Years of Fear, Secrets

Foss, Steve. "Years of Fear, Secrets." Grand Forks Herald, 30 January 2000, sec. 1C & 6C.

RUGBY, N.D. – Lubka Tersiev doesn’t want to take her secret to the grave.

That’s one reason the Bulgarian woman – who moved here last year to take a job with an area manufacturing firm – said that she is publicizing her family belief that she is the great-granddaughter of Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia. Tersiev, 42, says she is the granddaughter of Anastasia, Nicholas II’s youngest daughter.

British and American scientists used forensic and DNA testing several years ago to confirm that bodies exhumed near a Ural city were Nicholas II, czarina Alexandra, three of their five children and four servants.

The Romanov family was assassinated by Bolshevik agents the night of July 18, 1918, and their bodies buried. Missing on exhumation were two of the czar’s children, believed to be Crown Prince Alexis and Anastasia. Prominent forensic experts believe they were killed and buried in a separate grave.

Tersiev and her husband, Vasil Tersiev, say Anastasia and Alexis made their way to Bulgaria, where Anastasia married and raised four children, including Lubka Tersiev’s father. They say Alexis died a few years after reaching Bulgaria.

The Tersievs say they defected from communist Bulgaria to the United States in 1984.

The couple sat down with a Herald reported and photographer recently in Rugby. Here is their account of Anastasia’s story passed down from Lubka’s two aunts, and the Tersiev’s account of their own flight as well.

A killing field
Thousands of refugees were fleeing Russia in July 1918 amid the continuing Bolshevik revolution.

Among them were Crown Prince Alexis, heir to the throne of Nicholas, and his sister, Anastasia. They’d survived an assassination attempt that left the rest of their family dead.

Bolshevik leaders believed any royalty on the run would head west into Europe, where many had relatives in other countries’ royal families. Anastasia and her younger brother headed south instead. Anastasia was 17, Alexis 13.

Travel was difficult, and they had to disguise their identity. By train and boat rip across the Black Sea, they made their way to Bulgaria.

They were taken in by a Bulgarian family who may have passed them off as orphans. They were adopted and raised by that family near Sofia, Bulgaria.

The Romanovs were looked after by other Russians who had made the pilgrimage as well. As long as they lived, a few Russian families in that part of Bulgaria loyal to the Romanovs made sure that Anastasia and Alexis were safe.

Anastasia soon became a teacher, instructing Bulgarians in the Russian language. She took the name Elena and did not speak of her secret. She married a Bulgarian, raising four children. Alexis, who had been a sickly boy, died a few years after they came to Bulgaria.

Anastasia passed her secret on to her children. One of her daughters taught the Russian language as Anastasia had. Her oldest son, born in 1921, became an officer in the Bulgarian Army. His last name was Vajarova.

When the communists took power in Bulgaria in 1944, Vajarova was interned in a prison camp. The Royal army was disbanded, and Vajarova, trained as an engineer, was spared because of his usefulness.

He married a Bulgarian woman, and they set up a home in a city near Sofia. In 1957, the woman gave birth to Lubka Tersiev.

Lubka grew into her teens oblivious of the Anastasia connection. Her cousin, a year older and daughter of one of her two aunts, overheard the aunts discussing the story. She told Lubka about it, and the aunts told them the story in detail when Lubka was about 16.

Lubka and Vasil married, but it was not until 1979 that Lubka’s two aunts thought they could trust Vasil with the secret. The family never had told Lubka’s mother about it, because they didn’t like her or thrust her.

The aunts produced patches cut from the uniform of Nicholas II. One was a cross. They also had some braid from the uniform. There were photos as well, and one aunt wore a necklace given her by Anastasia. Vasil was stunned, as Lubka had been. But, while they knew the story, didn’t know much about the Romanovs or Russia.

The long journey
Vasil and Lubka were artists working in paints and sculpture. They had two children. Vasil became involved in activities seen as subversive to the communist government. To avoid arrest, he and Lubka left on a one-day boat cruise to Istanbul, Turkey.

They carried almost nothing because they meant to defect, and luggage searches at the border that would have turned up family mementos would have brought suspicion.

The couple left their children behind. They contacted the U.S. Embassy in Istanbul, and said the consul met them that night.

After a short time in a Turkish camp for political refugees, the couple was granted asylum and came to New York City in 1985 after a stop in Rome.

A U.S. Consular Affairs spokeswoman said Thursday that the Tersievs’ account was plausible, but that records of such defections aren’t kept this long after the defection.

The couple got on their feet in Los Angeles, and moved to Chicago in August 1985. Lubka worked there as a graphic artist and Vasil held a variety of jobs. They were submitting documents requesting their children be allowed to emigrate, and they enlisted the help of Former Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois. A former Simon press secretary said Thursday that Simon was out of the country. The spokesman said that, as a leading member of the Senate immigration subcommittee, Simon helped thousands of such families, and that it would be difficult to find records.

The family was reunited in Chicago in 1987 and moved to Colorado, Pennsylvania and New Mexico. They moved from New Mexico to Rugby less than a year ago, when Lubka got a job there. They had two more children after moving to the United States. Their two older children are grown and live outside of North Dakota.

Always, the Tersievs carried their secret with them.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago – when they gained access to the Internet – that they learned about DNA evidence that confirmed the identity of Nicholas II and could prove or disprove that Lubka was his great-granddaughter.

Reprinted with permission of The Grand Forks Herald.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller