Meet Naina, Katya, and Karla

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I’m returning to moving out old posts indefinitely stored in my drafts folder. Originally one of a batch of 20 posts I put together and stored in my drafts folder for the now-long-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop on 24 June 2012, this comes from my first Russian historical and has been changed a fair bit. The published version doesn’t use the pedantic accent marks used here, for starts, and some things have been fleshed out while others (like the pointless roll-calling) have been removed. In the published version, sadistic Mrs. Zyuganova also pushes Klara into the snow, not the mud, seeing as it’s December in Minsk.

***

Possibly my favorite subplots in my Russian novels revolve around my orphanage girls. I’d read about how children of “enemies of the people” were treated in orphanages during the Civil War in Felice Holman’s The Wild Children, which I read shortly before beginning the first book in early 1993, but I wasn’t inspired to create a whole series of subplots set in orphanages and playing out over three books till my second major period of working on the first novel.

When I was introduced to what became my favoritest movie, The Inner Circle, in the summer of ’96, and then resumed work on the novel that November [actually September], I knew I had to have orphanage characters too. They include Vera, Natalya, and Fyodora, some of Lyuba’s future stepsisters, and Anya and Leontiy, the children of the couple who took Lyuba and her friends into hiding. Some of the other important orphanage girls include Belarusian Inessa and trio Katya, Naina, and Karla. Naina is the niece of Sonya Gorbachëva, an important secondary character.

Naina and Inessa have always been my favorite of the orphanage girls. Inessa is a very intelligent, headstrong young girl who’s only there because her parents were arrested for an honest, petty mistake, and Naina is as sharp as nails in spite of her young age. Naina first appears in December of 1919, and at barely eight years old is toting a gun.

***

“These three will stay in this bunk to make up for the three who departed.” Mrs. Zyuganova leads three new girls into the quarters. “Names, ages, and nationalities?”

“Naína Antónovna Yezhova, age eight, from Pétrograd.”

“Nice necklace. It’s mine now.” She grabs a citrine necklace hanging around Naína’s neck.

Naína slaps her hands away, reaches under her dress, and pulls a gun on Mrs. Zyuganova. “No it’s not. My mátushka gave it to me when I was four. Steal it and I shoot you. My papa gave me one of his handguns before I was taken away, and I’m not afraid to use it.”

Mrs. Zyuganova struggles to collect herself. “Next?”

“Yekaterína Kárlovna Chernomyrdina, age twelve, from L’viv.”

“L’vov,” Mrs. Zyuganova growls.

“No, it’s really L’viv!”

“Kárla.”

“Last name and patronymic?”

“I’m two and from Yaroslavl.”

“Last name and patronymic?”

“I don’t know!”

Mrs. Zyuganova picks Kárla up and throws her into a wall. Then she begins beating her.

“Stop beating her!” Naína bites Mrs. Zyuganova. “She’s only two years old! She is Kárla Maksímovna Gorbachëva. She’s my cousin, and if you hurt her again I will kill you. Remember, I’ve got a gun, and I know how to shoot. It’s not just for show.”

“Quiet that tiny one down!” Mrs. Zyuganova screams.

Naína takes Kárla into another room.

“No, you can’t leave the room you’re assigned to!”

“I am well accustomed to the rules of orphanages by now. I don’t like you. In fact, I don’t think we’ll be sticking around much longer. Just try to stop us. You know you can always get three fresh victims where you found us.”

Mrs. Zyuganova spits in disgust. “We’re ready to round people up to cars. Boys first. Leontiy Ryudolfovich Godimov, Andréy Samuelovich Bródskiy, Ósip Yuriyevich Khrushchëv, Iósif Vasíliyevich Klykachëv, Maksím…”

They go into the car obediently.

“Girls next. Natálya and Fyodora Ilyínichna Lebedeva, Yeléna Vasíliyevna Klykachëva, Svetlána Yuriyevna Khrushchëva, Valentína L’vóvna Kuchma, Irína Samuelovna Bródskaya, Ínna Aleksándrovna Zhirínovskaya, and Ólga Leonídovna Kérenskaya.”

“My brother is on that transport!” Klára howls.

“Tough luck. If you sneak on I’ll beat you. Oh. I would love to get rid of Inéssa my traitor niece. Off you go!”

“Fédya!  Fédya!” Klára screams.

Mrs. Zyuganova pushes Klára into the mud. “Would anybody like to sell his or her place to little Klára Mikháylovna Nadleshina?”

“I would!  I would!” Inéssa screams.

“Stay on that train, Inéssa! I want to get rid of you!”

Inéssa runs to the man approaching and flings herself into his arms. “Dyadya Díma! Take me away and adopt me! I’ve been in this orphanage since my parents got arrested, and Tyotya Dásha beats me sometimes! Adopt me!”

Mr. Zyuganov’s forehead is thrust forward, like a ram’s. He has red-brown hair and gray eyes. “Dásha, is this true?”

“Yes it’s true, now adopt me, Dyadya Díma!”

“Dásha, I saw him! The Leader! He’s promised to bring fair work conditions to the mines in Belarus! Soon you won’t have to work in this hospital anymore!”

“This isn’t a hospital! It’s a phony orphanage! Adopt me!”

“Of course, I’ll adopt my niece if her parents are jailed enemies of the people—”

Mrs. Zyuganova yanks Inéssa from her uncle’s arms and throws her into the girls’ cattlecar. “Goodbye, my traitor niece. I hope they treat you even worse at the new place.”

Klára runs with the train and boosts herself up into the window. Ánya, Véra, and Natálya run with her and boost themselves up next. They all tumble on top of the three newest arrivals.

“We hid under the baggage holds,” Naína says. “We’re very sneaky. After seeing how she treated Kárla, I had to say no and move onto another orphanage!”

Famous surnames (intentional) in my Russian historicals

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From late ’96 on, any well-known Russian surnames I’ve chosen for characters have been intentional. Not all of these famous names belong to laudatory people, but it’s unrealistic for every single character in any book to have a name untainted by any negative namesakes or associations.

One could read the choice of some of these names on some of these characters as a political allegory of sorts, but that wasn’t really my intention. Certain were chosen in the context of the late Nineties.

Apart from Ivan’s uncle by marriage, Grigoriy Golitsyn, all my former princes’ and nobles’ names  (e.g., Orlov, Obolensky) were deliberately chosen.

Boris N. Yeltsin (1931–2007), http://state.kremlin.ru/president/allbio

Yeltsina, one of my main families, introduced with 13-year-old third sister Lena in 1920. Matriarch Mrs. Yeltsina, who’s run boardinghouses almost her entire adult life, is my oldest character in these books, born in 1866. Lena and her little sister Natalya are an entire generation apart from older sisters Valya and Zina. I have very mixed feelings about their namesake, but ultimately feel he was a decent person who started out trying to do the right thing.

Gorbachëva, Lena’s surrogate mother Sonya, and Sonya’s younger daughter Karla, whom she’s separated from in 1919 and doesn’t see again till 1953. After Karla is separated from her cousin Naina and their friend Katya, she’s adopted by Leonid Savvin and convinced her birth family are enemies of the people. She falls deeply under Stalin’s spell. Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachëv is one of my heroes.

Gennadiy A. Zyuganov (born 1944) 
http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/19646/photos

Zyuganov(a), one of my main families, introduced through 10-year-old orphanage girl Inessa in December 1919. Her Dyadya (Uncle) Dima adopts her and five of her friends, after already having 27 of his own children. Some of the family later escapes Minsk to begin new lives in the West, but they remain committed Communists and atheists.

Gennadiy Andreyevich Zyuganov came in second in both the 1996 presidential election, and the run-off. If he’d won, Putin (who was left in charge by Yeltsin) might never have come to power, but no, the West just had to meddle and pull Yeltsin’s ratings out of the toilet. God forbid a Communist become president! The current Communist Party of Russia is NOT one and the same as the old one!

Vladimir V. Zhirinovskiy (born 1946), duma.gov.ru

Zhirinovskiy/skaya, Inessa’s dear friend Inna, who becomes co-director of their Kyiv orphanage as an adult, and later defects to Iran along with forty children, ten employees, and the elderly director. Inna’s little brother Vitya becomes Inessa’s second husband. Their namesake runs the arch-conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which is neither liberal nor democratic. 

Chernomyrdina, Naina’s best friend Katya, four years her senior, also the daughter of Sonya’s own best friend. She’s sometimes called Older Katya, to distinguish her from Lyuba and Ivan’s daughter Katya. Viktor Stepanovich Chernomyrdin (1938–2010) was Yeltsin’s Prime Minister, and famous for his malapropisms.

Yezhova, fiesty orphanage girl Naina, who totes a handgun her father gave her before she was taken away. She uses that gun to protect the citrine necklace her mother gave her. She and Katya defect in 1927, and join Sonya in Toronto several months later. Nikolay Ivanovich Yezhov was a total scumbag who played a major role in the Great Terror. Karma came calling when the same fate was delivered to him!

Khrushchëva, orphanage girl Svetlana, who appears in the first two books. Obviously named after Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchëv.

Lebedev(a), one of the main families, introduced through 17-year-old orphaned Nadezhda in 1919. Her uncle Ilya later becomes Lyuba’s stepfather, after several years of having a surrogate father-daughter relationship. Mr. Lebedev has ten daughters by his first marriage. General Aleksandr Ivanovich Lebed (whose surname means “swan”) was the candidate I supported in the 1996 presidential election. He came in third. I was so sad when he was killed in a helicopter crash in 2002!

General Lebed (1950–2002), photo by Mikhail A. Yevstafyev

Kosygina, a teacher at Aleksandrovskiy Gymnasium in the first book and future second prequel. Aleksey Nikolayevich Kosygin was a prominent politician under Khrushchëv and Brezhnev.

To be continued.

Juno Beach and the Jewish Hospital of Lublin

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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.

July 4th, 1938

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In case anyone is reading blogs today, here’s a holiday-themed excerpt. This is the third section of Chapter 43, “Tempting Fate,” of Journey Through a Dark Forest. Nineteen-year-old Tatyana has been living with her blood father Boris for the past year in Harlem, and hasn’t abated in the surly attitude she’s been copping towards her family since discovering the truth of her paternity. This is extremely hurtful to her little brother Fedya, but her attitude is staying put.

July-4th

On the Fourth of July, just as promised, Fedya and Novomira tag along to Rockaway Beach and Rockaways’ Playland.  Even if they had the sense not to stay at Boris’s house, they’re still doing a damn good job of being a thorn in Tatyana’s side during this weekend she was looking forward to so much.  The only moment of peace she’s gotten so far was yesterday at Gavrik’s baptism, and then Fedya and Novomira began tagging along with her friends all over again.  They’re even younger than Vasya and don’t belong in a group consisting of mostly university students.  Worse yet, her friends seem to like both of them, and Valentina, Rodya, and Vladlena in particular are fascinated by Fedya’s left-handedness.  Tatyana has been shown up by her own brother.

“I’d like to watch the local parade before we head to the beach or amusement park,” Novomira says as they board the subway.

“What for?” Tatyana snaps. “If you’ve seen one parade, you’ve seen them all.  Parades stopped being interesting after I passed the age of twelve.  They’re boring, hot, and require too much standing in a crowd.  And there are all the whining, screaming children.”

“Don’t you work with children?” Fedya asks. “And I presume you’d like your own kids someday.”

“Our children at camp are well-behaved, and know not to throw tantrums or do whatever they want.  I don’t like dealing with other people’s brats.”

“We can always find a stoop to sit on, or I can rent some folding chairs,” Nikolay suggests. “It’s been awhile since Mira and Fedya have seen a really big parade.  Minnesota can’t compare with the big city.  Valya and Vladka have never seen a Fourth of July parade.  I’d hate to have them miss out during their first July Fourth.”

Tatyana has a seat and crosses her arms tightly, keeping a firm hold on her ocelots’ leashes.

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“I’m most looking forward to the fireworks tonight,” Valentina says. “We didn’t have them very often in Minsk.”

“What’s a Fourth of July parade like?” Vladlena asks. “We had lots of parades back home, but they were more like political inspiration than entertainment.  They were held in honor of important national holidays and heroes.  I don’t know if many civilians could take part other than for something like music or a special exhibit a school made.”

“They’re kind of boring once you’ve seen a few,” Tatyana repeats. “A bunch of floats, loud brass music, people in costumes, flags, balloons, that sort of thing.  Some of the people marching or on the floats toss candy and other trinkets.  It’s a little like Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, only now the weather is nice enough to watch it in person instead of hearing the radio broadcast.  I think July Fourth is best if you’re a little kid and don’t have the sense to be annoyed by mosquitoes, heat, crowds, and noise.”

“Not everyone feels the same way as you,” Nikolay warns. “You were behaving so well until our families came here.  I thought being away from them for so long would get you to see things differently and go back to your old sweet self.”

“I’d prefer if they’d continued leaving me alone.  I just know my stepfather planned his birthday party for New York just to irritate me and try to guilt me through these two.”

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Fedya struggles to contain his hurt in front of these sophisticated older people. “You were always such a great big sister to me, and you liked Mira as well.  I had nothing to do with this coverup of your true paternity.  I didn’t even know about it until you did.  How can some one-sided letter from a known scoundrel magically erase all your love for your family and the man who raised you?”

“You’d feel the same way if you were the one who were lied to your entire life.  Thank God my real father is a modern, sensible person who approves of young ladies shaving their legs, wearing makeup, staying out late within reason, being alone with their steady beaux, and using perfume.  He’s not some overly moral plaster saint like your father.  That man needs to grow up and enter the twentieth century.  His rigid ideas of right and wrong are so Medieval.”

Nikolay is by now strongly convinced Tatyana’s rejection of Ivan and rather haughty, uncharacteristic behavior were caused by some petty teenage grievance against an old-world father with an admittedly very black and white view of the world.  She’s more dissatisfied with some of Boris’s behavior than she let onto their families.  He just needs to figure out a way to push her towards investigating their dubious benefactor’s past, coupled with some serious reflection on how she just gave up the loving father-daughter relationship she and Ivan enjoyed for eighteen years.  Tatyana surely realizes how rare it is for any man to raise another man’s baby as his own and marry a fallen woman with an illegitimate child.  Boris couldn’t even marry Lyuba after he got her in trouble.

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Instead of heading right to the beach when the subway reaches Queens, their group sets off towards the main thoroughfare in search of a parade.  After a resident provides directions, Tatyana lags behind everyone and kicks at pebbles, refusing to talk to anyone.  Fedya and Novomira have a seat on the sidewalk, and Valentina and Vladlena find room on the cement stairs outside a bright green apartment.  Tatyana is the last one in their group to find a place to sit.

For the entire parade, Tatyana stares off into space and barely notices the loud music and cacophony of voices.  She barely even cares when some of the candy being thrown from floats lands near her.  Nikolay has to collect it for her.  After probably a good three hours, when the parade ends and the crowd breaks up, they finally start for the amusement park.

July-4-Vintage-Card

“Don’t be disappointed,” Rodya tells Valentina. “This place isn’t as big as Coney Island, but it’s still got some nice rides.  We’ll probably have fewer crowds, even if today’s a big holiday.  Everyone always heads for Coney Island.  Mostly only locals come here.”

“I like amusement parks no matter how small they are,” Valentina proclaims. “We’ll be back to work tomorrow, so we should enjoy the long vacation.”

“I wish I could enjoy the long weekend too,” Tatyana mumbles.

“Why are you acting like this?” Nikolay asks. “What have Mira and Fedya ever done to you to make you hate or resent them?  They’re just trying to have some fun in the big city, away from adults and children they don’t have much in common with.  We’re not that much older than they are.”

A sour feeling is in the pit of Tatyana’s stomach the entire time at the amusement park.  She doesn’t even snuggle up next to Nikolay in the rides, as the other three couples do.  The presence of her brother and his girlfriend has so perturbed her, she can’t relax and think of anything but how much she deeply resents their unwanted company.  Their time on the beach isn’t much better, though at least she has more privacy there and is able to sit and swim as far away from them as possible.

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“She’s really not like this normally,” Nikolay says in embarrassment on the subway home. “I don’t know why she’s acting like some spoilt child again all of a sudden.  She was doing so well this entire past year.”

“Does she really think we’re too young and stupid to buddy around with?” Novomira asks. “We used to be buddies.  I’m only two and a half years her junior, and Fedya’s not quite three and a half years her junior.  That’s not a really big age difference, since we grew up together.  It’s not like I’m some babyish ten-year-old tagging along with the sophisticated older kids.”

“It’s not that.  She’s just sorting out some confusion and annoyance with Dyadya Vanya.  I really think she’ll return to normal with a little more time, but I can’t force her to feel differently.  She probably does still love you deep down.  I’ve studied situations like this in some of my psychology and sociology classes.”

“Are you coming back to Minnesota when you graduate?” Fedya asks. “I don’t want to be joined at the hip with my family, but I always thought we’d have our own little farms on the same property.  It won’t feel right if you and Tanya stay in New York.  It still feels strange that my big sister isn’t around anymore.  Now she doesn’t even like me anymore, after how good she always was with me.”

“I’m going to start my own farm, even if I like big city life.  I doubt I could live here long-term.  It’s just not the type of life I could see for myself forever.  Tanya’s a farm girl at heart, even if she likes to give the impression of this important, modern, fashionable big city girl.  This is probably just a form of rebellion and trying on a new persona.  All perfectly normal.  So long as she figures out the right path before Malenkov reverts back to scoundrelhood, no one is really hurt that deeply.”

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Once they’ve reached Central Park, Tatyana flings her blanket down and rubs lemongrass on her arms and legs to repel any mosquitoes.  She takes Nikolay’s hand and smiles at him, grateful Fedya and Novomira have the good sense to sit far away from them.

Fedya throws his arm around Novomira and stares up at the fireworks as they start. “What crawled down her throat and died?  She’s never had this kind of rude attitude as long as I can remember.  How can someone just go from nice to mean overnight?  Is she using drugs?”

“Kolya was saying something about her just rebelling to get some kind of taste of a different personality.  It’s some kind of concept from psychology.  Maybe she really did resent Dyadya Vanya for a long time, and then just went off on everyone after she found out another man’s her blood father.  I’ve never had much interest in copying moviestar fashions and modern American fads, but I’m sure my father would be understanding and accommodating of things like reasonable makeup and shorter skirts.  She does have a point about your father being pretty old-fashioned and having these really outdated ideas of how women should look and act.  Who knows why he picked Tyotya Lyuba, with her very modern views and tomboyish past.”

“I never really thought about that.  I just thought my father was really old-fashioned in some ways but modern and sensible in others.  He thinks girls should have a higher education, even if he’s horrified by things like women wearing pants and my mother working outside the house.  My mother, for all her modern ideas, still doesn’t wear makeup, high heels, or some of these modern fashions, and she only shaved her legs when she was working our last year in New York.  I wonder if my younger sisters will act like Tanya too, wanting to be these modern American girls.”

“My mother says I’m a nice blend of two worlds.  I like being a modern American, but I also like the Russian and Estonian parts of myself.  Maybe Tanya’s embarrassed because we’re not as modern or American as she’d like to be.”

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During the fireworks, Novomira leans against Fedya and occasionally runs her fingers along his left hand.  Though the bruises and rope burn left by Miss Cavendish disappeared years ago, she still remembers them, and wonders if his hand might have some invisible trauma still left in it.  Surely invisible wounds need tender loving care as much as physical wounds.  He needs all the love and affection possible, particularly now when he’s been rebuffed by the sister he always worshipped.

During the finale of green, silver, white, orange, and blue fireworks, Fedya leans over and kisses her.  Novomira smiles up at him and giggles.

“What was that for?”

“Just because I like you so much.  Now was as good a time as any.” He does it again, this time putting his hands around her shoulders.

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One blanket away, Valentina looks away jealously and ever so slightly edges away from Rodya.  As the fireworks die down, Rodya becomes aware of her muffled noises and quivering shoulders.

“Did something happen to you?” Rodya puts his hand on her shoulder. “You can tell me what’s wrong.  Are you worried about getting accepted to Barnard with less than perfect English?  That’s not the measure of your worth.”

“Do you really consider me your girlfriend, or am I more like a friend who just happens to be a woman?  Or are you just extremely old-fashioned?”

“Of course you’re my sweetheart.  Just because we’ve never had a private date doesn’t mean we’re not official.  It’s just easier to triple-date and go out as an octet.”

“Well, right now I don’t exactly feel like your real girlfriend.  Those two have only been going steady for about a month and a half, and they’re already doing more than just holding hands.  They’re younger than we are.  I thought everyone did that at our age and after five and a half months.”

Rodya looks quickly at Fedya and Novomira, then looks away in embarrassment. “Is that all you’re upset about?  I thought you liked that I respect you enough to not make unsolicited advances so soon.  You’re the sweetest girl I ever dated, not like some fast, loose woman who expects certain things by the third or even first date.”

“I’m not that old-fashioned.  I’m not some Victorian woman who expects a chaste courtship.  Why can’t we have a few private dates every now and then?  Just because Tanya doesn’t trust herself alone with her boyfriend doesn’t mean I’m that old-fashioned or incapable of self-control.”

Rodya slips his arm around her. “Didn’t you tell me you’d never had a boyfriend or even gone on a date before me?”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t make up for lost time now.  If you’ve already done that with previous dates and girlfriends, you shouldn’t be afraid to do it with me.”

“I like you more than any of the other girls I’ve ever dated.  I think I might even love you.” Rodya pulls her towards him and kisses her.

Valentina gazes up at him afterwards. “Was that so difficult?  You’re pretty good.”

“You taste sweet, like strawberries.  I’m glad you don’t wear makeup.  I don’t want lipstick rubbing off on me.”

“Can we practice doing that again?”

“You don’t have to ask me twice.”

Valentina is only just starting to get the hang of it when she hears footsteps.  She abruptly pulls away from Rodya and hides her face in embarrassment at the sight of Patya and Vladlena.

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“All good things must come to an end,” Patya chides affectionately. “You can have your own private date on your own time.  We need to get home now.  Work starts at eight-thirty tomorrow.”

Rodya pulls Valentina up and walks her out to the Rochet-Schneider.  After the all-too-short drive home, he walks her up to the apartment via the fire escape and kisses her goodnight.  Valentina’s heart beats a little faster when she feels his hands wandering, though at least he’s keeping them above her clothes and not going below her waist.  Just as she’s tentatively starting to pet him back, the fire escape door swings open.

“I wondered what was taking you so long,” Inessa says. “You do know what that causes, don’t you?”

“He’s fine.” Valentina smoothes her blouse down, her heart still racing. “We were just making up for lost time.”

Rodya smiles at her as Inessa shuts the door in his face.

“Remember, self-control is very important for a woman,” Inessa says. “If you want to do more than neck and pet, you have to get married.  It’s too dangerous to risk going further without marriage.  These things happen, but you don’t want to get caught in a scandal unawares.  Make sure you set limits with him the next time that happens.  I don’t like the double standard and delayed gratification, but it is what it is.” She smiles devilishly. “But in the meantime, you’ve got two perfectly good hands.  No woman ever got pregnant by her own hand before.”

Minsk, Belarus

16

M

Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, image by Hanna Zelenko.

City Hall, image by Hanna Zelenko.

KGB Headquarters, image by John Oldale.

Minsk seems to be one of those cities which a lot of people know of, but don’t actually know much about. I’d even go so far as to assume that many people probably believe it’s a Russian city, instead of the Belarusian capital. Minsk has a population of over 2,000,000, and is the country’s cultural, economic, transportation, religious, and historical centre.

Minsk was settled around the 9th century CE by Eastern Slavs, and first mentioned in 1067 as Mensk (the alternate way to write the city’s name in Belarusian Cyrillic). It may have gotten its name from the nearby River Menka. Over the years, the city, like all of Belarus, has passed through many hands—Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, Nazi, Ruthenian, Eastern Slavs, and French. A number of those occupiers held control of Minsk more than once. During the Russian Civil War in particular, it, like Kyiv, changed hands so many times it was hard to remember just who was in charge at any given time.

Minsk, which had become a large, modern metropolis and cultural centre by the late 19th century, suffered greatly during WWI and the subsequent Civil War. However, in the early years of the Soviet Union, it underwent much rebuilding and experienced a great renaissance. A great many theatres, schools, universities, factories, libraries, museums, hospitals, cinemas, and newspaper offices sprung up. In 1929, it got an electric train, and by 1934, an airport was in business.

Cathedral Square, image by Alinangelalla (http://travellingdreams.com/minsk-the-beautiful-capital-of-belarus/)

City panorama by the Svislach River, image by Monk – Ihar Mahaniok.

Minsk has featured in all three of my Russian historicals so far. Minsk is the home of Inessa Zyuganova, one of my favourite orphanage girls since I created her in late 1996/early 1997, when she was going on ten years old. Inessa’s kind-hearted old uncle Dmitriy (Dyadya Dima) adopts her and five of her friends, and raises them along with the youngest of his 27 surviving children.

Inessa, a loyal Communist and aspiring filmmaker, loves living in Minsk, the lifeblood of her belovèd homeland. She’s proud of how modern it’s become in so short a time. During these early Soviet years, the various foreign republics were also encouraged to use their native languages, so Inessa grows up in the Belarusian language. Prior to the 20th century, the Belarusian language wasn’t very developed or widely-used.

After her husband Roman is murdered in the killing fields of the nearby Kurapaty forest in April 1937, and her cousin Rustam barely escapes with his life, Inessa arranges a way to get out of the USSR, into Poland, and over to her friends and two cousins in America.

The Church of St. Mary Magdalene, image by Hanna Zelenko.

Minsk was in the immediate line of fire after Operation Barbarossa launched on 22 June 1941, and was bombed on that first day of invasion. Four days later, the Nazis occupied the city. Those who were lucky were evacuated into Siberia and Central Asia, well out of the way of the Nazis. Those who were left behind suffered greatly, though many people joined the partisans or engaged in other acts of resistance.

The Minsk Ghetto was one of the largest ghettoes in Nazi-occupied Europe, with people shipped in from Western Europe as well as the local environs. Only 1.5 square meters of “living” space were granted to adults, with none allotted for children. The Aktionen were constant and brutal, with tens of thousands of people killed during each. The Jewish community of Minsk went from over 50% to less than 10%.

Most of what was left of the city was reduced to rubble during the fighting between Nazis and Soviets in 1944, during the battle to retake the city. In 1944, the population was a mere 50,000, a far cry from more recent glory days. In the decades following, the city began to rebuild and come back as a major metropolis.

Catholic Church of Saints Simon and Helena (Alena), a.k.a. The Red Church, original image by Чаховіч Уладзіслаў (Uladzislaŭ Chakhovich); edited by Rabanus Flavus

More information:

http://www.belarus.by/en/about-belarus/geography/minskcity

http://34mag.net/post/minsk/

http://www.inyourpocket.com/belarus/minsk

http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005187

http://www.deathcamps.org/occupation/minsk%20ghetto.html

http://szlachta.io.ua/album170256 (pictures of The Red Church)

http://www.belarusguide.com/as/law_pol/kurap1.html