A side of Zaslonov we never knew
[b]In February, Belarus celebrates the Day of Homeland Defenders — honouring those currently serving in the army, defending the safety of our country, and those who protected our freedom and future during the hard times of fascism. The war saw many heroes — brave, courageous and ready for self-sacrifice. Among them was Konstantin Zaslonov; the 100th anniversary of his birth was celebrated on January 7th, 2010[/b]The Memorial Museum of Konstantin Zaslonov in Orsha (the district centre of the Vitebsk region) opened in 1948, making it the oldest museum in the city. During the jubilee celebrations, its staff presented legendary ‘uncle Kostya’ not only as a partisan commander and illusive undergrounder but as a many-sided artistic personality, a loving husband and a careful father.
[The Memorial Museum of Konstantin Zaslonov in Orsha (the district centre of the Vitebsk region) opened in 1948, making it the oldest museum in the city. During the jubilee celebrations, its staff presented legendary ‘uncle Kostya’ not only as a partisan commander and illusive undergrounder but as a many-sided artistic personality, a loving husband and a careful father.
Zaslonov was born in the Russian city of Ostashkovo (in the Tver region) to a peasant family. The children worked from an early age, so Kostya became a herder at the age of eight. It wasn’t easy initially but, even then, it was evident that the boy boasted artistic talent. Inspired by the beauty of his native land, he drew landscapes and sketches of friends and relatives. How-ever, education
was his dream.
Once, his teacher took the schoolchildren to Nevel on foot — a 40km hike. Kostya saw a steam locomotive for the first time and decided that he must learn how to drive it. In 1927, his dream came true; he entered the Technical School of Railway Transport. Kostya read a great deal, joined a radio club and was fond of photography. Of course, he continued drawing — portraits of friends from school, still-life images, rivers, and, even, a pair of simple work boots standing in the corner. Orsha’s museum currently has over a dozen watercolours and sketches by this Hero of the Soviet Union.
In the 1930s, Konstantin entered the Leningrad Institute of Railway Transport but was obliged to break from his studies when the country needed staff. He was sent to work on the Ussuriisk railway and later served in Vitebsk and Roslavl. Before the beginning of the war, Zaslonov was appointed Head of the Locomotive Depot at Orsha railway station. After the Great Patriotic War began, he joined his fellow workers in evacuating valuable equipment to Moscow. Later, he returned to the small Belarusian city to organise an underground group operating within enemy lines.
“Undergrounders worked to destroy the water supply being used by the Nazis and directed Soviet bombers to train lines, derailing enemy engines,” explains the Head of the Orsha museum, Lyudmila Surdova. “These brave men delayed the Germans’ attack on Moscow by several weeks. Accordingly, Zaslonov was given the title of Hero of the Soviet Union in 1948.”
The fascists suspected Zaslonov but he always had a reliable alibi. Diversions took place while he played chess with his roommate — a German officer — in their rented flat. A set similar to that used by the great man, made in the 1930s, is on show at The Man Behind the Legend: Zaslonov You’ve Never Known.
“Konstantin’s padded jacket is worthy of viewing,” stresses Ms. Surdova. “We can tell that he wasn’t tall — only about 160cm. He was an ordinary man — without any unusual physical capabilities. Zaslonov’s profession was peaceful but, when necessary, he set about defending his native land.”
His letters to the family — living in evacuation — show us his nature. He organised his partisan group (later becoming a true brigade) in February 1942. Zaslonov calls his daughters by tender nick-names and, foreseeing his forthcoming death, asked his wife to explain to their children the reasons for his struggle.
In November 1942, Zaslonov and five of his friends died near the village of Kupovat (in today’s Senno district). The same number of people managed to travel with him from Moscow to Orsha in 1941. Those at the museum (which was open free of charge for all visitors on jubilee occasions) believe the coincidence was one of many. His daughters, Muza and Irina, tell us of many little-known facts from Zaslonov’s life. Last summer, Muza donated Zaslonov’s letters to the museum. Until then, they had been kept by the family. Interestingly, Konstantin’s grandson, Roman, is an artist — living in France.
On the occasion of his birthday, members of his family, historians, researchers and war veterans visited Orsha (or intend to come soon). The celebrations are a significant event, standing alongside others dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory, due to be marked this May.
[b][i]By Sergey Golesnik[i][b]