Famous surnames (intentional) in my Russian historicals

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) 

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

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Andrzej Harassek; Source

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

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

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

Copyright Levchuk Volodymyr (UAWeBeR)

Ready. Set. Write! Week Nine


Alison MillerKaty UppermanJaime Morrow, and Erin Funk are once again hosting the summerlong Ready. Set. Write! initiative. Each week there will be a few headings, with short responses to allow for more writing time.

  • How I did on last week’s goal(s)

I finished Chapter 86 of my WIP and am almost done with Chapter 87. Both are mid-length by my standards. Chapter 86, “Return to America,” which opens Part IV, ends in an upscale sheitel-macher (wig-maker)’s shop in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Darya and her friends want to look normal while their hair is growing back, instead of like premodern peasant women with scarves over their heads.

  • My goal(s) for this week

Finish up Chapter 87 and move onto 88, title TBD. I omitted a few rather important events in the book’s timeline from my table of contents, so I started tinkering with that. This means I’m going to run over 100 chapters, but that’s not a crisis. Even if the book does go over 700K, it naturally worked out so that each Part reads like its own self-contained story, with a focus on different characters and storylines. They’re all ultimately connected, but if I published the book in four volumes for the print edition, it wouldn’t feel artificially split up or unresolved at all.

  • A favorite line from my story OR a word or phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised

This is spoken by Vitya Zhirinovskiy at the welcome-back dinner for Darya and Oliivia in June 1945. Vitya is a survivor of the Holodomor, the deliberate famine which killed millions of Ukrainians, and ethnic Russians like Vitya who lived in Ukraine, from 1932-33. The memory of the Holodomor has had a profound impact on Vitya’s character, not just because of the famine, but also because he engraved all the headstones for the children at the orphanage where he and his sister Inna grew up.

“Eventually you’ll get used to having enough food at every meal,” Vítya says. “I still worry about going hungry and always take home leftovers, but I don’t eat so quickly anymore. I lived through a horrible famine in Ukraine when I wasn’t much older than you, and I’ve never forgotten how it feels to be so hungry you’d eat anything, and to be kept awake at night with a growling, screaming stomach. I had to step over dead bodies piled up in the streets on my way to try to find food, and had to engrave so many headstones for orphanage children who died. The memory of being hungry will always be a part of who you are, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.”

  • The biggest challenge I faced this week

Deciding between Queens and Staten Island for the postwar relocation of several branches of the Zyuganov family. Both have very good points, and some lovely areas with real houses and wide open spaces. I finally decided to put Inessa’s family and Olga and Rustam’s family in Tottenville, Staten Island, and the families of my two former Marines in one of the suburbs of Eastern Queens. Each choice makes sense for each respective group, and plus I felt like Staten Island needs more attention and positive representation.

  • Something I love about my WIP

Though it’s obviously a very dark point in history, I like how my Shoah chapters highlight some of the lesser-known persecuted groups—Poles, political prisoners, Americans abandoned by their own government. The Shoah was a uniquely Jewish tragedy, for reasons too long to get into here, and many people have a racist ulterior agenda to downplay its unique Jewish nature by going on about how non-Jews suffered too. However, I definitely feel the five million Gentiles who were murdered, and those who survived, need more representation in the Shoah narrative. Their stories matter too.

Believe it or not, more than a few Americans ended up in the camps. Many were obviously POWs (mostly Jewish, but not all), but others were like Darya and Oliivia, Americans living, working, or studying abroad, and unable to come home. Because of their American citizenship, they haven’t gotten nearly the reparations they deserve, nor has their tragedy been publicly acknowledged.

Ready. Set. Write! Week Three


Alison MillerKaty UppermanJaime Morrow, and Erin Funk are once again hosting the summerlong Ready. Set. Write! initiative. Each week there will be a few headings, with short responses to allow for more writing time.

  • How I did on last week’s goal(s)

I finished the process of preparing Little Ragdoll in EPUB format for Nook Press, and am waiting for it to be put up on the site. I also put it up on Kobo and am waiting for it to go up there as well. iBooks is a little more complicated, but hopefully it’ll be up there sooner than later. The final e-format will be Google Books, and then the print copies.

  • My goal(s) for this week

It would be nice to return to my WIP and finish up Chapter 79, “Terror at Tarawa.” I’ve already got most of the bare bones, built around the historical timeline of the battle and the role Rodya and Patya’s regiment played in it, and just need to mostly add in some more personal scenes and details.

Since I’m also hoping to release my first Russian historical sometime in the fall (I’m thinking November, for the anniversary of the October Revolution [which was really in November by the modern Gregorian calendar]), I’ll need to go back to that and begin the final edits, revisions, and polishes. Maybe I’ll finally have enough lead time the third time around for at least a few bloggers to do a cover reveal or release day announcement.

  • A favorite line from my story OR a word or phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised

I love my opening pages of my WIP, when Lyuba and Ivan are in their heated barn on Russian Christmas Eve 1933 to give their animals Christmas treats. As she’s feeding and talking to their belovèd old Kabardin house, whom they brought with them when they immigrated, she says, “If only more people were as gentle and accepting as animals, the world wouldn’t be such a dark forest.”

That horse, by the way, was probably the last character I ever created on our old 152K Mac before it finally gave out, and yet he’s been nameless for over 21 years! I’m very open to appropriate name suggestions for a loyal old Russian horse!

  • The biggest challenge I faced this week

Getting rejected by iBooks with the publisher name (my DBA) I provided. I’ll need to look into how to do it properly while still using my own publishing name. I’m not ashamed of my very Slovakian real name, the name I was born with and the name I’ll die with; I just chose to use pen names and my own publishing imprint for a reason.

  • Something I love about my WIP

I just love how organically and naturally it developed from my notes and outline from 2001 and the storylines and timeline I’ve had in my head for just as long. So many things turned out much differently, like how Inna’s little brother Vitya wasn’t shot in the Great Terror but became one of the main characters, along with his children, and ended up as Inessa’s second husband. I’m also glad I brought back Vsevolod and took him to America to become Vera’s husband, and that I was able to keep using not only secondary character Granyechka, but her surviving children as well.