The Fascinating Victoria Yankovsky

UPDATE (26 Feb. 2017): Some fascinating commentary, and even a new photo, can be found in the comments section below. Don’t miss it!

ORIGINAL POST: So, since we got back from Korea, I’ve been struggling to get back to work on my novel(s), but I have managed to do some editing and send out a piece that I wrote earlier this year. I’ve also started editing another into shape, and have been knocking together bits and pieces that will become stories at some point.

One of the more dark and harrowing stories concerns one Viktoria Yankovsky—well, not real Victoria Yankovsky, who ended up in California, but an imaginary one in the world where my “mechanika” stories takes place. I mentioned Victoria Yankovsky in my post about Donald Clark’s book on the foreigner experience on the Korean peninsula, Living Dangerously in Korea: my exact words were,  

the enchanting Victoria Yankovsky–a tiger-fang-earring wearing Russian huntress…

And here she is:

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More about Ms. Yankovsky beneath the cut in this post. 

Actually, she wasn’t Russian, well, depending on how you define Russian, that is: she was the great-granddaughter of a Polish nobleman exiled to Siberia, though, and I suppose that makes her an honorary (or effective) Russian. Certainly, the milieu in which she lived, and the language in which she wrote the poetry she later became known for, were Russian. Indeed, her family—especially her father—gets a brief mention in Wikipedia’s article on Russians in Korea:

George Yankovsky, the grandson of a Polish noble exiled to Siberia, also maintained a resort in Chongjin which was popular among the Russian communities of East Asia, but virtually unknown to other westerners; when the Soviets invaded North Korea, most of the Russians still living there were arrested and forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union.

The young lady was not only a poet and an avid reader, but also trained and skilled in hunting, by the accounts I’ve read. Those accounts tend to be hagiographic, but I figure, hey, larger-than-life characters make the world go round. Of course, in real life Yankovsky spent time in a whole list of countries: she was born and spent part of her childhood in the Russian Far East, was educated in Japan, lived in the wilds in northern Korea, spent time in Shanghai to dodge an undesirable suitor—a Japanese officer during the occupation, I think it was. She did marry, and have at least one child, though I have no information on the child.

When North Korea was taken over by the Communists, most of her family was arrested, and the men were sent to concentration camps in the USSR, where, among others, her father died. Yankovsky, seemingly out of “mercy” because she had a young child at the time, was sent back to the family resort to farm and work, and she stayed there until 1953, when she managed to escape on a boat to Hong Kong (though she got there via Tianjin). Google’s auotranslate function leaves me unsure when looking at pages like this one, or this one, but it seems as if her sister moved to Chile to escape (she may have accompanied them), but Victoria and her remaining family moved to the United States, where she seems to have lived out the rest of her days. (She passed away in 1993 in California.)

Before she passed away, though, it’s noteworthy that she was published as a poet in a handful of countries, and also published a memoir of her time in Northern Korea. I even found what I think is a cover for the book:

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While searching for something else, I found an article by Clark on Russian exiles in pre-war Korea (this one), which included the text of an advertisement for the resorts “Novina” and “Lukomorie,” operated by the Yankovsky family, which make the place sound spectacular:

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The mention of hunting is tantalizing: apparently the Yankovskys and their guests hunted tiger,leopard, and other game, as many photos attest:

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And here, I didn’t even realize leopards were found in the wild in Northeast Asia. (It’s mentioned in the Clark book I linked above, I just sort of assumed the leopard-hunting had happened elsewhere, or that maybe it was some kind of mistake or something. It must have been Amur leopard they were hunting… to near-extinction, seemingly, though of course we cannot blame that only on the Yankovskys.)

Here’s a shot of a lot of the family at the resort:

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I’m not sure who the Asians in the photo are (and they’re not named on the source website), but it’s worth noting that while the men wear Western suits, the women are  all in Japanese garb. That doesn’t mean they’re all Japanese, of course: this is colonial Korea. But I’d guess the woman seated on the far left is some kind of Korean domestic servant. Maybe not, but that’s my rough guess. Also, if you didn’t notice, that’s Victoria second from the end on the left side of the front row, next to the woman whose ethnicity I was just speculating about.

The timing is a little off, of course. The real Victoria Yankovsky was born in 1909, which is several decades late for her to be a player in my Mechanika world. But this is a universe where Victorian-era automata overrun the world and (supposedly) drive humanity to extinction in the space of a couple of decades, so I feel like I can take some liberties with the timeline. Maybe I’ll change her name—make her some imagined woman from an earlier generation of the Yankovsky family—but the character is likely to be pure Victoria…

Well, almost pure. I’m adding one more skill-set, fitting to the sort of story it is, and not out of line with her poet and inventor great-grandfather’s interests.

But I’ll save that for the story itself. It’s good to be writing again…

17 thoughts on “The Fascinating Victoria Yankovsky

  1. She had two children. A daughter who died young and a son, my father. Your timeline is a little off though, as he was born in China (Mongolia), they emigrated to Chile in the 50s, and didn’t come to the US until the early 1960s. They were in PA for a few years before moving to CA.

      1. That’s fascinating. I guess you and Alora are related? Thanks for the corrections, I’ll have to overhaul this post when I get some more information… which Alora seems to suggest I could get from your dad.

  2. If you are interested in filling in some of these gaps, including the exodus from China (which is actually one of the most interesting parts of my family’s recent history — both my great-Aunt’s migration, as well as my grandparents’ and my father’s), you should consider reaching out to my Dad. He was less than 10 when they moved to Chile, but he still remembers a lot of the details. And since he’s reviewed details with several biographers and just recently attended a memorial for the family at the museum in Vladivostok, he’s got a lot of other interesting tidbits that might intrigue you. He might also be able to help with some of the pictures. And he’s certainly more helpful than Google Translate. ;-)

    1. Alora,

      Sounds fascinating, thanks for the comment, and I would very much be interested in reaching out to your dad. I would understand if, at his age, he’s not active online, though. If you would like to ask him whether he’s interested in talking about her with me, in some medium or other, and/or giving me contact details, I’d be very glad of it. My email is [email protected].

      The only problem, for me, is that I basically have only been able to turn up as much as I have in this post. So it’d be more like me asking general, broad questions, and him talking about whatever interests him.

      Meanwhile, you mention biographers… do you mean biographers of the Yankovsky family? Is there anyone working on such a project in English?

  3. There is a lot of biographical activity about the family — both singularly and as part of the broader Russian expat communities in other parts of Asia. Most of it is in Russian, but I do believe that some of it is slowly migrating it’s way into English. I actually own the yankovsky.com domain, and one of these days intend to get around to fleshing out details there.

    In the meantime, though, the exodus from the family out of China was a result of Mao nationalizing jobs and forcing non-Chinese citizens out of work. They headed for Hong Kong, where they were planning to head to the US with sponsorship from my grandfather’s brother. Unfortunately, he died before they made it from Harbin to Hong Kong. Plan B ended up being Chile, where my grandmother’s sister (Eva) had been living for many years, and she sponsored them to go there. (My grandparents could have come straight to the US, but because my father was born in China, he was put on a waiting list to get to the US in the midst of all of the other Chinese nationals trying to flee the country due to the revolution.) They left Hong Kong for Chile (the long way around the world), which is where my father grew up. They came to the US in 1961, once my father finally worked his way up the list.

    One minor correction to my sister’s note: after coming to the US, my dad lived in Pennsylvania for a couple of years to finish high school. But he lived with the paternal side of the family. His parents lived in New York, before they moved to the Russian River in Northern California, where they both lived until they died.

  4. However, in the quest for published history, one thing that might help is looking for early history of Yule Brenner, who was my grandmother’s cousin and grew up on an adjacent estate near Vladivostok until they fled the Soviets in 1922.

  5. Alora, do you have, by any chance, any photographs of the Jankowski family from Korea or Chile? Currently, the book by Jurij Jankowski is being translated from Russian into Polish. I am looking for photographs for the Polish edition. In 2018 a biography of Michał Jankowski will be published – in Polish, because he was born and grew up in Poland.

    If the web administrator would like, I can send him/her the photograph of Wiktoria Jankowska with her sister, Muza The photograph was taken in Korea in 1926.

    The Jankowski family is also described in the following books:

    The Tigers Claw – Mary Linley Taylor

    Fragments in the books:

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    The Shadow of The Gloomy East – Ferdinand Ossendowski

    In Korean wilds and villages – Sten Bergman

    Living Dangerously In Korea – Domald Clark

    1. Tomdek,

      Alora’s subscribed for updates to the comments on this post, so I’ll let her reply for herself.

      However, I will say that I would be very happy to have (and, if you don’t mind, to host here) that photo of Wiktoria and Muza Jankowski that you mentioned. My email address is at the bottom of this page, or you can use any of the social networking links at the top of the sidebar. (I prefer email, though!)

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Gord

    1. Hi Tomek,

      I’ve just checked and yes, your email is in my inbox. I’ve been dreadfully busy but I’ll get to it in the next few days. I’d love to see whatever other pictures you can send!

      Thanks and sorry for the delay: I’ve started exercising and recommenced work on a major writing project in the same week; between that and a toddler, I’m behind on everything at the moment.

  6. Hello, my mothers father is in that picture. My grandmother and Ora were close friends in Korea. As a child I visited Ora while she was living on the Russian River. My mother is living with me and would love any contact or information as she reminisces about her life. Please contact me [email protected].

    Michelle Carlton
    Ps my mother is Michiru Nogawa

    1. Hi Michelle,

      I can’t offer any information but hopefully someone else following this thread will have something to offer you!

      Gord
      PS: To which picture are you referring?

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