri was born, my husband left for Russia, to his relatives. The Karabakh movement began at that time. We continued to live in Baku, since we bore the surname of my Russian husband. But I was waiting for my husband’s return to decide whether we should stay or go,” Eleonora says, adding that in 1992 her Armenian ethnicity was revealed in Baku and one night they knocked at her door and arrested her and her son while they were in nightclothes.
Eleonora Bulgakova and her little son first appeared in the hands of Azeri, then Russian task-force militiamen.
“Now when I sometimes remember what they did to me and my son I wonder how we survived. They kept us hungry from morning till dark and beat us with whatever they had at hand,” Eleonora says, showing a scar on her forehead as evidence.
After two years of anguish in different jails, including in Shushi, in 1994 they were exchanged in Aghdam for Azeri prisoners.
“After the exchange, we were placed in some kindergarten in Stepanakert along with dozens of other refugees. After the liberation of Shushi we were given a home here and we began to live.”
Nothing seems to have changed in Eleonora’s three-room apartment in Shushi since 1994. The broken glass on the windows was replaced with cellophane, which is supposed to protect them from bitter cold typical for Shushi. It is already three months that electricity has been cut off because of the 5,000-dram debt (about $15). The only source of warmth is firewood that they burn in the open balcony because the stove has no chimney. Eleonora says she cannot even dream about gas.
The only furniture in their apartment is two beds, a table, chairs and pails.
Despite the absence of amenities, the apartment looks clean and neat.
The widespread poverty, cold, hunger in Shushi forced Dmitri to become a beggar. “I pleaded with him not to go, but he would go. He said he was cold at home, and said he couldn’t play alone, wanted to play with the children in the yard. He would go out, join several children and go to the churchyard to beg alms. While the rest would buy chewing gum or sweets with the money, he gave it to me and demanded a tasty warm dinner,” Eleonora remembers through tears and adds that Dmitri was the one who maintained their living and her duty was only to bring firewood from the forest and cook dinner.
Dmitri Bulgakov, 20, now serves in the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh army.
“Despite the fact that Dmitri was drafted illegally, I am glad that he serves in the army. It is his mother’s homeland, and so he must serve. It doesn’t matter that his father is Russian. In any case, he considers himself to be an Armenian. It is due to him that I learned to write and read in Armenian,” Eleonora says proudly.
The mother and son have no information about their husband and father. “He’s gone missing,” they say. But Eleonora says that she doesn’t lock the door – perhaps he will show up one day.
Nothing changed in the life of the soldier’s mother and like before she can go hungry for days. Sometimes she goes to the forest, but now she brings branches rather than wood, as her strength is not what it used to be.
“I don’t want Dmitri to see his home in this condition when he returns from the army in seven months. He has decided to enter the university after the army, I don’t want him to be burdened with our problems any more, poor him. I’ll somehow make both ends meet during these seven months.”
According to Chairman of the “NKR Refugees” NGO Sarasar Saryan, Eleonora does not have the status of a prisoner of war. It is a priority to solve this issue today. The woman with ruined health who went through the horrors of war and captivity does not have the category of a disabled person either, although she had received rehabilitation treatment for her physical health and mental condition. Moreover, she does not receive a pension either and exists only on small wages she gets for work offered by public organizations from time to time.
“My neighbors say if I want to get a job I must dye my hair, fix my teeth. If I had money for all that, why should I be looking for a job?” she says.
As HyeSanta visitors leave Eleonora she starts to clean the dirt under her balcony, the leaves that fell down from the trees. Then she set fire to the heap of leaves, sat down near it and began to warm her fingers. She could be a street cleaner. But she does not even get that job.