Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

With the Russian Volunteer Army: A Nurse’s Memoir, 1918–1923

by Zinaida Mokievskaya-Zubok
Translated by Kimball Worcester
Blurb Press, 2021

Michael P. Kihntopf, Reviewer

Zinaida Mokievskaya-Zubok in Uniform c. 1918


In 1970, Russian author and activist Alexander Solzhenitsyn was denied the privilege of accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature by the Soviet government. One can surmise that this denial only added to his antagonism toward Soviet government policies. Reflections of his past and Russia’s past may have fueled his desire to make sure that the trials and tribulations of World War I and Russia’s civil war should not be forgotten. After all, he was a child of that turbulent era. His mother, the spouse of an Imperial Guards officer, was widowed in June 1918 shortly after learning of her pregnancy. She did not remarry, causing her to struggle through the civil war years as a single parent nearly destitute since her family’s estate in the Kuban was lost to collectivization.

General Denikin (third from left), Officers, and Unidentified Nurse in Kharkov, June 1919

It is of little wonder that Solzhenitsyn in 1974 sent out pleas to the Russian people at home and in exile to write down their experiences during the Great War and the period that followed. Copies of some of the responses he received were archived at the Hoover Institute and have largely gone unpublished outside of Russia—especially in English—until translator Kimball Worcester took the time to dig deeper into the world of civil war Russia. This work is one of her endeavors to bring individual experiences to the English-speaking world.

Zinaida Mokievskaya-Zubok responded to Solzhenitsyn’s plea from her home in Canada. She masterfully laid out her experience from 1917—1923 as a nurse to the dying tsarist army of Kerensky, to the counterrevolutionary Whites' Volunteer Army of General Anton Denikin, and finally as an exile in General Piotr Wrangle’s Crimean endeavor. Her experience begins, at age 17, with a description of her duties at the hospital in Rostov, her hometown, caring for hospitalized Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war and members of the just-forming Volunteer Army resisting the Bolsheviks.

Armored Car, c. 1919

Over the next year, Zinaida went from one medical unit to the next at the front gaining more experience and becoming a professional in her chosen career. She was nearly captured when Denikin’s army collapsed in December 1919 on the verge of seizing Moscow. However, she managed to escape in the unorganized retreat to continue her nursing in the Crimea as part of Wrangel’s last-ditch effort to keep the Volunteer Army alive. This group was evacuated to Gallipoli in 1921.

Worcester’s translation is a work of art in that the reader can perceive the moods of Mokievskaya-Zubok through victories at the front, to failure, and through bouts of typhus and accidental poisoning. That ability to maintain the meaning of an author’s words from one language to another is rare. Sentences are not just cold words. They have a depth to them which clearly shows Worcester’s dedication to bringing a nurse’s story to a public hungry for literature of this type. In this work she has fulfilled Solzhenitsyn's desire to commemorate the experiences of the people and, probably, his mother during a time of uncertainty and confusion.

I highly recommend this book for a place on your bookshelf next to such works as Lyn MacDonald’s Roses of No Man’s Land, Ellen N. LaMotte’s The Backwash of War, and Worcester’s other translation, A Russian Nurse in War and Revolution: Memoirs, 1912–1922. We look forward to a third publication from this translator before long.

Michael P. Kihntopf


  1. That must be an amazing trove of such accounts!

  2. I'm always amazed at how much these nurses put up with. Also, I look forward to more translations from Kimball--they are so skillfully and fluently done. A great review, Michael.