The Bolsheviks confiscated their livestock as part of their campaign to force peasants to join collective farms.
Saint Petersburg: Maria Ryabtseva was just a baby when the 1917 October Revolution broke out.
Since then the former nurse has lived through extraordinary events from the USSR’s birth and death to the dominance of President Vladimir Putin.
Born on June 14, 1917, in northern Moscow, Ryabtseva witnessed the Civil War between the Bolsheviks and the “Whites” who opposed the revolution, and World War II, during which two of her four children died.
She was there for the forced collectivisation of the countryside in the 1920s and the Stalin purges of the 1930s as well as the perestroika reforms that ushered in the end of the USSR.
Looking back, what she remembers most is “working hard all my life.” “I worked from the youngest age,” she recalls, first in a peasant farming household, then as a nurse and a factory worker.
“There were five children in our family, we were ordinary peasants,” she says. The Bolsheviks confiscated their livestock as part of their campaign to force peasants to join collective farms.
“They took away our two horses and our cow for the kolkhoz (collective farm). What could we do about it? We joined the kolkhoz.”
During World War II, in which more than 20 million Soviet citizens died, Ryabtseva worked as a nurse in a hospital in Rostov Veliky around 200 kilometres north of Moscow.
“It was hard. There wasn’t much to eat... We had to work hard, there were so many wounded soldiers, the beds were full,” she remembers.
“But how happy we were on Victory Day, how everyone danced and sang!” she exclaims, her eyes suddenly lighting up with joy.
Ryabtseva has only a few memories of the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953. “It wasn’t a disaster,” she says, shrugging. “But everyone was sad for him.”
What has really stuck in the memory of this elderly woman, whose guarded sense of humour is still intact, is moving with her husband into their first real apartment in 1961.
The one-bedroom flat is in the west of Saint Petersburg, formerly the imperial capital.
“You see, it really was bliss: piped hot water, central heating, what more could you want?”
She said the flat was a “paradise” to her after living with her family for around a decade in a freezing communal housing block in the countryside during the difficult years of post-war rebuilding.
The 1980s perestroika period of reform, when people began to openly vent frustration at the stagnating Soviet system, “didn’t really change my life, except it was harder than before,” she says.
The arrival of Putin, who became prime minister in 1999, has considerably improved her daily life, says Ryabtseva, who has been a widow for more than 40 years.
Now she shares her flat with the family of one of her granddaughters. She says that she isn’t interested in politics and has no intention of celebrating the anniversary of the 1917 Revolution on November 7.
“I think that I would have had the same life, with or without the revolution. In any case, you can’t change anything,” she says.
“Have I been happy? I don’t know. I just lived. If you’re born, you have to live, don’t you? The main thing is, life passes very quickly.”