Russian pensioner saves World War II grave in Hungary
79-year-old Maria Volkova has been on a spiritual mission for decades. Her story is one of unbending courage, strength and faith.
It began in 1945, when Maria found out her brother Vladimir had died in combat during World War II. His distraught sister vowed to find his final resting place, and never gave up. For over 30 years she wandered the streets of Moscow, visiting army colleagues and even Red Army generals to find her brother's fate.
Her quest came to an end in the small town Hungarian town of Kistelek in 1978. When Maria discovered her brother's remains were buried in a mass grave on the outskirts of a small cemetery in Hungary, she began coming there twice a year to pay her respects. Maria cared for the site and searched for the names of Vladimir's fallen comrades in the mass grave. But in 2001 she was horrified to learn that a local businessman wanted to buy the land and destroy the Soviet graves. Maria was incensed and began another battle, this time to save her brother's resting place. She went right to the top.
“I sent Putin a telegram explaining that I didn't have enough money to go to Hungary and protect the grave. And he answered, giving me money for tickets. Then Moscow's mayor gave me money and now our Foreign Minister helps me with all my travel fees,” she said.
But travel tickets alone would not be enough to stop the destruction of her brother's resting place. The Hungarian authorities decided that restoring the grave would cost thousands of euros – money which was not available. So Maria decided to do it herself.
With her small pension Maria knew she would need lots of help. She turned to the state and the Orthodox Church, but no one could come up with the cash. Her pastor in Moscow, Father Leonid, allowed her to collect outside their church. Along with some generous donations, she incredibly managed to collect the 30,000 euros it would cost to restore the grave and build a small chapel.
“I didn't think she would be able to do it. But she managed – step one, then two, then it was complete. It's a miracle, really,” said the head of the Kistelek Cemetery, Pap Paal.
Maria travels to the new chapel in Hungary by train a couple of times a year. She carries crosses, icons and candles given to her by small churches in Moscow.
Her many friends in Hungary say her perseverance is inspirational. But for Maria it is a family duty.
“My mother would have liked to see all this,” she said, crying. “He was her first son.”
Maria is still collecting donations as her expenses grow. She declares that her mission to preserve her brother's memory, which began the day he died, is far from over.