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

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Eyewitness to War & Revolution, Part 2 of 4

Editor's comment: This is the second of four excerpts from the recently published book Four Thirds of Our Life, the autobiography of Nina Alekseevna Krivosheina. Krivosheina lived through revolution and the two world wars that enflamed Russia and Europe in the 20th century. The volume was translated and annotated [with notes in brackets] by our Assistant Editor Kimball Worcester. The series will be presented each Thursday in November 2022. MH

2.  The February Revolution

Translator's comment: The Meshcherskii family were living in their substantial apartment on 22 Kirochnaya Street in Petrograd when the Russian (February) Revolution erupted in 1917. The war was at a dismal ebb for the Russian Empire. The family’s domicile was located at the epicenter of the revolution in Petrograd.  KW

When the First Red Flags of Revolution Appeared

. . .Then there was Rasputin’s murder [30 December 1916]—a minor entre-act the director gave to the public as a respite before the main event—and right before our eyes an unforgettable picture unfolded: a huge crowd of soldiers, shouting and heading swiftly toward the Tavricheskii Palace, to the Duma. The February Revolution had begun. 

What were these February days like in our house? It varied for different people, but everyone, of course, understood that something extraordinary was taking place. One would have to be blind not to see that. Since the very beginning of the war, some of our relatives—mostly the young ones but also occasionally my mother—when speaking of the unfolding events, used the phrase “When the REV comes, you’ll understand that. . . then you’ll recall that the REV. . .” It just wasn’t done to say that word out loud in front of the servants. I recall how in 1915 my sister told our maid, Stesha, to pack for her to travel to Kislovodsk. There were sixteen pairs of shoes in front of her, all made to order at the best shoemaker’s, Trofimov on Karavannaya Street, and my sister, sighing, said, “My God, what shall I wear? I have simply nothing!” I burst into a lecture that ended with “When the REV happens, you’ll remember these shoes!” By the way, my sister was and remained all her life an extremely humble person, but shoes were the main indulgence we allowed ourselves, being brought up quite strictly in the Victorian way.

At eleven o’clock on the morning of 27 February, my cousin, who lived with us then and was a cadet officer in the Pavlovskii Military Academy, called the administration and reported that he couldn’t attend because around our house and down Liteinyi to Nevskii the streets were blocked by the rebelling soldiery. What were their orders? The academy director answered, “Are you drunk, lieutenant? What soldiers? Where? Everything is peaceful and quiet in the city, and I advise you not to spread stupid rumors!” He hung up the telephone. 

Nina's Home and Her "Streetlamp" Observation Post,
 22 Kirochnaya Street, St. Petersburg

An avalanche of soldiers was walking about under our windows and along the parallel streets—Furshtadskaya and Sergievskaya—even officers. We stood in the big "streetlamp" [a balconied window projected from the building's central facade overlooking the street's intersections] in the hall on the second floor, whence everything was visible on both sides. It was a spectacle both sinister and stupendous. My mother’s long-serving maid from Latvia, Jenni Grauding, ran in and reported that about twelve soldiers had run into the courtyard and taken cover, throwing down their weapons there; they told our porter, Fyodor (a former sailor on the tsar’s yacht Shtandart who served us for around ten years but soon turned out to be a vile betrayer), that they were forced to go with the others, and some even joined them, and that some unfamiliar officers had turned up at their barracks that morning. There was shooting somewhere, probably nearer Nevskii and the Nikolaevskii Station, but it was still far away from us. 

I spent almost the entire first days of the February Revolution in the “streetlamp.” When the shooting came closer, which it did, although infrequently, I squatted down and waited it out, then jumped back up so as not to miss anything. My mother and sister were also there, but, apparently, I was more curious than they. 

The events in our family during these two or three days somehow didn’t reach me. My sister was older and much closer to our mother—she was her favorite since childhood—and she saw what was happening; more often, I observed our parents’ arguments from a distance, sometimes fairly public ones, which contaminated our whole youth. 

With Newspapers Shut Down, Broadsheets Like This
Were Distributed to Inform the Public of Unfolding Events (Izvestiya, 27 Feb 1917)

On the second day, that is, 28 February, when our neighborhood became sharply more troubled and the now well-known events happened in the Duma, our father disappeared from the house. No one knew where he was—up till the evening. My sister wouldn’t leave our mother’s room, and I was alone upstairs. Around ten in the morning, someone rang the bell to the upper floor. I opened the door and saw a middle-aged lady in a black lace veil. She whispered to me in French, “I am an old friend of your grandmother. Let me in, I beg you!” I suddenly saw that this was Maria Fyodorovna Shcheglovitova. Of course, I let her in. I hid her the entire day in the billiards room and toward evening she left. Neither my sister nor my mother knew about this at the time. . .

Apparently, my mother had had a serious hysterical fit, so my sister was staying with her, while I paced around upstairs so none of the servants would see Maria Fyodorovna—it was a fearful and furtive day.  .  .

Continued next Thursday, 17 November 2022, with Nina Alekseevna's account of the October Revolution.


The four articles in this series are excerpts from the just published Four Thirds of Our Life, the autobiography of Nina Alekseevna Krivosheina.

Four Thirds of Our Life is available now in hardcover at  and is coming soon in paperback at Amazon.

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