Escape from the Soviets - T. Tchernavin


The next day our journey grew more difficult. The beautiful pine forest came to an end and we had once more to go up and down ravines and valleys. The sun came out occasionally, but it was difficult to find the way because the whole place was cut up by mountain ridges, big and small, going in different directions. It was becoming more and more doubtful whether we should ever find the Finnish river which was to guide us.

"The only thing we can do is to go towards the west," I insisted.

"But we can't go climbing all these mountain chains," my husband said. "We must find a good-sized valley and take our bearing from there."

He and the boy climbed up a hill and came down, very pleased.

"Some ten miles away there's a river which seems to run south, and There's a lot of leafy trees near it. It's a fine valley. If we are in Finland already, we need not be afraid of going south."

We reached the river after making several detours  because of marshes, a wide side-stream and so on. We found that it flowed north and if we followed it we would come right back into Russia.

It was a great blow to us. The river bank was one continuous marsh overgrown with wiry arctic birch. The bank opposite tempted us by its white moss and pretty fir-trees. We decided to wade across to it. We were exhausted, chilled to the bone, got a lot of our things wet, and found ourselves in a worse marsh than ever. We managed to light a bonfire under an uprooted fir-tree and kept it up through half the night to dry a place where we could sleep.

The morning was damp and foggy.

"We must stay here till the sun comes out." my husband said.

"We must go on, for we shall never see the sun in this swamp," I objected.

After much hesitation we decided to go on. We came upon the same river which took another turn, waded across it and climbed uphill.

"I am not going to move from here till the sun comes out," said my husband.

We lit a bonfire and sadly lay down beside it. It came on to rain several times during the night. Our Soviet waterproofs let water through quite freely. The fire hissed, fighting the rain. It was a bad lookout.

I was awakened by a sharp exclamation of my husband's. He was standing and pointing with a bitter laugh to the flat red disk of the sun rising from behind the very hill which we thought was in the west.

So the whole journey of the previous day had been wasted. We had to wade through the chilly river once more and climb to the place which we had left two evenings before.

A high ridge rising high above the line of the forest, and a perfect chaos of valleys and smaller ridges lay before us. We thought that we had completely lost the Finnish river we were in search of and had no idea how we would find our way. But the boy, whose ideas on geography were distinctly vague, asked cheerfully how soon could we walk to the Bay of Bothnia, for we could not possibly miss that as we missed the river.

We reached the top of the ridge absolutely exhausted. A piercing, icy wind was blowing. The view that lay before us filled us with horror. We had been longing for a green, sunny valley, but instead we saw a huge, gloomy, cauldron-shaped hollow, from which there seemed to be no way out. The forest was all at the bottom, and the slopes were a sheer wall of stone. Far off, on the northern slope, something white looked like a big patch of snow. The heavy clouds crept low, covering the bottom of the hollow like a thick blanket. If we could have turned off anywhere else we would have done so out of the mere fear and repulsion that the place inspired in us but the hollow lay in a western direction and there was nowhere else for us to go.

"We must go down, we shall be frozen here." I said.

"Once we go down we shall lose our bearings, we must take good stock of the place first," said my husband.

While we were looking round the boy huddled up behind a stone for shelter, quite subdued.

We did not suspect that we were actually standing on the frontier pass, right over the starting-place of the Finnish river, which we had given up for lost.

But in any case our position was very serious. It had taken us eight days, instead of three or four, to reach the frontier; three-quarters of our provisions, intended for ten days, were gone, and we were beginning to feel exhausted. Though we were safe now from pursuit and from frontier guards, we might easily perish in Finland if we did not find a way out of these wilds and come across human habitation.