The Miracle at Dubovitchi

Dubovotchi is a small town located on the road from Baturyn the old Hetman’s capital and Glukhov the next capital of the Hetmanate and now the administrative capital of the Sumski oblast in Ukraine.  They say that coincidences are events that occur for which we have no explanation but in fact these events are the work of God’s providence. Others may say that coincidences qualify as little miracles. Whatever the name, the new chapter of Dubovitchi must be told from the first person and as such it is a story that continues to unfold with many little miracles.

I am Alexander Kotchoubey and I have found myself in the midst of the most incredible set of coincidences.

In 2008, I moved with my family from Moscow, Russia to Geneva, Switzerland. It is a place where I had never lived before but my family ties with Switzerland go back hundreds of years and the city of Geneva remains a place that was close to my heart as I was married at the Russian cathedral. Sitting in my office, overlooking the Jura mountains at the storied headquarters of one of Geneva’s oldest private banks, I received a call from my colleague Marcel who himself had never met me but was urgently trying to reach me in order to put me in touch with his friend Jean-Pierre.

First Little Miracle:

Marcel explained that only the day before Jean-Pierre’s son, Laurent was on a train to Zurich with his friend and they were discussing a life long ambition of Jean-Pierre to connect with the Swiss based Kotchoubey family. He had an archive of information to share with this family as his great uncle Henri, a renowned Geneva professor began his pedagogical career as tutor to the Kotchoubey family in Russia from 1906-1911. Upon his death in 1952, his great nephew Jean-Pierre inherited the archives and they languished in his basement for fifty years. Laurent explained to his friend that his father as he ages wants more and more to put closure on the mysterious fate of the Kotchoubeys.

His friend immediately suggests that a Russian friend, Michael living in Vevey could help them track down the elusive family and they descend the train to return home they agree to pursue the matter. as they exit the train on the platform, Michael is standing there waiting to mount the train for his trip home to Vevey as he was unusually visiting Zurich. “I cant believe it. We were just talking about you. How strange to find you on the platform.” The incredulous faces of Laurent and his friend lead Michael to respond in the few minutes they all have before the train begins to move again. Michael tells them after hearing the story, “my cousin, Alex Kotchoubey lives and works in Geneva and you can reach him at the bank.”

A chance meeting on a train and then a quick agreement to pursue the matter further, lead me face to face with Jean-Pierre. He had prepared our meeting in advance and when I arrived to his home in the tiny village near Geneva, there was an odd sensation of two forgotten worlds suddenly emerging from the immaculately preserved items. For me it was the first of many moments that felt like I had arrived at the doorway of some fantastic tomb in the Egyptian valley of the Kings. Jean Pierre presented me with the photo albums that his great uncle, Henri, a bachelor had put together following his return from Russia.

Ferdinand Thormeyer: Tutor to the Romanovs

A few years after my meeting with Jean-Pierre , at the Hotel des Ventes in Geneva in 2011 (see: Hotel des Ventes), there was a spectacular sale of letters and photographs from Ferdinand Thormeyer. He was none other than the Swiss tutor for the children of Tsar Alexander III, the father of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia. His descendants had discovered the boxes in their attic and it captivated the world and sent bidders into a feverish frenzy of buying as the initial estimates of CHF 30,000 were quickly surpassed and the lots finally brought in CHF 1,600,000. A number of newspaper articles (see: ArtDaily) extolled the collection and among the nearly arranged photograph albums, watercolours and Faberge trinkets were affectionate letters from the children to their tutor who was their first  guide into the world of learning.

Frédéric-César de La Harpe: Tutor to Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovitch

The tradition for Swiss tutors in the Russian court was thought to have begun when Catherine the Great chose Frédéric-César de La Harpe (b. April 6, 1754, RolleVaudSwitzerland — d. March 30, 1838, LausanneSwitzerland. see: de la Harpe) to educate her grandchildren and more specifically her designated heir, Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovitch, the future Alexander Ist. It was thought that Russia’s German born enlightened monarch had looked to Switzerland as she had extensive correspondences with Voltaire and Diderot both of who had found a convenient refuge for their ideas in the juxtapositions of Swiss protestant enlightenment and more ostentatious French Catholic extravagance.  It was thought that Catherine’s preference for Switzerland was reinforced by the advent of the French Revolution whose repercussions haunted Russian monarchs until 1917.

Ironically, de la Harpe was no weak minded tutor but a towering figure   of Swiss enlightened thinking and was the father of revolution Swiss style.  His influence would spread far beyond the Imperial nursery as he became friends with many of the Tsarevich’s friends including Victor Pavlovitch who would go on to visit de la Harpe in Switzerland during one of his periods of self-imposed exiles in the 1820s. Today de la Harpe’s house belongs to one of the scions of the ancient de Senarclens family, whose presence in Switzerland dates back to the 12th century. One member of the family who was a banker and a former partner at Lombard Odier & Cie., remarked with some measure of astonishment at life’s coincidences that in her childhood home there was still had a bust of Alexander I and in the pages of the  family’s livre d’or a note from Prince Victor Pavlovitch.  She never imagined that she would meet another member of this family whose ancient.

Dornier: Tutor to the Kotchoubeys

The imperial family continued in the tradition begun by Catherine the Great as did members of the Court. Young Arkadi Vassilievitch (1790-1878) was first educated by the Swiss tutor Dornier followed by Pierre Froment and then finally at the boarding school of the renowned French pedagogue Abbot Charles Dominique Nicole (1758-1835) / Аббат Чарльз Доминик Николь (see Vassili Davydov’s memoirs) who ran an exclusive boarding school in St. Petersburg: By the end of the 19th century, the children of Nicholas II were educated by the Swiss tutor Pierre Gilliard (see: Pierre Gilliard) and the children of Vassili Petrovich (1868-1940) were also educated by the Swiss tutor Henri Schutz.

Henri Schutz: Tutor to the Kotschoubeys

Henri Schutz 1910
Henri Schutz 1910Like the sensational sale of Thormeyer’s letters and photos, here I was face-to-face with the neatly organized photo albums of Henri. In addition, postcards and photographs of the  seven Kotchoubey children (the youngest Georgi passed away in 1916), along with a wonderful copy of Vassili Petrovitch’s CV which announced his qualifications in a beautifully written letter which included mention of his commission as an officer in the Chevaliers Guarde and Master of Ceremonies in the Russian Imperial Court.

Henri was from a family of well to do Swiss landed gentry. His mother’s family owned numerous properties around the lake of Geneva and he and his brother would be given an excellent education. Like many Swiss from the Swiss Romande region, he left for Russia to seek his fortune. Today, his grand-nephew sitting in his neatly arranged glass enclosed winter garden proudly shows the artifacts from another era. While Henri left behind his archives to be cared for by members of his family, the fate of the Kotschoubeys in this saga was more cruel.

(top row) Varvara Vassilievna, Vassili Vassilievitch, Ekaterina  Vassilievna, (Middle Row) Elena Vassilievna, Georgi Vassilievitch, Maria Vassilievna, Alexander Vassilievitch, (front row) Nikolai Vassilievitch

Of the, eight children who grew up between their main estate of Zgurovka near Kiev and St. Petersburg no male heir survives into the 21st century. More information is available in the section on the Dubovitchi Kotschoubeys.  One daughter Ekaterina Vassilievna (1894-1965) married Count Nikolai Aleksandrovitch Musin-Pushkin (1892-1967) in Austria. The families were very close and a number of marriages had unified the Kotchoubeys and the Musin-Pushkins together. In that generation, there were three marriages between the families (see: Musin-Pushkin Geneology) with two Kotschoubey (Nikolai Vassilievitch’s 2nd marriage) brothers, Nikolai and Piotr marrying two Musin-Pushkin sisters and their cousin Ekaterina marrying a Musin-Pushkin brother.

Ekaterina and Nikolai had three children: Count Alexei Musin-Pushkin (1922-1982), Maria Baratoff (née Countess Musin-Pushkin) (1924-1987) who was married to Oleg Baratoff (1924-1997) and their oldest child was daughter Irina (née Countess Mussin-Pushkin) (1921-2010) (see: Irene Issakow’s Obituary) who married Serge Issakow (1919-2006) (see: Serge Issakow’s Obituary) also a Musin-Pushkin through his mother a distant relative, Lubov Vladimorovna Musin-Pushkin (1897-1938). Serge’s father Sergei Sergeievitch Issakow (1894-1919) was the grandson of Nicholas Vassilievitch Issakow (1821-1891), the supposed illegitimate son of Tsar Alexander I and his mistress Maria Ivanovna Karatcharova (1796-1824). Alexander I was to have nine recognized illegitimate children and two daughters from his marriage to the Empress Elisabeta Alekseievna. The family has put down roots in the United States and primarily on the West Coast and originally in Monterey.  Among the Musin-Pushkin’s children; Alexis was married and divorced to Maria Sergeivna Voytsekhovsky  / Мария Сергеевна Мусин-Пушкин (Войцеховская) and they had several daughters and one son, Count Nicholas Musin-Pushkin (1954-?) who has passed away ; the Issakows had a daughter and son who now live in California with their families and the Baratoff’s two daughters and their families live primarily on the West Coast. While this branch of the family have no male Kotchoubey descendants, together the Musin-Pushkin-Kotchoubey children represent the surviving descendants of Piotr Arkadievitch Kotschoubey (1825-1892) and the Dubovitchi Kotchoubeys.

The Kotschoubey’s male lines were made up of Vassili Vassilievitch (1892-1971) who moved to Berlin and married Sophia Casimirovna with whom they had a daughter, Varvara Vassilievna who became Shoubskaya. He died in 1971 in Neuffen, Germany.  Alexander Vassilievitch (1897-1946) married a Polish girl and he died in Warsaw in 1946, childless.  Nicolas Vassilievitch (1903-1984) lived and worked in Switzerland and died in Zug leaving an adopted daughter Ruth von Kotschoubey.  The cadet of the family, Georgi Vassilievitch (1905-1919) never left Russia as he died of the flu in 1919 (some reference his death in Crimea but it is likely to have been in Kiev). In addition, the female line was made up of Barbara Vassilievna (1893- ) who married her second husband Prince Devlet-Kideev with whom she had a son, Pr. Nicolas Divlet-Kildeev. As discussed in the section on the origins of the Kotchoubeys, the Divlet-Kildeev descended from the first Crimean Khan, Haci I Giray. Her sister, Maria Vassilievna (1895-1944) married Count Yakov Alexandrovitch de Balmain (1885-1932) a Russian noblemen who served in the Preobrozhenski Regiment and the Volunteer army (see: Ct. Yakov de Balmain). They married and lived in France and they died childless. Finally, in addition to Ekaterina Vassilievna, there was Elena Vassilievna (1899- ) who was unmarried and lived in Brussels with her sister Barbara who were both good friends with their cousin Elena “Nelly” Mikhailovna Kotchoubey.

Julien Narbel: Tutor to the Orlov family

Another Swiss tutor who was recently discovered thanks to a book by his grand-daughter, Claire Torracinta-Pache that is titled, Ils ont pris le palais d’Hiver – Julien Narbel, un Suisse dans la tourmente de la révolution russe de 1917  was Julien Narbel. Originally from the canton of Vaud (see: Julien Narbel), he was the tutor of Prince Nicolas Vladimirovitch Orloff / Николай Владимирович Орлов (1896 -1961), the nephew of Princess Elena Konstantinovna Kotschoubey (née Beloselskaya-Belozerskaya) / Елена Константиновна Белосельская-Белозерская (Кочубей) (1869 -1944) who was married to Prince Viktor Sergeievitch / Виктор Сергеевич Кочубей (1860-1923) and the sister of Princess Olga Konstantinovna Orlova (née Beloselskaya-Belozerskaya /Ольга Константиновна Белосельская-Белозерская (Орлова) (1874 -1923). Nicolas’s father was Prince Vladimir Nikolaivitch Orlov / Владимир Николаевич Орлов (1868 -1927) who anectoditally not only was a member of the Imperial entourage but on occaision acted in the capacity of the imperial family’s chauffeur.

Julien Noardel’s letters to his wife, describe in the details the events of 1917 in St. Petersburg and they are a testament to his loyalty to the Orlov family.  Anti-Bolshevik to his core, he believes that the Revolution is but a transition towards a more normalized world and tries all possible means to save the family’s residence in St. Petersburg. Perhaps, the coincedences in relations to the lost correspondences between Swiss tutor and their wards which are slowly emerging as letters are published, attics are explored, and old suitcases are opened are not that unusual.  It was noted in an article on Nardel that over 60,000 Swiss left for Russia to seek employment.

Second Little Miracle:

At the invitation of a now defunct publication called Familia (website., which was published under the auspices of the Monastery of St. Jonas and the benediction of his Eminance Bishop Jonas, I was invited in the winter of 2013 to address an audience in Kiev, Ukraine. The theme, which was widely coveed by the press (see section on Media & Books) touched upon life in emigration and growing up in a Russian household. During the Question & answer period, I was approached by Lesya Ivanchenko whose family on  the mother’s side of the family have lived in Dubovitchi for six generatations. She was desperately looking for any information on the Kotchoubeys who owned Dubovitchi and was hoping to learn their fates.

I was stunned.

After meeting Jean-Pierre in 2009, I had very little understanding of the reason why we should have met and the purpose of learning of the existense of these archives. Now suddenly it was all very clear. The owner of Dubovitchi was in fact Henri Schutz employer Barbara Vassilievna Kotschoubey (née Kotschoubey) (1869-1942) who married her third cousin Vassily Petrovitch. She was the only heir to her father’s estate when he died in 1878 when Barbara was only 9 years old.  Her marriage to Vassilli Petrovitch would allow an estate which had passed into the hands of Vassili Vassilievitch (1784-1844), the older brother of Arkadi Vassilievitch and then to his son, Vassili Vassilievitch (1829—1878) to once again be unified under two brancheds of the same family that had split with the death of Vassili Vassilivitch (1756-1800).

So here was Lesya Ivanchenko searching for the history of a family that had not only fled Russia, but represented the last of a unified family whose history would be intertwined with that of Dubovitchi for as far back as the 1600s. Here I was from Geneva, having stumbled onto the only known archives of a family whose tutor had taken the time to document and save the remaining information of a family now dispersed and scatterered across the globe.


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