Today (9th May) is Victory Day in my native Russia and, as is now “customary” on my blog, I am highlighting notable people and their distinguished actions during the World War II. I would like to to talk about Lyubov Shevtsova and Ulyana Gromova, who were both Soviet partisans and members of Krasnodon’s undercover anti-Nazi organisation The Young Guard. They both received the titles of the Hero of the Soviet Union posthumously. The young (nearly all of them younger than eighteen) members of this organisation became known for their actions that displayed unimaginable bravery, unbelievable stoicism and selfless hard-work fighting Fascism and defending their motherland. This year I would also like to pay tribute to my grandfather, Gennadiy Kovalskiy, by talking about his experience being a paratrooper (military parachutist) during the war.
Lyubov Shevtsova [8 September 1924 – 9 February 1943]
After the start of the war in 1941, Lyubov Shevtsova attended briefly nursing courses and wanted to become a nurse for the Red Army, but was rejected because she was too young. Before the war, she also wanted to be a theatre actress, and even applied to the Rostov university, but the war intervened. So, in 1942, at the age 18, Shevtsova received a qualification of radio-operator (signaller) at the Voroshilovgrad school for the preparation of partisans and undercover agents. She started working undercover for the Young Guard of Voroshilovgrad (Luhansk) and her job involved passing to the Red Army Intelligence Centre the information gathered by the partisans. As a member of The Young Guard, Shevtsova was also conducting spy-work on the enemy, helped Soviet prisoners-of-war to hide from the Nazis, distributed anti-Nazi flyers and sourced medication. She was also involved in the arson of the German Labour Exchange in Krasnodon on 6 December 1942. During this event, a list of about 2000 Krasnodon citizens who were intended for the deportation into Germany was burnt, meaning these people were saved. In 1943, Shevtsova was arrested by the Krasnodon police. The Fascists were actively seeking Shevtsova in particular because she was a Soviet radio-operator and they wanted to know all the transmission codes. Therefore, Shevtsova was subjected to an even longer and more savage than usual torture by the Nazis (source). However, after a month of torture, her interrogators realised that they were wasting their time with Shevtskova because she never said a word. Shevtsova was eventually executed in a forest on 9 February 1943. She met death with dignity and those were allegedly her last words: “…Soviet youth will still see many beautiful springs and gold-leafed autumns. There are peaceful, clear blue skies ahead, as well as lovely full moon nights; there will be good times in our beloved and dear motherland”.
Ulyana Gromova [3 January 1924 – 16 January 1943]
“In every situation or circumstance, one must not give in, but find a way and fight. In our present situation, we also can fight. All we need to do is to be more decisive and organised” (the words of Ulyana Gromova to her friends in a prison cell after the capture by the Nazis).
In 1941, when the Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Gromova, aged 17, worked in agriculture and helped wounded soldiers at hospital. She graduated school with the highest of marks in 1942 with a particular interest in world literature (source). Her world-view was formed partly through literature and she left behind many notebooks with quotes copied by hand on friendship, bravery, duty, honour and love and from such writers as Gorkiy, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Lermontov, Shakespeare, Dickens, Goethe and London. In July 1942, being unable to evacuate from her village of Pervomaisky, Ukraine (because she looked after her sick mother), Gromova, with her two other friends, organised an anti-Nazi young-people group which became part of The Young Guard. Together with others, she actively participated in the preparation for armed resistance, creating and distributing anti-Fascist leaflets, collecting medicine and helping to prepare local people. She was also involved in the torching of the German Labour Exchange. On 10 January 1943, amidst mass arrests of suspected underground members, she was arrested and went calmly with the officers saying simply that she was indeed the one they were looking for and she was ready to go with them. She was then severely beaten and savagely tortured by the Nazis (including hung by her hair, had her limbs broken, a star carved on her back with a knife and wounds rubbed with salt). However, she never revealed any details about her organisation’s activities nor given any names, behaving courageously during her interrogation and days-lasting torture. Close to death, she also encouraged her imprisoned group members not to give up by reciting poems and singing songs. Gromova was executed on 16 January 1943 and shortly after declared a posthumous Hero of the Soviet Union.
My grandfather, Gennadiy Kovalskiy [1923 – 1993], was eighteen when the war with the Nazi Germany started on the western borders of the Soviet Union. He joined the army and trained as a paratrooper, serving in the Air Force of the Black Sea fleet. He was involved in many military operations, made more than two thousand parachute jumps and was awarded twenty-five medals for his bravery during the war. In one notable operation in 1942, he, at the age of nineteen and with his regiment, parachuted behind the enemy lines. The task was to disrupt Nazi communication (radio) lines, causing confusion before the main attack near the Krasnodar airport, which, at that time, was used by the Nazis. After the completion of this task, the paratroopers were supposed to make their way to the local partisan group and later be picked up by boats. After Gennadiy’s regiment completed the task, they were trying to return to their designated location to meet the partisan group, but the Nazis surrounded them at that point, opening fire. My grandfather stayed behind defending the small group of paratroopers by returning fire as they were making their escape. His group managed to escape without injuries and for these brave actions he was awarded the Order of the Red Star, one of the highest awards. In 1945, he was also sent as part of his paratrooper regimen to the Eastern front to fight a war in the Pacific. After the war he worked as an engineer and as a director of a local parachutist’ club.
I am concluding this post by sharing Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor performed by Rousseau.