— White Russians Émigrés in Hong Kong

Even in HK, the Russians kept up their traditions 🙂

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Nellie Tkachenko very kindly sent me a photo of a get together with her family and friends taken in Hong Kong.  The women are wearing kokoshniks, the traditional Russian headdress and the man sitting on the right has a balalaika in front of him.

There were many Russians in HK after the war and although I was a little girl at the time, I do remember my parents having friends over, or heading off to their houses for dinners or parties.

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The Cherikoffs

Both Victor and Sonia Cherikoff were extremely close friends of my parents so Lindy and I were invited to be flower girls at their son’s wedding in 1950.

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A photo in the SCMP after the Cherikoff wedding Click to enlarge

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  1. Victor Cherikoff
  2. Barbara Bonch
  3. Sasha Novikoff
  4. Me
  5. Sonia Cherikoff
  6. The bride and groom
  7. Nellie Tkachenko
  8. Lindy
  9. Ira Smirnoff

 

This video clip is from an 8mm movie which my father took …

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Russian Friends Who Died in Hong Kong

Some newspaper cuttings with a number of names of Russians after the war, unfortunately both are to do with funerals 🙁

There are several names which ring a bell with me but unfortunately few where I can put a face to the name.

1947 accident Vassilieva Afanieseff

 

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Russian Musicians

Daddy had Russian friends who were also musicians, some of whom played in his orchestra, like Victor Orloff, A Krassoff, P Esdakoff and A Greenevitch.

A Krassoff is 2nd from left, sitting next to daddy, who’s at the head of the table Click to enlarge

1950 recital

Victor Orloff on the left, dad on the piano and A Krassoff on the cello on the right

A Krassoff played in dad’s orchestra from the beginning, so I wonder if he came down from Shanghai or was already in HK.  Sadly that question will remain unanswered 🙁

I did see that the lady who witnessed Baba Manya’s request to go to HK from Tientsin was named Mrs Krassova.  I *think* that she *might* have been A Krassoff’s mother so maybe dad’s connection with him went way back!

Another musician who also played with dad just after the war was Victor Orloff.  He must have been good friends with my father as I found the clipping of his death amongst dad’s papers.

 

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Russian Friends of Our Family

I know my parents used to mix with a lot of the Russian community when I was small, either having them to our house for parties, or going to theirs. The group seemed very close-knit and I must say I regret that most of the families left during the 1950s or early 1960s as I really was too young to know so many of them.

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  1.  Paul A O’B Hove (formerly Oboukhov)
  2. Ida Close (formerly Ida Gerzo – her husband was killed during the Japanese invasion)
  3. Cora Venetskaya
  4. Jenny
  5. Mom
  6. Daddy

 

 

I remember Cora as such a loving and considerate person.  I used to love talking to her and called her  «Tyotya Cora» (Aunt Cora) as I thought of her as part of our family DesiSmileys.com

 

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Photo of the table mom & dad were sitting at. Jenny is on the left at the other table .Click to enlarge

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Sonia Cherikoff is sitting on the left, next to the guy. Cora is on the right, looking at the camera and I’d venture a guess that Ida is in the centre, back to the photographer. Click to enlarge

 

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The Mihaleffs

Two other close friends of the family were Michael and Olga Mihaleff. Michael was a musician and godfather to my sister, and Olga was my surrogate godmother. Sadly Michael died, in 1952 I think, when he was overcome by fumes from a leaky water heater when he was in the bath 🙁

Olga helped mom with the fashion shows by being the wardrobe mistress and she was a frequent visitor to our flat.

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This photo taken on February 4, 1952, and shows Tyotya Olga and Uncle Serge (my godfather) on the sofa with me in the middle.

Mom is holding Tsutsk, our funny little Scotty-X dog while Lindy is holding her paw 🙂

I was so young that I didn’t really have friends like Lindy did – she was big buddies with Sashka Smirnoff and he used to come around to our house very often. She also had other Russian friends so they used to talk in Russian when they didn’t want English kids to know what they were talking about!

I was too young for my sister’s friends and too old for those kids who were born later, like my cousin.  There was no real appeal for me to learn Russian as my parents never spoke it at home – unless they didn’t want me to know what they were planning and I usually could make an educated guess at what they were talking about 😉

Balia tried to teach me Russian but, like my piano lessons, my heart wasn’t in it and I wasn’t a good student 🙁

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The Smirnoff Family

Nina Smirnoff tragically lost her husband, George, after the war when he committed suicide 🙁  George was an extremely talented painter and while the family was in Macau during the Japanese Occupation, he painted a lot of watercolours of the city.

Lindy and Sasha Smirnoff were just about the same age – Sashka was a year younger and he was like a big brother to me. Even Lyalya (Nina) Smirnoff was like a big sister, so it was great in that way.  Ira was the eldest so she really didn’t hang out with the family 🙂

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1948 — Lyalya with me Click to enlarge

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Lindy, Lyalya and me at Castle Peak beach (I think!) Click to enlarge

 

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Taken during Christmas with close friends

L-R (back) : Balia, daddy, Babushka Yatskin, Nicky Halfter (both he and his mother were very old friends of Balia, I think from Shanghai days)

L-R (front) : mom, Sashka, me, Jenny, Lindy and Chucha

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On the right … Sashka, Lindy and daddy – taken at the PRC (Police Recreation Club) with the Craigengower Cricket Club and the start of Wongneichong Road in the background.

 

 

 

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Ida and Joe Close

The Closes were long-time friends of my parents.  Ida was Russian but although Joe was English, he was brought up in Argentina and he loved being involved with the Russian community.

I didn’t know that Ida had been married before Joe and that her husband had been killed fighting the Japanese on Christmas Day 1941!

Ida and Samuel on their wedding day [photo source: Jewish Historical Society of HK]

Ida had married Samuel Gerzo in Shanghai in 1935 and after travelling to Europe in 1938, Ida and Samuel arrived in Hong Kong on December 30, 1938, on the Canadian Pacific liner «Empress of Japan».

Samuel was keen to get a British passport so he joined the HKVDC in 1939 as a gunner, and Ida trained as a volunteer nurse (VAD).
[Source: Jewish Historical Society of Hong Kong]

Sadly Samuel was killed by the invaders around 6:30 am on the day of the surrender to the Japanese on Prison Road in Stanley and Luba Skvorzov’s mother had to tell Ida the news 🙁

Ida left HK with the Skvorzov women and spent the war years in Shanghai, and Luba told me Ida helped them to find accommodation with some Jewish people during that time.

They all returned after HK was liberated and it was at a party which the Skvorzovs held where Ida met Joe (whose name was Herbert William) 😀   Ida and Joe got married and so it was the Closes whom I knew when growing up!

Ida worked for mom in Paquerette and Joe worked for the Star Ferry. He was based on Kowloon side so when he was on duty and he saw me and my friends running for the ferry after school, he would – at times if he thought we might not make the gate in time – keep it open for us!

I knew them as Uncle Joe and Auntie Ida and they really were like family! They left HK in the early 1960s to live in Israel, however after a couple of years they decided it wasn’t for them so after passing through HK, they ended up in Perth, Western Australia.

We saw them in 1969 when I went down to Australia for a couple of weeks with my folks, and then when my parents and Balia retired to Perth, and I joined them 20 months later, we saw a lot of them!

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Other families I remember …

The Sokoloffs who had two kids, Natalia and George.  George was around Lindy’s age while Natalia was older.

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1961 San Francisco – me, Lindy, George and Nata Click to enlarge

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1949 – KGV Ira, Natalia and Luba Svorkzov, the little trio in the middle

 

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Mme Anna Nozadze’s Piano Concerts

Mrs Anna Akimovna Nozadze (aka Balia) was my maternal grandmother and she taught many young people the piano.

There were a number of Russians who were Balia’s pupils in 1949 – all three Smirnoff kids (Sasha, Lyalya and Ira), George and Natalia Sokoloff, Michael Koodiaroff, Corrine Ellery, and Helen Zaharoff.

1951

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1951

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There were quite a few Russian kids in that photo …


(1) Helen Zaharoff
(2) Corinne Ellery
(3) Ira (Irina) Smirnoff
(4) ? Reubens
(5) Michael Koodiaroff
(6) Lois Reubens
(7) Lyalya (Nina) Smirnoff
(8) Sashka (Alex) Smirnoff
(9) *Colleen Smith
(9) *Marjorie Revie

*not Russian

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1951 October 21 — daddy and Ira playing at Balia’s concert, with Helen Zaharoff as their page turner (Click to enlarge)

 

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1954

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1954GroupPhotoPencilSketch(1)  Lana Belokopitoff
(2)  Sasha Smirnoff
(3) Helen Zaharoff
(4) Nata (Natalie) Rodney
(5) Laura Gabriel
(6) Tusha (Kathy) Huber
(7) Chucha (Anna) Yatskin
(8) *Colleen Smith
(9) John Huber
(10) *Sylvia Picciotto
(11) Me

*not Russian

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The Huber Family

The Hubers – Galia Huber was Russian but she married a Swiss fellow. Their children were Katherine /Kathy, called Katusha/Tusha by close friends, who was a few years older than me and John, who was my age.  Both kids learned the piano with Balia.

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I remember us standing in the hall at St Andrew’s during services and John and I would flick candle wax which landed on our hands at each other!  Such rebels  😀

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The Gabriels

Another family were the Gabriels.  Both daughters, Laura and Barbara, were at KGV when I was there but Laura was a few years older while Barbara was a few years younger than me.

Both girls took piano lessons from Balia and I think Barbara was with Balia until she retired!

Their uncle was Leo Landau, who had Jimmy’s Kitchen in HK.

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Taken at Balia’s concert at the Peninsula – Laura closest to the photographer, then L-R : Mr Gabriel, Nina Smirnoff, Ida Close, Balia with a Russian friend whose name escapes me, Dedushka Gabriel, Barbara and Mrs Gabriel

 

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Dr & Mrs Cohen

Another couple we knew were Dr and Mrs Cohen.  Dr Cohen worked for Anderson & Partners and his wife, Lydia, taught ballet lessons.

When I was about 12, mom insisted that Lindy and I should take ballet lessons from her. Lindy didn’t really need to learn how to be elegant but I certainly did  😮

The thing was that Lindy and I couldn’t stop laughing when we walked towards each other, on either side of the free-standing barre which was in the middle of the room. Mrs Cohen would exhort us to «point your FINIGERS» (she meant point your TOES) and we’d both be shaking with laughter so hard it was difficult to continue.

Being a hopeless tomboy, I really hated the ballet lessons so I think mom finally threw in the towel and allowed me to discontinue those Sunday morning lessons!  Yay!  😀

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The Vargassoffs

Dr and Mrs Vargassoff had two kids, both older than me – Vera and Nick – and then in 1958, when I finished at my primary school, both Mrs Vargassoff and dad used to take it in turns to drive us all down to the Star Ferry 🙂

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  1. Vera Vargassoff
  2. Nick Vargassoff
  3. Me
  4. Lindy
  5. A Russian girl but her name escapes me 🙁

There could be other Russian kids in the photo but if there are, I don’t remember any names or faces 🙁

We used to celebrate Easter with the Vargassoffs after going to midnight mass, either going to their place for the feast or they coming to our place to have it,

And at Christmas – we only celebrated English Christmas, not the Russian one – Mrs Vargassoff used to get dressed up as Santas Claus and scare the bejeesus out of me when she’d knock on our front door to ask if I’d been good all year and deserved my Christmas presents!  LOL!

What a fabulous lady – she had a beard made of cotton balls, I think, and she wore her pink candlewick dressing gown.  I seriously was terrified to think Santa knew what I was up to!  Hahahaha!  Parents and their friends are so sneaky sometimes  😀

I doubt my parents did the same for Vera and Nick as they were older and probably would have sussed out that it was not really Santa but who knows!  Maybe they did, but I somehow don’t think so  – LOL!!

When very young, I used to call her Tyotya Tanya but from the time I went to KGV, I always referred to her as Mrs Vargassoff and always referred to her husband Dr Vargassoff, never Syeva.  Dr Vargassoff worked in the Department of Pathology in the University of HK in 1941 but I don’t remember if he worked as a GP after the war.

Also, Mrs Vargassoff’s mother lived with them in Morrison Hill Road and went down to Sydney with the family. She was a lovely old lady and I remember she was still bright as a button when we visited them in 1969. I remember calling her Babushka but cannot remember her first name 🙁

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Paul Daiko

My parents knew Paul and his wife well, and I knew Paul when I used to do a lot of sailing at the RHKYC.  However I only knew him to say hello and didn’t know his kid/s.

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Father Ilia Wen and his Resurrection Parish

A few years ago I was asked by someone about Father Uspenski, who was the RO priest in Hong Kong.  I said I never knew him as the only priest I remember was a wonderful Chinese priest I used to call batyushka.  I didn’t know his name until just a couple of years ago  😮

I’ve since found out that batyushka (Батюшка) was a priest in Shanghai and I’m sure my parents would have gone to his services back in those days.

He fled from China when the Communists took control and came to Hong Kong where, the article says, he founded the Resurrection parish! That must have been what our church was called!

Amazing what I’ve been able to find out, thanks to the internet!

Before Father Ilia came to HK, my parents used to attend the Sts Peter and Paul Church in Kowloon Tong, and the priest there was Father Uspenski.

However some time either in the very late days of the 1940s or the very early days of the 1950s, my parents and other parishioners of Father Uspenski were unhappy about the fact that they found out that Father Uspenski was sending money or parcels to the church in the Soviet Union and – as they were all fiercely anti-Communist – they took it up with him.

batushkaMom told me that when they brought up the fact that they were not happy with what he was going, he excommunicated all of them! 😮

That must have been when they approached batyushka and he started his Resurrection parish.

Our church was, in fact, a room attached to the side of St Andrew’s Church (on Nathan Road) and this is where we used to attend all the services.

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This photo must have been taken very early in the 1900s. St Andrew’s was built in 1906 and by the time we attended our church there, there were trees around the outside the church.  I don’t know how … but there was a very bushy hill to the left of the church which isn’t visible in the above photo!

You can see the trees in the photos below taken during our Easter service in 1954 🙂

Easter 1954

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Our family at the service Click to enlarge

 

Russian Easter service – Sashka Smirnoff walking in the front and a very young John Huber standing near the picture

One memory which has been deeply imprinted into my brain about Easter Mass was how we had to fast before the service so Balia used to give me warm water to drink to stave off the hunger pains.

Oy! To this day I can’t swallow warm water as it still makes me want to throw up immediately 🙁

When we were at the church, the ladies room was up the hill next to the door to the room. I seem to remember it was about 100, if not more, steps up to loo and it was dark and scary, the hill being full of wild plants and noises of little animals or maybe even snakes moving around  😮

Anyway, I used to race up those steps, throw up, then come back down and feel hungry and miserable but once the service started, all those symptoms disappeared as I became enthralled with the whole service 🙂

Both Sashka and Bobby Liu were altar boys in our church and Bobby, or Bobka as we called him, was another big brother!  He used to hang out at our house and when he and Sasha left HK for the States, we caught up with them in Chicago then they drove us down down to New York.

L-R: Lindy. dad. Sashka, me & Bobby. Click to enlarge

Bobby's mother SCMP

Information about Bobby’s mother Click to enlarge

Bobby was a reporter for AP and Sashka ended up marrying a wealthy American girl and was working for the Empire State Building in his final years.

We heard that Sasha had a heart attack while snorkelling off Bermuda years ago but Lindy lost contact with Bobby back in the 1970s so I have no idea where or with who he ended up 🙁

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Another Russian I have just recently made friends with via the internet is Paul Atroshenko. He and his family were in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation and he wrote about his experiences on his blog.

Russian Restaurateurs

Mom and dad’s friends from Shanghai, the Cherikoffs and Tkachenkos, started up restaurants in Kowloon when they came to the Colony.

Here they are, including Chantecler (which I remember but I have idea about who owned it) and Queen’s Cafe

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Mischa – a lovely Shanghainese guy who spoke fluent Russian, was in charge of Queen’s Cafe when we were living there!

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Mischa Click to enlarge

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Arrow points to Queen’s Cafe Click to enlarge

There were obviously many other Russians in Hong Kong during the 1950s but either I don’t remember them or I never knew them 🙂

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The following are memories of Luba Estes (nee Skvorzov) of her parents’ Russian friends in Hong Kong after the war …

I am posting 2 photographs with Ida in them. Friends are at party in my parent’s home in Hong Kong. My guess this was in 1947 or later.

The first picture has my father seated with his arm outstretched trying to take a photo. My mother is standing just where his left hand is.

My sister, Loula Ballerand, is next to her. Ida is on the other side of my mother. Man on the left standing is Lavrov, then Paul Daiko.

At the extreme right standing with just his glasses showing is Biriukoff. Two ladies sitting facing my father are Biriukoff’s wife who was always called Aunty Kitty and (forgot first name) Hubert.

© Luba Estes (nee Svorkzov)

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© Luba Estes (nee Svorkzov)

Front row: R-L — Ida, Victor Rumiantzev kissing Aunty Kitty, Nina Smirnoff, My mother in a hat (this was a costume party and Lena Rawitz.
Behind: Joe Close and a pretty lady? I don’t know in whose house in Hong Kong. Probably 1947 or later

 

 

Interesting articles about all things Russian re Hong Kong …

From Russia with all things by Annabel Graham from the Sunday Morning Post (Gwulo.com)

How the White Russian refugee crisis unfolded in China a century ago, and the lucky ones who made it to Hong Kong by Stuart Heaver (Post Magazine/SCMP)

Restaurants Serve Borscht? The Overlooked History of Russian Hong Kong by Christopher DeWolf (Zolima Citymag HK)

 

 

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White Russian Emigres in Hong Kong

Photos of White Russians in HK - friends of ours, as well as those we didn't know to help with anyone researching this
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