Remarkable Story of a War Veteran

Michal Vasilevič Fedorko was born in 1921 in a small village, Hrbok, in Subcarpathia. He studied at the local high school and tried to cross the border to the Soviet Union to fight in the Red Army against fascists. During his second trial he was imprisoned by the Soviets and sent to a working camp (gulag) for 3 years. In 1943, he became part of the Czechoslovak resistance and fought as a military observer in the battles of Kiev and Dukla. He was awarded with a Czechoslovak War Cross and a Czechoslovak Badge of Bravery. He then worked as an inspector in the Ministry of Defense in Prague. He is now 94 years old and lives in the Military University Hospital in Prague with other war veterans, where I visited him to ask him about his story.

Mr. Fedorko, how were you engaged in the World War II?

I went through the whole war from the beginning until the end. When I was still a student in 1939 I tried to escape to the Soviet Union to fight in the Red Army against the Germans. Unfortunately I was caught. They thought I was a spy and that is why they sent me back.

Is it the reason why you decided do cross the border again?

Yes, I traversed the border with my friend in July 1940, but we were arrested by the Hungarian Army. We had to stay in their camp, but we decided to organize a secret crossover to the Soviet Union. When we crossed the Ukrainian border, the Soviets immediately arrested us. They were not at all interested in our help. They thought we were enemies, because we came from a Fascist state. During the interrogation they accused me of being a spy and sentenced me to work for 3 years in a Russian gulag.

I cannot even image, how terrible experience this must have been.

It was horrible. They transferred us in a cattle wagon to Vorkuta, a tiny town just north of the Arctic circle, where temperatures drop to -45°C (-49°F). In those days there were only two houses and during those three years I worked in coal mines and built a power plant and houses. I was lucky that I worked for a Commander of the Czech Army. I am not sure whether I would have survived had I worked for a Soviet Commander. In 1943, the Soviets agreed that we could create a liberating Czechoslovak army.

You left the gulag then and started preparing for the war?

Indeed. In 1943,me and another 1,000 other prisoners were gathered and sent to a Russian town of Buzuluk. I was trained there as a military observer. I joined the First Czechoslovak Independent Brigade in the USSR, for which I conducted observations along with five other soldiers. In October 1943, we liberated Kiev which was occupied by the German Army. Our operation was successful and the local people thanked us.

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What does a military observer position entail?

My job was to go in front of the army and explore the ground. I tried to find out information about the location of the enemy’s army, their weaponry and their offensive plans and deliver it to the Commander. It was a very dangerous position, since I was often alone and I only had a gun and no grenades. I knew that if the Germans attacked me, I would start shooting at them. But if they were to imprison me, I would rather shoot myself, because I knew how terribly they treated captives.

How did you proceed?

We then advanced throughout Ukraine liberating one city after another. Once it happened to me that I was in a proximity to the German army which starting firing and a grenade’s splinter hit my chest. The nurses persuaded me to stay in the hospital, but I joined the Army straightaway. We also liberated Buzovka and Volhynia, a town with a 30,000 Czech minority. Some 12,000 Czechs joined the army and we had to prepare for the Battle of the Dukla Pass.

How did the operation go?

Well, we only had 10 days to prepare for it. We thought that we would cross the Czechoslovak border quickly and support the Slovak National Uprising. At the end, it took us three months to conquer the Germans and many people died on both sides – 19,000 Soviet soldiers, 1,800 Czechoslovak soldiers and 4,500 were injured. I was also injured and had to recover in a hospital in December 1944. But then they decided that I would be a commander of a squad with 36 selected soldiers in Prešov and I said yes.

What was your task?

We secured bridges, ensured the supply of weaponry and collected deserters. We crossed the whole of Slovakia and reached Moravian town Prostějov where the battles ceased in May 1945. On our way to Prague we captured hostile soldiers who did not want to give up.

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How did you feel when the war was over?

I was incredibly happy that I survived. I was so lucky. Many of my friends died and I saw so much suffering – burnt villages, crippled people shouting for help and dead people. I was happy that it was all over.

How did your life continue after the war?

I graduated from Military University in Brno as a commissioned officer and in 1947 I was transferred to a town called Čáslav. I refused to join the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and became an enemy of the state. As a consequence I got transferred many times across the whole country. Luckily a good friend of mine from the war put in a good word for me and I could live in Prague and get a job at the Ministry of Defense. I then got married in 1948, had 2 children and lived my whole life in Prague. Now I am 94 years old and I live in the Military Hospital with other war veterans.

Thank you very much for telling us your incredible story.

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Copyright: M. V. Fedorko

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