Last of the Ingrian grannies hold on
Finnish traditions are strong in Kingsepp region in Northwest Russia
By Heli Saavalainen
The river flows swiftly through the town of Jaama, or Kingisepp in Northwest Russia. Young people spend their summer day on the shore, drinking beer and enjoying each other’s company. Here and there anglers try to catch fish.
The river is the Luga River. The area has strongly Finnish roots. At the Nivo cemetery on the Kurkola Peninsula there are plenty of Finnish names - Koi¬vu¬nen, Sep¬pä¬nen, Ja¬lo¬nen, Sip¬po, Ha¬rak¬ka, Sau¬na¬nen, Suo¬ma¬lai¬nen.
The Ingrian culture is alive in the villages where a group of tenacious grandmothers who have gone through many tribulations in their lives still hang on.
One of the women is 83-year-old Tyyne Yllö. She was born in Hakaja, raised three children, buried her husband, mother-in-law, and her son and his family.
Her life has not been easy.
In 1943 at the age of 13 the girl was brought to Finland to escape the war. “The Germans drove us to Finland. They did it by force, although they said later that we wanted to go there ourselves”, Yllä says.
She ended up in a farm in Orimattila.
“Then in 1944 they said that we can go home.”
But there was no going back home – the new address was found in Siberia. “We had no food or money”, Yllö says, recalling her youth.
Her family fled to Estonia, and from there to Soviet Karelia. “There was work and bread there. They let us live.”
In 1958 they got permission to return to Hakaja. “I immediately had a great need to get back.”
However, their home was no longer the same. “Everything had been ravaged. There was no roof and no doors. Fish helped us through the poverty, and we had to work hard.”
The bus stop shelter of the village of Konnu was set up by a Russian who had built a cottage there. Lively chatter can be heard from the shelter; eighty-year-old Lilja Jalonen, who lives in Helsinki, is on holiday.
“Each summer I come here to my home region. My grandfather’s house is still there”, she says.
She has lived in Helsinki for 22 years, but Konnu is still her home. “The village is good for us. We never locked our doors.”
The village is becoming a holiday area for Russians.
Meanwhile, in nearby Kiiskala people are busy in the garden. “Potatoes, carrots, and onions have been planted. The tomatoes are in the greenhouse. Now we can go fishing”, says Roosa Kalinina, 58.
Kalinina was born in Estonia. “I was two and a half years old when the family came to Kiiskala. I grew up here”, she says.
“It was pleasant in the summer, painful in the winter.”
Also from Kiiskala is 78-year-old Lilja Vasilyeva. She lives in an apartment in Jaama, but comes frequently to stay at a cottage in her home village.
“My father was Aleksanteri, his father was Paavo, Paavo’s father was Sakari, and Sakari’s father was Tuomas. I’m a fifth generation Ingrian Finn”, Vasilyeva says.
She puts bread, sweet bread, cheese, and roast bream on the table. “Fish from Kiiskala”.
Her husband is dead, so are her son and daughter. Her daughter’s son, a young man 23 years old, was brought up by his grandmother from the age of ten.
The villages are also gradually dying out. “A few years ago all villages had life, even children”, says Father Grigori, a priest of the Ingrian Church.
The young people move out to find work, and the area becomes increasingly dominated by ethnic Russians.
“Many have moved to Finland, and many more are dead”, says Aleksander Ruotsi, the chairman of the local chapter of the Ingrian League.
When the association was set up in 1989 there were more than 2,000 active members. Now there are less than 100.
The congregation holds a memorial service at the Nivo cemetery each year. “Many times we take flowers to those who were there the previous year”, Father Grigori says.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 3.6.2012
More on this subject:
BACKGROUND: Persecution, exile, and return migration
Previously in HS International Edition:
Koivisto vehemently denies that Ingrian migration to Finland was KGB initiative (8.2.2011)
Ingrians to lose returning migrant status (12.11.2010)
Ingrian-Finnish folk singer Arvi Kemppi´s début album to appear posthumously (5.5.2009)
National Archive to investigate postwar repatriations of Ingrians (16.2.2007)
Better living conditions keep Ingrian elderly at home (27.4.2004)
HELI SAAVALAINEN / Helsingin Sanomat