“I correspond with Putin every year and he has disappointed me. I would like you to know that I do not agree with this war in Ukraine that I dare not even watch on television. I lived there, also in kyiv, and I don’t like to see it bombed. It upsets me a lot.”
These prints are from Teresa Alonso, a lucid 97-year-old from San Sebastian who lives in Barcelona and that has one of the most shocking lives of the Civil War. Also a witness to the bombing of Gernika, he fought with only 37 kilos of weight and feeding on sawdust for the historic defense of Leningrad against the 872-day siege of the armed forces of Nazi Germany.
Knowing that other people Alonso knew had been given the ‘Medal for the Defense of Leningrad’, neither short nor lazy, he wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I wrote to him that there an incendiary bomb that I used to put out in the streets slammed me into a wall and left me with a lifelong back injury. I told him to see if only there I would carry the Russian flag for life. That must have bothered him and he sent me the first medal”, details this war girl who departed from Santurtzi on the historic Havana ship to the USSR. In France, she would board the Sontay.
Teresa is hurt by that and this war because she lived her first days in the European giant precisely in kyiv, today the capital of Ukraine. “We were in a suburban district called Sviatoshyn – it still exists – between trees in a forest and a beautiful river. It was our first foster home, all the memories are very good”.
In fact, the only good ones. Since then, at the outbreak of World War II, his life has been one of terror: His well-known love dies on the ship, “my Ignacio” -sighs-, and he goes temporarily crazy, men try to rape him twice in Georgia, in Leningrad he survives 40 degrees below zero fighting against the Nazis… Add it up and on.
“I have been corresponding with Putin for about ten years,” underlines. He does it every year, around May 9, that is, on the occasion of the Victory Day of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in 1945. “I will congratulate you on the next anniversary, and I want to tell you that I do not agree with the war about Ukraine. I want you to know that I don’t like what you’re doing, but… I don’t dare tell you. I have to find a way to do it”, he proposes and he illustrates, in case there are still those who do not know, that “Putin is not from a communist party. He is not a communist. I, however, yes”.
“I lived in Russia, also in kyiv, and I don’t like to see it bombed. It stirs me up a lot”
The Guipuzcoan who considers herself only “Russian” also has words for the president of Ukraine, Volodímir Zelenski. “He is a wretch. He has no courage to say things. I would like to remind the two presidents that their countries were brothers.”
On September 15, a novel based on the cinematographic life of Alonso will go on sale and will be titled ‘The Girl from Russia’, signed by Celia Santos, from Bergara. Recently he was also the protagonist of the film ‘Matrioskas, las Niñas de la Guerra’, by Helena Bengoetxea from Navarra.
As she tells this newspaper, her passion for Ignacio, a teenager from Soraluze -she has always thought he was from Eibar- who she met on the Habana ship as they left Santurtzi for exile in the USSR was what motivated her to survive. She until she got the news that he had died. At that moment, her mind detonated and she ran into madness. “I didn’t want to live. They kept me in a straitjacket for a month.” evokes this member of the association AGE, Archivo Guerra y Exilio.
The couple’s love was a teenage crush. “At first glance”, emphasizes who would later get married twice, although never as she would have wanted. “We were on the boat. He was fifteen years old. I twelve. We looked at each other stunned.”
Welcomed in Leningrad
They were infants, but they dreamed of a future together. In fact, they were welcomed in Leningrad, today Saint Petersburg. However, on her 18th birthday she received the worst gift of her life. “He was already a Red Army aviator, he decided to take me home and I was excited, but his educator did not give the go-ahead and -Teresa pauses excitedly- I never saw him again”, regrets almost centenary. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army was the official designation for the forces of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and, after 1922, of the Soviet Union.
That pilot was Ignacio Agirregoikoa Benito. “You confirm that from Soraluze, but he felt like he was from Eibar”, emphasizes Teresa. During World War II, on March 9, 1944, the Gipuzkoan returned from an operation against the Nazis. His airplane was shot down and according to the story “he preferred to shoot himself, commit suicide and die, than to be captured. Other planes were following him and shooting at his legs so that when he landed he couldn’t escape.” For that epic, the Estonian town of Mustvee has a street named after him. But, “they misnamed it. They called her Benito Aguirre. They thought that his second surname was his name, like that of that damned… -referring to the Italian dictator Mussolini-, which I prefer not to articulate”. Teresa moved the unspeakable so they wouldn’t shorten her surname and give her her real name: Ignacio Agirregoikoa. He won that battle for the love of his life and dreams of winning one more.
“Now I am fighting for the Eibar City Council to put a plaque in memory of its aviators, of whom there were many, and the children of the war, to the Republic”, reveals who was a member of the Komsomol, a youth organization of the Communist Party of the Union Soviet (CPSU). After the separation of the couple, Teresa turned to find him. She was unaware that she had died. “Looking for him kept me alive”, broadcast with passion. At that time, the Austrian-born Nazi German Hitler wanted Leningrad to be a ghost town and bombed it. Teresa, then, offers to recover corpses on days when she lives without electricity, running water and without heating at 40 degrees below zero. She slims down to exhaustion and her body weighs 37 kilos. But her dedication and her love for Ignacio keep her alive.
Effects of the other war
“When the siren sounded, instead of taking shelter, we went out with sandboxes and gloves to put out the liquid from the Nazi incendiary bombs. With a howitzer I flew into a wall. I injured my back for life and broke a bone in my hand.” Calmly remember today.
From there, they took her to Georgia. “Damn!” she exclaims. She suffered two attempted rapes. “I only remembered Ignacio who said goodbye telling me that he wanted to get to know me again as he left me”, she becomes emotional again, referring to her virginity. A family of Armenian shoemakers welcomed her into her home. “They were my salvation!”, although momentary.
The war is over. “I went back to Moscow.” Everyone knew that Ignacio had died, but nobody told Alonso. “A lieutenant colonel liked me and, to have a free hand with me, he ended up telling me. I freaked out and they put me in a straitjacket. During the recovery I had that Russian who was in love with me by my side and I grew fond of him. She married him, but it didn’t work out and she returned to Euskadi with a 6-year-old daughter. In Donostia, her mother could not take care of her and she left for Barcelona disheartened. “I was born in San Sebastián, but I feel Russian”, sentence who remembers words in Euskara like “neska polita”, “etorri hona” or “agur”. “I said goodbye to my mother thinking of returning in a few months and it was 20 years,” she contradicts.
“Zelensky is a wretch. I would like to remind the two presidents that their countries were brothers.”
In Barcelona, he worked at the Hotel Arycasa. He was sleeping under a staircase in an almost abandoned building. Her daughter alternated the houses of her friends: a few days in some; others in others. “When I came back from the USSR, the police followed me and classmates from work denounced me, but I was still strong.”
A friend of the Nobel Prize for Literature Camilo José Cela -she received it in 1989-, she had the support of the Galician writer and sculptor. “He was crazy, but he always behaved very well with me and managed to get me another job at the hotel.” But she was lame and from being a telephone operator they changed her to making beds.
The Gipuzkoan decided to look for an alternative and ended up employed at the American multinational Pepsi Cola. “I have survived day by day -he underlines-, and always thinking of my Ignacio”, emphasizes who was also a witness to the tragic bombing of Gernika.
He evokes that chapter of his life before exile from the USSR in the following way. “Refugee in Bilbao, my mother sent me to buy horse meat in a van”. When they arrived at the symbolic village, “we saw many planes and the driver climbed a mound. We saw smoke and flames. Gernika was burning”.
The seven or eight who were in that vehicle hid. “We didn’t go back to Bilbao so they wouldn’t attack the van.” After a long time, they returned. “My mother had heard on the radio that the fascists had bombed Gernika and she thought that she would have died.”
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“I write to Putin and he has disappointed me”