A short biography of Grigory Savonov, Makhnovist commander
Grigory Savonov was born on October 27th, 1898 in the village of Tsareborisov in the Izyum district, Kharkov province. He came from a peasant family.
He worked as a tailor and then in railway workshops.
He volunteered to join the Russian Army in 1915, where he earned 2 St. George’s Crosses and 2 St. George’s medals, and gained officer rank, either as a warrant officer, or according to other sources as a second lieutenant.
The Russian Revolution found him in 1917 joining first the Social Revolutionaries and then the Left Social Revolutionaries. With the installation of the Central Rada in Ukraine, he returned to his home where he was appointed commander of the town and Tsareboris station.
In 1918 he led a large partisan detachment that fought against Hetman Skoropadsky. For a while he supported the Petliura rising, but when the military regime of the Ukrainian nationalist Colonel Petr Bolbocan was installed in Kharkov province, he began to sympathise with the Bolsheviks.
He joined the Communist Party of the Ukraine, and became a Red Army commander, leading a battalion fighting the White forces of Denikin in the Donbas basin. However, the battalion was disbanded for disobeying the orders of the high command. In April 1921 he became the assistant to the military commissar of Izyumsk district. In May he was sent on a 3-month course for Red commanders in Kiev, at the same time being involved in combatting the forces of Ataman Zeleny.
In September 1919 he was assigned to organise a detachment of Red partisans fighting in the rear of the Whites in the forests near Sumy. In December, with the retreat of the Whites, he became district commissar of the Izyumsk district. In June 1920 he was appointed head of a commission to eliminate desertion. However, he had qualms about these actions, and was becoming thoroughly disillusioned with the Bolsheviks, particularly after he was told to burn villages and shoot peasant hostages.
As a result, he met up with the Makhnovists in late July 1920. He organised a local garrison uprising and brought 250 fighters over to the Makhnovist forces.
He went with 50 cavalrymen to the Teplyansky forest and created a partisan detachment there, linking up with other Makhnovist commanders- Sirobaba, Kolesnichenko - in the area.
The main Makhnovist forces raided in the Don, capturing Konstantinovgrad, and on August 27th, 1920 attacking Izyum. Savonov’s forces joined with Makhno here and defeated the Red detachments. In October, Savonov gathered together the different Makhnovist units of 1,000 fighters. At a congress of insurgents and peasants he was proclaimed Batko (Little Father) of the Izyum insurgents.
The same month, the Makhnovists went into alliance with the Reds against Wrangel. Savonov rejected this on political grounds, but also because as a defector from the Red Army he feared being arrested by the Reds and possible execution. At the same time, Savonov feared that, as a recent defector from the Bolshevik army, the red “allies” would try to arrest and transfer him to the tribunal. Nevertheless, he operated along with Fedor Shchus’s detachments against Wrangel and on October 16th was commander of the 4th Infantry Regiment in the Makhnovist forces commanded by Belash and Petrenko.
Savonov’s group and other Makhnovist detachments were defeated near Gulyai Pole by the White general Morozov in late October. Savonov was seriously wounded in the battle, and had a lengthy treatment and convalescence.
After the defeat of Wrangel, the Reds turned on the Makhnovists. Savonov’s detachment was the first to be attacked on November 26th. It managed to break out of an encirclement and took part in the battles for Gulyai Pole.
However, in late January 1921, Savonov and the former commander of the 2nd Crimean cavalry regiment of the Makhnovists, Kharlashko (1) robbed a church in the town of Korca. There were strict regulations in the Makhnovist forces against looting, and the commission for anti-Makhnovist activities began an investigation. Fearing repercussions, Savonov and Kharlashko went to the Teplyansky forests, and gathered a new detachment of 100-150 fighters. Savonov regularly sallied forth against the Bolshevik requisitioning squads, returning the confiscated goods to the peasants.
The Reds threw 4 regiments against them and a harsh struggle took place. On March 5th, Savonov was defeated at Bolshoi Kamyshevakh and up to 50 partisans were captured.
In March-April 1921, Savonov disarmed a Bolshevik detachment, shot its leaders, and released the rest. But the next day the Reds counter-attacked, destroying Savonov’s detachment and taking up to 100 fighters prisoner. However, Savonov with some of his fighters managed to escape. In early April Kharlashko was killed at Barvenkovo station, and part of his detachment joined that of Savonov.
Makhno sent word to Savonov in April that he was forgiven for his plundering of the church. Savonov had now gathered up to 600 fighters in the forests but lost three quarters of his forces in battles in the Poltava and Kharkov regions in May.
In June 1921, Savonov tried to link up with the forces of Maslakov in the north Caucasus. However, on his way there he was wounded and was unable to make a link-up.
On July 22nd, 1921 he was captured by a Chekist punitive squad at the village of Sinicheno in the Teplyansky forest, where he was being treated for his wounds. His adjutant Shkarup escaped with several other fighters and left for the Caucasus. The remnants of Savonov’s detachment then joined the Makhnovist detachment of Kamenyuk (see his biography here at libcom).
Savonov was tried and executed in Kharkov in January 1922, although according to other sources he died in the Chekist torture chambers.
Savonov, like other Makhnovists and indeed Makhno himself, is being appropriated by the Ukrainian nationalists as a fighter for “national independence”, a gross distortion and travesty when the Makhnovist movement was founded on internationalist principles. Witness the film by Leonid Shchibry made in 2012, where these distortions are repeated in the last quarter of the film.
(1) Real name Harlampiy Obshchiy, a Crimean Tatar and anarchist, known as Little Red Riding Hood in the anarchist underground before 1917. Became an anarchist in 1907. Took part in attacks on Tsarist authorities in 1908.Joined the Makhnovists in 1919. Kharlashko’s adjutant was Ivan Khersonsky, a metal worker originally from Nikolaev, moved to Yekaterinoslav. A Left Communist, he moved to anarchist communism in 1917. He joined the Makhnovists in May 1919. Died of wounds in July 1921.