Novodevichye Cemetery and Nansen passports

Copyright Ghirlandajo

Novodevichye Cemetery is the most famous of all Muscovite cemeteries (not to be confused with St. Petersburg’s Novedevichye Cemetery). It’s next to the 16th century Novodevichye Convent, Moskva’s third-biggest tourist draw.

Prolific architect and preservationist Ivan Pavlovich Mashkov designed the cemetery in 1898, though it was only in the 1930s that it truly rose to prominence. Under Stalin, the necropoleis of Medieval Muscovite monasteries were scheduled for destruction, and the remains were moved to Novodevichye.

Many other famous Muscovites were also moved from different abbeys for reburial in Novodevichye.

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, whom I have very mixed feelings about, but whom I ultimately feel was a decent person who started out trying to do the right thing. Copyright A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace)

Also in the 1930s, a 19th century necropolis within the walls of the convent underwent reconstruction. Almost all the graves were destroyed, including those of 2,000 nobles and professors. Another former resident of the necropolis, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (my third-fave writer), was moved into the cemetery.

Chekhov’s grave became the genesis of the Cherry Orchard section, where legendary actor Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavskiy and the leading actors of his company were buried.

Chekhov’s grave, Copyright Tatiana gothic

Nikolay Vasiliyevich Gogol, Copyright Petar Milošević at sr.wikipedia

In the USSR, burial in Novodevichye was second in prestige to that of the Kreml Wall Necropolis. Countless writers, artists, musicians, scientists, military people, athletes, cosmonauts, actors, directors, mathematicians, composers, and politicians were buried there.

Today, more than 27,000 souls rest in Novodevichye, and there’s little room left for future burials.

View of the monastery from the cemetery, Copyright giomodica; Source

Cemetery entrance

The cemetery is grouped into Old, New, and Newest sections, with maps available in the office. The grounds are arranged like a quiet, peaceful park, dotted with little chapels and large sculpted monuments.

A number of prominent sculptors’ work is on display at Novodevichye.

Nadezhda Sergeyevna Alliluyeva, Stalin’s second wife, Copyright Petar Milošević at sr.wikipedia

Other famous people buried here include writers Sergey Aksakov, Ilya Ehrenburg, Velimir Khlebnikov, Aleksey Tolstoy, Mikhail Bulgakov, Vladimir Mayakovskiy, Aleksandr Tvardovskiy, and Andrey Beliy; Nikita Khrushchëv; film director Sergey Eisenstein; singer Fyodor Shalyapin (called Chaliapin in the West); cellist Mstislav Rostropovich; and psychologist Lev Vygotskiy.

Copyright Bogdanov-62

Copyright Hello-Andrew

Copyright Stasa16

Copyright Hello-Andrew

My characters the Lebedev(a)s live very close to Novodevichye Cemetery after they move from Pskov to Moskva around 1905. This once-envied location becomes particular torture to Mr. Lebedev after he escapes from prison and returns to his house during the Civil War.

He has no choice but to stay hidden in the house (protected by a phony smallpox quarantine sign), and can no longer regularly visit Chekhov’s grave to pay his respects. Mr. Lebedev loves literature.

City Hall, Oslo, Copyright Ivan Vasilev

Nansen passports were the brainchild of Fridtjof Nansen, High Commissioner for Refugees for the League of Nations. They began being issued after the 3–5 July 1922 Intergovernmental Conference on Identity Certificates for Russian Refugees, held in Geneva.

Originally intended for refugees of the Russian Civil War (of whom about 800,000 became stateless in 1921), they were extended to Armenians, Assyrians, and Turks in 1933.

Though they stopped being issued in 1938, they were still honored by 52 countries.

Copyright Huddyhuddy

About 450,000 were issued to people who needed travel documents but weren’t able to obtain them from their home countries.

The Nansen International Office for Refugees earned the 1938 Nobel Peace Prize.

Famous holders include Vladimir Nabokov, Marc Chagall, Igor Stravinskiy, Sergey Rakhmaninov, ballerina Anna Pavlova, Aristotle Onassis, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (the seventh and last Lubavitcher Rebbe).

My character Arkasha Orlov issues Nansen passports to Mrs. Brezhneva’s Kyiv orphanage during its partial relocation to Isfahan, Iran in June 1937, during a brief stop in Aden. Arkasha, who works for the British Consulate in Isfahan, is on Aden on business.

Inna Zhirinovskaya, a former orphanage girl who’s now Mrs. Brezhneva’s assistant, catches Arkasha’s eye, and he openly begins flirting with her while filling out the particulars on her Nansen passport.





Kurapaty is a woods on the outskirts of Minsk. Between 1937–41, over 250,000 people were murdered by the NKVD and dumped in mass graves there. In 2004, it was named a cultural heritage site of Belarus.

Copyright Bestalex

Before the Great Terror, Kurapaty was a popular place for picnics, day trips, and hikes. The hills were covered in beautiful white flowers.

When the Great Terror began, there were three massacres a day—dawn, 2:00 PM, and dusk. The condemned were lined up by twos, bound and gagged, and shot into already-dug pits. A layer of sand was thrown over each layer of the dead and dying, and then the process began all over again.

Sometimes saplings were planted on top.

Copyright Kapsuglan

In the second half of 1937, a fence was built around Kurapaty, making the astronomically low odds of survival and escape even more impossible. Anyone who did manage to survive and escape was almost always quickly discovered and murdered, or died soon afterwards.

Nearby villagers could see the trucks rolling up the flat road into the forest, and could hear the shootings. When no gags were used, they could hear screaming, moaning, and weeping. After the shootings began taking place all night in the second half of 1937, many villagers found it hard to sleep.

Copyright Валацуга (; Source

Daring children snuck inside the fence and saw the dead and dying under the top layers of sand in the mass graves.

After the Nazis invaded the USSR in June 1941, the massacres stopped and the villagers pulled down the fence for the wood. They also cut down the trees in the forest. Today’s Kurapaty trees were planted after WWII.

Copyright Валацуга

Every year on 2 November, Dziady (a Belarusian remembrance of the dead, whose name means “grandfathers”), hundreds of people visit Kurapaty to pay their respects.

In 1994, Pres. Bill Clinton visited and gave the Belarusian people a small granite monument which was placed in Kurapaty. Sadly, it’s been vandalized thrice.

Copyright Валацуга

Copyright Валацуга

My characters Rustam Zyuganov and Roman Safronov, Sr., are taken to Kurapaty in April 1937. A third intended victim, Fyodor Nadleshin, the adoptive brother of Roman’s wife and Rustam’s cousin Inessa, is out of town.

Rustam’s crime was telling a joke about Stalin at work, while Ph.D. film studies student and junior professor Roman is writing a paper on Vera Kholodnaya, a declared enemy of the people.

Copyright Валацуга

Rustam manages to survive and escape, due to keeping his wits sharply about him the entire time, and not immediately panicking like Roman. He also gets a very dark blessing when their assigned assassin puts his Nagan revolver to Roman’s head instead of his.

Rustam immediately jumps into the pit to make it look like he fell from being shot, claws out an air pocket, and unties the rag over his mouth and removes the gag with minimal movements. He was “only” gagged, not bound as well.

Copyright Валацуга

Rustam lies there among the dead and dying, struggling to breathe and becoming soaked with blood, until the butchers and their dogs leave the forest. He softly calls Roman’s name, but there’s no answer. When he was holding Roman’s hand earlier, he felt the pulse fading.

To give Roman some dignity in death, Rustam removes the gag. He kisses his cousin-in-law goodbye before he claws his way to the top of the pit. Rustam is covered in blood, sand, dirt, and sweat when the ground is finally beneath his feet again.

Copyright Andrej Kuźniečyk; Source

Rustam smoothes the sand over the top of the pit, to make it look like nothing were disturbed, and goes to his father’s house to hide. The new Moon in the sky gives him the protection of extra darkness.

Rustam, most of the younger members of his family, and his old father escape to Poland in four small groups. His father stays in Kraków with two of Rustam’s expatriate siblings, but everyone else goes to America.

For years, Rustam suffers with PTSD and has several strong triggers. To try to get it out of his system, he creates a graphic novel about his experience.

Juno Beach and the Jewish Hospital of Lublin

Calm after the storm, Copyright Jebulon

Juno Beach is one of the five beaches which was used for the heroic Normandy landings of D-Day, 6 June 1944. The battles were mostly fought by Canadians, with some British support, and servicemen from the Free French Forces and the Royal Norwegian Navy.

The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division got further inland than any other landing force.

Copyright Nitot

The main objectives were to seize the Carpiquet Airfield, cut the Caen-Bayeux road, create a link between Gold and Sword Beaches on either side of Juno, and reach the Caen-Bayeux railway line by nightfall.

Germany’s 716th Division and 21st Panzer Division put up a brutal fight, due to preliminary bombardments’ lacking success. Bad weather also delayed the first landings till 7:35 AM.

The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles were among the companies who suffered devastating casualties during the brutal first minutes of the first landing wave.

Copyright Ordifana75

Juno was initially code-named Jellyfish, since the British beaches were Swordfish and Goldfish (shortened to Sword and Gold). It was changed because Winston Churchill felt Jelly a highly inappropriate name for a place in which so many might be killed.

Copyright Joestapl

Though none of the objectives were achieved, the Juno Beach landing ranks up there with Utah Beach as the most strategically-successful of the five D-Day landings. In spite of the terrible early casualties, most of the coastal defences were cleared within two hours.

Only the equivalent of one full German battalion remained by nightfall. The Canadians also destroyed or captured 80% of the Germans’ divisional artillery.

Those who want more details on the order of battle, preparations, preliminary bombardments, and the landings can check out the links and books listed at the end of this section. I don’t want to go back to routinely having posts over 1,500 words!

Copyright Jebulon

My character Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov is among the Canadians landing at Juno Beach. Since he’s a medic and not initially allowed to be armed, making it all the way across the beach and into town safely is a much more perilous ordeal.

The day after the invasion, Yuriy returns to the beach to catalogue and bury the dead. Strewn among the dead are a few who haven’t succumbed to their wounds yet, including one guy who played dead because he was confused and scared, and made his own tourniquet.

The entire beach is pervaded by an eerie, unnatural silence, as though yesterday never happened.

Further reading:

The Juno Beach Centre
Juno Beach – The Canadians On D-Day
“No Ambush, No Defeat”
“Canadian Participation in the Operations in North-West Europe, 1944: Part 1”
Valour on Juno Beach, T.R. Fowler, 1994
D-Day: Juno Beach, Canada’s 24 Hours of Destiny, Lance Goddard, 2004

The Jewish Hospital of Lublin, on 81 (formerly 53) Lubartowska Street, was inaugurated in 1886. The two-story building in the Old City was designed by architect Marian Jarzyński in Neo-Romanesque style.

Initially, it had 56 beds, but grew to 100. By the 1930s, it was Poland’s most modern, state-of-the-art hospital. It was well-known outside of Lublin, and employed many renowned specialists.

By the 1930s, the hospital also had a stable, three guesthouses for patients’ loved ones, a mortuary, a cellar, and a synagogue.

On 27 March 1942, the occupying Germans took the most seriously ill patients to the Jewish cemetery and murdered them. The other patients and medical staff were murdered in Niemce forest. For the rest of the war, the building was a Wehrmacht hospital.

In 1949, the building was given to Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, and started a new life as an OBGYN clinic.

The building today, Copyright Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Source

My character Inessa Zyuganova is taken to this hospital by her expatriate cousin Matviyko after she and her children escape the USSR in June 1937. While they were wading across the creek-like River Bug which forms part of the border between Poland and Belarus, the NKVD shot Inessa in the leg.

Vitya Zhirinovskiy, her old friend Inna’s little brother, shot all five of the NKVD goons to protect his baby Damir, whom Inessa has been wetnursing. At the hospital, he has to be reassured no one’s going to circumcise Damir!

Lublin is the closest major city to border town Włodawa, and Matviyko previously took his youngest child Maja there for heat rash during a summer holiday. He prefers Jewish doctors to Christian doctors.

The Crown Colony of Aden

Aden, Yemen and the surrounding area (including Perim, Kamaran, and Kuria Muria Islands) joined British India in 1858, and officially became a separate colony on 1 April 1937. This port city was very important to British trade, commerce, transportation, fuel, and naval warfare.

Education was provided to both sexes until at least junior high. High school (or its equivalent thereof) and university education was allotted to a select few who qualified for scholarships to study abroad.

Arabic was the language of instruction for elementary school and junior high, while high schools and independent schools taught in Arabic, English, Hebrew, Urdu, and Gujarati. Religious Muslim schools for girls weren’t officially recognized.The colony had three governmental bodies—the Aden municipality (Aden, Ma’alla, Tawali, Crater [Seera]), Sheikh Othman’s Township authority, and Little Aden (1955–67). In spite of having a Muslim majority, secular courts handled everything. There was no Sharia Law.

Unlike other British colonies, Aden was very slow to gain self-government and local participation. Until 1 December 1955, the Executive Council wasn’t elected.

Aden’s economy was largely based upon its role in East–West trade. By 1955, its port had become the next-busiest in the world after only New York’s. Many tourists also flocked to the colony, though tourism began declining in the colony’s final years.

Also during the colony’s final years, much civil unrest reigned. There were many strikes, riots, demonstrations, bombings, and attacks on British authorities, often spurred on by nationalism and politics instead of economic reasons.

On 18 January 1963, the colony was reconstituted as the State of Aden, part of the new Federation of South Arabia. However, most of the problems plaguing Aden didn’t magickally improve upon gaining independence.

The Radfan Uprising began 14 October 1963, when a grenade was thrown at British officials in Aden Airport. A state of emergency was declared immediately, and guerrilla violence reigned. Due to fighting among different rebel groups, more Yemenis than Brits were killed.

The British finally gave up their colony on 30 November 1967, and Aden became part of the People’s Republic of South Yemen. Like other Arab colonies who’d gained their independence, Aden refused to join the British Commonwealth.

South Yemen and the Yemen Arab Republic united on 22 May 1990. It’s hard to believe I’m old enough to remember when there were two Yemens!

Aden’s historic Jewish community did much better for themselves than the rest of Yemen’s Jewish community. Most of Aden Jewry were craftspeople and artisans, and there were seven synagogues. Since they were under British rule, they didn’t have dhimmi status like the Jewish population in the rest of the Arab world.

During the Shoah, many people fleeing Europe for pre-State Israel wound up in Aden, where they were put in refugee camps. In 1942, there was an outbreak of typhus.

In December 1947, shortly after the miraculous U.N. vote approving the Partition Plan, anti-Semitic riots in Aden claimed the lives of 76–82 and wounded 76 more. Much of the Jewish Quarter was looted and burnt.

After this, almost everyone began fleeing to Israel. Between 1947–63, over 4,000 people left. A total of 12,000 people, from both Aden and Yemen, gathered in transit camps after Israel’s miraculous victory in the War of Independence and Egypt’s reopening the Suez Canal and Red Sea.

An average 300 people a day were airlifted in Operation Magic Carpet.

As of April 2017, a reported 50 Jews were left in Yemen, down from what had been 50,000.

During the partial relocation/defection of my character Mrs. Brezhneva’s Kyiv orphanage in 1937, there’s a pit stop in Aden, en route to Iran, to secure British asylum. That way, they’ll have a guarantee of safety, and official permission to enter and settle in Iran.

A representative of the British Consulate, Arkadiy Orlov, who’s there on business from Isfahan, Iran, is among the people sent onto their boat to conduct interviews. He’s assigned to Inna Zhirinovskaya, Mrs. Brezhneva’s second in command and a former orphanage child herself.

The next day at the Consulate, Arkasha (a former prince) gives everyone Nansen passports and gives Inna a parcel which she unwraps on the journey to Iran. It’s a silver necklace with coral beads and a dove pendant with a heart-shaped carnelian in the center, from one of Aden’s Jewish craftsmen.


Bykivnya is a pine forest on the outskirts of Kyiv, and the final resting place of an estimated 100,000 people murdered from the early 1920s to the late 1940s. Some sources say it could be as high as 225,000. After “enemies of the people” had been tortured and murdered, they were hauled to the woods and dumped in mass graves.

The burial area spans 160,000 square feet (15,000 square meters). To date, Ukrainian and Polish archaeologists have found 210 separate mass graves within it, and historians have identified 14,191 of the victims.

Though the mass graves were uncovered by the occupying Germans during WWII, the Soviets reclassified this information and conducted their own investigations in 1945, 1971, and 1987.

Poet Vasyl Andriyovych Symonenko, 8 January 1935–13 December 1963

In 1962, Vasyl appealed to the Kyiv City Council to have Bykivnya and other mass grave sites recognized for what they were. In response, cops brutally beat him, and he died of kidney failure.

The authorities discovered and destroyed many documents about the true nature of these mass graves and their victims. Only in July 1989, during the fourth investigation, was it announced that these weren’t victims of Nazi fascism, but Stalinism.

On 30 April 2004, the Bykivnya Memorial Complex opened, and on 22 May 2001, it was designated a State Historical and Memorial Reserve. That designation was upgraded to a national one on 17 May 2006.

Archbishop (now Metropolitan) Dmitriy of the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, with the blessing of Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv, conducted a funeral service for 817 victims being reburied on 28 October 2006.

Every year on 16 May, since 2004, the Day of Sorrow has been observed in Bykivnya, to commemorate the murdered. People from all walks of life, such as high-ranking elected officials, clergy, foreign guests, and regular citizens, gather to pay tribute to these innocent victims.

The way to the graves begins with a gravel track, with a bronze sculpture of a man on the left. A large rock bears the year 1937, the height of the Great Terror. Along the path to the depths of the forest are many other stone monuments.

Notable victims buried here include singer and actor Pevnyy Oleksandr Gerasymovych; archaeologist Movchanivskyy Feodosiy Mykolayovych; and actor Pevnyy Mykola Gerasymovych.

There are 87 metal crosses with rushnyki (embroidered Ukrainian towels). Many of the trees are tied with yellow and blue ribbons, representing the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Others bear red and white ribbons, to represent the Polish victims.

To represent the various faiths buried here, there are four pillars, whose placement forms a square, with cut-outs of the Orthodox cross (with a slanted bar on the bottom), the Catholic and Protestant cross, the Jewish Magen David, and the Muslim crescent.

Shamefully, on 25 January 2017, unidentified cowards defaced some of the monuments with anti-Ukrainian and anti-Polish graffiti.

Copyright Andrzej Harassek; Source

My character Velira Zhirinovskaya is taking a walk in the Bykivnya forest with her aunt Inna and older children from the orphanage when she sees her mother lying on top of a heap of dead bodies. Velira, who’s only two and a half, believes they’re sleeping, and asks if she can say hello.

Inna is horrorstruck, and hustles the children out of the forest before anyone sees them. Not long afterwards, her little brother Vitya, Velira’s father, returns from placing his baby boy Damir with old family friends in Minsk and securing phony travel documents for the orphanage’s partial relocation/defection.

When Velira says she saw her mother sleeping in the woods, Vitya knows his wife was murdered, and is overwhelmed with grief and guilt. While the NKVD were arresting his wife in another part of the house, he escaped with Velira hidden in a large basket and Damir tucked under his shirt.

Copyright Levchuk Volodymyr (UAWeBeR)