Sign of soldier’s valour
<img class="imgl" alt="Donat Makienok (second from the left)" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-372.jpg">[b]Belarusian enthusiasts intend to immortalise the memory of Cavaliers of WWI Cross of St. George[/b]<br />Pilot Donat Makienok was a solder of Belarus, Russia and Poland. He was born in 1890, in the territory of Belarus, and served in the Russian Army — where he was awarded three Crosses of St. George: the highest award in the Russian Empire. Makienok also won the Serbian Order of the White Eagle. After the October Revolution of 1917, he joined the Polish Army, bringing him the Polish Order of Virtuti Militari, the Cross for Valour (Krzyż Walecznych) and a medal for victory (Mйdaille de la Victorie).
Pilot Donat Makienok was a solder of Belarus, Russia and Poland. He was born in 1890, in the territory of Belarus, and served in the Russian Army — where he was awarded three Crosses of St. George: the highest award in the Russian Empire. Makienok also won the Serbian Order of the White Eagle. After the October Revolution of 1917, he joined the Polish Army, bringing him the Polish Order of Virtuti Militari, the Cross for Valour (Krzyż Walecznych) and a medal for victory (Mйdaille de la Victorie).
Belarusians are seriously interested in learning about the lives of their fellow countrymen who became Cavaliers of the Cross of St. George during the First World War. 2014 sees the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that war, which lasted from 1914 until 1918, literally overthrowing Europe. Over 10 million soldiers lost their lives and Belarus was the site of many battles. The city of Smorgon in the Grodno Region endured the Russian-German front for two and a half years; after 810 days of defence, it was completely ruined. Belarusian historians agree that we shouldn’t forget the heroes of those years, continuing to learn about their feats. Vitebsk resident Boris Matveev is among the 58 Belarusians awarded the Cross of St. George in all four classes.
[b]Dreaming about the sky[/b]
In the past, Boris Matveev was an engineer and deputy of Vitebsk Regional Council, retiring 20 years ago. Since then, he has been examining directories, encyclopaedias and library archives in Vitebsk, Minsk and Moscow. He and his companions have been researching Donat Makienok, who was born at Dambovka homestead, to a family of peasant-Catholics (today, in the Verkhnedvinsk District of the Vitebsk Region).
He served in the Russian Army, in the infantry regiment, but always dreamt of the sky and, later, became a mechanical engineer for the 3rd flight squadron. At that time, aviation schools in Russia would only accept officers but the young soldier attracted their attention with his outstanding abilities and acute brain: an exception was made and he was accepted into the aviation school in Sevastopol. He graduated in 1914 and, as the First World War began, he flew in East Prussia. He received his decoration, a 4th class Cross of St. George, for having located General Khan Nakhchivanski and passing him his orders. While returning, his plane came under fire yet, with a hole in his petrol tank, he glided down, managing to reach the nearest command post to report on his mission. Makienok shot down nine enemy planes and participated in bombardments, as well as dropping leaflets, and pursuing enemy planes. Some historians consider him to be the first pilot to escape capture by plane!
In September 1917, Makienok fell ill with tuberculosis and spent time in Sevastopol hospital, returning to the Front in November, although the Germans had begun retreating. Thanks to his peasant origins, the soldiers and officers elected him onto the revolutionary-military committee. Then, in 1918, he joined the Polish Army, being appointed executive officer of the 1st Polish Squadron. In 1925, he became a commandant at the flight school in Bydgoszcz, finally retiring with the rank of major. During the Second World War, he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he died in June 1941.
[b]Fame of military glory[/b]
Many of the Cavaliers of the Cross of St. George who hailed from Belarus led outstanding lives. One such was Grigory Demidovich, who claimed five crosses during the First World War! Historians note that he was commended for his fifth award before the documents had been signed to authorise his fourth.
Two Belarusians who each received three Crosses of St. George went on to become Heroes of the Soviet Union: Alexey Tereshkov from the Gomel Region, and legendary partisan commander Minai Shmyrev, from the Vitebsk Region.
General Ivan Lazarenko, from the Krasnodar Krai (Russia) defended Brest Fortress during the Great Patriotic War, and died during the liberation of the Mogilev Region. He was subject to repression during Soviet times, having been awarded by the Imperial Russian Army. A similar fate overtook many Cavaliers of the Cross of St. George: some were executed by firing squad, or sent to Solovki — as Boris Matveev tells us.
To avoid trouble, many threw away their awards; after the October Revolution, golden and silver crosses were donated to the fund for the Povolzhie famine — or sold during hard times. Yefim Ageichenko from the Vitebsk Region, who had three crosses, was arrested in the 1930s and spent five years imprisoned. His grandson, retired captain Gennady Agnishchenko, remembers, “My grandfather told us that Nikolay II had presented him with the Cross of St. George in front of the ranks; at that time, gold coins were also given, which allowed my grandfather to buy land. However, when commanders of the Committee of Poor Peasants came, he was denounced as a kulak (wealthy peasant) and imprisoned. His relatives managed to release him but he always hid his crosses, only showing them to me once.
[b]How Cavaliers became outcasts[/b]
According to Mr. Matveev, there are other reasons explaining why we lack information on the Cavaliers of the Cross of St. George. He tells us, “After the October Revolution, many of them fought on the side of the White Guards, making them enemies of the USSR. It was dangerous to remember imperial awards, even for those who sided loyally with the Soviet authorities.”
This perhaps explains why the Vitebsk Regional Museum lacks any of the Crosses of St. George given to Hero of the Soviet Union M.F. Shmyrev — or documents relating to their presentation. It does have two Crosses of St. George but neither have numbers, and their owners are unknown. The biographies of the Cavaliers of the Cross of St. George would make a breath-taking novel or thriller!
During the First World War, Karp Gotovsky-Bykhovets, from the Vitebsk Region, received two Crosses of St. George and was four times wounded. He came over to the side of the Soviets and, in February 1918, gathered a partisan group, which stopped an attack by Germans on Drissa. He became a military commissioner in Polotsk and lived until 1947, dying in Moscow. Other Belarusians who received three Crosses of St. George include a nurse from the Mogilev Region, Yevdokia Belskaya; she survived three wars.
Young fans of history continue to study their heroic countrymen, keeping their memory alive. Pavel Zubel, a pupil at secondary school #3, in Svisloch, in the Grodno Region, worked with his history teacher, Alexander Pesetsky, in researching the Cavaliers of the Cross of St. George from the Grodno Region. He found 20 such people, many of whom belonged to the Life Guards of the Grodno Hussar Regiment (located in Poland, but comprising natives of Grodno Province).
Pupils of secondary school #1, in Lepel, in the Vitebsk Region, have learnt much about their countryman Dominik Konopko. This Cavalier of the Cross of St. George was born in 1886, on Kalaur homestead, to a family of foresters. He received his fourth class award early in the First World War, while fighting in East Prussia. His next was awarded in 1916 near Grodno, when he saved intelligence agents under his command, after being surrounded in Augustуw’s Forests. History teacher Lyudmila Strizhonok, from Liozno, worked with her pupils to have a commemorative plaque placed on Dominik Konopko’s house in 2011, in Lepel.
[b]Restoring historical justice[/b]
Smorgon is keen to unveil a monument in honour of its First World War heroes. Meanwhile, the village of Zabrodie in the Minsk Region, which has its Museum of First World War History, plans to launch a cultural-education centre, to promote knowledge of events from WWI. Mr. Matveev is glad to see so much interest from historians, noting, “My fellow researchers and I have located 58 Belarusian Cavaliers of the Cross of St. George, and 22 with three such awards. Information about them can be found in various books, directories and newspapers, but it takes a lot of collating. If anyone wants to write a book, we’ll happily share our research, which fills several big notebooks. How wonderful it would be if an international organisation offered its help, alongside historians from abroad.
By Sergey [b]Golesnik[/b]