The Fate of the Resident

By chance he became the owner of inheritance in the West, a distant relative of a wealthy industrialist in the pre-war Germany, well known in the past member of the Nazi Party, Standartenfuehrer, who successfully continued his career after the war. Thanks to his determination and natural talents, he became a successful businessman, establishing and maintaining contacts with senior scientists, ministers and even some of the first persons and their close relatives, who did not know that they were dealing with a Soviet intelligence officer, deep-cover agent. Representatives of the foreign intelligence noticed him and tried to recruit in order to make him fulfill tasks in one of the Eastern European countries. After returning home he refused from a flat in Moscow and  modestly lived on a Colonel’s salary, and then- pension,  in Kyv, while on his overseas bank account there remained lying hundreds of thousands of foreign currency, which were not touched  of suspicions that they could  be controlled by security services.

Today, on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the founding of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the independent Ukraine (on 1st December) the first time we are telling  about this and the personality  of our intelligence officer, who is one of the brightest and most colorful figures in the history of the post-war Ukrainian Intelligence Service. We will just not  mention  all the countries where he had to work, and will slightly modify the real events, in order not to harm the interests of the Intelligence Service as well as those who assisted it, and their close relatives.

From the Files of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine

Fedir Khilko

”Khilko Fedir Illich, born in 1925, native of the village of Darmstadt, Melitopol district,  Zaporizhzhya region. Through the First Chief Directorate of the USSR KGB, for 17 years he had been a deep-cover agent. He carried out important tasks in several European countries. Among his sources there were employees of embassies, ministries of defense and foreign affairs. For the successful fulfillment  of intelligence tasks, he was awarded the Order of the Red Star, the medal “For Battle Merit” and in the years of independence of Ukraine – the Order “For Merit”, 3d  class. Besides, he was awarded three military orders and a number of medals for participation in the Great Patriotic War. Till his last days of life he participated in the preparation of future Ukrainian intelligence officers. He died in 1999“.

Salary through the Dead -Drop

The two-year long all-round individual work on preparation of another intelligence officer, deep cover agent was coming to its end. Fedir Khilko, one of the leaders of the practical training, as always, kept coming up with more tasks for the newbie. However, another proposal was met with a categorical rejection by even the highly experienced Chief of a unit of the 1st Department (Intelligence) of the KGB of the USSR.

- Fedir Illich, where have you seen the personnel employee’s salary being passed over through a dead-drop, let alone  making him  leave the hand-receipt about this with his fundamental data, – he wondered. – What if the money is accidentally taken by someone, who will compensate? You and I will be worn out by inspections.

- Cry me a river – did not give in F. Khilko – While abroad, I used to receive  dozens of times larger amounts through drops. At least he will know what a risk in a real situation is about. As for the money, even if by chance it is lost, I will compensate him from my own pocket.

After some time, the leadership of the Intelligence Service out of respect to Fedir Illich’s  authority,  did sanction the event. The urgency of the situation was fueled by additional conditions  thought  up  by the experienced intelligence officer.

- If to the place of withdrawing the money from the dead-drop you bring the prearranged  “external surveillance”, – F. Hilko said to the candidate, – your detaining on the spot will be provisional, but your losing the salary will be real.

As the testee told later, in all his studying he had never experienced a greater stress. But later he always spoke well of his teacher.

Fedir Khilko not accidentally paid such close attention to this issue. He had to do dead-drop exchange every month while abroad. And each time it was associated with great risk. Only careful preparation and thinking over every detail allowed him to feel confident in such situations, and only once the unforeseen circumstances made him worry.

… It was winter. Employees of our legal residency, having “cut off the tail”, left the city and near a farm left for Khilko a magnetic container, having attached it to a metal rail intended for a barbed wire fence.  Who would have thought that the day before a theft had happened on the farm and the owner decided  to arrange secret surveillance of the territory with  a shepherd dog just in case the unexpected visitors arrive again…

About nine o’clock in the evening Khilko was coming up to the familiar metal rail. Once again having looked around and seeing nothing suspicious, he took off a small container from  the back of the rail. Suddenly he heard a shout: “Stand still! What are you doing here? “In the container there were means for cryptography and other materials, clearly indicating the sphere of activity of their owner. The first thought that comes to many in such cases was: “It is a failure”. In front of Fedir  stood a stranger with a snarling shepherd dog, behind him was  the barbed wire. But his confusion lasted only a couple of seconds. Realizing that before him were neither representatives of counterintelligence nor the police, but just a local resident with a dog guarding their own private property, Khilko joked, that he  stopped because of a physiological need.

The war was long over, but he felt like at the forefront again. Again, there was barbed wire, sheepdogs’ barking, sweeping traces…

The Commander of the Reconnaissance Platoon

After the successful interrogation of the captured German General, the Commander of the Reconnaissance Platoon Fedir Khilko is in a good mood. Germany, 1945

When the war began, Fedir Khilko was sixteen years old. At that time he was secretary of the Komsomol committee of one of the schools in Melitopol. Like many of his peers, he was eager to go to the front, wrote applications to different authorities. As a result,  of the same as he, 16-year-olds, there  was formed a Voluntary Komsomol Engineer Regiment as part of the Southern Front, which, after repeated re-formations came  almost to Berlin as a Komsomol Assault Engineering Sapper Brigade. Khilko in it was a private of the Red Army, commander of a squad, assistant of the commander of a platoon, deputy of the political instructor of a company, and finally -commander of the reconnaissance platoon.

After another raid into the enemy’s rear, when Fedir and his comrades managed to seize a valuable German General, and then to take part in his interrogation as a translator, he was noticed by  representatives of the military counterintelligence. It turned out that Fedir was born and raised in the German settlement. In that village, everybody spoke mainly German, and the school was also German. When, after his father’s death  and mother’s new marriage, he had to move to Melitopol, where at the  new school, he, an excellent pupil, turned into an underachiever, because his knowledge of  the Russian language was poor. However, soon he caught up and became one of the leaders of the school.

In May 1945 Khilko becomes a military interpreter in the military Counter-Intelligence units of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany. But such a position did not quite satisfy him. Fyodor wanted to finish high school, to enter an institute. Only after the fourth report, in 1950, his request was granted, dismissing Khilko from security services.

Fedir went to work at Melitopol Engine Plant, entered the institute, got married, had a son and a daughter. At work everything went well. Soon, he was elected Chairman of the trade union of the plant, and then – the Secretary of the Party Committee. But one conversation radically changed his further life. The man who introduced himself as an employee of the state security agencies, offered him to work abroad as an intelligence officer- deep -cover agent. “Your command of German is brilliant, – he said. – And you can live abroad as an insider. Right now, many Germans for repatriation are coming back home from the Soviet Union. Under the guise of one of them we are planning to send you”.

In this situation, the most difficult was his leaving on his own, without his wife and children, who did not know German at all. However, after some hesitation Fedir Khilko agreed.

”To make it look believable, I decided to cross the border for real, like during the war”.

For the third day, he had been watching the border from a secret place.  From the distance of 300-350 meters he had a good view of the surrounding area, patrol guards’ route, the adjacent side. At that moment he was already a citizen of the GDR,  having lived in this country for over a year. For another two years before he had had special training in Kyiv: operational, juristic, cross-cultural. He had learned to receive radiograms, decrypt and encrypt messages, choose hiding places, write cryptographic reports, take photographs, identify surveillance and many other things. From morning till night he had been  getting used to the new image of the man, under the guise of whom  he was to live at the first stage in the intermediate country.

Now he had a new legend. According to it, he acted as a fugitive in the West, who was breaking through the Iron Curtain “to breathe the air of freedom”, as well as to receive the inheritance left to him by a distant relative in the form of the account in a bank and a life-long part of the income from the work of a large firm.

This legend turned up due to a completely unexpected coincidence. Once Khilko showed sincere interest in the fate of a young man – colleague at his new work, who was beginning to  ruin himself by drinking, lost interest in life and was gradually degrading as a person. Fedir Ilich managed to return him to normal life, and for that the guy’s mother was incredibly grateful to him. As a sign of gratitude, knowing that Khilko was going to leave for the West (he deliberately voiced those intentions in his environment) she  made an unexpected offer to him.

- I have an inheritance in Western Germany – once she told him. – It can only be got if one  lives there. But my son and I do not want to leave here, because I have a good job and a solid position in the society. However, I can re-issue this legacy for you. It will help you quickly settle in the new place.

- But for the inheritance I have to be at least a distant relative of yours, – expressed doubts Khilko.

- Please, don’t worry about that, – the woman said. – I have already thought everything over and found a place for you in our extensive pedigree.

- Anyway, I cannot accept the money, which does not belong to me, – Khilko could not hold back his moral principles.

- The fact that you have returned my son to  life, is dearer to me than all the money in the world,- his colleague’s  mother cut the discussion short.

Now, by one of the genealogical branches, he was a distant relative of the German industrialist, who bequeathed different proportions of his profits to numerous relatives. Representatives of the Soviet Intelligence Service had carefully polished the cover legend and our illegal was armed with all the necessary information on his “relatives”, including photos, characteristics, tiniest details from the past. Among Khilko’s relatives  now there was an officer of  Hitler’s army, who was in the first thousand of members of the Nazi party, who wore the  so-called large gold badge, who  at the end of the war defected to the USSR’s allies from the  anti-Hitler coalition. He continued his military career, and soon was promoted to General. The time will come and Khilko will meet him.

But it will be later. So far he was getting ready to cross the border into the Western Germany. There he would immediately go to the Police, seeking refugee status and to go through all sorts of checks. Here no mistakes could be afforded. Everything had to look very natural. Therefore, he suggested to the curators:

- To make it look believable, I decided to cross the border for real, like during the war.

- It is impossible – immediately retorted the officer responsible for his getting abroad. – Why risk to no purpose? We will send you through the existing “window”, and there you can tell how you were crossing the border in the prearranged place.

- This won’t work – Khilko stood his ground. – They’re not stupid, will ask about the circumstances  of the crossing, the details, up to the point that they will look for my footprints at the spot and compare with the real ones. Do not be afraid, I did cross the border many times during the war.

… In the refugee camps where Khilko was temporarily placed, the checking was nearing completion. He had to go through one of the most meticulous investigators. On his table Fedir saw his pliers lost on the  border.

It turned out that the route of crossing the border, described by him,  had been studied in detail and they found out that the defector was telling the truth: he did cross the border on his own, and was not transferred in any other way. He was given the go-ahead to stay and work, and was provided with  temporary documents. But they kept their eye on him for a long time.

Hooked by a Foreign Intelligence Service

Thanks to letters of recommendation  and the “inheritance”,  Khilko managed to relatively quickly create the necessary circle of acquaintances, to find a decent house and to get a job in the firm which allowed in the future to freely travel around the country and abroad and was giving   access to the military industry enterprises. After all, the main task assigned to him by the Centre was to collect intelligence of a military-political character. The valuable sources whom  Fedir Illich as a new resident of illegal intelligence “inherited”  from his predecessor, were also focused on the staff of the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs, employees of some diplomatic missions and others.

Soon he gets a reputation as a reliable and successful businessman. After a meeting with his distant foreign uncle, who decided to visit his homeland for the first time in 15 years, his  rate rose.

In real life, his “alter- idem” and the uncle saw each other a long time ago. The uncle vaguely remembered his nephew. But the real details known by few, and which Khilko  deliberately mentioned during  the meeting, touched him  and left no doubt. The intelligence officer’s artistic talents also did their part.  In every respect, this meeting was useful and interesting. Then there was another meeting. But the Center,  due to some concerns, did not go to further deepening of the contact.  Therefore, reciprocal visits never happened.

Everything seemed to be going right, but once Fedir Illich noticed field surveillance. The next time, going to the dead-drop exchange, he found out a “tail”.  He had to postpone the operation and to secretly inform the illegal  residency about it.

The piquancy of the situation was that he had no one to consult and to “pump” the issue. That’s a feature of work of an intelligence officer-deep- cover agent. He must rely only on his own self, his own experience, knowledge, intuition. Constant self control is above all else. Every and each step, word and action must be carefully analyzed from all sides, every and each new acquaintance should be “X-rayed”.  And of course, the doubts must be reported to the Center. But it takes the Center time to weigh everything and send the answer.  The decision has to  be taken immediately.

Soon, however, everything cleared out. When he was dining at the restaurant, a man  of imposing appearance  sat down next to him  and offered to continue the conversation in a more secluded place. He was … an employee of a foreign intelligence service. He confessed that for a long time they had been watching Fedir, sharing his views, supporting his deep patriotic views and for the sake of prosperity of the great state they propose him to work for foreign intelligence. And to return to the GDR to perform important tasks.

Khilko did not expect such a development of the situation. To begin with, he did his best playing  for time. But the first meeting was followed by the second, the third. The Center also was seriously alarmed. To agree meant chopping  off all the achievements, communication, positions created with such difficulty. On the other hand, it was tempting to start a game with a foreign intelligence service, but was it worth it? To refuse meant to cause suspicions and additional checks.

Eventually, the Center decided to play it safe. He was commanded to  quietly fold all the operational work to avoid unnecessary risk for valuable sources, and to temporarily leave for somewhere far away on vacation. Then, cleverly covering up the traces, he had to return  to the Soviet Union.

”I kept changing cities, I kept changing  names”…

A detailed report on the work done, “debriefing”, a proposal to settle in Moscow and the refusal that followed, getting an apartment in Kyiv, numerous stressful situations experienced by him in the past- all this by putting together triggered a massive heart attack. Fedir Illich was recovering in Koncha Zaspa near Kyiv. Soon, recovered and refreshed, he came to the leadership of the Ukrainian Foreign Intelligence Service.

- I am ready to continue performing the task abroad – he said with confidence.

- What do you mean, Fedir Illich, – the Chief of the Department tried to land him. – You cannot go there.

But Khilko gave so many convincing arguments and proposals for his further use in the previous role, that he persuaded not only the Ukrainian leadership, but also that in  Moscow. And, as it turned out, he was absolutely right. The status, work done, documents, bank accounts he had already gained during his latest business trip – all this did “work”.  Having added some details to his legend to explain the temporary absence and having corrected something in it, he could continue the begun earlier work, however, in some other countries. And Fedir Illich  was sent back abroad.

F. Khilko’s reports, especially in the later period of the intelligence officer’s work,  were reported to the leadership of the First Main Directorate of the USSR KGB. Based on some his messages, reports were prepared for the Chief of the KGB, and even for the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU. According to eyewitnesses, Leonid Brezhnev during a meeting with the leader of one of the European countries, using information provided by the intelligence, very successfully negotiated and easily countered many of the issues involved, as he  was prepared in advance. After the meeting, he asked Yuri Andropov, from whom such a valuable information had come and offered to reward the persons involved. Remembering the situations where due to Nikita Khrushchev our clandestine sources were discovered, Yuriy Volodymyrovych diplomatically avoided mentioning F. Khilko’s name. And later he was awarded among many people in order not to be illuminated separately.

In another case, under Y. Andropov’s command,  Khilko was tasked to find out the fate of the former Gestapo archives, hidden at the end of the war in deep tunnels in the mountains. Apart from  important documents of the Third Reich, there had allegedly been a lot of gold, pieces of art and antiquities there. In 1946, a small part of the archive was found and taken by the Americans. Later there were attempts to find the rest, but in vain.

At some point the search got intensified, including representatives from overseas. This information became known to the Centre, which decided to work ahead of the curve, but so as not to scare off foreign hunters who had some information about the place of the  burial. Khilko disguised as a representative of a foreign company, met the right people, who not only gave him the key to the treasure hunt, but they themselves took an active part in it.

Already at final stages, the Soviet side connected to the operation representatives of  the local partner security services, who successfully completed the operation. Many boxes with Gestapo’s documents were found. Other values, however, were not found. Apparently, the Nazis had taken them somewhere else  back in 1945.

Close to failure

As an intelligence officer,  F. Khilko was lucky, but not the darling of fortune. He often repeated: “Luck helps those who do not lose their head, do not give in  in critical situations, who seek and find a way out of the stalemate. Most often good luck smiles at those who are able to earn it”.

Once, when Fedir Illich was fulfilling a mission in one of the countries, he became a participant of a road traffic accident. He was not to blame, so decided to stand up for his rights and visited the law office. There he was advised to turn to a man who specialized in such matters. When Khilko opened the door, he face to face met with a man whom he  once questioned, working as a translator in the Department  of the Military Counter-Intelligence Service in postwar Germany. The guy must have recognized him too. But, according to Khilko,  those incriminating materials that surfaced during the interrogation were far from making the old acquaintance happy with old memories, let alone with letting other people know about his past.  Fedir Illich least of all wanted that man to know about his current status. Apologizing, he quickly retreated so that  his documents with his new setting data or number of the vehicle did not appear anywhere.

The Pipe from the President

The intelligence officer-deep-cover agent's return to his homeland. Fedir Khilko surrounded by family and colleagues at the airport 'Borispol'

- Whenever  father’s colleagues gathered in our house – says Yuri Khilko,  Fedir Illich’s  son,- one could hear phrases about the “Slavic wardrobe”, memories about intelligence and  about some funny situations. I remember father’s story about how he, for the sake of training, was sent in the role of a foreign saboteur into the area of dislocation of an important strategic facility in Ukraine. The task was to conditionally disable it. This was during the Soviet era. And all the relevant authorities were given a task: to find and neutralize. But they did not succeed. Father rented an apartment for two weeks at an old woman’s  right next to the intended object, studied all the approaches,  saw the workers enter the plant through a hole in the fence to bypass the checkpoint, entered the territory, laid the “explosive”, returned to the Centre and gave the “mining” scheme. Then all the responsible for ensuring the safety of the facility got a good scolding.

Somewhere in the family archives there is a pipe, given to the intelligence officer by  the then future president of a European country. Khilko did not talk too much about their being acquainted, and these materials have not been declassified yet. There are fragmental notes in Khilko’s personal files about the intelligence officer’s  being acquainted with the current leader of a foreign country. Then, in the 1970s, the Center gave him a task to find out the personal position of the head of the state on one of the key political issues. Khilko paid attention to his future  interlocutor’s being fond of the early history of the country. This made him go to the library and study the theme. In parallel, analysts from the PGU KGB of the USSR together with scientists from Moscow State University urgently wrote a solid scientific work on this topic. Presenting all their researches as his own, Khilko managed to make interested the President’s assistant, who arranged a meeting with his boss. The latter praised the scientific search of his new acquaintance, took a copy of his work, asked to come back to continue the interesting conversation. Eventually  Khilko within a few hours of conversation managed to touch in addition to the historical past, on  a number of questions and to find out everything  that the  Centre wanted to know.

As noted by many who knew Khilko, inside him there was a  kind of wedge, which did not allow him to relax or to bend before any life problems and challenges. He believed that there are no impossible tasks. The question for him was only how much time it would take to be fulfilled. It is about such people that the saying goes,  “I would go collecting intelligence with him”.  I’d add: “I would consider it an honor to go with him to collect intelligence”.

Oleksandr Skrypnyk,

”Tyzhden” (”Mirror of the Week”, November,25, 2006)