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Nestor Makhno II

Updated on July 29, 2017

In the days that followed the initial years of the revolution Ukraine disintegrated into a state of lawlessness. Russia’s involvement in the First World War (Jul 28, 1914 – Nov 11, 1918) provided much needed reprieve for Makhno.

While the Cossacks were preoccupied with the war, Makhno recruited and built his resistance movement and by the end of the war his troops numbered in access of 50,000. It was by no means a small movement and Makhno had managed to bolster his numbers fairly quickly. It was clearly a sign of the uncertainty of the times.

The unprecedented support may also have been due to the fact that Makhno’s insurrection had gained popular support and many idealists and liberalists within Russia sympathized with Makhno’s efforts. Printed materials including pamphlets and leaflets were distributed nationwide, and support for his efforts was on the rise.

Makhno’s Revolutionary Army liberated many urban areas in Northern Ukraine from the folds of the Ukrainian Nationalist Movement, a predominantly Cossack movement, loyal to the czar.

Makno and his army soon acquired a name for carrying out brash and brazen attacks, which included numerous armed robberies. His raids were bold, imaginative, creative, and soon became the stuff of legends.

He was very much in the Robin Hood mold and like the fictional hero; he stole from the rich to help the poor. Makhno was a master strategist and a brilliant commander and it was inevitable that he’d build up a sizeable following.

He was soon conferred the title little father “Batko”. He was by no means a tall man, approximately 5’4’ in height but his exploits towered well above that of giants.

Makhno’s style and tactics were best defined as anarchism. It wasn’t something that he had acquired naturally and there were some Czech influences there because he was mentored by a Czech teacher prior to being imprisoned but having said that, it could also have been a derivative of the anarchist philosophy of Mikhail Bakunin.

In 1920, in the City of Poltava, located along the banks of the Vorlska River in Central Ukraine, a predominantly Cossack part of Ukraine, a general uprising began against Bolshevik rule.

The historical city was shaken by the tremors of insurgency. Dissatisfaction and anger over the continued suppression of the proletariat boiled over and spiraled into a rebellion. The resentment towards the Bolsheviks was so strong that units of the regular army defected in a display of open hostility.

The situation was further aggravated by the conscription of Polish youth into the military to send them to the Polish front, to battle Polish forces under the command of First Marshall Jozef Pilsudski, and the compulsory requisitioning of food.

It was an area that was under the influence of the Ukrainian Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries (Borotbists) who had broken all ties with the Bolsheviks and were leaning towards an independent struggle.

There were attempts to merge the party with the Communist Party of Ukraine but the Borotbists walked out and in March 1920 decided to dissolve their party.

The Borotbists took their name from the word Borotba which connotes struggle and is symbolic of the Ukrainian uprising. The party largely comprised of peasants from the lower strata, whose most common source of income was farming and the performance of other menial tasks.

Two months later armed with rifles and small arms, a fight broke out with the local requisitioning units. In a minor battle the rebels overcame the Red Army Units and having won the skirmish, they released the captured prisoners.

The response was swift and lethal and included targeted hits and assassinations. Scores of people were killed. Makhno proved resilient and continued to attack where and when the enemy least expected and eventually the Bolsheviks called for a ceasefire.

Makhno accepted on the condition that thousands of political prisoners were freed. He was then invited to a conference which was nothing short of a trap that Makhno successfully eluded. He continued his fight for freedom but his grass-root supporters had diminished considerably by then, due to repeated and calculated attacks. His numbers were waning.

In August 1921, an exhausted Makhno was finally driven by Mikhail Frunze's Ukrainian Red Army into exile while the remainder of his followers, fled to Romania, Poland, Berlin and Paris.

Makhno remained a noble and valiant hero of the people to the very end. He died on July 6 1934 in France at the age of 45, as a result of tuberculosis, evading capture and surrender to the very end.

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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