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Diaries of the founder of "Anthill" - an orphanage in Russia
Diaries of the founder of "Anthill" - an orphanage in Russia

Four years before the First World War, the first orphanage in Russia appeared in the village of Altaysk, Biysk district. Its organizer, the peasant son Vasily Ershov, gave him the name "Anthill". For twenty-seven years, the children's commune lived as one family, supported by the funds earned by Ershov and his ant.

The soldier, pushed out of his home by poverty, became a father to hundreds of orphans.

Many years ago I learned about "Anthill" on a business trip and, of course, went to Altayskoye. The Ershov orphanage was already a state-owned orphanage. And they willingly gave me Vasily Stepanovich's diaries, partly typed on a typewriter, partly in the form of paper rags. Ershov wrote with a pencil, very small handwriting, much could be read only with a magnifying glass. Recently, we finally got around to a thorough deciphering.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vasily Stepanovich Ershov. Fragments of his diary, previously unpublished, I would like to offer readers of Rodina.

About myself

I feel a moral urge to report back to future generations. And health allows you to do this job. I am seventy years old. When someone inquires about my state of health, I confidently answer: neither major nor current repairs are required yet.

But, unfortunately, my drawback is that I am illiterate, and therefore I will make it difficult for you to understand what I am writing. Although I could correct these mistakes, expressions could be corrected with the help of an educated person. But I do not want to throw dust in the eyes of the reader and lead him astray. I am sure you will prefer the pure truth written in less beautiful words than a lie expressed in beautiful words.

Two kilometers from the famous Kungur Ice Cave of the Perm Territory is the village of Poletaevo, where I was born in 1870 on August 11. Father, Stepan Ershov, was a coachman, but he could not earn money for a good horse. My parents had 12 children. The children walked one by one. The father grumbled at his mother: "Would you shrink, Fedosya, am I going to feed them with the holy spirit?" I was the eldest of the brothers. In the village they called me the scythe hare, because my mother gave birth to me in the field, when she was waving a Lithuanian. In the field, it means a hare, but he is always a scythe.

Our village was poor, poverty and lack of culture, like the age-old mold, reigned among its inhabitants. All my education - one class of a rural school, the rest of the lessons were from life. As a soldier, I participated in the suppression of the Boxer Uprising in China, returning home around the world - through Japan, Ceylon, the Suez Canal. Returning home, he immediately said to his father and mother: “With such a poor people it is impossible to continue to live. I will go to Siberia to the gold mines. " “Eh, sonny,” the father sighed, “have you heard the proverb“Who washes gold, he howls in a voice”?

I came for gold to the mouth of the Amur, I did not find it, but my hands were of gold steel. I mastered tailoring, photography plus a good grasp of agriculture. I will not have a family, this is my decision. I married a girl from a bourgeois family, she was pretty pretty and literate. We did not live poorly, even there were funds that I spent on homeless children, for which I received reproaches. She wanted to live only for herself. And I wanted for people too.

After we lost one child, she no longer wanted to have her children. And I decided to end my family life. In one thing, the wife was right, that one-time help to orphans does not help them much.

That means we need to make a shelter.


I decided to make a shelter in Altai, away from the eastern border, in case of a new war. And in Altai, I liked the village of Altayskoe, 75 kilometers from Biysk. It was the fall of 1909.Having occupied a good apartment, I began to tailor. And so at the beginning of 1910, my sister Tanya and I took up two orphans, and after a while, three more.

I nailed a sign on the door: "VS Ershov's orphanage." The news spread so quickly that it soon became impossible to receive all the children brought.

The orphanage expanded little by little - even with the resistance of harmful elements. We have a strong Black Hundred organization in our village, a branch of the Russian Union of Mikhail Archangel. At its head was the gendarme Sablin, who tried to pull me and the children under his wing. Sablin persuaded: if I agree to his proposal, he will write to Empress Maria Feodorovna, the head of the Union, and she will send as much money as I want for the construction of large buildings of an orphanage, and not only Siberia, but the whole of Russia will know about him …

“I believe you, Mr. Sablin,” I dissuaded, “but I'm not chasing more. Perhaps such provision of an orphanage will be worse for the children, since I teach them to work. So that they come out of me as honest workers."

The owner of the house where we lived was with kulak inclinations and did not give land for the beds, and there was nothing to dream of planting garden trees. And I began to think about how to build my house. In the summer, I took the children to the fields, where they picked berries, picked flowers, and swam. Once I brought them to a big hummock and said: "Look, guys, what an interesting ant hummock." - “What's so interesting? Ants and ants ". “Guys, this bump is a dormitory for them, they live in it in winter and summer. They made it themselves. Just see how they work. " The guys looked closer and made a noise: “Yes, yes, they are strong, they carry more of themselves, and even from afar. And they drag it, oh, look, to the very top! " Ants live well, I explain. In winter, they do not freeze and do not starve. They store up food for themselves for the winter, carry it deep into the earth.

With these words, I punctured a hole in the hummock. The ants ran quickly, as if in alarm, and began to close up the hole. "If you help me like these ants, then we will build our own dormitory."

The next day I made an addition on the sign: "The orphanage" Anthony "them. V.S. Ershov ". I didn’t understand then that if houses and streets are named by someone’s name, then that person had already died, now it’s even a shame to remember what an ignoramus I myself was.

Despite the fact that the war began, it was 1914, in the same year we brought the house under the roof. What joy my ants had when we entered our room!..

Sons of the regiment

The attacks from the local authorities continued - in the form of non-provision of hayfields. If they were given plots, then the most inconvenience, and taxes were demanded, as from good lands. What saved me, tailoring, was in winter. Of course, I had to work for 16-18 hours, I sewed almost the entire population of Altai. And he was so tired of sitting that he made himself stools with a soft seat. I "took down" a lot of such stools. When the children offered me a chair during dinner, I rarely sat down. He ate while standing, resting from sedentary work.

In the summer we were fed by a camera. Photography for our places was then still a rarity, people were filmed with great desire. But trouble awaited us. I was given the order to appear at the recruiting station. No, I won't go to war, I thought, let them fight without me, what should I do with my thirteen orphans? Now, with my house, I will recruit even more orphans. I turned gray early, my beard is white. I think maybe they will forget about me? But can you hide from the soldiery? They took me to Biysk. And I had to move the guys there too, rented rooms from a widow.

At night I deserted from the barracks to the guys. The children have lived in Biysk for over a year. And even went to school. The main question was how to feed the children. There was not enough money. And out of great misfortune, I suddenly attacked a happy thought: if the commander feeds his cattle with the remnants of a soldier's dinner, then the children have no less right to these scraps.And he transferred his commune to the remains of a soldier's boiler.

When I brought the cauldron from the barracks for the first time, I thought the guys would be upset - what is it like to eat up other people's scraps? But I did not foresee such a reaction - it was overwhelming joy. After all, this is the food of adults, it has become desirable for ants. Yasha Usoltsev, rolling his round eyes, danced enthusiastically: "We are soldiers, we are soldiers!" I went to the children in a sad mood and looked with surprise at my ants. After all, in five years I did not recognize my children, as it should, I could not guess their reaction!

April, May and June

When the war ended, I was dismissed as a senior officer. The village immediately learned that I had arrived, and soon I had more children than I had before. Including the big guys. So in "Anthill" work began to boil. First of all, we drained the swamp, raised the bank, directed the trickle where necessary, and we got a pond. I threw in a bucket of crucians, which very soon divorced. And what a joy it was when I brought the boat from Biysk! The guys have never seen a boat in our village. Children came running to the pond from all over Altai, everyone wanted to swim.

And the first bicycles in the village were ours, and wooden horses, and fashion. When I go to the city, I will definitely spy on something interesting. My children did not wear the same clothes as in orphanages. I sit down at a little girl's dress and be sure to ask which one she wants. And then I saw something wonderful in the city - a coat with muffs. Yes, that's good! Children lose their mittens, but here their hands are warm while the girls go to school. And it's beautiful, I value beauty highly. I sewed coats with muffs, in the village they began to call my girls Yershov barchatka. They seem to be dressed like noble children.

I teach the guys the craft. They willingly did whatever I entrusted them. For dirty work, they had overalls - dresses or shirts, sewn from sailor collars. I managed to buy a large bale of this fabric inexpensively. After working in the barn with cattle or washing the floors, children must change into clean home clothes. They also had party clothes.

The children were brought in by relatives, or even planted. In 1924 alone, five babies were planted on us. Vanya got ready to milk the cow (our grown-up children milked everything in turn), washed his hands and went to the barn. And a minute later he came running in fright: there was a bundle lying on the porch, Vanya wanted to pick it up, but the bundle squeaked!

It turned out to be a boy. Lord, yes he, go, lay in the cold all night! I wrapped it in a warm sheet, warmed the milk, diluted it with sweetened water, put a nipple on the bottle - he was drinking! They called it April, after the month of his appearance with us. Then May appeared. The next foundling had to be called June, everyone called the girl Yune.

Night fight

Most people approved of my work. I was awarded with diplomas, I was elected to the honorary commissions. This required a lot of responsibility. And then I started having heart attacks. The heart suddenly beats loudly. What will happen to Anthill when I die? I would like to lie in my garden. But our place is low, damp, what if children get an infection from my body? And I decided to have my corpse cremated for the purpose of hygiene and the fight against religious rites.

Here is an extract from the minutes of the Altai District Executive Committee of September 17, 1932:

"HEARD: the statement of the head of the children's commune" Ant "comrade. Ershov about giving him an obligation in case of his death to burn the corpse in the crematorium and to bury the urn with the ashes on his estate.

DECIDED: taking into account the merits of comrade. Ershov, the presidium decided: for the education of homeless children and in order to introduce the practice of burning corpses in the village instead of a religious funeral, the presidium takes responsibility for the request of comrade. Ershov to execute ".

During the war, children from besieged Leningrad were brought to Altai. We helped them as best we could with food and things. Our guys often visited them, gave concerts, read books together. Children from Smolensk were settled with us. They were dystrophic, exhausted, traumatized. My guys greeted them as their own.We all became poorer during the war. What was it like to buy a hundred winter boots!.. One could not even dream of that. But I organized my own pimokatny workshop, felt boots warmed the legs of my children well.

We had a terrible story. In 1947, seventy German orphans from the Volga region were brought to us. And immediately our ants decided to destroy them. At that time I was in the province at a meeting of directors of orphanages, and the teachers did not explain to the children that the Germans are ours, Soviet, Russian, they can be considered. But the children did not understand any of this. One word - German - aroused furious anger in them. And at night we went hand-to-hand to the newcomers. Then we had light from kerosene lamps, they stood in the corridors on the shelves. The lamps immediately flew to the floor, and a real battle began in the darkness. The police, district committee workers and even collective farm tractor drivers were called in to help. Moreover, the fire brigade had to be called. Many guys have scars for life from that night.

Meeting with Kalinin

Academic success, like work, was paid with us. We made our own savings bank, such a notebook, which reflected all the income and expenses of the pupils. Coming out of the "Anthill", children received all their money, and this was a great help in their lives.

I leaf through the pages of our savings bank and think how the guys worked hard, how modestly they spent their money. First page - Yulia, sixth grade. Arrival: for the dance "Tarantella" at the Rayolimpiad 25 rubles, for making dungs ​​- 3 rubles 50 kopecks, for participating in haymaking 18 rubles, for weeding 2 rubles. 50 kopecks, for good studies 5 rubles, for managing a kindergarten 48 rubles. 80 kopecks. (Our kids were separated into a separate group, we called it a kindergarten. And the older children helped the teacher). Consumption: candies 1 rubles, cinema 35 kopecks, gingerbread 2 rubles, ice cream 1 rubles, donation to MOPR 3 rubles, to the defense fund of the Kyrgyz Republic. Army 15 rubles, for a gift to dad 16 rubles …

The pupils themselves expressed a desire to give me gifts, and I did not protest, let it help develop in them caring for others.

In 1935 I was received by Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin. They paid very strict attention to my request for an appointment with Kalinin. “Why do you need to see Mikhail Ivanovich? Who are you?" I am, I say, the organizer of the children's commune. My statement aroused interest, but when they learned that the commune was non-state, they protested: "Mikhail Ivanovich is not involved in non-state." I insisted on my own.

In the office, Kalinin walks around his desk and shakes my hand with me. “I looked at your biography,” he says. "You are doing a great job, how many children do you have now?" - "Yes, only twenty-three people." - “And you still think a little? What is your health? " - “I feel good. There were minor seizures, they seem to be getting rid of.”-“So, Comrade Ershov! I wish your commune to increase to fifty people. " - "Okay, Mikhail Ivanovich, I'll try."

For a long time I thought about my action. Both on the road and at home it weighed down. How am I going to increase the amount? Will there be so many children? Why, I have no assistant! True, the guys help me well and there are some big ones among them …

In November, the krayono informed me that the state gives 25 thousand rubles to the children's commune "Anthony" for the construction of a large house. And the house needs to be built in a short time. But for money in the regional financial department, I broke out only at the end of the year. I ask you to issue the funds as soon as possible, we need to harvest the forest while you can ride the sleigh! And I am overwhelmed: you can get money only in the month of March next year. Oh, bad business. This drags out construction for a whole year. What will Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin say to this?

In those years, rich men began to sell their houses, good, strong. They were selling cheap. And I began to buy them with my own money. And some were persuaded to wait until March for payment. And by the beginning of the year, several dismantled houses were brought to my place of future construction. So much for the timber. And then things went on.

Bread place

When my health began to fail, I thought: to whom should the management of the "Anthill" be transferred? I had no one to choose from. And the place of the manager was taken by a completely stranger Ustinova Zoya Polikarpovna. Oh, how Ustinova liked to manage the Anthill! But I didn’t like being near me, a labor instructor. And she set out to somehow alienate me. And what? Six months later, I was no longer an instructor. The regional executive committee, having learned such a case, ordered to immediately reinstate me at work.

But Ustinova did not stop abusing. I made a discovery for myself: the orphanage is a bread place. While I was deeply engaged in instructing, she built her own system in the "Anthill". For some time, our commune began to receive 700 thousand rubles a year from the state for 100 children. And there are sometimes 100 children, sometimes much less. We have always spent the surplus on the development of the economy. Ustinova, on the other hand, expanded the circle of service personnel, and I did not notice how there were already 35 of them. That's where the money goes! And I cannot influence it …

This is a big offense for me.


When in 1944 I received the Order of Lenin, the correspondent of Komsomolskaya Pravda arrived, the newspaper devoted a whole page to us. Letters were sent to "Anthill" from the central regions, from Latvia, from the Far East, from Turksib, from the Red Army. Everyone asked for an answer and pictures from the life of "Anthill".

Of course, I could not write to everyone. Now that I have free time, I would answer all questions like this. I am proud of my work. After all, I organized a children's commune back in the days of the tsarist system, I was still reading syllables at that time and could not distinguish Marx from Mars. My path is thorny and difficult. But I made my way, learned to make good money and for twenty-five years did not take a dime from the state.

Among the children I was like a senior comrade, best friend and educator. This idea is genuinely purely mine. And he would have signed his letter: "Old Ant Ershov."


A year before his death (Ershov died in 1957), he was transferred to the Biysk House of Personal Pensioners. They literally transported it. Residents of Altai told me that he “criticized” the director of “Anthill” in the district (then, they said, he was a strong man, he harbored anger at the old man and took revenge). Vasily Stepanovich toiled without children, in a state house (besides him, four more lived in the room); he came to "Anthill", there was no place for him.

Ershov was buried in the Altai cemetery. Fence, standard iron monument. No one remembered the obligation to give his body to cremation and bury it in the garden next to the "Anthill".

Among the pupils of Vasily Stepanovich, who called him dad, there were no celebrities - educator, doctor, gardener, engineer, locksmith, pilot, policeman. Anyone who did not know his last name, he gave his own. 114 Ershovs left the "Anthill" into adulthood …

The house that built life

Text: Yulia Basharova

Alexander Matveevich Matrosov (1924-1943)

Alexander Matrosov during the Great Patriotic War closed the embrasure of the enemy bunker with his chest. Monuments have been erected to the Hero of the Soviet Union, streets, parks and schools have been named in his honor, books have been written and films have been made about him. Sasha Matrosov spent six years of his short life in the Ivanovo orphanage, which was named in his honor in 1960.

Lydia Ruslanova (1900-1973)

Praskovya Leikina (Ruslanova's real name) was orphaned at the age of six. Trying to feed herself and her brother and sister, the future Honored Artist of the RSFSR walked the streets of Saratov, sang folk songs and begged for alms. The little singer was noticed by the widow of an official, who took part in the fate of the girl. Praskovya was placed in an orphanage at the Kinovian Church, where there was a choir of its own. Peasant children were not accepted there, so they had to change their name to a more noble one.

Anatoly Ignatievich Pristavkin (1931-2008)

The writer and adviser to the President of the Russian Federation on pardon issues at the very beginning of the Great Patriotic War remained an orphan.Having replaced many orphanages, colonies, boarding schools and distribution centers, the boy felt on himself all the hardships of the military and orphanage childhood. The most famous work of Anatoly Pristavkin was the autobiographical story "A golden cloud spent the night."

Nikolay Nikolaevich Gubenko (born 1941)

People's Artist of the RSFSR, actor, director and politician Nikolai Gubenko was born on August 17, 1941. Kolya's father died in battle, and his mother, who knew German well, was hanged in 1942 for refusing to cooperate with the Nazi invaders. Nikolai Gubenko was brought up in the Odessa orphanage No. 5, and then was transferred to the Suvorov School. About childhood, scorched by the war, he shot a wonderful film "Wounded".

Valentin Ivanovich Dikul (born 1948)

Until the age of seven, Valya Dikul, who lost both parents, lived with her grandparents. Afterwards, he was brought up in orphanages in Vilnius and Kaunas. At the age of ten, the future People's Artist of Russia first came to a circus performance, and this event changed his life. He ran away from the orphanage and disappeared in the circus all day. However, it was not so much a circus career that brought him fame, but unique methods of rehabilitation for patients with spinal injuries.

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