By Semen Gerusev
In 1892, Ilya Repin bought Zdravnevo Estate near Vitebsk for use as a family summer retreat. Over the coming decade, he created Autumn Bouquet, Belarusian and Sunrise on the Zapadnaya Dvina River. After the October Revolution, his younger daughter settled there. His granddaughter, Tatiana, later married the son of a local priest, going on to have four children, born in Zdravnevo. The Diakonoffs worked as teachers at a local primary school, yet the stamp of ‘former’ people hung over them like the Sword of Damocles. In August 1930, they moved to Repin’s Penaty Estate (now, a suburb of St. Petersburg and, until 1940, part of Finland). After the artist’s death, they moved to France and never returned… until recently, wishing to view places in Belarus formerly connected with their outstanding ancestor.
Four twice-great-grandsons of the painter returned to Vitebsk with their families: a book-keeper, a carpenter-cabinetmaker, a physical education teacher, a trade worker and a financial consultant among the part of 18 — but not a single painter. The oldest — 59 year old Yvan Diakonoff — works as an engineer with the famous France Telecom Corporation and lives in Lyon. The youngest — 20 year old thrice-great-granddaughter Celia Autechaud — is a student of classical literature. Many of their names are familiar to Slavs: Marina, Nadine, Veronique, Alexis, Sophie, Adrian and Serge.
Eight decades of living in Western Europe have definitely influenced the family, with only Svetlana Terekhova-Mayorgas knowing Russian. She was born in Pskov and now teaches at a French school, while also working with the Union des Russophones in France. It is she that has been organising the visit for the last two years.
“It was only a few days ago, while visiting Kiev, Chuguev (Repin’s homeland) and Moscow, that we discovered Ilya Repin’s true popularity within the former Soviet states,” admits Yvan Diakonoff. “In France, he is known only among artists and those studying Russian art.”
“Of course, in visiting Belarus, we’d like to learn more about our prominent ancestor,” explained Yvan’s brother, engineer and mathematician Michel Diakonoff. “Zdravnevo was where our father Kirill was born (unfortunately, no longer living). Looking at your woods and fields through the train windows, we imagined our father as a small boy, running through this beauty. It was very exciting.”
The artist’s descendants visited Repin’s Zdravnevo Museum-Estate and a cemetery in Verkhovie, where their ancestors are buried. They also familiarised themselves with how people live and relax in the Dvina River area.