RUSSIA’S REVOLUTIONARY SOURCES. PART II: PHOTOGRAPHS AND NARRATIVES. “Death and the Civil War.”

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Smert’ Kommandera Pashkevicha. 1920. Photographs, 1917-1920s. Miami University Special Collections. Oxford, OH.

 

The Death of a Revolutionary: Commander Pashkevich

To most European nations, the First World War stood out as the most devastating conflict that had yet been seen. As the war drew to a close in 1918, most combatant nations experienced a brief reprieve from conflict until 1939. For the former Russian Empire, however, the strains of total war proved too great to bear. The Russians found themselves within the throes of revolution, the catalyst for which had been the campaigns of First World War, and subsequently experienced further conflict. Russian revolutionary intentions came in many different colors – the Bolshevik Reds who sought Communist transformation in Russia and the predominantly Imperially-leaning White forces, to name to the two most significant groups. The White armies stood, at least in their minds, as the last bulwark against Bolshevism in the former Russian Empire and fielded a wide array of soldiers – many of whom gave their lives in the Civil War.

One such soldier was Commander Pashkevich, an officer of White allegiance. As I browsed the documents and artifacts of Special Collections, the visage of Pashkevich in this photograph captivated me. His seemingly peaceful pose, with cross in hand, complemented by his adornment of an all-white vintage Imperial uniform spoke volumes not only about Pashkevich himself, but also the values for which he and his fellow White soldiers fought. In an effort to uncover more about this man and the role that he played in the larger struggle to contain the socialist revolution in the wake of Russia’s capitulation in the First World War, I proceeded to search for information about his regiment and service.

The information on the reverse of this photograph was a great starting place, having provided me with nearly all of the data that one could hope for in the pursuit of uncovering Pashkevich’s story. It reads: “Commander of the 2nd Kornilov Regiment – Officer Pashkevich – Killed in battle under B. Toklakom – 15 July 1920 – On the day of regimental celebration.” Already, this caption informed me of his name, status, affiliation, and date of death. Many facts, however, still eluded me such as the location of his regiment, the battle in which that he fought, and what the “day of regimental celebration” was. Thankfully, other Russian languages sources, one of which by M. N. Levitov located within Miami’s Special Collections helped to contextualize Pashkevich and his unit.

In Levitov’s “Kornilovites in Battle, Summer – Fall 1919,” I found mention of the 2nd Kornilov Regiment and, most importantly, of Commander Iakov Antonovich Pashkevich himself.[1] Commander Pashkevich, I discovered, had been made a commander of the White Army’s 2nd Kornilov Regiment due to his experienced nature both as a machine-gunner in World War I as well as his achievements in the fight against the Bolsheviks. For the latter, he was regarded as an “old Kornilovite.”[2] Already this led me to make some probable speculations about Commander Pashkevich. Most notably, that his service as a ‘Kornilovite,’ in a regiment labelled also with Kornilov’s name, meant that Commander Pashkevich was probably a man who was against the Provisional Government and the Bolsheviks, as General Lavr Kornilov was, seeing them both as traitors who were attempting to betray Russia.[3]

Pashkevich did not have an easy time as a member of the White Army and fought hard to earn respect from his fellow officers. He was a prominent figure in the White campaigns against Nestor Makhno and the Reds on the Ukrainian front of the war.[4] His capacity to lead and the degree to which he impressed his comrades in multiple battles around Rostov and Kharkiv earned both Commander Pashkevich as well as the men under his leadership the accolade of being blessed and presented with the icon of St. Prince Vladimir on July 15th 1919 –  a date that, one year later, would mark the end of Pashkevich’s life.[5]

Though they had some success early in the war, the lifespan of the 2nd Kornilov Regiment would mostly follow that of Pashkevich. In July of 1920, the 2nd Kornilov Regiment attempted to head off a powerful Red Army cavalry attack and Pashkevich was mortally wounded by a gunshot to the head.[6] Despite having fallen on the field of battle, Pashkevich’s body was recovered and he was commemorated for his service. That he died on the day of his regimental holiday was noted in the funerary services, as his ashes were spread near the waters where his regimental patron was supposedly baptized.[7] Having earned the award of the Order of Saint Nicholas for his service with the Whites, and having solidified his reputation as a “Kornilovite-initial-leader” for valor at the battles of Kursk and Orel, Pashkevich met his end on the Southern Russian front a proud fighter for “national historic Russia.”[8] In time, Bolshevik strength gradually drove back resistance forces throughout Russia and under the pressure of Communist strength the result of the war was ultimately an exile from which sparse few would ever return.

Those White officers and soldiers who survived the Russian Civil War suffered a fate analogous to death, at least in their minds, in that they were doomed to fight for the survival of their values abroad. Most often, Whites in exile consolidated their efforts in European metropoles to maintain their way of life and to preserve the memory of such martyrs for their cause as Commander Pashkevich. Many other photos in this collection, such as the photo “The Development of Franco-Soviet Relations After 1917” with accompanying description by Heidi Hetterscheidt, instantiate this attempt to salvage the remains of the White cause in exile after their defeat and one can imagine that the memorialization of officers like Pashkevich were crucial to the success of that enterprise.[9]

Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, with the defeat of the White Armies and the manifold other factions of the Russian Civil War, the Bolshevik Reds consolidated control over what became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The cost of the Red victory was, however, truly incredible – nearly a million Russian lives were lost in the Civil War to speak only of the combatants. Compounded with the deaths of nearly two million Russians in the First World War, the scale of devastation experienced by the Russian Empire, the provisional intermediary Russian state, and the fledgling Soviet Union defined the opening decades of the 20th Century in Russia. Amidst this devastation, Pashkevich, by way of this photograph, stands out as an intimate reminder of the cost of revolution. That is to say, he was a man whose legacy and historical importance were tempered in the savagery of war and whose life was ultimately cut short in defense of an ideal that survived only in the alien sanctuary abroad. Stories such as these give a face to the experience of Russia in the early 20th Century and are, in so doing, invaluable to the historical project of recovering the history of the White Army.

 

 

Bibliography

Photographs:

 

Smert’ Kommandera Pashkevicha. 1920. Photographs, 1917-1920s. Miami University Special Collections. Oxford, OH.

 

“The Development of Franco-Soviet Relations After 1917,” Photographs, 1917-1920s, Miami University Special Collections, Oxford, OH

 

Print Sources:

Russia in War and Revolution, 1914-1922: A Documentary History. Translated and Edited by Jonathan Daly and Leonid Trofimov. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2009.

 

М.Н Левитов, Корниловский ударный полк. “Смерть Пашкевича.” Oxford: Miami Special Collections, DK 265.23.D6 K676. Excerpts also available at http://www.dk1868.ru/history/LEVITOV.htm#z42.

[1] Корниловский ударный полк. Париж, 1936; Левитов М.Н. Материалы для истории Корниловского ударного полка. Париж, 1974. Accessed 8 December 2016, http://www.dk1868.ru/history/LEVITOV.htm#z43

[2] Idem.

[3] Russia in War and Revolution, 1914-1922: A Documentary History, Translated and Edited by Jonathan Daly and Leonid Trofimov (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2009), p. 96-99

[4] Корниловский ударный полк. Париж, 1936; Левитов М.Н. Материалы для истории Корниловского ударного полка. Париж, 1974. Accessed 28 November 2016, http://www.dk1868.ru/history/LEVITOV.htm#z42

[5] Idem.

[6] М.Н Левитов, Корниловский ударный полк, “Смерть Пашкевича,” (Oxford: Miami Special Collections, DK 265.23.D6 K676), p. 466-468

[7] Ibid., p. 467-468

[8] М.Н Левитов, Корниловский ударный полк, “Смерть Пашкевича,” p. 466-468

[9] “The Development of Franco-Soviet Relations After 1917,” Photographs, 1917-1920s, Miami University Special Collections, Oxford, OH

Jake Beard is a second-year MA student in History.

About Stephen Norris