Name: Ilya Nikolayevich Lebedev
Date of birth: 1872
Place of birth: Pskov, Russian Empire
Year I created him: 1996
Role: Secondary main character
Ilya Nikolayevich and his wife, Yevgeniya Yermolayevna, called Zhenyushka, were married in 1889 and had ten daughters between May 1890 and 1914: Galina (Galya), Matryona, Dinara, Serafima, Yelena (Lyolya), Svetlana, Alla, Vera, Natalya, and Fyodora. His first wife was brutally murdered by Bolsheviks in June 1917, after all ten of their daughters had been taken away to various orphanages and labor camps.
During the Summer of 1917, his orphaned paternal niece Nadezhda Osipovna Lebedeva, age fifteen, came to live with him after narrowly escaping being murdered by the butchers who murdered her parents. Nadezhda’s little brother Gennadiy and little sister Platosha died in 1917 and 1915, respectively. A few months after his niece came to live with him, Mr. Lebedev was taken away too. After he got out of prison, he went back to his old house and converted it into a boarding house. It is this boarding house to which Lyuba, Ginny, and Tatyana come in mid-June of 1920, while Ivan is still languishing in the Lubyanka.
Mr. Lebedev is very cranky, brusque, and on-edge when Lyuba first meets him. After seeing his wife raped and murdered, and having all ten of his daughters taken away, can you blame him for being more than a bit angry and gruff? Only Svetlana’s little Pomeranian dog Kroshka is still there. He spends most of his time playing cards with himself and reading poetry. But gradually, his reserve wears down, and he comes to treat Lyuba and her little family very well. He even gives her Lyolya’s brand new coat she left behind, since Lyuba’s existing coat has become bone-thin over the last few years. Slowly, he starts coming back to life when Lyuba tells him Nadezhda and Alla are still alive, when Galya finds her way home, and when Alla comes home on a weekend break from her new job to tell him Vera, Natalya, and Fyodora are alive and well too.
They cross paths again in March of 1921, when they’re getting on the boat taking them to America. Almost everyone initially lives in the same tenement, and Mr. Lebedev and his five accounted for daughters live across the hall from Lyuba. And when the situation presents itself, she’s able to successfully make a match between him and her mother, who’s a decade his junior. (Normally I don’t positively depict couples more than about 5 years apart, but a ten-year age difference between a 41-year-old and 51-year-old isn’t a big deal, not like the difference between, say, 18 and 28.) The child they have together is Lyuba’s baby halfbrother Osip, called Osyenka. And Mr. Lebedev proves himself to be the stepfather of Lyuba’s dreams, more of a father to her than her degenerate blood father ever was. She even legally changes her patronymic from Leontiyevna to Ilyinichna.
Some representative Mr. Lebedev lines:
Mr. Lebedev growls and goes back to playing solitaire. “So what? Stay quiet or they’ll arrest me again!”
“Naturally. My Zhényushka and I never produced anything less than a beauty. I would’ve liked a son, but God must know better than I what sex I was meant to have. Perhaps I’m being punished for how I forced Állochka to marry that brute. I didn’t have all the facts. All I cared about was lessening her shame, not knowing she was raped all three times.”
“Leave her alone! I only have this dog now!”
“Drinking makes you forget your misery, Lyubóv Leontiyevna. Here, have the rest of my bottle. Don’t drink too much the first time, though. After you learn how to hold your liquor and get used to the taste, you can slowly start drinking more.”
“Do you care to share the story of how you came to be an unwed mother now? Surely we like and trust each other enough by now. I won’t judge you.”
“Praise God!” Mr. Lebedev says. “Since you were wily enough to escape from prison, I’ll assume you can get your little sisters out of the orphanage the same way. At least I still have five daughters left.”
“About the money you gave me to pay your rent. Take it.” Mr. Lebedev pushes the bills into her hands. “I don’t need it.”
“She’s in a very nice place where there’s no more suffering,” Mr. Lebedev tells her, holding back tears. “We’ll see her again someday.”
“She went to a magical place with angels and harps and fountains and gold and eternal youth and love,” Mr. Lebedev elucidates.
“I have no more excuses to sit around waiting while I get older and older. Just earlier today my daughter Matryona showed up at my door! Now I only have three more daughters left to find! I want to get to know your mother as soon as possible.”
“What is this man doing in our house?” Mr. Lebedev growls in his patented growl. “You said he’d be going back to his parents after our wedding, Kátyushenka!”
Mr. Lebedev takes his three-month-old granddaughter onto his lap. “Besides the unfortunate circumstances of Álla, you’re the only one of my daughters who’s currently married and has children. I feel like all my daughters are going to be old maids and never supply me with grandchildren in the amount I always expected to come from ten children!”
“So, Iván Ivánovich, when are you going to get a respectable job and stop bringing in dirt wages to my stepdaughter and grandchildren?” Mr. Lebedev demands as he passes down a bowl of solyanka. “Fifteen dollars a week isn’t enough to live on when you’ve got five mouths to feed, clothe, and house.”
“You’re not a Rockefeller or Vanderbilt. You’re a fool to expect to live on your savings while bringing in dirt for a living. That savings will eventually run out at the rate you’re going, and then my grandchildren and their mother will be out in the street. In the four and a half years I’ve known you, I’ve always thought you were a genuinely decent man, with a kind heart, but you can’t feed your family on just kindness and decency.”
“I’d love to return home, but I think we all know there’s no chance of ever bringing back a Tsar. And how would the Russian Empire function under a democracy? Our homeland is so vast, there would be chaos if there weren’t a strong ruler. Democracy would be a failed experiment at best,” Mr. Lebedev says. “Besides, we’re nice and comfortable here after three and a half years. And remember, Iván and I are both still wanted by the police back home. We’d be dead men if they ever caught us on Russian soil. We got away by the skin of our teeth that day we set sail from Tallinn. I was terrified when he and Lyuba told me those damn Godunov cousins and all those Cheká men were within spitting distance of us.”
“And you.” Mr. Lebedev fixes him with a hard look. “What’s been taking you so long to find decent housing so you can make my Állochka a respectable woman? Do you think I like having only three out of eight accounted for daughters married, seven of those daughters of marriageable age? And I only have going on seven grandchildren!”
“Welcome back to the working world. Grown men with all their facilities are expected to get up that early to prepare for work. They don’t get the luxury of sleeping in or playing with their kids all day. I’ll see you then.”
“It’s always worse when people find out by surprise and learn they were the last to know,” Mr. Lebedev says. “Just like when I found out you were being courted by a young man who hadn’t bothered to ask my permission or even introduce himself to me. When am I going to meet this fellow anyway?”
Mr. Lebedev sizes up Rostislav. “So you’re the young man my Natálya has been seeing and not bothered to introduce to me.”
“What in blazes has been going on in here?” Mr. Lebedev demands. “We all came to visit with Lyuba and invite her to my house for Thanksgiving. Little did any of us suspect we’d come in to find the scum of the earth harassing my daughter and stepdaughter.”