Stephanie Williams Author
Olga's Story, Stephanie Williams

My Russian Grandmother

My grandmother, Olga, would never have imagined that anyone would want to write a book about her: the only thing that she might have said had set her apart from millions of Russian women of her time, was that she aspired to go to university – not that she had had to flee for her life from Russia to China, where she lived for almost thirty years, before losing her home for the second time in her life.

Politically, she was neither a supporter of the Tsar, nor a Communist, but, like millions of other Russians – certainly in Siberia -- somewhere in between. Like countless thousands of ordinary Russians, Olga was swept up in revolution and civil war. At the age of 21, sheleft Russia forever. She never saw her family again.

Olga’s last contact with Russia was in 1933, when her sister, who had a young son, wrote to her begging her not to write to her anymore, as her letters from abroad were attracting the attention of Stalin’s authorities. Then there was silence.

It has taken two generations – more than seventy years –before it has been possible to arrive at an approximation of the truth of who my family really was. For only time could heal the wounds of revolution and such an excoriating civil war -- and because, during the mid- 1990s there was a brief relaxation in the police state in Russia.

It was not until 2000, through a letter I received about Olga’s mysterious brother, Vassily, from the FSB -- the former KGB -- that I managed to trace the remainder of her family. I flew to St Petersburg ten days later.

Times had changed in Russia. I was met with tears of joy at the airport by Vassily’s grand-daughter, Tamara. Over a weekend we poured over papers and photographs and I learned the history of my family in Russia. Only Tamara and her cousin, Sasha, knew that they once had a great aunt Olga living in England. Of the family’s role in the civil war, they knew nothing.

To all of us, Olga, is a heroine. ‘The police would have come for her first,’ her sister Lydia is recorded as saying, ‘then they would have come for the rest of us.’ Without her courage, the family might not have survived.