Captain Rypchensky was holding his five year old son Kristoff on his lap. The youngster loved the story about David and Goliath. His father enjoyed embellishing his version of the tale.
Kristoff was always overwhelmed by the power of Goliath and how David managed to overcome this disadvantage in size. The captain showed his son a picture that portrayed Goliath after being struck a mortal blow. “How can this happen father? The giant is so big and strong.” His father squeezed his son warmly. “Sometimes even giants can be weak. We must be strong, not weak. If you ever have to choose between being afraid of giants and being afraid of weakness, be afraid of weakness.” Kristoff was amazed at his father’s response as young boys would imagine the enormity of Goliath. “Why father?” Like many young children, Kristoff asked why many times. His father was pleased with his curiosity. “Well sometimes you have to fight people who are bigger and stronger.” Without hesitation Kristoff responded. “How can you win? The big person is too strong.” The captain smiled. “It depends. David defeated Goliath because David was smart and brave.” Captain Rypchensky’s wife Monique, was listening in, waiting for the right moment to lead her toddler off to bed. “Are you smart father?” For a fleeting moment the captain had a pang of fear he did not understand. “Smarter than whom?” Kristoff looked at his father. “Smarter than Goliath.” Monique must have sensed that the story had reached a point where she should intercede when her husband responded. “Only, if I have to be.” The captain wanted to satisfy his son’s curious mind. “Are there any giants like Goliath today?” Once again, he thought, how far should he allow his son’s imagination to probe. “Well not exactly. As you get older you will learn about giants.” Not enough to satisfy young Kristoff. “Why can’t I learn now?” Monique reached down and lifted her son with her answer. “Because it is time to go to bed; give you father a kiss goodnight.” Kristoff resisted. “Why can’t I learn now?” Monique embraced her son before she repeated with more authority. “Because it is time to go to bed. Now give your father a kiss goodnight.” The toddler still resisted. “Father please tell me more about giants.” The captain embraced his wife and son with his massive arms. “Maybe another night. Good night my son.”
Childhood memories often surfaced for Kristoff. Part of his father’s psychological profile was revealed within many childhood stories. He realized more and more with every spare moment, his father was speaking to him, almost as a way of preparing him for what to expect as an adult. Even at age five his father was planting the reality he would face as an adult. He concluded there were few if any adults living in the Soviet Union with whom their father could share personal thoughts, political or. Fear bred secrecy and anxiety. Kristoff began to realize how much of his adult life was spent thinking about his father, now with rank of commander, one of the most powerful men in the Soviet army. Their relationship had changed after his father’s promotion from captain to commander. The intrigues that surrounded Commander Rypchensky were too dangerous for his son to explore. Kristoff had a problem with that because now at age twenty eight, his career in journalism required him to avoid domestic politics at his father’s insistence. His frustration was building, but he understood his father’s wisdom and would never endanger their careers and relationship, with political jargon easily misinterpreted. Journalism in the Soviet Union was without question an arm of the state, with little demand for journalist’s true literary skills, except for the purpose of propaganda. Religion and politics were toxic subjects; topics wisely avoided in public circles. However, Kristoff sensed his frustration was also discretely shared by his parents as well. There were signs of dissonance within Kremlin political families. Frustration was building.
Monique, Kristoff’s mother, was born in Russia. Her French mother was married to a Russian artist, who developed a style of art that became very popular in Western Europe. Mysteriously, he disappeared during one of several purges during the Stalin era. Monique had repressed memories of her father that were too painful for her as a child. Now as an adult, she as thousands of other citizens, suffered in silence. She desperately wanted to share her discontent with others but understood the ramifications. Her father’s mysterious disappearance still haunted her. Repression was a defense mechanism very common in Russia. It was necessary for survival. Kristoff sensed this when he tried to ask about his grandfather. His mother would cut him off or change the subject. Once he saw tears in his mother’s eyes when his questions were persistent. At that moment he realized her painful psychological threshold had reached its limit; he learned never to ask her again.
Kristoff’s family name was Rypchensky. His father’s traditions were culturally Ukrainian although his father’s mother was Russian. As a child, Kristoff didn’t know why cultural attachments mattered until later in life when he became aware of tension between the two republics. The Soviet Unions fifteen republics had a long history of domination by Russian culture. Stalin’ policy of forced migration of Russian populations into other republics, some thousands of miles away, was to maintain cultural superiority. A priority was forcing Russian language on inhabitants. Ukrainians maintained their dialect. They also preferred western European cultural habits. Their associations with Warsaw, Berlin, Paris and other cultural hubs had exposed Ukrainians to material amenities. Kristoff’s father made sure his son was informed of Ukrainian’s unique traditions. This distinction became more apparent as he matured into adulthood.
The Soviet Union’s vast land mass has eleven time zones and fifteen republics, with over forty languages. Over centuries of rule by absolute czars, Russian culture was dominant. Their traditions and language were forced upon others which caused tension and violence among non- Russian populations. For centuries, it was Russian tsars who coerced cultural traditions and language.
Because of the large Communist Party in France and her husband’s rank, Monique was allowed to attend school at the Sorbonne where she was professionally trained in impressionism. Her intellectual capacity was wasted in Moscow and she always looked forward to touring Western Europe with her husband where art dealers from all over the world would rendezvous. Her mother’s family resided in Paris, allowing opportunities for French cultural attachments. Paris was the antithesis of Moscow. She could sense contrasts while browsing shops, often stopping to peruse or make purchases in charming boutiques, followed by dining in French cafes. Paris was liberating. On occasion, Kristoff would accompany his mother. He became fluent in French and enjoyed conversing with his mother’s family. During these moments in Paris, Kristoff began comprehending his mother’s joy while touring the city of lights. Her face beamed with content. Upon their return to Russia he could sense mood changes, not only of his mother, but also Russians walking Moscow’s streets. The differences were psychologically miles apart. His mother was a different person when they returned.
When Kristoff’s father was promoted to the highest rank in the Soviet Army, life changed more dramatically. There were privileges offered to the elite and Commander Rypchensky, a Ukrainian by birth, enjoyed a lifestyle reserved for a select few. Kristoff’s opportunities expanded as well. New experiences were open to him, including travel and material comforts. His mother’s deep French roots and artistic training, enhanced her cultural deprivation in Russia. To compensate, she frequently took advantage of privileged liberties that allowed her freedom to visit her family and shared interests in France. Often, Kristoff thought of this paradox. The very establishment that was the defender of communism, is being corrupted by exotic comforts whose origin was often foreign. The Soviet Union, defender of monolithic communism, was being “corrupted” by material comforts and intellectual pursuits whose origins were not only foreign but also democratic and capitalist. This irony was not left unnoticed.
Kristoff was aware and proud of his parent’s intellectual and political interests. His father was a trained physicist whose military career was advanced toward the closing weeks of WW II, when he captured several prominent German scientists and was instrumental in encouraging and promoting them to organize the Soviet Union’s success with long range rockets for military and space exploration. Eventually, elite German scientists gave birth to Russia’s space exploration, leading to Sputnik’s success. These accomplishments advanced the world view of communism.
Commander Rypchensky was viewed as the consummate professional. And he was. Tall and ruggedly handsome, he commanded respect from his subordinates and peers. It was only a matter of time before his leadership would replace an aging military hierarchy. The Soviet military had substantial political leverage, and depending on leadership loyalties, could make unforeseen changes in the body politic. Military political preferences were unknown. Officers were promoted on the basis of professional skills. Many of the brightest were trained in math and science. Their understanding of communism’s shortcomings were inexplicable.
Commander Rypchensky’s political views remained a mystery. He had his own agenda that may have been shared with loyal comrades. Being outspoken however, was politically dangerous for him and other intellectuals, especially when dissonant undercurrents circulated. Kristoff was intentionally kept uninformed. His father’s way of protecting his son from his plans for political change. Kristoff knew one thing was certain. The status quo was unacceptable. He also knew better than to ask. He understood circumstances required silence. Within the Kremlin, a code of silence was mandatory for survival.
Kristoff’s bond with his parents was strong. Having two loving parents was one of his most cherished possessions, followed by Nadia, a woman he met during a snow emergency delay at Boryspil International airport, east of Kiev. They made plans to meet again at Rasputin’s, one of several popular discos in Moscow, where young elite professionals gathered to dance and commiserate. Nadia would alter Kristoff’s future. Not only was she beautiful and smart. She was also a member of the Bolshoi Ballet. Their relationship matured to the point where marriage was a definite possibility. He purchased a diamond ring to offer Nadia before introducing her to
his parents. When she invited Kristoff to her apartment for dinner, the opportunity presented itself. Little did Kristoff know of Nadia’s plan to defect during a future performance in New York city.