Posted: 17.03.2023 13:06:00

Bloody aftermath of war

The village of Khomichi was burned twice, and in the first post-war years, people were blown up on mines

There are numerous evidences about the atrocities of German executioners on the territory of Belarus during the Great Patriotic War: how they burned innocent peaceful people alive, shot, hunger in the camps. In the village of Khomichi, Bykhov District, all 182 houses were destroyed, about 200 people were exterminated. But even after the invaders left it, the war did not end for the surviving villagers, who returned to their native lands after wandering through the forests and swamps. They were crippled, died and blown up on mines. Retreating in 1944, the sedimentary invaders left them many deadly ‘souvenirs’: they mined not only approaches to the Khomichi, but also gardens, cellars and wells...

They took revenge for contact with the partisans

Before the war, Khomichi was a large village: 972 residents. When it began, the region became a partisan zone. For the assistance of the villagers — to the people’s avengers — the village was burned twice by the punishers: part of the huts were destroyed in February 1944, the rest-in June of the same year.

Here’s what Fedor Podolyan said about the atrocities of the invaders, who at that time commanded the partisan former, stationed and operating in the Bykhov District, “At the end of January 1944, I led the battle near the village of Yezva. The forces were unequal: there was a battalion of the 31st German Infantry Division against us, reinforced by artillery, tanks and mortars. I had to retreat. The Nazis occupied the village and burned it. The population managed to leave — towards the village of Khomichi. But not all civilians were saved. In January-February, the invaders found them, hiding in huts in the Toshchitsy forest, and shot. I personally saw the corpses of the dead — a man of 70-80.”
Leonid Danilov from Khomichi was 17 years old in 1944. He also hid from punishers in the thimble with his mother and fellow villagers and was caught back then, “For three weeks I and five more fellow countrymen, dug trenches under the supervision of the Germans, and as they finished work, we were driven to Mogilev on foot, from there — by train — to Kobrin. I managed to escape. I joined units of the Red Army later, hit the front and was wounded twice. When I returned home, I did not recognise the village: it was completely burned, it was recovered from scratch. And although the time was already peaceful — the war continued: the mines left by the Nazis took the life of the villagers and the soldiers.”

Dangerous way home 

A resident of Khomichi Sergei Parfenov, who lived in the occupied territory in the war, recalls, “When the front approached our village in February 1944, the locals rushed at the scatter. The Germans seised me and several more lads, sent to the Rogachev District. About 40 more of our old people, women, children were killed. When I returned to Khomichi in June, my beloved village, it just burned out... It was necessary to somehow settle down in the ashes, but we were scared. The Germans mined streets, sheds to the arson. As a result, many of ours were blown up by enemy shells. Only before my eyes — about 30 people.”
“Khomichi is the only village in Bykhov District, which the Germans mined during the retreat. Moreover, not only the village itself, but also the surrounding territory — 10–15 kilometres from all sides. A fellow countryman Ivan Nikiforov told me: during the Great Patriotic War, leaving the Khomichi, his grandmother buried simple belongings on the site near the hut. Returning after the release, she rushed to pull them out, and there was an explosion... She survived, but forever remained disabled — her leg was torn off,” confirms the Director of the Bykhov District Museum of Local History Sergei Zhizhiyan.

By minefields 

Archival documents state: in 1944, 258 civilians were blown up in the Mogilev Region, of which 49 died, in 1945 there were already 490 victims (139 died). In Bykhov District, explosions continued until the beginning of the 1950s. On September 19th, 1947, when re-studying the plots in the Danujok forestry, a forester was injured at the village of Khomichi. In the same year, when working on a telegraph line, the master: the pillar was mined.
In the liberated territory, peaceful life was established with great difficulties. It was necessary to restore the destroyed, build a new one, plough and sow. And especially often, the explosions rattled in the fields.

Sergei Zhizhiyan: mines can still be found by sappers in our district
Photo by Andrei Sazonov

On June 19th, 1947, a tractor was blown up on the Dzerzhinsky collective farm of the Bykhov District, its parts scattered 50 metres. The tractor drivers were seriously injured. On August 25th, 1947, with ploughing land on the collective farm Novaye Zhytsio [New Life in Belarusian], another tractor ran into the anti-tank mine: two villagers died. 
“The war continued — already psychological. Locals understood: they could meet death at every step. Very often, horses were blown up on enemy shells. If we take into account that in the first post-war years the horse was the main draft power, then the loss of each of them became very noticeable for the peasants. The cows also stepped on mines. People were afraid to plant gardens, go to the forest in mushrooms and berries. And most importantly — they were afraid for the children. Those were crippled, died by negligence, a misfortune, stepping on mines, choosing explosives or trying to disassemble them. Demining of the territory fought-miners, instructors, whom the Mogilev Regional Council of Osoaviakhim sent to special courses. But the main works fell on the shoulders of the military,” Sergei Zhizhiyan specifies.

The sapper errs only once

In the consolidated table on emergency incidents, during cleansing in the Mogilev Region for 1944-1945 there are names of the military who undermined during the neutralisation of German shells.
On July 21st, 1944, when cleansing the former advanced in the area of the village of Prybor of the Bykhov District, the minister of the commander of the 2nd platoon Mikhail Korovatsky hooked the anti-personnel fragmentation mine. Korovatsky was killed, three villagers, who were nearby, were injured: in the back and legs (one of them had to amputate). In August 1944, the fighter Konstantin Corze accidentally stepped on a mine near the village of Nikonovichi, when the trophy weapon was analysed. He died, and his comrade Yegor Baranovich, Dmitry Korovskoy was wounded in his stomach and both legs...
In 1946, the most distinguished by the clearance of fighters and instructors of the Regional Council of Osoaviakhim presented to government awards. Yaroslav Lashkevich from the Bykhov District — to the Order of the Red Star, his brother-the instructor-exterior Oleg Lashkevich — to the For Military Merit medal. Their colleagues D. Narovsky, S. Pugachev and A. Streltsov were awarded the Excellent Miner order. And it was all at that time for 18 years.
...There is a mass grave on the outskirts of the village of Khomichi. The ashes of 150 Red Army men rest in it. Nearby are several single mounds. There are also soldiers who died at different times. Among them is one member of a gapping team. In total, ten members of a gapping team were buried in the Bykhov District. This land became their front line: cleansing it of the ‘surprises’ of the war, the heroes saved human lives, sacrificing for this their own.

Maps of burned villages
On the initiative of the Prosecutor General’s Office and on the basis of information received during the investigation of the criminal case on the fact of the Genocide of the Belarusian people during the Great Patriotic War and the post-war period, the National Cadastral Agency recently published a spatial layer containing information about the location of the burned settlements by the fascist occupiers and their accomplices during the war years. The filling of the indicated layers about the burned settlements continues.

By Olga Kislyak