In the late 19th century when the Romanovs ruled Russia, one baby girl was born. She was a daughter of one of the most powerful men on earth. Her parents decided to name her “Olga“, one of the most common names for women in Russia.
Olga, as a grand duchess, was raised in Gatchina Palace alongside her brothers and sisters. As the youngest daughter of the imperial family, Olga was particularly close to her father, Alexander III, and her only younger brother, Mikhail or Michael. In contrast, she never had a close relationship with her mother, Empress Maria Feodorovna
In 1894, her beloved father, Alexander III died. His death traumatized a teenage grand duchess, who was only 12 years old. The man she loved most was gone forever. Soon after his death, her oldest brother, Nicholas, became the emperor of Russia.
Suddenly, in 1900, an 18-year-old Olga met a distant cousin, Duke Peter of Oldenburg, as he escorted her to the theater. She never knew that this person would be her future husband. A year later, Peter unexpectedly asked for her hand in marriage. Olga simply replied “Thank You”
Although Peter had royal blood, he was not a suitable husband for Olga. Peter was addicted to gambling. Furthermore, many assumed Peter to be homosexual, as he never showed interest in any woman, Olga included. Thus, the marriage was probably organized solely by Empress Maria. Many suspected that Peter married Olga because he hoped that he could improve his finances if he became the brother-in-law of the emperor.
For Olga, if the marriage was her mother’s demand, she would have no choice but to accept. Olga might marry Peter because she did not want to marry into the foreign court. Thus, it was certain that their marriage did not occur because of love.
As the couple never loved each other, the marriage was a complete failure. In the wedding night, Olga stayed alone in her room. This was because her husband went to the gambling club. After a honeymoon in France, their relationship still did not improve. When the couple settled down in a new palace, they did not share the same room. They instead selected the rooms on the opposite edge of the building.
This does not mean that they never spent time with each other. The couple usually walked through the woods together. However, their relationship was more like that of friends, not couples. Olga dreamed of receiving love from her husband that she loved and
As time passed by, Olga was increasingly in depression. Thus, she sometimes went to Gatchina Palace to spend time with her younger brother, Mikhail. It was during these visits that changed Olga’s destiny forever.
Love at First Sight
From 1901 to 1903, Olga spent most of her time on community services. She supported a village school and established a hospital from her own purse. The grand duchess probably hoped that these activities would alleviate the pain from an unconsummated marriage. However, Olga remained unhappy and sad throughout this moment of life.
Things changed forever after Olga went to the Pavlovsk Palace to see her brother, Mikhail. The grand duke introduced her to an officer of Blue Cuirassier Guards during a military review. The officer’s name was Nikolai Kulikovsky. His name would remain in Olga’s heart for the rest of her life.
Captain Kulikovsky was born into a noble family from Voronezh. He graduated from a cavalry college and became an expert horseman. Finally, he was appointed a captain in the Blue Cuirassiers Guards in late 1902.
The Blue Cuirassiers Guards had Mikhail as its honorary colonel. Thus, Kulikovsky was basically his friend. When Olga saw Kulikovsky, she immediately fell in love with him. Olga then asked his brother to arrange a meeting between Kulikovsky and her. Mikhail complied with her wish by arranging a luncheon party in the very next day.
love at first sightGrand Duchess Olga, “Michael and Natasha”, Rosemary and Donald Crawford
….I just told Michael I wanted to meet him and Michael understood. He arranged a luncheon party the very next day.
Kulikovsky sat adjacent to Olga at the meeting. Olga was impressed by his gentleness and generosity. She started to love him more and more.
After the party, Olga and Kulikovsky started seeing each other. Soon they became lovers. Olga spent much of her time at Gatchina, where she and Kulikovsky stayed together most of the time. Her action sparked a big gossip about her relationship with Kulikovsky in the imperial court and St. Petersburg society.
Desire for Divorce
The grand duchess simply did not care about the gossips. Olga behaved independently in the way that she wanted. She drove through streets of Gatchina accompanied by Kulikovsky. They hold each other’s hands, strolled arm-in-arm, and sat together in the Gatchina Park. Olga was totally in love, and she did not want anyone to stop her, including her husband, her mother, and even the Tsar.
The gossips finally reached the ears of Empress Dowager Maria Feodorovna, Olga’s mother. She was stunned to know that her youngest daughter fell in love with an officer in the guard. Peter, her husband soon knew about the affair as well. Having realized that everyone already knew her secrets, Olga asked Peter for a divorce.
Though Peter never loved Olga, he refused to grant her a divorce. Peter simply did not want to be in a “guilty party” that could damage the reputation of his family. He counter-offered that he would grant her a divorce after his marriage duration with Olga reached seven years so that it would be “respectable.” However, Peter agreed to appoint Kulikovsky as his aide-de-camp so that he could live in the same house as Olga. The latter offer pretended to be a secret one.
Peter’s offer was good enough for Olga at that point. She could live as a couple with Kulikovsky on her husband’s permission. Thus, she accepted her husband’s offer.
In fact, Empress Dowager Maria could ask the Tsar to banish Kulikovsky to distant posts. However, Olga was so determined in her relationship with Kulikovsky. This probably convinced her mother that the offer by Peter was a better option.
The Tsar’s refusal
With Mikhail’s assistance, Kulikovsky became an aide-de-camp of Duke Peter and moved into his house. By the way, there were no secrets in St. Petersburg society. The news of the secret arrangement spread like wildfire to every person in the court. However, Olga and Kulikovsky remained calm and ignored these gossips.
After seven years had passed, Peter was willing to grant Olga a divorce. However, Olga faced a new obstacle, her oldest brother, Tsar Nicholas II. As it was required for Russian royalty to ask for permission from the Tsar to marry or divorce, thus Olga must receive his permission as well.
Nicholas was a deeply religious man. He believed that marriage must last for life, as the couple swore their marriage vows before God. The Tsar also strictly followed the norm that royalty should marry within royalty. Hence, whenever Olga asked him to annul the marriage to Peter, Nicholas stubbornly refused.
In 1914, the Tsar had not yet permitted Olga to divorce. Other matters started to shift his attention elsewhere. The Great War started in Europe. Russian troops entered the battlefield. These included Kulikovsky.
A happy marriage
Kulikovsky and his regiment were sent to the front. Olga went to work in a military hospital as a nurse. During these times, she continued to send letters to the Tsar to convince him to permit her divorce. Unfortunately, Nicholas did not change his mind.
As the Russian armies fared badly in several battles, Olga was increasingly worried about Kulikovsky. She then asked the Tsar to transfer him to Kiev, where she worked as a nurse. This time the Tsar complied to her wishes.
Nicholas visited Olga at Kiev in 1916. We were not quite clear how Olga convinced him, but Nicholas formally annulled the marriage to Peter. Olga became free once again. The couple did not want to wait anymore. Olga married Kulikovsky on 16 November 1916.
The marriage was simple and smooth. Besides the officiating priest, only 8 people attended the ceremony. They were Empress Dowager Maria, Grand Duke Alexander (Sandro), two nurses whom Olga worked with, and four officers from the regiment that Olga was an honorary colonel. Even the marriage might not be grandeur as her former marriage, Olga was much happier. She finally married the man she loved and Kulikovsky loved her as well. Since that time, they never separated from each other again.
After the marriage, the couple spent their honeymoon happily at a farmhouse belonged to friends of Kulikovsky. Before returning to Kiev, the couple visited Kulikovsky’s parents at Kharkov.
Revolution and House Arrest
Soon after their marriage, the revolution erupted in Russia. The Russian Empire became a republic. The provisional government retired Kulikovsky from the army. The couple was then in Kiev. As the German army moved closer, the couple along with Empress Dowager Maria, and Sandro escaped to Crimea.
At Crimea, all of them were put under arrest. However, Kulikovsky’s commoner status proved an advantage. He was the only person who was able to leave the estate freely. Kulikovsky obtained food and found news about the current situation from the outside. At this point, Olga was pregnant. She gave birth to a son, Tikhon in 1917. She took care of Tikhon by herself and became a housewife for Kulikovsky.
After the October Revolution, the situations were deteriorating for the Romanovs. The Yalta Soviets wanted to execute the Romanovs living in Crimea. However, the Sevastopol Soviets stopped their plan. As both sides were going to clash, German troops reached Crimea on time. The Bolshevik guards were replaced by German soldiers.
House arrests by the Bolsheviks and the Germans tormented the Romanovs. The Bolsheviks ransacked the estate and grabbed whatever they found. In contrast, the Germans were polite, but they were enemies. Receiving care from the enemies was mentally tormenting for nationalistic Romanovs.
Road to Exile
In late 1918, Empress Dowager Maria, Sandro, and other surviving Romanovs left Russia by the British warship. However, Olga and Kulikovsky remained in Russia. They later migrated to the Caucasus, where Kulikovsky became a farmer. This was because Denikin, a white army general, refused to accept him in his army.
In fact, being refused from the White army might be a boon for Kulikovsky. If he joined the army, he might be dead on the battlefield. Kulikovsky lived peacefully with Olga as his housewife. They had a second son, Guri in 1919.
Months later, it was clear that the Bolsheviks was winning the civil war. The family decided to flee Russia. They took refuge in the residence of a Danish consul in southern Russia. The Danish consulate later helped him reach the safety of the refugee camp in Turkey. That was the last time that Olga and Kulikovsky saw Russia, their motherland.
Empress Dowager Maria, who already went back to Denmark, asked her daughter and family to lived with her in Denmark. Olga, Kulikovsky and their sons complied. The family arrived Denmark in 1920.
Life in Denmark
At Denmark, Kulikovsky became moody, as he did not have any role and rank. The spinal injury he received from the war probably denied him from any official job. Furthermore, Kulikovsky never had a cordial relationship with the Empress Dowager. They remained distant, and Kulikovsky did not like the fact that Olga became a secretary to her mother.
As a secretary, Olga once canceled the meeting between her mother and Nikolai Sokolov, the investigator of the imperial family’s murder at Yekaterinburg. She believed that her mother could not tolerate hearing the stories of her son and his family’s deaths.
Olga and Kulikovsky stayed with Empress Dowager Maria until her death in 1928. Kulikovsky finally got a job as a manager of stables. He later became the board of a Russian insurance company. The family lived happily in Denmark until Nazi Germany invaded Denmark in 1940.
By the way, in 1924, Duke Peter, Olga’s ex-husband, died in France. He was 55.
Exodus to Canada
In 1940, Nazi Germany successfully controlled Denmark. Both Tikhon and Guri were interned as POWs for two months. During WWII, Olga took part in helping Russian refugees fight the Soviet Union. This led the Soviet government to send an official letter to Danish counterparts accusing Olga of conspiracy against the Soviets.
After the war, Olga worried about her safety if she continued staying in Europe. The family finally chose to migrate to Canada in 1948. They lived in a farm near Halton County, Ontario. However, in 1952, the couple sold the farm as they were older, and their sons already moved away. Olga and Kulikovsky then moved to a small room at Cooksville, Ontario.
At her new house, many of the locals were interested in Olga as the last Romanov. Many royals and dignitaries also often visited her. During those years, Olga received many writers and historians who wrote about her family as well.
As a brilliant painter, Olga painted many portraits to support the family’s living. The couple also held various stocks and bonds. The couple also lived economically. Thus, unlike other Russian nobility who was in exile, Olga and Kulikovsky were far from being penniless. Her estate’s value was exceeding $1.5 million adjusted for inflation in 2019
As an old man, Kulikovsky’s condition declined. He was paralyzed in 1958. On 11 August 1958, Kulikovsky, who did not want to disturb his wife, died while sleeping on the sofa. He was 76.
Olga lived for 2 years after Kulikovsky’s death. She died on 24 November 1960. The last grand duchess was 78 years old. She was buried next to Kulikovsky in York Cemetery, Toronto. The couple now united in their afterlife.
Rest In Peace