Otaman of Kholodnyi Yar Yakiv Vodyanyi
Yakiv Vodyanyi entered the history of the national liberation struggle of the Ukrainian people for independence as the Otaman of Kholodnyi Yar, one of the organizers of the Free Cossacks in Cherkasy region, an uncompromising fighter against Bolshevik troops, politician and public figure, a writer. In addition, while in exile, he actively cooperated with the intelligence of the Ukrainian People's Republic, as evidenced by the Branch State Archives of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine, as well as original photographs.
Vodyanyi Yakiv Mykhailovych was born into a large family on October 20, 1886 in the town of Smila, Cherkasy district, Kyiv province, At the age of 19, with a group of Socialist-Revolutionaries, he took part in the preparation of an uprising in Chyhyryn region against the oppression of the population by the tsarist regime. For this he was arrested and sent to serve an administrative sentence in Chernihiv province. He immediately fled from there and went to Kyiv. There he joined the SR organization “Ukrainian People's Defense” and became the commander of a fighting squad. In the spring of 1907, he was arrested by police again. He spent six months in Lukyanivka prison, after which he was exiled to Siberia - to the Narym Territory (now part of Tomsk region, Russia) - for three years.
He ran away two months later. He hid from the tsarist police in Lviv. He soon returned to Kyiv, was arrested again, and returned to the Narym region. While in exile, he distributed Ukrainian newspapers and magazines. In order not to be taken to the Russian Imperial Army after his release, he fled again two months before the end of his exile. This time he went not to Ukraine, but to the Far East - to the place of the nearest settled residence of Ukrainians in the so-called Zelenyi Klyn (literally “Green Wedge/Gore- transl.), also known as Green Ukraine.
He lived in Vladivostok until the end of 1911, taking an active part in public and political life. He was soon forced to emigrate for fear of persecution. At first he was in Japan for a short time, and then settled in Australia, where after naturalization he worked as a foreman in a furniture factory.
But as soon as he heard the news of the overthrow of the tsar in Russia, he immediately sold all his property and returned to his homeland. In the summer of 1917, Yakiv was already in Smila. He spoke at meetings, calling on conscious patriots to fight for an independent Ukrainian state and to join Free Cossacks units.
Very soon, Vodyanyi's name was on the lips of many countrymen. He was elected the Chairman of the Smila District Committee of fighters, a few months later – the Chief of the Smila militia, and in October 1917 at the Smila Cossacks' popular assembly - the Colonel.
Under his leadership, the Smila Free Cossacks took part in fighting against the Russian Bolshevik army, which was returning from the Western Front and aimed at suppressing the Ukrainian People's Republic. The operation of the Free Cossacks, including the Smila Cossacks, against the 8th Russian Army near Bobrynska station was successful.
The best Kurins (Regiments) of Zvenyhorod, Cherkasy and Yelisavetgrad regions were concentrated there. In the fighting, which lasted all day, they nearly captured the Commander of Russian troops in Ukraine Mikhail Muravyov, who was making his way from Odessa to the north. During the operation, Cherkasy Regiment was commanded by Yakiv Vodyany.
This period of his life is partially reflected in the documents of the State Political Directorate (GPU) of the Ukrainian SSR, which contains materials on the activities of the UPR in exile. The paper from November 9, 1931 entitled “On Yakiv Vodyanyi” contains interesting facts from his biography. In particular, it reads that in Australia he “was granted English citizenship and had the surname Wodan James”. And after returning to Ukraine “during the election of the Hetman, a news appeared in the newspapers that the Free Cossacks wanted to elect Vodyanyi as the Hetman” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. - Case 1812. - Vol. 1. – P. 345).
In 1919, Ya. Vodyanyi was arrested by the Cheka, sentenced to death, but escaped. In 1921 he commanded one of the Haydamak units in the area of Kholodnyi Yar and acted together with Otamans Larion Zahorodniy, Yukhym Ilchenko, Pylyp Khmara and others.
The fighting lasted until 1922, when most of the rebel chieftains were arrested or killed as a result of the Cheka's punitive actions. Vodyanyi decided to continue the struggle in exile. In May 1922, he crossed the border with Poland illegally and first settled in the town of Husiatyn. Working in insurance and cooperative societies allowed him to use all his free time to write memoirs about the Ukrainian liberation movement, and also to create the drama “Kholodnyi Yar”.
Later, Yakiv was found by representatives of the UPR special service in exile and offered to work for the intelligence of the Ukrainian People's Republic. He was very fascinated by the idea that he could be useful for the implementation of the Ukrainian idea in the new conditions. Before long, when in 1927 the Intelligence of the Ministry of Military Affairs of the State Center of the Ukrainian People's Republic in exile was headed by Vsevolod Zmiyenko, Vodyany began to co-work with him.
Under his leadership, a well-organized group operated in the town of Husyatyn and in the village of Borsuky. He had his own intelligence network, which was obtaining information about the real state of affairs in Ukraine. Through trusted agents, he sent leaflets, magazines, and other literature to Ukrainian territory, urging the population not to put up with the existing order but to fight Soviet authorities.
Information that Yakiv Vodyanyi had appeared on the territory of Poland and started engaging in counter-revolutionary activities quickly reached the GPU. The Chekists developed an operation to lure Yakiv into the Soviet territory. The dossier on him was constantly filled with new materials. Many people already knew about him: about his place of residence, closest connections, and even about his preferences.
Here is the information about Yakiv Vodyanyi, received by the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR through its agents in 1928: “On February 25, the Commander of Petliura's army, Yakiv Vodyanyi, visited Husiatyn, Poland. He visited all the villages and towns where Ukrainian emigrants live. He had been instructed by Colonel Kowalski from Warsaw to probe the mood of the emigrants in case of war, as well as to recruit workers among them for offensive and defensive. They say that in case of war he will be flown to the rear of the Reds, where he will raise an uprising”. (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. - Case 12617. - Vol. 17. – P. 62).
In 1930, the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR sent a document to Moscow to the Foreign and Counterintelligence Departments of the OGPU of the USSR entitled “On Vodyanyi”. Given the details on it, it was a response to a request to provide information about Yakiv Vodyanyi and his relations. Among other things, the document reads: “It should be noted that Vodyanyi is an old Ukrainian figure of the pre-revolutionary formation, with great experience of underground and insurgent activities, a countryman and personal friend (since their pre-revolutionary joint work) of Andriy Livytskyi” (BSA of the SZR Ukraine. - F. 1. - Case 12623. - V. 2. – P. 479).
Yakiv Vodyanyi soon withdrew from intelligence activities, staying in touch only through correspondence with the Head of the UPR government in exile Andriy Livytskyi and the Head of the special service of the Ministry of Military Affairs of the government in exile Vsevolod Zmiyenko. But, in his words, those contacts were private and did not concern the work of the secret service.
At the same time, the GPU-NKVD, which already had enough information about Yakiv Vodyanyi's involvement in the activities of the UPR special service, continued the operative monitoring of him and hoped to settle score. Thus, a document dated November 9, 1931, addressed to the Chief of the 3rd Operative Sector of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR points out: “The main task is to identify and carefully develop Vodyanyi's relations and to get special agents… The main emphasis in development should be on finding out current activities of Vodyanyi as an intelligence agent of the UPR” (BSA SZR Ukrainy. - F. 1. - Case 1812. - V. 1. -P. 344–346).
Attempts were repeatedly made to lure him into Soviet territory. Letters were sent on behalf of old friends and acquaintances, who told about the allegedly happy and prosperous life in the homeland and invited him to return home. But Vodyaniy, who knew the real state of affairs in Ukraine and the methods of work of the Soviet state security agencies, did not believe that.
The end of the game took place after Soviet authorities had come to Volhynia and Galicia. On September 27, 1939, Vodyanyi was found and arrested. While in prison, he still hoped to escape, as he had done so many times. But his luck was no longer good. In addition, the Chekists already knew almost everything about him and watched closely.
During one of the interrogations, the NKVD investigator asked Ya. Vodyanyi about the plans of the State Center of the Ukrainian People's Republic in exile to overthrow the Soviet government. Referring to the statements of the Head of the UPR government and his comrade Andriy Livytskyi, Yakiv said that a promising plan in achieving the main goal had been and still was to get Ukraine's independence and that they relied mainly on foreign intervention against the USSR and support of the UPR's followers in the Soviet Ukraine.
At the court session of the Military Tribunal of the Kyiv Special Military District on February 7, 1940, Ya. Vodyanyi behaved with dignity and answered one of the chairman's questions as follows: “I conducted intelligence for the UPR to inform the UPR government, which needed information for diplomatic missions in international circles. I was aware of the task of intelligence. I understand that intelligence is a secret war, and I took part in this war…”.
But nothing saved the life of the former Otaman of Kholodnyi Yar and the Ukrainian People's Republic's intelligence officer. The sentence - “the highest measure of criminal punishment – shooting dead, without confiscation of property, in the absence of such” - was executed on May 10, 1940.