The Collection of My Ancestors

By Olga Ryadchenko, Odessa, Ukraine
Posted February 2016

Since time immemorial, people have lived on the northern coast of the Black Sea. The Cimmerians, Scythians and ancient Slavs were the oldest inhabitants of the region. Starting from the 7th century BC, Greek colonists appeared there.

In 1794, Odessa, the main southern port of the Russian Empire, was founded on the Black Sea coast. Built on the site where the ancient settlement (the ancient Greek colony, Port of Genoa, Ginestra, the outposts of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Ottoman fortress Yeni Dunya—The Light of the West) had been for the centuries, the city was multicultural and multinational from the very moment of its birth.

Antique Yupik amulets.

For the rapid economic development of the city, it received the special status—a tax-free zone of a free port (porto-franco) and a territory free from the serfdom that existed at that time in Russia. In an effort to gain freedom, the slaves-peasants escaped to the city from their owners; the numerous new workers were attracted by the city’s construction sites. Shops and stores opened. Smuggling flourished. The tax-free area and the opportunity to get rich quickly lured all sorts of adventurers.

My ancestors settled in the blessed southern city almost in the first decades of its existence. The men in my family traditionally served in the navy, going on long cruises across the globe.

Eskimo-scrimshawed walrus tusks; the smaller is from the 1800s, and the larger is from the 1930s.

The opening of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands by Russian explorers continued the colonization and populating of the Siberian region that started in the 16th century. In 1798, all the discovered lands developed by the Russians in the northwest of North America were annexed to Russia under the name of Russian America. In 1867, the possessions in America were sold to the USA by the tsarist government.

Having heard of the untold riches of the New World, hunters of furbearers and sea mammals and industrialists followed the pioneers, the gold miners, merchants and traders. The rich merchants united in trade and in industrial companies. Even so, various merchant companies were not only at odds with each other, but they also drew into their incessant feuds the Chukchi (Yupik) and Eskimos (Inuit), Aleuts and Indians, until the well-known Russian-American Company was founded in 1799. Since its establishment and until 1841 (the year when Fort Ross was sold), the Russian-American Company outfitted 13 voyages around the globe.

A stone tiger from Japan, 1700-1800s.

A stone figure from ancient Egypt, 1850s.

The Russian-American Company had the right to hire the officers and sailors of the Russian Navy, regardless of their place of residence or duty area. My great-grandfather Karl Franz Zhmudsky became one of those naval officers. The exotic items that Karl Franz brought from his fur trapping and his stories of the northern peoples living on both sides of the Bering Strait planted in the hearts of his sons and grandsons the desire to go to sea, to travel, and to take trips across the Far North.

His son Johann became a naval officer, and he served aboard the brig Okhotsk. In 1840, he took part in the expeditions of the famous Russian ethnographer Ilya Voznesensky to the Aleutian and Kuril Islands and gathered a large collection of everyday objects made by northern peoples.

An Eskimo-carved walrus inkwell from the 1920s.

His sons and grandsons brought from their campaigns the works of primitive art. They competed with each other in trying to capture the imaginations of friends with unusual gifts. The collection of specimens of the northern peoples’ everyday lives they brought back was also supplemented with items from their southern expeditions to New Zealand, Australia, Polynesia and so on.

Before World War II, a part of the collection was donated to the Odessa Maritime Museum, and unfortunately, it was lost during the German occupation of our city. But a certain number of items were hidden in those difficult times and survived.

A wooden, gold-gilded religious figurine from Japan, 1700-1800s.

As the heir to the family tradition, I am keen on completing and improving the collection of my ancestors, even though I myself have a great passion for Scythian and Greek artifacts (peoples that lived in my native homeland two and a half thousands of years ago).

Actually in Odessa, in family collections, there are sometimes the absolutely unexpected and rare items. The port city greedily absorbed the different specialties from remote lands and exotic islands. Sometimes, these things get on the antique market, and among primitive souvenirs at flea markets and antique shops, the true masterpieces can be found.

Today, Ukraine is in a difficult position. It is a poor country with a low level of income, so the prices of antiques in general are lower than those in the rest of the world.


My name is Olga Ryadchenko. I live on the Black Sea, in the city of Odessa, Ukraine. I am a linguist, a specialist in applied linguistics, studying the communicative properties of texts.

When I was a student, I specialized in comparative philology, Slavic languages. I wanted to become a university professor and teach the historical comparative philology. But at that time, the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine had a total unemployment, and I had to say goodbye to my idea. Later, I worked in advertising, “invented texts” (or communications). This work gave me money, freedom and an understanding of human motives. Вut I am a researcher at heart so when the Odessa University in the late 1990s opened the Faculty of Neurolinguistics, I received a second education. I practiced creation texts for psychotherapy (Ericsonian treatment of phobias). Now I analyze texts and study their impact on people. What are the components of texts that particularly affect the psyche; what techniques of suggestion are used in the media?

The last five years I have been interested in Russian propaganda. This is an interesting phenomenon (from the scientific point of view, of course). It is a very aggressive form of cheating, which has its own ways of distribution and penetration into the minds of the people. I'm looking for ways to neutralize this (and similar) phenomena on the Internet, at least. I was involved with this subject before the war. I think all dictatorships use propaganda, but free people should have a choice.

Now I take part in the creation of programs for the psychological rehabilitation of soldiers who have returned from the conflict zone in the Donbass and psychological assistance to people affected by the armed conflict. This is volunteer work; I do not get paid for it.

I like to spend my free time with my family and growing flowers in my garden. My husband is a painter, my daughter is a specialist in neurolinguistics, and my son is a student of applied mathematics at the University. We spend much of our time traveling and in having discussions together. I am a passionate collector, but it can hardly be called a hobby. Rather, it is second nature with me.




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