Jenny was born in Vladivostok in 1922 and was two years old when all the ladies in her family – mother, sister, grandmother and aunt – packed up for China and left Russia for good 🙁
Mom and Jenny’s grandfather, Dedushka Akim, stayed behind in Vladivostok. As he was such a successful businessman, I’m sure he thought the revolution would fizzle out and then he’s be there, ready to get contracts to fix up the port or do other things.
Sadly I don’t know what happened to him 🙁 As he didn’t join his family in Shanghai, I can only assume the Bolsheviks executed him for being a capitalist :'(
Balia’s (step)sister, Lida, married an ex-Imperial Naval officer called Serge Novikoff and they had a son they called Alex (Sasha/Sashka).
Serge had a job as a merchant seaman so he was away from his family for long stretches, and Lida wasn’t well so it fell to Balia to look after Sasha,
Have I told the story of how mom got into terrible trouble for turning the conservatory in their house into a swimming pool?
Summers were very humid in Shanghai and although there were swimming pools, I guess they weren’t easily accessible to children.
One very hot and humid summer, Jenny and Sashka were grumbling about feeling hot and sweaty. Always a very creative person, she thought it would be a great idea to turn the conservatory into a pool so mom brought the hose into the conservatory and turned the tap on 😮
Jenny and Sashka thought she was a star and had a ball splashing around in the water but when Balia got home, she was definitely not impressed!
Balia got her brush and gave mom a really hard spanking on her bottom!
Sadly I have no clue where Jenny went to school – probably the same school that mom went to. She had a lovely voice and used to sing in the church choir.
Jenny was in Shanghai with Balia and Dedushka during WWII – I don’t know why mom and dad couldn’t get them into Hong Kong, like they did with Baba Manya and Victor Petrovich. I think it might have been that Dedushka was ill and they were reluctant to leave him so perhaps that was the reason.
When Lindy was born, mom and dad asked Jenny to be godmother and she accepted 🙂
There are photos of Balia with Baba Manya and Lindy in HK during the war and I have no idea how she managed to get a visa to visit but obviously she did.
Dedushka died in 1945 from sprue and after that, mom and dad managed to get Balia and Jenny into Hong Kong.
Jenny started singing in dad’s orchestra/band under the stage name of «Janet Node».
Some time afterwards, mom and dad introduced Jenny to their good friend, a war photographer called Sam Cameron.
Sam and Jenny began dating and Sam was absolutely head-over-heels in love with Jenny so he proposed to her. She said yes and Sam got her a beautiful jade engagement ring.
They had arranged the date for the wedding but when the Communists started to get traction in China, Sam told Jenny that he wanted to postpone the wedding as he had an assignment to go to the war zone.
He said that the assignment would set them up for life so although he really wanted to get married as planned, he thought it would make more sense to their financial future to postpone the date until he finished his job. That way they’d be able to start their married life with no money hassles.
Jenny was absolutely furious with the idea and in fit of temper, she pulled her engagement ring off her finger and threw it hard against the wall, shattering it in several pieces 🙁
Balia recovered one of the pieces and made it into a gorgeous ring which she wore and, when she died my mother wore and, when she died, I inherited it.
It was a family heirloom, one which I truly cherished and was looking forward to handing down to my daughters but, sadly, that was not to be. It was stolen, together with my other jewellery which probably had more sentimental value than anything else 🙁
Sadly this caused a bone of contention occasionally between my folks and Jenny for a while. Although Sam had been a friend of my parents before he met Jenny, the fact that they still remained friends with him upset Jenny and she would bring it up during conversations with them, and the topic would ultimately turn into arguments which took a toll on the sisters’ friendship.
There were a number of fashion shows which my mother put on for charity events and Jenny was a model for a few of them.
From L-R : April 1949, fashion show at the Gripps (HK Hotel); models for the “Kamp for Kids” charity show at the Sky Room at Luna Park; ‘Moonlight Revelry at Eucliff in Repulse Bay.
The photo on the left is Jenny holding me at 3 months old, with Lindy looking over her shoulder!
I would imagine that my aunt met Michael Yatskin at one of the many gatherings of Russians people had, they fell in love and got married. He was an engineer – originally from Siberia – who worked for the Public Works Department in Hong Kong. They were married in a civil ceremony with mom and a friend, Victor Rumianzeff, as witnesses.
I never realised until 2016 that Michael had been in the Shamshuipo PoW camp during the Japanese occupation 😮
I suppose it was just the way – no one wanted to talk to remind themselves about the horrors of the war and if they did, would we, as kids, have listened? Probably not 🙁
It was just luck that someone posted a list of Russians who were PoWs during that time and I saw his name on it!
They had one daughter called Anna born in 1951 and whose nickname was Chucha.
I don’t think I ever called my cousin Anna – she was always, and will always be, Chucha to me 😀
In 1955 when Michael was in charge of levelling a site for a resettlement site in Shamshuipo, he unearthed a tomb from the Han era.
As you can see from the above invitation, there was an exhibition at HKU and you can see Jenny in the photo. She’s the lady standing with a white handbag, looking down at the table which had all the exhibits on 🙂
I remember the Yatskins lived on Ventris Road, in Happy Valley, during the early 1950s. Lindy and I used to walk from our place on Morrison Hill Road to their home.
Lindy and I must have had those Chinese padded gowns for a Christmas present from our parents but I don’t know if the other things we had on us or were carrying were presents from the Yatskins 😉
After that Michael was sent to Shatin for a few years and then they lived in either Braga Circuit or Kadoorie Avenue. Or my timeline could be way off … I really don’t know for sure 🙁
Uncle Michael retired in 1962 and they left Hong Kong for Perth. Only three years later, he was hit and killed by a car when they were walking to a friend’s home one evening 🙁
Balia wanted to see how her daughter was coping so flew down to Perth to stay with Jenny and Chucha in May 1966.
My parents went down to Australia in 1967 but when the riots erupted in Hong Kong, mom flew back but told my father to stay as there would have been no point for him to return and get immersed in striking workers at the HK Tramways.
However their next leave happened in 1969 and they returned to Australia, and I too went down for a few weeks. I met them in Sydney and after staying there for a few days, we travelled to Perth by train, stopping at Melbourne and Adelaide on route.
Jenny and Chucha were still living in their house in Floreat so we stayed at a motel there too. I was there for a week before flying back to Hong Kong, while mom and dad stayed on.
Mom and dad finally retired in January 1974 and they brought Balia down with them when they came to settle in Perth.
I didn’t come down to Perth until August 1975 but I honestly can’t remember seeing much of my aunt or cousin during that time.
I saw Jenny and Chucha at dad’s funeral in 1994, then again at mom’s funeral, in 1997, and the poor lady was looking so old and frail then. I don’t know what was wrong with one of her eyes but she had a patch over it.
Unfortunately when Jenny died, I couldn’t attend the funeral as I’d just had a knee operation so was still unable to walk 🙁
I completely lost touch with Chucha and yet, when I was visiting Lindy in 2008, Chucha and her husband John were visiting so they came up to Lindy’s house and we had a fun reunion.
I was seriously grateful to my cousin for scanning and sending me all the photos which her mother had as I’d never seen those photos before! Amazing good luck 😀
This video was taken in 1956 at the Yatskins’ house in Shatin. The young man flying the kite is Sashka Smirnoff, who was like the brother I never had. A wonderful guy who sadly is no longer with us 🙁
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