Русский | Russian line | March 17, 2006
Alexander Jaroshenko,
Dmitry Napara

Russian islet in the corn sea

English Translation by Kiril Mirakovski, Skopje

To the visit of the president Vladimir Putin to China

Only twenty kilometers drive from Harbin it'll take just one sharp turn to the right upwards and here you are: the city of the dead ones. A Chinese cemetery with lined up monuments, a lot of them with the "smell" of artwork in a museum. We go on further and we come across the well-groomed and well-fenced cemetery of the citizens of Jewish nationality.

The Orthodox cemetery in Harbin

Adjacent to this "well-being" one can notice the secluded Russian churchyard - the graves are practically abandoned and neglected, they're all overgrown with grass. As the years go by there are less and less shelters for the Russians. The Chinese authorities relocated this cemetery within the Russian Orthodox one after the decision to remove the old Dormition cemetery. Harbin was growing wider and was in need of new territories. The fact that Harbin as a city - was founded by the "Russian exploiters of the tsar's imperialistic state", didn't mean anything for the cheerful Chinese communist authority. A fortiori, there is something to learn from it - "the older brother" behaved himself not less barbaric. The Dormition cemetery turned into a recreation park, and yet, along the foot paths one can see the paved Russian gravestones. If you get closer you can read: "Rest now in ...".

The central part of the new city cemetery "Huangshan" dates from late 1958. The number of the graves removed from the Dormition cemetery wasn't that big - only those the relatives scattered all over the world could rescue from under the knife of the bulldozers.

The Orthodox cemetery in Harbin

The remote site of the cemetery: rare "sinners"-aspens with eternally shivering leaves, among which, the slanting blackened crosses are springing up in a natural human height.

On one of these tin nameplates one can read the name of "Mechkidyaeva Alexandra Erimeyevna", all written by trembling, obviously not a Russian hand. We all remember well this gentle and silent woman with scared eyes and touching curly forehead. Everybody called her Shura. She was brought to Harbin with her one-year old child. She spent her life with her pious and humble husband in a constant fear of getting arrested for having a "white-bandit" origin. The Russian nationality made her proud. The Chinese authorities were offering her a Chinese citizenship, but she would sincerely answer to them: "How could I do that. I'm Russian, right?..."

The Orthodox cemetery in Harbin

Not far from the half-destroyed graves, (there was a correctional institution for juvenile criminals, who, practically as a part of their occupational therapy were regularly swaggering at the graveyards). A lot of Russian students murdered in the late 30's in one of Harbin streets rest there. These boys forever stayed at age of 20. Their graves are one of the most profaned at the churchyard, although dead, they're still being slaughtered on and on.

The Harbin clergymen relics are placed not far from the Nativity of John the Baptist chapel. The Harbin authorities authorized the chapel construction in mid 90's. A number of graves there begin with the grave of Father Mikhail Baryshnikov. He was well-known in Harbin and a lot of people held him in great respect and loved him a lot. Next to his grave, there is the grave of Father Stephen, a Chinese, brutally tortured by the "hongweibings" during the glorified year of the "Cultural Revolution". He was deadly tormented but he never gave up his Orthodox faith, "like Your martyr Stephen...". Further on, there is one no-name hillock, that of the grave of nun Raphaela. The situation with this particular grave is devastating: only the bush of lilacs indicates the place where the last bride of Christ of Russian Harbin found her eternal rest.

Another significant name is carved on the gravestone at the very edge of the engrossing corn field, that's the name of Margarita Antonova. A lot of people knew her at that time, and she's still pictured as a witty and outspoken lady who would freely allow everyone a wineglass of vodka - which she would diminishingly call khanushka.

A rickety cross, and a weather-stained plywood, one can hardly read the surname written on it: Savitskaya. This is the grave of Nastenka Savitskaya - one of the most impressive poetesses of the Russian Harbin. Nastenka Savitskaya - lived her life in a monstrous poverty and left numerous marvelous verses published many years after her death in America.

The half destroyed monument of the legendary Harbin doctor Kazembek looks at the world with a mute reproach: empty "eye-socket" of the ripped photo and a broken crucifixion. The whole city buried the doctor. He died from diphtheria caught from a three years old girl he successfully cured and saved. The monument was raised from charity money. The life of the human memory is short. The one you've prayed and the one you've been praying for, just a few decades later, lies in a profaned grave.

... There are two military obelisks from the Russian-Japanese war in 1904-1905. The army built a back-up hospital in Harbin for war purposes...

It's not so long ago, when the Russian life in Harbin was warming its hands on a tiny little icon lamp, our churchyard sounded with burial services for the Dormition. The elders, while they were still alive, were always cleaning the dirt off the graves, although they didn't have the strength for such work. In Harbin in completely solitude, also lived Pan Stokalsky, a Polish. Although old, he was huge and physically very strong person - his obedience was to take care after the churchyard. Since early spring till late autumn he practically didn't miss a day to walk there and tirelessly tidy up the graves.

Pan Stokalsky died. He was the last Russian elder in Harbin. Today, it's just the cold moon who visits the Russian graves. And in summer, only the song of some wild bird would disturb the silence now and then.

We were fortunate to spend wonderful years chatting with our countrywoman Tamara Nikolaevna Fyodorova. Born in Blagoveshchensk, she left "the revolutionary Native land" as a ten year old child and spend afterwards long years of her life in Harbin. Being an absolutely lonely "Madam" (as she was usually called there), she wanted from one of the authors to promise her that after her leaving he will pray for her and "come to visit her...". She's gone ten years now, I'm trying successfully to keep my word...

Her husband lies next to her, Mr. Georgievsky, a gentleman who didn't even once gave up his oath to the Tsar and the Homeland. Twenty meters to the north, thank God in one piece, lies the grave of Nina Davidenko, wife of the last Russian accountant general, the merchant Churin. Her signature authorizes the transfer of the Russian Churin supermarket in Chinese hands. There it is the grave of Mikhael Myatov, the last Orthodox prayer who sank in Lethe of the Russian Atlantis. He was really sorry for the devastated churchyard. He dreamed to be buried there and nowhere else: "You know, I lived my life here, a lot of people I loved are lying here, where should I go, to which nephews?.."

Not more than a century ago, the Russian energy was of key importance for this region in China. Anyway, nobody needs the churchyard today. The Chinese corn field stands on our grief. During the summers, one can notice strange thing on the forsaken churchyard - practically, whenever it rains or it's dry, whenever it's cloudy or clear, one can always see large dew drops on every gravestone, amazing...

Alexander Jaroshenko (Blagoveshchensk)
Dmitry Napara (Beijing)
Photographs by Yury Mostoslavskiy (Blagoveshchensk).