True love knows no restriction of time and space. And the same may also be said of love for one's homeland. Katya Barlow of Sydney and Natasha Zelenskaya of Washington are separated from the Imperial Russia of their great-grandmothers by nearly a whole century and two oceans. Not only they themselves, but their parents and grandparents were born outside the boundaries of Russia; yet they preserved its image within themselves.
Katya Barlow, a student at the pedagogical faculty of Sydney University: "A Part of Me Belongs to Russia"
I am from Australia. I live in Sydney, and am studying French and Italian. When I complete my degree I will be a teacher of foreign languages. My father is an Australian; my mother is Russian. My grandmother was already born in Yugoslavia, and grandfather in Rostov-on-the-Don. They became acquainted in a DP [Displaced Persons—transl.] camp in Austria. Ultimately, they moved to Australia, where my mother was born.
—Did you know Russian from childhood?
—With my grandparents I spoke Russian. And at home I did so with my mother, although there were difficulties, since my father, an Australian, did not speak Russian. But on Saturdays we went to the Russian school, where I learned Russian language, history, literature.
—A missionary trip through the Egoriev region near Moscow was your first visit to Russia?
—I first traveled to Russia with my family eight years ago. At that time I experienced a sense of peace in my soul. And now we are very pleased to have resided in the Kolychevsk Monastery, where Matushka Maria and Mother Agnes have received everyone with open arms. We socialized a good deal with young people. We live far away, in Australia, and for this reason the bond of faith with young people from Russia is very important for us.
—And what is Russia in your life?
—I am an Australian; but my ancestors were from Russia, and our family history is bound up with Russia. Part of me belongs to Russia.
Natasha Zelenskaya, a graduate student of music, in Washington, USA: "The main thing is to maintain Russianness in language and hospitality."
My great-grandmother was from Moscow; her family was from Kostroma. She became acquainted with my great-grandfather during the Civil War, during which she worked as a nurse. Her family converted one of their homes into a hospital, where they tended wounded soldiers. They left Russia with the Army of General Wrangel, crossing the Black Sea to Constantinople. There my grandfather was born, and after a few years they moved to Belgrade. My grandfather grew up in Belgrade and there finished Russian high school. During World War II, they again became refugees, leaving everything behind to escape the Soviet army and Tito. Thus, they found themselves in a DP camp in Germany, and ultimately in New York, because President Truman made it possible for the DP refugees to relocate to the United States.
My grandfather on my father's side was born in 1907. He studied in a cadet academy, though I don't remember where. When the Revolution happened, the academy was disbanded and all the children had to make their way back to their parents. It was a horrible time for those little boys. I don't remember what happened with him. The family left Russia just them. At first they lived in Zagreb, but later moved to Saltzburg, where there was a large DP camp. There he met my grandmother. I was a year old when grandfather died, but in my eyes he was a hero. He forged passports for Russian refugees so they would escape being repatriated; he printed Russian newspapers…
My father was born in California, and mother in New York. But when they were still children their families both moved to Washington. There my parents met, and there I was born. I have always considered myself fully American. My first language was Russian, my family is Russian. And we always had Russian society around us: this included scouts, Russia school, balls.
—Yes, we all went to balls. Grandmother taught me to dance—waltzes, foxtrots, polkas. People from age sixteen on up to those who were quite elderly were invited to the balls. Russian society organized them. To put it briefly, our bond with Russia was never broken. Church, spirituality, grandmother, grandfather, literature, famous authors, balls.
—When did you travel to Russia for the first time?
—I lived in America until I was seventeen. And only when I reached that age, in 1994, did I travel to Russia, to a scout camp on the Black Sea near Anapa. I have to say frankly that my first impression was that the people had to endure a great deal; it was difficult for them,; therefore, I did not sense any warmth. But when we visited the homes of acquaintances, I saw how they covered the table with everything they had, they gave us everything. But on the street it was a different matter.
—That is, it was a different Russia, not the one you had pictured to yourself from childhood?
—For my generation Russia was probably something quite abstract. It seems to me that if I had asked grandmother and grandfather, they would have given a different answer. For me, Russianness, Russia, is something familial, that is "going to grandma and grandpa's", "the Russian Church," something difficult to put into words. It is the soul. When we meet other Russians, a sort of bond immediately arises among us. I can't explain, but it is so. We sing songs…
—Interesting. What sort of songs do you sing?
—Most of the songs I learned in scout camps. They are songs of the scouts, of the emigres, of the White Army. They are beautiful, serious songs. "Let the bullets whistle by, let the blood flow…"
—"O God, preserve the Tsar…"?
—All of my generation knows it, but we no longer sing it.
—And the grandmothers?
I never noticed that grandmother sang it, but she always said that it was sung. In New York, in the '50s, whenever there was a program, all the emigres would stand and sing "God, preserve the Tsar." My generation reads less in Russian. We sing songs, but far from understand all the words.
—A question that all journalists pose and that is very difficult to answer: Whom do you feel yourself to be?
—An American, but with a Russian soul.
—How do your American friends relate to you? Do they treat you as one of their own, or as someone foreign?
—I am already at university. But I remember when I was in middle school when I was 10-11 years old, feeling myself to be a little foreign: "Why do you celebrate Christmas on a different day?" "What's this strange food, borshch?" "You have such an unusual name"…
—Natasha, what is Russia, Russianness, for you?
—I feel that the most important this is the Russian language. My grandparents drove to our house twice a week to give us lessons. I would like that my own children—God grant—will also speak Russian. My husband is an American; he studied Russian at university for two years; but even so he doesn't speak Russian fluently. We would like for our children to speak Russian. It seems to me that this is the ultimate, genuine bond.
Of course, the Orthodox Church is also important. Although at this time I attend services that are served in English, and have understood that for me Orthodoxy is not Russian, but first and foremost a religious identity. I was baptized in infancy; all my life I have attended church; but the bond was always not so much religious as cultural. With the church were connected both the scouts and the Russian school. And all my Russian friends who lived in Washington went to the Russian church. This means that this was not only a religious phenomenon, but also a cultural one. But ever since I married an American from Texas, and he converted from Protestantism to Orthodoxy, and we began to attend English-language services together, I have become aware that Orthodoxy is greater, and deeper, than any national bond.
—What of Russia do you want to transmit to your children?
—It seems to me that the main thing is to preserve Russianness in language and hospitality. When guests come to us, we always give them everything. And I would also like to preserve the music, the Russian melodies, the beautiful words.
The interviewer was Alexandra Nikiforova.