Saint Olga of Kyiv was one of the most vicious and vengeful rulers in the history of the Kyivan Rus' – the principality that would eventually give birth to modern Ukraine Belarus and Russia. Born around 903 CE history gives Olga scarcely a glance for much of her life. With her husband Igor's murder though Olga takes centre stage. The Kyivan Rus' empire had problems with a neighboring tribe called Drevlians. Igor prince of Kyivan Rus’ attempted to restore his privileges but during his visit was murdered. With their son too young to take the throne of Kyiv Olga stepped up to rule.
The Drevians saw no threat in Olga and arranged for her to marry their own prince Mal.
They sent 20 of their best men to try and persuade Olga to marry the living symbol of her husband’s murder. Telling them to wait in their boat she had a ditch dug and next morning had had the emissaries buried alive. She then sent word back to Prince Mal that she would accept his proposal but only if the Drevians sent their greatest to accompany her back.. Later she invited the escorts to wash up in her bath house locked the doors and burned them alive.
With the Drevian ruling class dead Olga's next plan was for them to arrange a funeral feast where they could mourn over her husband’s death. Despite not having heard from either of the missions the Drevians prepared the feast and after getting drunk Olga’s soldiers killed them all. To the ones that survived she ordered them to give her three pigeons and three sparrows from each house as a gift. She then attached a thread of sulfur bound with small pieces of cloth to the leg of the birds. When night fell they released the birds who then flew to their nests and the whole village was set on fire. And that is where the story ends.
But why did she get sainted? While Olga was a pagan for much of her life she later converted to Christianity. While her son stuck with paganism her grandson later declared Kyivan Rus' a Christian empire. In 969 Olga died as she lived: not a saint but 600 years later the church recognized her efforts to make Kyivan Rus' a Christian nation. Her monument is in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.