Olya Reusche Levchenko Левченко Реуше Виноградова Ольга Георгиевна

I was introduced to Olya by a colleague at the World Bank office in Moscow. I was looking for a translator, and they were few and far between in the early days after the break up of the Soviet Union. I was working in the first group of World Bank projects in Russia. The colleague was a Russian assistant, Nastiya, living in the same building as Olya. Childhood friends. She went home to Olya and tried to convince her to work for me. She told Olya that most of the foreigners working in the World Bank office were disgusting (the way many professional Russians reacted to the new foreigners showing up in the country), but this Dutch guy (i.e., me) actually treated Russians with courtesy and respect. So, Olya agreed to meet with me.

I hired Olya to work with me in Voronezh and Belgorod, regions to the south of Moscow. Part of what is often called the “Red Belt”, meaning controlled by die-hard communists that gained even more dictatorial powers. Putin, years later, tamed these monsters and instead of competing monsters there was only one— Putin.

  • write story of being surrounded at the dinner table by machine gun toting Rambo types, owner crying, “keep your hands above the table” was my managerial advice my team.
  • Story about KGB internet that sold some subscriptions and I had the only working connection with Moscow, phones were not free
  • Stories about the privatizations of the ex-collective farms, etc., etc. Not farms like we think of them. But local government.

Olya was 20-21, still in University (MIGMO)

  • mother english teacher at MIGMO, father physicist phd, academy of science
  • grandfathers oral history reaching back to the Bolshevik revolution
  • Olya in love with Denise, by all indications, a real Russian stud who used women and engaged in get rich schemes
  • Olya asked me to give her ‘wake up calls’, one thing led to another
  • in the beginning she cried heavily after making love
  • she insisted that I tell Sandra about her
  • Yeltsin story and marriage– belief that things could still go backwards

Olya was not well educated and she didn’t put much effort into studies. She did just enough to get through the system, with the help of her mother. After marrying me, numerous attempts were made to interest her in more education and to continue her development. She enrolled in a MBA program in the UK, and started a small business in the Netherlands, and become the “Public Information Officer” for the Baha’i community of Russia. I supported all of these initiatives. Initially she showed interest, and then with time her motivation disappeared and she dropped out. Her only real job, prior to the divorce, was for me.

 The first years of our marriage were years of optimism and growth. Olya was in her last year of University studies when we met. It was a new day in Moscow, pop music radio stations opening in Moscow for the first time, and foreigners like me integrating  for the first time in the local life.  Her mother was an English teacher at the elite university for Russian diplomats, and I was the first native English speaker she met in her life. Before, she was forbidden to even talk to the likes of people like me.

I went to Russia because it was a new opportunity in my life as a Baha’i pioneer. The first step in moving to Russia and Ukraine was the Netherlands. The Netherlands was never a permanent goal and I did little to integrate into the life of the Baha’i community.  Russia or the ex-soviet union was my goal. And then I arrive in Moscow, a world entirely different from anything else I knew. Third world poverty was a shock to me, and finding myself in the recently opened capital of the Soviet world another shock. Text in Moscow was only cyrillic. Nobody spoke English. The shops were soviet, essentially unchanged.

I lived in a 5 star hotel, the Aerostar, along with others from the first group of World Bank consultants working in Russia. This is where I first met Olya. The flat we bought 7 years after our meeting was a couple of blocks from this hotel. Who would have guessed. Not me, that’s for sure.

So, although Olya was 21 and I was 20 years older, we were both entering new worlds without a clue about what would happen. Olya was hired as a translator to translate for me, and the team I managed. Finding a translator with acceptable English, and with an open mentality (i.e., no mentality from the soviet past), was almost impossible at that time. (My next wife, Tanya, also started her career and bought herself an apartment from her work as a translator in the early 90s). Consultants were not looking for college coeds to keep them company. These were the only translators that we could find.

When I met Olya, I was still dating Sandra a Chinese-Indonesian Dutch girl. This is another story, but for now  the context is important for this story. I was recently divorced, had no real home, I was living in two new cultures, two new languages, and missing my children. My services as a pioneer were minimal which meant that I was not in my chosen path. I have never done well living alone as a stranger in a strange land. I always knew this would be the case, even before leaving Virginia to Haiti with Carolyn. 

Sandra was an emotional roller coaster for me and she had a temper that caused me to think: “I have no experience with this kind of anger and don’t know what to do.” So the relationship with Sandra was all but ended by the time I meet Olya.

Olya and I did well in the beginning. We enjoyed talking and working together. I was not pursuing her, and she was was not looking for a relationship with me. One night we ended up in bed. And the die was cast.

I was travelling back and forth to Moscow, and between the time we spent together working we wrote long letters to each other. With every trip, our relationship became deeper and deeper. Two particular incidents stand out. First, was a couple of weeks I lived in Moscow after a consulting assignment to receive some Russian language tutoring. The second was a trip to the dacha of her father’s family, and my introduction to Yura, who was described to me a Russian nationalist and if he didn’t like me then things would get difficult.

Before marriage, I lived in the Netherslands and travelled back and forth to Moscow and other regions of Russia for work. A couple of times Olya visited me in the Netherlands, but most of the time we met in Russia and worked together.  I did not like the life of a short-term consultant, based in the Netherlands, travelling from one country to the next, providing expert input and then returning home to an empty apartment to await the next assignment. I was successful, and was named a “Senior Consultant” at ARCADIS Euroconsult, which was a designation given to less than 5% of the in-house consultants. But it was difficult for me emotionally.

Little by little, over time, Olya and I grew closer, and both of us thought the match was good, and our characters were a good fit for each other. So, we decided to marry, and after the marriage our home was in Arnhem, and we continued to follow a routine of working together in Russia, but based and living together in the Netherlands. I think both of us would agree that this was the best time of our marriage. 

Olya became a Baha’i on my birthday when we lived in the Netherlands. I did not push her to become a Baha’i. She decided to read about the relationship between Christianity and the Baha’i Faith, and studied the book “Thief in the Night.” 

  • becoming a Bahá’í
  • life in the Netherlands
  • returning to Russia
  • Working in the Bahá’í community