Push and hold

Living the Legend …

Mykhaylo Filonenko and his wife Anna Kamayeva had written so bright pages into the history of the Soviet illegal intelligence, that when during filming a television movie “Seventeen Moments of Spring” directors and actors needed to consult real intelligence officers who had lived and efficiently worked abroad in difficult conditions, the management of the KGB of the USSR chose them.

Acting abroad under deep cover, Mykhaylo Filonenko was recognized as a successful businessman, he was gladly accepted in influential circles in Argentina, Paraguay, Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Chile, was able to infiltrate into the environment of Brazilian President Kubycheka, made friends with writers Jorge Amado, Adahlisa Nehru, Paraguayan dictator Stressner and many other famous and influential persons.

The history of their life and work in intelligence is extremely rich in many interesting episodes, romantic, dramatic, full of risk and unexpected turns. Each of them had his/her own way into the Intelligence Service. Mykhaylo Filonenko was born October 10, 1917 in Bilovodsk, Luhansk region, in working family. Since childhood, he knew how hard his parents worked for living. At the age of 15 he began working at the mine. And under the ground he dreamed of the sky and aviation. Eagerly reading the lines of newspaper reports about the flights and records of legendary Valeriy Chkalov and other Soviet pilots, in his mind he saw himself at the controls of an aircraft.

To make his dream come true he had to get secondary education while working. In 1934, he finally became a student of the Aviation College in Tushino, Moscow region. After the graduation, he was sent to the Defense Factory Number 22 in Moscow. There he was noticed by representatives of state security, and in 1941 he became an employee of the Moscow NKVD. When the war began, he was enrolled into the 4th Directorate of the NKVD, which was engaged in organization of intelligence and sabotage activities behind enemy lines. In 1941 – 1942 he commanded the intelligence and sabotage detachment “Moskva”, which was carrying out raids in Moscow suburbs. For fulfilling intelligence tasks, destroying Wehrmacht’s communications and manpower during the defense of the capital, he received his first Order of the Red Banner from the hands of Georgiy Zhukov. After awarding, M. Filonenko went out of the office and saw in the waiting room a pretty girl in military uniform, who immediately sank into his heart. He later learned that they were in the same Directorate, which was headed by Pavlo Sudoplatov and then he had the opportunity to get acquainted with her.

Before the war Anna Kamayeva had been working as a weaver at the Moscow factory “Krasnaya Zarya”, then the Komsomol organization sent her to serve in the state security bodies, at the Foreign Department. At her new job she proved to be a diligent, competent, purposeful employee and soon became part of the Special Group at the NKVD of the USSR, whose members in the first months of the war were trained to fulfill special tasks in case of occupation of Moscow. Among others, she had to take part in assassination attempt on Hitler if he had arrived in the capital of the Soviet Union. Later she studied at Sverdlovsk School of the NKVD, then the young intelligence officer was sent to Mexico, where she together with other colleagues was involved in the preparation of the release from prison of Ramon Mercader, who was serving a sentence for the murder of Trotsky. But then the operation was cancelled, and Anna returned to her homeland.

During the war, Mykhaylo Filonenko seldom managed to see Anna. After his participation in the defense of Moscow, taking into consideration his knowledge of the terrain, the Ukrainian language and the presence of past relationships, he was sent to his native Ukraine. For some time he was one of the leaders of the special residentura “Olimp”, which was collecting intelligence about the enemy in Kyiv and Kyiv region. In autumn 1943 the Soviet Army’s Commandment received information from him about the situation on the right bank of the Dnieper and the best areas for forced crossing of the river. While fulfilling intelligence tasks, Filonenko stayed in contact with Kovpak’s, Fedorov’s, Medvedev’s partisan detachments. He was then sent to Poland, where soon his leg was seriously wounded, which he felt till the end of his life.

In the first postwar year, Mykhaylo and Anna got married and never parted. They thought that the most terrible tests had been left behind, and did not even guess what new surprises were awaiting them in life. In 1947 they were sent to study in the 101st (Intelligence) School, where according to the individual program they were prepared to work abroad as intelligence officers- infiltrators. Apart from English and Portuguese, they had to fully learn the Czech language, because, according to the legend, they had to introduce themselves as Czech immigrants. One of the features of preparation was that with them had to go abroad their son Pavlo, who was only four years old and who had to confirm one of the points of the detailed legend. He also had to be taught foreign languages ​​and to tell different stories in order to avoid any  misunderstandings while overseas. It was not for the first time in the history of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence Service, that little children together with adults were prepared to work abroad under special circumstances.

After completion of preparations, the Filonenkos made several short trips to Latin America to get used to life abroad and local flavour. Then, before their leaving for abroad, they met with Vyacheslav Molotov, who then directed the Information Committee at the Soviet Foreign Ministry – the association of Foreign and Military Intelligence Services, which existed in 1949 – 1952. During the conversation, he drew attention to the peculiarities of their mission, which was infiltration into government and business circles of Latin American countries in order to later, with the accumulated knowledge, experience and relationships, to move to the United States to organize intelligence work. At that time the Soviet intelligence network in the United States after an active hunt for atomic secrets had suffered serious losses, so measures were taken to create new positions through other countries.

In November 1951 the intelligence officers crossed the Soviet-Chinese border and settled in Harbin. There they had a daughter, whom they, as “real Czechs” baptized in the local Catholic church. Then they moved to Shanghai, and from there in early 1955 they headed to Brazil. Such was their long way to the place of residence determined by the Center.

Due to lack of commercial experience, first Mykhaylo Filonenko could not manage to establish his own business. His attempts kept failing, and he had to make tremendous efforts to just feed his family. But good luck was on his side. Once he successfully played at the stock exchange, and the money earned was enough to become the owner of a well established company. It took his firm another year to become seriously profitable. When he became a successful businessman and a millionaire, there were opportunities to travel different countries, establishing contacts, collecting information that interested the Centre.

The little information that is in the public media about the results of their work, gives only a general impression of what they had to do. The intelligence officers had created an extensive network from which they got political, economic, military and strategic information. Besides, Mykhaylo  Filonenko, by nature sociable, communicative, interesting interlocutor with a developed sense of humor, erudite and comprehensively developed person, easily made  acquaintances  and won confidence of representatives of political, military and business elites. In particular, among his friends was the Defense Minister of Brazil.

When the leadership of the Soviet Intelligence Service had set a task to collect intelligence about the places of settlement and hiding of Nazi war criminals in the territory of Paraguay, M. Filonenko found an opportunity to meet with Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stressner. The intelligence officer at the right time demonstrated his ability to accurately shoot a pistol and rifles. Stressner, not indifferent to arms, showed interest in the foreign merchant and repeatedly they went hunting for crocodiles and each time the dictator admired Mykhaylo’s marksmanship. During conversations in a relaxed atmosphere Filonenko had the opportunity to learn what the Centre wanted to know about that country.

One of the Foreign Intelligence Service’s problems during the intelligence officers- infiltrators Filonenkos’ staying abroad, was to provide reliable, rapid and uninterrupted communication. After one of the communication agents had shown himself not in the best way and at Mykhaylo Ivanovych’s insistence was withdrawn back to the USSR, the Center decided to work with them via the radio. But even a powerful compact radio station could not provide a direct communication with Moscow, too large was the distance between the countries. Therefore, the Soviet Antarctic whaling fleet included a special vessel with appropriate equipment, which would receive coded  messages from the intelligence officers and retransmit them to Moscow. For the regular flow of important information, the leadership of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence Service even went to such great expenses. And that showed both, the high level of the work of the intelligence officers, and the weight and authority of the Intelligence Service in the state.

However, the constant nervous work later had shown. Mukhaylo Filonenko had a heart attack, and the Center decided to return the intelligence officers to their homeland. For this purpose, were developed a special operation and a specific route. All their achievements and agents were  passed over to other intelligence officers who successfully continued the work begun by them without any glitches and failures.

On their return to the Soviet Union, the main problem was adaptation of the children who did not know their parents’ native language. In Brazil, Anna gave birth to a third child. The story of how she was giving birth abroad, later made interested the director Tatyana Lioznova and the actress Kateryna Gradova during making the film  “Seventeen Moments of Spring”. They repeatedly met and questioned them about the work abroad, behavior in different situations, risks in the intelligence work, how they coped with  stress. Thanks to such close communication,  the images of intelligence officers in the film are so true to life.

After treatment and rehabilitation, Colonel Filonenko continued service in the Central Office of the Foreign Intelligence Service as Deputy Head of the Department, which was preparing intelligence officers- infiltrators. His wife worked at the same Department. In 1963, they were made to retire. Mykhaylo Ivanovych passed away in 1982, Anna Fedorivna – in 1998. Only at the funerals their colleagues learned about what they had been doing abroad, some episodes from their busy professional careers and the awards they had been awarded. Mykhaylo Filonenko had been awarded the Order of Lenin, three Orders of the Red Banner and many medals, his wife – the Order of the Red Star, two medals “For Military Merit” and others. But even today not all materials related to their work abroad have been declassified.

However, the veil of secrecy has recently been opened slightly by the RF Foreign Intelligence Service, which  shared some details of the activities of intelligence officers- infiltrators abroad with filmmakers. Based on archival documents, Oleksandr Borodyanskyi, the author of the scripts of  famous Soviet films “Afonya”, “We Are from Jazz,” “Winter Evening in Gagra” and others, wrote the script of the new film entitled “Crocodile Hunting”. The main role in it is played by Sergei Bezrukov. According to the actor, he always wanted to play the role of an intelligence officer, and was greatly interested in the new proposal. During filming, he had to resort to dramatic identification, because it was necessary to look first 25 year old, and later 60-year-old. According to preliminary estimates, the film should be on screens by the end of the year.


Oleksandr Skrypnyk,

Mykhaylo Filonenko and his wife

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