Sergei Kourdakov, a former KGB agent and Soviet naval intelligence officer, defected from the USSR at the age of twenty. A year later we met at my Federal Government office in Washington DC. We were watched and followed. “Even you could be spy,” Sergei whispered. My book, A Rose for Sergei, is the true story of our time together.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Nurse's Diary - Sergei Kourdakov

Recently I received an e-mail that made me catch my breath.  Sheila U., the daughter of the nurse that helped save Sergei Kourdakov’s life, had just located her mother’s diary.  And attached to the e-mail were photocopies.  Yes.  That nurse.  Her diary.

It isn’t possible, it just isn’t possible, I kept telling myself as my eyes flew across the scrawled handwritten pages.  The date at the top of the diary entry was September 4, 1971.  That meant the pages she sent me were written forty-four years ago this very month.  And the woman who wrote the entry was the nurse who helped save Sergei Kourdakov’s life hours after he jumped into the sea off the coast of Canada on September 3, 1971.  Sergei had just defected from the USSR.  Later it would be a startling revelation, and a story that she shared with her daughter over the years. Below is an excerpt from the diary, some personal information has been removed.

From The Diary of Ruth Stafford:

Sept. 4, 1971

Sergie Khourdakov, the Russian sailor, jumped from a Russian fishing boat in Tasu Sound [British Colombia, Canada] about midnight and nearly 8 hours later crawled up on the beach behind Sander’s.... And there he was, blue and vacant-eyed with bleeding hands, feet & legs on the cold cement with only a pair of wet, cut-off pants….  It was obvious he was suffering from exhaustion & exposure (it had been a cold, windy, rainy, stormy night) and was near collapse.

It was several hours before he began to warm up with blankets, hot water bottle & sips of tea, during which he’d awaken confused & frightened.  When he became more rational he suddenly pulled out a plastic bag from his shorts.  It contained photos, and other personal papers which were all wet.  We laid them out to dry.  This was his first indication that he realized we were friends and he was soon trying to converse; learned “yes,” “no,” “okay,” “Thank-you-very much.”  Bob said that for a time he was worried about him as he had an irregular heartbeat.  However, color & vital signs improved rapidly and by 1 p.m. he was jolly & had eaten a light meal.  The RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] arrived & we received some information from him via…a Russian electrician.

The mine [Tasu was a mining community] bought him a set of clothes & he gave Bob his switch-blade as a token.  He turned up his collar jauntily & sauntered off happily with the RCMP.

We are convinced that his physical fitness & determination & youth played a major part in his survival in such cold waters for such a length of time.  He was tall with powerful chest, shoulders arms & legs – and rather attractive, I must add.

After several days in jail in Prince Rupert, Vancouver, & an unknown length of time in Quebec City he was granted political asylum….

Even though Sergei had told me about the day he defected from the Soviet Union, he left out the dramatic, anguished details about his fight for survival in the treacherous sea.  I know he didn’t want to alarm me, and he certainly didn’t want my sympathy.  I was overwhelmed with conflicting emotions as I read the pages from the nurse’s diary.  For me, seeing the actual written words brought Sergei back to life for a few short minutes.  I was reminded of his strength and humor.  It was hard to read that Sergei barely survived, that his body was bruised and blue.  In spite of everything, Sergei’s fun-loving personality was quite evident when he turned up the collar on his shirt and excitedly walked towards his new life and freedom.  In every way, Sergei was larger than life itself.

 Actual diary page superimposed over Sergei Kourdakov's picture.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sergei Kourdakov - "I've Made It"

On my August 31, 2015 blog post I mentioned how surprised I was to receive an email from Sheila U., the daughter of the nurse who helped save Sergei Kourdakov’s life in Canada all those years ago.  In her email she included photos, along with her notes, of the area on Queen Charlotte Islands where Sergei was found.  I was spellbound by the pictures and thought about the day Sergei made his death defying swim to Canada—he was only twenty years old, how desperate Sergei must have been to defect from the Soviet Union, and how freedom was worth everything to him.

From The Persecutor (Chapter 2, Battle for Survival, pg. 20)
“I swam strongly toward the sound.  As the fog and driving rain cleared for a moment, I peered through; there it was—a huge, tall rock rising out of the water!  A real rock!  The noise I had heard was the roar of the breakers crashing against it.  It was rock—good, solid rock!  I had reached land!  I’ve made it!  I’ve made it!  My heart leaped for joy.” - Sergei Kourdakov

"This is what the town-site of Tasu (British Colombia, Canada) looked like when I lived there.  It had a population of approximately 1000.  To the bottom left are 2 tugs.  Tugs pulling barges brought in all of our food and supplies.  The gravel strip that meets the ocean, slightly to the right of the tugs is where the sea-planes parked after landing.  This was the only way in or out of this remote community (no road access!).  The hospital is not visible but is in the bottom right hand corner.  Sergei washed up on a beach on the opposite site of the island (the top 1/3 of the photograph, in the centre, where the houses meet the ocean)."
- Sheila U.

"This is what Tasu looks like now.  It was abandoned in the mid-80’s due to a bad mining economy.  It was bulldozed and the community is completely over-grown now.  This view is looking at the Island from the opposite direction (towards the mine-site on Morseby Island).  It is the direction Sergei would have swum from and the beach he landed on is likely the bald patch in the center, slightly to the left (in the trees)."
- Sheila U.

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My heartfelt thanks to Sheila U. for sending me these photos and for taking the time to include notes with the pictures.