Posted: 25.01.2023 14:55:00

Heroes in every family

A million documents and a commander’s diary pierced by a bullet: the Partisans of Belarus project will be multiplied by visual information

The powerful popular resistance during the Great Patriotic War is a fact that simply nullifies the attempts of Western interpreters to convince contemporaries that the Soviet people met the German army as long-awaited liberators from hated Bolshevism. The movement was too massive and spontaneous to be easily discredited, passing off, as the neo-fascists and their ideologists write, for a handful of disguised Chekists and Red Army soldiers or bandits who killed civilians. The more they tried to suppress the people’s avengers, the more violent the protest was. The Belarus Segodnya Publishing House together with the National Archives creates a unique information resource in the CIS called the Partisans of Belarus. It was recently awarded a special presidential prize for outstanding achievements that have received public recognition. Deputy Director — Editor-in-Chief of the Belarus Segodnya Publishing House Ivan Sinichkin spoke about the implementation of the project, which perpetuates the truth about the partisans and makes it accessible to everyone.

Andrei Demyanuk and Ivan Sinichkin
Photo by Yury Mozolevsky

Half way

— The start of work on the creation of a web resource was given in 2018. What has already been done so far?
— At the initial stage, we set the task of creating an electronic database of participants in the partisan movement. This is the digitisation and systematisation of information from the personnel documents of the archival fund of the Belarusian headquarters of the partisan movement, which are now stored in the National Archives: personal files, personnel records, award sheets, combat characteristics, and so on. An electronic card is issued for each partisan. And it is fixed by an automatic counter in real time.
Today, about 200,000 personalities have been digitised. And in total, more than 370,000 partisans and about 70,000 underground fighters fought in the ranks of the people’s avengers. That is, our resource has already immortalised about half of the names.
Now we set the task not only to continue replenishing the database with new names, but also to visualise such information. We are talking about posting photographs, cartographic materials, battle plans, battle sheets and wall newspapers, as well as diaries of partisan detachments on the site. We recreate not only the stories of specific people, but also of partisan detachments and brigades, their combat paths, participation in battles. Furthermore, we want to end up with a real electronic encyclopaedia of popular resistance to the occupiers during the war years.

Photo by Aleksey Vyazmitinov

— How interesting is the resource to Internet users?
— The portal became popular from the very beginning. Since its launch, that is, since July 1st, 2019, more than half a million people from 100 countries have visited it. Most users are from Belarus and Russia. However, a lot of people came from Europe, Israel, USA. As a rule, ordinary citizens search the database for the names of their relatives who participated in the Great Patriotic War. While historians, students, archivists look for facts for writing research papers and abstracts.
Thanks to the resource, the things that used to be laborious become easily accessible. Until recently, it took, without exaggeration, a huge motivation to find out information about one’s grandfather or great-grandfather, who were partisans. It was necessary to contact the National Archives, make a request to get acquainted with the documents, sign up for a certain date and time in the reading room, after all, spend more than one hour, or even more than one day, studying the materials provided. Moreover, it’s not a secret that sometimes it’s quite difficult to figure it out for a layman. Now, being anywhere in the world where there is access to the Internet, it is possible to visit the website and get information. In addition, registration is not required.

Personal history in the context of the country

— Do you believe the resource needs advertising?
— Indeed, it can and should be promoted. And we ourselves are successfully doing this by organising traveling exhibitions in Minsk and regions. More than eighty of these have already been carried out. As a rule, educational institutions where young people are concentrated act as platforms for the presentation of the project. More often these are state universities, military units and recreation camps. We have travelled to all regional centres, now we want to visit as many regional centres as possible, whose residents are not used to such diversity of cultural events.
Our goal is to stimulate young Belarusians’ interest in their family history in the Great Patriotic War. Agree, it’s one thing just to know that your great-grandfather was among the partisans, but to see his photo, his personal contribution to the common Victory in a large base, especially at an exhibition is another.
More than once I have seen how teenagers, looking at the stands, without leaving, called their mothers and grandmothers in order to clarify the name or place of birth of their great-grandfather. Our resource is actively used in many schools in the classroom and extracurricular activities. It becomes an instrument of civic-patriotic education.

Photo by Yegor Yermalitskiy

In 1941-1945, 213 partisan brigades and 1255 partisan detachments operated on the territory of Belarus

There are four main tabs-sections on the portal. ‘Search for a partisan’ is a tool that allows one to find information about a specific person. ‘Legendary partisans’ contains information about the most famous personalities of the movement — Heroes of the Soviet Union, the best brigade commanders. The section ‘Fights, battles, deeds’ describes the most significant events in the fight against the invaders, including those according to the recollections of eyewitnesses and veterans. The ‘Connections’ tab tells about the formations of the partisan movement — the headquarters, separate brigades — by region (both the Byelorussian SSR and the territories bordering it).

The bullet won’t break the memory
Director of the National Archives Andrei Demyanuk considers receiving the special Presidential prize a great honour for archivists. 
“During our joint work with the publishing house, that is, since 2019, we have transferred to its employees more than 820,000 electronic pages of archival documents. These are personal records of personnel, award documents, personal files of employees of the Belarusian headquarters of the partisan movement, copies of notices of the death of partisans. In total, our archive stores more than 30,000 such files on the history of the partisan movement, most of which are planned to be placed on the portal. Thus, this is more than a million electronic documents,” explained the head of the archival division of the Partisans of Belarus project. 
There are absolutely unique things among the evidence of the feat of the people’s avengers. For example, the diary of the commander of the ‘In the Name of the Motherland’ partisan brigade M. G. Yankovsky, pierced by a bullet. Despite such damage, it can also be digitised. The diary will soon be seen by the visitors of the portal. The National Archives also holds a dying letter from the underground fighter Timofey Stepanovich Borodin to his relatives. It was written in June 1942 on a bloody handkerchief.
“About ten years ago, the brother of this hero from Gomel came to our archive. So their family history was filled with new awareness and deep feelings. And now the photo and history of the handkerchief, which can be considered a symbol of an unconquered person, can really be made public. After all, such an object is a kind of symbol of all the inhabitants of our long-suffering and courageous land who did not flinch before the invaders,” says Andrei Konstantinovich.
The fact that such pages of the heroic past of our partisan republic, previously accessible to a very limited circle, as a rule, to scientists, are being opened up for all current and subsequent generations, and there is value in the joint work of archivists and journalists.

The Belarus Segodnya Publishing House has released free themed sticker packs for Viber and Telegram messengers. It is planned to update them.

By Yelena Kozlovskaya