5. Surprises at Brailov

It was at the end of the month of February. Cossacks from country command companies from Kharkiv province were indeed waiting for us. We began feverish activity of bringing the battalion to full combat strength. The battalion was then completed as follows: four rifle companies with three officers and one hundred and twenty men in each, machine gun company with three officers and sixty men, six machine guns of which two were on carriages; a cavalry company with three officers, sixty-five men, three portable machine guns and ninety horses; liaison unit with necessary technical equipment for communications up to twenty miles; medical unit and supply unit. The total strength of the battalion was twenty-seven officers, about six hundred men and one hundred and ten horses. I appointed Captain I. Shevtsiv to be my aide; commanders of companies were: Lieut. V. Petriv, Capt. Vodianytsky, Capt. Musiyenko, Capt. Blahovishchensky, Capt. Havrylenko, Capt. P. Moroz (nick-named "Taras Bulba" for his huge physique, he had been a colleague of my brother and myself in the seventieth Russian Regiment). Captain V. Linytsky was battalion aide-de-camp, Capt. O. Shandruk-Shandrushkevych was quartermaster and Dr. Yu. Dobrylovsky was medical officer. The battalion was quartered in empty school buildings near the depot tracks. All tailors and shoemakers of Brailov were hired to make uniforms which were identical from mine down to the ranks. Notwithstanding the severe winter the battalion never missed a day's training.

One day a Jewish delegation from the town headed by the Chief Rabbi I. Feldfix appeared before me and asked that the town be patrolled at night because local bandits were robbing the Jewish population. The railroad depot was nearly four miles away from the town, but I complied with their request and there were no more robberies.

The trains in the station were guarded. One morning at six o'clock, the guards alerted the Company and me aboard the train. We were surrounded by a large number of soldiers armed with hand-grenades who were warning us not to leave the train. It was still fairly dark and difficult to see with whom we were dealing. Within a few minutes, however, my soldiers who were quartering in the school-house came running under the command of Lieut. Petrov, and in turn surrounded our would be captors. One careless move and we might have a battle on our hands. I came out of the train, ordered my men to lower their arms and asked the strangers who they were and what they wanted. One of the men answered that they were Ukrainian Sitch Riflemen. Their commander came closer and asked me whether I was the man in charge. We now learned that this was a battalion guarding the Army Staff, that this unit was under the command of Lieut. Kmetyk4 who had received orders from Chief of Staff Col. A. Melnyk to disarm us because "we were a Bolshevized unit which refused to go to the front." This was a perfect example of disorganization and misinformation, one of the immutable laws of revolution: the Commander in Chief and the Minister of Defense had inspected the battalion and given it a citation, while the Army Staff believed that it was in sympathy with the Communists. I suspected that this was due to an attitude of bias toward me on the part of the Staff Intelligence Service and my suspicion was later confirmed. Together with Lt. Kmetyk I went to the station carrying the Commander in Chief's citation in my hand and we called Col. Melnyk on the telephone. Lt. Kmetyk assured the former that the citation was genuine. He stated that this was a case of some misunderstanding and that even if he were to proceed with carrying out the order of disarming us, this could not be done because of the strength and attitude of my battalion. Colonel Melnyk showed himself a gentleman, apologizing to me for the misunderstanding and ordering Lt. Kmetyk to return to Vinnytsya. I requested, however, Col. Melnyk's permission to let both our units search the neighboring countryside for weapons concealed by demobilized soldiers in the villages, in order to protect the people from robberies. We found a lot of arms and even machine guns hidden in haystacks.

Sometimes we had odd situations arising, like after this joint expedition, my battalion quartermaster Capt. Shevtsiv gave Lt. Kmetyk's boys dinner. After they had left, he came to me and told me in a voice of despair: "we fed them, but they took all the spoons with them what are our boys going to eat with now?"

Several days later, I received orders from Col. Melnyk to proceed with the whole combat part of my battalion to the city of Proskuriv in order to put down the pogroms raging in that city and to arrest the guilty. Identical orders were issued to the Sitch Riflemen Battalion. The pogrom, not only of Jews, but of the entire population, had been staged by "Otaman" Samusenko, the same man with whom we had had trouble in Kiev. Right after we entered the city, the bandits disappeared and we found only a few exotically uniformed "Samusenkists" whom we sent to Vinnytsya under guard. I stepped into the local Commandantura, where I found Captain Kalenik Lessiuk to be in charge (living in the United States since 1922, at present director of the Ukrainian Museum in Chicago, Ill.). He told me that Samusenko, accompanied by several soldiers, had raided the Commandantura, terrorized the crew with hand-grenades and began a pogrom. Captain Lessiuk did not have enough men to cope with the situation and the local police force went into hiding. Soon after word spread that we had restored order, a delegation appeared in the Commandantura from the City Council, including the Rabbi representing the Jewish population. They thanked us profusely for restoring order and particularly Capt. Lessiuk for keeping the city under control until this latest incident; they even called him "father." We learned later that Samusenko had been arrested on orders of Commander in Chief S. Petlura and a court-martial condemned him to death. It is noteworthy that one of the results of our appearance in Proskuriv was that 8 young Jews, former soldiers of the tsarist army, enlisted in our battalion, among them the wealthy local merchant H. Roytberg. I remember him very well, since I had appointed him to be the liaison man with the Jewish population at the suggestion of my aide. Roytberg, who is at present in the United States, did a lot of good for the battalion, he helped us in getting food supplies and other material, especially medical supplies; he also did a lot for the Jews, calming them in their fright. The Jews were at that time living in terror of exaggerated reports about pogroms. They took extremes for the average and would not believe that anyone would stand up for them. It was a known fact that the Jews kept a good line of communication among themselves throughout the country: they told me that wherever the Reds appeared, they would appoint Jews to all kinds of responsible positions, as city or county commissioners, etc. and require them to deliver all sorts of goods, including such valuables as watches, Jewelry and gold; if the commissars were unable to comply with the orders, the Bolsheviks would make them personally responsible. The population was hostile toward those commissars since it was widely believed that the requisitions were ordered for their own personal benefit. The Bolsheviks strengthened this naive belief through a whispered campaign: this was clear provocation which resulted in pogroms. The Jews used all available means to dissuade their compatriots from collaborating with the Bolsheviks. In a majority of the cases the Reds robbed the Jews and instigated Jewish pogroms.

 

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[4] Subsequently a General in the Red Army.