|OLGA ALEXINE||Born: 1892-02-14||Died: 1923|
|Father: EPHRIM ALEXINE||Mother: OLGA VICTOROVNA LIGDA|
Olga (or Ollie as she came to be called) was the only child of Fr. Ephrim Alexine and Olga. She was born in San Francisco. There are no accounts of her early years. She was living with her parents in Belkofski, Alaska when the 1900 census was taken. She was reported as eight years old and unable to read or write. 1 About 1902, her mother took her to Paris to be formally educated. Mother and daughter returned to Alaska in 1905 and came to visit family in California in August, arriving on the City of Pueblo from Victoria. At the end of the visit, they returned to Alaska. We do not know if Ollie was with her mother when Olga returned to California in 1907 to settle her father’s estate, but almost certainly she was with her mother when she returned to Paris in 1908. In 1909, when she was seventeen, her father inherited an estate in Russia. The family moved to Russia to live on that estate.
The Alexins were very well off, spending summers on their estate and winters in the cities where the weather was better. In one picture we have of her as a young lady, Ollie looks every bit the daughter of a well-to-do land owner. The years 1909 thru 1912 were happy for her. But in the next few years both her parents became ill and Ollie assumed the respojsibility of caring for them for the remainder of their lives.
On April 17, 1913, she wrote from the family country home that her mother was heavily sedated on opium and not expected to live. She also announced that she was engaged to Alexander Donsky, a medical student, 2 who she planned to marry when he became a doctor. Her mother had described him as: “a strong, healthy boy and very studious . . . I think Ollie is in luck to have such a promising man . . . He has a very good disposition.”
Ollie and Alexander were married shortly after her mother died in 1913. Edith Ligda has the date in her book at June 16. Ollie’s Aunt Val said that the ceremony was in Kiev. The couple then went on a trip from which she sent a series of post cards:
6/9-22/13 – “I am feeling much calmer and not so lonesome.”
6/20/13, Gilfis – “We are well and don’t feel tired from the travel.”
6/21,22,24/13, Kiev – She writes of a steamship trip.
On June 25, Ollie was back at the family country home caring for her father. “I am afraid to leave my father alone he gets so old and you would never know him.” Alexander returned to Odessa to complete his studies and prepare for his final medical examinations which were to be given in August. Ollie planned to join him in September. She wrote: “I cannot tell if I love my husband very much or maybe it is because I am not used to him. Well, life will show what will be farther.”
Perhaps her father’s declining health prevented Ollie from rejoining her husband. On December 4, 1913, she wrote from Kiev that she was living with her father, adding: “Please don’t forget me because I am very unhappy.”
Shortly thereafter her father died and Ollie joined her husband in Odessa. On March 26, 1914, she wrote from Odessa: “I lost my son, Vladimer. Was 5 month old. You see I fell down. How I did cry noone knows.” 3 The Donskys were together through the summer and Ollie was again pregnant. The War began to impact their lives. 4
Russia entered the war on August 1, 1914. The winter of 1914-15 involved terrible fighting on the plains of Poland. Russia suffered terrible losses, but Ollie was not yet touched directly. On December 2, 1914, she wrote from Odessa: “Write me how the Americans look on the War.” Twelve days later, she complained: “I wrote you many times but did not get answer. I suppose it’s because we have war. I am well.” There was likely a breakdown in the Russian postal service. On March 15, 1915, Ollie seemed to acknowledge this: “A letter I can’t send now for you will not receive it just the same. All is quiet now don’t know how it will be farther.”
Ollie’s second child, Olga Donsky, was born on March 9/22, 1915 in Odessa. She wrote that: “When Olga begins to walk, I will come to my native land.” She makes no mention of her husband.
By delaying her departure, Olga was to become caught up in the events of a tumultuous period of Russian history: Revolution; Withdrawal from the World War: Foreign Invasion; Civil War; and Uprisings. There is no indication in anything she wrote that Ollie was the least bit political, but she was a member of the ruling class and presumably inherited the estate from her father. That would classify her as a class enemy. Without family to help, she was likely overwhelmed.
By 1916, Russia had lost hundreds of thousands of troops at the front. The war was draining the nation. In March, 1917, with no special provocation, workers and peasants revolted against the Czar. The revolt was leaderless, but Lenin, returned from exile with the help of the Germans, gained control of the Bolsheviks, then about 240,000 strong, and began the struggle to take control of Russia from the provisional government. This struggle was concentrated in Northern Russia near St. Petersburg. To consolidate power, it was essential that Russia withdraw from the war. In 1917, the Poles drove to Kiev; and the Russian Commander-in-Chief, Gen. Brusilou, joined the Red Army, giving control of the region in which Ollie was living to the Bolsheviks.
Between 1918 and 1922, there was a struggle for control of Russia between the Bolsheviks and the Whites. In the same period, there was no end to peasant uprisings and revolts, some of which are described as crowds attacking machine guns with clubs, pitchforks, and axes, and later lined up for execution with their arms tied behind their backs – ten for one! 5
Much of the fighting between Reds and Whites centered around Kiev. The Reds took the city on February 15, 1919. In the summer and autumn of 1919, the Whites launched an offensive under Gen. Anton Deniken which led to the capture of Kharkov, Odessa, Kiev, and Orel. The Crimean became the major area for the White buildup. The Reds counterattacked and on October 20, 1919, they recaptured Orel and the tide turned.
In April of 1920, the Poles, with the help of a Ukrainian Army, invaded the Ukraine. On May 8, they captured Kiev and drove the Communists out of Eastern Europe. The Red Army counterattacked from the North and drove the invaders back to Warsaw and, when the Poles stiffened, returned to engage the Whites driving them to the Crimea ending White resistance in the area. We do not know how much of the fighting Ollie witnessed or was caught up in. We do know that sometime in this period she moved to Vinogradvain St., No. 1, Yalta.
To compound the difficulties created by the civil war, there was a major famine in 1921 in the principle grain areas of Russia. The Russians took what food was available and allowed 10 million people to starve in the Ukraine. In 1921, the government announced 2,000 cases of cannibalism in Southern Russia. The United States tried to help with the American Relief Administration (ARA), which, during 1921-22 shipped enough food into Russia to save those lives had it been distributed in the area.
While all this was going on, the Ligdas and the Heuers were making every effort to get Ollie out of Russia. There were a series of letters, telegrams, and notes reflecting the difficulties encountered. For example, in a letter of January 18, 1922 from Albert Stall to Phil Heuer, Mr. Stall says that he had attempted to smuggle a letter to Olga early in 1921. He says he received a letter she had mailed on November 2, 1921. He added:
“Mrs. Donskey told me a lot of things in regards two the troubled country of Russia. But I couldent get her consent two leave Yalta Crema at that time our ship was laying ther. Here only hope was two leave there two gow two Odessa and see her father. My last wish while being in her company was two gow with her two purchase a past port from Russia to Constantnople Turkey and gave here my word of honer two provide fore here in a Respectial Hotel in which I would do my best in asisting here; untill such time as could be aranged fore here two leave for the United States but she wouldent execpeted it and we visited Yalta once after that but I was sick . . . and couldn’t go ashore . . . she was on the dock at Yalta when our small boat taking pasangers fore Constantnople but I wasant in the small boat two come out two the ship. I even sent some red cross workers two the last address in Yalta and they couldent find here . . .”
On Jan. 23, 1922, there is a telegram from A. E. Hall c/o the USS St. Louis, still in Philadelphia, to Phil Heuer:
“Received letter from . . . Donskey, Odessa University Laboratory of Professor Varonin, Ollgieveky Volitsa No. 4 . . . Have sent birth papers to the . . . address. If desire to send money must go through the United States Express Co.”
On February 10, 1922, Phil sent a registered letter to Ollie at the address he was given. He had computed that it would cost $346.20 to get Ollie to San Francisco ($175 for the ship from Odessa to the East Coast and $111.70 rail fare to San Francisco). The letter came back undelivered with Odessa postmarks of March 15, 17, and 26, 1922 and a New York postmark of July 14, 1922. Phil assumed Ollie was dead and gave up. Edith Ligda continued efforts to locate Ollie by writing the ARA with some initial success. On Oct. 28, 1922, the ARA wrote:
“Ask Mrs. E. Ligda . . . arrange . . . repatriation widowed granddaughter Helen Domskey and deposit funds relief and transportation she is on verge starvation.”
This response indicated that Alexander was dead, but Ollie was still alive. Edith wrote her brother, Col. Coleman, for help in arranging the transfer of funds thru the State Department. He replied that he would need affidavits that Helen Domskey was born or naturalized an American and that her husband was dead. There were difficulties. Her San Francisco birth certificate had been destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Her parents’ deaths prevented her from getting their affidavits. She was using the name Helen and had been married to a Russian. These obstacles were overcome and on November 29, 1922, Edith said that the State Department ordered the ARA to issue an emergency passport on getting proof Alexander’s death. On December 20, 1922, there was a telegram that the steamship Acropolis was under way and that possibly Donskey was on board. She was not.
The last indication Ollie was alive was in a April 11, 1923 letter from the State Department stating that they have: “ . . . been advised by parties interested in Mrs. Donskey that she has in her possession sufficient funds for her needs, and that necessary relief is being extended to her . . .”
This letter was followed by a letter of May 31, 1923 from the ARA stating that it was unfortunate that the steamship company which originally handled the matter went bankrupt and the money was tied up: ” . . . while Mrs. Donskey is so much in need . . .” Family in the United States had done everything possible for Ollie. She is presumed to have died in Russia in 1923, one of the millions of victims of the terrible upheaval in which the Bolsheviks came to power.
- At the time one in five adults could not read or write. ↩
- We know a little about Alexander from a letter on 11/24/12 from Olga in which she says he was then 25, the eldest son of a priest, educated in the United States and then in the Theological Seminary in St. Petersburg. ↩
- This would indicate that Ollie was pregnant at the time she and Alexander were married. That might explain why they married in June instead of waiting until Alexander took his final examinations and became a doctor as they had originally planned. ↩
- On June 28, 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was assassinated in Serajevo, Yugoslavia. Austria submitted an ultimatum to Serbia; Serbia turned to Russia for support. Russia began mobilizing, the Czar stating: “Russia will in no case disinterest herself in the fate of Serbia.” On July 31, Germany demanded that Russia cease mobilization to which the Czar responded: “An ignoble war has been declared on a weak country. The indignation in Russia, shared fully by me, is enormous. I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure to which I am exposed and compelled to take measures which will lead to war.” ↩
- Solzhenitsyn, “Gulag Archipelago,” p 302. ↩