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.

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

Hamilton Heights and Hotel Kämp

Copyright The Fixers; Source Wikis Take Manhattan 2009

Hamilton Heights is an uptown Manhattan neighborhood which used to have a heavily Russian flavor. Its borders are 155th Street (north), 135th Street (south), Edgecombe Avenue (east), and Riverside Dr. (west). Within Hamilton Heights is the sub-neighborhood Sugar Hill.

It takes its name from Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, who lived his last two years there. His mansion, Hamilton Grange in St. Nicholas Park, is a reminder of a bygone era when NYC was mostly farmland, with detached houses.

Hamilton Grange, Copyright olekinderhook; Source

Mount Cavalry United Methodist Church

Much of the housing dates from the late 19th and early 20th century. As beautiful as this architecture was, it became less desirable to white residents in the 1930s and 1940s because many African–Americans had begun moving in. At the time, they were just as affluent as the white residents.

In the wake of the Russian Revolution and Civil War, and again after WWII, many White Russian émigrés, Poles, and Ukrainians called Hamilton Heights home. The neighborhood was home to Russian churches, bakeries, groceries, bookstores, theatres, and delis, a library, and a Russian House.

Today, only the Holy Fathers Church is left.

Holy Fathers Russian Church, Copyright Beyond My Ken

Church of St. Catherine of Genoa, Copyright Beyond My Ken

Today, most of the residents are Hispanic, African–American, and West Indian. Many African–Americans in the eastern section are professionals.

Like just about every other Manhattan neighborhood, Hamilton Heights too has been taken over by gentrification and hipsters. Many of today’s non-Hispanic white residents are artists, actors, teachers, and other professionals.

Trinity Church Cemetery

Landmarks include St. Nicholas Park, Riverbank State Park, Riverside Park, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Trinity Cemetery, the former High School of Music & Art, the Audubon Mural Project (depicting the birds painted by John James Audubon in the early 19th century), the City College of New York, and the Harlem School of the Arts.

My character Mrs. Viktoriya Yeltsina and her two oldest daughters, Valya and Zina, settle in Hamilton Heights after they escape to the U.S. in January 1924. They ran boarding houses in Moskva and Tver, so it’s only natural they establish a boarding house in Hamilton Heights.

Their boarding house serves the Russian community, and they have their own spacious apartment within it. When Valya finally marries at 39 (to a man thirteen years her junior), she stays in Hamilton Heights to raise her family and run a Russian gifts boutique.

Hotel Kämp was designed by prolific Helsinki architect Carl Theodor Höljer, and built in Neo-Renaissance style by restaurateur Carl Kämp. After its grand opening in October 1887, it quickly gained a reputation as Helsinki’s grandest, most luxurious hotel.

The hotel had 24 gas lamps, 25 electric lamps, 75 rooms, a beer house in the cellar, a street café (débuted summer 1891), a French-style roof (sadly lost after 1914 renovations increasing the hotel’s height), and its own horse-drawn transport from the depot and port. It was also Finland’s very first hotel with an elevator.

Many famous artists, singers, musicians, composers, writers, intellectuals celebrities, and royalty stayed by Hotel Kämp, or met in its café. The newspaper Päivälehti (now Helsingin Sanomat) began its publication from the café.

As it originally looked

After the 1918 Finnish Civil War, the occupying Germans used Hotel Kämp as their HQ. During the Winter War of 1939–40, the hotel was used again by foreign occupiers. Many Finnish and foreign diplomats and politicians also stayed by the hotel during WWII.

Over the years, the hotel lost its former glittery prestige, and closed in 1965, among many protests. The historic building was razed, with a new hotel taking its place in 1969.

Since 1999, the hotel has once more become Finland’s grandest.

Pre-demolition interior

Copyright Kämp Collection Hotels; Source

Copyright Mikkoau

My character Pyotr Litvinov often stays by Hotel Kämp during his Finnish holidays. As the son of a high-ranking Party member, he has more leeway for travelling abroad than many others.

In June 1940, Pyotr takes an enormous risk by bringing his baby sister Yaroslava on his annual summer holiday. Pyotr has been planning to defect for some time, but his plans are hastened when Yaroslava, under suspicion as a “social parasite,” begs him to help her escape.

They spend one night in Hotel Kämp, and after a late, long, leisurely breakfast by the café, they set off for Sweden and defect.

18 April 1918, Copyright Gunnar Lönnqvist