Artistic productions Port of Dreamers

EXHIBITION TEXTS -“The Cultural Life of Russian Emigrants in Dubrovnik and the Legacy of Ballerina Olga Solovyova”


“The Cultural Life of Russian Emigrants in Dubrovnik and the Legacy of Ballerina Olga Solovyova”

16 November 2020, Villa Čingrija, Dubrovnik


Russian emigrant from international stages

Olga Solovyova was born in Odessa in 1900. She emigrated with her family to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, where she was a member of the National Theatre of Belgrade Ballet Ensemble. From 1924 to 1929, she performed all over Europe, North and South America and Australia with Mikhail Fokine’s and Mikhail Mordkin’s ballet companies. After her return to Belgrade, where she was a popular member of the jet set, she continued dancing in the theatre and appeared in the first Yugoslav sound films, Unlucky Buki (1931) and Adventures of Doctor Gagić (1933), burlesque comedies directed by Alexander Cherepov.

In the mid-1930s, knee injury ended her professional ballet career. Since her exceptionally successful career brought her considerable fortune, she had the freedom to choose how and where to spend the second part of her life.

She chose – Cavtat. According to many witnesses of that time, it reminded her of her native Odessa, which was still out of reach. She settled on Kamen mali, where she bought a villa where her parents joined her soon afterwards – father Mikhail Alexeyevich Solovyov, retired Novi Sad district court judge, and mother Marina Vasilyevna. Her sister Lidiya and her husband Vladimir Alexandrovich Iraklidi joined them after the Second World War.

High social and artistic standards which Olga was accustomed to also took root on Kamen mali inasmuch as it was possible, mostly owing to frequent visits of her international friends. Some of her most notable regular guests were Sviatoslav Richter, Aram Khachaturian, Mstislav Rostropovich, as well as numerous theatre stars from Zagreb and Belgrade such as Marko Fotez, Marija Crnobori, Bojan Stupica. She also befriended Dubrovnik intellectuals, especially Kosta Strajnić, a painter and art historian. The home of the Solovyov family on Kamen mali was a meeting place of artists and intellectuals from the Dubrovnik region and Russian emigrants from various parts of Yugoslavia. Different languages were spoken and various topics discussed outside any set context or ideology, as befit a cosmopolitan company. It is highly likely that the members of the Dubrovnik Russian Colony were also their frequent guests.

Petra Jelača


Olga and Dubrovnik

In the 1950s, Olga founded the Ballet Department of the Music School in Dubrovnik.

An interesting testimony to her work as a pedagogue, a collection of posters of her former student, Mrs Tea Batinić (she set up an exhibition of the posters in 2014), preserves the memory of a production of The Fairy Doll (Die Puppenfee) by Joseph Bayer, German composer from the late 19th century. It was performed at the National Theatre in Dubrovnik on Sunday, 24 November 1957 at 15:00. The ballet was choreographed by Olga Solovyova and performed by her students, the members of the Pioneer Theatre.

The first edition of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival was held in 1950, Olga’s parents died shortly after, which was soon followed by the death of Lidiya’s husband Vladimir. In the following years, the Solovyov sisters developed a close relationship with the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, which in a way replaced their family. This is quite understandable since most of its artists visited the villa on Kamen mali and some even stayed there for longer periods.

Olga was also one of the conceptual founders of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival and its permanent choreographer for over twenty years. She is credited with appearance of numerous international artists at the Festival, such as Sviatoslav Richter, her close friend. Richter sat for his portrait to her during his stays at the villa in Cavtat and she left his portrait bust and collection of his letters to the Music School.

Olga died in the spring of 1974.

Olga Solovyova’s Foundation for the most successful students of the Luka Sorkočević Art School, the former Music School, existed until the mid-1990s.

Except in the books dealing with the history of dance and cinematography, and in the memories of her contemporaries, Olga Solovyova’s name is no longer known to many people. Considering her rich career and great contribution to Dubrovnik, especially to the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, which in a way remains in her debt, this project with such a beautiful, significant and romantic title, Port of Dreamers, is an excellent occasion for a homage to Olga, and it could also be an announcement of art and documentary projects to commemorate the renowned Russian ballerina.

Petra Jelača


Olga Solovyova – Impressions in plaster

After a successful ballet and acting career, Olga Solovyova settled on the cape of the Cavtat peninsula, a dramatic location with a view of Dubrovnik. This, of course, was not the end of cultural activities of this Russian emigrant. For some cultural practices, which will leave a significant mark on Dubrovnik’s art scene, it was in fact only the beginning – since Olga Solovyova was one of the initiators of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. This is not surprising, since she had previous experience of working with revolutionary Russian choreographers Fokine and Mordkin and acting in early sound films, as well as undoubtedly open mind to all forms of artistic activity, as it turned out later.

Her secluded house became a meeting place of various local and international artists, but also local people who loved to stop by for a game of preference. Her family joined her, her parents and sister Lidiya, also a person of versatile education and interests in history, music, languages… The house lived art and was open to everyone. Kosta Strajnić, a painter, art historian, conservator and primarily an art pedagogue, stood out as Olga’s close friend and frequent guest in her home throughout the years. He was the one who awakened Olga’s interest in painting and sculpture and recognised the undisputable talent of the future sculptor. Years of working together, either in Strajnić’s atelier or in Cavtat residence open to all artists, turned Olga Solovyova into a very capable portraitist. She left several portraits and portrait busts in plaster, mostly of her friends, but also some significant Cavtat residents. Of course, she also portrayed Kosta Strajnić; his portrait is kept in the Museum of Modern Art Dubrovnik, the institution he founded and was its first director. Bukovac House in Cavtat holds three works by Olga Solovyova – the portrait of Jelica Bukovac and two portrait masks of Jelica’s tragically deceased daughters. While the portrait masks of Marija and Jelica Radosavljević, simple and pure in form, are almost like death masks, like those on the relief on the gravestone of Olga’s parents, the portrait of her friend Jelica Bukovac, Vlaho Bukovac’s daughter, also a painter who portrayed Olga, is an expressive and powerful work. The portrait busts of Ivo Dagonig and Mikhail Solovyov kept in the art gallery of the parish church of St Nicholas in Cavtat stand out for their pronounced portrait characteristics, lightness and subtle treatment of the surface. As the final reminder of all great artists who felt at home in the house on the Cavtat promontory, a beacon of spirit, stands the portrait of the great pianist Sviatoslav Richter donated to the Art School in Dubrovnik by Olga’s sister Lidiya after her death.

Olga was portrayed many times as many of her friends were painters: her portraits painted by Ivo Dulčić, Milovan Stanić and Jelica Bukovac remain preserved.

Helena Puhara


Russian emigrants in Dubrovnik, the first big refugee wave in Croatia in the 20th century

The first big refugee wave in the 20th century that flooded the territory of present-day Croatia was the wave of Russian refugees who sailed into Adriatic ports of Boka kotorska, Dubrovnik (Gruž, Meljine) and Bakar. After the execution of the Romanov family and the February Revolution in 1917, the first wave of Russian emigrants was on its way; they arrived in Croatia, Dubrovnik, in 1919. They set off from Odessa ‘with proper travel documents and significant financial means’ and arrived by train via Sarajevo and Mostar (around forty families), most of them continuing their journey to France in a month or two, while some of them stayed in Dubrovnik.

In 1919 and the following years, around two million Russians escaped the Revolution and found refuge all over the world. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes received a total of 40,000 people through organised efforts, based on agreement with Russia and under the patronage of France and Great Britain. Croatia received around 20,000 people, some of them independently and 90% organised by the Kingdom of SCS. Russia was the first major world power to recognise the Kingdom of SCS, and in return it agreed to receive larger contingent of Russian refugees.

In the summer of 1920, around two hundred people arrived in Dubrovnik, who, according to the sources, departed from Vladivostok and arrived via Japan, Singapore, Indonesia and Suez. Russian Colony was founded in Dubrovnik that year, the oldest in Croatia (altogether 40 will be founded in Croatia by 1941), as well as the Russian church choir and, later, the Russian House in Dubrovnik. The Russian Colony was an official institution established with a task of assisting the local government in keeping record of the Russian emigrants, while the Russian House was an institution that attended to the cultural life of the Russians, with a shelter for the poor, soup kitchen and assembly hall. The mission of the Russian House was temporary and it was continuously active from 1920 to 1938, when, to our knowledge, the last cultural events in this House were recorded.

The largest number of people arrived in the autumn of 1920, mostly evacuated members of Wrangel’s troops. Wrangel was the commander of the White Army who, after a big defeat in the Crimea, organised evacuation and reception of his troops, first in refugee camps in Turkey and Greece, and then finally in Croatia. Around 20,000 people arrived at this moment. Young soldiers who arrived with Wrangel, 4,500 of them, served in Dubrovnik in border guard on Lokrum Island for 24 months, while Wrangel himself stayed in Dubrovnik in 1921. The colourful Kuban Cossacks also arrived with the intelligentsia and young soldiers. As if the citizens of Dubrovnik weren’t shocked enough by the fact that the Russians were throwing themselves in the sea and sunbathing on New Year’s Day, one of the Cossacks, after he got drunk and fell through the window of the Revelin Fort, decided to remain – alive, chronicler Arsenjev wrote.

The newcomers caused ultimate cultural shock for the local community, both because of their large number and their level of education, but not necessarily because of their property status. Namely, most of the refugees were highly educated (13%) and those with finished secondary education (2/3 of the newcomers), compared to 50% illiterate people in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1921. Over 50% of them were servicemen, 30% businessmen, 14% professors and teachers, doctors, writers, priests and artists, while 5% were administrative clerks of Imperial Russia (Arsenjev). Alongside the commander-in-chief of the White Army, the Chairman of the State Duma (the Russian parliament) also arrived in Dubrovnik in this wave, as well as the entire Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church in diaspora and hundreds of academics and scientists.

Shortly after the founding of the Colony, a library was founded to which all emigrants donated their books making it the largest such library in this part of Europe, which at the time held around three thousand titles. The aforementioned mess hall was also active, dentist for Russians only and Russian church, but without Russian priest. The librarian M. Chernikin, a sexton, led the Russian choir in the Orthodox Church in Dubrovnik.


Russian destinies in Dubrovnik and beyond

Among the newly arrived soldiers in Gruž harbour there was a young future student of the Zagreb School of Medicine, Nikolay Bulgakov, brother of the famous Mikhail Bulgakov. After being released from the Dubrovnik quarantine, where he arrived from a refugee camp in Turkey, his journey took him to Zagreb, where he studied for eight years. Nikolay Bulgakov regularly sent postcards from Zagreb to the famous writer in Moscow, but after earning his doctorate in 1929, like many other Russian ‘white’ emigrants, he went to France, as a distinguished epidemiologist and later world-renowned scientist.

After their arrival in Dubrovnik, the Russians continued their journey in different ways. Some left for France and other European countries (Great Britain, Germany, Scandinavian countries) right away, some went to the USA and Argentina. Others went to Croatia’s capital Zagreb or to Split; many of them established new institutes and departments at Zagreb faculties (Department of General Pathology and Pathological Anatomy, Dr Sergey Saltikov; Department of Physics and Physical Chemistry, Ivan Plotnikov; Department of Epidemiology at the Institute of Hygiene, N. Chernozubov etc.) or significantly contributed to the cultural and artistic life of the cities. Zagreb theatre was ‘ruled’ by the Froman dynasty, painter Pavel Froman, his sister, ballerina Margareta Froman, brothers, dancers Maximilian and Valentin Froman; Zoya Petrovna Dumenjić Nepanina is the first woman who obtained a degree in architecture from the then Technical Faculty in Zagreb and later designed Firule Hospital in Split. Other notable Russians are professors Abakumov, Andreyev, Baranov, Cernovikov, renowned director of the Croatian National Theatre Zagreb Vereshchagin, cinematographer and one of the founders of the Zagreb School of Animation Gerasimov, comic strip artist Golovchenko, painters Antipov and Hanzen.

But the lives of the Russian emigrants were disrupted after the beginning of the Second World War and establishment of the Independent State of Croatia. Although the Russian Colony continued with its activities, the Russians either dispersed on both sides of the war conflict or they migrated further all the way to Sweden, where most of the oldest emigrants were placed in nursing homes. For many Russians who arrived after the revolution and saw the end of the Second World War in Croatia, the subsequent Agreement on Acquiring Soviet Citizenship meant leaving this region since the agreement automatically entailed termination of employment contracts in Yugoslavia.

Alexei Hanzen (Ganzen), the well-known painter of marine landscapes whose paintings are displayed in Louvre, is one of the renowned Russians who remained in Dubrovnik, where he lived until his death. Others are Olga Solovyova, renowned ballerina and long-time choreographer of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, and her sister Lidiya Iraklidi, the last Russian emigrant in Dubrovnik who arrived in the first wave of migration. She has an empty grave in Cavtat and was buried, according to chronicler Arsenjev, in Apatin, Vojvodina, where she escaped from the shelling of Dubrovnik in 1991 at the age of 97. She lived to be 102. In their testament, sisters Solovyova and Iraklidi left their villa on Kamen mali to the Dubrovnik Summer Festival for the purpose of turning it into a Home for the elderly and underprivileged artists.

The number of Russian emigrants who left the country after the First World War was larger than the number of Soviet emigrants, and their cultural and scientific contribution was even more significant, compared to their numbers. One of the material traces left in Dubrovnik by the citizens of Imperial Russia in exile is the famous Villa Scheherazade, built in 1929 by Zimdin, the rich merchant from the Black Sea, which still dominates the view of Ploče quarter in Dubrovnik.

The 1953 census listed 59 speakers of Russian in Dubrovnik, the census from 1971 listed 24 Russians in Dubrovnik and Dubrovnik County, while in 1981 there were 20 and in 1991 only 16 Russians left.


Russian emigrants in the Second World War

As an organisation, the Russian Colony gained importance in the period of the Independent State of Croatia; on the territory of the entire country there were around forty Russian Colonies with around 5,400 members. Although a large number of Russians acquired Yugoslav citizenship in the interwar period, they lost their jobs after the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia because they were Orthodox Christians. However, already at the beginning of August 1941 a guideline was issued which excluded people of Romanian, Macedonian (Bulgarian), Russian and Ukrainian descent from getting arrested or dismissed from work, as well as those Montenegrins who did not commit offense against the interests of the Croatian people. Certificates of loyalty for the Russians were issued by the Russian Colony or Representation of the Russian Emigrants in Zagreb. After the war, this was the reason why Russian Colonies and the Representation of the Russian Emigrants in Zagreb were considered fascist organisations which acted against the USSR. Nevertheless, most Russian emigrants did not support the Ustasha regime. Some of them were enlisted for military service in the Home Guard, while only a few emigrants from Russia joined the Ustasha movement. A number of emigrants joined the partisans and the National Liberation War, and some decided to leave and work in Germany, from where they wanted to reach the liberated parts of Russia more easily (which was mostly unsuccessful).

After the Second World War, in1946/47 all emigrants from Russia were given the opportunity to acquire Soviet citizenship and many of them wished to seize this opportunity. However, those who became Soviet citizens lost permanent employment the same day. Permanent employment could be turned into contractual, but working permits had to be renewed every six months. Those with contractual employment were dismissed in most cases. Similar situation happened to emigrants who did not accept Soviet citizenship and lost Yugoslav citizenship, especially after the Cominform Resolution in the summer and autumn of 1948. For this reason, many former Russian emigrants, even their children who were born in Yugoslavia, were left with no citizenship at all. Many among them felt hurt by the fact that such law was passed, so they migrated to other countries. Some went to Hungary and Bulgaria, and later even managed to enter the Soviet Union; other went overseas, and some, the elderly, were placed into nursing homes in Scandinavian countries.



Aleksej Arsenjev. “Ruska emigracija u Dubrovniku” [Russian emigrants in Dubrovnik], In: Ruski emigranti u Hrvatskoj između dva rata; Rubovi, memorija [Russian emigrants in Croatia between the two wars; Edges, memory], Ed. Irena Lukšić. Zagreb, 2006.

Tatjana Puškadija Ribkin. Emigranti iz Rusije u znanstvenom i kulturnom životu grada Zagreba [Emigrants from Russia in scientific and cultural life of Zagreb]. Zagreb, 2005.


Chronology of Russian emigration

— 1917: Russia is the first country to officially recognise the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, i.e. its Provisional Government during the Russian Civil War after the February and before the October Revolution the same year

— 1918: execution of the Romanov family

— 1919: the first refugees from Russia arrive in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, a smaller group from the south of Russia that left Odessa in the spring ‘with proper papers and significant financial means’, arrived in Dubrovnik in August and settled there

— March 1920: the first of several waves of refugees from Russia who arrive in Dubrovnik that year, around forty White Army families (around a hundred people) arrive by trains via Sarajevo and Mostar, mostly aristocracy, capitalists and bourgeoisie, the so-called Evacuation of Novorossiysk. Some leave for France and other European countries, others remain in Dubrovnik. They establish the Russian Colony, the first of the 40 Russian Colonies in Croatia. Some of the more prominent Russians who arrived in this wave are the former member of the State Council Count Tolstoy-Miloslavsky (died in Dubrovnik in 1925), the former Chairman of the State Duma Khomyakov (died in Dubrovnik in 1925), the former Russian Minister of Education Count I.I. Tolstoy (left for France in 1922) and others

— August 1920: 210 people from the east of Russia, the entire Vladivostok Naval Academy (cadets and teachers), arrive in Dubrovnik on battle cruiser ‘Orel’ via Japan, Singapore, India and Suez. The Academy is dissolved after their arrival; some cadets join cadet corpuses on the territory of the Kingdom (Sarajevo, Bileća, Bela Crkva), while some leave to study in Zagreb and Belgrade

— September 1920: a small group of Russian refugees arrives with a larger group of Yugoslav volunteers from Russia aboard the ship ‘Himalaya’

— November/December 1920: the largest wave of refugees from Russia starts, the so-called French Evacuation of the Crimea, when the commander of the White Army, Wrangel, organised mass evacuation of around 150,000 people on 150 ships after their defeat at Perekop. Under the patronage of the French Government, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes agrees to accept around 20,000 people. Steamship ‘Szeged’ arrives at Gruž port with 2,563 Russians, out of which 783 remained in Dubrovnik for a longer period, while the rest were transferred to Banat after the quarantine

— 1 January 1921: the Russian Colony is officially registered in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes as an association with the purpose of looking after the interests and needs of the White Army refugees. It functioned as a humanitarian and cultural institution, which included amateur theatre in the Revelin Fort, book club, mess hall, the so-called ‘Russian House’ which took care of 40 old and disabled persons, and a library with 3,000 books, one of the largest in Europe at the time

— September 1921: new contingents of General Wrangel’s Army arrive in Dubrovnik after staying in refugee camps in Greece and Turkey. By the decision of the Ministry of Army and Navy, the Russians join border guard on the Island of Lokrum, where they serve for a year, 4,500 soldiers

— 1924: after a number of Russian emigrants set off for France on the ship ‘St Lazarus’, the Dubrovnik Colony is left with 324 members. Many Russians leave, some die, some resign their membership in the Colony after acquiring Yugoslav citizenship, which leads to significant reduction in number of members by the beginning of the Second World War

— 1937: Dubrovnik marine painter Alexei Vasilievich Hanzen dies

— 1941: number of members of the Russian Colony is reduced from the initial 900 emigrants to only 82

— 1950: founding of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. Olga Solovyova, one of the emigrants from Odessa, is the Festival’s choreographer from its founding

— 1974: Olga Solovyova, a long-time choreographer of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, dies. Together with her sister, musician and linguist Lidiya Iraklidi, she left their villa on Kamen mali to the Dubrovnik Summer Festival with the desire to turn it into a Home for the elderly and underprivileged artists

— 1995: Lidiya Iraklidi, the last Russian emigrant in Dubrovnik who arrived in the great wave of migration after the Revolution, dies after escaping the shelling of Dubrovnik and once more becoming a refugee at the age of 97. She found refuge in Apatin, Vojvodina, where she is buried



Aleksej Arsenjev. “Ruska emigracija u Dubrovniku” [Russian emigrants in Dubrovnik], In: Ruski emigranti u Hrvatskoj između dva rata; Rubovi, memorija [Russian emigrants in Croatia between the two wars; Edges, memory], Ed. Irena Lukšić. Zagreb, 2006.

Tatjana Puškadija Ribkin. Emigranti iz Rusije u znanstvenom i kulturnom životu grada Zagreba [Emigrants from Russia in scientific and cultural life of Zagreb]. Zagreb, 2005.



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