Survivors – Words of Wisdom from Melina


I was five years old in 1950. That was the age were you received your first aptitude test in the Soviet Union. I scored high in engineering. I took my second one, three years later, when I was eight years old and again, I scored high in engineering. But when I took my third test, I didn’t score high in engineering, I was eleven years old and it said I was best suited for military or law enforcement. But it was the 1950s still and frankly, there weren’t a lot of jobs in military or law enforcement for women. Not even in the Soviet Union. However, when I took my final aptitude test at fifteen, my career choice was given to me, I would go into military intelligence.

There was some career choices in the Soviet Union, but not many and my father, Leon Leonovich, had to pretend to be a loyal party member because he was an underground Orthodox priest. Religion had long since been outlawed in the Soviet Union by the time Leon Leonovich’s children began taking aptitude tests. And we were expected to accept the results and move forward with our careers as indicated by those damn tests.

In 1915, my father took full orders to be an Orthodox priest. He’d taken a vow of celibacy. Then the October Revolution happened. The Bolsheviks didn’t immediately begin dismantling the Russian Orthodox church. Under Lenin, it wasn’t considered a great institution, but it wasn’t the bane of the party’s existence just yet. In 1924, Lenin died and my father, saw the writing on the wall. If Trotsky succeed Lenin, things might be okay. But there were too many people vying for the spot and some of them were completely nuts and everyone knew it. Somehow, Stalin was named successor even though the beloved Lenin had explicitly stated he did not want Josef Stalin to come into that sort of power.

It would take a few years for Stalin to get his campaign against the Russian Orthodox church up to full steam, but my father knew it was coming as early as 1926. Just two years later, Stalin’s assault on religion began in earnest. And in 1929, my father asked my mother to marry him, breaking his vow of celibacy. Because in 1929, priests were already starting to disappear. By getting married, my father broke his vows and hoped he was safe from Stalin’s purges of the church hierarchies. Between 1929 and 1931, more than fifty priests my father had known had either married or gone missing.

My father married a woman he’d known all his life. Her family had supported the Bolsheviks, while his family had been Royalists that supported the monarchy. I think my parents loved each other, but it may not have been romantic love. Because my maternal grandparents were party members, my father was able to join the party as well. And that is what saved his life. He was placed in a position of military intelligence and one weekend a month, he held a secret church service for those that still wanted to be Russian Orthodox. If he’d been caught; he, my mom, and their congregation all would have been sent to gulags or executed.

My mother won the Mother Heroine medal. A medal of honor handed out to women who gave birth to and raised more than ten children. So, even if they weren’t romantically in love, they lusted after each other enough to breed prolifically. Despite his desire to still practice religion and not be dedicated to the Soviet cause, my father put on a good show, as did my mother. Her parents had been Bolsheviks, but she hadn’t really been a supporter of the revolutionaries. She was a realist. The ideas sounded great, but the implementation and practice of such a utopian ideal, was sketchy at best. And Lenin’s death, well, without Lenin, it seemed even less likely to happen. Even without the battle between factions within the party. My mother and grandparents got lucky, they had not been vocal Trotsky supporters. Her brother had been and Stalin sent him to the gulag in 1925 where he died.

My parents were survivors and to a great degree saviors. They did everything correctly, earning medals of honor for different achievements within the Soviet system, while secretly wishing it would hurry up and collapse. They feared the collapse much less than the continuation of it, especially under Stalin. My siblings and I had more choices than most of our peers, because of the commendations our parents had earned. My parents even earned the right to dine with Stalin one night. It was 1943, WWII was raging. And my parents told us all much later in life that in 1943, Stalin was bat shit crazy. But his wife, his calming influence, his beta had committed suicide eleven years earlier.

And so, like my siblings, I took the jobs my aptitude test said I should and I was a loyal party member or at least, I made a good show of being a loyal party member. In 1965, I was working in military intelligence as a liaison for scientific research and the military. I was barely twenty years old and I was dating a young military officer. We had lunch one day and after lunch, I stayed in the restaurant for a while, thinking. I’d just found out I was pregnant. I hadn’t told the man I was dating yet. I wasn’t sure I wanted to marry him and abortions were illegal in the Soviet Union at the time.

I had to do something. I couldn’t stand the Soviet system any more. I hated my job, I hated my life. I hated that my parents were forced to hide their own hate and disgust for the party and the system. The only good thing that had happened in the last decade was that Stalin had died and the guy who took over for him was less crazy, but mind-bogglingly dull. I’d met him once and in that ten minutes, I’d almost fallen asleep he was so boring. As I sat there lost in thought, a young man suddenly sat down at my table. He looked like any other young man in Moscow. He even sounded like any other young man in Moscow.

But he passed me a letter. I thought it was a love letter when I first opened it. The man blushed and hurried from the table. I read the letter twice and it was indeed a love letter, which was weird, I’d never met him before, how could he be in love with me and how could he have been so in love with me, he had to write me a love letter.

When I got home that night, I held it up to a flame from a lighter. I had a feeling it had to be something more than a love letter. A love letter didn’t make sense. And brown words appeared beneath the black ink. He said his name was Harry and he’d been watching me for a while. He thought we could work together on a project that might save me from my misery.

Long story short, Harry and I began exchanging love letters a couple of times a month. Then my pregnancy started to show and Harry asked me a serious question. Did I want my baby born in the Soviet Union or somewhere else? I was engaged to be married to the officer by then and I really didn’t want to marry him or have his baby and certainly not in the Soviet Union where their life would be dictated by how good of a Soviet citizen I was.

Three weeks later, my parents, some of my younger siblings, myself, and Harry Burns all met at a secret location outside Moscow. I handed him plans for a rocket that the Soviet military intended to launch into space. He gave us passports with American names and then he drove the five of us to a border crossing in Tajikistan, one of the Soviet Bloc countries that bordered Afghanistan. Harry handed a container to the guards at the border and we drove into Afghanistan. He stopped and we all wrapped up in Muslim clothing. We were only in Afghanistan less than a day, before entering India, where we changed out of our Muslim clothing and we were taken to New Dehli where we boarded a flight for the United States.

Some of my older siblings had stayed. They were imprisoned and tortured for our whereabouts. But none of them broke beyond telling them that we had been kidnapped by the Americans. I was still pregnant, when I got to the US. I miscarried less than two months later.

And then I met my husband to be. I was working for the CIA as a Soviet code breaker. I had learned to speak every language of the Soviet Union. My husband was corresponding with someone in Ireland in Czech. Because neither the US or UK were looking for messages in Soviet languages to be passed between members of the IRA. We spent months trying to figure out if he was encouraging the terrorist acts of the IRA or not. And he was trying to set up members of the IRA with corrupt military generals dealing weapons out of the Soviet Union. No matter how many comminiques we intercepted or how many hours we spent surveilling him, we couldn’t catch him doing anything illegal, and he was a cop. So we really wanted to catch him at something. I made a decision. I went to Kansas City and accidentally met him. I was a foreign exotic beauty, even at 24. And I spoke Czech, Russian, Ukrainian, and several other languages. He thought I was a bimbo who was good at languages, because I’d grown up there. He had a very low opinion of women to begin with, so it wasn’t hard to fool him.

Much to Harry Burns’ surprise, he asked me to marry him after we had dated for about three months and I agreed. We would catch him damn it, if it was the last thing I did. After twenty years of marriage, we had five kids, I hated him even more than I hated the Soviet Union, the Union had collapsed, and I still didn’t have any evidence against him that I could turn over to the CIA. I’d been squirreling away my CIA check while they had me doing a fake job as a typist for an accounting firm owned by the company. And then I finally got the evidence. I gave it to Harry Burns that morning. He was arranging a meeting between an IRA head and Oleg Borisovich. A man I had once dated and who I knew had been dealing arms even when the Soviet Union was still in tact. He had been the military officer that had gotten me pregnant all those years ago. It was 1996.

Here’s the thing, Nadine was seventeen by then. Oleg had known where we were for a long time. I think he arranged the meeting specifically to set up my husband. Because that day, after turning the info over to Harry, my husband got off work, went to the gas station for cigarettes, beer, and lottery ticket, and was shot seven times. The clerk was shot once and it was just a flesh wound. He testified the thief walked in, shot him in the arm, turned the gun on my husband who was in uniform and shot him seven times, then demanded the money from the register and took off. He was sure the cop was the target, not him or the money.

I got flowers from Oleg Borisovich the following day, congratulating me on becoming a widow and offering to come to the US to take care of me and his son. He was convinced Liam, my oldest son, was his. It took me five years and multiple copies of Liam’s birth certificate being sent to him to convince him otherwise. Liam had been born in 1969, three years after I left the Soviet Union.

After the autopsy and inquest into my husband’s death, his effects were turned over to me, including that lottery ticket that he’d just finished tucking into his pocket when he was shot. I stopped and checked it at the gas station on the way home from his funeral, because I was feeling lucky. And oh boy, was I. His ticket was worth one hundred million dollars.

That coupled with my earnings from the CIA that I had been hiding for nearly three decades, meant me, my kids, and their kids would all be set for life. I offered all of them a monthly allowance and only Liam and Ivan took it and then only after they had kids, because neither of them understand how to use birth control. Liam has three, Ivan has five. Liam’s wife works as a typist for minimum wage and Liam is an FBI agent, they don’t make great money either. Nadine I helped build an empire for. I didn’t know it at the time though. She wanted to go to business school, so I sent her. Anthony suggested they start a security agency together. It would be good, she agreed. They could do private and personal security or install alarms and cameras and panic rooms. Anthony convinced her to hire five guys he knew that were mercenaries. The first year, the business wasn’t profitable, but few are and I gave them five years to get it up and running. The second year, Nadine’s company was hired to provide security for a movie star that had a stalker and kept leaving her dead bodies. Anthony caught the serial killer stalking her and her praise of Daniels’ Security, launched it into being profitable. By the end of the third year, it was earning more than quadruple it’s annual expenses. They’ve provided security for people in every country of the world. Charging what the person can afford and based on their needs. By the tenth year, Nadine was only 30 and Daniels’ Security was making tens of millions of dollars in profit a year. Now, they’re expanding and they will have to hire more people and open new offices and she’s even earned contracts with the federal government to assist with the Federal Guard Neighborhoods and the Serial Crimes Tracking Unit.

I hated my husband, but I love my children. I don’t regret it. Like my parents did, I survived, even when I wasn’t happy, I survived and I did what was necessary for my family and my children. And Nadine and Aislinn wonder why Myrna and I are such good friends. Our lives have not been so different, except she loved her psychopath and I was happy when mine died. But neither of us would change a single thing about our lives, we are both survivors and we are both very proud of our children.

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