A short account of the killing of Makhnovist commander Ivan Pogrebnyak alias The Flea
Ivan Pogrebnyak was an anarchist and Makhnovist commander, a native of Baranivka village in the Poltava district. He received the nickname of Blokh (Flea) because unlike his parents and siblings, he was of small stature. He was part of the detachment of Kameniuk (see the Andrei Avramenko bio) and operated as Kameniuk’s right hand. At some point he separated from Kameniuk, either because of a falling out or for strategic reasons, and with 50 mounted fighters operated in the area around Baranivka. Unlike other parts of the region, the area has no forests to hide in, so the detachment sought refuge among the reed beds of the many swamps and bogs there. From there they sallied forth to attack Bolshevik food requisitioning squads.
By now during 1921, the Makhnovist detachment of Black Marusia had been eradicated by the Reds and the Kameniuk detachment had incurred severe losses, Kameniuk himself being killed in November.
The anonymous commander of the 14th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Don Division of the Red Army was to write that he sent a team of mounted reconnaissance troops led by Bakluchinsky to the Gorodische village to deal with Makhnovist bands in the area after the battle against Kameniuk in the Streltsovka district.
Bakluchinsky wrote to the commander on June 22nd stating that he had apprehended members of the Blokh group hiding in the reedbeds and that under interrogation one of them had told him the approximate whereabouts of his unit.
The commander then reinforced Bakluchinsky’s troop to 18 cavalry and supplied 2 machine guns. Bakluchinsky told him that it would be impossible to capture the insurgents because he and his combatants had no knowledge of the reed beds and would incur heavy losses if they tried to attack the Blokh group.
The commander was approached by the Chekist Dmitri Medvedev (see the Kameniuk biography for Medvedev’s role in Kamenyuk’s death). Medvedev suggested that a Chekist unit disguise themselves as insurgents and introduce themselves as such to the villagers of Baranivka.
On June 24th-25th this disguised unit arrived at Baranivka and in a staged shootout arrested the Red Army counter-insurgency group, to the joy of the local population, who came forth with complaints about the plundering of livestock and bread by the Red Army. Bakluchinsky’s men were locked in a barn and the captured insurgent was released.
This insurgent then went to Blokh’s unit hiding in the reeds saying that other insurgents had arrived in the village. Blokh replied that he would like to meet in the reeds with the leader of the fake insurgents. This Chekist then convinced Blokh to come to the village to attend a people’s trial of the captured Red Army men.
Blokh then went to the village with 20 men and introduced his chief of staff and other officers of his unit to the Chekists. However, he told those remaining in the reeds that if he was not back by dinner, then they should make a quick escape from their hideout. Bakluchinsky was brought to them for interrogation. A trial was arranged for the evening of the same day.
At this trial, the Chekist leader pulled out a revolver and shot the Flea dead. Two members of the insurgent unit managed to escape. The villagers, realising what was happening, fled the village.
Nine villagers were then tortured in public by the Chekist leader and his sergeant, with the Chekist leader smiling as if he enjoyed it. One insurgent admitted that there were three Stepans in the insurgent unit, although he did not know their surnames. As a result, villagers with the first name of Stepan were executed by the Cheka along with others. The number of those executed by the Cheka has been estimated at several to several dozen according to different reports, with one villager shot because he was mistaken for his neighbour. The bodies were buried outside the village cemetery. There were rumours that Blokh was among those buried there, but this is unlikely as usually the Reds took the bodies of insurgent leaders away for secret burial.
Among those who took part in this action was Andrei Vlasov, later a lieutenant general in the defence of Moscow in 1941, who then defected to the Nazis.
Medvedev was awarded a gold watch on November 28th (just after the killing of Kameniuk) for his actions against the Makhnovist insurgents.
Medvedev carried on his career as a Chekist until 1937 when he was dismissed from the NKVD for “concealing communications with his elder brother, arrested as an enemy of the people. His brother Alexander was associated with the “anti-Party group” of Gavriil Miasnikov, and died in the camps, as did his youngest brother Mikhail, the second brother Alexei, surviving the camps. Medvedev was reinstated in 1938 and went on to play a key role in the gulag system, working as the director of the Norilsk gulag.
Medvedev went on to great fame during World War Two, using the same tactics employed against the Blokh detachment, against first the Nazis and then against the Nazi-aligned UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) forces of Bandera in Volhynia.
A cross appeared on the site of those slaughtered at Baranivka some years ago, put up by a relative of one off those slain. Unfortunately, fascist neo-Banderists have tried to claim both Kamenyuk and Blokh as their own, turning up at the Baranivka site for a photo shoot and flying Nazi flags. The Flea as an internationalist and anarchist would have been revolted by this.
Testimonies from local villagers: http://chaika.org.ua/
Biography of Dmitri Medvedev: https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Медведев,_Дмитрий_Николаевич