Nadezhda Vasilyevna Plevitskaya

A Russia’s singing spy, 1884–1941

Nadezhda Vinnikova Plevitskaya was born on January 17, 1884 in Vinnikovo, and was the ninth child. Both her parents were peasants. Dezhka is how she is called in her childhood days. From an early age, the voice of Dezhka was noticeable. She sang folk songs with adult women. Once, when she was handling geese at the foot of mountain and loudly sang “the Danube river” until young ladies gave a bag of sweets from the carriage that was going downhill. She accepted it as a fee.

For a long time, Dezhka’s mother persuaded her to attend school, but after the early death of her father, the school years were interrupted. As a poor widow, her mum spent endless evenings bowing before the icon of St. Nicholas, begging for help with her children. Her elder sisters got married. Nadezhda decided to enter a monastery, as she was charmed by the rich decoration of churches, the dresses of nuns, the splendor of the Church service. Her mother, believing that the life of a monastery, though not a happy one, was easier than that of a peasant, agreed to her daughter’s request. But to become a nun, you had to make a donation, which was not possible from a poor family, and they decided to give her sister to the novitiate of the Trinity monastery on Gorkovo street to earn money.

However, the stay in the monastery was short. After watching a performance in the theater of I.M. Zaikin. located at the Pokrovsky market, she decided to become a circus performer. The plan failed, but she did not return to the monastery, and began to serve as a maid in the house of merchants Gladkov which is located opposite of the monastery. Currently the building is used as Kursk Medical College. However, even here the service did not work out. Dezhka fell ill and had to return home.

After recovering, in 1904 Nadezhda moved to Kiev and joined the Russian choir Of L. B. Lipkin, which she performed in the garden “Arcadia”. Later Nadezhda enters the Polish ballet company of Stein, where at the age of 19 she marries the choreographer of the Warsaw theaters, Edmund Plevitsky, and very often appears with her husband in theaters. He helps her not only in mastering the art of choreography, but also instilling artistic manners. They went to St. Petersburg, then to Moscow, where she received an invitation to the restaurant “Yar”, which created her great reputation as a soloist-performer of Russian folk songs.

The year 1909 turned out to be a turning point in fate, when Leonid Sobinov heard Nadezhda Plevitskaya at the Nizhny Novgorod fair, in Naumov’s restaurant. It struck him that the audience instantly fell silent as soon as she entered the stage. “Only talent can silence such an audience. You are talent,” he told the singer.

While touring the country, Plevitskaya sometimes visited Kursk, and once spoke at the Noble Assembly. “I have seen many cities, I have been pampered in the capitals, but I have never experienced such excitement — bright, grateful, anywhere else except in my Kursk. Close to the familiar places of my childhood, I clearly understood what a miracle had happened to me”.

She easily earned up to 50 thousand rubles a year, which made her independent, and gave her the opportunity to engage in charity work. In 1911, she realized a dream when she purchased a land in Vinnikovo. She made sure that a bell for the Church was brought to her native village. When in 1914 a fire burned down almost the entire village, Plevitskaya performed charity concerts, providing the victims of the fire with funds for the construction of huts. When she came to the local school, she gave books for the library. During the singer’s visits to Vinnikovo, no wedding or christening took place without her participation.

Plevitskaya’s second husband was a Lieutenant of the Cuirassier regiment named Shangin, and when the First world war began, Nadezhda went with Him to the front, where she became a nurse in the infirmary. In January 1915, Shangin died heroically in battle, and after a while Plevitskaya married another officer — Lieutenant Yuri Levitsky.

Plevitskaya’s life during the Civil war is full of fog, through which mostly her love adventures appear. Known for her affair with an employee of the Odessa Cheka Shulgin, then together with her husband Yuri Levitsky, who became a Red Army commander. After the October Revolution, she became a communist and sang for the troops of the Red Army, but she was captured by the White Army. They would have been shot, but the great Russian singer was recognized by General Skoblin. The artist was brought to the battalion headquarters, where she gave a concert for the officers, and the battalion commander personally accompanied her on the accordion.

Then Plevitskaya was in the Crimea, and from there she went into exile. First to Turkey, where she secretly wedded Nikolai Skoblin — the youngest general of the White Army.

Plevitskaya made concert tours throughout Europe, while her husband, General Skoblin, took a leading role in a White émigré organization, the ROVS. However, neither career produced much income for Plevitskaya or Skoblin.

In 1930, Plevitskaya and Skoblin were recruited by the Soviet secret police. For some time. They were highly successful agents. She and Skoblin performed well-paid counter-intelligence work in Moscow uncovering ‘enemies of Stalin’ while posing as ‘Mr. and Mrs. Grozovsky’. Working under a variety of disguises for the Soviet Central Executive Committee and the Foreign Trade Comissariat, she would appear for work at a government office as an extremely well-dressed clerk, complete with lacquered nails, jewelry and beautiful skin. She reported on the actions and statements of the worker personnel.

In 1937 Plevitskaya and Skoblin were involved in the abduction of General Yevgeny Miller, who was kidnapped in Paris, drugged and brought to Moscow, where he was tortured for nineteen months before he was killed. After the kidnapping, Skoblin escaped to Barcelona while Plevitskaya, chauffeured around France in a Soviet embassy Cadillac, but was constantly followed by the French police Citroëns. She successfully lost the police surveillance in a high-speed car chase outside of Paris but eventually got arrested before she could escape the border. A trial was held in Paris and she was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor for helping Soviet intelligence.

At the time of the investigation, she was fifty-eight, psychologically she was not ready for such a sharp turn of life. The loss of a loved one, such as Nikolai Skoblin had become for her, was depressing, heart-breaking, or was it the soul that yearned for the old life?

On October 5, 1940, Nadezhda Plevitskaya died in the Central prison of Rennes.

Honorary monument to Plevistkaya on Perelaskogo square, Kursk


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