April 1 — The sad fate of Trostianets, confirmed; and a visit with the ghosts of Huliaipole

On March 28th, Ukrainian forces liberated Trostianets, a small town in the northeast corner of the country, from its Russian occupiers. Trostianets was under military occupation for thirty days. While a damage assessment is in progress — a job complicated by the mines left by the retreating Russian troops — some things are already clear. The center of Trostianets is utterly ruined. The sad fate of the 18th Century fortified theater that we speculated about in our March 2nd post has been confirmed. There is no information yet about the status of the main building of the Golytsin estate; however, the house constructed by Leopold Koenig, a sugar baron and the last owner of the estate before the Revolution, has been destroyed. This elegant Art Nouveau villa, built in 1911 in the estate’s parklands, was included in the Ukrainian register of architectural monuments.

Perhaps its status will now be changed from “villa” to “ruin.”

Meanwhile, in Huliaipole, a town on the front lines in eastern Ukraine, the situation has become grave. Russian troops are constantly bombarding it. The name Huliaipole is familiar to every Ukrainian — and also to many who identify as “anarchists” worldwide. Nestor Makhno (1888–1934), a man who dreamed of an anarchist Free Territory within Ukraine and who led a peasant army organized along anarchist principles during the Russian Civil War, was born in Huliaipole.

Nestor Makhno

The town became the center of a Ukrainian anarchist revolution in the years 1918-1921. At the peak of their strength, Makhno’s forces included more than 100,000 soldiers. Makhno was notorious for his grotesque brutality; at the same time, he was the only Civil War commander who punished his own troops with death for participating in pogroms against the Jews.

Betrayed and defeated by the Bolsheviks, Makhno left the country and spent the rest of his days in Paris, where he died in 1934. He is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery. However, his struggle inspired generations to come. During the Spanish Civil War, one of the brigades of anarcho-syndicalists was named after Makhno.

The memory of this charismatic leader who suffered under the Soviet yoke blossomed after Ukraine gained independence. Huliaipole’s Local Museum collected documents and memorabilia relating to Makhno that had been preserved by his relatives and neighbors.

Huliaipole’s Local Museum
An exhibit in the museum dedicated to Makhno

The museum has in its collection one of Makhno’s tachankas, a light, horse-drawn cart armed with a Maxim machine gun. This was the mobile artillery of choice of the Ukrainian anarchists, who were known for the speed and deadly efficiency of their cavalry raids. Another tachanka serves as one of the town’s memorials to the Makhno army.

Makhno Army Memorial in Huliapole

The prospects for the Local Museum and the town’s memorials look very grim in the face of relentless bombardment.

Someone should warn the Russians not to wake the ghost of the famous anarchist, lest he swoop down in a spectral tachanka and give them a taste of their own medicine.