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Our People and Their Lives – The Talko Sisters

The story of the Talko family is like that of many others. The family was bound together by traditions, upbringing, and the faith. Their hands were for work, their hearts for God. Felix Pavlovich Talko, the father of the family, came from the petty bourgeois of the small village of Chudrov, Volynia province, and served his military service in Vladivostok on the steamship Rurik. The mother, Malgashata Seminskaia, came to Vladivostok from Lublin with the family of a railroad engineer for whom she worked as a maid. Felix and Malgashata met at Polish House on Aluetskaia Street, where there were often festive gatherings, concerts and magnificent holiday celebrations. Modest, hard-working and deeply devout, they caught each other's fancy and in the early summer of 1905 they were married at the Catholic church. The young couple settled in a room on Pushkin Street and a year later moved to the Zharikovskii Ravine district.
Olimpia & Kazimira Taiko
Olumpia and Kacimira Taiko
Reminiscences of Olimpia Talko (1915-1995)
Above our house on the hill was a long one-story wooden building, Most Holy Mother of
God church. Later, when the church moved to a new building, a children's shelter was opened in the old building. We all studied at the Polish school - a one-story building next to the shelter on Portovaia Street. At the beginning of the 1920s there were more than 100 pupils and teachers. We studied there until 1924, when they closed the school and transferred the students to the public high school (now School No. 9). They still allowed us to attend Mass in the church for approximately another year. My brother Eugeniusz (b. 1911), my sisters Jadwiga (b. 1916) and Kazimira (b. 1918) and I spent time at the Polish shelter and joined the Scout troop organized in the 1920s by the American Red Cross. Scout camp was held in the summer on Russian Island - how well I remember our khaki uniform with a yellow tie and large panama hats! In the spring of 1923 the shelter was disbanded and they sent the Polish children abroad. They photographed us with numbers on our chests and prepared to send us off. I know that a lot of children left at that time - some went to America or Japan, others to China or Poland. The children received an education and many of their parents later went to join them. Our parents decided not to send us away alone, so we remained in Vladivostok. In 1926, after a lengthy preparation, I was confirmed at the church. I remember the solemn atmosphere and my dress - a white wedding dress from America that my godmother, Maria Kovalevskaia, got for me. Until the 1930s my parents were considered Polish citizens and it was only in 1934 that they received Soviet passports.
Kazimira's Memories (b. 1918)
My parents' lives were tragically cut short - they were very honest, hard-working and
devout people. Papa worked as an electrician at the shipyards and Mama looked after the home and children. All nine children were baptized Roman Catholic at the church in Vladivostok. Praying together, reading the Bible, going to church, respecting our parents, and work - such were the foundations of our upbringing. The morning began with prayer long before sunrise and the day came to a close with a prayer of thanksgiving. The family grew. On the outskirts of Vladivostok at that time there was a naval settlement; later they gave the streets naval names.
Our family began to build a house out there. Everyone helped us. Life was hard - sometimes there wasn't enough clothing. It was passed down from the older children to the younger ones, all carefully cleaned and taken care of. The younger children went to the "brown" school, which was on the corner of Svetlanskaia and 9th Sailor Streets. It was especially hard in the winter when the children's feet were often frostbitten because of their worn out boots.
There were a lot of Chinese nationals living in Vladivostok at that time. They cultivated
gardens, made delicious and inexpensive sweets, and helped with housework. We are indebted to their friendship for many things. Often after classes at the high school we would go to the church. We went up to the Crucifix, blessed ourselves with the holy water in the font beneath the crucifix and kissed the hand of the pastor, Karol Slivovskii. I well remember that on his hand, that was kind and powerful at the same time, he wore a heavy, expensive ring. The choir sang beautifully.
mother TaikoTaiko fatherWe children all began to work at an early age, approximately 14 or 15. My sister Jadwiga worked as a bookkeeper at Dalzavod (the shipyards) and I, upon finishing school in 1932, went to work right away as a timekeeper at Dalzavod. My older brother Sigismund, after finishing technical school, went to the mines and in 1930 he was electrocuted in a mineshaft. My other brother, Eugeniusz, went to sea on a steamer. There was always faith and love in the family. The children learned morality and mutual support in difficult situations and bore responsibility for their behavior.
August 28, 1938 - I will remember that day all my life. It was a peaceful family evening. Mama was bathing my newborn daughter, Papa was reading the paper. The dog began to bark. Papa and I went out - near the gate stood a car. My heart stopped beating. Fear swept over me like a wave. Terrified, I immediately knew that it had come for us. What followed I remember as if in a dream. Red Sailors came into the house with rifles and showed an order for three of us - Papa, Mama and my brother Eugeneusz, who had just returned the day before from a sea voyage and had dropped by to visit our parents. Mama began to cry, Papa silently began to dress. They were allowed to take food and clothing for about two days. We never saw them again. No one at the GPU would talk with us, nor were their names on any lists. We went to the prison all through the winter, standing day and night in the frost and wind to find out something. Once some people told us that at night a large group of prisoners had been taken to a side of Patrokl Bay where there were mass executions by firing squad. It wasn't until 1956 that my parents and brother Eugeniusz were rehabilitated. (1) Photos of parents are above - mother on the left, father on the right.
Olimpia's Memories
After our parents' arrest we children were all sent to Astrakhan - my sister Kazimira
spent six years in Irkutsk. Before the war they sent us by convoy to northern Kazakhstan. Those were times of an endless series of days of hunger, fear, indignity, and cold that froze every living thing together. Whole families died, but the Lord saved us.
We returned to Vladivostok in 1946. Along the way, at endless train transfer points,
everything was stolen from us - our documents as well as anything of value that we had saved of our parents. Upon arriving in Vladivostok another blow awaited us - we learned that strangers had long been living in our home. For a time, friends gave us shelter - Poles who had returned from exile and had been able to get housing. We put all our efforts into the return of the home that our parents had built, in which we had spent our childhood and youth. It was our family home. After a year, upon a court decision, we finally moved into our home, with empty walls and iron cots. We were still reestablishing our household when, in 1952, they once again exiled us as "enemies of the people" - this time we were sent outside the city limits to Ugolnaia Station. Prior to 1954 we weren't allowed to enroll in school or have a job. I would go to the GPU for a pass and sometimes they would keep me waiting the whole night. They of course were not given back their lives! Nor was there any other kind of reparation to the family for what had been done to it. My brother Victor (b. 1919) served in the army; he was discharged in the 1930s but before the Great Fatherland War (WW II) he was called up again - he went as far as Berlin and returned an invalid. Another brother, Stanislaus (b. 1925) was drafted into the army during the
war and died at the front.
Taiko sisters
Olimpia and Kazimira Talko with Fr. Myron Effing, CJD in 1993


The parishioners, left without pastors, firmly kept their Catholic faith in their souls. They waited for a time when the gates of the church would once again be opened and their children and grandchildren would come to the faith of their fathers. Among the first to come to the Mass said at the gates of the church in 1992 were the Talko sisters. They told Fr. Myron and the parishioners what the church had been like - about the sacraments celebrated there and the priests who had served. With special respect the sisters recalled Bishop Karol Slivovskii.
May we revere those who carried and kept their faith and love for God through all those years. January 17, 1995, Olimpia departed from this life. In our prayers may we always ask God to grant her soul eternal life.
Check the website: http://www.vladmission.org
1) Translator's Note: "Rehabilitated" means that the authorities cleared their names of any wrongdoing.
Originally published in the Russian edition of the Vladivostok Mission newsletter, Zaria Vladivostoka, No.4, June-August 2010. Part of a series on the lives of the parishioners of Mary Mother of God parish, Vladivostok, Russian Far East. Written by Parish Archivist, Tat'iana Shaposhnikova, and translated by Geraldine Kelley

Geraldine H. Kelley I recommend a story of Catholic Church in Siberia and a Far East: Harsh Vineyard: A History of Catholic Life in the Russian Far East
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