The Forgotten Woes of Varvara Rasputina

A post-revolution portrait, damaged by Soviet authorities.

Varvara Rasputina was the youngest surviving daughter of Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916), the infamous Russian mystic and holy man who used his supernatural abilities to wield political power over the Romanov royal family.

She lived in the shadow of her legendary father, and died quietly without any fanfare. Her more famous sister Maria Rasputina gained attention for her work as a lion tamer in Paris and then the USA.

But Varvara’s life ended early and in a depressing manner.

She was born in 1900, in Pokrovskoe, Tyumen Province- an isolated, cold, and distant village in the midst of the Siberian Urals. It lay on the Tura River, and its residents were simple farmers who lived a low-key existence.

Village of Pokrovskoe on the Tura River, photographed by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, 1912.

Except, that its, for her father.

Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was not your typical turn-of-the-century Russian peasant. He claimed to receive sacred visions from God, and was said to have otherworldly powers which he used to lure believers into this thrall.

He had seven children with his wife Praskovya Dubrovina, but only three survived to adulthood: Dmitry, the oldest son; and two daughters, Maria and Varvara. It was a hard knock life for the rural family, but they were a mentally tough and spiritually enriched bunch. Maria wrote of her dad:

“My father would often take us on his knees, my brother Mitya, my sister Varvara, and myself. He would tell us wonderful stories with that tenderness he always showed and that absent look in which seemed to be mirrored the countries he had visited and the strange adventures he had met with on the road.”

Grigori and his 3 children: from L to R: Maria, Varvara, and Dmitry.

Rasputin left his boring village for St. Petersburg; abandoning his wife and children to pursue the existence of a Starets (which was, in the Orthodox religion, a spiritual pilgrim/monastic hermit).

In doing so, this supposedly simple and barely literate Siberian peasant quickly managed to ascend the ranks of Russian society; until Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna became convinced that Rasputin was indeed the holy healer he claimed to be.

Their poor son Alexei suffered from hemophilia. This left him unable to clot blood, and simple falls and accidents left the boy near death and with horrible complications.

Enter Rasputin: somehow, with no medical or scientific knowledge, an uneducated peasant from the lower classes repeatedly and successfully prayed away the Tsarevich’s pains and sufferings. How did he do it?

Grigori and his hoes

Even today, scientists are unable to explain what exactly allowed Rasputin to heal the Romanov’s son, on a consistent basis.

Back in Pokrovskoe, Varvara and her siblings missed their absent father. Despite his absenteeism, Rasputin was a dependable and devoted dad. Once, a family friend in Pokrovskoe attempted to rape Maria. Rasputin attacked the rapist, and took an ax hit on the skull while trying to defend his daughter.

Thanks to the Tsarina’s help, Rasputin managed to bring Varvara and Maria to St. Petersburg in 1913, and enrolled them in the best school there. He hoped to turn the girls into “little ladies.” How cute.

Grigori and his sister Feodosia

The elitist Smolny Institute rejected the girls due to their low social status, so they attended the Steblin-Kamensky private preparatory school. The girls lived in walking distance of their father’s residence. Their brother Dmitry, on the other hand, did not enjoy city life; so he stayed in Pokrovksoe and lived as a farmer.

Maria was the most popular and bold of the three siblings, and high society ladies fawned over the charming little girl. Varvara, the youngest, was more quiet and reserved. While Maria preferred to take French lessons (this would come in handy for her later in life), Varvara spent time studying intently for her classes.

Their mother Praskovya only came to St. Petersburg once a year, and lived in their home in Pokrovskoe for the most part. The girls learned to become independent quickly. They lived down the hall from their older cousins Nyur and Katya, who looked after the sisters on a daily basis.

Maria Rasputina, right, with her father and a follower in March 1911

Rasputin was said to have been a constant playa. Rather suggestively, their mother once said of their philanderous father:

 “He can do what he wants. He has enough for everyone.”

Rasputin was very protective of his daughters. He wanted to keep them away from degenerate modern vices, such as candies, gramophones, perfumes, and boyfriends. Only once they were 15- years old did Rasputin allow Maria and Vavara to go to out the theater- and even then they had to be accompanied by an adult and arrive home by 10 PM.

The girls were nervous to meet then Tsar’s children, but it went exceedingly well. Maria and Varvara found the Royal Palace to be luxurious and grand, and the princesses gave them beautiful porcelain dolls as a gift.

The girls’ shared room in their father’s apartment, which they often visited during school holidays. Source.

The Romanov children were curious about the girls’ life back home in Siberia. They asked Maria and Varvara the names of their cows in Pokrovskoe.

Varvara got along especially well with Grand Duchess Anastasia, as they were close in age (Varvara was one year older). It was said the Anastasia was very caring towards her.

The good times did not last. The tide was turning against Rasputin, as haters despised the lowly peasant for so swiftly ascending the ranks of Russian society.

They called him a Khlyst (a bizarre occultist sect present in Russia at the time), and a sex maniac; spreading rumors that the monk was a madman who was having sex with the Tsarina and cucking the Tsar.

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, c. 1914. She was close with Varvara.

The tension all came to a head on Dec. 30, 1916, when a gang of jealous noblemen (led by infamous cross-dresser and spoiled rich boy supreme, Prince Felix Yusupov) brutally murdered Rasputin at the age of 47.

Rasputin was not an easy man to kill, as he was supposedly poisoned, beaten, shot three times, and then thrown in the freezing Malaya Nevka river.

It took a band of cowardly men to kill the wily and powerful holy man.

Rasputin’s murder was devastating for his poor family. They were barred from attending his funeral, which was organized specifically for the Romanovs to pay tribute to their deceased holy friend.

Empress Alexandra Feodorovna with her children, Rasputin and the nurse Maria Ivanova Vishnyakova, 1908.

The girls were, however, later invited to the royal palace to play with the Grand Duchesses. The Tsarina had also paid for Varvara and Maria’s black mourning dresses.

Maria would go on to say, “I love my father. As much as others hate him. I have not the strength to make others love him.” It is clear that the girls adored their dad, no matter the bizarre rumors that surrounded him, and they mourned his memory for life.

Following their father’s death, the two girls moved in with their French teacher and were granted 62,000 rubles by the Romanovs, as Tsar Nicholas told the girls’ mother:

 “I will become the second father for your beautiful daughters. Alix and I always loved them as our own daughters. May they continue to study in Petrograd, and I will make sure that they do not need anything.”

Colorized portrait of Rasputin

Unfortunately, that promise could not last long.

In 1917, their mother and brother returned back to Pokrovskoe, and the girls stayed in St. Petersburg to investigate their father’s murder. The siblings were arrested and interrogated the following day by government authorities. Although they were pressed to talk about the royal family, the girls did not acquiesce.

The Russian Revolution had begun, and things were getting ugly.

Luckily, the girls were freed by Boris Soloviev, an admirer of their late father. Boris and Maria would go on to marry, even though the two were not attracted to each other.

The Romanov Family was mass murdered by the Communists in July of 1918, bringing in a dark era of totalitarian rule in Russia.

Rasputin had eerie, penetrating eyes, and was alleged to have used them for hypnosis, mind control and mesmerism.

The Russian Revolution did not bode well for Rasputin’s family. Maria and Boris escaped Russia circa 1920 to reside in Berlin, Paris, then finally L.A; but Varvara and the others did not have that luxury.

At first, the Rasputin family sheltered together from the Russian Revolution in their Pokrovskoe home. But Varvara wanted something more out of her life.

She was 17 years old when the Revolution occurred, yet she managed to complete her high school education. Varvara then left Pokrovskoe to go to Tyumen, the largest city and capital of the Oblast (province) that she resided in.

Varvara was searching for career + education opportunities that would allow her to save money and leave grim Soviet Russia.

Varvara and Maria playing with dolls

In 1919, she obtained a position as stenographer/clerk for the justice department of Tyumen Oblast. Varvara earned 1,560 rubles a month. She was miserable working there, but she had to do it as she was desperate for income.

Men offered Varvara money in exchange for sex, but she adamantly refused. Life was the gloomiest it had ever been for her.

In February of 1924, Varvara wrote Maria the following letter:

“Dear, Dear Marochka. How have you been? I didn’t write to you in so long because I didn’t have money, and you can’t buy a stamp without money.  

In general, life becomes worse and worse everyday. You think and cherish the dream that you will one day live well, but again it’s only a mistake.

Maria, Varvara and Dmitry

 And all thanks to our friends: such as [my employer] Vitkun and similar people, they are all liars, and nothing more, they only promise… Such a distance to work is a horror, it takes an entire hour and a quarter to walk there, because I have no money for the tram...

 Lord, how hard it is, the soul is torn to pieces. Why was I born? But I am reassured by the fact that there are so many of us who are unemployed, and that we are all just honest people trying to preserve our dignity.

How is [your husband] Boris Nikolaevich doing? Yes, I really want to see you, my joy. How is the health of your lovely children? I sort of envy [our brother] Mitya, because he does not beg, like us. Although we eat our piece of bread, it is not sweet...

The Rasputin family home in Pokrovskoe: A two-story log house built in the 1890s.

You see how I started to blabber, it’s really good to type on a typewriter; your hands don’t get tired and you can write a lot. God bless you and your children, and say hi to Boris. You are my joy.

– Varvara

Varvara complained that her bosses, the Vitkuns, were too wealthy and decadent. While Varvara did not even have any money for transportation, Mara Vitkun bought several fancy hats and drove around the city in a cab as Varvara braved wretched weather to get to work.

“May they choke on their greed. God will help the orphans,” said Varvara in the letter.

Varvara lived with a friend named Anna Fyodorovna Davidova in a shared apartment. In 1925, she left Tyumen for Moscow. However, the move would prove fatal.

The big city: Moscow in the 1920s.

Through working at her office job, Varvara had contracted a bad case of tuberculosis, which was then succeeded by typhus. The work environment was unsafe, unhygienic, and located in a damp basement.

TB is a dangerous disease that wreaks havoc on the lungs and weakens the body. Typhus begins with flu-like symptoms and rashes, then causes brain inflammation and death if it is not treated.

Poor Varvara no doubt went through a horrid last year of life, plagued by poverty and disease. Typhus overtook her, and Varvara died alone in Moscow in 1925. No family member was there with her.

Maria and Varvara

Did she see her father in her last moments? Whose death was also so untimely and tragic?

Her friend Anna Fyodorovna traveled to Moscow to assist in her funeral and burial. Varvara was buried at the Novodevichiye Cemetery. Anna described her funeral as such:

“Varvara lay in her coffin completely shaved, no hair. Written on her gravestone were the words:

Our Varya.

Died in 1925.”

Varvara’s head was most likely shaved because she had contracted the airborne form of typhus; which spreads through fleas, mice and ticks on rats, and often hides in the hair and scalp.

Anna Fyodorovna Davidova, loyal friend until the end.

She had wanted to save money to leave Russia and move to Paris with her sister. But both of them were too broke and powerless to make the dream come true, and Maria was forever heartbroken by her sister’s death.

Unfortunately, the Soviet government renovated the cemetery in 1927 to make space for the burials of high status politicians. In doing so they uprooted thousands of bodies, and Varvara’s was one of them.

What happened to her remains is unknown. It is depressing that she was not even allowed to rest in peace after her early demise.

Novodevichiye Cemetery in 1930

In 1930, the remaining Rasputin family’s property was confiscated by the Soviet government. As Maria had safely escaped Russia; brother Dmitry, his wife and children, and mother Praskovya were deported to Salekhard, to work in forced labor camps in the frigid Arctic Circle.

Each died one by one as they were slowly worked to death, and the entire family, save Maria, was wiped out by 1933.

Maria Rasputina lived a fascinating life; working as a restaurateur in Prague, a dancer in Berlin, a performer at the Cirque d’hiver in Paris, and a lion tamer in Miami. She published a biography of her father in 1977, the year she died. Maria always suspected that the Soviet government had poisoned Varvara.

Maria, Varvara and Dmitry

Rasputin’s killers had escaped the ordeal unscathed. Ironically, it was Rasputin’s family that suffered the brunt of the aftermath.

Felix Yusupov, the prince who orchestrated and took credit for Rasputin’s murder, was from one of the wealthiest families in Russia. He was an aristocrat who looked down on the poor, and continued to live a life of splendor and glamour after killing Rasputin.

Following the Russian revolution, Felix escaped with his wife to live in the fanciest arrondissements of Paris in impeccable apartments, and even founded his own short-lived couture fashion line. He lived until 80, and died in 1967 after a long life of wealth and privilege.

Felix Yusupov with his wife Irina, a niece of Tsar Nicholas II, 1910.

When you think about Varvara working herself to death in some dank Soviet cellar, to scrounge for money to leave a country where she had no future, it makes one nauseous. History is no fairy tale. More often than not, the good guys lose and the bad guys die in a plush manor and get buried in a coffin of gold.

What happened to Varvara’s remains? Are they buried in some strange corner of Moscow, unknown and unmarked? We will never know.

It is also very difficult to find pictures and information on her, but hopefully one day a hidden Soviet archive will be uncovered and shed a brighter light on the forgotten woes of Varvara Rasputina.

An eerie illustration of Rasputin taking tea with the Tsarina and her children. Was he a sinner or a saint?