Fort Russ E-book: Kurchatov – The Father of the Soviet Nuclear Bomb. Part 4. The Revolution in Crimea


A boy nicknamed “Napoleon” polishes the shoes of the White officers in Kerch, Crimea, 1918

August 30, 2015

Peter Astashenkov: “Kurchatov”

Published by “Molodaya Gvardiya”, 1968

Translated by Kristina Rus for Fort Russ



A Storm over Crimea

The tension of the approaching storm was felt more and more clearly. Simferopol factory and railroad workers were on strike. Igor broke the first news of this to his family, because he often met with the workers.

– Have you heard, the depot went on strike! What is going to happen? What is going to happen? – he asked excitedly, barely crossing the threshold.

Parents were unable to answer all the questions which agitated the boys. But one thing was clear: something new is approaching, some kind of a cleansing thunderstorm, after which everything should be – And will be! – firmly said Igor, – different. The future was painted as fair, with equal opportunities for all in life and in school.

And the future came sooner than he expected. In January 1918 the Soviet power was established in Crimea. Crimea became a free Soviet Republic. Joyful injection of the new, a common uplifting, the atmosphere of extraordinary energy – those who went through all of this have kept the romance of those days forever in their heart. The entire future life of Igor Kurchatov passed under the sign of the first days of the revolution.

The impressions of the youth are the strongest impressions. And Igor’s luck was that his teenage years coincided with the years of renewal of Russia.

No life changes and temporary defeats were able to weaken the influence of the first days of the revolution, which entered the heart, and became the flesh and blood of the young man.

He met the invadors with hatred. The feeling of hatred towards the invaders was shared by his friends at school. Among them, the newcomer – Vladimir Lutsenko. Later he walked hand-in-hand with Igor for many years.

Lutsenko’s family arrived in Simferopol in late autumn 1918, and Vladimir entered the 7th grade late. The inspector of the gymnasium led him to a tall boy in uniform and said,
“This is Kurchatov. He is our best student and will be able to help you catch up on what you missed.”

Igor invited Vladimir to his home, and he soon became a part of the Kurchatov family.

In the spring of 1919 the Soviet government was established in Crimea for the second time. Igor and Vladimir graduated from the 7th grade and in the summer joined a land expedition on the way to the foot of the mountain Chater-Dag. There they worked for about a month. Igor with pegs and tape, Vladimir with theodolite walked dozens of kilometers. They used the spare time, as they said, to survey the mountains. Igor’s curiosity was boundless. To travel, to climb mountain tops, to “open” new grottoes and caves – was his passion.

Then, with another expedition, friends went to the construction of an airfield. At the end of the work there was a problem: a horse stepped on Vladimir’s foot and damaged the boot. Of course, it hurt – but the boot!.. To fix it was impossible. And Vladimir was crying not so much from pain, but because he was left without shoes. Igor, rushed to the cries, was well in tune of the grief of his friend.

In the fall an ominous cloud had once again covered the skies. The whites entered Simferopol. Repressions began. The old order was restored. The life of the population became more and more difficult. Igor and Vladimir, trying to help their families, in the fall and winter of 1919 worked posting street ads. With buckets of glue and rolls of ads they walked the quiet streets. They delayed hanging  “White propaganda” posters, and even sent some to a landfill.

Igor studied a lot. In the spring of 1920 he graduated from the gymnasium with a gold medal. However, the medal was never awarded to him, simply because no one could find gold medals in Simferopol. But it’s not the point.

Father, who usually reserved affection, embraced his son:

– Well, good job, I am proud of you…

And, turning to the younger brother, Boris, didactically added:

– You have to follow his example, son.

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