Photos from the New York YIVO Institute found in the Elias Tcherikower Archive.
These images show Fedir Shchus and his men. Shchus was a popular and prominent figure in the Makhnovist movement.
He was born to a poor peasant family in the Ukrainian village of Dibrivka.
He served with the Imperial Russian navy in WWI.
He retained his sailor cap throughout the Civil War and often wore a Hussar’s outfit, making him instantly recognizable in photos. He was a capable commander and apparently well-versed in martial arts
Shchus initially led his own independent group in the insurgent struggle against the German Army’s Occupation of Ukraine. In a legendary battle against the occupation forces in Dibrivka, Shchus combined his forces with Makhno and accepted him as his Bat’ko (father/leader). As a result of Shchus and Makhno’s resistance, Dibrivka suffered a devastating fate that saw the Germans and Austrians burn down much of the village. Many inhabitants were massacred and suffered great abuse.
Makhno and Shchus’s relationship was at times tense. Makhno accused Shchus of conducting unauthorized raids and killing peaceful civilians. In one case, concerning the murder of German colonists Makhno allegedly threatened to shoot Shchus.
In 1919, Shchus led a 2000 man strong Makhnovist cavalry brigade that operated in the area of Oleksandrivsk (Zaporizhia city). Shchus remained loyal to the Makhnovist cause until his death at the hands of the Bolsheviks in June 1921.
Shchus is the centre figure is each photo.
Some writers wrote that Shchus served on the battleship « Ioann Zlatoust » in WWI. While Shchus did sometimes wear a cap with such an inscription, he did not actually serve on the battleship. I thank Viktor Belov-Shchus for this correction. Viktor writes: « According to available information, he [Fedir Shchus] served in a detachment of the submarine fleet, and wore capless caps of different ships (at least four are known). » Viktor is a distant relative of Fedir Shchus about whom he has written an extensively researched biography. Viktor is currently seeking a publisher for his book.