Kurilenko, Vasily Vasilyevich (1891-1921)

Vasily Kurilenko (centre)
Vasily Kurilenko (centre)

A short biography of anarchist communist and Makhnovist Vasily Kurilenko

Submitted by Battlescarred on September 17, 2021

"an excellent tactician in cavalry combat," Viktor Belash.

“a popular speaker in large public meetings.” Petr Arshinov.

"always in the advancing ranks and with personal courage set an example to younger comrades." Pavel Dybenko, Bolshevik commander.

Vasily Kurilenko was born into the family of a farm labourer in the village of Novospasovka. In early childhood his father died and he became the only breadwinner of the family. He worked as a shoemaker. In 1910 he joined the Novospasovka Anarchist Communist Group.

He was conscripted into the Russian army in 1912, serving in a Uhlan regiment. In the first days of the October Revolution he chaired the regimental committee.

From June 1918 he took an active part in the uprising against the Hetman Skoropadsky and his Austro-Hungarian and German backers, and commanded the first partisan detachment put together by the inhabitants of Novospasovka. From January to June 1919, he commanded the Makhnovist 8th Zadneprovsky Regiment, which operated within the Red Army.

Writing about the capture of Mariupol from Denikin’s Whites on 27th March 1919, the Bolshevik commander Pavel Dybenko stated in a telegram to the Soviet of People's Commissars of the Ukrainian SSR on April 2nd :
“The capture of Mariupol was carried out under my command. The 8th and 9th regiments and the artillery battalion distinguished themselves in the battles, completely defeating the enemy and capturing rich war booty. The fortitude and courage of the regiments was indescribable. During the offensive, the regiments were fired upon from the enemy and a French squadron of 60 guns. Despite the destructive enemy fire, the regiments marched without firing until they came into contact with the enemy, after which, under the command of the gallant commander of the 8th regiment, Comrade Kurilenko, who had repeatedly distinguished himself in battles, rushed into the attack. The enemy's fortifications were taken by storm. During the assault, we lost 18 killed and 172 wounded...I am asking to award the Commander of the 8th Regiment, Comrade Kurilenko, with the Order of the Red Banner” (Dybenko fails to mention the major role of Makhno’s forces, including a Greek infantry regiment, in the capture of Mariupol, nor is it clear whether Kurilenko ever received the medal).

When Makhno was outlawed by the Bolshevik authorities in summer 1919 Kurilenko remained within the Red Army, commanding the 8th Division of Red Cossacks, in the course of time receiving six wounds in combat. But in May 1920 Kurilenko broke with the Red Army and rejoined the Makhnovist forces.

From May 1920 to July 1921 Kurilenko headed up the administrative and organisational department of the Soviet of Revolutionary Insurgents of the Ukraine (SRPU), the Makhnovist council, deputy commander of the Makhnovist forces and head of the Makhnovist cavalry.

Kurilenko died in a battle with the Red Cavalry near Lozovaya on 8th July 1921.

Nick Heath