My Family Life in the USSR and America

Hello, my name is Vera. A conversation with my 21 yr old son who is a university student, prompted me to write this article. We spoke about life. From our conversation, I understand that some young people do not like America and do not appreciate what they have. They want socialism. But I think they have no idea what socialism really is. Lots of books have been written about socialism, but I will tell my story, not from books, but from my real life. I am going to tell how we lived in the Soviet Union, and afterwards I will tell about our life in America. You know from history that in 1917 in Russia was the Great October Socialist Revolution. The Bolsheviks came to power. Their goal was to build a socialist society so that later it would become communism. There were demonstrations with slogans such as “Down with Capitalism”, “All power to Soviets” and many more. Bolsheviks called on workers to arm themselves, the red guards were organized.

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Sign: PEOPLE AND PARTY — ARE ONE. IN THE STRUGGLE FOR SOVIET POWER, FOR SOCIALISM, FOR OUR SOVIET MOTHERLAND, FOR COMMUNISM!

From 1917 to 1922 there was a civil war. In 1930 secret instructions were issued to evict and resettle prosperous peasants. Only on the first day of this operation, almost 16,000 people were arrested. Stalin told Churchill that from this operation USSR lost 10 Million people, but historians say that this number is much larger. Stalin said that this operation was bad and difficult, but necessary. Most of these peasants were killed by their farm laborers. The peasants were divided into three categories. In the first category, the head of the family of the peasants was sent to labor camps in the North of Russia. And their families were resettled. In the second category, the whole family was resettled. In the third category, the peasants had their property confiscated, but they were allowed to get a job in the factory. Thousands of people died on their way to resettlement due to hunger, disease, and cold. Whoever resisted was shot. The system of camps were the main instrument of the Bolshevik terror and genocide. After that, there was Red terror, a period of political repression and execution carried out by the Bolsheviks. During this period the political police (CHEKA) executed tens of thousands of “enemies of the people”. If a family had one member who was arrested as “an enemy of the people” the whole family suffered and carried that label. They were not able to find any jobs and were blacklisted. Only in the Gulags, 1.6 Million people died. There also was an internal party struggle. In this period 78% of the members of the communist party were executed. By Stalin’s order, many of Stalin’s comrades and participants in the revolution were executed. Once my neighbor, a very old man in Ukraine said, “I like Stalin because he killed so many communists”. Orthodox priests and all clergymen were also arrested and killed. There were rebellions against communists known as the Kronshtat rebellion of Baltic sea, Tambov rebellion, but they were all put to death. Marxist theory requires and demands genocide. The most tragic outcome of the revolution in Russia is the destruction of millions of people’s lives in civil war, collectivization, and repression. The price of this revolution was the liquidation of the elite of the old society. All old knowledge and wisdom were destroyed, and as a consequence, the level of the new elite was lower. They didn’t care about natural resources- gas, forests, or fertile lands. More damaging consequences came as aggressive atheism affected the spirituality and morals of several generations. Another consequence was the destruction of private property and monuments of historical and cultural heritage.

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Life in the Soviet Union (1960)

Before the revolution, my mom’s parents who lived in East Ukraine had properties and livestock, but all of their properties were taken by the Bolsheviks. From their house, everything was also taken. the only thing that they had left was an empty heavy chest. Since some people would hide their grain, the Bolsheviks forced my grandmother to run in the heavy snow- almost naked and barefooted around the village until she would tell where her family had hidden the wheat grain. There was no hidden grain, but they made everyone run anyway. My mom’s father was arrested and taken, and my mom never heard from him again. When man-made famine (Holodomor) started in 1932, many people died. My mom’s brothers collected acorns under the snow in the forest and ate them, and that’s how they survived. In 1941 the war with Germany started and all of my mom’s brothers were taken to the war. Out of 6 brothers, only one brother came back home alive, with one eye and various other injuries.

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This is my uncle Gavriil, who came back from the war without a left eye.

My mom told me that during the war, airplanes flew over their village and dropped American food. Those American food packages helped them to survive. My mom was afraid to tell us kids about their life before and during the war, but she told us often about the American food.

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Sign: THUNDER STRIKE (1942)

When I was in first grade, my teacher told us that “very soon there will be communism”. As Karl Marx wrote that socialism is the lower stage of communism. Communism is the absence of market relations; money, trade, divisions of society. My generation grew up under banners with some of them still in my head. “Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will continue to live”, “Forward to the Victory of Communism”, “Workers of all countries unite”, “No NATO”, “Comrades, we are on the right path”, “The people and party are one”, “Thanks to the motherland for our happy childhood” and many more.

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Sign: OUR PATH-PATH OF COMMUNISM
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Sign: THE WHOLE WORLD WILL BELONG TO US
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Sign: LENIN LIVED, LENIN LIVES, LENIN WILL LIVE FOREVER

In the core of their propaganda was the goal to create and educate a new person who will follow the principles of communism. This new person will voluntarily submit his own interest to the public’s interest and if needed, will sacrifice himself for the greater good. In school, we were taught about a boy- a pioneer hero, Pavlik Morozov. He was a hero because he wrote a statement to the police that his father hid bread and helped peasants. Because of this, his father was arrested and put in jail. My teacher told us that we as Soviet students must look up to Pavlik Morozov and be patriots of our motherland. The newspapers and magazines wrote articles about him and some cities have his monuments. When I was in college one of our teachers told us that we must remember that “The one is right who has more rights”. I remember his words because I knew that for these sayings he could be put in jail. Every November 7, we had a parade, “Celebration of the Revolution”. Attendance was mandatory.

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Picture of me attending a yearly parade celebrating the revolution with my fellow college students. I am second from the right (looking to the side). The banner in the back says “COAL MINER-HONORABLE PROFESSION

After college, I met my future husband, Peter, who was a military pilot in Kazakhstan.

My future husband Flying MIG 21 in Kazakhstan
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Pilots training
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My husband and another pilot. Ground exercises
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Picture of him and his plane

We met on his vacation in Ukraine. For him, it was love at first sight.

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A picture before we were married

He got my address from my friends and after he came back to his military base in Kazakhstan, he started to write me letters. In one letter he wrote a poem about God. He knew that I was a Christian. This letter was intercepted by the KGB. He was called to come for a meeting with military personnel. When he came to the meeting he saw about 15 people, some were colonels and some were soldiers. The officer asked him if he knew why he was there. Peter answered that they knew better than him why he was there. The officer showed him his letter, on top of this letter was stamped “Checked” and the officer told him to explain his view on religion. My future husband answered many of their questions. Then the officer drew on the blackboard two long parallel lines. He said that one line represents the communist party and the other represents God. Also, he said that these two lines will never cross. And he must choose God or the communist party and flying.

At that time Peter wasn’t even a Christian, but he was afraid to say that there was no God and he chose God. He was 23 years old and flying was his life. After that, his name was removed from the flight schedule. Soon he was sent to a Hospital in Alma-Ata for a health check. He spent almost one month there and had multiple tests. Finally, they gave him a diagnosis “after flu complications, his right arm is stronger than his left one”. Because of this, he couldn’t fly supersonic aircraft. After that, he was discharged from the military. Everybody was surprised at how quickly this was done.

He took his pilot’s jacket and suitcase and returned to Ukraine to live with his family. It was a city of coal mines and he started working as a miner. He worked very deep in the mine using a jackhammer (in zaboy). His whole shift he would hear cursing, yelling, and saw many rats. His co-workers called him the “pilot” and made fun of him because he wrapped his salo (bacon for his meal) in white paper instead of wrapping it in the newspaper. All coworkers wrapped their salo in newspaper. But my husband doesn’t like to see black print from the newspaper on his white bacon.

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My husband Peter (second from right, middle row) and his crew from the coal mine
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Working in coal mines, some mines where my husband worked had even lower ceilings (picture downloaded from friend’s social media)

A year after he was discharged from the military we were married. He was still working in the coal mine. Almost every day when he came home from work after the night shift, he told me that “tomorrow I will quit my job”. To work the first shift in the coal mine, you had to have connections, but he didn’t have any, so he worked the night shift. He worked in the coal mine for a total of 10 years. In Russia we have an expression, “who was born crawling; can’t fly”. But my husband was born to fly, and the Soviet system made him crawl. To distract himself from thinking about flying he bought a honey-bee hive and we liked spending time with the honey-bees.

One day, he flew to Moscow to the Ministry of Civil Aviation to ask if they could let him fly. But they said that because of what was written in his personal file he could not fly. Very often he dreamed that someone would rip off his pilot’s jacket and he would wake up covered in sweat. I was thinking of how I could help. I decided to go to DOSAAF in our regional city of Donetsk. DOSAAF is a volunteer society for cooperation with aviation and paramilitary sports organization. I knew that they had small airplanes.

They invited me to a room where a military man was sitting behind the table, I told him about my husband and how much he wanted to fly; that he is young, healthy, finished the best higher military aviation school of pilots with a degree of pilot-engineer. That he loves his motherland and he isn’t going to fly to any other country in their small airplanes. After talking to him for more than two hours I got a headache. Very politely he kept asking me the same questions over and over, but I felt heavy pressure from him, and then I understood that I was talking to a KGB officer. Without any solution, I decided to leave. Before this happened, in our own city, KGB officers would stop my husband on the way to work and offer him a pilot’s job, to fly a local helicopter, but with an agreement that he would work for them. After he rejected their offers, they started threatening him, but Peter did not want to have anything to do with them.

We already knew that his pilot’s career was over, but we did not victimize ourselves. We had faith in God and we knew that God is in control. It was human nature to have responsibility for the family and to do the best with what we had. We worked hard. During the day I worked at Geophysical expedition (drafting maps) while my children were in day-care. At night time I sewed clothes for people.

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My daughter (front row, second from right) in day-care
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My daughter in preschool May 1987

At that time lots of things were in deficit. To buy good imported clothes, I went to Moscow to shop. I wanted my children to dress nicely. To get there I traveled by train all night. I think Moscow was a city for whom the whole USSR worked. In the mall (GUM) the lines were very long and you could spend all day in the lines to buy things. Everybody knew that if there was a line, then they must be selling something good. I remember I saw one line outside that wasn’t that long. I was thinking I could stay in this line for 3 hours and that wasn’t too bad. I waited in that line and didn’t ask what they were selling. When my turn came I saw that they were selling bananas. I bought the bananas and tried them, but they were green and didn’t taste very good. I didn’t know that bananas had to be yellow before you could eat them. In our city to buy good food, you needed to know someone who worked in a store. The sales-people hid good food under the counters. On our vacations from our regular job, we went to pick mandarins in Georgia, during the fruit seasons we went to Russia to pick apples and cherries, and we hoed beets.

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My oldest daughter in preschool in Georgia while we picked mandarins (Front row, in a red hat)

Some produce we saved for our family and some we sold at the bazaar. In our local Sovhoz when the government harvested sunflowers we collected what was left behind in the fields and took it to the oil mill for sunflower oil. My family always had fresh sunflower oil. Also, we had our own honey.

Across our apartment building was an empty plot of land for future development. My neighbor and I decided to use this land for a garden before the start of the development. I dug up an area and planted potatoes there. One day I was walking to the garden with my three-year-old daughter. My neighbor saw me and paid me for sewing her clothes. She paid me 4 new round metal rubles. I was afraid I would lose the money while working, so I gave the rubles to my daughter and asked her to keep them in her pocket. After work on our way back home, I asked her to give me the money back, but she told me that she planted all of the money because she wanted to grow Ruble (money) trees. We returned back and dug up some dirt, but we couldn’t find the money. I explained to my three years old that money doesn’t grow on trees. To have money, people must work.

It was the 1980s. There were shortages of bread and milk supplies. During their month-long vacation from their regular job, my sister and her husband went to Russia to work in a kolhoz picking vegetables and left their three young children with me. The youngest was 6 months. I sent my oldest son who was 4 years old at 4 am to take a number and get in line to buy milk. I still feel bad when I think about this. The store opened at 8 am, but if you came at 8 am, there was already a line with about 80 people waiting in front of the store. The shop had enough milk and bread for about 25–35 people. One time my son brought milk very quickly after the store opened. I asked him what happened? Why did he come home so soon? He told me that when he came to the store at 4 am, his number was already 24, and he was afraid that there wouldn’t be enough milk for him. So when the store just opened, he ran to the counter and yelled very loudly that he has many children and they gave him milk without waiting in line.

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My son who bought milk at 4 yrs old and oldest daughter who planted a “Ruble Tree”.
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My daughter in first grade

We had a life, (although it’s better to say survival) where at my work at the Geophysical Expedition, when we just arrived in the morning to the office, we told each other what we were able to get and how lucky we were to be able to buy something good. It was like from the movie Fiddler on the Roof, when Tivya said “they work very hard and they are as poor as squirrels in winter, but they are so happy they don’t know how miserable they are”. In our socialist country we didn’t see a better life. Many people were stealing from their work places. Because all businesses were owned by the government, that means owned by nobody. For example, if a factory worker gave a bribe to a person at the checkpoint as you were leaving your job, he would not check you. When my family saved enough money for a car, my husband put his name on a waiting list at his job to buy a car. But even after working at the coal mine for 10 years, his turn didn’t come. We bought a used motorcycle that later was stolen. I told my husband that maybe it is good that we don’t have a car because when my neighbor bought a car, the next morning his 4 tires were stolen. When our motorcycle was stolen, we didn’t go to the police because the chance that they would find it was very slim. I’ve only called the police once while I lived in the USSR. This is my experience.

In Ukraine, we lived in a building on the fifth floor. Around midnight, I heard someone ring my doorbell and repeatedly kick my door. My husband was working the night shift. I did not open the door, but when my door was shaking I was afraid that it would break, so I called the police. The police didn’t come. Men from other apartments came out and dragged this man by his head down the stairs to his own apartment. Someone recognized him- it was our neighbor, who also lived on the fifth floor but in a different entrance to the building. He was so drunk that he confused his door with mine. When everyone already went to bed, I heard another doorbell. This time it was the police. He was a little drunk. He asked me if I was the one that called and I told him everything had already been resolved. He said ok and left. From the time that I called him, it took two hours for him to arrive.

My husband always wanted to see other countries. When at his job at the coal mine he learned that his trade union had tourist vouchers to India for the workers, he filled out an application. They told him to take a physical exam, a blood test, and pay for the voucher. Everything was done, his coworkers already gave him money to buy something good for them in India, but several days before departure, someone from the union told him that because of his religious views (We were Baptist), he doesn’t fit the group and his spot was already given to another person. It was like we were trapped in a cage, we couldn’t travel to other countries. But all programs on TV and radio said that only in the USSR people could breathe freely.

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Banner says “Life is good and Living is good” He is putting his Komsomol Identification into his pocket
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Aleksandr Bolonkin, mathematician and design engineer holding up a sign “I DEMAND RELEASE FROM SOCIALIST HEAVEN TO CAPITALIST HELL”

But for members of the communist party, life was different. I am telling only what I saw and experienced by myself. My relative who was a member of a communist party and a big boss, had a car “Volga”, he had a big brick house which was built by prisoners for free. Electricity cables to his house ran from the power station also for free. He had two big refrigerators full of good food, that I have never seen before. He also had a rifle. But in the mass media you could see and read the slogans “Communism dictates peace, freedom, equity, brotherhood, and happiness of all people on earth”.

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Sign: PRESS-WEAPON OF PROLETARIAT
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Sign: TALKER- A GODSEND FOR THE ENEMY

When Gorbachev was in power we started to hear that some Christian people were immigrating to America. My husband right away went to Moscow to the American Embassy to learn for himself how our family could immigrate to America. After he returned from Moscow we started to collect documents for immigration. We did not tell anybody about this. At that time we already had four children and moved from Ukraine to a Russian city close to the Black Sea. I want to add that if coal miners worked in the mines for 10 years they had the privilege to retire at 50yrs old, so after my husband completed his 10 years at the mines, we moved from Ukraine to Russia. Upon our arrival to this new city, he was immediately requested to come to a local government’s office, but when he showed up there were KGB agents there. They asked him if he remembered the time 13 years ago when he was a pilot in Kazakhstan in his apartment with his friends, tinkering with the radio searching for something to listen to. Suddenly he found a Voice of America broadcast and started to listen to it, but one of his friends told him to immediately turn it off. Peter wanted to continue and listen, but his friend got up and turned it off. Peter remembered this conversation.

When we moved my oldest son was in 5th grade.

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My son in fifth grade (middle row, 4th from left, without the pioneer’s tie. His teacher in the red sweater came to talk to us about my son’s dismal future if we continued to take him to church)

One day his teacher who was a devoted communist came to our house and said that she wanted to talk with us about a very important topic. She said that she really liked our son, that he is very intelligent, but she was so worried that if we continue to take him to church and tell him about God, he can become a Christian. She asked us not to do that because he will have no future. She was right because in the Soviet Union, believers in God were considered second class people and relics of the past. Also, there was propaganda that believers sacrificed their children.

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The sign: RELIGION IS POISON-KEEP YOUNG CHILDREN SAFE. The little girl is reaching for school, while the old woman is pulling her hair to go to church.

At that time we didn’t tell her that we are going to America. When we already had tickets to New York, we went to school with flowers and honey and told her thanks for teaching our son and that he isn’t coming back to school anymore because we were going to America. Her face became red and she started repeating over and over, “future capitalist, future capitalist, future capitalist”. Now this son works as an architect in the US.

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Picture of my family a few months before leaving the USSR, 1990

In November of 1990, we came to America from USSR. In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed. Our family came without any English, only 4 children, one thousand dollars, and 6 suitcases filled with books, souvenirs and school supplies. We didn’t know anyone here. We came to America because we heard that America is a land of opportunity and freedom. We came with a refugee status. Our sponsor, International Institute found us an apartment in the city of St. Louis for $295/month. It was a building with several apartments. One man Don Wilson from an American church together with a translator came to visit us, he looked around shaking his head and said that “I see that you need everything, but what is most important for you that you can’t live without”. My daughter said, “soon it will be Christmas, and we don’t have an iron to iron our dresses.” I said, “I need a guitar”. All the rest of our family were too shy to ask for anything. We were so surprised and thankful when this man a few weeks later brought us an iron, a guitar and other good things. My children went to an inner-city public school. My 10 yr old daughter caught English so quickly. Soon we decide to find another apartment. Our whole family went to a better neighborhood nearby and we were looking for signs for apartments that were for rent. One woman stopped her car near us and asked us what we were looking for. My daughter explained to her that we were looking for an apartment. The woman introduced herself as Lanita. She said that she knows one person who has an apartment for rent, and she can help us with a school. She drove with us to a Catholic school and asked the principal to help us. For a small amount of money, the principal allowed all four of my children to go to this school. We also got another apartment. We were so happy with all these changes.

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Our first car in America, which was donated to our church

When my family came to America my husband was 36 years old without any English, he only knew basic phrases. After 4 months on welfare, while learning the English language, he started working. After working various jobs he got a job in Boeing Company but being a pilot was still on his mind.

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Some Americans told us that this is not possible, being a pilot takes money and time. But all of our extra money that was left over after paying for bills and food, he spent to receive his private pilot’s license. After that, he got his commercial license. To build his flying hours, on the weekends he flew for sky-divers. He got his first commercial job in Alaska where pilot jobs are in demand.

He worked there until he found a job in the lower 48. And step by step with changing companies and aircrafts, he started flying Boeing 747. He flew internationally on his plane, he visited not only India but so many different countries such as Japan, Italy, Nigeria, Germany, China, Russia, and almost all countries in South America. Before retiring last year at age 65 he worked for 9 years at the same company, at first flying MD11 and then Boeing 747.

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In India
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In Brazil
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In China
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In Egypt

We are grateful to God that on this earth we have a country that accepts refugees and immigrants from all over the world. When we flew from Moscow to New York, our plane was full of immigrant families, with most of them not speaking English. And maybe like our family have never seen America before. But they all trusted that there will be a better life for them. Our friend with a disability who lives here once said, “I love Ukraine, but America loves me”. He received all benefits and services that in Ukraine handicapped people will never dream about. America is a country of immigrants. What most surprised me, is that if you know English you are already treated as an American. One day a reporter from the Post Dispatch magazine asked for permission to put a picture of my daughter with other photos of immigrants who came to America at the same time as our family. I agreed. This is the cover of this magazine.

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My daughter (bottom row first from left) Cover of St. Louis Post Dispatch

All these people, independent of nationality or skin color, found a place in this country. The United States, like any other country, has problems, but it’s like a big family. It is sad to see that in the last decades, moral values have slipped in America. The Bible says that God’s natural order is clearly seen in creation, but people rejected God’s order and didn’t give thanks to God.

In America, I met so many great people who work very hard and want to help others. With the sinful nature of people there can’t be a heaven on earth. But hard-working people already built the society in America that Bolsheviks said they wanted to build, but they don’t call it socialism, they call it capitalism. USSR tried to build socialism, but on the bloodshed of its own people and declaring war on their Creator. This can’t give anyone a bright future. When ungodly people who do not have a moral compass (Bible, Word of God) come to power, they do not see things clearly. This is what we witnessed in the Soviet Union.

All their efforts and losses were in vain. I asked Russian people who now live in Russia, “what is the system that’s now in Russia” and no one knows. For education and healthcare, people pay money, society is divided. Some people are very rich, and some people are very poor. Corruption is everywhere. People are leaving Russia to other countries. The coming of communism remains a utopia. The Socialist system is not for people, it is against people. I want to tell my son’s generation that we as American citizens need to be thankful for what we have and continue to make things better instead of destroying what we have. We love America. We are thankful to God that 29 years ago my family came to America and we can live here. We can honestly work here and raise our family- freely serve God and achieve our dreams. My wish is that good will overcome evil. God give us mercy and God bless America.

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