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8/31/15

A Little-Known Story: Maria Leontievna Bochkareva, Who Met President Wilson

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Of peasant stock, beaten by her alcoholic father, working since age eight, she married at fifteen and left her husband when he began beating her and swore to kill her. She married again, followed her husband to exile in Siberia but left him when he tried to hang her. In 1914 she fought for the Czar as the only woman in the 25th Tomsk Reserve Battalion, where fellow soldiers taught her to read and write. She was wounded twice, decorated three times for bravery, fought with frost-bitten feet, bayoneted German soldiers, and pulled fallen comrades to safety.
She was hit by shrapnel next her spine and, inoperable, she lay in hospital paralyzed for months.  She had to learn to walk again and returned to duty though not required. Enlisting as a private she was promoted into a commissioned rank. She and other officers were captured and waited their turn to be shot as they stood next heaps of corpses.  A soldier she had once dragged wounded out of the line of fire recognized her and spared her life.  In 1917 she fought against the Red Army for Kerensky, who charged her with forming and commanding the first female combat battalion, called the 1st Russian Women's Battalion of Death.

The Bolsheviks refused her a passport so, with the help of the British Consul, Maria Leontievna Bochkareva disguised herself as a veiled English lady and on an American transport locked herself in a cabin with American soldiers standing watch against Red Guard inspection until the ship got underway.  From Vladivostok she arrived in San Francisco, making her way to New York and Washington, D.C, sponsored by the wealthy socialite Florence Harriman (cousin of Averell Harriman, New York governor, Commerce Secretary, and Democratic party presidential candidate.)

Maria Bochkareva met with President Woodrow Wilson on July 10, 1918 and she told him of the Czarist army losing to the Germans because troops were demoralized due to planted, covert Bolshevik agents and Bolshevik connivance with the enemy. Officers were being discharged by soldier committees and the remaining generals were powerless to enforce discipline. Describing the horrible conditions of ordinary Russians, she begged Wilson to intervene.  Eyes wet, Wilson promised to do what he could, which turned out to be an expeditionary force of American troops to Siberia, forgotten to popular history.

In New York she met Isaac Don Levine, a Russian émigré, journalist, anti-Communist, and friend of Albert Einstein.  Through him she dictated her memoirs, Yashka: My Life As Peasant, Exile, and Soldier.  In Great Britain she was granted an audience with King George V. British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst called her “the greatest woman of the century.”

Back in Russia and forming a women's medical unit for White Admiral Kolchak, she was eventually captured by the Bolsheviks and found guilty as a White Russian, an enemy of the people.  This was ironic because as a peasant and laborer nobody could have been more proletarian.  Tied to a pole, blindfolded, a white aiming patch over her bosom, she was shot by a Cheka firing squad on May 16, 1920.  They shot her because her ideology had been corrupted by elitists.  Simply put, she fought on the other side.   More

Her book Yashka: My Life As Peasant, Exile, and Soldier can be downloaded free at Gutenberg or Google Books.
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