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Partisan Leader Fedorov and His Horse

May 29, 2011

Subtitle: (how not to write a report on what your oblast’ did during the war)

Following the Second World War, partisan leaders who had been given the task of working behind enemy lines in a certain region and heading the underground obkom (regional level party committee), were asked (or told) to produce an otchet or report on what the party in their oblast’ did during the war. This report was supposed to explain all partisan engagements during the occupation, the work of the underground party structure at all levels, and how the population cooperated with the party in the task of expelling the Germans. In a sense, this was their opportunity to create a specific narrative about the war in their region. These reports became the template for all future publications about the occupation for the next fifty years.

I’ve had a chance to review a number of these reports while working in Kyiv. One of the most interesting aspects to this procedure I’ve noticed thus far is the dialogue, be it implicit or explicit, between the regional leaders and the center in creating these reports. Some partisan leaders, like Begma from he Rivne oblast’, understood how to construct the proper narrative and needed little coaching from the center. Beyond the mundane and obvious task of noting every German who lost his life and how many trains you destroyed, one had to make sure to link the underground communist party structure properly to the partisans; the underground obkom needed to display the proper amount of hiearchical authority over other groups in the oblast’; the huge gap between summer 1941 and fall 1942 when there was likely zero communist activity needed to be painted over nicely; the procedure of admitting members to the party needed to have been followed; agitprop activity must have been carried out in the proper fashion (i.e. how many leaflets did you hand out during the war?); and the list goes on. As you can tell probably guess, most of this information had be assuaged, to put it nicely, or completely fabricated. Yet, if you did it correctly there was little interference from Kyiv or god forbid Moscow.

The man, the moustache, the legend.

This was not the case for one A.F. Fedorov, the partisan leader and underground Volyn’ obkom secretary. The orgburo was not pleased with his 400 page report on the war. In no particular order, he was reprimanded for the following: discussing the Ukrainian nationalists in the wrong language (ascribing Bolshevik organizational structure to them); presenting partisan actions in the wrong light ( in a “uncharateristic” manner); completely misrepresenting the relationship between partisans and obkom; lack of understanding of the chain of command within the party; noting how two party members were shot for treason; and a many more violations. He even managed to screw up the charts and graphs in the report.

It also annoyed them that Fedorov managed to include 140 photographs on 133 pages of the report (photos on every third page). The orgburo complained: “many photographs have nothing to do with the activities of the underground or partisan divisions at all.” Was the orgburo being nitpicky? Judge for yourself. They cited the photograph of Fedorov and his horse, Adam:

You can see the affection.

They weren’t happy either with the picture of Fedorov and a deer:

His favorite deer, "Zoia." Quite the lover of animals.

Then there was the three pictures of Fedorov eating breakfast:

"I said over-easy!" The farmer look.

And it’s likely the following picture with his daughter is what led them to remark, “You could use these photos in a personal album, but not in an official report”:

Like father, like daughter.

There were also pictures of Fedorov with dogs, children, and pretty much every single person in his partisan division. The castigation of Fedorov’s report numbered a full six pages. The final three pages listed in bullet point the facts Fedorov should have covered in his report, rather than the display of his love for food, family and the animal kindgom.

While, of course, this is all very funny, it is also very illustrative of the complex process of creating a narrative about the occupation after the war. For all his vanity, Fedorov actually put together a fairly honest representation of his time during the war. Sure, they killed some Germans, but they spent most of their time living the partisan life in the forest, as depicted in these photos. This report was simply a window into the everyday life of a partisan. Fedorov did not mention the things expected of him, because they did not actually occur — there was no real underground party structure in Volyn’ during the war (which I am able to prove in my research).

For whatever reason, Fedorov somehow missed the implicit understanding that you were supposed to discuss and link the underground movement (real or not) to the partisans in your report. This is what his colleagues had done, most notably his neighbor in Rivne. The party was not interested in his personal portrayal of the occupation (which probably reeked of “cult of personality” too). Sure, they didn’t mind a few action and group shots of partisans behind enemy lines, but what they really wanted was a cogent narrative about the occupation and the party’s response to it, which could be used in the future.

It’s also worth noting here, this idea that the party repressed everyone who didn’t act properly during the war is silly. Had this been the modus operandi there would have been no one left to run wild places like western Ukraine after the war. Negotiation is a better word to use here. Sure, examples were made of some party members who did not act properly during the occupation, but by and large, partisan leaders were given a great deal of autonomy and they were allowed (even expected) to stretch the truth for the sake of creating a viable narrative. Subsequently, this also gave them the chance to protect their own people [svoi] by including them in this narrative if done correctly (also illustrated beautifully in the case of Rivne oblast’).

The second draft of this report from Volyn’ had the correct narrative and it was not written by Fedorov.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2011 6:51 am

    This was fascinating, and one of my favorite entries you’ve put up.

    • May 29, 2011 10:11 am

      Thanks man. I bet you just liked it for the animals though 🙂

  2. luke permalink
    May 31, 2011 4:30 pm

    Dear Jared,

    My name is Luke Rodeheffer and I am a Fulbright research grantee to Ukraine for the 2011-2012 year. My research project will study public memory of the Stalinist period in contemporary Ukraine and the political and social dimensions of the divide in public memory. One of the subjects I will be studying is the legacy of WWII in post-war Ukraine, which fits pretty closely with your PhD research. I am currently trying to gather as much info as possible for my project before I leave, so if you would be interested in exchanging email and suggestions on the subject I would be most gracious! I’m not sure what your email is so I just send me a message if you get a chance.


  3. luke permalink
    May 31, 2011 4:33 pm

    PS – I’m really enjoying your blog, you’re finding a lot of fascinating stuff in the Kyiv archives.

  4. May 31, 2011 5:28 pm

    Thanks for reading and the comment Luke. Sure, let’s certainly chat. I’ll be out of town for a few days, but back early next week.


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