[KS] V.Yankovsky-necrology

simbirtseva tanya simtan1 at yandex.ru
Wed Apr 21 03:54:12 EDT 2010

Dear List Members, 

I have been informed that the writer Valery Yu. Yankovsky, the last representative of the famous family of the "White Russians" who lived in Korea from 1922 through 1946 and who owned the «Novina» resort in the vicinity of Cheongjin, died in Vladimir, Russia, on April 17, 2010, at the age of 98, while engaged in physical exercise. He was full of energy up to his sudden death and his memory remained excellent. Although more than sixty years had passed since he left Korea, he continued to speak Korean, with a peculiar Hamgyeong accent.
Valery Yankovsky was born in Vladivostok on May 28, 1911. His life was full of dramatic events, closely related to the great changes and trials which Russia underwent during the twentieth century. Emigration to colonial Korea, World War Two during which he participated as an interpreter (in 1945), forced separation from his family and repatriation to the USSR, seven years in the Gulag, life as a former criminal in Russian during the Soviet period, the rise of considerable interest in his experience in the post-Soviet era, and his extensive writing: these are the major stages of his long and eventful life.

The descendant of a wealthy and hard-working family of pioneers in the Russian Maritime Province, Valery grew up on the vast estate of his father Yuri (George) thirty km south of Vladivostok. The family engaged in horse and deer breeding, and their farm was the first one established in the region as well as the largest. It is therefore no wonder that Valery began to ride horses before he learned to read and write. The Maritime Province was a wild place at that time, and protection of the farm from predatory animals (particularly tigers) as well as from bandits was a primary task. That is why all of the men in the Yankovsky family were excellent hunters. According to a recently published Russian-language book, Grandfather Mikhail is regarded as one of the 100 greatest hunters who ever lived. Koreans in the neighborhood called Mikhail "the Four-eyed" (Nenuni) due to his outstanding ability to shoot. This skill was inherited by all his descendants, including Valery, who was called "Nenuni sonja". 

Hunting became the primary source of income for them when the Yankovskys were forced to flee to Korea after the Maritime Province was seized by the Bolsheviks in late 1922. They traveled to distant places in North Korea and developed close relations with the native population. In 1926 they bought a plot of land to the south of Cheonjin and built the resort of "Novina", which soon became a flourishing enterprise. It attracted many holiday-makers--at first from Seoul, then from Harbin and Shanghai and later even from Europe. To entertain the guests, a theatre, excursions, dancing, performances by invited actors etc. were organized and excellent food was regularly served. There were times when they received letters with "To the Yankovskys, Korea" as the only address on the envelope. While the resort declined during the early 1940s, the family continued to live on the income provided by the deer farm which had been developed in Novina since 1926. I heard once from a knowledgeable person that this farm is still there.

The Soviet Army came to North Korea in 1945. Some months later, all of the members of the Yankovsky family were arrested and their property was confiscated by the NKVD (the name for the KGB at that time). George Yankovsky died in the Gulag in Siberia in 1956. He was rehabilitated only in 1990. His son Valery also spent some seven years in the Gulag but was fortunate to survive. He lived for some time in Vladivostok and then due to problems of health settled with his new family in Vladimir in 1966. His first son was born in Korea in 1946, when Valery was arrested. They met only fourty years later in the United States. 

In 2000, Valery Yankovsky wrote a book about his family, their life in Korea and his years in the Gulag. It was translated into English by Michael Hintze, a friend of the family, and it was published as "From the Crusades to Gulag and Beyond (A Remarkable Story of a Remarkable Family)" in Australia and the USA.

In total Valery wrote thirteen autobiographical books. His first book, "In Search of Ginseng", appeared in Yaroslavl in 1971. The last book, "The 13 Brigands", was published in Vladimir in 2008 under the sponsorship of the local governor. It was illustrated with two nostalgic color photographs of Paektusan, Korea's sacred Mountain, that were presented to him by a recent traveler. This place was of particular meaning for Valery, as he had hunted there on many occasions. The "Paektusan" story and the essay "My Korea" were his last literary pieces. 

The fame of the Yankovskys in Russia is constantly growing. In 2007, the "Rubezh" publishers in Vladivostok published a collection of George and Valery’s literary works entitled "Nenuni. The Far Eastern Odyssey" with many archival photographs. Valery’s bibliography was included in "The Biobibliographical Dictionary of Modern Korean Studies in Russia" (Moscow, 2006). His memoirs were published by the Russian State Library in the "Eastern Collection" Magazine. Regular seminars on the Yankovskys' legacy are organized by the Vladivostok Local History Museum. Many people who come to the Maritime Province for sightseeing are invited to the remains of the Yankovskys' old farm by tourist agencies. The Public Library of Vladivostok is now collecting "The Yankovskys archive". In 2008 it published "Valery Yankovsky. Biobibliographical collection" -- a work that contains about 100 pages of titles and some new research papers. A CD-Rom with a radio-program "Valery Yankovsky Visits His Native Places in the Maritime Province" (1991) was included. This program in which Valery reminisced about his family and his life attracted so much public attention that the library decided to produce it separately. In November 2009 a documentary film “Russians without Russia. The Far Eastern Exodus-1” was aired by the Russian central TV and gained wide response. Valery participated as the primary story-teller in it.
His demise is a big loss for many people here. He is grieved by his friends, relatives in many countries and everybody who liked his works and admired his unbending will, creative hard-working personality, cheerful and optimistic character. The burial will take place in Vladimir on April 22. Valery Yankovsky left behind his wife, Irina, also a former prisoner of GULAG, and a son, Arseny (1959 year born).
Tatiana Simbirtseva, Ph.D.
Dept. of Philology and History of the Far East,
Institute of Oriental and Classical Studies,
Russian State University for the Humanities

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