I was born in Moscow, Russia, when the new Russia was just getting on it’s feet. I was born to a Moscow native Saturn Zhukov and Axana Dovinzhenko, from Eastern Ukraine. My parents had three sons before me, Boris, Mikhel and Dmitri. At the time of my birth, Russia was in complete chaos. The crime rate skyrocketed, homicide rates tripled, and people were nervous about what the new Russia will bring after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Food shortages were reported around the country, and medication was scarce.
When I was a young child I lived in a small apartment with two bedrooms in Moscow with my parents and brothers. At the time, my family was considered big, and the average children per family was between 1-2. For the first four years of my life I slept on the floor in the kitchen next to my brother Dmitri. Since my parents had to feed four children both of them worked on very small wages. During the day my oldest brother Boris, who was born in 1982 took care of his younger siblings. Even at the age of thirteen he had to change diapers, make us food and take care of a baby, which was me. Sometimes, there was no heat in the cold winters of Russia. Since money was tight, we used the oven for a heat source. That was not enough, as my brother and I had to sleep on the cold kitchen floor with only a small pillow and a thin blanket.
My parents were worried about the situation in Russia. They hoped for a free Russia but it turns out that is the opposite. They had four hungry children to feed, and their two youngest children had not slept in a bed for all of their lives. Then my mother caught a break when she got a job at the American embassy, which boosted the income into the family. My mother is very smart, sharp but most of all brave. She knew the risk for working for the Americans could make her a target for the new regime. The first thing she loves the most is her family so she took the risk. Still sometimes the heat didn’t work but with the new money my mother kept buying candles, and soon they grew and grew until they filled the whole apartment.
Boris Yeltsin, the first President of the Russian Federation, was a fool in my eyes. He drank, and he drank a lot to lead my father to say ‘the guy is drunk all the time he doesn’t know what to do.’ It was with Yeltsin when the memories of the Soviet Union started after a reporter wrote an article when he was visiting Washington, where he was found in his underwear on Penn Ave, asking for pizza. The reporter escaped an attempted assassination by the Kremlin. Then came the press who was forbidden to report anything bad about the president or other notable Russians. People became fearful to say anything in public, always looking over their shoulder, fearful of being arrested, and being killed.
In 1999 Yeltsin went to war with Chechnya, a Muslim majority territory that used to be apart of the Soviet Union, but around the time of my birth, the Russian forces were driven out of Chechnya. Yeltsin wanted to try again. We had a problem, Boris is about to turn eighteen, and all men eighteen years or older had to join the military. My parents opposed the Russian aggression, but it started to become more clear that the dream of a free Russia will just remain a dream. My mother started to visa process at the embassy where she worked. No matter how fast they told us Boris’ birthday came closer and closer. One week from his birthday, my parents woke us up from sleep telling us that we are leaving now. We took all we had, which was only a small amount of clothing and personal belongings. As any five year old, I wanted to take all of my toys with me, but in the rush of packing I was allowed only one stuffed animal, which I still have to this day.
We drove in the middle of the night, and it took us two days to get to the border of Ukraine. Once in Ukraine we stayed for a year with my grandparents, who owned a grocery store and offered my father a job while my mother stayed home, taking care of me and my brothers. It took another two years for all of us to get visas to come and live in United States.