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'In the West sometimes they think that Siberia is snow and nothing else. But there is such life and energy here!'
dancer Sergei Polunin

Woman GULAG prisoner at centre of deeply moving post-war love triangle dies aged 94

By The Siberian Times reporter
13 November 2014

Heart-wrenching but inspiring story of romance emerges as 96 year old Japanese ex-PoW pens emotional last letter to his dead Russian wife. 

'I saw Yasha with his non-Russian face. He was skinny, downtrodden, and in his eyes was such a wrench that my heart ached with pity.' Picture:

Siberian Klavdia Novikova met Yasaburo Hachiya in a resettlement camp for GULAG inmates after both were released from sentences imposed under Stalin. A Soviet bureaucratic blunder meant that former prisoner of war Yasaburo - who is now 96 - was not sent back to Japan after his penal colony sentence expired, and instead he became lost in the Communist system, taking a Russian name to obscure his origins. 

Eventually the couple wed and lived together 37 years before in an ultimate act of love she divorced him so that he could return home to a wife he thought was long dead, who had loyally waited for him for 51 years.

When Klavida Novikova died recently in her village of Progress in the Amur region, her passing went almost unnoticed in Russia, but for Japan, it was rightly a significant event. 

This Russian woman was seen by the Japanese as the ultimate symbol of female love and sacrifice because of her insistence that he must return to his first wife who had waited for him for so long, and to his surviving daughter, as well as to finally receive the 'dignity' he deserved of living in his homeland. 

'His wife needed to hug him again before they died,' said Klavidia before her death. 'I felt I had torn away half of my heart when I let him go. But it was nobody's fault. Just fate. The main thing is that he was better there, with good living conditions. He had suffered greatly, and probably would not have survived  here.'

Yasaburo with his Japanese wife

Yasaburo and his Japanese wife

Yasaburo Hachiya and his Japanese wife Hisako met after 51 year. Pictures: RT en español,

Their remarkable love story began before the Second World War when Yasaburo, the scion of a wealthy family, moved with his Japanese wife Hisako had settled in Korea, looking for a better life. Here the couple had a son and daughter. 

When the Red Army arrived in 1945, many Japanese people were rounded up and accused of espionage.  He was sent to a Stalin camp in the extreme east of Siberia, in Magadan, at the heart of Stalin's notorious GULAG system, on a ten year sentence.

Meanwhile, Klavdia - also previously married, with a son - was locked away for a decade in this region, too, after being wrongly convicted of 'theft of socialist property'. This resilient lady said: 'I went through such hell, but was not broken, not even uttering an obscene word. The camp broke so many women, it is scary to remember. The most important thing for me was to keep my soul.'

When she returned, she found that her husband had deserted her and started a new family. When Japanese prisoners were released from the camps, the apparatchiks forgot to put Yasaburo's name on the list of prisoners to be sent home. By then, he was certain his wife and children were dead, and afraid of how he would be received back home after long years in the USSR. So he became a Soviet citizen, adopting the innocuous name Yakov (Yasha) Ivanovich. 

'We met in Bryansk region, where we were in a re-settlement camp,' explained Klavdia. 'I saw Yasha with his non-Russian face. He was skinny, downtrodden, and in his eyes was such a wrench that my heart ached with pity.'

Klavdia and Yasaburo

Klavdia and Yasaburo

'There were no men like my Yasha. Local women envied me: he did not drink or smoke.' Pictures:

They did not start a relationship immediately, not least because Klavdia could suffer from being with a man who had been jailed - however unfairly - for anti-Soviet espionage.  

'In the early 1960s, my friend urged me to move to the Russian Far East, to the village of Progress, and I did so,' she recalled. 'Yasha wrote that he wanted to be with me, and I refused - I was afraid. 'I only told  a close friend that I was in correspondence with a former military prisoner.' 

Undaunted, Yasaburo made his way across six Russian time zones to be with her. Klavdia relented and they wed, the start of a happy and loving marriage. He became in turn a barber and a photographer while also practising acupuncture. They grew tomatoes and cucumbers, and kept a goat and bees. They lived  modestly, but in great happiness, though not having children.

'There were no men like my Yasha,' she boasted. 'Local women envied me: he did not drink or smoke.' The couple were so close that they vowed to die on the same day because they could face being apart. Yasaburo even bought two coffins and stored them in the attic. 

After the Soviet Union collapsed, a local man told his Japanese business partners about this long lost countryman living in the east of Siberia. This led to Yasaburo's brother being found - and then, more dramatically, the discovery that his wife Hisako and daughter Kumiko were alive. They had survived the ravages of post-war Korea and returned to Japan. His son, though, died in Korea. 

Klavdia and Yasaburo before his trip to Japan

In March 1997, she kissed goodbye to her beloved husband, imagining she would never see him again. Picture:

It turned out that Hisako had faithfully waited 51 years for her husband to return. Returning from Korea with Kumiko, she and worked as a nurse, saving enough to build a house which she dedicated to her missing Yasaburo. 

His world turned upside down as his daughter, now 51, and brother came to Progress village for a reunion, and to persuade him to return home to Japan, to his waiting wife. 

He refused, telling Klavdia: 'I cannot leave you, you're everything to me.' But Klavdia sacrificed her own happiness, and insisted he should return to the arms of his wife who had waited for him so long. She reasoned, too, that he was in poor health and would get better treatment in Japan. 

Despite his objections, she got him an international passport, changed their savings into dollars - and divorced him. Had she not done so, in Japan he would not have qualified for a pension, property rights and inheritance, she said. 

In March 1997, she kissed goodbye to her beloved husband, imagining she would never see him again, but feeling this was the right thing to do after history had put her unwittingly into a love triangle. 

Klavdia talking with Yasaburo

Yasaburo talks with Klavdia

Klavdia and Yasaburo talked on the phone every Saturday. Picture:, RT en español

Yasaburo constantly sent her little gifts from Japan. Every Saturday, he called her and begged her to visit him. The couple's story became well-known in Japan. A famous writer penned  a book about her, and the story was made into a film. Klavdia won great respect for her selfless act to the Japanese man she loved. Residents of the Tattori prefecture, a suburb of Tokyo, raised money for a trip by 'babushka Klava' to Japan, and - then over 80 - she decided to make the trip.

Finally, Yasaburo's two wives met. They embraced each other and wept, needing no translator to understand each others deep emotions. Klavdia later returned for another trip, and after Hisako died, he begged her to move to Japan. He even contemplated moving back to Progress to be with her. 

Klavdia refused this saying she wanted him to 'live with dignity' in the evening of his life in Japan, where he was guaranteed good health care. She insisted her own needs were modest and she should live back in her Russian motherland. 

Klavdia with her dog

'All the 40 or so years that I lived with you in Russia, you were always with me, always supported me. Thank you for everything ...' Picture: Amurskaya Pravda

She passed away in September, and he outlived her. Soon afterwards a touching letter arrived in Progress, from Yasaburo, addressing his beloved wife as if she was still alive. 

'Klavdia! I learned that you died, and grief overcomes me. I tried to call you on 30 August, the day of my 96th birthday, but I did not succeed. All the 40 or so years that I lived with you in Russia, you were always with me, always supported me. Thank you for everything ... 

'I was able to return to Japan only because of your efforts, and I am immensely grateful to you for this. I remember how we even made two coffins for you and me. If it was in my power, I would come rushing to you and hold you tightly to my heart ... But now I'm powerless ... Rest in peace, dear Klavdia. Your Yasaburo.'

Comments (10)

Interesante historia de amor. Una pregunta: Como se llama la película que se hizo de esta anecdota de amor? gracias
25/09/2018 03:31
I'm probably the only Japanese in the entire world who read an article like this in English. Growing up in Osaka, Japan in the 60's and 70's, with little foundation of beliefs, I somehow sensed mentality of Russian women was somewhat akin to that of Japanese women. By reading this report, there's no surprise there. What surprises me is Mr Yozaburo Hachiya's loyal affection to Klavdia. Like it or not, I've been indoctrinated in both Japan and US regarding all the atrocities committed by our "grandfathers" on the Continent. It is very refreshing for me as Japanese to know someone like him did exist.
Mamoru Yamada, Beverly Hills, Michigan, USA
14/01/2016 10:04
How ignorant and stupid can be a human being?

I have a theory that God need put your finger in F5 button and restart everything...

But, with another couple more dignnifed to start again!!
Robson Santos, São Paulo, Brasil
26/11/2014 20:20
uN VERDADERO AMOR, LOVFE STORY, donde el amor lo compartio despues de largos años de prision...poco se ve en la actualidad...las dos amaron a este hombre y el nunca se olvido de su primera esposa, compartio hasta el ultimo momentos el verdadero amor con su segunda y siguio amando a su primera esposa....bonito ejemplo de amor para la juventud de hoy en dia
jOAQUIN, Las Tablas, Los Santos, Panama
25/11/2014 02:43
Un verdadero love story....un gran amor del sr. Yasuburo tener el amor de su primera esposa la sra. Hisaka y seguir amandola y tambien compartir el amor de su persona con Klavdia...pocos se ven ya, la vida es asi...un bello ejemplo de como se puede compartir el amor, despues de tantos años.
jOAQUIN, Las Tablas, Los Santos, Panama
25/11/2014 02:39
Beautiful story. Brought tears to my eyes. Honour to all three: Yasaburo, Klavdia, and Hisako.

E. Espinosa, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
E. Espinosa, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
15/11/2014 19:40
This is a beautiful story of human kindness. It is also similar to what happened to my Babusia. A Polish deportee, she was released at the end of a 10yr sentence in the gulags in 1952 and sent into eternal exile in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia. On the journey she met a Japanese prisoner also being released, Kacuya, and they fell in love and lived together in the remote settlement of Dolgiy-Most. Following Stalin's death Kacuya was given permission to return to Japan and Babusia insisted that he must return to his wife. Babusia was released a year later and made her way to the UK. With the help of an employee of the Japanese Embassy in London, who she met at a knitting group, Babusia made contact with Kacuya via a newspaper advert. Once they both knew each other was well Kacuya (or his wife) wanted no more contact. Babusia wrote an inspiring memoir with outstanding reviews at
Peter Muskus, Scotland
15/11/2014 13:57
This is a heartwarming story. I an 87 years old and my wife of 64 years passes away a few years ago. There is no way that I could look for someone to replace her.
Jay Johnson, Middletown, CT. USA
14/11/2014 21:46
My god, such an admirable thing to do. Klavdia had the most integrity of any one... Their story is what movies are made for.
Glen W, Houston, TX
14/11/2014 03:28
The story is remind me Movie Doctor Zhivago but in this story is bit different from that,because Lara & the doctor never meet again..... What a pity..
Ananda Weerasinghe, Kalutara Sri Lanka
13/11/2014 20:58

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