"Under the black flag of the oppressed": Belarusian anarchist Vasily Kolyada (Korostelev)

In 1925, the Gomel GPU (Main Political Directorate) has arrested track maintenance worker Korostelev at the double track section Yakimovka (446 km of the Western Railway). Archived investigation case of this detainee opens with a fragment of a paper sheet with the beginning of a hand-written biography of one F. D. Korostelev. The sheet in crumpled and covered by brown spots, possibly traces of blood, which allows us to suppose that “physical active interrogation method” (as it was known at the time) was used. The next sheet contains testimony from V. V. Kolyada, an anarchist who was hiding under the name of Korostelev.

Vasily Varfolomeyevich Kolyada was born in February 1892 in the village of Tevli in Muravichskaya volost (district) of Pruzhansky uezd (county) of Hrodna guberniya (province), now Brest Region’s Kobrinsky District in Belarus, in a family of ethnic Belarusian peasants. He graduated from a people’s school. The family, in which there were three brothers, suffered from lack of land. So in 1910 Vasily illegally emigrated to America using the money his brothers collected. He worked at railway car shops. In Baltimore Vasily joined a social-democratic organisation. However, in 1914 he joined the anarchist Union of Russian Workers in America, after a lecture which was read by anarcho-syndicalists. During his time in emigration, Kolyada maintained close relations with prominent anarcho-syndicalists Vladimir Shatov and Vsevolod Volin, would-be chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Makhno Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine.

In 1917, after the February Revolution, Kolyada returned to Russia via Vladivostok. He was mobilised, and the former emigre has found himself at reserve regiment No 175 and then on a front line near Riga. Kolyada did not want to take part in the imperialist war that felt alien to him, so he deserted from the army in August 1917. He arrived in Petrograd (now St Petersburg, Russia), where the Provisional Government has started mass persecution of anarchists by then. Kolyada was arrested and sent back to the army again. He was forwarded to the Vitsebsk guberniya (province) town of Dvinsk (now Daugavpils, Latvia), and then to infantry regiment No 118, to the trenches (we have already mentioned the anarchist-minded Dvinsk soldiers). Kolyada was wounded, and was granted a month-long leave after he was cured. Before the October Revolution he was in Petrograd, where he actively participated in the events. Soon thereafter he travelled to Yekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine) where he connected to the local anarchist group, some of members of which he named as “comrades Kabas, Anatolyev, Semenov” [Archive of the KGB Directorate for Gomel Region. Case 574997. Sheet 7.]

As a member of the Red Guard, in 1918 Kolyada retreated from Yekaterinoslav to Rostov-on-Don (Nestor Makhno has made the same journey at the same time). Later on, Kolyada found himself in Chelyabinsk and Omsk. He volunteered to serve in the Red Army, and held the post of a machine gun operator. Went underground during the revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion. After the reds came, Kolyada worked in the militia (police) of the city of Novonikolayevsk (now Novosibirsk, Russia), from which he was fired. He signed up to work at a railroad reconstruction brigade, then worked at Chusovskoy metallurgical plant (in Chusovoy, Perm guberniya), where he once again met a group of anarchists - Solovyev, Isakov, Maria the Teacher, Bobchik, Mazetyev. Kolyada participated in producing and distributing leaflets, carried out anti-war agitation. He was arrested by the Perm road and transport emergency committee (DTChK) and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. At the penal colony, Kolyada worked as a time-keeper, and has managed to steal papers in the name of F. D. Korostelev at the colony’s office. In order to escape, he agreed to fictitously collaborate with the Cheka, was amnestied, and in March 1922 sent to Moscow. He escaped to Minsk, where he lived clandestinely. From Minsk, Kolyada planned to cross the Soviet-Polish border, but he failed to do that. So the escaped anarchist has got a job at the Western Railway’s Yakimovka double track section. Which was where the GPU has eventually traced and arrested him.

Vasily Kolyada knew many prominent and active participants in the Russia-wide anarchist movement of the time. Apart from the aforementioned Volin and Shatov, they included A. Zheleznyakov, V. Zamotayev, P. Torbin, S. Konduktorev, Lyakhov, Zykin, Gushchin, Zilberov, Obolensky, Plotkin, Gavrilov. It has to be mentioned that in the early 1920s, the former anarcho-syndicalist Zamotayev has worked in Rechytsa as an authorised representaive of the province’s economic authority. Is that the man mentioned in the interrogation protocol? Could Kolyada, who worked at Yakimovka in Rechytsa uezd (county), have connections to Zamotayev, who worked in Rechytsa?

Whilst his case was being investigated, V. Kolyada has sent a letter to the Central Committee of the International Red Aid (MOPR), asking for assistance and for having his children placed in an orphanage. Kolyada’s family included a wife, a seven-years-old son and a two-months-old daughter. He told investigators that he was long prepared to surrender to the authorities voluntarily but was afraid to “kill his family” by doing that as his wife married him against her father’s will. [Ibid., sheet 7]

Kolyada was transferred to Moscow’s Butyrka prison. On November 27, 1925, the Special Council under the GPU tribunal has sentenced him to three years in concentration camps. A prison doctor who examined him has registered muffled heart sounds, but Kolyada was sent to the notoriously harsh Solovki special purpose camp (SLON) despite that. A large number of politicals, socialists and anarchists, were serving their sentences at SLON at the time. At the same time, former White Guard officers served as the camp’s administrators and guards, according to author Varlam Shalamov, and they were particularly intolerant towards the imprisoned revolutionaries. In 1923, a protest by political prisoners at the Solovki camp has ended in the tragic death of six people.

According to special agent Belyshev, Kolyada “has been repeatedly subjected to punishment during his time at the concentration camp for non-compliance with the discipline and for organising obstruction”. [Ibid., sheet 20] His case was once again sent to the Special Council. By order on August 7, 1928, the GPU Special Council has sentenced Vasily Kolyada to exile in the Urals town of Irbit. Operative surveillance reported that after arriving at the exile location the stubborn Belarusian “referred to himself as an anarchist in conversation”. [Ibid., sheet 20] His exile term finished in November 1931. In 1939 Kolyada was arrested again.

Kolyada’s archive investigation case does not have a definitive conclusion. On March 9, 1951 an orientation briefing for search and for the case of V. V. Kolyada has been sent to the Brest directorate of the State Security Ministry, addressed to Maj. Polyakov. State security bodies were not aware of Kolyada’s whereabouts then. But in April 1953, deputy chief of the special department No. 1 Col.-Lt. Sukhikh has returned Kolyada-Korostelev’s archive investigation case to the chief of special department No. 1 of the Interior Ministry of the USSR Col. Kuznetsov “as no longer needed”. [Ibid., sheet 27] One of the possible meanings of such a bureaucratic exchange was that the wanted Brest Region anarchist has been up to his old tricks and escaped once again. However, the case did not contain any further details…

The truth was discovered several years later. The author has managed to locate the son and other close relatives of Vasily Kolyada, who lived in the Kobrin area, and to get information which augmented the suddenly cutting archive case. It turns out that in 1940 Kolyada was once again sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment under article 59. He served his term at Pechorlag concentration camp. Approximately in 1943 or 1944 Vasily Kolyada was released due to health condition. Chelyabinsk Region town of Troitsk was prescribed to him as a place of residence. Vasily Kolyada found a job as a mechanic at an agricultural enterprise. He was given a flat in Troitsk, and was able to take him family there, from the devastated Belarus, which was just liberated from the Germans. In May 1947, Vasily Varfolomeyevich Kolyada and his family have after all returned to their home village of Tevli, in Kobrinsky District of Brest Region. This man, whose lot was hard, but who was not broken by years of unfair persecution, died on July 10, 1953.

Yuri Glushakov

Excerpt from “Revolution Is Dead! Long Live the Revolution!”: Anarchism in Belarus 1902—1927 [“Revolyutsiya umerla! Da zdravstvuyet revolyutsiya!” Anarkhizm v Belarusi 1902-1927] by Yuri Glushakov, published by SzSS [ https://slovosleva.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/hlusak… ], St Petersburg, 2015. Pp. 150-153. Translated by Szarapow.

[Translator’s note]:

Folder 73, Fléchine (Senya Fleshin) papers, International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, contains a number of letters sent by Kolyada (Bazyli Kolada in Polish spelling) from Tevli (Tewle) in what was then Poland in 1930-1934 to S. Fleshin and J. Doubinsky.

On August 17, 1930, he sent a letter addressed to Donbinsky (sic) using contact information that Alex. [Alexei or Alexander] Ilyich Fedorov, with whom he served his hard labour sentence, gave him. Kolyada escaped from exile in the Urals with another comrade, Anton Novikov, who was detained by Soviet border guards just outside the border. Kolyada managed to escape through a forest despite gunfire from the border guards, and spent two months in a Polish prison in Vileyka for illegal border-crossing.

Kolyada was often unable to keep in contact with his wife Yekaterina and his children, as his letters to her in the USSR were apparently stopped by the authorities. He was unable to secure a permanent job, not being a Polish citizen, so funds sent by comrades were often his only lifeline. Polish authorities were sometimes seizing newspapers sent to Kolyada, and had him sign up at a police station. In early 1932 he started making plans to move to France, but his visa application was unsuccessful. (A note from Doubinsky to Vsevolod, presumably Volin, is also on file, asking to intervene on Kolyada’s behalf).

A long letter dated September 14, 1930, outlines the situation in the USSR, where Kolyada said a new revolution due to collectivisation drive by the government was imminent, as well as his experiences at Solovki, which he described in horryifying detail. It also includes a poem he wrote in 1929, which expresses his belief in the eventual triumph of anarchist revolution.

It concludes:

“We will build a life without parasites,
Without villainous authority of executioners.
Under the black flag of the oppressed
We will join our united ranks.”

From: "Revolyutsiya umerla! Da zdravstvuyet revolyutsiya!" Anarkhizm v Belarusi 1902-1927. Translated by: - Szarapow.