Maya Isakharova, 80, once slept on a bleak, concrete slab in a one-room apartment with her seven siblings and mother. They rarely had covers or pillows and were in the middle of the Soviet Union.
“We were very poor,” said Isakharova.
It was 1942. She had lost her 18-year-old sister over a “stomach ache.” Her father passed away when her mother was eight months pregnant with their last child. Isakharova was four years old.
“We didn’t have a car, food, heat or money,” she laughed. “It was just about babies. We had to have more babies.”
Isakharova grew up in a community where people took in “children who didn’t have parents.”
“We grew up well. There was nothing wrong with us,” said Isakharova. In the U.S.S.R., she worked as a midwife and delivered her first child just two years into her education. She also became the first line of defense when the neighborhood’s children fell ill and the doctors did not see them as a priority.
Today, Isakharova lives in the 27-floor Levinson Tower apartments across from the Mission Park MBTA stop. She’s been in Mission Hill since 1992, when she moved to the United States with her husband and two children (now 58 and 53 years old). That was less than a year after the Soviet Union dissolved.
“If you do what you like, it is easy,” she repeated.
“At first, he didn’t want to leave the Soviet Union,” she said of her husband. “He had a job [in a newspaper press room], and we had a nice apartment. But I told him, ‘No, we must leave here. It is not well here.’”
She spends her days at home, alone, since her husband died five years ago. Most afternoons, she strolls through the park right outside of her apartment building. Visiting nurses and residents typically say goodbye to her on their way out, many kissing her on both cheeks.
As gentrification spreads through Boston and the opioid epidemic rattles behind street corners and inside homes, Isakharova has focused on the good aspects of her own life.
“What problems? There’s no problems here,” she said. “I am not hungry. I have an apartment and my children are working and visiting. Everything is nice. There’s a small community here, too. Everyone is busy, but everyone likes me and I like everyone.”