By Paul Goble
Most Russians and most Western specialists on 20th century Russian history have a highly schematic view of the Russian Civil War as a conflict between the Red Army led by Trotsky, the Whites led by Denikin, Wrangel, and Kolchak, nationalists of various kinds, and, of course, the foreign interventionists.
But in fact, what is called the civil war was far more complicated than that with a variety of lesser figures in each of these camps and then in addition those who were often little more than brigands out for themselves whom neither the Reds nor the Whites have ever been willing to claim.
Soviet and now Russian writers lump them in with the Whites to discredit the opponents of the Soviet regime; and in one sense, they are right. Most of these figures were anti-Bolshevik and their often horrific behavior played a key role in discrediting the White cause because its leaders were far less successful than the Reds in wiping such people out.
Now, as Russia moves through the centenary of that conflict which lasted between 1917 and the early to mid-1920s, Russian outlets are featuring stories about both the leaders on the various sides and those who do not fit comfortably into any simple category, including those that many still lump under the term atamanshchina – or rule by Cossack atamans.
There were some real Cossacks in this category, but there were many more who claimed that status, just as is the case now, in order to provide at least a gloss of legitimacy over what were essentially bandit groups out for themselves, prepared to cooperate with any side and ultimately loyal to no one but those who paid them the most or themselves alone.
The Russian 7 portal provides brief portraits of seven of these figures, six men and one woman. Noting that “the revolution and civil war gave the world not only idealists and romantics but also those who used the time of troubles in their own interests,” it describes them as bandits and marauders (russian7.ru/post/ivan-kalmykov-i-drugie-bespredelshhi/).
- Ataman Solovyev. An hereditary Cossack who fought for Kolchak, was captured and pardoned, and then “became a bandit by the will of fate,” he organized a band that terrorized his native Khakassia as well as Krasnoyarsk kray and Kemerovo oblast. He imposed draconian order on his men and inflicted crimes against humanity against the population. When his situation deteriorated, his men urged him to flee to Mongolia “but he refused.” He continued to fight and hide out until 1924 when he was promised a pardon but then shot “while attempting to escape. Now on the ataman’s grave, a cross has been put up.”
- Boris Annenkov. A veteran of World War I, he led an uprising in Siberia in 1918 and then suppressed its opponents in a horrible fashion. His cruelty was legendary, but his unit was remarkable in that it included many mercenaries as well as Afghans, Uyghurs, and Chinese. Its victims numbered “in the thousands.” After Kolchak was defeated, Annenkov fled into the Semirechye region and then to China. He was jailed there for three years, but in 1926 he was handed over to the Bolsheviks and “after a year shot.”
- Anna Cherepanova. Together with her husband, she formed a bandit gang, killing all and sundry in the name of personal enrichment. The band was disarmed only in 1924. The couple changed their name and lived for more than a decade in Krasnoyarsk before they were recognized by the child of one of their victims. Her husband died, supposedly of natural causes, in 1936. Cherepanova herself, because her actions had occurred before the time set by the statute of limitations, she reportedly was never punished.
- Ataman Hryhoryev. A Cossack in Ukraine, Hryhoryev fought against the Reds and then went over to the anti-Bolshevik cause, fighting sometimes for Ukrainians and sometimes for Russians. He was notorious for carrying out “uninterrupted pogroms.” He was finally killed by Ataman Makhno.
- Ataman Andrey Shkuro. A Kuban Cossack, he organized what became a division in Denikin’s Volunter Army. He was notorious for his cruelty, Russian 7 says, a man whose forces executed four thousand Makhno fighters and who ordered that all the Jews and the wives of those who rose against the Whites. But he got in trouble with the White commanders by stealing from the population. He fled Russia at the end of the civil war in the south, lived in Paris, and then in 1941, he offered his service to the Nazis. In April 1945, he was handed over to the English who gave him to the Soviets who then executed him in January 1947.
- Aleksandr Kaygorodov. Half Russian and half Altay, he was expelled from Kolchak’s army for talk about organizing an alternative “national army.” He then organized a force in the Gorno-Altai from which he fled to Mongolia and organized a larger army consisting of representatives of local nationalities. Until early 1922, his force continued to stage raids into Soviet Russia; but then he was caught and killed – and the Reds carried his head around to villages to show that he really had been defeated.
- Ivan Kalmykov. Not a Cossack by birth but rather by claim, he organized a large force which controlled much of the railroad near Khabarovsk where he sabotaged Kolchak trains and attacked Reds with equal abandon. He tried to form an alliance with the American and Japanese interventionists but they were put off just as much as the population by his cruelty and barbarism. He fled to China following the victory of the Reds where he was arrested and then shot supposedly while attempting to escape.