immigrants pavel
Image: Pete Stone

NAME Pavel Aleksashin
BORN ON January 31, 1927
BORN IN Donetsk, Ukraine
WORKS AS Retired Chemist
LIVES IN Hillsboro
NATURALIZED ON April 30, 2008

FOR A LONG TIME, everything was wonderful in Georgia. My wife, Yevgeniya, and I were so very happy. In Tbilisi, we shared a nice three-bedroom apartment with our grown children—a daughter and a son. We had a large pension and some savings. Even though I was blind [Aleksashin was born with poor eyesight that deteriorated over time], we had everything we needed for the rest of our lives.

But in 1991, everything started to fall apart. On April 9, just before the Soviet Union collapsed, Georgia declared its independence and broke away from the motherland. In January, the newly elected president was deposed in a bloody coup, and the new republic became embroiled in a civil war. Warring factions fought for control of the government, and at the same time, separatists in the west and north were fighting for their own independence. The economy collapsed. Factories were shut because they could not get the supplies they needed—in 1994, Georgia’s gross domestic product had shrunk by 75 percent from what it had been five years before. Everything became expensive.

Our pensions no longer covered our needs, and our children lost their jobs. Food shipments to Georgia stopped, and there were long lines in the grocery stores. Sometimes we took the train to a city called Marneuli, near the border of Azerbaijan about 20 miles away, where we bartered bread for fresh vegetables.

We never dreamed that we would leave Georgia, but things really became desperate. We had some relatives in Everett, Washington, who petitioned to bring the entire family to America; a Russian church in Vancouver that had many members from the Georgian city of Batumi offered us a place to live.

So in 1994, when my wife and I were 67 years old, we sold the apartment and everything inside it and made plans to leave for America. We each had three large suitcases that we stitched together ourselves. At the time, there were a lot of criminals robbing people who were trying to leave the country. Because we didn’t want to call attention to ourselves, my wife and I, my sister, one of my daughters, my son and his wife, and their six children all left the apartment at different times.

We took a cab to the Ossetian border high in the Caucasus Mountains, and then boarded a train to Moscow. On June 3, 1994, we left Russia.

When my wife and I were 67 years old, we sold the apartment and everything inside it and left for America.

At Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport, just before you enter the security area, there is a red line on the floor that separates those who are leaving from those who are staying behind. The younger ones felt cocky—that finally the old life is behind us and the new life is in front of us. But for me, as I crossed that line, I felt a sense of loss. I just knew that I would never be back.

Here in Oregon, I used to enjoy taking long walks around Hillsboro with Yevgeniya, but now that I’m 81 years old, I’m not as active as I used to be. At home, my wife reads to me in Russian from the Bible, or my daughter sometimes reads from magazines like National Geographic. I’m also typing my memoirs.

There’s still a certain degree of disbelief that all of this happened. I became an American citizen because I want to accept this land, and this culture, as my home. And to finally complete the journey I began 14 years ago.