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When the Cossacks Came


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Brita Malin Kaitfors (1793-1879) tells about an August day in 1809 when the cossacks came to her farm at Buldans in Nedervetil.

Brita Malin was born 27 Nov 1793 at Buldans and died 29 Apr 1879 in Gamlakarleby. She was fifteen years old when she witnessed the disastrous August day in 1809. The story was handed down verbally to Karin Hellman through the family. Brita Malin was Karin Hellman's mother's father's mother's mother. Karin said, "My mother's father's sister Maria Johanna Björklund (nee Sarén) was sixteen years old when Brita Malin died." Johanna, who was later called Faster Hanna was Brita Malin's daughter's daughter.

Brita Malin told Johanna about the olden days and customs and about what happened at Buldans that day in August 1809. Faster Johanna, who died 1949, told Karin about Brita Malin who is the "I" person in this story....

It was a beautiful day at home in Buldans. The birch trees branches were white and the birds flew from branch to branch. As a little girl I often stood and watched them. I told the other children that I wished I could fly. They asked me where I would fly and I told them I would fly to heaven. They said I would fall down and then they laughed. But I said that I would see more up there than they did.

Now it will soon be the long journey ahead for me, but not the trip I dreamed of as a child. Now I can only look back at my life. The older I become, the more I think of my childhood and my childhood home. I had no idea I would become a citizen of the city. My father's father and my father had often been to the city. Grandfather was the church warden and parish clerk and had, together with the priest Anders Chydenius, often gone into Gamlakarleby. They wore baskets on their backs in which they had butter. Chydenius collected the butter for his friends or relatives, and grandfather ordered butter for us. But I had only been to the city one time when I worked as a maid there.

But now you shall hear about what happened that sad day at the end of August 1809. Out in the fields the rye stood in long rows. Early in the morning father had gone to the woods with our hound Freja. We could hear how she barked when some birds flew up. She was a good bird hound. As they were on their way out of the house, father's brother said that she hunts cossacks. My stepmother said, "God help us that we don't have them here. Today is a good day for picking berries, so the girls have gone to the woods with their baskets but you, Brita, do the milking as usual," she continued.

I was nearly sixteen and the oldest girl at Buldans, so I had to do the milking in the morning. My own mother had died when I was nearly two years old. If father had not remarried I don't know how he would have managed with the farm. I had several siblings and we all had the same mother. Father's youngest brother lived with us and helped with the men's work. He suffered from lung disease and could not do a whole day's work. We children loved him because he would tell us stories.

That morning when Freja barked so loudly in the woods was the last time I did the milking at Buldans. We had already begun to take in the grain. There was war in the country and people knew what could happen. I milked in the barn every morning before I drove the animals out to the pasture. While I sat on the milking stool that morning, I heard someone outside the open door. I knew it was father's brother because I heard him having a coughing spell. I stood up and went out to see what was the matter.

"The cossacks are coming! Cossacks are coming," he panted and had another coughing spell.

At the same time father came running with Freja on a leash. Mickel rode by and called out that a group of cossacks were on the way. He saw ten of them.

Mother, who was in the sauna, had heard us and came running from there. "Lord Jesus, help us. Now the girls should hide. To the little woods with you and stay there as long as you see cossacks, if the Russians come." Father said to mother, "It is better if they see you have no weapons."

We were hidden in the woods when we heard horses galloping. My heart beat in my chest like a smith's hammer as I was on my stomach behind a Juniper bush. Mother peeked out toward the farm from behind a bush. She had the small girls with her. My brother was so little he didn't know enough to be afraid. He was on his stomach and sucking his thumb.

Mother said, "There are one, two, three...fourteen cossacks with long pikes and horses. Lord Jesus, help us. They have formed a ring around father and his brother. One of them stuck his lance in Matts - no, he just pointed at him."

I was so afraid for father that I raised up, but mother dragged me down by my skirt and I fell back to the ground. She said, "Have you lost your senses, girl, lie still."

Now I peeked under the branches. The cossack who held the lance on father said something to him. It seemed that the cossack understood some Swedish. I could not hear what he said to father nor what father answered. But father and his brother stood next to each other the entire time. Father, was the master, and stood in front of his brother. So it was as always, father was strong and powerful and his brother relied on him.

Then a couple cossacks got down from their horses and went into the house. Another cossack rode around the house and one of them rode out into the pasture. There was only one cossack remaining before father and his brother. His brother said something to father, who reached out his hand and put his other hand on his shoulder. Then they stood there and looked each other in the eye. The cossack who talked with them, reached for the shoulder, nodded and got off his horse.

I said, "Mother, what do you think they said?"

"I do not know, but it seems as if they agreed to something. Maybe the cossacks only want food and quarters. I have just baked bread, now they will probably eat everything. But better that than to lose our lives. It think it is going better than we thought. Thanks, Thanks, good Jesus."

I saw a cossack come out of the house with my half-full milk pail. I can still to this day see him before me, when he stood there and drank from the pail, while his horse ate grass. Pappa and his brother stood there by the house. There was only one cossack guarding them, and he got off his horse and went around to the pasture. He looked now and then at his prisoners. The other cossack went into the house, storehouse and sauna. They went everywhere and brought out all the food and bedding. They drove the animals out into the field. They swept the grain out of the barn. They let the sow loose. There was only the boar that was left in the sty. Two of the cossacks looked for the mare. Freja jumped around and barked until one of them kicked her. Then father tied a rope on her as she came limping to him.

Suddenly they knocked down a sheep who still had two half-grown lambs beside her, and they slaughtered her. Mother saw them come with the best cow. They also took her life; mother nearly cried out. Now it was I who covered her mouth with my hand.

We hid there behind the bushes all day, while we watched them kill our animals, ate our bread and watered their horses at the well. The cossacks offered food to father and his brother, but they shook their heads and refused to eat. One time father wanted a drink. He carried water to his brother who drank water from the same trough where the cossacks watered their horses.

My little brother was hungry and thirsty and crying. To keep him quiet, mother opened her blouse and fed him. Then he sucked him thumb and slept.

Father's brother had sat during the entire time with his head on his knees, while father closely watched what the cossacks were doing.

Time passed as we remained hidden. The cossacks ate and slept. There were only two of them guarding their prisoners. I asked mother what they would do to father. She said they would not do anything to him now. If they were going to take his life, they would have done it before now. If only they would go on their way and not spend the night here. We have the house and our ground left. The woods are full of rabbits and birds, and it won't be the first time we ate bark bread. Our lives are left intact.

At last it looked as if the cossacks would go. They loaded meat and all other food on their horses. Suddenly father stood up and began to run to the house, but a cossack thrust his lance before him.

Now we could smell the fire and saw smoke coming from the chimney. They were going to burn the whole house. Soon all the buildings were ablaze. Mother sat up and saw the destruction, tears running down her cheeks, but no sound came from her lips. The children pressed against her, terror had gripped them and they said as silently as mother and me.

Now the cossacks went to where the mare was. Father and his brother hugged each other. Then his brother climbed on the mare and rode away with the cossacks. That was the last time I saw him.

"Dear Jesus, help us," cried mother, "they burned our grain."

She put down the baby and started toward the house. She was howling now. I took her in my arms and began to go home with the children. Our eyes smarted from the smoke. All the animals lay dead. Those who weren't killed laid there bloodied with shattered eyes. Mother and father tried to get into the house, but the heat drove them away. Later neighbors came from nearby, but it was of no help, everything burned up.

Father told us the cossacks were lost and wanted a guide to Perho. They wanted to take him and some of the older people, but father's brother stepped forward and said, "I'll go because you have many children to care for and this will likely be my last journey. I am not married and no one will mourn me."

It was his last journey. No one knows where his last resting place is. But I shall soon meet him and thank him for sparing the life of father. I'll take his hand and say nothing, but he will know.

Karin Hellman

Ååglide, 2003

English translation by June Pelo

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