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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:

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:

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:

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

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:

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…

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