A short biography of Svirid Kotsur and the independent soviet republic of Chyhyryn.
Svirid Dementiyovich Kotsur was born on the 30th January 1890 (although other sources give his birthdate as 1886) in the Cossack village of Subotiv (Subbotovo in Russian) in the canton of Chyhyryn (Chigirin in Russian) within the Kiev government. He appears to have worked as an agriculturalist. He became an anarchist communist and during World War One was a member of an anarchist group in Yekaterinoslav. For their robbery of a bank Kotsur received a prison sentence, serving twelve years of katorga (hard labour) in Siberia. After the February Revolution of 1917 he returned to Subotiv and became involved in political activity, organizing a detachment of free Cossacks. He was apparently a fine orator with the gift of inspiring his audiences. He was a delegate to the First Congress of Free Cossacks in October 1917.
In 1918 he organized detachments against the Hetman Skoropadsky and his Austrian and German backers, operating with Red detachments under the command of Fedor Navodnichev, going on to form his own detachment. In December of that year he joined the general uprising called by the Directory of Petliura against the Austro-Germans and Skoropadsky. But after the victory of the uprising at the beginning of January 1919 he revolted against the Directory and captured the town of Chyhyryn which is 8 versts from Kotsur’s birthplace of Subotiv. Chihyryn had a population of between 17,000-18,000 at this time, 5-6,000 of these being Jews, mostly poor. It was a centre of handicrafts and had 12 tanneries. Kotsur arrested the Sovereign Guard (local militia), removed some of Skoropadsky’s officials and appointed political and military commissars. According to Heifetz, Kotsur enjoyed the sympathy of the local population. Two days later he was joined by the detachment of the Bolshevik Tikhonenko. He organized a regiment of Red Cossacks, which became the mainstay of Soviet power in the region. In February 1919 this regiment had a complement of 1,095, armed with 900 rifles, 12 machine guns, and 3 cannons, and was seen as part of the Red Army. The regiment operated an armoured train, The Star, on the Znamyanka – Bobrinsk railway line. It fought against the nationalist forces of ataman Volokh.
The independent Soviet republic of Chyrhyryn was declared by Kotsur in July. Apparently other guerilla leaders in the area, Ilchenko, Satana, and Hveschuka, recognized his authority.
At the beginning of March 1919, the Chyhyryn regiment of “Red Cossacks” set out for the Front to fight against the Petliurists. It was engaged in battles from Fundukliivka to Volochisk. In June 1919 it was re-organized as the 414th Regiment, which was assigned the task of liquidating the regiment of haidamaks of Kholodny Yar. It is alleged that he dispersed Cheka units in the county towns on the way there. An attempt by the Kholodny Yar force to disarm Kotsur’s detachment, returning from the Front, was unsuccessful. At the end of June, Kotsur, supported by Red units, led an attack on Kholodny Yar from the direction of Subotiv, capturing Medvedivka and moving on Melniki. The Kholodny Yar forces repelled the attack, suffering 11 casualties in the process. Kotsur’s losses included 80 killed.
Kotsur’s forces , from their base in Chyhyryn, fought the forces of Ataman Grigoriev around this time, driving them back from Subotiv and Chyhyryn (Grigoriev,of course, was soon to be shot down by the Makhnovists for his anti-Semitism).
Svirid’s younger brother Petro Kotsur in the early 1900s was one of the founders of the Ukrainian People’s Defence in the Chyhyryn region. This organization evolved out of the Ukrainian Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries and had as its goal the fusing of the national and land issues, the raising of a general Ukrainian revolt, and the attainment of autonomy for Ukraine.
In 1919 – 1920 the Kotsur brothers took part in many battles against the Denikinists, and later against the Reds. In September 1919 Svirid Kotsur and his detachment joined the Insurgent Army of Nestor Makhno, taking on the military cover of Makhnovist forces to their north. Kotsur’s cavalry attacked the White forces from the rear at Elizavetgrad, Znamenka, Bobrinec, and Hrestinovku, inflicting defeat on them. In January 1920 the Bolsheviks returned to the Dnieper region and Kotsur declared that as “a fighter against the Whites” he welcomed them and would support them. In February 1920 Kotsur was again in conflict with the Petliurists. In connection with its Winter Campaign, the UNR Army even issued an order that “all of Kotsur’s units are to be considered our enemies and if possible disarmed.” Thus, on February 18-19 units of the Zaporozsky Division disarmed a Kotsur guard unit in the town of Kamyanka.
Colonel Stefaniv, who negotiated with Svirid Kotsur, described him as follows: “Twenty-eight years old, dresses in a peasant costume which is like something out of an operetta, physically well-developed, he wanted to impress his opponents with his external appearance. The town of Chyhyryn, where he was in charge, seemed almost lifeless. Kotsur’s power extended to four neighbouring good-sized villages, one of which was his family home. But the remainder of the region refused to recognize him and in fact was openly hostile.”
In March 1920 Kotsur began to fulminate against what he called “the Bolshevik charlatans” and the Chyhyryn independent soviet republic was revived, operating under the platform of “free Soviets without Party dictatorship”. Seeing his hostility to the Bolsheviks, various local nationalist guerilla leaders thought that he might become their ally. One of these, Vasyl Chuchupaka, who had been a haidamak leader in Kholodny Yar, and a foe of Kotsur, came to demand allegiance to the Kholodny Yar revolutionary Committee or to the revolutionary committee of Ataman Gulogo-Gulenko who, in alliance with the Petliurist Army, was fighting the Bolsheviks. Kotsur firmly rejected this, leading to another military confrontation with Kholodny Yar, which then rebuked Kotsur for having disgraced “the old Hetman capital Chyhyryn”. Around this time Chekists and Bolshevik officials arrived and demanded the re-election of the local Revolutionary Committee and the establishment of Bolshevik rule. They were drowned in the river. On March 30th the Bolsheviks delivered blows against Kotsur’s forces. Shortly after, Kotsur’s body was found thrown down a well and the Bolsheviks had to admit they had executed him, after he had been charged in front of a Revolutionary Tribunal for “counter-revolution. Another version alleges that he was enticed to Znamenka when the Bolsheviks offered him the medal of the Order of the Red Banner where was shot on April 15th on the orders of the Bolshevik commander Pavel Dybenko. Yet another version implies he escaped, joined the Petliurists and was then shot by a Bolshevik undercover agent!
There is yet another version, according to which he managed to escape (thanks to a Red commander with whom he had shared katorga) and emigrated, first to Bulgaria, then to France.
In May 1920 the detachment of Petro Kotsur (150 – 200 strong) made an attempt to capture Chyhyryn. This outfit held out until at least July 16 1923. A detachment of Kotsur’s cavalry apparently took part in Makhno’s raid into the Poltava region in August 1920, being put into position to guard Mirgorod.
Oleksandr Solodar relates a story told by residents of Subotiv about a white-haired man who visited the Illinska Church in Subotiv in the 1980s. He was looking at the graves of relatives buried in the cemetery next to the Church. Old men of the village claimed he looked a lot like Svirid Kotsur.
According to Soviet histories Chyhyryn was “a patriarchal island of anarchy”. Gennady Nedeljko rers to Kotsur operating within it as a “dictator” “hetman” and “monarch”! According to these sources the Soviet and Revolutionary Committee had “purely formal and decorative functions” and that having taken over the town Kotsur began “cracking down on undesirables, launching a “red terror” taking over the estates, shooting the local hetman, ex-imperial officers and bourgeoisie, but also Jews. However these allegations against Kotsur are contradicted by accounts in the book of Elias Heifetz who states: “During all the time of Kotzyr’s (alternative spelling) government no excesses of any sort occurred, and specifically not against Jews.” This is especially interesting, as Heifetz elsewhere in the book makes false allegations of anti-Semitic pogroms committed by Makhno! Heifetz does say that after Kotzyr left the area a remnant of his forces under Leschenko did shoot 6 Jews.
Further research needs to be done into the independent soviet republic of Kotsur and whether he and his forces attempted to set up an anarchist zone, or whether he was indeed just another local warlord.
Heifetz, Elias. The slaughter of the Jews in the Ukraine in 1919. Full text: http://www.archive.org/stream/slaughterofjewsi00heifuoft/slaughterofjewsi00heifuoft_djvu.txt
Gennady Nedeljko http://zhurnal.lib.ru/n/nedelxko_g_b/nedelko-11.shtml
Horlis-Gorsky, Yuri. Kholodny Yar ukrlife.org/main/evshan/yar71.htm
Savchenko,V. A. Cossack warriors Volokh, Bozhko and Kotsur militera.lib.ru/bio/savchenko/07.html