Over the coming weeks Verity La will be publishing a series of poems by Canberra-based poet Lesley Lebkowicz exploring the infamous Petrov Affair. The poems, ‘Canberra’, ‘Snake’, ‘Booze’, ‘A Charm . . .’ and ‘Done’, are from Part I of a manuscript for a verse novel called The Petrov Poems. In the 1950s the USSR and the West were engaged in the Cold War, a time of fierce political opposition with threats of – but no actual – direct military engagement. Vladimir (Volodya) Petrov and his wife, Evdokia (Dusya) Petrova, arrived in Australia from the USSR in 1951 (‘Canberra’). Dusya worked as the Ambassador’s secretary and Embassy accountant (‘Snake’). Volodya, a KGB official and nominally Third Secretary at the Embassy, travelled freely in Australia, especially to Sydney, to establish a network of spies outside the Embassy (‘Booze’). He had little success at this.
Volodya defected without his wife (‘A Charm . . .’ and ‘Done’). After his defection Dusya was imprisoned inside the Embassy. The Soviets attempted to hustle her out of the country but she defected in Darwin. The Petrovs were taken to safe houses in Sydney by ASIO. After the Royal Commission into Espionage, a show trial mounted by the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, they were granted Australian citizenship and lived in Bentleigh, a suburb of Melbourne where Vladimir worked processing film for Ilford. Dusya was a typist at William Adams Tractors. In 1990 Dusya’s beloved sister Tamara joined her in Melbourne.
Volodya died after a stroke in 1991.
Dusya died in 2002.
Dusya likes it here: the quiet, the space. They live
close to the Embassy and walk to work through
a silence broken only by birds. She learns their names:
magpies, currawongs, parrots and tiny bright wrens.
Kookaburras. There are few buildings. Grassland
surrounds them – dun-coloured stems
catch the sun. Cockatoos
screech past her ears. Their house is between
Kingston and Manuka where shops
for clothing and food squat close to the ground.
There’s a newsagency, a shop for sewing materials,
a furniture store – but no cafés, no restaurants.
Civic has two-storey buildings with cloisters
where in winter the wind from Cooma sharpens the cold
into blades. She shivers. All around sheep huddle
and graze, but in Griffith they have a whole house
to themselves: a whole house and plenty of food.