The Unfading Light Of Charity. Grand Duchess Olga

Grand Duchess Olga's marriage to Prince Peter of Oldenburg was not a great success. This first marriage did not bring with it family life full of the joys of motherhood or domestic bliss. One day while attending a military review in Pavlovsk, the Grand Duchess met Nicholas Alexandrovich Kulikovsky, an officer serving in Her Majesty's Household Cuirassier Regiment, the Gatchina or Blue Cuirassiers. This chance encounter turned out to be love at first sight. The Grand Duchess, always very straightforward and whose motto in life might be summarized as Be, Don't Just Appear, immediately asked for a divorce with the intention of marrying the young officer.

Grand Duchess Olga with Mrs. Elizabeth Franklin, her Governess
Grand Duchess Olga with Mrs.
Elizabeth Franklin, her Governess
However, the Emperor decided that she was still too young and inexperienced and that this was probably just a fleeting romance. He suggested she wait seven years. She considered her older brother, Emperor Nicholas, whom she loved deeply, both a sovereign father and a noble protector. She accepted his decision without complaining, resigning herself to wait patiently seven long years.

As of 1901, the Grand Duchess had become the honourary Commander-in-Chief of the glorious Twelfth Akhtyrsky Hussar Regiment. It was the only regiment in the Russian army which, during a famous review of the allies close to Paris in 1814, after its victory over Napoleon, received from Emperor Alexander I the right to wear forever the brown doloman (Hussar dress uniform) in which these troops distinguished themselves during the 1813 campaign.

The regiment was stationed in Medjiboush with its headquarters located in the old Turkish fortress. In the summer of 1914, the regiment went for an imperial review to Tsarskoe Selo where it distinguished itself before Emperor Nicholas. Then, without going back to Medjiboush, it headed directly from there to the front, since the First World War had suddenly broken out. Nikolai Alexandrovich Kulikovsky volunteered to join the Akhtyrsky Regiment and went with it to the southwestern front. So Grand Duchess Olga, armed with a certain medical knowledge acquired during her stay at Olgino, went as a simple sister of charity to the same part of the front, in the area of the city of Proskurov (now Khmelnitsk). It was only after the Grand Duchess had acquired practical experience that she became the head of the hospital which she equipped with her own money. This was all in keeping with her motto, Be, Don't Just Appear!

The modesty and courage of Grand Duchess Olga were simply incredible for a woman of her stature, as displayed in the following incident which occurred on the front. One day, the Grand Duchess visited her regiment and while on her rounds in the trenches, she found herself under Austrian artillery fire. In those chivalrous times, a sister of charity was not required to be so close to the line of fire. Thus, for her obvious courage the Grand Duchess was decorated with the medal of St. George which was awarded to her by the commander of the Twelfth Cavalry Division, General Baron Karl Gustave Mannerheim, who was to become the President of Finland. Thinking she had done nothing terribly heroic, the Grand Duchess immediately put the medal in the pocket of her leather jacket. It was only after the insistent entreaties of the officers of her regiment that she placed the medal on her bosom. They persuaded her that when the Commander-in-Chief of the regiment was decorated, the entire regiment shared in the honour.

Over seven years had passed since Grand Duchess Olga had petitioned for a divorce. During that time, she patiently waited with the certainty that her older brother would not forget her request. She finally received notification from the Emperor that her marriage with Prince Peter Oldenburg had been annulled. At that moment, the hospital of the Grand Duchess was in Kiev where her mother, Empress Dowager Maria Feodorovna, was staying.

Grand Duchess Olga and her husband Nikolai Alexandrovich Kulikovsky
Grand Duchess Olga
and her husband
Nikolai Alexandrovich Kulikovsky
The Family of Grand Duchess Olga
The Family of Grand Duchess Olga

On November 4, 1916, Grand Duchess Olga married her beloved Captain Nikolai Alexandrovich Kulikovsky in the Church of St. Nicholas. In attendance were her mother, Empress Dowager Maria Feodorovna, and the husband of her sister Xenia Alexandrovna, Grand Duke Alexander, informally called Sandro, the future godfather of my husband Tihon Nikolaevich. Also invited to the marriage were the officers of the Akhtyrsky Regiment, as well as the sisters of charity from the hospital founded by the Grand Duchess.

Grand Duchess Olga, this noble sister of charity, was so grateful to God for her much-awaited happiness which had finally come true that she vowed to accept with courage all future hardships she might encounter along life's way. After the revolution, Empress Dowager Maria Feodorovna, with both her daughters and their families, found herself in the Crimea where Grand Duchess Olga gave birth to her first child on August 12 (25), 1917. He was baptized Tihon. While the Grand Duchess was still living on her estate in the province of Voronezh, where Tihon of Zadonsk was venerated as the local saint, she vowed to name her first son after him.

Grand Duchess Olga with her husband, Nikolai Alexandrovich, and her new-born son, Tihon, Crimea, 1917
Grand Duchess Olga with her husband, Nikolai Alex.,
and her new-born son, Tihon, Crimea, 1917
Grand Duchess Olga with Tihon, Novominskaya Village, 1919
Grand Duchess Olga with Tihon,
Novominskaya Village, 1919

Living on vague news which reached them from time to time, all the family members were like prisoners in the Crimea and highly distraught with the uncertainty over the fate of the imperial family and of Grand Duke Michael. These noble prisoners were in fact condemned to death. However, the lives of the Romanoffs who found themselves in the Crimea were spared only because of the internecine strife between the Sevastopol and Yalta Soviets (councils) over the "honour" of carrying out the death sentence. The dispute among the Soviet authorities dragged on until the Germans arrived in the Crimea.

However, by November, 1918, Germany had already lost the war and abandoned the Crimea which was then taken over by the Whites and behind them, the Allies. George V, King of England, sent HMS Marlborough, a warship, to the Crimea for his aunt, Empress Maria Feodorovna. The Empress agreed to leave the Crimea provided the English evacuate all Russian citizens who wished to go abroad. This condition was accepted and carried out by the English sailors.

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