In all reference books, his biography ends in 1922, when he seems to have returned from emigration to Ukraine. And now we have managed to find documents that shed light on the last eight years of the life of this extraordinary and heroic personality and true Ukrainian patriot.
First I got into my hands a small declassified document “About the Former General Lipko P. I.” in the State Archive of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine, and soon the research led to the State Archives in Chernihiv region, where the archival investigation file for Petro Ivanovych was kept. And although personal information is scanty, references and interrogation protocols do not allow to fully describe his entire life, but at last some individual scattered episodes can be folded together.
Social Origin: from the Cossacks
The identification card from 1927 reads that Petro Lipko (in some documents appears as Lypko) was born on December 16, 1876 in the town of Biryuch, Voronezh province. Differences in the date of birth, which still appeared in all reference books (December 3), can be explained as confusion in the old and new style dates.
In the personal data in the column “social origin” Petro Lipko usually wrote: from the Cossacks. There is no detailed information about his Cossack background in the documents. It is only known that the father of the future head of the UPR Army Staff Ivan Lipko was a non-commissioned officer of the Russian Imperial Army and at one time lived in the village of Branytsya of Nizhyn district in Chernihiv province. When and why the family moved to the city of Biryuch, is not known for sure. This Cossack settlement belonged to Ostrogozh Regiment of Sloboda (literally: borderland of free frontier guards — transl.) Ukraine. It was founded by the Cossack Sotnyk Ivan Medkov in 1705, together with the Cossack society, who moved to the upper reaches of the Tykha Sosna River, in the Biryucha Yaruha area.
Petro Lipko graduated from the 2-class public school in Oleksiyivka settlement of Biryuch district, studied for one year at the Voronezh Teachers’ Seminary, but he was not destined to become a teacher. The fate was preparing him for a brilliant military career. He began his service as a Private of the 2nd Trans-Caspian Rifle Battalion in the city of Ashgabat, where he soon returned as a Sergeant having graduated from the Tiflis Infantry Military College (1899). Later, he became a Second Lieutenant and continued his service in the 108th Saratov Infantry Regiment (Kovno).
In 1904, the 28-year-old Lieutenant Lipko was sent to the active Manchurian Army and enrolled as a junior officer to the 2nd East Siberian Rifle Regiment. The next two years were crucial in his military career. Few have succeeded within such a short period of time and in such a rank to receive four orders for bravery and heroism on the battlefield in direct contact with the enemy. The Russian Army’s opponents at that time were Japanese, because there was a Russian-Japanese war. After that war, Petro Lipko’s uniform coat was decorated with the orders of St. Anna 4th class, St. Stanislav 3rd class with swords and a bow, St. Anna’s 3rd class with swords and a bow and St. Stanislav 2nd class. And that was just the beginning.
The young brave officer was noticed. “He will make a good commander”, said senior officers and they were right. Petro Lipko himself was not going to dwell on the achieved. He tried to prove to himself and to others that a Cossack by birth, apart from fighting bravely, could be good at commanding. In 1908, he, already in the rank of Captain, entered the Nicholas Imperial Military Academy, from which he graduated with top scholarly rank in 1911.
The beginning of the First World War saw Lipko as Senior Adjutant at the Staff of the 1st Don Cossack Division in the rank of Captain. In the staff work, he already felt quite at home, at this being more interested not in paper, but in real work — in the development of plans for combat operations, commanding troops on the battlefield. Not surprisingly, at one of the crucial moments, he took the initiative and offered the best plan for the attack, for which he was awarded the Order of St. George 4th class (December 1915). The award submission read: “…for the fact that in the battles from 27 to 29 April 1915 near the villages of Onut, Balamutivka and Rzhaventsi, temporarily performing the duties of the Chief of Staff of the 1st Don Cossack Division, under a strong artillery and rifle fire, personally watched the battle and, correctly assessing the situation, offered the Division Commander a plan for the 9th Don Cossack Regiment’s attack on the strongly reinforced positions of the enemy, which was carried out and resulted in a complete success…”
Shortly before, Petro Lipko was awarded the Order of St. Vladimir 4th class with swords and a bow (November 1914) and St. Anna 2nd class (January 1915), as well as with the swords to the Order of St. Stanislav 2nd class (August 1915).
Then the order bearer served at the Staff of the 9th Army, where, along with other responsibilities, for a certain period of time he had to do with the military intelligence — he was a staff officer-aide at the Intelligence Department of the Staff. Soon he would need the specific skills he got there.
Meanwhile, there were new posts and ranks. In August 1917 he became a Colonel. It was his last rank in the Russian Imperial Army. It is unknown what military career he would have made in the future, if it had not been for the February Revolution of 1917 and the disintegration of the Russian Empire that followed. There is no doubt that it would have been successful.
At the same time, the proclamation in Kyiv by the Central Rada of the Ukrainian People’s Republic made significant adjustments to the life of Petro Lipko. The young Republic needed skilled personnel to protect itself from external threats. Colonel Lipko was chosen from the many as a descendant of the Zaporizhzhyan Cossacks, who in his environment never concealed the fact of being a Ukrainian and was always proud of his origin. In December 1917 he was appointed Commander of the Ukrainianized 10th Army Corps.
Serving the Ukrainian State
The officer corps of the 43rd Infantry Division, in which Lipko for more than a year had served as Chief of Staff, said a rather warm good-bye to the Colonel leaving for the new place of service. On the occasion, the Division Commander, Major-General Aleksandrov, even signed a not standard order. It stated: “Dear and highly respected Petro Ivanovych, your activity in the Division for more than a year had been daily affecting and felt by all in the Division, so there is no need for me to list your merits to the Division. One thing is for certain: You have worked hard for the well-being and dignity of it, showing at critical moments of combat your usual iron will and military calmness. Your workmates and associates and I, are glad that you were luckily picked up by the waves of the Ukrainian movement and brought by them to such command heights and might. All power to your elbow! We wholeheartedly wish this take-off to end in complete personal well-being and the greatest benefit for Ukraine”.
The Army Corps, which Lipko had to command, at that time was in the territory of Romania, where it was brought by the vicissitudes of the First World War. Soon, the Ukrainian Military Minister ordered to cross the Dniester to the Ukrainian territory and to demobilize the Corps. In early March of 1918, the Commander without his troops arrived in Kyiv, at the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the UPR, and reported on the execution of the order. After a brief conversation it became clear that the experienced Colonel could be useful at the Staff. He was included in the organizational commission for the formation of a new Ukrainian Army. But that commission existed only on paper and was chilling. Lipko did not like it, he was looking for real work.
In early June 1918, already under the Hetmanate, he was appointed Acting Chief of the 2nd Infantry Division of the Army of the Ukrainian State, stationed in Zhytomyr. As a professional military, he favorably treated the former General of the Russian Imperial Army Hetman Pavlo Skoropadskyi and ultimately supported the Hetman’s power. When anti-Hetman unrests began, he headed the Volyn Volunteer Officer Unit which opposed the troops of the Directory. It was in November 1918, and on December 18 he was captured, arrested and charged of opposing the Directory of the UPR.
Well, in that complex situation, the new authorities had enough common sense and cold reason to sort everything out, and not to resort to extreme measures. After all, Petro Lipko first of all supported the idea of Ukraine’s independence, which was decisive. Besides, professionals with such knowledge and experience in the new Ukrainian army were few and far between. He was offered different positions, like to head the Staff of the Chernihiv Group of Petlyura’s Army, acting in the Left Bank Ukraine. But he did not hurry to take a decision.
Eventually, given his work in the military intelligence of the Russian Imperial Army in the past, in February 1919 Lipko was asked to help organize intelligence work of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Some documents of that period mention that he was in the post of an Assistant Chief of the Intelligence Department of the UPR Army, while others state that he actually led the Intelligence of the General Staff of the UPR Army. After all, it is not the official wording of the post that matters, but what he was actually doing in it.
During the period of the Directory of the UPR, the Military Intelligence of Ukraine had a rather ramified organizational structure. It had a central office, regional bodies, relevant units of staffs of divisions, corps, brigades, field intelligence units, a school for training agents, etc. All this had to be skillfully managed and to timely provide the leadership of the General Staff with strategic and tactical intelligence information.
Petro Lipko proved to be good at this, and, in general, was well versed in what was happening at the theatres of war in Ukraine and abroad. In view of this he was first included in the UPR’s military delegation during the negotiations with the Polish Military Commanders about the armistice, and from July 17, 1919, he was appointed the head of the delegation. The negotiations, which took place in Lviv, were uneasy, but they still managed to gain understanding and a cessation of hostilities between the troops of the UPR and Poland, and a year later, to sign the Treaty of Warsaw (also the Polish-Ukrainian or Petlyura-Piłsudski Alliance or Agreement — transl.).
Having completed this diplomatic mission, Petro Lipko served at the Staff of the Chief Otaman fulfilling assignments. In May 1920, he was appointed Chief of Staff of the the UPR Army. October 5, the same year, he was promoted to the rank of Khorunzhyi-General. Probably that was one of the most difficult periods in the history of the UPR and in the military career of Lipko himself. Under the onslaught of the Bolshevik forces, the depleted units of the Ukrainian Army were gradually retreating to the West. In November 1920, after heavy fighting with the Red Army, they crossed the Zbruch and were interned by the Polish authorities.
Soon in the internment camps, the reorganization of the UPR Army began. The Command sought to preserve the structure of the Army, to create more or less acceptable conditions for a full-fledged socio-political and cultural life, among the soldiers were cultivated ideas of armed liberation of Ukraine. Petro Lipko first actively participated in that process. After leaving the post of the Chief of Staff, he was appointed Commander of the UPR Reserve Troops in November 1921. But that commanding did not last long.
It was then that the Second Winter Campaign of the small Ukrainian Army to the Ukrainian territory occupied by the Bolsheviks tragically ended. There is no information about Khorunzhyi-General Lipko’s preparations for it, nor about his attitude to that desperate and risky operation.
Until recently, further information about Lipko’s fate had been rather scarce. According to it, “in unclear circumstances, he turned to the Soviet Embassy in Poland, declaring his desire to return to Soviet Russia. In early October 1922 he left for Soviet Russia. His further fate is unknown, the traces of P. Lipko’s staying in the Soviet Union had never been found”. It was also noted that “among the interned troops of the UPR in Poland, there were rumors that, immediately after crossing the Soviet border, P. Lipko was arrested and sent to a concentration camp”.
Let’s set the record straight.
Petro Lipko did show a desire to return to his Motherland. This is confirmed by archival documents: “In December 1921, when I learned about the amnesty and the need to register in the Soviet Consulate, in order not to be deprived of citizenship, in early 1922 I arrived in Warsaw and filed relevant documents asking for permission to return to Russia”. He soon received such a permit, and in October 1922 he arrived in the village of Branytsya, Bobrovytsya volost, Kozelets district of Chernihiv province. His family originated from there, and his relatives lived there.
The village met him with caution. I should think so! A former officer of the Russian Imperial Army and Petlyura’s General! He himself realized this, so tried to stay in the background. Only with a close environment would he allow himself more frankness. Lipko was gradually getting accustomed to peaceful life. Which was fine if it were not for the biggest problem: the former General with higher military education, knowledge of the German, French and Polish languages, with the experience of commanding divisions and armies, could not find a job anywhere, in order to at least live a sheltered life and feed his family.
He would agree to any work. He worked as a watchman at the Bobrovytsya grain-collecting station, then as a seasonal worker, then as a night watchman or a time clerk at Bobrovytsya sugar refinery. Due to lack of money, he was struggling, but could not help it. At some point he left for Moscow. With great efforts, he found his acquaintances there, with whom he had studied at the Nicholas Imperial Military Academy and whom the Soviet authorities left in service, in particular, at the Military Academy of the Workers and Peasants’ Red Army. He hoped that they would help get a job in teaching. Far from it! The moment they learned about his service in the Petlyura Army and staying abroad in Poland, the door was closed to him. He returned with nothing. And the trip only added to his problems — he was noticed by local security officers from the Nizhyn District Department of the GPU.
The Chekists had been watching him before, but now even more so. They just had had other work besides the village of Branytsya. Although it was on a special NKVD’s record. To all that, in 1918 a group of “Free Cossacks” was organized in the number of 60–70 people. Under Soviet rule, former free Cossacks began to show dissatisfaction with the policy of “war communism” in the village, which in fact turned into a robbery of peasants and red terror. In early December 1919, in Branytsya, an insurgent unit was created. Armed with rifles and forks, the rebels killed 11 representatives of Soviet authorities, including the head of the village council. But the punitive Bolshevik detachment soon dealt with the disobedient.
Those events had not yet escaped from memory, so the Chekists were vigilant so as not to let sprouts of discontent manifest themselves with a new force. The appearance in the village of the former Petlyura’s General, of course, quite disturbed them. They started seeking approaches to him, meeting with him on various excuses. According to archival documents, they wanted to turn him into an obedient agent who would give information about the former Petlyurites. They even came up with a pseudo, which appears in the case — “Experienced”. But in fact, Petro Lipko, who had experienced worse than that, was beyond their capacity. He kept avoiding annoying visitors, and when they tried to press him, “began to respond with abusive letters”.
This is stated in the report by the agent of the Special Department of the GPU entitled “On the former General Lipko P. I.” from the State Archive of the SZR of Ukraine, from the case of former figures of the UPR’s Intelligence. “This behavior of Lipko’s”, — states the document, — “made us… start an investigation, and we began receiving evidence of Lipko’s anti-Sovietism”. Lipko’s operative case was gradually filled with new materials. Eventually, on January 26, 1930, they raided the modest house on the outskirts of Nosivka of Nizhyn District, where he had lived for the last two years, working as a land-surveyor at the district land department.
Among other things, the Chekists seized Lipko’s photographs of the past years in the circle of Ukrainian and Polish officers, books, letters, UPR’s bank notes, the Order of St. George 4th class, the only reward that had remained, and the most important for the investigation evidence of his counter-revolutionary anti-Soviet activity — his letter to the writer Maksim Gorky. This handwritten letter on four pages was found among various personal documents. It most clearly characterizes Petro Lipko’s views, attitudes and beliefs. Neither Soviet propaganda or the local Chekists’ attempts to change him, nor fear of possible punishment — nothing had prevented the writing of this frank, sharp, angry and social-political message to Gorky in response to the latter’s article in the newspapers “Pravda” and “Izvestia” under the title “To “Mechanical Citizens” of the USSR”.
This article was written by the proletarian writer in 1928 after visiting the Soviet Union (where he had not been since 1921) at the invitation of the Soviet government and Josef Stalin himself. Within five weeks Gorky had been taken to different regions and shown the achievements of the socialist system on choreographed objects. After that, he returned to the rented villa in Italy, where he constantly lived, and wrote a series of essays on how well the Soviet workers and peasants lived, even praised the life conditions and re-education of prisoners in the camps in Solovki. A number of critical letters that came to him after the publication of those essays, from the same workers and peasants who sought to open the writer’s eyes and show the real picture, unfortunately, had not persuaded the writer in any way. Moreover, he soon wrote in response an article “To “Mechanical Citizens” of the USSR”, which hit hard Petro Lipko.
Gorky called civilians, skeptics, pessimists and “enemies of the working people” “Mechanical Citizens”, who allegedly became citizens of the USSR mechanically, formally rather than in spirit or at their consciences dictate, and were engaged in criticism. In his letter, Petro Lipko admits that now he can enroll himself in this category of citizens. And then on concrete examples he tells about things which the writer did not see: about poverty, unemployment, enormous taxes and extortions, starvation, that the new rulers have occupied the royal palaces in the Kremlin, surrounded themselves, like their predecessors, with the secret police, militia, GPU, and are giving a bad time to the people and frankly lying.
“The falsehood”, he wrote, “is the greatest achievement of Soviet power. The falsehood from the very beginning, and probably, it will be to the last (not far already) of Soviet power… Factories to workers — a lie, land to peasants — a lie, self-criticism — a lie, one can’t name everything, it takes too much time. Everybody has realized this now, and no one can be convinced in the opposite, in the heat of the people’s anger, they believed and mistook them for the likeminded, but they were deceived. The peasants directly say about the collectivization — it is the return of serfdom… We will all be serves, we will forever be destined to forced labour”. And then, as a cry of his soul: “And woe be to the liars on the judgment day, on the day of the people’s wrath. But this is not the problem, the problem is that this great but unfortunate state, will be turned by new predators into a new colony”.
Petro Lipko advises Maksim Gorky to absolutely secretly, remembering the days of his youth, go from his palace in the bourgeois island of Capri to the bottom, to the people. “And knock about for at least 3 month as unemployed in Soviet institutions” he advises, “and then you will learn about all the “achievements”. And in conclusion Lipko adds: “And you there in Moscow keep telling about heaven: “raising people’s will to live, increasing the hatred to reality, inherited from the past”.
This letter was like a bomb explosion. Although two years had passed since the date of his writing (October 1928), it was enough to arrest Petro Lipko and to accuse him of anti-Soviet activities. Interesting and informative is the reaction of the former Khorunzhyi-General to all the charges, and this, perhaps, best of all shows the features of his character. Under interrogation, he did not even try to justify anything, did not repent, did not deny his words and did not change his views.
“What did you mean when you wrote that it was necessary to drive out of the Kremlin all the feudals-despots of the Marxist style?” — asked the investigator. “By this I meant the Soviet government”, — he answered.
“Now to the question of falsehood… What did you want to say by this?” — the investigator asked. “I intended to say that the angry peasants will rebel and quickly overthrow the Soviet government”.
And finally, one of the last questions that the investigators were interested in: “About whom were you writing: “The secret police of the last Soviet institution?” “I wrote this about the GPU”, — replied Lipko honestly.
This phrase in the interrogation protocol is twice underlined with a red pencil and there are three exclamation marks next to it. Actually, that was already a verdict. The investigation did not last long. In fact, there was no investigation as such. In the thin investigation file, there is no evidence or documentary confirmations of Petro Lipko’s “anti-Soviet activity”, just a letter to Maksim Gorky and the interrogation protocol of the accused, dated from February 3, 1930. And the next day, the Nizhyn District Department of the GPU already issued a cynical ruling: “To send to the Special Troika at the Collegium of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR with a petition for the application to Lipko of the highest measure for social protection — shooting to death”.
On February 27, 1930, the NKVD Troika passed the expected verdict: “To execute Petro Lipko by shooting”. There is no date for the execution of the verdict. The archival documents only state that it took place in March of that year.
In August 1989, the Chernihiv Prosecutor’s Office issued a decision on the rehabilitation of Petro Lipko. Interestingly, in the conclusion appears the surname “Linko”. Probably the typist made a mistake. But the document was never retyped. The word was crossed out in hand and above it “Lipko” was written with the ball pen. Nobody knew anything about the unknown fighters for Ukraine’s independence in Soviet times. Their surnames were not audible, they never appeared in museum expositions, on memorial plaques, or in school textbooks. But the uncompromising time puts everything in its place…
the researcher of the history of intelligence services,
Advisor to the Chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine