Who was the girl in the famous photo with Stalin & what happened to her?

Mikhail Kalashnikov
“This Buryat girl was sent to us by God himself. We’ll make her an icon of happy childhood!”

Gelya Markizova, the daughter of the People’s Commissar of Buryatia, was 6 years old when she visited the Moscow Kremlin and handed Stalin a flower bouquet. The touched leader lifted the girl up and gave her a kiss.

And, as such, the official meeting of the Buryat-Mongol Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1936 accidentally gave the country one of the most popular images of Stalin. “This Buryat girl was sent to us by God himself. We’ll make her an icon of happy childhood,” Lev Mekhlis, chief editor of the Pravda newspaper, said then.

And so it was: the photo of Stalin and Gelya was published in all newspapers with the caption: “Thanks to Comrade Stalin for our happy childhood!” It was put on posters; renowned sculptor Georgi Lavrov turned it into a sculpture of Stalin and Gelya that was then replicated. The girl was everywhere. But not for long.

After just one and a half years, her father was arrested and then executed by a firing squad on espionage charges. Her mother was then exiled to Kazakhstan and later died under suspicious circumstances in 1938; her case was never investigated.

Gelya, however, was left unharmed. But what to do with the cult of the girl? Stalin couldn’t pose with the “daughter of the enemy of the people” from the posters anymore. It was also impossible to destroy all the newspapers and sculptures.

With an Orwellian cunning, the officials found a look-alike, young pioneer named Mamlakat Nakhangova and put her name on every portrait and poster. They produced several fresh photos of Mamlakat with the sculpture behind her – and now, allegedly, it was also her. Most importantly, Soviet citizens didn’t notice the replacement.

Gelya Markizova’s aunt adopted the now orphan, changing her first and last names. Gelya became an Orientalist scholar, lived a peaceful life, gave birth to two children and died at the age of 75.

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