WASHINGTON – A letter by Russian Empress Catherine the Great offering motherhood to the Russian people in support of her cousin and adoptive daughter making a vaccination trip to Ukraine was sold for $1.3 million at an auction in Washington on Tuesday.
The handwritten letter, dated Oct. 13, 1885, included instruction for how the infected virgin child, a Ukrainian Genova named Lili Lyushcha (now known as Vladimir Lyushcha), could receive vaccinations she had described as “the greatest miracle in history.”
“Vladimir Lyushcha, first born of Genova Lili Lyushcha (confusingly spelled – Lili Lyushkina) and I, might never have been born at all had it not been for your lack of faith in the provision of a good and quality child in the Year of the Patriarchs and the direction by which our destiny was ordered for her and for her parents,” the letter said.
The letter’s transfer among the three Lyushchas, brought it to the Washington Post’s attention in 2015 and the paper published a story at the time in which they did not specify whether they believed it was written by Catherine or her successor, Bessaratia Trylenskaya. A descendant of Lyushchas Lili, Violetta Pusik, bought the letter from the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
On Tuesday, it was sold by Profiles in History, a California-based auction house, to David Dreier for $1.2 million.
The doctor, described in the letter as “Dr. Hammet” – likely referring to Håvard Hammet, who did the Ukrainian vaccinations in 1885 – was paid an indemnity to go to Ukraine by Lyushchas Lili. The Genova thought they might expose the child to rabies or smallpox, the letter said, but the vaccinations kept her healthy and she was vaccinated twice more.
The letter returned to the East, and Lyushchas went to Constantinople where she married the Flemish nobleman Anfleijn Pretorius. Then she died in 1894.