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.



Irkutsk, Russia

Our Lady of Kazan Church, Copyright Marcin Konsek

Irkutsk, nicknamed The Paris of Siberia, is one of Siberia’s largest cities, and Russia’s 24th-largest city as of 2010. It sits on the Angara River (a tributary of the Yenisey), which is joined by the city’s namesake river, Irkut, directly opposite.

Irkutsk is separated into a left and right bank, due to all the rivers and tributaries running through it. The main section is separated from several landmarks and the suburbs by the Ushakova (or Ida) River.

In addition to the rivers, Irkutsk is also nestled among rolling hills.

Decadence Art Theatre (now Art Cinema), Copyright Marcin Konsek

Church of the Epiphany, Copyright Marcin Konsek

In 1652, Ivan Pokhabov built a zimovyo (winter quarters) close to modern-day Irkutsk, for gold trading and collecting fur taxes from the Mongolic Buryat people (Siberia’s largest indigenous group). In 1661, Yakov Pokhabov built an ostrog (small fort) nearby.

Irkutsk received official town rights in 1686.

Irkutsk Synagogue, cropped from image copyright Suzko

In 1760, the Siberian Road became the city’s first connection to Moskva, and proved a boon to the local economy. Not only were they able to trade with Moskva, but they also began receiving goods from China, such as silk, diamonds, gold, wood, tea, and fur.

In 1821, Irkutsk became East Siberia’s Governor-General’s seat.

Dutch House, Copyright Tatiana Kuzniecowa Wiensko

Kazinskiy Cathedral, now demolished

Following the 1825 Decembrist revolt supporting Grand Duke Konstantin and opposing Grand Duke (later Tsar) Nikolay’s ascension to the throne, many officers, nobles, and artists were exiled to Siberia. Irkutsk became their grand cultural, intellectual, and social center, and took on their architectural stamp with beautiful, ornate wooden houses replete with hand-carved decorations.

By the end of the 19th century, there was one exile for every two locals.

Irkutsk Depot, Copyright Dmitry Afonin

Church of the Exaltation of the Cross, Copyright Rost.galis

A horrific fire destroyed 4,000 houses, many important buildings, government archives, and the library and museum of the Russian Geographical Society’s Siberia division on 4 and 6 July 1879. Three-quarters of Irkutsk went up in flames.

The city soon bounced back, and was electrified in 1896. Their first theatre followed in 1897, and an important depot arrived in 1898. By 1900, it had more than earned the nickname The Paris of Siberia.

Europe House, Copyright PIERRE ANDRE LECLERCQ

Our Lady of Kazan Church, Copyright Rost.galis

Many brutal, bloody battles were fought in Irkutsk during the Russian Civil War. Sadly, the White resistance essentially came to an end after the 1920 execution of Admiral Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Kolchak.

Monument to Admiral Kolchak, Copyright Kolchak1923

Irkutsk is home to many museums, schools, cultural heritage sites, theatres, TV stations, scientific research institutes, sports facilities, and a botanical garden. Twinned cities include Eugene, Oregon; Grenoble and Dijon, France; Pforzheim, Germany; Ulan Bator, Mongolia; and Kanazawa, Japan.

Many famous athletes, writers, cosmonauts, actors, musicians, military people, film directors, industrialists, naturalists, and scientists have hailed from Irkutsk. Writer Valentin Grigoriyevich Rasputin (no relation to the mad monk) set many of his stories in the area.

Angara River

Moskva Arch, Copyright Putnik.m54

My characters the Savvins are evacuated to Irkutsk in September 1941, to escape the invading Germans. Inga, going into her last year of high school, says her entire school is being evacuated, but that she’d never go anywhere without the rest of her family after losing her mother in 1937.

Mr. Savvin won’t hear of his only blood grandchild living alone, and decides the entire family will go. Besides Inga’s grandparents are her young aunt Nelya (a late-life surprise) and her cousin Karla, the adoptive daughter of her executed uncle Leonid.

In Irkutsk, Karla continues her Stalin-themed embroidery business, and Nelya attends Irkutsk University. After Inga graduates high school, her grandfather takes advantage of the relatively calmer political climate and far distance from Moskva to send her to safety in Shanghai.

Vtorov House, Copyright Kate Mikheeva

Eisenstein’s October at 90, Part II (Behind the scenes)

Eisenstein was chosen to direct one of the two films commissioned to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution thanks to the worldwide success of the amazing Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potyomkin) in 1925–26. Early Bolshevik leader Nikolay Ilyich Podvolskiy gave him the commission.

As with BP, Eisenstein chose to work with mostly untrained actors. He selected people who resembled the historical figures they portrayed. Vasiliy Nikolayevich Nikandrov, who plays Lenin, had his head shaved to create the bald spot.

Sadly, due to the changing political climate, Eisenstein was forced to remove people who’d fallen out of favor. After the film’s release, he was forced to release an “updated” version without Trotskiy.

The climactic storming of the Winter Palace wasn’t based upon the 1917 event, but rather a 1920 re-enactment on its third anniversary. This planned mass spectacle involved hundreds of actors, dancers, circus performers, and assistants, as well as several thousand extras. Also present were armoured cars and tanks.

This re-enactment was viewed by 100,000, and was a grand theatrical production starting with the February Revolution and ending with the success of the October Revolution.

Due to the lack of photographic and print documentation of the original storming, the film’s depiction has come to be viewed as legit historical evidence of what actually happened.

Eisenstein wanted composed Edmund Meisel, who’d written a soundtrack for BP, to write a score for October too. The powers that be thought the resulting soundtrack too avant-garde, and ordered another in its place.

In 1966, Dmitriy Dmitriyevich Shostakovich wrote a new soundtrack, which later became a symphonic poem in his Opus 131 (C minor).

In 2011, after a five-year German–Russian collaboration, Meisel’s original soundtrack for the shortened version was restored. The gaps in the full version now feature music by German composer Bernd Tevez.

Overall, October didn’t do nearly so critically and commercially well as BP. The film was accused of being stilted and artificial, too experimental, overloaded with symbolism and allegory, spending too much time on Kerenskiy, and having poor acting.

Futurist poet Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovskiy, one of the earliest viewers, thought Nikandrov’s portrayal of Lenin was disgusting, superficial, and substanceless, like watching a statue instead of a real person.

Eisenstein’s montages came in for official disapproval. Authorities thought October unintelligible to the masses. Neither for the first nor last time, Eisenstein’s so-called formalism was attacked. The abovementioned editing-out of Trotskiy was also ordered after Stalin came to power and made him an enemy of the people.

Today, October is much more highly-regarded, both as entertainment and a piece of art. In 1928, Vsevolod Illarionovich Pudovkin, who made the other film commissioned for the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, commented, “How I should like to make such a powerful failure.”

Eisenstein’s October at 90, Part I (General overview)

Released 20 January 1928 in the USSR and 2 November in the U.S., renowned director Sergey Mikhaylovich Eisenstein’s October: Ten Days That Shook the World (Oktyabr: Desyat Dney, Kotorye Potryasli Mir) was commissioned by the Soviet government to mark the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. It was co-directed by Eisenstein’s longtime collaborator Grigoriy Vasiliyevich Aleksandrov (né Mormonenko).

The government also commissioned director Vsevolod Illarionovich Pudovkin’s The End of St. Petersburg (Konets Sankt-Peterburga) for the occasion. That was released 27 December 1927.

The film opens with the tearing down of a statue of Tsar Aleksandr III in February 1917. We then see a priest blessing the Provisional Government, and a sampling of ordinary citizens.

The Provisional Government, led by Aleksandr Fyodorovich Kerenskiy, vows to continue honoring the commitments Tsar Nicholas II made to the Allied Powers. The war still rages, and the proletariat are still starving and exploited.

On 3 April, new hope arrives when Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Comrade Lenin) arrives at Finland Station, home from exile.  After being greeted by cheering crowds, he praises the revolutionary workers and soldiers who overthrew the monarchy, and vows no support for the Provisional Government.

In July, the Petrograd Committee of Bolsheviks constantly argues for and against an uprising. The people are restless, but are told the Party will lead them when the time comes, and asked to show restraint.

Protestors march on Nevskiy Prospekt, by the corner of Sadovaya Square, to the editorial office of so-called reactionary newspaper The Evening Times. The army fires on them, and mass panic reigns. In response, Kerenskiy orders the bridges raised, to cut the proletarian districts off from the city centre.

The victors laughingly throw copies of newspaper Pravda into the river. They also laugh when the 1st Machinegun Regiment calls for solidarity with the workers.

On 6 July, the Provisional Government orders Lenin’s arrest. Though underground, he directs the 6th Party Congress in absentia and orders an armed uprising.

Kerenskiy is shown in the Winter Palace and depicted as a future Tsar Aleksandr IV or Napoléon. Gen. Kornilov is also depicted as Napoléon. Obviously zero attempt at subtlety or unbiased historicity there!

Prisoners are freed, and the arsenal is in the hands of the people. Petrograd workers take over to defend their city. By Smolniy, Cossacks prepare to fight the Bolsheviks, but immediately change their tune when shown a leaflet promising bread and land. They begin joyously dancing.

Gen. Kornilov is arrested, and banners go up urging the proletariat to learn to use their rifles. On 10 October, the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks again debates an armed uprising. Trotskiy wants a postponement, but Lenin feels vacillating means losing.

Everyone approves Lenin’s proposal, both Bolshevik leaders and common people. Preparations are made for the uprising, and Lenin goes to Smolniy on 24 October. On 25 October, he takes charge. The moderate, sensible Mensheviks are left without a horse in the game.

The bridges are raised again, and the proletarian districts cut off from the centre, as the cruiser Aurora sails in. Now the bridges are in the workers’ hands. The Minister of War is quite displeased to learn the Cossacks are saddling their mounts in preparation to advance the Bolshevik cause.

Kerenskiy escapes in a car with Americans, while the Cadets march to the aide of the deposed Provisional Government. The Women’s Death Battalion unwinds on Tsar Nicholas II’s pool table.

Delegates of the Second Congress of Soviets assemble, and the Provisional Government drafts an appeal to the people, saying they’re the only lawful government in Russia. The Mensheviks open the Congress by reiterating this, but the people feel otherwise.

The Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries wisely say the Bolsheviks will be the country’s ruination, which doesn’t exactly go over well. The Bolsheviks carry the day. Later on, the women of the Death Battalion surrender, and the 12th Army joins the Bolsheviks.

Now the stage is set for the cruel, horrifying storming of the Winter Palace, an act which destroyed and plundered countless, priceless, historical treasures and artifacts.

While this film is obviously Bolshevik propaganda, instead of a more historically nuanced view of what really happened, this is a very important piece of film history. It’s full of Eisenstein’s trademark montages, and shows his overall genius as a director.

The film also shows how a desperate, impossible situation led to the drowning out of moderate voices and a mob takeover. It’s happened so many times in history, yet people never learn their lesson.

My 2018 A to Z themes revealed

Continuing my tradition of themes related to my writing, this year I’m featuring things, places, and people from my Russian historicals. So far, I’ve completed the first three volumes (spanning the years 1917–48), am working on the fourth (1948–52), and have detailed plans for the fifth and sixth (1953–64), and two prequels (1889–1917).

Settings have long since moved far and wide, beyond Russia and New York City. Other locales include Toronto, Tartu, Guelph (Canada), Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minsk, Kyiv, Paris, Shanghai, Isfahan (Iran), Kutaisi (Georgia), Yerevan (Armenia), and Kraków.

You’ll see me calling Russia’s capital by its native name, Moskva, instead of the common exonym Moscow. I likewise refer to the city’s historic fortress as the Kreml, not the Kremlin, and to Ukraine’s capital as Kyiv, not “Kiev” (which is an Anglicization of a Russification, NOT a true Ukrainian spelling). The first two are me being a linguistic purist; the lattermost is showing respect for the Ukrainian people and the spelling they’ve repeatedly asked us to use.

All posts are about 500–750 words. Six posts are double topics, but they too stay within that wordcount range.

Topics you’ll learn about include:

Irkutsk, a large city dubbed “The Paris of Siberia.”

The Battle of Tarawa, a brutal fight between the Marines and the Japanese Imperial Navy.

Saint Vladimir, an early Ryurikovich (pre-Romanov) ruler who was quite the horrible person for much of his life, but finally turned around after a politically-motivated conversion.

Xanten, Germany, a historic city I wrote about for a previous A to Z, but which I created almost an entirely new post for this year.

The Empress Hotel, a historic hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, which has had many famous guests.

Archangel Michael, a very important, beloved figure in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

Patriarch’s Pond, a famous pond/skating rink in Mosvka.

Kurapaty, a woods on the outskirts of Minsk, where over 225,000 people were murdered during the Great Terror.

The Crown Colony of Aden, a British colony comprised of Yemen’s capital and the surrounding lands.

The Zayande River, one of Iran’s largest rivers, and very symbolic of the Iranian people’s continuing struggle for freedom.

As always, I’ve illustrated each post with lots of photos, both historic and modern. My posts on the WWII battles have lists of links, so interested parties can do further reading. I don’t intend to return to the days when my average post was 1,500 words!

I had so many great topics I was unable to use due to the interest of space, so you’ll definitely be seeing this theme again at least twice.

I recently added synopses for my planned sixth Russian historical and the two prequels to the About My Russian Novels page, so people can read about all the books I’ve written or planned so far. Each synopsis is rather condensed, since even a Russian novel’s synopsis shouldn’t be as long as the novel itself!


My names blog will feature Medieval names. I didn’t have the time or passion needed for the theme I had in mind, so I decided on a theme that’s much less research-intensive and time-consuming than usual. It’ll also enable me to feature more than just one name per each sex per day.