Sergei Kourdakov
KGB agent
Sergei Kourdakov
Sergei Nikolayevich Kourdakov was a former KGB agent and naval officer who from his late teen years carried out more than 150 raids in underground Christian communities in regions of the Soviet Union in the 1960s. At the age of twenty, he defected to Canada while a naval officer on a Soviet trawler in the Pacific and converted to Evangelical Christianity.
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  • 1973
    Age 21
    Sergei Kourdakov was buried in a Russian section of Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., USA on January 11, 1973.
    More Details Hide Details Kourdakov's death stirred up much controversy among Christian anti-communist organizations and elsewhere. Jesus to the Communist World general director Richard Wurmbrand, himself a former prisoner and torture victim in Soviet-controlled Romania, accused Underground Evangelism of exploiting the young defector. On January 4, he wrote an open letter to the organization stating that Sergei Kourdakov "should not have been brought on the stage publicity with its perils before having been a member of a church growing in grace and knowledge." Andrew Semenchuk, the west coast representative of the Slavic Gospel Association stated that he and other Russian Baptist church members who heard Sergei speak at a Santa Ana felt that he "should not have been thrust into such a situation—speaking on subjects 'completely beyond him.'" Some of the criticism towards Underground Evangelism was its alleged exploitation of Kourdakov for profit. According to the Los Angeles Times, by 1973, the young Christian "had become the feature of the organization's literature." In addition to placing Kourdakov on a tour of over twenty speaking engagements during his short time in the organization, Underground Evangelism sold taped versions of his story priced at four dollars. Myrus Knutson, board chairman of Jesus to the Communist World, made a statement saying that "it may be unfair to say it, but they Evangelism smelled money."
    After his death, his body was sent to Washington, D.C. on January 10, 1973, where an English funeral service by Reverend Richard Halverson, a Presbyterian pastor, and a Russian service at a Russian Orthodox church were held.
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    Due to the circumstances, Sergei Kourdakov was initially announced to have died by suicide. Many, notably Underground Evangelism founder and then-president L. Joe Bass, repudiated this claim. After a more thorough investigation, Kourdakov's death was ruled an accident on March 1, 1973, stating that while Sergei was playing with his revolver, he probably accidentally shot himself.
    More Details Hide Details But due to Kourdakov's status as a former high-rank KGB agent who defected to North America and publicly opposed Communism, some believe that he was assassinated by another KGB member in order to silence him. Sergei himself had considered the possibility of an assassination attempt, hence the revolver, stating that he "was in the Soviet Intelligence. They do not warn twice", and that, if anything were ever to happen to him, "it would have all the appearances of an accident." L. Joe Bass was quoted on an Underground Evangelism newsletter saying that "What better than midnight on New Year's Eve, and what better place than that small, tourist-packed resort area for Sergei Kourdakov to have an 'accident'?"
    On January 1, 1973, Sergei Kourdakov was found dead in his motel room in Running Springs, California, killed by a gunshot to the head.
    More Details Hide Details In his room was an unfinished typewritten paper (which he was preparing for Senator Strom Thurmond with regard to receiving permanent residency in the US), a champagne bottle, and the gun borrowed from the family's father.
  • 1972
    Age 20
    On May 1, 1972, Kourdakov joined Underground Evangelism and moved to California where he moved in with a family that had heard his story and offered him a place to stay.
    More Details Hide Details He spent his time traveling all over the United States speaking in schools, universities, and bible studies about his life and the state of Christian communities in the Soviet Union. He also spent much of his time making live radio broadcasts about Christianity and the evils of Communism in Russian, which were broadcast to the Soviet Union. While living in the United States, Kourdakov spent three weeks in The Pentagon demonstrating how Soviet submarines are made. Sergei Kourdakov's death had been dubbed as "strange and uncertain." Upon moving to California, Kourdakov moved in with a Christian family. Because he began making public appearances so often, he started worrying for his safety, so he began taking a revolver that belonged to the family's father with him whenever he traveled anywhere. To celebrate the New Year, Sergei went on vacation with Ann Johnson, the seventeen-year-old daughter of the family he was living with first to Disneyland, then to a ski lodge in Running Springs, California.
  • 1971
    Age 19
    On September 3, 1971, around 10 pm, Kourdakov plunged into the freezing Canadian waters.
    More Details Hide Details In the morning of the next day, Sergei Kourdakov was found staggering half-naked and bleeding onto the shores of Queen Charlotte Island by a woman living near the sea, who quickly called the hospital. Suffering from a cardiac irregularity, he wasn't sure at first whether he was back on a Soviet ship or in Canada. By the time he was at the hospital, he had entered a deep sleep. When he woke up, he was greeted by a translator. Later that day he was flown to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, where he stayed in the prison section of a hospital. Everybody was wonderful to me. On one particular day, an immigration officer offered to give Sergei Kourdakov a tour of Prince Rupert. Kourdakov was so amazed with the city that he stated later that his "eyes almost popped out as I looked at the cars and nice homes. I guess I was staring at them." Being very skeptical, Sergei did not rule out the possibility of the trip being a propaganda tour.
    On March 4, 1971, Sergei Kourdakov left the Soviet Union for the last time to board a Soviet submarine.
    More Details Hide Details A few months later on June 25, Kourdakov was transferred to the Soviet trawler Ivan Sereda, which was in need of a radio officer. On the Ivan Sereda, Kourdakov began making preparations to defect to America. He constructed a makeshift raft and hid food and water provisions for his escape. Soon the trawler was close enough to Los Angeles so that the city's lights could be seen on the horizon. Kourdakov planned escape that night, but had to perform one more shift as a radio officer before sunset. On that shift, he received a message that greatly hindered that plan. A fisherman named Simas Kudirka had jumped off from a Russian ship and made it to an American ship off the coast of New England (see The Kudirka incident). From that message, he learned that the United States government fully cooperated with the Soviet Union and handed him back to his home country, where he was sentenced to ten years in prison. Realizing the fate that could lie ahead of him if he chose to venture into America, he decided to try to escape to Canada instead.
    In January 1971, Kourdakov graduated from the Petropavlovsk Naval Academy as a radio officer and was assigned to duty on a Soviet Navy destroyer.
    More Details Hide Details After more than a month on the destroyer, Sergei was sent back to the naval base for two weeks. There, he asked to be transferred to a ship near the United States coast, a request that was approved.
  • 1970
    Age 18
    In late July 1970, Kourdakov was sent to Novosibirsk for military duty.
    More Details Hide Details Although he was to stay in Novosibirsk in case of a military emergency, he took a plane to Moscow to visit the tomb of Vladimir Lenin for the second time, hoping that being near his body would give him a sense of direction, something the corpse fell short on. Leaving the tomb that day, Sergei made his decision. He would leave Russia. He soon formulated a plan that would involve him swimming across the Tisza river to Hungary using an aqua-lung he acquired at a black market. He even went as far as obtaining Hungarian currency and making his way to the border, but after seeing the immense amount of security at the border, he quickly realized that it would be impossible. With his military leave ending, Kourdakov flew back to Petropavlovsk. Soon enough he was back to conducting raids against the Believers' meetings. He later wrote that because he was dissatisfied and ill at ease at the time, the last raids he led were the most vicious.
    By mid-1970, Sergei Kourdakov was beginning to notice new patterns in the ways the Believers worshiped.
    More Details Hide Details Although they usually split into groups of around fifteen, they began meeting in groups of ten or less, which required Sergei's group to perform more raids in order to have as much of an effect on the Believers. He also began to notice an increase in Believers, which made it seem to him that the bigger the fight they put up, the larger they grew. Soon the group was operating on a tight schedule instead of just being called in whenever they were needed. Another trend he noticed was that may of the new Believers were young people, often as young as him. This made little sense to him, as he had a hard time understanding how Christianity could appeal to young people so much. With all of these operations occurring, news of the group began to spread throughout the public.
    On April 22, 1970, Sergei Kourdakov attended a live televised major Communist party convention to celebrate the 100th birthday of Vladimir Lenin and honor the future leaders of the party.
    More Details Hide Details He was invited to receive an award which honored him as the Number-One Communist Youth of Kamchatka Province, for which he prepared and gave a fifteen-minute speech, which was broadcast nationwide. There he met Comrade Orlov, the party leader for Kamchatka. During the banquet following the convention, Orlov, drunk with vodka, invited him into the private dining room reserved for party leaders. What waited inside shocked Kourdakov. Inside he saw all sorts of expensive delicacies he did not expect to see and vodka "flowing like water," but more importantly, he witnessed the state of the party leaders—drunk, passed out, or drinking themselves to unconsciousness. Many of them had their faces in their food and one was lying on the food serving tray. Comrade Orlov had excused himself and when he came back, continued drinking. Soon, he began criticizing Joseph Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev, and eventually communism itself, at one point shouting that "Communism is the worst curse that has ever come to man!" This was a turning point in Sergei's life. He later wrote that he had been a genuine and firm believer in communism. But after witnessing the hypocrisy of those top party leaders, his goal in life had changed: "From now on, there was only one goal: Get to the top! If the game was played by cynicism and ruthlessness, I'd play it that way."
  • 1969
    Age 17
    While working at his Communist Youth League office in May 1969, Sergei Kourdakov was visited by Ivan Azarov, a well-known KGB official.
    More Details Hide Details He came to tell him about a "special-action squad" he was forming as an official but secret branch of the city's police. After telling Kourdakov that he had gone through his record all the way to his days in Children's Home Number One and complimented him on his ability to captivate people so well during speeches, he stated his desire to place him as the leader of this new group. Although Sergei tried thinking of reasons to reject the offer while Azarov was telling him all this, he immediately reconciled after hearing the pay he was to receive for each operation—twenty-five rubles. At the time he received seven rubles per month as a naval cadet and if he were to become an officer in the Navy, he would still only receive seventy rubles per month. One of the main duties of being the leader of this organization was to pick the best men from the academy to work in the organization, usually consisting of about fifty men. Kourdakov later wrote that he assumed that with this "special-action squad," he would be dealing with "drunks, murderers, wife beaters, and other lawbreakers the regular police couldn't take time to deal with." And true to his assumptions, that was what he and his team were assigned to deal with. For the most part, they would be sent to bars and clubs to break up fights.
  • 1968
    Age 16
    Finally in late September 1968, he arrived at the port city Petropavlovsk.
    More Details Hide Details Again, because of his past experience and record, he was chosen to be the leader of the academy's Communist Youth League. From then on, along with his studies, he was in charge of carrying out orders sent from the Komsomol headquarters in Moscow, listening to the grievances of cadets and argue in favor of them if he was convinced the cadet was right, and discipline any cadet who appeared to be undermining Communist commitments, often shocking them into performing better. In just that single year at the academy, Kourdakov served as the League leader, performed well in his studies, organized entertainment events for the cadets, lectured at nearby schools on many current events topics, and competed in all of the sports offered by the academy.
    After completing a year of study at the academy in July 1968, he continued his studies at the Petropavlovsk Naval Academy in Kamchatka, at the Eastern border of Russia.
    More Details Hide Details Before going to the academy and during his military summer vacation, he traveled again to Novosibirsk to visit his old friends, who were all involved in gangs. Shortly after attending a peace conference he was invited to between a gang his friends were in and another nearby gang, Kourdakov was shot in the left breast in revenge by a member of the other gang. Miraculously, he survived because the bullet first shot through multiple layers of clothes and through his thick address book and all of his identification papers before lodging itself in his skin. Before going to the naval academy, Sergei Kourdakov spent two weeks in Blagoveshchensk, a city that borders China, serving in a naval military unit against the Chinese army. At one point he partook in a small battle.
  • 1967
    Age 15
    By this time Sergei Kourdakov had already become the leader of the Communist Youth League of his area. He graduated from his school in June 1967 and was awarded a silver medal for being the second best student in his grade level.
    More Details Hide Details For much of the last year of school, he focused on pushing and improving the League as much as he could, hoping to make it the most successful one in his district, a position that was indeed awarded to it during the judging of Leagues, which happened annually. After graduating school, Kourdakov faced the decision on what career path to take for his military obligation and chose the Navy. With high honors and grades, and an outstanding recommendation from his old school director, he applied to and was accepted into the Alexander Popov Naval Academy in Leningrad. Although a newcomer, he was chosen to be the leader of the school's Communist youth organization due to the record of his leadership in his previous organization. At the academy, Kourdakov met Pavel Sigorsky, a Pole who taught him Polish.
  • 1965
    Age 13
    In the summer of 1965, Kourdakov and two close friends of his obtained a large amount of hashish from Turkestan and began a narcotics business.
    More Details Hide Details Initially successful, his business ended after a group of gang members that discovered he was carrying the narcotic took him into an alley and stabbed him in the back for it, almost killing him. While recovering from his injury, Sergei realized that he had to make a decision for what he would do with his life: either follow the course of his friends and continue dealing in the underworld or seriously focus on building a career in communism. He chose communism.
  • 1951
    Sergei Kourdakov was born on March 1, 1951, in Novosibirsk Oblast, Soviet Union.
    More Details Hide Details His father Nikolai Ivanovich Kourdakov was a soldier in the Soviet Army and a political activist who was a very loyal supporter of Joseph Stalin. He led a brigade in the Winter War and led a unit under General Konstantin Rokossovsky in World War II. After the war, Nikolai helped set up a military base and became the base chief. Although Sergei was told that his father died by being shot, he found out much later from a friend of his father's that when Nikita Khrushchev became Premier of the Soviet Union, he had ordered the elimination of important officers who had supported Stalin in order to consolidate his power, and that Nikolai Kourdakov had been one of them. Sergei lived with his mother until her health began to deteriorate and when he was four years old, she became very ill and died. He was invited to live with a family who had known his mother. It was there that he learned to read and count. Sergei got along well with everyone in the family except with their son Andrei, whom he believed to be mentally handicapped. At the age of six, he decided to run away after Andrei tried to kill him by shoving his head into a filled bathtub.
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