Soviet Actress and U.S. Naval Officer – True Story of Love in the Cold War

Young couple chalking hearts onto a tree during the war

Against the backdrop of war, heroic feats seem even more astounding and love stories take on a whole new poignancy. There is one love story that combines the worst elements of war with the best elements of human nature: that of Zoya Fyodorova and Jackson Tate.

A Fated Meeting

Zoya Alekseyevna Fyodorova, born on December 8, 1907, was one of Russia’s most admired movie stars. Jackson Tate, born October 15, 1898, started out as a lieutenant in the Navy but rose through the ranks to become an admiral.

Zoya Fedorova during a break of the concert with soldiers of one of the tank units of the Red Army, 1943
Zoya Fedorova during a break of the concert with soldiers of one of the tank units of the Red Army, 1943

In 1945, Zoya and Jackson met at the US Embassy in Moscow, where Jackson was acting as deputy attaché. It was love at first sight, and Jackson wasted no time in asking Zoya out. Even though Zoya knew that association with a foreigner could result in imprisonment, she accepted.

However, to avoid discovery, she asked him never to wear his military uniform when they met and to remain silent for fear that his accent might give away his nationality.

Jackson Tate and Zoya Fyodorova
Jackson Tate and Zoya Fyodorova

Despite these restrictions on their relationship, their love blossomed. They were so hopeful that on May 9, Armistice Day, Zoya felt sure she would conceive a child that night. They agreed to name it Victor or Victoria in honor of the day.

While Zoya did indeed fall pregnant that very night, Jackson wasn’t to know that until several years later.

Torn Apart

Zoya’s father had been a revolutionary and a communist. In 1941, he was arrested due to a remark he made about Stalin. Zoya knew that Lavrentiy Beria could secure his freedom, so she approached him. This was no small feat since Beria was renowned for organizing terror and reprisals, as well as being a sexual predator.

Beria with Stalin (in background), Stalin’s daughter Svetlana
Beria with Stalin (in background), Stalin’s daughter Svetlana

Utterly charmed by her, Beria freed her father and invited Zoya to his wife’s birthday dinner. But this was a ruse and in fact, he made advances to her in the hope that she would “reward” him for securing her father’s freedom. When she rejected him, Beria threw her out.

Nestor Lakoba, Nikita Khrushchev, Lavrenti Beria and Aghasi Khanjian during the opening of the Moscow Metro in 1936. The same year Lakoba and Khanjian were killed by Beria.
Nestor Lakoba, Nikita Khrushchev, Lavrenti Beria and Aghasi Khanjian during the opening of the Moscow Metro in 1936. The same year Lakoba and Khanjian were killed by Beria.

Beria’s Revenge

Beria did not forget about Zoya. Soon after Victory Day, May 9, 1945, he sent her on a tour of the Black Sea coast. In addition, Jackson was expelled from the Soviet Union, putting them even further apart.

The NKVD monitored Zoya during her pregnancy and even kept her under surveillance when she gave birth. Finally, Zoya understood that she was still suffering reprisals for her actions with Beria. Undeterred, she named her daughter Victoria, just as the lovers had agreed.

Shot from the film – “Girlfriends” – Zoya is center.
Shot from the film – “Girlfriends” – Zoya is center.

Meanwhile, Jackson was writing Zoya dozens of love letters that never reached her. He only received one letter in return – an anonymous one – telling him to cease bothering Zoya.

Arrested and Parted

If Zoya had thought that being parted from Jackson was punishment enough, she was soon proved wrong. When Victoria was one year old, Zoya was arrested. She was told Jackson was a spy and she was accused of passing him information. She was also charged with organizing a gang to kill Stalin. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Her property was confiscated, but luckily Victoria was taken by Zoya’s sister to Kazakhstan.

Stalin (right) confers with an ailing Lenin at Gorky in September 1922
Stalin (right) confers with an ailing Lenin at Gorky in September 1922

A Mother’s Search

Zoya was released in 1953 when Stalin died. Only then could she resume her acting career and live with her daughter once again. However, Zoya’s time in prison had made her fearful of what would happen to Victoria if she was arrested again. She began trying to contact Jackson.

Through a mutual contact, Zoya finally managed to get in touch with Irene Kirk, who was a professor at the University of Connecticut. Irene was working as an interpreter in Moscow and had grown up watching films starring Zoya.

Shot of Zoya from the film “Frontline Friends” – 1941
Shot of Zoya from the film “Frontline Friends” – 1941

Eventually, a few years after Irene returned to the US, she managed to track Jackson down. She sent him a letter and a photo of Victoria. While Jackson recognised his daughter, he was still unable to contact either Zoya or Victoria. Meanwhile, thanks to the efforts of the KGB, Zoya and Victoria thought that Jackson had abandoned them.

Victoria Fyodorova the daughter of Zoya and Jackson
Victoria Fyodorova the daughter of Zoya and Jackson

Media Campaign

As Soviet citizens, it was impossible for either Zoya or Victoria to go abroad without an officially sanctioned reason. Jackson could not fly to them either, for he was 75 years old and very sick. In her desperation, Victoria turned to the American press and on January 25, 1975, The New York Times published a piece about the family. The Los Angeles Times also ran a piece about Jackson and his story.

Harmony Movie Poster picturing Zoya Fyodorova
Harmony Movie Poster picturing Zoya Fyodorova

Henry Gris from The National Enquirer got in touch with Victoria. In return for exclusive coverage of the reunion, they offered to pay for accommodation, tickets, and all other expenses. Victoria readily accepted this offer which would finally allow her to meet her father.

Pressroom of the New York Times newspaper.
Pressroom of the New York Times newspaper.

Staying in America

When Victoria got to America, she didn’t want to leave. As chance would have it, Victoria met a Pan AM pilot named Fred Puoy. He had read about her in People Magazine and offered to fly a poodle of hers back to the USSR. They were married three months later, just days before Victoria’s visa expired.

They had a son, whom they named Christopher. Victoria was able to stay in America, and her mother was granted a visa that allowed her to visit once a year.

Zoya Fyodorova
Zoya Fyodorova

In 1976, Zoya traveled to the USA and the whole family was reunited – and just in time, as two years later Jackson died of cancer. Since then, Zoya visited her daughter every year until her death in 1981.

Read another story from us: The Myths, Legends, AND Truth of the Stalingrad Shoemaker Boy

Victoria, following in her mother’s footsteps, became an actress. She also wrote a book, The Admiral’s Daughter, which described her experiences and charted how a family torn apart by war and politics was finally able to be happily reunited. Victoria died in Pennsylvania from lung cancer in September 2012.