St. Vladimir

St. Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kyiv (ca. 958–15 July 1015), was the sixth Ryurikovich ruler of Kyivan Rus. He was the youngest son of Prince Svyatoslav and his servant-turned-wife Malusha.

In 969, Svyatoslav moved his capital to Pereyaslavets (modern-day Nufǎru, Romania). To his oldest son, Yaropolk, he gave Velikiy Novgorod (Great Novgorod), and to Vladimir he gave Kyiv.

Svyatoslav was slain by Pechenegs in 972, and in 976, a fratricidal war erupted between Yaropolk and his younger brother Oleg, Prince of the Drevlyans (an East Slavic tribe). After Yaropolk killed Oleg in battle, Vladimir fled to their relative Haakon Sigurdsson, Norway’s ruler.

Haakon sent many warriors to fight against Yaropolk. When Vladimir returned from Norway the next year, he marched against Yaropolk.

On his way to Kyiv, Vladimir sent ambassadors to Prince Rogvolod of Polatsk (an ancient East Slavic city) to sue for the hand of his daughter, Princess Rogneda (962–1002), who was engaged to Yaropolk.

When Rogneda refused, Vladimir attacked Polatsk, raped Rogneda in front of her parents, and murdered her parents and two of her brothers.

Vladimir secured both Polatsk and Smolensk, and took Kyiv in 978. Upon his conquest of the city, he invited Yaropolk to negotiations at which he was murdered.

Vladimir was proclaimed Grand Prince of all Kyivan Rus.

Vladimir expanded Kyivan Rus far beyond its former borders. He gained Red Ruthenia (Chervona Rus), and the territories of the Yatvingians, Radimiches, and Volga Bulgars.

He had 800 concubines, and at least nine daughters and twelve sons from his seven legitimate wives.

Though Vladimir’s grandma Olga had converted to Christianity and begun Christianizing Kyivan Rus, Vladimir was an unrepentant pagan. He erected many statues and shrines to pagan deities, elevated thunder god Perun to supreme deity, instituted human sacrifices, destroyed many churches, and murdered many clergy.

When a Christian Varangian named Fyodor refused to give his son Ioann for sacrifice, a mob descended upon his house. Fyodor and Ioann, both seasoned soldiers, met the mob with weapons in hand.

The mob, realizing they’d be overpowered in a fair fight, smashed up the entire property, rushed at Fyodor and Ioann, and murdered them. They became Russia’s first recognized Christian martyrs.

Vladimir thought long and hard about this. In 987, he sent envoys to study the major religions and report back on their findings. The envoys also returned with representatives of these faiths.

Vladimir rejected Islam because he couldn’t give up pork or drinking, and didn’t want to be circumcised. He rejected Judaism because he felt the destruction of Jerusalem was “evidence” we’d been “abandoned” by God.

Vladimir found no beauty in Catholicism, but was very impressed by the beauty of Orthodox Christianity.

Vladimir agreed to become Orthodox in exchange for the hand of Anna Porphyrogenita, sister of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium. (Porphyrogenita, “born in the purple,” was an honorific for someone born to a Byzantine emperor after he’d taken the throne.)

Kyivan Rus and Byzantium were enemies, but after the wedding, Vladimir agreed to send 6,000 troops to protect Byzantium from a rebels’ siege. The revolt was put down.

Upon his return to Kyiv, Vladimir compelled his subjects into a mass baptism in the Dnepr River, and burnt all the pagan statues he’d erected.

After the mass conversion, Vladimir formed a great council from his boyars, gave his subject principalities to his twelve legitimate sons, founded the city of Belgorod (Bilhorod Kyivskyy), and embarked on a short-lived campaign against the White Croats.

Though his conversion was politically motivated, Vladimir nevertheless became very charitable towards the less fortunate. He gave them food and drink, and journeyed to those who couldn’t reach him.

He married one final time, to Otto the Great’s daughter (possibly Rechlinda Otona).

In 1014, he began gathering troops against his son Yaroslav the Wise. They’d long had a strained relationship, and when Yaroslav refused to pay tribute to his brother Boris, heir apparent, it was the last straw.

Vladimir’s illness and death prevented a war. His dismembered body parts were distributed to his many sacred foundations and venerated as relics.

Several cities, schools, and churches in Russia and Ukraine are named for Vladimir. He also appears in many folk legends and ballads. His feast day is 15 July.

An ikon of St. Vladimir is one of the things my character Ivan Konev throws into a valise before he escapes into his root cellar to hide from vigilante Bolsheviks who’ve broken into his house in April 1917.

That ikon becomes very dear to Ivan and his future wife Lyuba. They believe Vladimir protected them during the Civil War. When their oldest son Fedya goes to fight in WWII, they lend him the ikon.

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Patriarch’s Pond

Copyright A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace)

Patriarch’s Pond (Patriarshiye Prudy, whose name truly translates to Patriarch’s Ponds), colloquially known as Patriki, is a wealthy downtown area of Moskva’s Presnenskiy (Presnya) District. It takes its name from the beautiful pond. There used to be three ponds (as evidenced by the name), but now there’s only one.

The current pond is 107,000 square feet (9,900 square meters), and six and a half feet (two meters) deep.

Copyright Табуретка (Taburyetka)

Copyright A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace)

The pond in turn takes its name from Patriarch Germogen (served 1606–12, at the end of the Smutnoye Vremya, Time of Troubles). Before this area became his residence, it was the Goat Marsh. Unsurprisingly, goats were bred nearby. Their wool went to the Imperial Court.

In 1683, Patriarch Yakim ordered the swamps replaced with three fish ponds. In the pond formed from the Presnya River, expensive fish for the Patriarch’s table were bred, while cheap fish were in the ponds from the Goat Marsh.

The ponds were abandoned during the Synodal period of 1700–1917, during which the election of a new Patriarch was forbidden.

Copyright Ksu25

The ponds took on their current form and were refurbished during 1830–31, during the massive rebuilding efforts necessitated by the devastating Fire of 1812. The gutted wooden buildings around the pond were replaced by stone.

Every winter since 1900, the Russian Gymnastic Society turns the frozen pond into a skating rink. At night, 16 floodlights illuminate it and project images of snowflakes and flowers onto the ice.

Copyright karel291

The pond was hurt again by the 1897 flood, and city officials considered abandoning it. Though it cost a lot of money to clean, the pond was saved and filled with fresh water.

In the early 20th century, cheap real estate sprung up around the pond, occupied by university students. During the failed 1905 revolution, it was occupied by left-wing student militia, and turned into a warzone.

Moskva’s first children’s hospital, Filatov, was also initially located here.

Copyright Elisa.rolle

Under Soviet rule, the beautiful apartments occupied by the wealthy were turned into communal apartments. The pond was also renamed Pioneer Ponds, though the new name never caught on. In 1992, the real name was officially restored.

Landmarks include the Gavriil Tarasov mansion; the House with Lions (the home of Red Army Marshals); a monument to fabulist Ivan Andreyevich Krylov (surrounded by twelve of his characters); and a stone pavilion.

House of Lions, Copyright NVO

Patriarch’s Pond famously features in the opening chapter of Mikhail Afanasiyevich Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Bulgakov and his wife lived there in the 1930s, and today there’s a monument to him.

My characters Lyuba Zhukova and Ivan Konev skip gymnasium (high school) and spend the day by Patriarch’s Pond in April 1917, during their clandestine, month-long romance which forms the first “on” period of their on-again, off-again relationship.

Ivan dreamily tells her about the great life they’re going to have in America, and he shows off his rudimentary English. They also buy sweets from a vendor. In the unnaturally warm weather, they see a swan and her cignets, and compare themselves to swans mating for life.

The cover of my first Russian historical shows them by the banks of the pond. Initially, I wanted it to specifically show Ivan writing the English alphabet in the dirt.

WeWriWa—Fedya’s Christmas presents

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. To mark Russian Orthodox Christmas (7 January), this week’s snippet comes from Chapter 66, “Somber Christmas,” of my third Russian historical, Journey Through a Dark Forest.

Nineteen-year-old Fedya Konev recently married his sweetheart Novomira. Getting married before enlisting in the army was so urgent, he got special permission to marry during the Nativity Fast. Orthodox weddings are normally forbidden during fasts.

The newlyweds are home with their families in Minnesota for the holidays. Fedya’s youngest brother Ilya has insisted he open his presents first, since he’s leaving that night.

Fedya tries to keep a straight face as he accepts package after package—cards, razors, shaving brushes, cologne, candy, and crossword books from Igor and Ilya; homemade socks and a blanket with little ikons sewn on from his mother; stationary and a picturefold of chronological family photos from his father; a picture from Sonyechka; embroidered handkerchiefs from Katya; a purple homemade scarf from Irina; a pocket-sized prayerbook with an embroidered cover from Tatyana; a pocket watch from Nikolay; and a sketchpad, colored pencils, a fancy comb and mirror, and a bracelet with an elephant charm from Novomira.

He already knows there are more presents waiting for him at his in-laws,’ the Vishinskies,’ and back in New York.  It’ll be a wonder if he’s able to take all this with him when he goes to basic training, in addition to his necessary, regular possessions.

“We got you a couples’ present too,” Ivan announces, handing over a pink parcel. “I read about this idea in a magazine recently, and thought it’d be really nice to have before your separation.”

Fedya unwraps a blue glass bauble with an English-language inscription in gold ink, “7 January 1942, Fyodor I. Konev and Novomira A. Kutuzova-Koneva, First Christmas Together.” The inscription is ringed by a wreath, with doves and hearts on the other side.

“I’ll put this on Vera and Seva’s tree every year until the war’s over,” Novomira proclaims. “I hope it’ll be over by next Christmas, but you never can tell.”

Fedya squeezes her hand, too embarrassed to do anything more personal in front of his entire family.

As it turns out, Fedya is given 21 days at home with Novomira after enlisting, instead of taken straight to boot camp as he imagined. Had he known there’d be a mandated break between induction and reporting, he wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of getting special permission to marry during a fast season. The wedding could’ve taken place after Orthodox Christmas.

Novomira’s birth surname was Kutuzova-Tvardovskaya, but she took a page from the Spanish naming customs by keeping her mother’s surname and adding Fedya’s. When Tatyana, Fedya’s older sister, married Novomira’s older brother Nikolay, she went from Koneva to Tvardovskaya-Koneva.

WeWriWa—Svetlana and Kroshka

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when visiting infant nurse Svetlana asked Ivan if she could feed Pomeranian Kroshka some meat. The Konevs live across the hall from Mr. Lebedev and his daughters.

Svetlana has been coming over to take care of Fedya, Lyuba and Ivan’s first blood child together. Due to a damaged cervix and some other medical issues, Lyuba gave birth about a month early and fell into a feverish coma. The radical Dr. Scholl, one of my favorite secondary characters in my Russian historicals, recommended keeping her at home, with constant monitoring, unless her condition worsens.

“Of course, go ahead.” Ivan sets Fedya on a pillow and changes Lyuba’s cold compress. “I don’t think Mr. Lebedev or his daughters will mind if you quickly go into their apartment to get Kroshka’s brush and dishes.  She prefers to eat from her dishes instead of being fed by hand, and she loves being brushed.”

“Your neighbor’s name is Lebedev?  I’m a Lebedeva!”

“Come to think of it, one of his missing daughters is also a Svetlana.  He had ten daughters, but only five are safe in America, the oldest and the four youngest.  God knows what happened to the others.”

Kroshka’s dishes, toys, and brushes, and everything else in Mr. Lebedev’s old house, were saved by the ingenuity of his niece Nadezhda. After Mr. Lebedev was taken away by the Cheka, Nadezhda put a phony smallpox quarantine sign on the door. Shortly afterwards, Nadezhda left to find work (ending up as the head prostitute at a brothel), and Kroshka was left alone.

Even I never figured out how she survived on her own before Mr. Lebedev escaped from prison and made his way back to his old house. Kind neighbors may have taken care of her, or she may have joined a gang of feral dogs.

WeWriWa—Svetlana and Kroshka

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet immediately follows last week’s, when Pomeranian Kroshka came running into the Konevs’ tenement and demanded attention from visiting infant nurse Svetlana.

Svetlana is now holding Kroshka, and speaking with Ivan. This has been slightly modified to fit 10 lines. I’m going to be doing some overall revising on this book anyway, to go along with a new cover.

“She looks just like the little Pomeranian I used to have,” Svetlana says wistfully. “My cousin told me my sweet little Kroshka went to America with my father and five of my sisters.  Praise God, I’ll be reunited with my dear little dog soon, if she’s still in this world at her age.”

“What did you just say your dog’s name was?”

“Kroshka, since she was as tiny as a crumb when she was a puppy, and I thought it was such a cute, sweet, appropriate name.”

“Well, isn’t that something.  This dog’s name is also Kroshka.”

Svetlana smiles. “Perhaps I wasn’t as original as I thought.  May I feed her some meat?”