According to his autobiography, thug-turned-KGB Sergei Nikolayevich Kourdakov broke up over 150 secret meetings of Christians in the former Soviet Union. The leaders were arrested, members were beaten and terrorized and all Christian literature was burned or sent to headquarters for analysis.
How did this zealous communist find Jesus just a few years later and then die under mysterious circumstances near Los Angeles?
Kourdakov was born in 1951 under communist tyranny. After his mentally ill brother tried to kill him, he ran away, became a street urchin and was scooped up and taken to state-run orphan homes, according to his book The Persecutor, a dramatic and somewhat controversial account.
For a few years he toyed with becoming a hoodlum, even selling hashish, but ultimately he withdrew from the underworld and instead threw his efforts into the communist party. With intelligence and ambition, he quickly rose to become leader of the Communist Youth League in his area.
After graduating with honors he enrolled in the Navy and studied to become a radio engineer. Meanwhile, his aptitudes caught the attention of his superiors and he was recruited to a “special-action squad” for 25 rubles a month.
At first the squad was tasked with roughing up drunks and wife-beaters the police didn’t have time for. Such rogues gave a bad name to communism, which was supposedly creating a “utopia.”
As time progressed, Kourdakov and his recruits were assigned to break up underground Christian meetings. In one operation, he hid in the bushes where informants said there would be a baptism.
Shortly after church members arrived, Kourdakov sprang from hiding and beat them down with clubs. The pastor floated dead in the water, and young girls were stripped naked to be humiliated and driven to the police station for interrogation.
But his decision to make a public spectacle of the Christians was a miscalculation that drew the criticism of his superiors, who wanted these raids to be conducted in secrecy.
From May through December 1970, Kourdakov conducted raids. The “believers” – as they were called – were beaten and intimidated, and the pastors were arrested and sentenced to Siberian labor camps.
It was the height of the Cold War, and religious faith was seen by atheistic communism as subversive, a means by “capitalist oppressors: to keep the masses peaceful and stupid.” Part of Kourdakov’s duties was to document Christians for databases that authorities could use to round them up at any time.
In one raid, Kourdakov noticed a particularly beautiful believer named Natasha Zhdanova and decided she should be smashed against a wall. Kourdakov thought this would intimidate and discourage believers from attending any further meetings.
But just three days later, he spotted Natasha at another raid. He decided she needed more persuasion and so he beat her severely. He even brought her to the police station to threaten her.
One week later in another raid, Kourdakov saw her again. Her persistence was particularly unnerving. Records showed she had once belonged to the Communist Youth League.
This time, Kourdakov defended Natasha. When his buddy Alex Gulyaev moved to club her down, Kourdakov jumped between them and shouted: “Alex, I’m telling you, don’t touch her! Nobody touches her! She has something we don’t have! Nobody touches her!”
The subtitle of Kourdakov’s autobiography is “Forgive Me, Natasha.”
His exploits on behalf of the communist regime made him stand out in the Kamchatka Province. He was awarded a 15-minute speech broadcast on television. Afterwards he met Comrade Orlov, he invited him to a private dining room full of high-ranking communist officials, who were dining on expensive delicacies and drinking vodka like water.
Kourdakov was disillusioned. Supposedly communism fought for the laborer and the farmer. Purportedly, it fought the ruling class. But while the poor of the Soviet Union scraped together a meager living, here were the guardians of communism living like the capitalist oppressors they claimed to eradicate.
Meanwhile, Kourdakov began to notice that his Christian-busting raids weren’t having the desired effect. Instead of decreasing, attendance was surging.
In July, he was asked by his superiors to burn some religious texts for heating. But his doubts about communism were festering and his curiosity about Christianity was mounting. Instead of burning the books, he pocketed a hand-written copy of the Gospel of Luke and took it home to read at the Naval Academy barracks on his bunk.
“Jesus was talking and teaching someone how to pray. This certainly was no anti-state material,” he wrote in The Persecutor. “It was how to be a better person and how to forgive those who do you wrong. Suddenly, the words leaped out of those pages and into my heart… Through the days and weeks ahead, Jesus stayed with me.”
In January of 1971, Kourdakov graduated from the Naval Academy as a radio officer and was assigned to a destroyer. He asked to be transferred to a ship near the United States coast. In June, he found himself on the trawler Ivan Sereda looking for an opportunity to defect to the United States.
But just when he was going to jump ship on a makeshift raft off the coast of Los Angeles, another Soviet elsewhere was returned off the coast of New England in what became known as the Kudirka Incident. He would-be defector was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Kourdakov decided to initiate his escape when they were close to Canada.
Transferred to another trawler, the Shturman Elagin, he found his opportunity in August. During a severe storm, the trawler requested and got approval to enter Canadian waters for shelter. On Sept. 3, Kourdakov plunged into the frigid waters and swam – most of the night – for the shore.
He was found half-naked and bleeding on Queen Charlotte Island by a woman who called a hospital. Nobody spoke Russian, so he spoke German through a translator. In an extended diplomatic fracas, he was very nearly returned to the Soviets.
But a radio talk show host, Pat Burns, heard about him and pressured Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to grant asylum. Read the rest of Sergei Kourdakov Christian
My journalism student from the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Westside Los Angeles wrote this article. I edited it.