"With the Treaty of Brest Litovsk in 1918 came the end of Russian involvement in World War I, but not the end of fighting for the Russian people. The monarchy had been abolished, the government was in chaos, and the country was gripped by a bloody civil war. The Reds and Whites battled in the streets, and no one, especially young men who had yet to choose sides, was safe.
"We were living in Kerch then," says Maria Mikhailovna. "The Whites had taken the city, and the Reds had retreated to hide in catacombs in the mountains nearby.
"The Whites stormed through the city, looking for young men to take away with them. They came into our building, grabbed my husband in the stairwell and started to drag him away. I came running out with our newborn daughter in one arm, and grabbed him with the other. I refused to let him go. I knew that most of the men who were taken away would never return.
"They were furious that I would not let him go, and burst into our apartment to look for weapons. They started throwing things out of the bookshelves and closets. Suddenly, my husband's Order of St. George medal that he had won in the war fell out. When they saw that, they let him go. That medal saved his life."
The civil war ended in defeat for the Whites, with the Bolsheviks on the path to power. In the early 1920's, Vladimir Lenin established himself as the leader of the new "Soviet Union", and began economic reforms, starting with the New Economic Policy, or NEP. Under NEP, a certain degree of private enterprise was allowed by individuals -- who came to be known as "NEPmen" -- while the state controlled most everything else.