The legend about the Orzhiv operation: How the Internal Troops of the NKVD accidentally killed Klym Savur

While reading this document, one gets the impression that the Orzhiv operation was similar in scale to the "battle for Berlin". Apparently, the Chekists did not want to lag behind the Red Army in the "victorious heat" and the banal accidental liquidation of "Savur" was described as a large-scale operation involving personally the highest command of the USSR State Security.

Recently, the Center for the Liberation Movement Studies published reports, plans, directives, references, and other documents from the archives of the NKVD Internal Troops. These documents talk about the NKVD's struggle with units of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).

By the end of October, more than 3,500 documents from the archive, dated mainly between 1944-1945, will be posted online. In the late 1980s, the Soviet authorities were so afraid of publishing these documents that they were taken to Moscow. Fortunately, Ukrainian researchers still managed to bring them back.

This vast majority of these documents will obviously increase interest in studying the history of the liberation movement, both among professional researchers and among journalists, publicists, writers, public figures, and politicians. In this context, it is needed to keep in mind the critical attitude towards published sources. It is important not just to read the documents, but also to "capture" the specifics of reporters' work.

Оn the example of the highly discussed Orzhiv operation we explain how the Soviet intelligence services manipulated or even openly lied in their reports. It is said that as a result of which the operation, the UPA-North leader, Klym Savur, was allegedly liquidated.

There is an opinion in the research community that the intelligence services managed to prepare for a special large-scale operation using the information received from the captured insurgent Yurii Stelmashchuk - "Rudyi". Operation is mentioned in the archives of the NKVD.

However, was everything really planned, or did the Chekist agency accidentally bring the security forces to Savur? To answer this question, it is not enough to study only one source of information.

Yurii Stelmashchuk - "Rudyi"

Statistics against the common sense

The published array of documents began to shape when most of the Right Bank and Western Ukrainian lands gradually moved in the rear of the Red Army. Despite the dynamic advance of the front, the battles caused heavy losses on the Soviet army. The emergence of new soldiers was ensured by mass mobilization in the newly occupied areas.

Under these conditions, the stay of thousands of well-armed soldiers and officers of the NKVD Internal Troops in the rear areas had to be justified.

The decadal operative report of the NKVD Department of the Ukrainian District in Kharkiv for January 1-10, 1944, stated that in the regions liberated from the Wehrmacht, "... the appearance of bandit gangs and the landing of enemy sabotage units in the area of the district was not detected."

In the rubric "Combat activity" it is written that "during the reporting period units of the district did not take part in operations". However, thousands of NKVD officers caught as many as 3,000 "deserters", "evaders" and "spies" in ten days.

It is believed that in late January, Moscow was seriously considering sending "glorious brigades" to the front, but suddenly the situation changed. Enkavedists began to identify the OUN underground and UPA units.

The leaders of the Internal Troops of the NKVD in Ukraine predicted an apocalyptic picture: "… armed attacks on the rear facilities of the Red Army, railway stations, settlements with small garrisons, convoys, etc." And, as a result, they insisted on the need to strengthen the garrisons with men and equipment. It means, that the command of the NKVD of the Ukrainian district immediately set a "high level", demonstrating to Moscow the importance of its work.

Eventually, of course, the effectiveness had to be justified by "impressive performance." And since the Soviet system, according to Oleksandr Solzhenitsyn, stood on three whales — "mat", "tufta", and "blat" — the NKVD officers obviously knew how to supply top-management with reports filled with "sky-high figures."

For example, on May 28, 1944, the NKVDists' reported on the losses among the insurgents and underground members numbered. As many as 9,435 people were killed and 9,449 were imprisoned. In addition, the "valorous NKVDists" captured 1,009 "gang accomplices" and 15,998 people who "evaded service in the Red Army."

Certificate of casualties among the insurgents and underground members

The NKVD commanders presented their own losses very modestly: 260 people were killed, 45 were missing and 311 were wounded. Phenomenal, especially given that the NKVDists opposed the guerrillas, who knew the area well and already had experience in battles with the Germans.

Ukrainian historians use the statistics of seized small arms to more accurately determine the losses of the insurgents. The report cited above also contains such information. We are talking about 1531 rifles, 193 submachine guns, 146 machine guns, 44 easel machine guns, 20 anti-tank rifles, 106 pistols. That is, even assuming that all seized small arms were seized from the killed and captured (rather than seized from warehouses), there should be a total of 2,040 people.

We present all these examples and calculations for one purpose only – to show how critical the information contained in the NKVDists' documentation should be perceived and how many questions their statistics leave.

"Klym Savur" in the development of state security

For the leaders of the Soviet intelligent services the most important task in counteracting the resistance movement was to "disable" the leaders of the underground. Dmytro Klyachkivskyi, - Klym Savur, was one of the first leaders of the OUN who was 'honored' to have an opened case.

At least from the summer of 1943, the Soviet state security agencies began to receive information from the Red partisans that the UPA command was carried out by Klym Savur. By the end of October, the 4th Department of the NKVD confirmed: "... at the head of the so-called "Ukrainian Insurgent Army" - UPA, created by the Banderas, a certain" Klym Savur was appointed."

However, the NKVD's level of awareness of the commander was rather modest. Until a certain time, the State Security Service mistakenly considered Dmytro Klyachkivskyi to be the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. It was not until March 1944 that the agency realized that Klym Savur and Roman Shukhevych were different people.

At the end of March, the intelligence services learned that Klym Savur was driven by a Fiat car with three security guards, and that the premises where its headquarters were located were constantly guarded by 10-12 armed men. At the same time, the state security still did not know the real name of the commander and did not have his photo.

The first success for the NKVDists  came from the unexpected side. In early July 1944, Kazymyr Barchevskyi, a resident of Zbarazh, told the "authorities" that his neighbour is an older woman named Maria Prashko, whose son Ivan received a spiritual education and was a priest in Rome.

Another older woman lived with Maria Prashko, whose name the agent did not know, but pointed out that her son Dmytro Semenovych was friends with Ivan in his youth. Also, in 1938 he was a member of the board of the Ukrainian fire and gymnastics community "Sokil"  in Zbarazh.

The agent informed that Dmytro Semenovych is the commander of UPA, named "Klym Savur". In addition, he was the head of the Volyn Regional leadership of OUN, named  "Okhrim". Moreover, the agent managed to attach a group photo of members of the board of Zbarazh's "Sokil", which showed the figure of Dmytro Semenovych. Such information was of significant importance to the Soviet intelligence services.

Photo from the intelligence case. "Klym Savur" - in the bottom row in the middle

On the same day it was established that "together with Maria Prashko lives her sister - Tekla (Fekla) Pavlivna Klyatkovska, 70 years old, her son - Dmytro Semenovych Klyatkovskyi, born in 1911 - 1912. (…) In the period 1939 - 1941 allegedly arrested by the NKVD. (…) Dmytro Klyatkovsky was in Lviv during the German occupation. "

All the collected information was passed to Moscow on July 10. On the same day, the 4th Department of the NKGB of the Ukrainian SSR decided to open an agency case "Shchur". The main purpose of the case was to find "direct intelligence approaches to" Klym Savur in order to "to liquidate him."

Title page of the intelligence case on "Klym Savur"

On July 17, 1944, the People's Commissar of State Security of the Ukrainian SSR Savchenko sent a completely secret letter on the case to the regional departments of the NKGB of the Western Ukrainian, as well as Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, and Kamyanets-Podilsky regions. It is interesting that in the document Dmytro Klyachkivskyi was wanted by the wrong surname Klyatkivskyi.

Only in August NKGBists established the real name "Savur". And later - that he is the leader of the OUN and UPA underground in Volyn under the pseudonyms "Okhrim" and "Klym". This was important information for the investigation, but it did not come close to solving the whereabouts of "Klym Savur".

Registration sheet from the case file on "Klym Savur", in which the name of Dmytro Klyachkivsky is indicated mistakenly

However, the real breakthrough in the case of D. Klyachkivskyi was the unexpected arrest of  Fedir Hrytsyshyn ("Podilets") - the captain of the "Poltava detachment" of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. After serving more than a year with the rebels, he deserted, but after being detained by the NKGB, he agreed to be recruited. The new agent was given the nickname "Sokil". By joining the insurgents, he was able to provide intelligence services with information about Klyachkivsky's whereabouts, equipment and security.

Also, on September 8, 1944, "Sokil" managed to meet in person with the commander of the "Tury", Yurii Stelmashchuk - "Rudyi", from whom the agent was tasked to form a new UPA hundred. Sokil's work was approved by the investigation.

He was instructed to establish the exact whereabouts of Klyachkivskyi and, with the help of militant agents, to capture Stelmashchuk alive. To do this, the leaders of NKGB decided to form a pseudo-hundred, staffed by a Soviet agents.

However, the case failed. The work of other agents also did not bring results. It seemed that the question of tracking "Klym Savur" was postponed for an uncertain future. Suddenly, an unexpected event changed the situation…

The assassination of "Klym Savur"

On February 5, 1945, "Pavel" - agent of the Klevan regional department of the NKGB reparted that Ahafia Kulakovska, a resident of the village of Susk, came to his apartment on January 24, 1945. She told that on the night of January 22, 1945, an active insurgent, Petro Bronovytskyi, came to her house. He ordered her daughter Liudmyla to go with the package to Penka Stasiuk and hand over the package to "Motria". After a short argument, Liudmyla Kulakovska complied with the order.

Waiting for Kulakovska to return home, Petro Bronevytskyi went to a resident of Susk - Yakiv Kondiuk, left his horse there, took some things from the owner and went in the direction of "Lysa Hora".

A hideout had been set up there during the German occupation, which the rebels, according to the agent, had significantly expanded and provided with plenty of food. Agent "Pavel" claimed that there were from 10 to 30 rebels in it.

Information on the case of the stay of about 30 insurgents in the village of Susk

The information obtained prompted the NKGBists to take action. An operation against the rebels was soon devised. Initially, it was to take place on the night of February 6-7 by the NKGB and NKVD district forces, which had 50 fighters at their disposal.

However, the operation appears to have been postponed for several days, fearing that the punitive forces would be too small to carry out an operation against 10-30 insurgents over a fairly large area. Therefore, the action was postponed to February 12 and 40 more NKVD Internal Troops soldiers joined it.

It was these 40 servicemen who were ordered to take Lysa Hora under siege. Along the way, they noticed fresh footprints and followed them. Later, soldiers found a trampled path. After walking a few tens of meters, the military saw another smoldering fire, which was disguised as bushes. There was straw around the fire, which indicated that there was a place where a group of people stood.

18-20 meters from the fire began a forest clearing, along which a fresh trail of tracks stretched. Stepping on this path, the NKVDists heard the rustle of snow and the crack of bushes. Junior lieutenant of state security Shatyaev and chief of the 233rd Rifle Battalion of the NKVD, senior lieutenant Khabibulin, dividing a group of fighters, went in different directions. A moment later, Khabibulin's group started firing.

Shooting, the rebels began to retreat. Two covered the departure of the third, who was trying to break away from the pursuit. After a brief skirmish, two insurgents were shot dead, and a third tried to retreat, but was killed immediately.

Describing the situation after the battle, junior lieutenant Shatyaev reported:

"I personally managed to approach the first corpse, which tried to leave. He himself was tall, blond, aged 30-35, with an elongated face, part of the teeth was inserted (...) He was dressed in a Red Army coat, in woolen green pants , armed with a PPSH submachine gun and a foreign-made pistol.

He was found with a military bag filled with various OUN-UPA documents, which I had taken. Looking at some documents and his identity, it became obvious that he was some kind of leader of the OUN-UPA… ".

Senior Lieutenant of the Internal Troops of the NKVD Khamai Khabibulin

Khabibulin, being a senior in the rank, ordered to leave all the corpses on the spot and continue the operation. However, the NKVDists did not find any more of the insurgents on "Lysa Hora". Only after returning to the village of Susk, Shatyaev and Khabibulin studied the documents and reported to the command that three insurgents had been killed.

Later, instructions were received to take the corpses first to Susk and then to Rivne.

In the evening of February 12, the liquidation of Dmytro Klyachkivskyi, "Klyma Savur" was announced.

Planned operation or attempt to hide an error?

Documents from the "Shchur" case significantly dissonate with the well-established thesis that the so-called Orzhiv operation with the involvement of 4-5 thousand officers of the Internal Troops of the NKVD was carried out to eliminate or capture Dmytro Klyachkivskyi.

The version about the Orzhiv operation grows from the documents of the central office of the NKVD and the NKGB, as well as based on the interrogation of the captured Stelmashchuk - "Rudyi". The sick and wounded commander testified that he had the last meeting with Dmytro Klyachkivskyi at the Orzhiv farms and had to arrive for another conversation with him on January 30.

He also pointed out that Klym Savur had security guards, and a 60-member special-purpose unit is usually stationed nearby. Allegedly, having received such valuable information, on the night of February 10, Orzhiv farms were surrounded by units of the NKVD Internal Troops.

However, questions arise. How it is possible plan and prepare such a large-scale operation in one day? Why was such an important "state criminal" as Dmytro Klyachkivskyi killed and not tried to be captured alive?

In the first report (written "by hand"), Shatiaev notes that he examined Klyachkivskyi's corpse, but did not recognize the UPA-North commander in the victim. How could the NKGB and NKVD officers go on an operation to capture Klyachkivskyi without first receiving a photograph of him and an accurate description of his appearance?

A fragment of the report of the senior operative Shatyaev about the so-called "operation on Orzhiv farms"

Shatyaev points out:

"I suggested to senior lieutenant Khabibulin to take one of the three killed bandits, who was the most interesting in terms of appearance and documents, but the senior lieutenant refused to take the bandit. However, when we arrived at the village of Susk (headquarters), we looked at the documents and I told that it should be a big figure, then the major (the battalion commander) ordered that all bandits be brought to Susk ... ".

As we see, the killed were just left in the woods for a while. It is quite logical to ask, where is the "large-scale and brilliantly prepared" operation against "Klym Savur" and why the battalion commander Khabibulin had no idea what Klyachkivskyi looked like?

We dare to assume that no operation actually took place. It seems that it was invented very quickly to cover up the obvious failure - the accidental murder of Dmytro Klyachkivsky, who should have been captured alive.

This conclusion is prompted by other nuances. Thus, in the first message to Lavrentiy Beria on February 13, 1945 at 5:40 p.m. People's Commissar of Internal Affairs of the USSR Ryasnoy noted that allegedly on the basis of Stelmashchuk's testimony an operation "with the task of capturing" "Klym Savur" was carried out. It is "capture", not "kill".

Trying to justify Klyachkivskyi's death, Ryasnoy claims that "it was not possible to capture these bandits alive, because they were shot with machine guns and killed one Red Army soldier." That is, the People's Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR tried to convince the People's Commissar of Internal Affairs of the USSR that a group of 40 servicemen who surrounded three (!) insurgents did not have the opportunity to take them alive!

However, the Shatyaev's report shows that no one tried to capture Klyachkivskyi and his bodyguards alive or wounded: "… sergeant killed him with one shot from a rifle…" No one shot him in the legs to immobilize and capture Klyachkivskyi.

Strange situation. Officer Shatyaev and his soldiers understand that the two insurgents are trying to "cover up" the departure of the third, who is obviously an important person. Moreover, they are allegedly conducting an operation to capture "Klyma Savur". But at the same time they kill him with one shot and, after an external examination of the body, leave the corpses in the woods.

Sergeant of the Internal Troops of the NKVD Ivan Baronov, a member of the so-called "Orzhiv operation"

In our opinion, such a situation could exist only in one case - the search group of the NKVD Internal Troops did not look for Dmytro Klyachkivskyi, but conducted a standard military-KGB operation.

"Klym Savur" and his bodyguards were perceived as ordinary rebels, while killing them. The punishers continued the offensive to their main goal - hideout on the mountain. And only further reports to Moscow are beginning to "grow" with details about the Orzhiv operation.

The Chekists tried to use Klyachkivskyi's accidental liquidation "to their advantage" and turn the "failure" into a "triumph." Ukrainian security officers began preparing reports on the awarding of prizes. During this process, the story of the Orzhiv operation was "overgrown" with new "heroic" details.

Thus, in the "handbook" on the Orzhiv operation, drawn up in April 1945, the Chekists wrote:

"During February 10 and 11, units of the 20th and 24th brigades in the area of Orzhiv farms discovered and defeated the personal guard of Klym Savur - a special purpose unit - the band leader "Uzbek" was killed. (…) Combing groves and forests relied on reconnaissance detachments.

On February 12, 1945, a reconnaissance detachment of the senior lieutenant Khabibulin, found a fresh trail in the snow near Orzhiv farms and organized a pursuit. As a result of a chase in a forest 5 km northeast of Orzhiv farms, a gang of 3 people was caught. They put up an armed resistance as a result of which the gang was liquidated. "

While reading this document, one gets the impression that the Orzhiv operation was similar in scale to the "battle for Berlin". Apparently, the Chekists did not want to lag behind the Red Army in the "victorious heat" and the banal accidental liquidation of "Savur" was described as a large-scale operation involving personally the highest command of the USSR State Security.

From this manipulation the huge award lists for security officers have emerged. "For the capture" of Stelmashchuk and "for the capture and liquidation" of Klyachkivskyi, 73 people were nominated for government awards.

Report to the People's Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR on the nomination of 73 people to government awards

Neither the head of the Klevan regional department of the NKVD, senior lieutenant Pronin, nor the head of the Klevan regional department of the NKGB, captain Platonenko, nor the junior lieutenant of the NKGB, Shatyaev, found a place in these long lists.

Namely, these people, as follows from the "Shchur" case, organized and conducted a local Chekist-military operation in which Dmytro Klyachkivskyi was killed. It is quite obvious that they did not fit into the picture of the grandiose Orzhiv operation.

The discussion around the Orzhiv operation is a kind of reminder for researchers, and even more so for journalists, publicists and politicians, how important it is to read documents of the Soviet secret services, taking into account the logic of the reporter and the context of the historical era.

The appearance of archival documents in the public domain is extremely important. However, as with any historical information of that time, these sources should be treated with caution.

The collection of documents from the archives of the NKVD Internal Troops was published by the Center for Liberation Movement Studies within the project "Making the Past Available: Digital Return of Exported Archives on the USSR's Struggle against the Liberation Movement", supported by the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation.

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The legend about the Orzhiv operation: How the Internal Troops of the NKVD accidentally killed Klym Savur

While reading this document, one gets the impression that the Orzhiv operation was similar in scale to the "battle for Berlin". Apparently, the Chekists did not want to lag behind the Red Army in the "victorious heat" and the banal accidental liquidation of "Savur" was described as a large-scale operation involving personally the highest command of the USSR State Security.