Leo Steveni was a British officer based in St Petersburg at the time of the Russian Revolution. He became an active eyewitness to the chaos of the Civil War that followed.
The Russian composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died in St Petersburg on 24 October 1893. The following day (7 November, according to the Gregorian calendar introduced in 1918) Leo Steveni was born in the same city. His father, William Oscar Steveni, of Swedish descent, was born in the English port of Hull, while his mother, Elizaveta Leonovna, was half Russian and half German. Her grandfather, Count Leo Perovsky, was descended from the noble Razumovsky family and had been a successful general and a minister in the government of Tsar Nicholas I.
Of Crimean Cossack origin, the family rose to nobility on the back of two brothers: Alexi Razumovsky, a lover of Empress Elizabeth of Russia, and Kyril, a courtier to Catherine the Great. Count Alexis Tolstoy, writer, poet and cousin to Leo, came from another branch of the family tree, though one with more bitter fruit: Sophia Perovskaya was hanged on 3 April 1881 for her part in the murder of Alexander II. Leo’s mother was the product of two generations of illegitimacy and one of incest. It is little wonder that Leo Steveni was to become the firebrand he did.
Leo’s father had left Hull for Russia at the age of 18. His timber export business, founded in 1883, had grown by exporting timber from tsarist estates to Britain. In 1902, in gratitude, William was awarded a diamond and ruby ring by the Russian government.