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Tuvan volunteers remembered and honored in Western Ukraine

Today is the birthday of Vera Chuldumovna Bailak, the legendary front fighter, medical worker of the volunteer cavalry squadron, and participant in the liberation of Ukrainian villages and towns from fascist occupation in 1944. The veteran was warmly greeted by the head of the republic, Sholban Kara-ool.

And a letter of greetings from faraway Rovno came to the administration of the Dzun-Khemchik district of Tuva, where Vera Chuldumovna’s large arat holding is located.

“Dear Vera Chuldumovna! Please accept cordial greetings and warm friendly regards at the occasion of your birthday from grateful citizens of Rovno, which you liberated from German-fascist aggressors, - says the telegram. We will always remember the heroic deed of Tuvan volunteers, who offered a brotherly helping hand in the difficult hour of the Soviet nation, and without regard of their own lives, fought in the ranks of the Red Army against the vicious enemy.”

The telegram was signed by the mayor of Rovno, Vladimir Khomko, and the chairman of the council of the veterans of the town of Rovno, Arkadiy Abushevich.

Warm regards were also sent by the head of the program “Vesti v subbotu” (Saturday News) Sergei Brilev, who visited Tuva at the end of August of this year.

Five years ago, in January-February of 2004, Vera Bailak and Kyrgys Chamzyryn, members of the volunteer squadron, were welcomed with great honor in Rovno. The region was celebrating the 60th anniversary of liberation from fascist aggressors.

“You know, my dears, - told the then-mayor of Rovno, Viktor Chaika, to the Tuvan veterans at one of the government functions, - It is necessary that you should come here all the time. It does not matter whether Chaika will still be here five years from now or not. Let’s decide about that.” - He attentively looked into Vera Chuldumovna’s eyes, then turned to Kyrgys Shoshkukovich. “let’s decide that, and please, stay alive and healthy!”

In 2008, Viktor Chaika died after a serious illness. On June 20, with firearm salvoes, Tuva said farewell to the hero of the front, who met the Day of Victory in Prague, Kyrgys Shoshkukovich Chamzyryn,.

Vladimir Khomko is now the head of Rovno. The new leaders of the town do nothing to change the memories. Nobody has tried to change the names of the “Street of Tuvan Volunteers”, of” Tyulyush Kechil-ool Street”.

“Of course, this is Western Ukraine, - says Arkadiy Abushevich. – And the mood is different. But if you come here on May 9, on the Day of Victory, you will understand that this is the holiday that is the dearest to all of us!”

Remember that Tuvan National Republic (independent state from 1921 to 1944) was one of the first entities to react to the treacherous attack by Germany on the Soviet Union. On June 22, 1941, the delegates of the Great Khural of TNR, meeting in Kyzyl, unanimously approved the declaration of war.

The declaration stated: “The Tuvan nation, with its entire revolutionary party and government at its head, not sparing lives or efforts, with all its strength and means, is prepared to join in the fight of Soviet Union against the fascist aggressor until the final victory over him.” The entire gold reserve of the republic was given to Moscow (around 30 million rubles). Between June 1941 and October 1944, Tuva sent five convoys of presents, having collected 50 thousand horses, 52 thousand pairs of skis, 12 thousand short fur coats, 15 thousand pairs of felt boots, 70 thousand tons of sheep wool, several hundred tons of meat, carts, sleighs, horse equipment and other goods to the total sum of about 66.5 million rubles for the needs of the Red Army. Several dozen fighter airplanes were bought for the money donated by the population.

In 1942, Soviet government admitted Tuvan volunteers into the army service. The first group of volunteers entered the ranks of the Red Army in May 1943, and were incorporated into the 25th tank division (from February 1944 acting as a part of 52nd army of the 2nd Ukrainian front) which fought in battles on the territories of Ukraine, Moldavia, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

In 1943, a second group of 206 volunteers was incorporated into the 8th Cavalry division. “The wild Asians”( as our compatriots were called by a prisoner of war captured by reconnaissance), who resisted tanks and heavy artillery on their small horses were called “ Schwarze Tod” - Black Death – by the Germans for their fearlessness, impetuosity and relentlessness.


She was married early in life. Shortly after the wedding, her husband Khapylak Saryglar was sent to study in Moscow at the Communist University of the Workers of the East. Their first-born Koosh-ool was not even one year old when 18-year-old Bailak tried to convince the Dzun-Khemchik khoshuun committee that she definitely has to go to the front. At first, it was not permitted. “You have to take care of your baby”. Then her parents came and announced: ”Let our daughter go to fight the fascists, and we’ll take care of our grandchild.” The committee gave up. They accepted Bailak into the squadron. For some time, her breasts were still painful and swollen from breastfeeding; the future cavalry hero’s shirt was stained with milk.

How she went to the front

It was a time of great propaganda – everything for the front. Everything for the military. All the women, children, and old people thought only of that. All the conversations were about the war. Armed teams were formed in the districts. In Chadan, all the girls worked mostly in the hospitals as nurses. Then somebody said that they should go to the front. To the war. We wrote an application. I remember that Chaskan Saryglar took it. They started testing us three girlfriends, as to what we can do at all, our preparation for life. But we, as children of poor arats, could do everything. We worked correctly and studied well. Our applications were sent to the government. In the summer, a positive answer came. And we? We started getting ready. We told our parents, who did not even know that we sent in the applications. We told our parents that we were going to the front, to fight those fascists, those snakes. And you will stay here! So that they won’t attack our Tuva too. They came to see us off – on horses, carts, bicycles. Many people showed up. Our parents asked us to fight well; they held lamaist and shamanic rituals for us, our relatives selected the best horses for us, then smoked and smudged us (for purification-hj) and the horses with artysh (juniper), grieved and lamented. We took an oath in the face of the Tuvan nation. And then – borbak-khaak (the border).”

About the war

“It is interesting that when we visited Rovno for the anniversary of the Victory, it was surprising to feel all that distance”, - remembered Vera Bailak in 2004 on Tyulyush Kechil-ool street in Rovno – this is where the squadron, already “experienced” after fighting at Derazhno, was the first to tear into the railroad station. “But at that time, during the war, Derazhno and Rovno seemed to be so close to each other. Maybe because we were so young, but now it seems to be a considerable distance. Such a great distance, and back then we made it so fast and easily! The Germans put up very determined opposition against us right in these streets. It was very hot. We went right through, without a break. In cold blood. Many of my poor comrades lost their lives here. The shooting was everywhere and we had to go only forward. It was the field of death. Final and terrible and very hard. But everything depended on the soldier, how well prepared and quick-witted. If you are weak, you are dead. You are finished. But if you are vigorous like a bird, (Eres), nothing will happen to you. Everything – hat, coat would be full of holes, but for some reason the body would remain untouched. Everything depends just on you yourself.”

About one brave exploit

“Once I sent all my kids on an assignment to the Germans’ rear. The headquarters ordered us to find a weak spot in the enemy’s defense, to clarify how many tanks and armored vehicles were gathered in the village. Not a very easy task. The neutral belt was well guarded and open to sight, it was especially difficult to get through. I told everything to the commander of the Tuvan squadron, Kechil-ool, and I asked him to send an experienced fighter to reconnoiter. He, without even thinking, suggested Oorzhak Bailak. Why specifically her, was something I understood only later.

Tiny, agile, dexterous and shrewd, she crept though the snowy field like a steppe weasel, right into the camp of the Hitler’s army. She saw everything, memorized everything. And suddenly, as if they grew right out of the earth, two big Germans loomed over her with their machine-guns aimed at her. It seemed that there was nothing to be done. But then the unexpected happened: the fascists, apparently, thought that Bailak was some juvenile, and lost their alertness for a moment. She, using the opportunity, in her turn shot both of them and came back to us.” (from the memoirs of reconnaissance officer Ivan Kuznetsov.)

How Vera changed the Commander’s orders

The fact that 10 Tuvan girl-volunteers were taken into the Tuvan squadron and did not end up in the kitchen was also because of Vera Chuldumovna.

“When we got to the training camp in Snegirevka in the Smolensk district on December 8, 1943, the commander of the sub-division, captain Kechil-ool, reported to the commander of the 31st Guards- Cavalry regiment about our arrival and added: everybody is well trained in shooting and dzhigitovka (acrobatic stunt-like horse-riding, literally “young man’s ride” - hj).

Yefim Abramovich reviewed the ranks, attentively looking into the wide-cheek-boned faces.

He snorted with surprise, and stopped in front of a delicate-looking adolescent.

-What is your name? How old are you?

The young Tuvan girl was silent and embarrassed.

-She does not understand Russian very well, she lived in a sumon, - explained Kechil-ool.

-Well, well, – Popov looked at his second in command, – Send her, and the other young ladies, to the kitchen. I am running a Cavalry regiment here.

Kechil-ool translated the commander’s words. The Tuvan girl, like a bird, flew up on her horse and took off at a gallop right from the spot. She jumped over a roadside ditch, and grabbing her blade from the scabbard, brandished it several times. Branches chopped off from the bushes flew and impaled into the snow. Throwing the reins down, the girl tore her carbine off her shoulder, and loudly yelled something in Tuvan…

-Do you see that pine-cone on top of that tree? – translated Kechil-ool.

A shot rang out. The pine-cone exploded into tiny fragments. The girl turned her horse back. That was Oorzhak Bailak.

-Are all those girls like that, Captain? The commander of the regiment did not try to hide his admiration.

-All of them, comrade colonel. The children of the mountains and steppes are in the saddle before they can walk…

-I take back that order! The squadron of Tuvan volunteers is to be entered into the regiment in its entirety. {from the book of V. Pivovarov “Dobrovoltsi” (Volunteers)}.

And today

It is interesting to note that with today’s increase in the prevalence of cattle rustling, Vera Chuldumovna’s sheepherding station remains unmolested by thieves. It could be because of respect for her exploits during the war, or because of rumors about her front-line sharp-shooting skills. They tried once, tells us Vera Chuldumovna, but I always have a gun at hand. And she sits firmly on a horse to this day. She remarks sadly about today’s mores and the young: “Today, everything could be fine. There is development. But the inner qualities of people are worse. Before, people were richer spiritually, simpler. Today, there are all the opportunities to get higher education, to study. But the attitude of the young, their thoughts, are poor. Before, people had knowledge even without institutes, just as if they finished higher education. It makes me bitter and sad that the young do not value these times, they just sit at the lectures, and do not take it seriously. And even the connection between the parents and the school has been lost. Both the teacher and the children think only of themselves. No upbringing. And all around, there is so much alienation! But only with joint effort it is possible to achieve something, at work, in school, in life. It is necessary to unite. That is how I understand it. But nowadays it is very complicated to do this. Almost unrealistic. But still it is necessary. That is what I think.”

Dina Oyun, translated by Heda Jindrak, photo by author
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