Push and hold

Baron Borzhynskyi could have saved his life at the cost of the denial of Ukraine, but he preferred death to betrayal

The researcher of the history of Ukrainian special services Oleksandr Skrypnyk has published a book about the Ukrainian diplomat and intelligence officer, whose name had been covered with the sands of oblivion for almost 100 years.

Little is known about many figures of the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-1921, Colonel Baron Fedir Borzhynskyi included. He was the Ambassador of the Ukrainian State to the Kuban and an intelligence officer.

“The noble title was given to an intelligence officer by… Khans of Mongolia”

— Fedir Borzhynskyi (born in 1879) spent his childhood and adolescence in Uman district, Kyiv province, but then he entered military service and for many years lived in the Far Eastern regions of the Russian Empire, — says the researcher of the history of domestic intelligence services, Adviser to the Chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine Oleksandr Skrypnyk, who wrote a semi-documentary book about Borzhynskyi, — “Shot Dead in the Donbas “for Betraying Russia”, the presentation of which is scheduled for early November. — Somebody else in his place would have got assimilated into the Russian environment, but Borzhynskyi remembered his roots: when he decided it was time to get married, he gave an advertisement in one of the newspapers of Irkutsk (Siberia), where he served, about his intention to meet a young Ukrainian lady for marriage.

He was lucky — Oleksandra Vashchenko responded — a graduate of the Kyiv Music School (now the National Music Academy named after Pyotr Tchaikovskiy) in the class of the piano. Oleksandra also had a good voice. In those days the etiquette did not allow a young lady to personally respond to that kind of ads. Most likely, she went with her father to get acquainted with the young officer.

— Was Borzhynskyi a hereditary military?

— No, he was from a peasant family.

— What do you mean? He was a baron, wasn’t he?

— Yes he was, but the noble title was given to Fedir by the Khans of Mongolia.

— You are good at intriguing. Then share, please, how Borzhynskyi rendered a service to Mongolian aristocracy.

— I will intrigue you even more: he was fluent in Mongolian, as well as Chinese, Buryat, Japanese, he knew English. Here it should be said that Borzhynskyi volunteered to serve in the Far East. When the Russo-Japanese War broke out in 1905, he took part in it, showed himself as a wise and brave officer. The authorities noticed him and sent him to study at the Oriental Institute in Vladivostok. There within four years he learned the languages. He studied history, customs, ethnography of the peoples of Asia. Having graduated from the Institute, the 30-year-old polyglot was sent to serve in the intelligence department of the Irkutsk Military District. Under the guise of a merchant or researcher, he repeatedly traveled with special assignments to China and Mongolia.

Documents on one of these missions have survived: Staff Captain Borzhynskyi was sent to Mongolia with the IDs of a merchant to find out the possibilities of that country’s rapprochement with the Russian empire. It was in 1911, when the national liberation revolution took place in Mongolia.

Borzhynskyi managed to win the confidence of the Khans. They wanted the “merchant” to accompany their delegation to St. Petersburg as an interpreter for talks with the Prime Minister of the Russian Empire, Pyotr Stolypin. Of course, the intelligence officer agreed.

By the way, Borzhynskyi compiled the first geographical map of Mongolia, took part in the creation of a new Russian-Mongolian dictionary. The Khans thanked him by granting the noble title, which corresponded to the Russian title of Baron.
Having become a nobleman, the officer decided to change his surname, as well as his patronymic. He became Borzhynskyi Fedir Kindratovych.

— What were his original surname and patronymic?

— Makushek Fedir Demydovych. Our hero was born into Demyd and Ksenia Makusheks’ peasant family with many children, in the village of Verkhnyachka, Uman district of Kyiv province. When the boy was eight years old, he was adopted by the local Polish nobleman Konrad Borzhynskyi. The latter saw to it that Fedya got a good home education.

In his report on the change of his surname and patronymic, Staff Captain Makushek wrote: “By this I am asking for the highest permission to accept the surname and patronymic of my own father Konrad Borzhynskyi”. This explains why the nobleman decided to adopt Fedir, and why the Makusheks gave him the child.

— If he was a son of a Polish nobleman, why did not he inherit the nobility from his father?

— Presumably, because he was an illegitimate son. Documents about his father-nobleman have not been found yet. But it is precisely known that there were no Barons Borzhynskyis among the Polish gentry.

— How did Fedir Kindratovych become a Ukrainian diplomat?

— On the recommendation of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Ukrainian State (most likely, the candidacy was agreed with Hetman Pavlo Skoropadskyi), he was offered the post of the Consul, and then of the Ambassador to the Kuban People’s Republic.

— Was Borzhynskyi in Kyiv at that moment?

— No, he was at the Caucasian front. By that time he had risen to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He was known in Kyiv as an outstanding personality, a man who had a bearing on the negotiations between the Russian Empire and Mongolia.

Let me remind you that more than half the population of the Kuban was the descendants of Zaporizhzhya Cossacks. In May 1917, in the city of Yekaterinodar there was a meeting of the Cossacks, at which the government was created — the Kuban Cossack Rada headed by Mykola Ryabovil. The Kuban People’s Republic proclaimed its independence in February 1918. Soon it established diplomatic relations with Ukraine.

Kyiv sent echelons with weapons to the Kuban People’s Republic — to fight both the Bolsheviks, and the emerging Volunteer Army of White Guards. The leaderships of Ukraine and of Kuban raised the question of uniting on the principles of federalism. Borzhynskyi was one of the key figures in the negotiations on this issue. He had many other tasks: he was helping the local organization “Prosvita” organize Ukrainian newspapers, was collecting and sending to Kyiv intelligence, first of all that on the Kuban Cossack’s state’s relations with the White Guards. The Volunteer Army advocated a united and indivisible Russia. Therefore, the White Guards were dangerous both for the Cossack Republic and for the Ukrainian State. Hetman Skoropadskyi was going to send the Ukrainian Division of General Zurab Natiev to Kuban in order to crush the Volunteer Army in the bud. However, Germany, which was supporting Skoropadskyi’s power, reacted coolly to this idea. As a result, the time for such a military operation was lost.

— Did the White Guards try to interfere with the work of the Ukrainian diplomatic mission in the Kuban?

— Were trying to interfere — it’s an understatement. The secret underground organization of the White movement, called “Azbuka” (it was led by a native of Ukraine Vasiliy Shulgin), tried in every possible way to compromise the embassy and its head. Thanks to the Whites’ newspaper, “Great Russia”, and the agents, “Azbuka” was spreading deliberately false information. For example, that Hetman Skoropadskyi gave Borzhynskyi a sugar plant in Verkhnyachka (in the homeland of the Ambassador) together with the peasants, who were ordered to work as serfs. Or that the Ukrainian diplomat brought to Kuban a freight carriage of the state-owned sugar and was selling it and putting the money into his pocket.

— Under what circumstances did the Ukrainian Ambassador to the Kuban fall into the hands of the White Guards?

— He had to go to Kyiv after Skoropadskyi’s having been removed from power, to get acquainted with the new leadership of the country and to receive directives. At that time, the Volunteer Army launched an offensive against Ukraine. In Volnovakha, the White Guards took Borzhynskyi out of the diplomatic carriage, jostled him into a freight-car and sent to Yuzivka (now Donetsk). The Ambassador had diplomatic immunity, but this did not stop the White Guards. His fate was decided upon in Yuzivka by the court-martial. The judges told Borzhinsky: “You are an officer of the Tsarist Army, you swore allegiance to the Russian Empire, what for do you need Ukraine? Come to our side, you will have your military rank and will command a battalion or a regiment”. Fedir Kindratovych answered that that army, the tsar and empire did not exist any longer. He stated that he would remain faithful to Ukraine.

The court reported to the Commander of the Volunteer Army Corps occupying Donbas, Lieutenant-General Vladimir May-Mayevsky (by the way, he became one of the main characters of the popular television series “The Adjutant of His Excellency”, based on the Soviet novel by Igor Bolgarin). Hearing that Borzhynskyi refused to come over to the Whites, May-Mayevsky ordered by phone: “Shoot dead!”. His command was formulated in the sentence of the military court, saying: “For betraying Russia is sentenced to death through shooting”. Borzhynskyi was executed on the outskirts of Yuzivka in February 1919. He was then 40 years old. Someone took off good high-boots from the dead. The body was left to lie on the frozen ground. Borzhynskyi was later buried by Yuzivka workers. The exact location of his grave is unknown.

Oleksandr Skrypnyk: “Borzhynskyi took part in the negotiations on the unification of the Ukrainian State and the Kuban People’s Republic”

“The diplomat ‘s son Volodya ran away from his grandfather at the age of eight and managed to get to his mother and sister in Petrograd”

— What was the future of Borzhynskyi’s family?

— His wife Oleksandra with their little son Volodya and daughter Tanya went to Verkhnyachka to the Makusheks. After a while, Oleksandra and Tanya went to Petrograd (possibly to some relatives), and Vova (Volodymyr) was left with his grandfather. The boy was quick-witted: he ran away from Verkhnyachka: being 8 years old, he got to St. Petersburg and found his mother and sister there.

Volodymyr became a pilot, during the Second World War in the rank of Colonel he served in bomber aviation. His granddaughter, violinist Oksana Solovyova now lives and works in Spain, performing in one of the orchestras of Barcelona.

— There is Borzhynskyi’s artistic portrait in your book “Shot Dead in the Donbas…” Hasn’t his photo survived?

— We do not know what he really looked like, — so far we have not found the Baron’s photos or lifetime portraits. A few years ago a researcher published a snapshot of the times of the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-1921, believing that it was Borzhynskyi’s photo. The Ukrainian scientist Mykyta Mandryka, who knew him and who emigrated to Canada, left a verbal portrait of Fedir Kindratovych: medium height, intelligent, penetrating look, Cossack mustache. The man in the picture in the uniform of an officer of the Ukrainian State answers this description. However, it turned out that the photo was of someone else.

There are photos of Fedir Kindratovych’s son, granddaughter and great-granddaughter. The Honored Artist of Ukraine Mykola Kochubey and I proceeded from the fact that the descendants could have the looks of Borzhynskyi. Based on their pictures and the description, left by Mykyta Mandryka, the artist painted a portrait. However, I hope that it will be possible to find his photograph in the archives of Irkutsk.

Having collected quite a lot of information about Borzhynskyi, I could not start working on a semi-documentary book about him for a long time. There was a feeling that something was missing. And then I met with the Associate Professor of Luhansk National Taras Shevchenko University Volodymyr Semystyaha. He told me in detail what he had experienced in the Luhansk dungeons, and I realized that his story was exactly what was needed for a book about Baron Borzhynskyi.

“Fakty” published an interview with Semystyaha. Let me remind you: in the spring of 2014 he and his comrades were delivering aids to the Ukrainian military, informing Ukrainian intelligence about the movement of the enemy’s columns, about what was happening in the occupied city. In June 2014, 64-year-old Volodymyr Fedorovych was arrested. In the dungeons, the “investigators” extinguished cigarettes on his neck, put a gas mask on his face and blocked the hose, until the undergrounder would lose consciousness, gave him injections of “the truth serum”, beat… The leaders of the separatists did not agree to exchange him. Semystyaha escaped when in August 2014 on the eve of Ukraine’s Independence Day our troops got to the outskirts of Luhansk.

— What does Baron Borzhynskyi have in common with Semystyaha?

— Both remained loyal to Ukraine, both faced Russian aggression against Ukraine in the Donbas. I built a story line: the Associate Professor Semystyaha’s student is enrolled in a volunteer battalion, fighting near Donetsk at Pisky. It is exactly the place where Baron Borzhynskyi was executed… The century-old story echoes the current events.


Ihor Osypchuk, “Fakty” (“Facts”)

Baron Borzhynskyi

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