Push and hold

In occupied Mykolaiv

At the beginning of the war the special group for sabotage activities in the occupied territories and obtaining intelligence left for Mykolaiv.

It was headed by deputy chief of the Foreign Department of the USSR NKVD Viktor Lyagіn. He was born in 1908 in the family of a railway worker. Lyagіn was educated at the Leningrad Industrial Institute as an engineer-builder. For a time he worked in Leningrad, then he received an invitation to the Intelligence Division of the NKVD, which sent him abroad – to the West Coast of the United States. In San Francisco, while acquiring knowledge to become a professional intelligent agent, Lyagіn revealed plans of modernizing the US Navy. He drew his attention to the fact, that over the ocean preference was given to the aircraft carriers construction. He obtained intelligence on creation of a device, which protected ships from magnetic mines. However, in San Francisco Lyagіn worked for so long. He was recalled to Moscow, where he was appointed the deputy head of the NKVD Foreign Department. It happened on the eve of the war. But as long ago as July, 1941 he had to go to Mykolaiv…


Members of the Lyagіn’s group included:

  • Oleksandr P. Sydorchuk, born in Volyn. When Sasha was a child the family moved to Kiev. His father worked on the railroad and had right to free travel once a year anywhere in the country. Owing to it, Sasha together with his father visited many places of the Soviet Union during his summer holidays. He was impressed by the sea most of all. Thus, in 1933 Junior Sydorchuk volunteered to serve in the Navy. After demobilization he was sailing aboard fishing vessels in the Black Sea. Before the war he was sent to study in a special school in Leningrad. There he joined the Lyagіn’s group.


Petro Platonovych Lutsenko – the Kyivite and handyman who offered wide arrangement of services: locksmith, carpenter, mechanic, gardener. Such a variety of professions is a very useful thing for the undergrounder. After finishing parachute training school he had to be sent as instructor to the Far East. But he did not agree. – I’m from Ukraine. Shouldn’t you find me the work there? – he asked the head of the school. The war began a few days later. That’s when there was a workplace for the parachute instructor in his native land.

  • Oleksandr Vasyliovych Sokolov was integrated into the group as a demolition expert.
  • Grygoriy Tarasovych Gavrylenko had to perform the duties of a messenger.

Among the other members of the group there were Mykola Ulezko, Oleksandr Naumov-Mykolayenko, Demyan Svіdersky.
In Mykolaiv radio operator Borys Molchanov joined the Lyagіn’s group.


In the city Lyagin acted under the codename of Kornev. At the department of the State Security he was advised to get settled into apartments of famous city neurologist’s widow Emilia Josypivna Dukkert. The only concern was that one of those days her daughter Magda, the student of the Leningrad Conservatory, who was set to evacuate together with her mother to the east, had to visit her. But everything was settled as best as possible. Lyagin- Kornev was able to convince Magda to stay in Mykolaiv. Later she became his assistant.


Sydorchuk has got information, that in the Soviet street, house No 12, there was residing German Adele (in interpersonal relations she was called Galina) Kelm, who was characterized as a patriot of the Soviet power. She was working in the local military garrison canteen. Sydorchuk acquainted himself with the girl. He began to enquire carefully for her plans, if the Nazis invaded the city. From Adele’s answers he realized that he could trust this girl. Soon Sasha and Adele have got engaged.
Lutsenko became the only “son-breadearner” of the seventy-five years of age Telyatnikov and his spouse. From the earliest days, Petro scavenged the yard, restored order in the barn. A box with plumbing and carpentry tools appeared there.
Oleksandr Sokolov and Oleksandr Naumov-Mykolayenko settled themselves as close and distant “relatives” of the Mykolaivites. Mykola Ulezko was taken in by the family of shipyard engineer Mykola Lysenko.


Grogoriy Gavrylenko asked Lyagin not to bother with him.
Thus, the first stage of the group’s legalization was successful.
Petro Lutsenko and Mykola Ulezko carefully buried trotyl, mines, detonators, grenades, personal weapons. They filled the hole and planted flowers over it.


On August 16, 1941 Nazi troops marched into Mykolaiv. At that time Viktor was at Gekkerts. He asked Magda to sit down at the piano and play something from German composers. Better – Wagner, who was one of the most popular composers of Germany.
Magda began to play. Lyagin-Kornev opened the window, put a bottle of wine on the table. The sounds of music stopped “Mercedes”, in which there were officers of the Wehrmacht. The door opened and the occupational troops’ warriors entered the room. The senior asked: “Who are you?” – Lyagin, who had a good command of German, replied, that he was engineer Kornev, came on a business trip to the shipyard and was not able to return to Leningrad. He said that the women were the ladies of the house, ethnic Germans – the descendants of colonists.


Then Lyagin proposed to celebrate the German army’s entry into Mykolaiv. The Hitlerites have not refused. After a few glasses of wine, Major Hoffmann, who, as it turned out, was appointed the commandant of Mykolaiv, agreed to live at Dukkerts. Later he promoted Magda to the post of secretary and interpreter of Admiral von Bodekker – the chief of the Black Sea region shipyards. After some time Magda asked Admiral to provide Kornev with position of marine engineer with responsibilities to supervise the repair of warships. That post was the best possible way which enabled the head of the “Mykolaiv Center” to organize sabotage on the German Navy ships.


The other group members’ employment started with the fact, that Lysenko wife’s sisters – Helena and Anna Svidrov – got a job at the labour registry office. That gave them the opportunity to help their renter Mykola Ulezko and his friend Petro Lutsenko to get to the pasta factory.


Oleksandr Sydorchuk initially was hired to the elevator. But this place did not suit the group. Then he asked his wife to work on the airdrome in the canteen for the Germans. She achieved this goal risk-free. And soon, not without her help, Oleksandr began to work at the airdrome, however, only as a stoker. Sydorchuk with the help of his “sincerity” and “sociability” captivated German soldiers and found a common language with engineer Moll, who often came to the boiler room. Once Moll was a prisoner in Russia and it was usually something to remember. Adele brought food and alcohol into the boiler room. Gradually almost all airdrome attendants, who thought Alex (as the Germans named Sydorchuk) to be a friend, began to gather there. Sydorchuk invited several of them to his home. Wehrmacht soldiers and officers felt relaxed in the society of Adele and her husband Alex.


For October holidays Victor Lyagin prepared a leaflet, which dealt with the struggle of the Soviet citizens against the Nazi invaders and state of hostilities in the Great Patriotic War. Dissemination of those leaflets was tasked to Sydorchuk, who brought his wife to the case. In mid-November, 1941 the “Mykolaiv Center” struck the first blow against the invaders. There were military supply depot and lorry fleet in the park named after Petrovsky, renamed Mondpark by the occupiers. That place was chosen for diversion. Petro Lutsenko and Mykola Ulezko previously took some amount of explosives and blasting caps from the store. They had given all that to Sydorchuk, who through Sokolov’s help laid explosives in the territory of the lorry fleet. On the 15-th of November, after a powerful explosion the trucks burst into flames. The Nazis lost 15 vehicles, 20 tons of fuel and about a dozen of soldiers.


Shortly before this action Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories Alfred Rosenberg in his speech called Mykolaiv one of the “quiet” cities in Ukraine. Lo and behold, an explosion has occured in the heart of the city. The enraged occupiers laid Mykolaivites under contribution for this “crime” – half million karbovanetzs. They were dousing a fire for a long time. For a rather long time one could see a red glare in the sky over the Bug. That symbolic glare – the patriots’ of the underground organization the “Mykolaiv Center” doing – instilled confidence in the victory over fascism. The German counterintelligence ran off their legs, looking for the perpetrators of the explosion and the authors of leaflets, which had appeared everywhere. Head of the group Kornev was beyond suspicion because Admiral Bodekker never doubted his loyalty for a moment. Meanwhile, by his “drawings” the boilers exploded on ships in Mykolaiv. In the evenings in the apartment where he lived one could hear music and hubbub of Hitler’s military brass under the influence of drink. That helped Major Lyagin to be unnoticed and to cause more and more staggering blows at the critical facilities of invaders.


Petro Lutsenko was preparing a new trotyl touchstone mine for destruction of storage facilities at the automotive equipment maintenance plant. The undergrounders developed a detailed plan of the operation. It was suggested, that after the storage facilities would be fired up as a result of explosion, not to allow the fire engines to approach the site of the fire. Lutsenko together with Ulezko in their own workshop produced special tapes with sharp spikes. If at the access road to the sites of sabotage the spikes did not help, then Naumov-Mykolaenko with his friends had to stop the lorries by machine-gun fire and grenades. However, Lyagin envisaged armed attack as a last resort, knowing that it wouldn’t be easy for the guys to withdraw with a machine gun. Fortunately, the operation passed as smoothly as possible. Metal pins did not let the fire engines pass to the site of sabotage. At the storage facilities four thousand car ramps were wrecked, 18 lorries were burned out.


In January, 1942 Adele Kelm went on an errand of Lyagin to Voskresensk and Kirovograd to establish contacts with the local undergrounders. While implementing that errand, she escaped meeting with the occupation authorities.


Oleksandr Sokolov has learnt, that a lot of warm clothing for the German army had been brought to Mykolaiv. It was decided to eliminate the storage facility. The undergrounders had set the storage facility on fire, and it burned to the ground. The time has come to commit sabotage at the airdrome, where Sydorchuk was working. There he had already got assistants. It remained to prepare explosive and transport it to the site of detonation. The hardest part was to move mines across the river Ingul: given that the guard was on the bridge constantly. Lutsenko found a way out. The mines sheathing with dark fabric were sodded with dead-wood and brushwood laying on the river bank (as if he had prepared bundles of wood).When the workers were returning from Mykolaiv downstream of Inguletz with firewood on their shoulders, Petro several times went with them to the opposite bank as well. To speed up the transfer of bundles downstream the river, Lutsenko asked Ulezko for help. Ulezko came up with Helena and Anna Svidrov, who housed him. For conspiracy they involved Telyatnikovs. The elderly went ahead and said the guard that their family followed them: they were preparing their firewood for the winter.

That explanation did not cause any suspicions of the guard.
In a few days Lutsenko reported Sydorchuk, that explosives had been on another side of the river. They agreed that next night they would transferred the mines to the ditch near the airdrome. That was the night full of anxiety and hard work: they had to crawl across the wet muddy road and a ditch with the heavy cargo, while the patrols were walking about nearby and the guards shouted to one another near the hangars. When they had dragged and hid everything in the safe place, Lutsenko hardly rearranged his feet, but now, going home, he was not afraid of any patrols, any guards anymore: he had an ausvays that allowed him, the worker of the pasta factory, to move freely at night.


Sydorchuk was preparing operation two weeks more. When all was ready, he informed the commandant of the airdrome, that he was ill and unable to work. The commandant allowed him to stay at home.
Oleksandr was lying in bed with his throat wrapped, next to his bed there was a chair with a bottle of gargle, the pills. Adele also remained at home to care for the “sick”.


At midday of March,10 Mykolaiv was rocked by powerful explosion. People did not have time to understand what had happened, when the flames engulfed the airdrome. A black cloud appeared in the sky. It was burning day and night. Explosions and fire destroyed two storage facilities, aviation workshops, petrol depot, 25 aircrafts and the same amount of spare aircraft engines. Sydorchuk was arrested despite the alibi. But the Nazis had no evidence linking him to sabotage at the airdrome, then not so long the undergrounder was released.
After the war, the people of Mykolaiv placed the memorial stone with the inscription: “At this place on March 10, 1942 chekist-intelligence agent Oleksandr Sydorchuk implemented one of the most important acts of sabotage against the German occupiers” at the airdrome.


Meanwhile, the “Mykolaiv Center” has developed: it consisted of more than twenty groups. They acted in Mykolaiv, Bashtansk, Berezneguvatsk, Novoodeskom areas. The Center’s sensitive activities simply stunned the local military command and Hitler administration. With the scrupulous meticulousness the invaders calculated, that they had suffered losses of more than 40 million reichsmarks.


Unfortunately, the undergrounders’ radiostation had failed and they lost touch with the Centre. But it was necessary to transfer the collected intelligence, to report on the actions of the group in occupied Mykolaiv. Therefore, Lyagin decided to send one of the group members over the front line. He entrusted Petro Lutsenko to perform that difficult task.


On April 6, 1942 after the detailed briefing the messenger went on the road. He had been lucky to get to the Soviet troops and valuable intelligence came quickly to the Center. But the unit, which Lutsenko had joined, got into the hostile environment and the undergrounder found himself in the concentration camp. There he experienced cruel suffering. But the intelligence agent lucky escaped from captivity. Overcoming incredible odds, he returned to Mykolaiv and on December 18, 1942 Petro Platonovych reported to the head of the “Mykolaiv Center” on his return.


…Released from under guard Oleksandr Sydorchuk got a job of a guard at the port of Mykolaiv. On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the October Revolution the underground group decided to destroy the port storage facilities of fuel. At nightfall on November, 5 Sydorchuk crept to the tanks with fuel, under which explosives had been laid beforehand. He lit the Bickford fuze. He looked around. Suddenly he has seen soldiers who were walking nearby. In the dark they could see the light. Sydorchuk closed the lit fuze with a flap of his cloak. Petrol fumes caused the premature explosion of a huge vat. The blast threw Oleksandr for tens of meters.


The tanks popped, burst with bubbles. Against the background of dark night the glow raged like terrible anger of the people. It was the latest Oleksandr Petrovych Sydorchuk’s contribution to the victory of the Soviet people over Nazism.


Gestapo tried anyhow to pick up the right trail of the underground. During one of those raids they were able to grab Lyagin’s liaison person – Grygoriy Gavrylenko. As an unemployed person he could be sent to perform forced labour for Germany. Lyagin decided to take the help of city hospital worker Maria Lubchenko, who had been left in occupied Mykolaiv for underground work. Lyagin hoped that she would be able to issue a certificate of sick leave to Gavrylenko, which could save him from deportation. Lubchenko agreed to examine Gavrylenko.


But Lyagin did not know that the doctor had been arrested by the Gestapo in the summer of 1942. She agreed to help the undergrounders. Thus, the Nazis picked up the trail of the “Mykolaiv Center”. On February 5, 1943, when Gavrylenko came to the hospital for help, he was arrested. A few hours later they seized Lyagin. The Gestapo tortured the head of the “Mykolaiv Center”, but was not been able to break his spirit: Viktor Oleksandrovych Kornev-Lyagin died without saying a word. For exemplary performance of special tasks at the rear of the enemy and merit beyond the call of duty on November 5, 1944 Victor Oleksandrovych Lyagin was posthumously awarded the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union. The ship and the street in Mykolaiv are named in his honour.

Oleksandr Voloshyn, Oleksandr Bіlogorov

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