The Soviet Union fought against the followers of a convicted terrorist and Nazi German collaborator Stepan Bandera in western Ukraine—first during World War II and then as an insurgency. As a result, many were tried and incarcerated in Kazakhstan, the Arctic Circle, and the Urals. Yet in 1955, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev pardoned and released Banderites in the tens of thousands. Why did this mass-scale amnesty happen, and what long-term consequences did it have?
This question is especially perplexing considering who Stepan Bandera was—a fascist leader of the terrorist OUN, Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (faction B named after Bandera), established in 1929. During World War II, the organization collaborated with Nazi Germany since the area was under their occupation as Reichskommissariat Ukraine from mid-1941 to late 1944.
In 2014, Kiev banned the Russian-made mini-series The White Guard (2012) based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s 1925 novel for “demonstrating disregard for the Ukrainian language, people, and statehood.” This ban turned out to be one of many after the Maidan that year in an attempt to root out the Russian language and culture in the region long before the 2022 military escalation. Yet what do Mikhail Bulgakov and The White Guard, specifically, have to do with the present conflict in Ukraine?
Mikhail Bulgakov, the Russian author best known for The Master and Margarita, was born in Kiev in 1891. His literary genius makes him one of the most famous historical figures from that city. Yet in 2022, there were even calls to close the Kiev Bulgakov museum.
This interview initially appeared in Komsomolskaya Pravda on December 7, 2022. It was entitled, “A Pilot of the Russian Aerospace Forces: ‘We decided not to give up. The navigator took the grenade, and I pulled the ring out of it.'”
The Story of a Real Man by Boris Polevoy (1946) referenced below is about Soviet fighter ace Alexey Maresyev (1916-2001). During World War II, Maresyev’s plane was shot down but he managed to return to the Soviet side. He was injured so severely that both of his legs had to be amputated above the knee due to gangrene. Not only was Maresyev able to recover but he returned to flying a year later, in 1943, despite his disability. In total, he is credited with 80 combat sorties. Maresyev earned Hero of the Soviet Union. In 1947-48, renowned composer Sergei Prokofiev turned Marasyev’s experience into an opera.
In the original Russian title, “man” refers to a “person” (chelovek), but the standard English translation is “man.”
Pilot Pyotr Kashtanov, awarded Hero of Russia, defeated the enemy and escaped being captured. Kashtanov successfully carried out his combat mission and destroyed enemy equipment. However, the crew was hit and catapulted into enemy territory. The “nationalists” were close by, while his comrade was unconscious…
On the eve of Heroes of the Fatherland Day [December 9], Komsomolskaya Pravda journalists met with an officer whose airplane was shot down over enemy territory. Yet he completed his combat mission and, despite being wounded, led the crew to rejoin the Russian troops.
Not very tall, humble, and seemingly very young, the senior lieutenant tries to be sociable and relaxed.
– Pyotr, he extends his right hand.
Based on his weak handshake, as if it were unnaturally constrained, we understand that the pilot has not yet fully recovered. In September, his Su-34 fighter bomber was shot down over enemy territory, while on a combat mission in the Special Operation zone [during the international conflict taking place in Ukraine]. The situation was hopeless. He had a broken arm, while the navigator had a compression fracture of the spine. There were enemies all around. Yet by some miracle, both managed to get out and reached their own comrades.
And now, sitting in front of us, as if descended from the pages of Boris Polevoy’s The Story of a Real Man, is Pyotr Kashtanov, a Russian officer. The star of the Hero of Russia sparkles on the chest of this 31-year-old…
Those who know me personally are aware of my long-standing interest in Japan. Translating a piece on a surprising and worthwhile story that took place during the Russo-Japanese War is one way of showcasing it.
The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 was to prove advantageous for Japan and its Western maritime backers Britain and the United States, while the conflict was a multifaceted disaster for Russia. Amidst the bloodshed, however, were found moments of chivalry exemplified by the warriors of each side. Here is one such account:
Hunter and scout Vasilii Timofeevich Riabov was born in 1871 and grew up in the village of Ivanovka outside Penza. Almost a century and a half has gone by, yet his memory persists through the centuries.
After his discharge from active military duty and joining the reserve, Riabov relocated to the neighboring village of Lebedevka. He was a brave and active man, he loved the theater and his wife, even though he sometimes hit her after drinking. And sometimes he used other people’s things without permission. That happened too. But he atoned for all his sins with his act…
Veteran chief of the KGB’s elite Alpha Group Maj. Gen. Gennady Nikolaevich Zaitsev recounts the 1977 operation to arrest CIA intelligence officer Martha Peterson, who worked out of the US Embassy under diplomatic cover. Peterson had been handling a valuable agent – Aleksandr Ogorodnik, code-named Trigon, a highly-placed staffer at the Soviet Foreign Ministry. Little did Peterson know at the time that Ogorodnik had already been arrested and committed suicide in custody with poison supplied from Langley. The trap carefully laid by the KGB’s Second Chief Directorate was set…
It so happened that I had the opportunity to participate in an arrest of a spy even before joining the spetsnaz Alpha Group. At that time, I served in the Seventh Directorate of the KGB of the USSR. Do you remember the film TASS is Authorized to Declare …? It told the story of how the KGB exposed Trigon, an enemy agent…
Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster — and nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life. I cannot help asking those who have forced that situation: Do you realize what you have done?
-Vladimir Putin addressing the United Nations in September 2015.
March 22, 2016 entered contemporary history as another day made dark by a new terrorist act in Europe. This time it took place in Brussels, Belgium roughly following the general pattern of its Parisian predecessor in late 2015 by targeting multiple heavily populated areas: a major metro station and the city’s airport. These violent acts resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries and were later attributed to the so-called Islamic State terrorist group, although at the time of writing the criminal evidence is just making its way into the media.
SYMBOLS OF EUROPEAN POSTMODERITY
Whereas some described the Paris attacks as targeting the very heart of European culture and civilization, the 2016 bombing of Brussels symbolizes the war against the capital of the European Union and all it represents, as well as the NATO headquarters, the most powerful military alliance in the world. Indeed, border closures alone in the wake of such crises undermine the very idea of this Union and thus send a strong message. Terrorism’s raison d’être is to cause maximum disorientation and fear among the civilian population, which is why, it seems, the perpetrators chose public spaces rather than government buildings.
Using his unique access to the Kremlin, German journalist Alexander Rahr shares the inside story on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s formative years in Leningrad and his path to the KGB.
Putin never concealed his background. Spiridon, his grandfather on the father’s side, was a cook, but not a regular one. Initially, he prepared meals for Lenin, then—for Stalin. A person working in such a position and in such proximity to the Kremlin’s leaders could not not be a staffer at the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD), KGB’s predecessor. Spiridon served the dictator daily, and it is beyond any doubt that he was being watched much more closely than any Politburo member.
Bear-hounding is a hunting technique, in which a pack of dogs pursues a bear until exhaustion—at that point the hunter can make his kill. And that is to what Karen Shakhnazarov, a well-known Russian filmmaker of Armenian origin, compared Russia’s predicament in the current geopolitical situation.
As the Tariff-War Must End, Udo Keppler, Puck, U.S., 1901. Source: LOC.
The bear analogy in Russia’s case is a contrived and, often, derogatory image describing the barbaric Other outside the West. It has deep historic roots, as literary and artistic examples indicate. But it is also one that works metaphorically. As a large continental power spanning Eurasia including some of the coldest places on earth—one with nuclear capabilities—Russia is not unlike the bear. In fact, many Russians themselves have reappropriated this comparison.
Even President Vladimir Putin has used it on a number of occasions.
“We never tried to wake our children up on weekends: the more they sleep, the less they eat.”
Recently, the Russian-speaking segment of the Internet got flooded with personal photographs from the 1990s. I first took note of them on my own Facebook feed. Some appeared expectedly funny—imagine the hairstyles!—others were nostalgic. Yet what seemed like a spontaneous flashmob turned out to be a planned event. In fact, this social-networking experiment was organized by the Yeltsin Foundation in conjunction with one opposition publication. It targeted the under-40 demographic, but especially those born in the late 1980s-early 1990s, who were too young to remember some of the horrors of that decade. Thus, the purpose of this pseudo-spontaneous photo-sharing was to reshape the memory of a nation about the early years following Soviet collapse. This memory has been overwhelmingly negative: looting the country’s natural resources by the select few, mob violence in the streets, daily hunger, institutional collapse, and national humiliation, just to name a few aspects.
My contribution to the Espionage History Archive on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the USSR and Syria upon the latter’s request. The details seem, at times, eerily reminiscent of today’s events, as these excerpts from the memoirs of a Soviet diplomat reveal. It is this kind of mix of history, diplomacy, and intelligence that I find particularly fascinating and, thus, a pleasure to translate!
The Soviet Union’s first ambassador to Egypt, Nikolai Vasilievich Novikov, recounts his pioneering role in establishing diplomatic relations in 1944 with Syria. Novikov provides a rich context to the genesis of Russo-Syrian partnership, describing the geopolitical arena and its attendant intrigues conducted by rival great powers like Britain and France. Novikov’s passage serves as an excellent background to an alliance between Russia and Syria that has regained strategic significance in the Great Game of our own day.
One hellishly hot day, June 15, when all the thoughts of Cairo’s residents—charred from heat—turned if not toward the relaxing beaches of Alexandria, then toward a cool bath or a shower, a respectable-looking stranger from Syria showed up at the Soviet Embassy. Met by advisor Daniil Solod, he introduced himself as Naim Antaki, a member of Syria’s parliament from Damascus, and the former Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Naim Antaki