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ValentinaAn Odyssey from Pre-Revolutionary Russia Through War-Torn Europe to a Pacific Paradise
By Emiko Lyovin
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Emiko Lyovin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneProposal on Nevsky Prospect
Countless were the times that Valentina had heard from her parents the family legend of her paternal grandfather!
It went as follows: As the nineteenth century drew toward a close, Grandfather Fedot Ivanovich Borotinski had been, for some years, eking out a precarious living as a lector, or tonsured church reader, at a small Orthodox church in a shabby corner of the great city of St. Petersburg. At that time, St. Petersburg was the capital of the vast realm of Imperial Russia and had opened its window on the cultured nations of the West—in particular, France and Prussia. By all reports, Fedot was a good and guileless man. Yet despite his best efforts, it was increasingly difficult for him to feed and clothe his family of five sons and one daughter on his scant benefice alone.
One evening, at a time when they were feeling the bite of poverty most keenly, Fedot and his wife, Praskovia, sat up late casting about for a way out of their predicament, but they fell asleep without coming up with a single practical solution. The night deepened. Suddenly, the bedroom door flew open, and in bustled a stranger wearing an overcoat and carrying his hat in hand. Without a word, he drew a chair up close to the astounded couple's bed and in a low voice began to speak. "First thing tomorrow morning," he said, "write out a request to serve at the Uspensky Church in Sennaya Square. Take it there yourself. You must go in person." Then, without uttering another word, he rose to his feet, and just as suddenly as he had arrived, their visitor turned and left. A mystified Fedot immediately rose and went to the front door, only to find it securely locked from the inside. Someone would have had to let the stranger in, but the children were all sound asleep.
The next morning, he questioned the entire household, but no one had heard the bell ring or the front door open.
How bizarre! he thought. Even so, Fedot decided to follow to the instructions given by his mysterious midnight caller. He set out, petition in hand, for the great Uspensky Church, fondly referred to by the people of St. Petersburg as the Sennaya Savior. To Fedot's surprise, when he arrived, he was informed that three days earlier, one of the church's readers had died. He was offered the job. This is the family story that explains how Fedot found employment in the great church in Sennaya Square, saving them all from abject poverty.
Fedot had five sons and one daughter. It was long the custom in Russia for the sons of priests to receive their schooling at a seminary while their daughters attended a boarding school run by the church. No fee was charged for their education. In most cases, sons married the offspring of other clergymen and succeeded to their father or father-in-law's position in the church. Following his father's footsteps, Valerian, Valentina's father, also answered the call to the religious service and became a Russian Orthodox priest. However, he did not conform to the custom of marrying a priest's daughter. Instead, he fell in love with and married a distant cousin who attended his father's church in Sennaya Square. As the girl was not the daughter of a cleric, Valerian's mother, in particular, was stubbornly opposed to the match. However, Valerian refused to yield, and in the end, the family received into their midst Maria Kapitonovna, who was not a child of the church. Valerian's mother forever regretted her lapse of parental rigor. Whenever a problem arose concerning this marriage, she would say, "After all, what can you expect? She isn't one of us." Although Maria was an outsider to this family of clerics, she came from a highly respected family and was by no means their social inferior. Her grandfather, Igor Myakhnitsov, was a handsome and cultured son of a government official who steadily rose in the government circles and won entrée to St. Petersburg's polite society. Through these connections, he met and married Emilia, the daughter of an impoverished but distinguished aristocratic family. Emilia was Igor's second wife, his first having died shortly after giving birth to a daughter, Alexandra. Unlike the wicked stepmother of Russian folktales, Emilia tenderly took the stepdaughter under her wing. From the start, the marriage was a happy one, and the couple was soon blessed with another daughter, whom they named Tatiana. But fate dealt them a cruel blow when, after an agonizing struggle with cancer, Igor died at the young age of thirty-nine, leaving his widow Emilia with two daughters, a small pension, and meager savings.
As luck would have it, when Tsar Alexander II was struck down by an assassin's bomb on March 1, 1881, his consort automatically became the Dowager Empress Maria Alexandrovna. A woman of strong charitable instincts, Dowager Empress Maria took into her service a young noblewoman, Ekaterina, who had been orphaned when her parents' ship went down at sea on its way to the United States. And it was as a companion to Ekaterina, lady-in-waiting to the Dowager Empress, that the widowed Emilia entered into service. This enabled her stepdaughter Alexandra to grow up in the shadows—in an atmosphere of royalty.
Alexandra was tall and skinny and wore glasses. When she approached marriageable age, the brother of a classmate, Kapiton, expressed interest in the lanky, intelligent girl and sought her hand in marriage. Her stepmother agreed. After a small wedding ceremony, the new couple left St. Petersburg for Perm, a city located in the cold, harsh provinces of the Ural Mountains, where Kapiton was to take up a position as a mining engineer.
Their first child, a girl, died at birth, but their second, Maria, was a healthy girl on whom they lavished their affections and spared no effort in her upbringing. Despite the harsh climate of the Urals, young Maria thrived. She grew to become a clever girl with an independent mind. Friendly and bright, she was ever popular with her classmates. Maria was also blessed with a good retentive memory, allowing her to pick up new words and concepts with great ease. Consequently, her favorite subjects in school were foreign languages, in which she excelled.
The years passed happily and uneventfully until one day, when Maria was in her final year of high school, tragedy struck. There was a terrible cave-in at the mines, and a number of miners, including the engineers, lost their lives. Maria's father was one of them. Maria and her mother were in despair. To whom could they turn? Alexandra wrote to her stepsister Tatiana, inquiring of her stepmother Emilia and the companion to Lady Ekaterina in St. Petersburg. She learned that Lady Ekaterina was now married, and since the marriage, her stepmother Emilia had been offered a new position as supervisor of servants. Emilia felt that the job was demeaning to one who had walked the same corridors as Tsar Alexander III himself. In her bitterness, Emilia aired constant complaints to Tatiana, and unable to bear her mother's daily groans, Tatiana now considered leaving her mother for lodgings of her own.
Under such circumstances, Alexandra could not count on the likelihood that her stepmother would cheerfully take her in. She decided instead to prevail upon an old friend, who then found a small apartment for her and her daughter in St. Petersburg. Maria arrived in the capital with her mother in 1892. She was sixteen years old.
Tsar Alexander III had become tsar in 1881 following the assassination of his father Alexander II. By now, Alexander III had become unable to contain the rising tide of political activism. History records the irony that among the five conspirators who were summarily executed after a plot to kill Alexander III was uncovered in 1887 was Alexander Ulyanov, brother of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, the future Bolshevik V. I. Lenin.
St. Petersburg was a great metropolis crisscrossed by a network of canals. It had a population of 1.4 million people and bore the proud epithet "Venice of the North." Gazing at last upon the capital city where her mother was born, young Maria's eyes flooded with tears. She doubted there could be any other place in the world as beautiful.
She was especially moved by the beauty of the panoramic view of the city across the Great Neva from the Vasilievsky Island. She could see the Admiralty, the elegant Winter Palace and St. Isaac's Cathedral with its soaring steeples. Nevsky Prospect was lined with fine shops, in whose windows luxury goods were on display for all to see, if not to buy. She had heard of these places from her mother, but to be actually in their midst seemed a dream come true, and she vowed that she would never leave this city.
Life in St. Petersburg was daunting for a girl newly arrived from the provinces with no special skills and with no friends. It was an era when a woman, unless she had a specialized education, would have had great difficulty in finding work. Other than schoolteacher, governess, or nurse, there were few occupations available in the late nineteenth century that would enable a woman to support herself. The time was drawing near when Maria would have had to make decisions about her future. The clear-headed and studious Maria wanted to continue with school, but her mother could barely pay the rent and buy food, let alone pay for her daughter's studies! In light of the reality of the poverty of their situation, education was out of reach to the aspiring Maria.
Alexandra was troubled by her daughter's plight. It saddened her to see her daughter always engrossed in a book or walking along the broad avenues of the city in quiet solitude. It seemed her agile-minded daughter longed for something more than she could provide. One day, as Maria strolled quietly along Nevsky Prospect, St. Petersburg's grandest promenade, a voice called out to her. It was Valerian Fedotovich Borotinski, a young seminary student and distant cousin whom she had met at church. Maria's cheeks flushed bright red, for she had never before been spoken to on the streets, much less by a man. Soon her solitary strolls were replaced by long rambles with Valerian, during which they shared with each other thoughts and visions of what the future held for them.
Valerian, who was about to graduate from seminary, wanted to follow his father into the church. He dreamed of becoming a priest at a big church in St. Petersburg. To do this, he required further training. To avoid placing a financial burden on his frugal parents, he planned to find a position at a small church first and, in this way, fund his own way through his studies. He was looking for something in an outlying town or at a chapel attached to a boarding school or orphanage. This way, he could continue his studies at St. Petersburg Theological Academy.
Besides being a good-looking man, Valerian was a kindhearted young man with a lively sense of humor. His witty stories often drew giggles from the serious-minded Maria. There was one story, in particular, however, that Maria especially liked. It was a story he told of how he came to pursue the life of a priest.
Valerian and all his brothers attended gymnasium as boys, and though they all earned passing grades, Valerian's grades were notably the worst. Once, having received his poor report card, he sat aboard a small boat that ferried passengers across the Neva River. In the late nineteenth century, there were few bridges to allow for the crossing of the river by foot, and so the ferry was the normal mode of crossing. Here Valerian conceived of a grand idea: He would discard his report card with all the poor marks into the waters of the Neva River. Unfortunately for him, the report card refused to sink but floated on the surface until it finally reached the shore. A conscientious do-gooder, passing by and seeing the report card lying on the river's shore, picked it up and promptly took it to the school. In the end, Valerian was forced to confess his prank. When the principal told Valerian's father about his son's attempt to discard of the report card, his father began to cry. Those tears had a strange effect on Valerian. He had expected anger, punishment—anything but tears from his father! Valerian was so shaken that he felt moved to redirect his life. He chose religion. He pleaded with his father to let him transfer to a seminary. He also promised to become a better student in the future.
Valerian's witty stories gradually gave way to more serious matters as he deepened in his love for Maria. Eventually, he proposed marriage to Maria. In so doing, he also told her of the hardships she would have to endure if she were to become the wife of a priest. An Orthodox priest and his matushka (title of the wife of a Russian Orthodox priest) must stand as enduring models of connubial faithfulness. They must be pillars of strength and direction for the people in the parish.
Maria was confident that with Valerian at her side, those restrictions he described would not be so hard to bear. She immediately told her mother of Valerian's proposal. Alexandra agreed to the marriage but with the condition that she herself would be able to live with them. Maria and Valerian exchanged their wedding vows in 1892 at the Uspensky Church in Sennaya Square, where Valerian's father Fedot then served as deacon. The bride was sixteen and the groom nineteen.
Chapter TwoBirth and Death
Upon completing his studies at the seminary, Valerian, the son of a cleric, was now himself ordained and following the footsteps of his father. He became the priest of a church in the small town of Novorishino near Tsarskoye Selo, otherwise known as the "royal village." This was the vast palace and country home of the Romanov tsars. It lay 15 miles south of St. Petersburg. Five years later, Valerian was given tenancy of the Chapel of St. Nicholas, the wonder-worker at 15, Kosaya Street, in the Municipal District of Vasilievsky Island in St. Petersburg.
This small but important church was situated on the third floor of a large U-shaped brick building which housed, among other things, an orphanage for girls, a school where the orphans studied, and a home for the indigent aged as well as the church. It was built and presented to the monarch by the children of Nicholas and Elena Brusnitsyn, a wealthy couple who accumulated their fortune in the leather trade. Nicholas Brusnitsyn, once a simple tanner, eventually became a partner in the leather-tanning factory where he worked. He accumulated a fortune to such an extent that his family had been able to organize the construction of the enormous U-shaped building with ease. It is recorded that the family spent the huge sum of 1.5 million rubles on its construction. Valerian and his family occupied quarters adjacent to the brick building institution.
It was in this little church on the third floor that the much revered Father John of Kronstadt served, with Valerian as a minor functionary, when the building was consecrated on December 28, 1897. Among those in attendance was the Duke of Oldenburg, brother-in-law of the tsar. Soon after the ceremony, Tsar Nicholas himself visited and expressed his personal gratitude to the donors. For Valerian to serve as a minor functionary at an event attended by the tsar was a glorious honor. He was only twenty-four-year-old and his young Matushka Maria just turned twenty-one. On that occasion, the tsar presented Valerian with a gold watch.
His wife Maria presented him with five children, three sons and two daughters. Valerian's youngest daughter, Valentina, was delivered into the world on January 31, 1902, in the tiny apartment set aside for the chapel priest. She inherited her good looks and a fine bone structure from her father and a twinkle in her eye from her mother. Her birth had been preceded by brothers, Modest and Nicholas, as well as an elder sister, Alexandra (nicknamed Sania). Valentina's birth was followed by that of a younger brother, Kyrill, who died in infancy.
Excerpted from Valentina by Emiko Lyovin Copyright © 2012 by Emiko Lyovin. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Valentina Lyovin's Family Tree....................vii
Chapter 1 Proposal on Nevsky Prospect....................1
Chapter 2 Birth and Death....................9
Chapter 3 Pascha....................16
Chapter 4 Tantochka's House....................22
Chapter 5 Two Brothers....................29
Chapter 6 A Sister....................33
Chapter 7 Calf-Love....................39
Chapter 8 Journey to Crimea....................47
Chapter 9 Petrograd....................53
Chapter 10 Ideologues Flock Home....................60
Chapter 11 Cousins....................67
Chapter 12 Brother's Wife....................73
Chapter 13 February Revolution....................79
Chapter 14 Ekaterinodar....................86
Chapter 15 The Red Army....................95
Chapter 16 Valentina Elopes....................107
Chapter 17 Kharkov....................114
Chapter 18 Amidst Civil War....................135
Chapter 19 Novorossiysk....................142
Chapter 20 Leaving Mother Russia....................151
Chapter 21 The First Foreign Land of Refuge....................156
Chapter 22 Macedonia....................165
Chapter 23 For Love or Money....................171
Chapter 24 Dalmatia....................177
Chapter 25 Under Nazi Occupation....................188
Chapter 26 Belgrade....................203
Chapter 27 Slovenia and Montenegro....................213
Chapter 28 Leaving Yugoslavia....................220
Chapter 29 Refugees in Italy....................228
Chapter 30 To Canada....................236
Chapter 31 The New Member of the Family....................243
Chapter 32 Valentina's Twilight Years....................249
About the author....................265