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“They Fought Keeping Faith in Their Souls…”

07.03.2019

100 years ago, on the night of March 10–11, 1919, the Upper Don rebellion broke out. It was one of the most tragic events in the history of the Don Cossacks, it became the central theme of the novel “And Quiet Flows the Don” by M.A.Sholokhov.

The insurrection having broken out in Shumilin Village of Stanitsa Kazanskaya within the first day had covered a huge territory of the Upper Don country on both the banks of the River Don. M.A.Sholokhov writes in his novel “And Quiet Flows the Don”: “The rebellion swelled like high water, it flooded all the Don country, the steppes, four hundred versts in circumference. Twenty-five thousand Cossacks mounted the horses. Ten thousand infantry squads started from the Upper Don villages”. Stanitsa Vyoshenskaya, as a district stanitsa, became the centre, where the rebel headquarters were located.

The cause of the uprising was the merciless terror of the Bolsheviks against Cossacks. In spite of the fact that within December 1918 – January 1919, the Upper Don Cossacks left the Don Army and made a truce with the Reds on condition of the district boundaries immunity, on January 24, 1919, the Organizing Bureau of the Communist Party Committee adopted a secret directive “about the attitude to Cossacks”. The revolutionary committees were set a task: “Old Cossacks must be burned in the flame of the social revolution”.

In the novel “And Quiet Flows the Don” Sholokhov tells about Commissar Malkin, a real historical person, who shot Cossacks in the stanitsas of Ust-Medveditsa, Slashchovskaya, Bukanovskaya. Later Sholokhov wrote to M.Gorky: “Not exaggerating, I have pictured the harsh reality that preceded the uprising; besides, I deliberately missed such facts that were immediate cause of the uprising, as extrajudicial execution of 62 old Cossacks in Stanitsa Migulinskaya or executions in Stanitsa Kazanskaya and Stanitsa Shumilinskaya, where the number of the executed Cossacks (former elected village chieftains, cavaliers of St. George, wachtmeisters, honorary judges of the village, school trustees and other village bourgeoisie and counterrevolution) within 6 days had reached over 400 people” (M.A.Sholokhov wrote in his letter to A.M.Gorky on June 6, 1931).

The Cossacks driven into despair proved to be capable of self-organization, they acted clearly, consistently and quickly being professional fighters. Many of them for their personal courage were awarded and given officer ranks. Within three days detachments were formed to come to Vyoshenskaya, and an interim district

council was elected. The rebels appealed to the population with a proclamation: “…The uprising is raised not against the power of the Soviets and Soviet Russia, but only against the Communist Party, who seized power in our native land into their own hands ... We submit to the power of the Soviets, but these authorities must be elected from among its population, they must know all the needs and features of the life and must be the true spokesmen for the will of the People. Down with the commune and executions!”

On March 21, 1919, the district council assigned Pavel Kudinov rebel commander. By March 30, the Upper Don stanitsas had numbered 15000 rebels, who withheld the area of 300 versts in circumference, and early in May, by the moment of the first contact with the Don Army, the rebels had numbered 25000.

The Command of the Red Army Southern Front was forced to throw into the fight against the rebels more and more new forces, removing them from the combat positions. V.I.Lenin was personally involved in organizing suppression of the uprising. He sent over twenty messages and telegrams with the demand to quell the insurgency as soon as possible.

The Upper Don rebellion was not crushed. During June 7 – 8, 1919, the rebel forces managed to come into connection with the equestrian group of General Sekretyov, and then they joined the Don Army. The uprising participants persevered against the Reds, they gained the victory. This was the only popular uprising, which was crowned with success.

On June 23, 1919, the rebel commander P.N.Kudinov, issued his last order, where he spoke about the victory: “We fought keeping faith in the souls of honest citizens for the resurrection of the strangled truth, and we have won!” But there were bitter words in that order: “…Glorious eagles! You are now subordinate to other leaders more worthy of us, so goodbye, rebel brothers, immortal Upper Don Cossacks!...” The lives of the rebellion participants are brightly shown in the novel “And Quiet Flows the Don” by M.A.Sholokhov.

On March 11, 2019, Sholokhov-Centre of the Museum-Reserve of M.A.Sholokhov will open the exhibition “Brothers, Do not Judge Your Brother…” dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Upper Don rebellion. It shows the exhibits from the collection of the National M.A.Sholokhov Museum-Reserve, the Rostov Regional Museum of Local History and the Novocherkassk Museum of the Don Cossack History.

Olga Bakhtiyarova