A short account of the lives of the Lepetchenko brothers, Alexander and Ivan, who fought with the Makhnovists.
Alexander (born 1890) and Ivan Lepetchenko (born 1899) were the sons of the police constable Savelya Lepetchenko (from a poor peasant background) who died in a shoot-out with the Semeniuta brothers (leading lights in the Gulyai Polye Anarchist Communist Group) in 1909. Alexander became an anarchist communist in 1907. In his childhood and adolescence he was known as a tearaway.
He joined the Gulyai Polye Anarchist Communist Group in 1917. He led detachments against the Austro-German invaders and was the first commander of the Black Guard (1917-1918) in the region. He was known as being brave and honest. He joined the Makhnovist movement in summer 1918 and was the personal adjutant of Makhno, working in the counter-intelligence unit and then on the Makhnovist staff. He was shot by the Reds when they occupied Gulyai Polye in January 1920.
Ivan became an anarchist communist in 1917, joining the detachment of his brother. In summer 1918 he joined the Makhnovist movement. At the age of eighteen and a half he fought in the 14th Red Army Division commanded by Voroshilov in the defence of Tsaritsyn. When the Makhnovists operated as divisions within the Red Army - under the first treaty between them and the Bolsheviks - he was the personal bodyguard of Makhno when he was commander of the 3rd Transdnieper Brigade of the Red Division when it liberated Mariupol, Perekop and many other cities. He acted as his bodyguard in August 1921 when the seriously wounded Makhno was ferried across the Dniester river to Romania. He then shared the same existence of Makhno in the prisons of Romania and Poland. He returned to the Soviet Union with an amnesty but was subject, much like Zuychenko and Chuchko, to persistent hounding by the authorities.
He was tried by the Zaporozhe GPU on the following ludicrous charges: that being released from a Warsaw prison, he took over leadership of a raid to free Makhno from the same jail. Gathering tools and weapons, he terminated the plan after receiving a letter from Makhno to do so; with other anarchists in 1925 he planned to blow up a railway bridge in the Polish town of Kovel. This was aborted with the arrest of the others, Lepetchenko illegally crossing the border into the Ukraine in October 1925. Apart from the fact that these alleged crimes were committed in a foreign country outside Soviet jurisdiction, it should be remembered that Poland was seen as a major enemy of the Soviets at this time.
The charge of illegal entry soon collapsed when it was revealed that Lepetchenko had been given permission to return from the Soviet ambassador in Warsaw, who had promised him immunity after consultation with Moscow. Charges were dismissed and Ivan was freed. However the harassment continued. Almost every year he was arrested and interrogated. As a secret police document noted: "As a personal friend of Nestor Makhno, he joined the gang voluntarily and was with the organisation till the last ... he particularly distinguished himself in action against the revolutionary-minded masses and had the special trust of Makhno for whom he was the last personal adjutant and bodyguard ... he - Lepetchenko - was involved in all (Makhnovist N.H.) counterintelligence actions and was in close, friendly relations with the head of counter-intelligence. “The Mariupol police authorities contradicted this document, writing on the back that due to a series of amnesties Lepetchenko was subject to release and that any disagreement should be taken up with the central authorities of the Ukraine. Lepetchenko used this argument during further arrests, pointing to the fact that all Makhnovists were released from criminal liability for the past with the 1927 amnesty to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution.
However, in 1937 when the Stalin regime launched its murderous campaigns against all perceived enemies, all amnesties and indeed the Criminal Procedure Code were ignored. Lepetchenko was arrested in Mariupol on October 20th 1937 by the Donetsk regional NKVD. The charges were that “Lepetchenko Ivan Savelyevich, 1899, born the son of a police constable, served in the Makhno gang as his personal bodyguard. After the defeat of the gang he fled to Romania. In 1924 he returned to the USSR. Charged with that pursued active counter-revolutionary activities, discredited leaders of the Party and government.” He was sentenced to death with the confiscation of his property. He was shot on the same day in the cellar of the Mariupol NKVD.
The case lay in the archives for thirty odd years, until his son Viktor wrote from Yuzhno-Urilsk for an update from the State prosecutor. An investigation was set up and it was eventually decided on December 30th 1971 that no evidence of criminal activity had been offered at the hastily convened trial and that the case was repealed.
Ivan Lepetchenko worked in Mariupol in the Ilyich factory. He lodged with another worker there. The latter’s son, already advanced in years, described him to a newspaper as tall , thin, physically strong and given to bouts of excessive drinking. Like many anarchists of the period he prided himself on his appearance and had a good suit.
There remains the allegation that he was recruited by the NKVD as a result of a deal to return to the Soviet Union, but that he offered nothing to them in ten years!! Viktor Belash in his memoirs states that Ivan returned to the Ukraine with Makhno’s agreement to attempt to rebuild the movement. If this is the case, this may be the same game that the Zadov brothers may have been playing when they too returned to the Soviet Union.
Alexander and Ivan had a sister, Maria and a brother, Pavel. They were also anarchist communists. Maria died in 1919 (If anyone has any information on the circumstances of her death I would be grateful). Pavel died on the 20th October 1937 (Was he shot by the NKVD? Again any evidence would be welcome).