Elina Bystritskaya, the Russian-Soviet actress who has been called one of the most beautiful women of the Soviet cinema, has passed away at the age of 91. Bystritskaya was best-known for her role in the iconic 1957 film, “Quiet Flows the Don.” But she also played a role in Russian diplomacy and its outreach to the West.
Bystritska married Nicolas Kuzminsky, a member of the ministry of Foreign Affairs. The couple never had children. After she left acting, Bystritskaya remained in the public eye due to her political activism and her support for President Putin.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Was Born in Kiev & Worked as a Nurse During World War Two
Bystritskaya was born on April 4, 1928, in Kiev, Ukraine, in what was then part of the Soviet Union. She was born to a Jewish family. Her father, Avraam Petrovich Bystritsky, was a medical doctor in Kiev, and her mother, Esther Isaakovna, was a medical administrator. Bystritskaya followed in her parents’ footsteps and trained to become a nurse herself.
During World War Two, she worked alongside her parents in a military hospital, where she served as a nurse. She won a medal for her contributions to the war. She went on to study as a medical nurse at Nezhin Nursing School, specializing in gynecology. She went to work as a gynecological clinic before beginning her acting career.
2. She Failed In Her First Attempt to Enter Acting School
Shortly after becoming a nurse, Bystritskaya tried out for a Kiev acting school and failed. Disappointed, she decided to study to become a teacher, but then tried out for acting school again and was accepted. She graduated from the Kiev Theatrical Institute in 1953 and quickly rose to fame as an actress. In 1955, she was named the “Best Soviet Actress” of the year. Her best-known role came in 1957, when she portrayed Aksinya in Aleksandr Gerasimov’s film, “Quiet Flows the Don.”
The film is an adaptation of the novel by the same name by Russian writer Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov. It centers around the story of a Cossack family living along the Don river, and portrays their experience of World War One, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Civil War.
3. She Traveled to the White House to Meet with President Eisenhower
In 1960, the USSR sent a delegation to meet with President Eisenhower in the White House. Bystritskaya, along with Sergey Bondarchuk and Nikolay Cherkasov, was a member of that delegation, and traveled to the White House. She apparently charmed the First Lady during her visit.
Bystritskaya was sought after by American directors, who wanted to invite the Soviet star to perform in Hollywood films. But she was not told of those offers, and she continued to perform solely in the Soviet Union.
4. She Was Against the Peaceful, Pro-Western Movement in Kiev in 2014
In 2014, Bystritskaya publicly opposed the “Euromaidan” movement which was sweeping across Ukraine. The actress called on Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich to end the Euromaidan and arrest its participants. She and her fellow anti-Euromaidan protesters claimed that the Euromaidan movement was anti-Russian and called on Yanukovich to take action against the group’s leaders.
The Euromaidan movement began in 2013 as a series of protests, centered in Kiev Square, against the Ukrainian government’s plans to end its ties to the European Union and develop a closer relationship with Russia.
5. She Supported Russia’s Annexation of Crimea