”Having moved from the village to Melitopol, Fedir became a student with bad marks: he did not know the Ukrainian language”
- Oleksandr Vasylyovych, what made you, the author of the documentary researches “Looking for Nestor Makhno’s Gold”, “Ukrainian Trace in Intelligence”, “Intelligence Officers, Born in Ukraine”, to write a novel? Is it still necessary to create a legend around a man’s life?
- To some extent, yes. For the sake of security of the people with whom Khilko contacted, his pupils. After all, Fedir Illich was a successful businessman in the West. By the way, on his account at a German bank after his urgent returning home still there are more than 300 thousand Deutschemarks. Therefore, some of his actions can only be spoken about in general terms and hints. For example, the level of tasks that the intelligence officer was fulfilling, is shown by the fact that the intelligence he collected was reported to the head of the KGB and even to the CPSU General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. Once, thanks to the information got by Khilko, Leonid Brezhnev during a meeting with the head of one of the European countries parried trick questions, and successfully negotiated.
On another occasion, the Centre had learned that on the territory of Czechoslovakia, the Americans had activated illegal hunt for important documents of Nazi Germany – the Gestapo’s archives, as well as gold, pieces of art and antiquities, hidden at the end of the war in mine galleries. Leaders of the Soviet Intelligence Service decided to get ahead of their rivals. But at this not to frighten them off, because the Americans, as it became known, had some information about a secret vault. Khilko, disguised as a representative of a German company, met the right people, who not just gave him the key to the treasure hunt, but they themselves took part in it. A lot of boxes of the Gestapo’s documents were found. Values, however, were not found. Probably the Nazis took them somewhere else in 1945.
Fedir Khilko’s very biography, his life were full of so many interesting facts, that detective novels can be written and films can be made about him.
Eyewitnesses told: having seen the feature film “Dead Season”, in which Donatas Banionis brilliantly performed the role of a prototype of the famous Soviet intelligence officer Conon Molodyi, one of the leaders of the Ukrainian Intelligence Service said, “But this is our Khilko, Banionis looks more like Khilko…”
In Fedir Khilko’s life, whose appearance and character were similar to Donatas Banionis’, there were situations resembling scenes from the film “Dead Season”.
- How did Khilko – a simple village boy from near Melitopol – manage to learn German and its dialects so well that in different parts of Germany and in Austria he was taken for a local?
- He was born and grew up among the German colonists who settled in southern Ukraine in the time of Catherine. There were only two Ukrainian families in the village of Darmschtadt. At the local school before the war, all the subjects were taught in German. Fedir was an excellent student. And when being a senior pupil he moved to Melitopol and went to a Ukrainian school, where he became a pupil with bad marks. The boy simply did not know Ukrainian! However, soon he learned his native language and became an excellent student again.
He was a young man with an attitude. His father died early. When Fedir was fourteen, his mother got married again and moved to her husband’s. She wanted to take her son with them. He said no, stayed home and lived alone for a year. He studied well at high school, worked about the house, looked after the livestock.
At the age of 16, Fedir became a fighter in the volunteer Komsomol Engineer Regiment at the Southern Front, and reached Berlin. He fought as a private, then was a squad commander, deputy commander and commander of the reconnaissance platoon. One day at the end of the war, already in Germany, Fedir and his comrades captured a German lieutenant and a few soldiers. The young officer gave his word of honor that he would not fight, and tearfully begged to let him go to his sick mother, as there was no one to look after her. Khilko’s heart trembled, he believed, and let the German go.
Soon the Commander of the reconnaissance platoon was summoned to a Special Department: why did he let that German go? The matter smelled of tribunal. But commanders stood up for their intelligence officer and rescued him.
In the last days of the war, Lavrentiy Beria’s Deputy, General Ivan Serov ordered Khilko’s platoon to save from destruction the concentration camp in which there were 10 thousand Soviet officers-prisoners of war. Fedir and his comrades dressed in German uniforms, mounted trophy motorcycles. On their way, they met a convoy of unarmed Germans – about 400 soldiers and officers. The commander of the detachment – a middle-aged Hauptmann – asked Fedir to give them a document stating that he and his people had willingly surrendered. Khilko wrote such a paper. His subordinate sergeant either for credibility, or for fun offered to seal it with the official seal on which were the words “Collective farm named after Lenin, Ust-Labinsk district of Krasnodar Territory of the RSFSR”. That seal was picked up by the intelligence officers in the abandoned office of the head of the collective farm back in 1942 during the retreat. Later this paper sealed by that stamp of the collective farm turned up at the Political Department of the Division and Khilko again had to explain everything to Osobists (special agents) …
“The intelligence officers did not find Stalin’s son at the concentration camp. But they did save 10 thousand prisoners – Soviet officers”.
- The intelligence officers broke through to the camp in time and rescued the Soviet officers – prisoners of war,- continues Oleksandr Skrypnyk. – Later, Fedir Illich found out why the task to capture the camp was set by General Serov himself. It turned out he was looking for traces of the captured by Germans Senior Lieutenant Yakov Dzhugashvili – Stalin’s eldest son – and was investigating into the circumstances of his death.
At one point Khilko captured Hitler’s General. Handing him to the Division Staff, he reported a lot of interesting information, which he got from the General on the way. “But who was the interpreter?” – asked the bosses. “I myself know German,” – explained Fedir. Soon, he was transferred to the Military Counterintelligence. In the Group of Soviet occupation troops in Germany he served as a military translator/interpreter until 1950. Army service did not suit Fedir . He wanted to finish school, enter an institute, start a family. Only after the fourth report he was let go.
- Only to get an unexpected offer soon?
- Fedir returned to Melitopol. He worked at the plant as an apprentice turner. In the evenings he studied at the school for working youth. Then he studied through correspondence at the Institute of Agricultural Mechanization. Got married, had a son and a daughter.
The energetic, intelligent war veteran was elected Chairman of the plant’s Trade Union Committee. After a while he became Secretary of the Party Committee. But one day he was approached by “comrades in civilian clothes” and proposed a new interesting job, a long-term business trip. However, the family could not be taken with him – his wife and children did not know German. After thinking, he finally agreed. However, in order to finish school and get a degree in engineering, he had within one year to run a program of the last three courses. This is in addition to special classes for intelligence officers- infiltrators!
Before being sent to Western Germany, Soviet intelligence officers would for some time work in the GDR, living their legends, getting closer acquainted with the German environment. For example, in Leipzig Fedir Khilko met a German woman who complained that her adult son was turning into an inveterate drunkard and degrading. Fedir Illich – a born educator – helped the guy to go back on the right path. The grateful mother, who knew Khilko as a German, fed up with the communist regime and eager to escape to the West, made a sweeping gesture. At the bank of one of the cities she had a huge amount of money, which could be used only on the condition of residence in Germany. She and her son did not want to leave the GDR, where they had good jobs and solid positions in the society. Therefore, she reassigned the inheritance to Fedir Illich.
To get to West Berlin was not easy. Even with a perfect legend, that he, a citizen of the GDR Walter Reimer (the real name, under which the Soviet intelligence officer worked in Germany, is still classified. – Ed.), born in Koenigsberg, during World War II fought in the Wehrmacht, is a relative, and one of the heirs of a great industrialist and wants to live in Western Germany.
After 17 years of working abroad, Fedir Khilko (second from left) is warmly greeted by his wife and colleagues at Boryspil airport
Such a man did exist in reality, and died in Soviet captivity. To drive the point home, Khilko had to go to the city of the man’s youth, and master some professions with which the deceased had to do.
And for the border crossing Fedir offered the most harebrained (from the point of view of his colleagues) scheme- to cross the drag road at night in the woods near Berlin, to cut the barbed wire with sapper scissors. Having not even warned the GDR border guards. In case of failure, the unlucky infiltree could die on the spot from bullets. Over the years of existence of the GDR, while trying to flee to the West in a similar way, up to 800 people were shot dead.
But the hero of our story was lucky. However, having successfully crossed the border, Khilko fell in the forest into some ditch and lost the scissors. Fighting with the old barbed wire left since the war, he left a piece of his raincoat on a thorn. Later, these material evidences were found on the border by the Police and made them believe that the Eastern Germany’s citizen Walter Reimer was really a lone madman who decided to “breathe in the air of freedom”. He was granted a residence permit, and soon the German citizenship. Gradually the Soviet intelligence officer became a successful businessman, a rich heir, a nephew of former Wehrmacht officer, who at his time was part of the first, the so-called gold thousand of members of the Nazi party, but at the end of the war came over to the Soviet Union’s allies from the anti-Hitler coalition and became a Brigadier General.
The fact that Walter Reimer – a handsome, witty young man and an excellent business partner – was actually a new resident of the Soviet Intelligence Service, never occurred not only to employees of the Ministry of Defense of the FRG, responsible for the Bundeswehr’s arming, or employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany, possessing information on the deployment of NATO troops in Western Europe, or some European leaders, with whom he used to have coffee, but even to the ubiquitous agents of the West German intelligence … They so much liked Walter Reimer’s business talent, intelligence, courage and charisma, that they … offered him to work in their security services and to return to the GDR to perform important tasks. Khilko had a different task. Besides, he had no right to risk the security of informants.
The Center sensed something was wrong and ordered the intelligence officer to stop his operational activities. A little later, he again worked abroad, but in a different country. And when he finally returned to the Soviet Union, to Kyiv, till the end of his days he had been preparing young intelligence officers. Fedir Khilko died aged 74, after a second heart attack. Men in his family had heart diseases.
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