Nestor Ivanovych Makhno
Не́стор Івáнович Махно́
1921. Нестор Махно в лагере для перемещенных лиц в Румынии.jpg
Ataman of the Makhnovshchina
In office
September 30, 1918 (1918-09-30) – August 28, 1921 (1921-08-28)
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byViktor Belash
Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Soviet
In office
July 27, 1919 (1919-07-27) – September 1, 1919 (1919-09-01)
Preceded byIvan Chernoknizhny
Succeeded byVolin
Personal details
Born(1888-11-08)November 8, 1888
Huliaipole, Oleksandrivsky, Katerynoslav, Russian Empire
DiedJuly 25, 1934(1934-07-25) (aged 45)
Paris, France
Cause of deathTuberculosis
Resting placePère Lachaise Cemetery, Columbarium niche 6685
Height1.65 m (5 ft 5 in)[1]
Spouse(s)Halyna Kuzmenko
ChildrenOlena Makhno
  • Ivan Mikhnenko (father)
  • Evdokia Makhnovka (mother)
Military service
Allegiance Makhnovshchina
Service Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine
Years of service1918–1921
Battles/warsUkrainian War of Independence

Nestor Ivanovych Makhno (Ukrainian: Не́стор Івáнович Махно́, [ˈnɛstor iˈwɑnowɪtʃ mɐxˈnɔ];[a] November 8 [O.S. October 27] 1888 – July 25, 1934), also known as Bat'ko Makhno (Ukrainian: Бáтько Махно́; [ˈbɑtʲko mɐxˈnɔ], "Father Makhno"),[b] was a Ukrainian anarchist revolutionary and the commander of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine from 1917 to 1921.

Makhno was the namesake of the Makhnovshchina (loosely translated as "Makhno movement"), a predominantly peasant phenomenon that grew into a mass social movement. It was initially centered around Makhno's hometown Huliaipole but over the course of the Russian Civil War came to exert a strong influence over large areas of southern Ukraine. Makhno and the movement's leadership were anarcho-communists and attempted to guide the movement along these ideological lines. Makhno was aggressively opposed to all factions that sought to impose their authority over southern Ukraine, battling in succession the forces of the Ukrainian People's Republic, Central Powers, White Army, Red Army, and other smaller forces led by various Ukrainian atamans. He is also credited as the inventor of the tachanka—a horse-drawn carriage with a mounted heavy machine gun.[6] Makhno and his supporters attempted to reorganize social and economic life along anarchist lines, including the establishment of communes on former landed estates, the requisition and egalitarian redistribution of land to the peasants, and the organization of free elections to local soviets (councils) and regional congresses. However, the disruption of the civil war precluded a stable territorial base for any long-term social experiments.

Although Makhno considered the Bolsheviks a threat to the development of an anarchist "free territory" within Ukraine, he entered into formal military alliances twice with the Red Army to defeat the White Army. In the aftermath of the White Army's defeat in Crimea in November 1920, the Bolsheviks initiated a military campaign against Makhno. After an extended period of open resistance against the Red Army, Makhno fled across the Romanian border in August 1921. In exile, Makhno settled in Paris with his wife Halyna and daughter Olena. During this period, Makhno wrote numerous memoirs and articles for radical newspapers. Makhno also played an important role in the development of platformism and the debates around the 1926 Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft). Makhno died in 1934 in Paris at the age of 45 from tuberculosis-related causes.

Early life

On November 8 [O.S. October 27] 1888,[c] Nestor Makhno was born into a poor peasant family in Huliaipole, a town in the Katerynoslav Governorate of the Russian Empire (now Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Ukraine).[9] He was the youngest of five children born to Ivan Mikhnenko and Evdokia Makhnovka, former serfs who had been emancipated in 1861.[10]

Nestor Makhno in 1906
Nestor Makhno in 1906

Unable to feed his family on their small plot of land, following Nestor's birth, Ivan Mikhnenko went to work as a coachman for a wealthy industrialist. When Nestor was only ten months old, his father died, leaving behind an impoverished family.[11] Nestor was briefly fostered by a more well-off peasant couple, but he was unhappy with them and returned to his family of birth.[12] At only seven years old, the young Nestor was put to work tending livestock.[13] When he turned eight years old, he began his education in a local secular school as a model student before becoming increasingly truant. One day, while ditching school to go ice skating, Nestor fell through the ice and nearly drowned. His walk home in frozen clothes contributed to the beginning of his breathing problems. After returning to his studies, he went to work on the estate of a kulak, bringing home 20 rubles over the course of the summer. His brothers[d] also worked as farmhands to support the family.[12]

When Nestor returned to school, he again proved to be a gifted student, excelling in arithmetic and reading. However, that school year proved to be his last, as his family's extreme poverty forced the ten-year-old Nestor to begin working in the fields full-time, which led him to develop a "sort of rage, resentment, even hatred for the wealthy property-owner".[15] Nestor's aversion to the landlords only increased over time, nurtured by stories his mother told him of her time in serfdom and tales of the Zaporozhian Cossacks. In the summer of 1902, when Nestor was twelve, he observed a farm manager and the landlord's sons physically beating a young farmhand. He quickly alerted an older stable boy "Batko Ivan", who attacked the assailants and led a wildcat strike action against the landlord. After the affair was settled, Ivan told Nestor: "if one of your masters should ever strike you, pick up the first pitchfork you lay hands on and let him have it..."[16] The following year, Nestor quit working in the fields and found a job in a foundry.[17] At this time, his older brothers had left home and started their own families, leaving only the young Nestor and Grigory with their mother. Nestor moved between jobs, quitting his job at a wine merchants' within months of starting, which began his life-long distaste for alcohol, according to Alexandre Skirda. He started to focus his work on his mother's land, occasionally returning to employment to help provide for his brothers.[18]

Revolutionary activity

When the 1905 revolution broke out, the seventeen-year-old Makhno quickly joined the revolutionary fervor. He distributed propaganda for the Ukrainian Social Democratic Labor Party before affiliating with the Union of Poor Peasants,[19] an anarchist group in his hometown that instilled in him a deeply held anti-authoritarianism.[18] Despite the political climate, which included Tsarist repression of revolutionaries,[20] the dozen-strong Union continued to meet weekly and inspired Makhno to devote himself to the revolution.[21]

Makhno (bottom left) sitting with other members of the Union of Poor Peasants in 1907
Makhno (bottom left) sitting with other members of the Union of Poor Peasants in 1907

After six months in the Union of Poor Peasants, Makhno had thoroughly educated himself on the principles of libertarian communism and became a formal member. The group distributed anarchist propaganda among the peasantry, carried out a campaign of "Black Terror" against the Tsarist autocracy, and expropriated from local businessmen. The money they stole was used either to print more propaganda or to purchase weapons and explosives.[22] When the Stolypin reform abolished community assemblies (obshchina), the landowning peasant kulaks grew even wealthier, leading the group to begin setting fire to the property of wealthy landowners.[23] Makhno was arrested in September 1907 but was released without charges after ten months of interrogation in prison. As the rest of the group's members had been outlawed, Makhno founded another anarchist study group in a neighboring village, where two dozen members gathered on a weekly basis to discuss anarchist theory.[24]

Nestor Makhno in 1909
Nestor Makhno in 1909

This new group quickly found themselves infiltrated. Two spies were executed and the Okhrana broke up one of the study group's meetings. The group managed to escape after a shootout with the police but one member was killed in the clash. The group plotted to execute the provincial governor in retaliation, but their attempts failed and Makhno was arrested following another shootout.[25]


On March 26, 1910, Makhno was sentenced to be hanged. He refused to seek appeal.[26] Makhno's sentence was commuted to a life sentence of hard labor, due in part to his young age.[27] Makhno contracted typhoid fever in prison, which was nearly fatal. He eventually recovered and returned to work in chains.[28] He was moved to the prison in Luhansk, where family briefly visited him before being moved again to the prison in Katerynoslav. In August 1911, he was transferred one final time to Butyrskaya prison in Moscow, where over 3,000 political prisoners were being held. Through the other prisoners he learned Russian history and political theory, taking a particular interest in Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution by Peter Kropotkin.[29] Makhno's frequent boasting in prison earned him the nickname "Modest". He sometimes even antagonized the guards, which landed him in solitary confinement.[30] Due to punishment cell conditions, Makhno quickly fell sick again and was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. The disease kept him returning to the prison hospital throughout his sentence.[31]

In Butyrskaya prison, Makhno met the anarcho-communist politician Peter Arshinov, who took the young anarchist under his wing as a student.[32] But during this time, Makhno also became disillusioned with intellectualism after seeing the differences between how the prison guards treated the intellectual prisoners and those inmates from the lower classes.[33] As the years passed, Makhno began to write his own works and distributed them among his fellow prisoners,[34] starting off with a poem titled Summons that called for a libertarian communist revolution.[35] Prison did not break his revolutionary zeal, with Makhno vowing that he would "contribute to the free re-birth of his country". Although influenced by the ideas of Ukrainian nationalism, Makhno nevertheless remained hostile to nationalism, taking the internationalist position during World War I[36] and even circulating an anti-war petition around the prison.[37] When the prison doors were flung open during the February Revolution of 1917,[38] Makhno was released from bondage for the first time in eight years, even finding himself off-balance without the chains weighing him down[36] and in need of sunglasses after years in dark prison cells.[39] He remained in Moscow for three weeks,[40] briefly getting involved with an anarchist group in Moscow's Lefortovo District until March 23,[41] when he was finally convinced to return to Huliaipole by his family.[42]

Agrarian activism

Makhno in 1918
Makhno in 1918

Following years of imprisonment, in March 1917, the 27-year-old Makhno finally returned to Huliaipole, where he was reunited with his mother and elder brothers. At the station, he was greeted by many of the town's peasants, who were curious to see the return of the famous political exile, as well as surviving members from the now-defunct Union of Poor Peasants. Clashing with many of the group's former members, who wanted to focus on propaganda, Makhno proposed that libertarians take the role of a revolutionary vanguard in order to ignite mass action among the peasantry, but found his position a minority among the anarchists of Huliaipole.[43] He instead led the establishment of a local Peasants' Union on March 29 and was elected as its chairman.[44] The union quickly came to represent the majority of Huliaipole's peasantry and even those from the surrounding region. Carpenters and metalworkers also formed their own industrial unions and elected Makhno as their chairman.[45] By April, Huliaipole's Public Committee, the local organ of the Provisional Government, had been brought under the control of the town's peasantry and anarcho-communist activists.[46] It was during this period of rising anarchist activity in Huliaipole that Makhno met Nastia Vasetskaia, who would become his first wife, but his activism kept him too busy to focus on his marriage.[47]

Makhno quickly became a leading figure in Huliaipole's revolutionary movement, aiming to sideline any political parties that sought to seize control of the workers' organizations. He justified his leadership as only a temporary responsibility.[48] As a union leader, Makhno led workers in strike actions against their employers, demanding wages be doubled and vowing the continuation of work stoppages in case of their refusal, eventually resulting in the establishment of workers' control over all industry in Huliaipole.[49] As Huliaipole's delegate to the regional peasant congress in Oleksandrivsk, he called for the expropriation of large estates from landowners and their transfer to communal ownership by the peasants that worked them, becoming infamous throughout the region.[48] However, he quickly became disillusioned with the long debates and party politics that dominated the congress, considering Huliaipole to have "advanced beyond what the congresses were merely talking about, without the constant wrangling and jockeying for position."[50] Makhno subsequently disarmed and minimized the powers of local law enforcement prior to seizing property from local landlords and equally redistributing the lands to the peasantry,[51] in open defiance of the Russian Provisional Government and its officials in Oleksandrivsk.[52] All this gave him an image of social banditry,[53] as local peasants compared him to the Cossack rebel leaders Stenka Razin and Yemelyan Pugachev, and rallied around the slogan of "Land and Liberty".[54]

Although he had achieved success at home, Makhno was disappointed to discover general disorganization among the wider Ukrainian anarchist movement, which largely dedicated itself to propaganda activities. Despite its large size, the anarchist movement found itself unable to compete with the established political parties, as it had yet to establish a coordinated organization capable of playing a leading role in the revolutionary movement.[55] Following news of Lavr Kornilov's attempted coup against the Provisional Government, Makhno led the establishment of a "Committee for the Defense of the Revolution" in Huliaipole, which organized armed peasant detachments against the local landlords, bourgeoisie, and kulaks.[56] Makhno called for the local bourgeoisie to be disarmed and their property expropriated, with all private enterprise to be brought under workers' control. Peasants withheld rent and took control of the lands they worked. Large estates collectivized and transformed into agrarian communes. Makhno personally organized communes on former Mennonite settlements.[57] Makhno and Nastia lived together on a commune and Makhno himself worked two days per week, helping with the farming and occasionally fixing machines.[58]

Following the 1917 October Revolution, Makhno bore witness to the rising hostilities between the Ukrainian nationalists and the Bolsheviks. At one point, he resolved a dispute between the two factions at a provincial congress in Katerynoslav.[59] With the outbreak of the Soviet–Ukrainian War, Makhno advised anarchists to take up arms alongside the Red Guards against the forces of the Ukrainian nationalists and the White movement.[60] After dispatching his brother Savely to Oleksandrivsk at the head of an armed anarchist detachment, Makhno was brought onto the local revolutionary tribunal, from which he oversaw the prosecution of counterrevolutionary army officers,[61] even placing the man who had prosecuted him in the same cell that he had been imprisoned in a decade earlier.[62] Makhno also oversaw the release of still imprisoned workers and peasants, defended Huliaipole successfully against a Don Cossack raid, and expropriated from a bank to fund the local soviet.[63]

Journey to Moscow

Map of Southern Russia and the cities Makhno travelled through in May 1918, including: Rostov-on-Don (6), Tsaritsyn (3) and Astrakhan (2).
Map of Southern Russia and the cities Makhno travelled through in May 1918, including: Rostov-on-Don (6), Tsaritsyn (3) and Astrakhan (2).

Following the 1918 Central Powers intervention in Ukraine, Makhno quickly formed a volunteer detachment to resist the occupation. They traveled to join the Red Guards in Oleksandrivsk.[64] In the detachment's absence, Ukrainian nationalists seized control of Huliaipole from the soviet and invited Austro-Hungarian Army forces to occupy the town.[65] Unable to return home, the Makhno detachment retreated to Taganrog, where a conference of Huliaipole's exiled anarchists was held. Makhno left to rally Russian support for the Ukrainian anarchist cause with plans to retake Huliaipole in July 1918.[66] In early May, Makhno visited Rostov-on-Don, Tikhoretsk, and Tsaritsyn,[67] where he was briefly reunited with Nastia and a number of his Huliaipole comrades.[68]

On his travels, Makhno witnessed the newly established Cheka confront, disarm, and kill revolutionary partisans who disobeyed their decrees,[69] causing Makhno to question whether "institutional revolutionaries" would extinguish the revolution.[70] In Astrakhan, Makhno found himself working for the local Soviet's propaganda department and giving speeches to Red soldiers bound for the front.[71] Aboard an armored train to Moscow near the end of May,[71] Makhno used the train's artillery to disentangle it from the advance of the Don Cossacks, who had been pursuing Red Guards in Makhno's company.[72]

After spending a few days in the Volga region, Makhno finally arrived in Moscow,[73] which he pejoratively dubbed "the capital of the paper revolution", with local anarchist intellectuals more predisposed to slogans and manifestos than action.[74] Here he again made contact with Peter Arshinov and others in the Muscovite anarchist movement, many of whom were under surveillance by the Bolshevik authorities.[75] He also met the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries beginning to turn against the Bolsheviks.[76] Makhno discussed Ukraine with the anarcho-communist theorist Peter Kropotkin,[77] who wished Makhno well.[78]

Satisfied with his time in Moscow and in need of forged identity papers to cross the Ukraine border, Makhno applied to the Kremlin. Yakov Sverdlov immediately arranged for Makhno to meet Vladimir Lenin.[79] Lenin showered Makhno with questions about Ukraine, which Makhno answered, even as Lenin bemoaned that the country's peasantry had been "contaminated by anarchism".[80] Makhno staunchly defended the Ukrainian anarchist movement from charges of "counter-revolution", criticizing the Red Guards for sticking to the railways while peasant partisans fought on the front lines.[81] Lenin expressed his admiration for Makhno and admitted his mistakes regarding the revolutionary conditions in Ukraine, where anarchists had already become the predominant revolutionary force.[82] After a long conversation, Lenin passed Makhno on to Volodymyr Zatonsky, who fulfilled his request for a false passport. The young Ukrainian finally departed for the border in late June,[83] content that he had "take[n] the temperature of the revolution".[84]

Leader of the Makhnovist movement

Main articles: Makhnovshchina and Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine

Disguised as an officer of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Makhno crossed the Ukrainian border on foot, through the front lines, in July 1918.[85] He learned that the Germans occupying Huliaipole had shot, tortured, and arrested many of the town's revolutionaries, including his brothers. Emilian had been mistaken for Nestor and killed. Their mother's house was destroyed.[86] Nestor himself was forced to take a number of precautions to evade capture by the imperial German authorities. To avoid recognition while aboard the crowded train carriages, he changed at Kharkiv and Synelnykove, ultimately deciding to walk the final 27 kilometers to Rozhdestvenskoye after his train was searched by police.[87] In correspondence, comrades in his hometown of Huliaipole discouraged Makhno from returning, with fear he would be caught by the authorities.[88]

Despite the discouragement, after weeks in hiding, Makhno clandestinely returned to Huliaipole. In a number of secret meetings, he began to lay plans for an insurrection and started to organize peasant partisans.[89] He advocated that they build support by attacking the estates of large landowners,[90] advised against individual acts of terrorism, and forbade anti-semitic pogroms.[91] From the outset, Makhno emphasized tactical and theoretical unity, patiently awaiting favorable conditions for a general insurrection.[92] The authorities discovered and placed a bounty on Makhno, who retreated and only narrowly escaped capture. In Ternivka, Makhno revealed himself to the local population and established a peasant detachment to lead attacks against the anti-socialist Hetmanate government positions.[93] In coordination with partisans in Rozhdestvenskoye and armed with weapons from the former Ukrainian People's Army, Makhno resolved to reoccupy Huliaipole as a permanent headquarters for the insurgent movement. He raided multiple Austrian positions, seizing weapons and money, leading to the intensification of the insurrection.[94] While disguised as a woman, Makhno even briefly returned to Huliaipole, where he planned to blow up the local command center of the occupation forces but called off the attack due to the risks of killing innocent civilians.[95]

In September 1918, Makhno moved to reoccupy Huliaipole. In disguise as a captain of the National Guard, he encountered an actual National Guard contingent and ordered them to lay down their arms. After learning from them the whereabouts and strength of the local occupation forces, he revealed himself to be Nestor Makhno and shot them when they tried to run away.[96] He and his comrades reached Huliaipole within a few days, where he discovered that the German occupation forces had been spreading misinformation about him, claiming he had robbed the local peasantry and ran away with the money to buy a dacha in Moscow.[97] After beating the Austrian occupation forces in Marfopol [uk], Makhno produced a letter that was translated into the German language, encouraging the conscripted troops to mutiny, return home and launch revolutions of their own.[98] While his comrades scattered themselves throughout the region to rouse the peasants to revolt, Makhno went to Huliaipole and prepared proclamations for when the region was under insurgent control.[99] When the occupation forces counterattacked, Makhno decided to evacuate Huliaipole and retreat, rather than dig in. His comrades challenged his tactical decision, but as conditions proved Makhno's decision to be the most viable, they gradually fell into line.[100]

Makhno with Fedir Shchus in 1919
Makhno with Fedir Shchus in 1919

Upon linking up with the forces of Fedir Shchus, Makhno warned of a coming invasion by the White movement and issued a rallying cry to resist it.[101] When their force was ambushed in Dibrivka [uk], Makhno's tactics prevented their immediate defeat. He subsequently gave a speech, encouraging the insurgents to attack the far larger enemy force, resulting in the local peasantry giving him the title of Bat'ko (English: Father).[102] With only a small force, Makhno led the surprise counterattack and successfully routed the local Austrian forces.[103]

Makhno subsequently led a series of attacks against the occupation forces, White Russians, and their Ukrainian collaborators.[104] He remained opposed to indiscriminate attacks against wealthy Ukrainians, preferring instead to prosecute a "social war" that targeted their money, rather than their lives.[105] The Bat'ko also focused much of his energies on agitating the peasantry, stopping in villages to give impassioned speeches against his enemies, gathering much support wherever he went.[106] Despite being wounded and almost dying during a Hungarian attack on Temirivka [uk], Makhno's position at the head of the insurgent movement grew more powerful, with the German high command even resolving to directly meet a number of Makhno's demands.[107] By November 1918, the insurgents had definitively retaken Huliaipole and the entirety of left-bank Ukraine was in revolt against the Central Powers.[108] At a regional insurgent conference, Makhno proposed that they open up a war on four simultaneous fronts against the Hetmanate, Central Powers, Don Cossacks, and White movement. He argued that in order to prosecute such a conflict, it would be necessary to organize an insurgent army along a federal model, directly answerable to him as commander-in-chief.[109] Not long after taking command, Makhno was almost killed on two separate occasions, with rumors even circulating of his death at the hands of the White movement.[110] Makhno fought "day and night in the front lines and without rest",[111] even being forced to miss a number of important congresses due to his preoccupation with the war.[112]

Commander in the Red Army

Pavel Dybenko (left) with Makhno (right)
Pavel Dybenko (left) with Makhno (right)

During the insurgent attack against the nationalist-held city of Katerynoslav, Lenin sent Makhno a dispatch that confirmed him as commander-in-chief of the Soviet forces in the Katerynoslav Governorate. Makhno, who personally stood in the way of the Bolsheviks' attempts to seize control of the city, rebuffed this offer.[113] When a nationalist counteroffensive forced Makhno to retreat to Huliaipole, he undertook a complete reorganization of insurgent forces on every front, eventually culminating with their integration into the Ukrainian Soviet Army as the 3rd Trans-Dnieper Brigade, with Makhno subordinating himself to the command of Pavel Dybenko.[114] On February 12, 1919, Makhno was finally able to extricate himself from the front to attend a regional congress in Huliaipole,[115] where he was elected honorary chairman, himself rejecting official chairmanship due to the situation at the front requiring his attention.[116] At the congress, he declared his support for "non-party soviets",[117] in open defiance of his Bolshevik commanders.[118]

Nestor Makhno, pictured during his command within the 1st Zadneprovsk Ukrainian Soviet Division
Nestor Makhno, pictured during his command within the 1st Zadneprovsk Ukrainian Soviet Division

Makhno justified the integration of the insurgent forces into the Red Army as a matter of placing the "revolution's interests above ideological differences",[119] but he was nevertheless open about his contempt for the new order of political commissars,[120] with some complaining he had treated them "with sarcasm".[121] The Bolshevik interference in front-line operations even led to Makhno arresting a Cheka detachment, which had directly obstructed his command.[122] He also engaged in debates with Josef Dybets, an anarcho-syndicalist turned Bolshevik, during which Makhno reiterated his intention to establish a self-governing "Anarchist Republic", after the defeat of both the White movement and the Bolsheviks.[123] Despite his hostility to the Bolsheviks, Makhno still respected freedom of the press, authorizing Bolshevik newspapers to be distributed in Huliaipole, Berdiansk, and Mariupol, even as the papers published denunciations of the Makhnovists.[124] By April 1919, the newspaper Pravda was publishing glowing reports of Makhno's activities,[125] praising him for his opposition to Ukrainian nationalism, his successful assault against Katerynoslav, and his continued successes against the White movement, while also detailing Makhno's widespread support amongst the Ukrainian peasantry.[126] However, this did not stop Pavel Dybenko from declaring the insurgents' subsequent regional congress to be "counter-revolutionary", outlawing its participants and ordering Makhno to prevent future congresses from taking place,[127] despite Makhno himself being preoccupied at the front lines.[128]

Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Soviet Army

To resolve the dispute, Makhno invited Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko to visit Huliaipole, enthusing the Ukrainian commander-in-chief enough to reject a Bolshevik request for Makhno's removal from command.[129] Upon arrival, Makhno informed Antonov-Ovseenko of the situation at the front, introduced him to members of the local Soviet and reunited him with his "old acquaintance" Maria Nikiforova.[130] As news came in of the insurgents' successful capture of Mariupol, Makhno proceeded to promise further successes at the front, provided that the insurgents received the necessary equipment. Makhno further elaborated on the material shortages that the insurgents were suffering and bemoaned the problems caused by the 9th Soviet Reserve Division, which he described as "prone to panic", claiming that "its command's sympathies lay with the Whites".[131] Following another discussion with Makhno about the newly established Hungarian Soviet Republic and the situation at the front lines against the Whites, the two shook hands as Makhno promised to prevent counter-revolutionary activity and continue their war against the "bourgeois generals".[132]

Upon his return, Antonov-Ovseenko openly praised Makhno and the insurgents, criticizing the Bolshevik press for publishing misinformation about Makhno and requesting the Makhnovists be supplied with the necessary equipment.[133] His reports quickly attracted Lev Kamenev to himself visit Huliaipole the very next week.[134] Kamenev too was greeted by Makhno and his new wife Halyna Kuzmenko, who gave the Bolshevik functionary a tour of the town, making sure to show off a tree where Makhno had personally lynched a White army officer.[135] Despite disagreements between the two over the autonomy of the insurgent movement, Kamanev bade farewell to Makhno with an embrace and warm words.[136] Kamenev immediately published an open letter to Makhno, praising him as an "honest and courageous fighter" in the war against the White movement.[137] However, in a private telegram sent to Lenin that same day, Kamenev proposed only a "temporary diplomatic with Makhno's army". After a Bolshevik-backed assassination attempt against Makhno was thwarted, some anarchists like Peter Arshinov began to wonder if the visit to Huliaipole had actually been a reconnaissance mission to prepare a Red Army offensive against the insurgents. Makhno himself was warned by sympathetic Soviet functionaries not to travel to the cities of Katerynoslav and Kharkiv, fearing a trap would be laid for him there.[138]

Nikifor Grigoriev (left), ataman of the green army in Kherson, who would be assassinated during a meeting with Makhno
Nikifor Grigoriev (left), ataman of the green army in Kherson, who would be assassinated during a meeting with Makhno

After Nikifor Grigoriev revolted against the Bolsheviks, Kamenev sent a telegram to Makhno, asking him to condemn Grigoriev or else face a declaration of war.[139] Grigoriev had previously attempted to form an alliance with Makhno against the Bolsheviks,[140] but this proposal went unanswered.[141] Makhno responded to Kamenev's request by reaffirming his commitment to the struggle against the White movement, which he worried would be endangered by opening conflict with Grigoriev.[142] In a direct telegram to Kamenev, Makhno declared his loyalty to the "worker and peasant revolution", while also stating that he would continue to oppose the actions of the Cheka and any other "organs of oppression and violence".[143] In an insurgent military congress on May 12, Makhno expanded on this anti-authoritarian position with a denunciation of the Bolsheviks, their implementation of bureaucratic collectivism, and their political repression, which he compared to the Tsarist autocracy.[144] After Makhnovist emissaries uncovered evidence of Grigoriev's participation in pogroms, Makhno openly denounced him for his displays of antisemitism and Ukrainian nationalism, going on to blame the Bolsheviks for the rise of Grigoriev, claiming it was their political repression that had caused the uprising.[145]

The Red Army high command responded by attempting to reign in Makhno's influence over his detachment, with his commander Anatoly Skachko [ru] even declaring that "he is to be liquidated".[146] By the end of May 1919, the Revolutionary Military Council had pronounced Makhno to be an outlaw,[147] issuing a warrant for his arrest and for him to be tried before a revolutionary tribunal.[148] On June 2, Leon Trotsky published a diatribe against Makhno, attacking him for his anarchist ideology and even labeling him as a "kulak".[149]

A few days later, Makhno learned that while he had been preoccupied at the front, Huliaipole had been captured by the Kuban Cossacks, forcing him to retreat from his positions.[150] In an attempt to appease Trotsky, so that the insurgents wouldn't be caught in a pincer between the Red and White armies, Makhno resigned his command of the insurgent army.[151] Despite a rebuff from Trotsky, he again attempted to offer the Bolsheviks his resignation on June 9,[152] reaffirming his commitment to the Revolution and his belief in the "inalienable right of workers and peasants".[153] Makhno thus relinquished command of the 7th Division and was replaced by Alexander Krusser [ru], with Makhno declaring his intention to wage a guerrilla war against the Whites from the rear. Trotsky then ordered Kliment Voroshilov to arrest Makhno, but sympathetic officers reported the order to him, thus preventing his capture by the Cheka.[154] Makhno even led the rescue of Voroshilov's detachment from a White encirclement, despite knowing the intentions of his "would-be executioner".[155] Despite having broken with the Red Army, Makhno still considered the White movement to be the Makhnovists' "main enemy" and insisted that they could settle their scores with Bolsheviks after the Whites were defeated.[156]

Makhno's small sotnia then linked up with other insurgent detachments that had mutinied against the Red Army, falling back to Kherson, where they met with Grigoriev's green army.[157] Upon their arrival, Makhno initially sought to form an alliance with Grigoriev, due to the ataman's popularity with the local peasantry, but revelations of Grigoriev's antisemitism and connections with the White movement led to the Makhnovists openly denouncing him. When Grigoriev attempted to shoot Makhno, he was gunned down in his place by Alexei Chubenko.[158] Makhno began rebuilding his forces in Kherson, quickly pulling together 20,000 insurgents, many of whom had deserted the Red Army after its retreat from Ukraine.[159] Red Army mutinies even became so bad that the Ukrainian Bolshevik leader Nikolai Golubenko [ru] telephoned Makhno, begging him to again subordinate himself to Bolshevik command, to which Makhno refused.[160]

Against the White Army

Yakov Slashchov, leader of the White movement in Ukraine until his defeat by Makhno during the Battle of Peregonovka
Yakov Slashchov, leader of the White movement in Ukraine until his defeat by Makhno during the Battle of Peregonovka

The Bolsheviks fled Ukraine, leaving the Makhnovists to face the White movement alone.[161] Reports by the White commander Yakov Slashchov depicted Makhno as a formidable adversary with tactical ability and disciplinary command over his troops.[162] The insurgents launched a number of attacks behind the White line, with Makhno himself commanding a cavalry assault against Mykolaivka [uk] that resulted in the capture of sorely needed munitions.[163] Nestor's brother Grigory died during one of these attacks.[164]

Map depicting the advance on Moscow by the White movement, during the summer of 1919
Map depicting the advance on Moscow by the White movement, during the summer of 1919

During the Battle of Peregonovka, the tide of the battle turned in the insurgents' favor when Makhno led his sotnia in a flanking maneuver against the White positions, charging the much larger enemy force with sabres and fighting them in close quarters combat, which forced the Whites into a retreat.[165] Makhno then led the pursuit of the retreating Whites, decisively routing the enemy forces,[166] leaving only a few hundred survivors.[167] The Makhnovists subsequently split up in order to capitalize on their victory and capture as much territory as possible,[168] with Makhno himself leading his sotnia in the capture of Katerynoslav from the Whites on October 20.[169] With southern Ukraine being brought almost entirely under insurgent control, the White supply lines were broken and the advance on Moscow was halted.[170]

Bolsheviks in Katerynoslav attempted to establish a revolutionary committee to control the city, proposing to Makhno that he confine himself exclusively to military activity. But Makhno no longer held any sympathy for the Bolsheviks, who he described as "parasites upon the workers' lives". He quickly ordered the revolutionary committee be shut down and forbade their activities under penalty of death, telling the Bolshevik officials to "take up a more honest trade".[171] At a regional congress in Oleksandrivsk, Makhno called for the establishment of "free soviets" outside of political party control. Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionary Party delegates objected, believing instead in the legitimacy of the dissolved Constituent Assembly. Makhno denounced them as "counter-revolutionaries", causing them to walk out in protest.[172] When he returned to Katerynoslav on November 9, the local railway workers looked to Makhno to pay their wages, which they had gone without for two months. He responded by proposing the workers self-manage the railways and levy payment for their services directly from the customers.[173] By December 1919, Makhnovist control of Katerynoslav began to slip under increasing attacks from the White Cossacks. On December 5, Makhno survived an assassination attempt by the Bolsheviks, who had planned to poison him and seize control of the city, after the plot was uncovered and the conspirators were shot.[174]

Flag of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic

While White attacks forced the Makhnovists to abandon the city and retreat to their base in Huliaipole, many of the insurgents were beset by epidemic typhus, with even Makhno himself contracting the disease.[175] By the time that the Bolsheviks returned to Ukraine, filling a power vacuum that had been left in the wake of the White retreat, Makhno had slipped into a coma, which lasted for weeks.[176] While still comatose, the All-Ukrainian Central Executive Committee declared Makhno to be an outlaw, to which the peasants of his hometown responded by providing him refuge and hiding him from the Cheka.[177] Once he recovered, he immediately began to lead a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Cheka and requisitioning units.[178] He also implemented a discriminatory policy for dealing with captured Red Army units: commanding officers and political commissars would be immediately shot, while the rank-and-file soldiers would be given the choice to either join the insurgent army or be stripped of their uniforms and sent home.[179] With the Makhnovists once again wreaking havoc on Bolshevik positions and with Red Army soldiers increasingly defecting to the insurgents,[180] the Cheka began to resort to the use of agent provocateurs and informants to entrap Ukrainian anarchists. One anarchist that the Cheka attempted to bring under its wing was Fedya Glouschenko, who they commissioned to assassinate Makhno on June 20, 1920. Despite Glouschenko immediately informing Makhno of the plot, he was shot the following day as a servant of the secret police.[181]

Makhnovist commanders discuss plans to defeat the Army of Wrangel, in Starobilsk
Makhnovist commanders discuss plans to defeat the Army of Wrangel, in Starobilsk

While initially skeptical of a proposed Bolshevik alliance in June,[182] Makhno grew amenable and left the decision to his army, which narrowly voted in favor in August.[183] Despite the pact, Makhno reaffirmed his distrust for his "irreconcilable enemies" in the Bolshevik Party, stating that the necessity of a military alliance with them should not be confused with a recognition of their political authority.[184] Nevertheless, Makhno hoped that victory over the Whites would oblige the Bolsheviks to honor his desire for soviet democracy and civil liberties in Ukraine. He would later consider this to be a "grave error" on his part.[185]

Under the terms of the pact, Makhno was finally able to seek treatment from the medical corps of the Red Army, with physicians and surgeons seeing to a wound in his ankle, where he had been hit by an expanding bullet.[185] He was also visited by the Hungarian communist leader Béla Kun, who greeted him as "fighter of the worker and peasant revolution, comrade Batko Makhno" and gave him gifts, including over 100 photographs and postcards depicting the Executive Committee of the Communist International.[186] On October 22, the insurgents successfully reoccupied Huliaipole, driving the Whites out of the city for the final time.[187] Back in his hometown, Makhno requested three days of rest and recuperation but this was rejected by the Bolshevik command, which ordered the insurgents to continue their offensive, under penalty of their alliance being nullified. The still-wounded Makhno stayed behind in Huliaipole anyway, along with his Black Guards, while dispatching Simon Karetnik to lead the Makhnovist offensive against the Army of Wrangel.[188] Makhno once again turned his attention towards reconstructing his vision of anarcho-communism, overseeing the reestablishment of the local soviet and a number of other anarchist projects.[189]

Anti-Bolshevik rebellion

The Bolshevik Red Army turned on the Makhnovists with a surprise siege on Huliaipole in late November 1920.[190] Caught unprepared, Makhno rallied together 150 Black Guards to defend the town. After spotting a gap in the Red lines, he escaped with his detachment[191] and led a counterattack that pushed the Red forces back to Novo-Uspenovka [uk]. His own forces regrouped[192] and gained some defecting Red soldiers before recapturing Huliaipole a week later.[193] The Red Army command justified the attacks against the Makhnovists on grounds that Makhno had refused orders and intended to betray them,[194] though the Red Army had planned to break the alliance with the Makhnovists even prior to the beginning of the offensive against Wrangel's White Army.[195]

Makhno and his lieutenants in Berdiansk
Makhno and his lieutenants in Berdiansk

The following week in Kermenchik [uk], Makhno was finally reunited with Karetnik's detachment,[196] which had been reduced to a fifth of its original size and absent its commander, who had been assassinated by the Bolsheviks in Crimea.[197] Despite direct orders from Vladimir Lenin for the Red Army to "liquidate Makhno", the insurgents led a guerrilla campaign in the face of their encirclement. On December 3, Makhno led a detachment of 4,000 insurgents in an assault routing a Red Kirghiz brigade at Komar, Altai Krai.[198] In the following weeks, he recaptured Berdiansk and Andriivka from the Bolsheviks, defeating a number of Red divisions before a stalemate with the remaining divisions at Fedorivka.[199]

Makhno had hoped that simply defeating a few Red divisions would halt the offensive, but found himself having to change tactics in the face of his encirclement by overwhelming numbers, consequently splitting up his contingent into a number of smaller detachments and sending them in different directions.[200] Taking his own 2,000-strong detachment north at a pace of 80 kilometers each day, he derailed a Bolshevik armored train at Oleksandrivsk, before pushing deep into the provinces of Kherson and Kyiv, all the while pursued by Red divisions.[201]

Surrounded and under constant pursuit by the Red Cossacks, Makhno's detachment could only advance slowly under heavy machine gun fire and artillery bombardment.[202] Makhno led his detachment to the Galician border, before suddenly swinging around and heading back across the Dnieper. Heading north from Poltava to Belgorod, they finally managed to shake off the pursuing Cossacks at the end of January 1921. By this point he had travelled more than 1,500 kilometers, lost most of his equipment and half of his detachment, but he also found himself in a position to once again lead an offensive against the Red Army.[203] Following the outbreak of the Kronstadt rebellion, Makhno dispatched a number of his detachments to various regions of Southern and Central Russia to foment insurrection, while he himself stuck to the banks of the Dnieper River. At this time, Makhno was wounded in the foot and had to be carried by a tachanka, but still managed to personally lead the detachment from the front. After crossing back over to left-bank Ukraine, he split his detachment again, sending one to stir up revolt against the Cheka near the Sea of Azov while Makhno's own contingent of 1,500 cavalry and two infantry regiments continued along its path, seizing the equipment of the Red units it routed.[204] During one engagement, Makhno was wounded in the stomach and fell unconscious, having to be evacuated on a tachanka.[205] Upon his resuscitation, he again divided his forces and sent them out in all directions, leaving himself behind with only his black sotnia remaining.[204]

Makhno was unable to withdraw from the front and tend to his injuries, as his sotnia repeatedly came under attack by the Red Army. During one engagement, a number of Makhnovists sacrificed themselves to ensure Makhno's escape.[206] Towards the end of May, Makhno attempted to organize a large-scale offensive to take the Ukrainian Bolshevik capital of Kharkiv, pulling together thousands of partisans before he was forced to call it off due to comprehensive Red defenses.[207] Red Army command resolved to focus its efforts on Makhno's small 200-strong sotnia, deploying a motorized detachment to pursue them. Upon its arrival, Makhno led the ambush of one armored car, taking it for himself and driving it until it ran out of fuel. The subsequent pursuit of Makhno lasted five days and covered 520 kilometers, causing his sotnia heavy losses and almost running them out of ammo, before they were finally able to shake the armored detachment off their trail.[208]


Red Army commander Mikhail Frunze demanded the "definitive liquidation" of the Makhnovist movement in July 1921. Makhno continued to execute raids in the Don river basin despite having suffered several wounds. By August, those wounds forced him to flee abroad for treatment. Leaving Viktor Belash in command of the Insurgent Army, Makhno took his wife Halyna and 100 loyalists to Poland.[209] Red Army attacks followed them; Makhno took a bullet in the neck[210] and a number of his old friends died in battle in late August.[211] When a scout was captured by the Reds, Makhno diverted his forces towards Romania but after crossing the Dniester, Romanian border guards disarmed and interned Makhno's group.[212] Makhno and his wife were eventually released from the internment camp and granted permission to stay in Bucharest under police surveillance while Makhno recovered from his wounds.[213]

Eastern Europe

Bolshevik politicians Georgy Chicherin and Christian Rakovsky demanded Makhno's extradition,[214] which the Romanian government of Take Ionescu refused. The two states had no extradition treaty and Romania had abolished capital punishment, so the Romanian government requested a formal assurance that the Ukrainian Soviet government would not sentence Makhno to death.[215] Makhno came into contact with the exiled Ukrainian nationalists around Symon Petliura, themselves allies of both Romania and Poland.[216] Makhno called for an alliance between the Makhnovists and the Petliurists, which he believed could together reignite an insurgency in Ukraine, but nothing resulted from the talks between the two factions.[217]

Makhno, with his wife Halyna Kuzmenko, surrounded by other Makhnovists in Poland, 1922
Makhno, with his wife Halyna Kuzmenko, surrounded by other Makhnovists in Poland, 1922

With Romania still caught up in the extradition demands, Makhno decided to make a break for Poland. He was caught at the border and shipped to a Polish internment camp in April 1922.[218] Makhno subsequently attempted to secure permission to move on to Czechoslovakia or Germany, but the Polish government refused[219] in their attempt to force the dissolution of the Makhnovists into the Ukrainian nationalist movement.[220] The Bolshevik government sent an agent provocateur to entrap Makhno and force his extradition by fabricating a Makhnovist plan to launch an insurgency in Galicia. Makhno and his wife were arrested by the Polish authorities and for over a year were held in pre-trial detention, where Halyna gave birth to their daughter in October.[221] In prison, Makhno drafted his memoirs, which Peter Arshinov published in his Berlin-based publication The Russian Messenger. Makhno sent open letters to exiled Don Cossacks and the Ukrainian Communist Party. He began to learn German and Esperanto. His tuberculosis relapsed under the prison's conditions.[222]

Makhno received support from the European anarchist movement. Polish and Bulgarian anarchists even threatened violence in the event of Makhno's extradition.[223] At his trial in November 1923, Makhno was acquitted on all charges and given permission to stay in Poznań.[224] The following month he and his family moved to Toruń, where he was under close police surveillance and arrested and interrogated a number of times in the wake of Vladimir Lenin's death.[225] Unable to secure a visa to travel to Germany and facing a severe strain on his marriage with Halyna, Makhno attempted suicide in April 1924 and was hospitalized by his injuries.[226]

In July 1924, Makhno and his family were allowed to move to the Free City of Danzig, where he was struck again by tuberculosis and held in the hospital by the police. He escaped to Berlin before he could be recaptured, leaving Halyna behind in Poland. He arrived towards the end of 1924 and was reunited with other Ukrainian anarchist exiles. With Volin acting as his interpreter, Makhno met with a number of prominent anarchists that were also living in the city such as Rudolf Rocker and Ugo Fedeli [it].[227] After a botched attempt to kidnap Makhno, Soviet agents reported him to Prussian police. Makhno was again imprisoned and falling sick. German anarchists managed to help Makhno escape from prison and clandestinely leave Germany. He finally moved to Paris in April 1925.[228]


Nestor Makhno circa 1925
Nestor Makhno circa 1925

Upon his arrival in Paris in April 1925, Makhno wrote that he had found himself "amongst a foreign people and political enemies whom I have so often declaimed against."[229] He was reunited with his wife and daughter in the city, where French anarchists like May Picqueray provided the family with lodging and healthcare.[230] Makhno found work at a local foundry and a Renault factory, but was forced to leave both jobs due to his health problems. A bullet wound in his right ankle threatened amputation.[231] His health care was overseen by the anarcha-feminist Lucile Pelletier, who described his body as being "literally encased in scar tissue". She advised his family to move out to prevent them from contracting tuberculosis.[232] Between his debilitating illness, homesickness, and a strong language barrier from his inability to learn the French language, Makhno fell into a deep depression.[233] According to Alexander Berkman, Makhno particularly despised living in a big city and dreamed of returning to the Ukrainian countryside, where he could "tak[e] up again the struggle for liberty and social justice."[234]

Makhno undertook to write his Memoirs, which sold poorly.[231] He also collaborated with other exiled Russian anarchists to establish the bimonthly libertarian communist journal Dielo Truda (Russian: Дело Труда, English: The Cause of Labor), in which Makhno published an article in each issue over three years. Arshinov, the journal's editor, criticized Makhno's articles as poorly written, which upset Makhno greatly and exacerbated his resentment of those anarchists who he considered to be "armchair theoreticians".[235] The theoretical developments of the journal eventually culminated in the publication of the Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, which called for the reorganization of the anarchist movement into a more cohesive structure, based on the experiences of revolutionary Ukraine and the defeat by the Bolsheviks. The Platform attracted criticism from the synthesists, such as Volin, who regarded it as a Bolshevization of anarchism.[236] A March 1927 meeting to discuss the Platform in L'Haÿ-les-Roses attracted anarchists from Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Italy, and China. When the meeting was raided by police, Makhno was arrested and threatened with deportation, but he was defended by Louis Lecoin and Henri Sellier, who secured his continued stay in France.[237]

Nestor Makhno with Alexander Berkman
Nestor Makhno with Alexander Berkman

During this period, he often met with anarchist friends in cafes and restaurants, reminiscing over a bottle of wine about the "good old days" in Ukraine, one time even celebrating the fall from power of his old rival Leon Trotsky and hoping that the fall of Joseph Stalin would soon follow.[238] In June 1926, during a meal with Alexander Berkman and May Picqueray in a Russian restaurant, Makhno met with the Ukrainian Jewish anarchist Sholem Schwarzbard, who went pale upon seeing the Ukrainian nationalist leader Symon Petliura walk into the room.[239] Schwarzbard immediately informed the Batko of his intentions to assassinate Petliura, in revenge for the pogroms carried out in the Ukrainian People's Republic, during which a number of his family members had been killed. Makhno attempted to dissuade him but the deed was carried out anyway, with Schwarzbard's subsequent trial bringing to light a trove of documentary evidence that confirmed Petliura's role in the pogroms, exonerating the assassin.[240]

Around this time, rumors began to circulate about Makhno's own relationship to antisemitism, resulting in a number of public debates on the matter.[241] Citing stories of Makhno told by White émigrés, Joseph Kessel published a novel that portrayed a fictionalized version of Makhno as an Orthodox Christian and antisemite, an accusation which Makhno categorically denied.[242] Makhno defended himself by speaking up about the pogroms in Ukraine: in To the Jews of all Countries, published in Le Libertaire, he asked for evidence of antisemitism in the Makhnovist ranks; at an open debate in June 1927, Makhno claimed that he had defended Ukrainian Jews from persecution,[243] an assertion that was backed up by Russian and Ukrainian Jews in attendance.[244] Allegations of antisemitism were later also disputed by historians and a number of Makhno's biographers, including Peter Kenez,[245] Michael Malet[246] and Alexandre Skirda.[247] Further investigations by Jewish historians, such as Elias Tcherikower and Paul Avrich, found no evidence of Makhno having perpetrated antisemitic violence.[248]

By this time, Makhno was succumbing to physical and mental illness. His relationships with fellow Ukrainian exiles deteriorated.[249] His wife grew to resent him, causing the couple to separate on multiple occasions, with Halyna even unsuccessfully attempting to apply for permission to return to Soviet Ukraine.[250] Over the editing of his memoirs, Makhno quarreled with Ida Mett, who quit out of frustration with Makhno's "indecipherable and meandering manuscripts".[251] He also came into a serious personal and political conflict with Volin, which would last until their deaths,[252] resulting in the later volumes of Makhno's memoirs only being published posthumously.[253] As gossip spread about Makhno, he became increasingly defensive against any criticisms of himself, no matter how minor.[254] In the pages of Dielo Truda, he published categorical denials of anything from allegations of antisemitism to whether the Makhnovists had used a pirate flag.[255]

Buenaventura Durruti during the Spanish Civil War

Neglected by the Russian and French anarchists in Paris, Makhno turned his attention towards Spain.[256] Following the release of a number of Spanish anarchists from prison, Makhno met with Francisco Ascaso and Buenaventura Durruti in July 1927. The Spaniards expressed their admiration for Makhno, who himself displayed a sense of optimism about the Spanish anarchist movement and foretold of a coming anarchist revolution in Spain. Makhno was particularly impressed by the revolutionary traditions of the Spanish working classes and the tight organization of the Spanish anarchists, declaring that if a revolution broke out in Spain before he died, then he would join the fight.[257]

Due to the threats of deportation, he mostly kept to writing about libertarian communist political theory, as he was no longer able to attend meetings or engage in active organizing.[258] In great pain, increasingly isolated and financially precarious, Makhno got a number of odd jobs as an interior decorator and shoemaker.[259] He was also supported by the income of his wife, who worked as a cleaner,[260] and in April 1929, May Picqueray and a number of other French anarchists established a "Makhno Solidarity Committee" to raise funds.[261] Much of the money was contributed by the Spanish anarchists of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), which greatly admired Makhno, with the fundraiser in Le Libertaire eventually securing Makhno's family an weekly allowance of 250 francs, barely one-third of the living wage.[262] Makhno spent most of this money on his daughter, neglecting his own self-care, which contributed further to his declining health.[263] His ideological conflict with the synthesis anarchists escalated and, in July 1930, Le Libertaire suspended his allowance. Individual fundraising attempts ended up being unsuccessful.[264]

Around this time, Makhno learned that Peter Arshinov had defected to the Soviet Union, which left him even more isolated from the Ukrainian exiles.[265] Makhno spent his last years writing criticisms of the Bolsheviks and encouraging other anarchists to learn from the mistakes of Ukrainian experience. His final article, an obituary for his old friend Nikolai Rogdaev, went unsent as Makhno could not afford the postage.[266] Suffering from malnutrition, Makhno's tuberculosis worsened to the point that he was hospitalized on March 16, 1934. Operations failed to help and Makhno finally died in the early hours of July 25, 1934. He was cremated three days after his death, with five hundred people attending his funeral at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.[267]

Personal life

Makhno and his daughter Olena in Paris
Makhno and his daughter Olena in Paris

While imprisoned in the 1910s, Makhno received "warm letters" from one Nastia Vasetskaia, a young peasant woman from Huliaipole. After his return home, the two met and by November 1917 were married, at the insistence of Makhno's mother.[268] The couple lived together on a commune where Makhno contributed.[58] His activism during this time, however, left him "little time for personal affairs".[52] Vasetskaia was eventually forced to flee Huliaipole after being threatened by a number of Black Guards, taking their child with her.[268] After Huliaipole's anarchists were also forced into exile by the invasion of the Central Powers in early 1918, Makhno managed to reunite with Vasetskaia in Tsaritsyn, finding her lodging at a nearby farm.[67] Makhno soon left her to continue his travels. They never saw each other again. Their baby died young and, after hearing a rumor that Makhno had also died, Vasetskaia eventually remarried.[269]

Following the Makhnovist capture of Huliaipole from the Central Powers in late 1918, Makhno married a local schoolteacher called Halyna Kuzmenko, who became a leading figure in the Makhnovshchina.[270] With the defeat of the Makhnovshchina, the couple fled to Romania[271] and then on to Poland, where Kuzmenko gave birth to their daughter Olena while she and Makhno were both in prison.[272] The family finally settled in Paris but were forced to live separately for some time due to Makhno's worsening tuberculosis.[231] Ida Mett later asserted that during Makhno's final years, Kuzmenko had begun an affair with his associate Volin, a relationship which came out into the open following Makhno's death.[273]

Years after Makhno's death, Volin described Makhno's "greatest failing" as being alcohol abuse, claiming that "under the influence of alcohol, he became perverse, over-excitable, unfair, intractable and violent."[274] These claims of alcoholism were disputed by Ida Mett and Makhno's biographer Alexandre Skirda, who respectively noted Makhno's low alcohol tolerance and his enforcement of prohibition during the war.[275] Although other biographers, such as Michael Malet and Victor Peters, wrote that Makhno began to drink heavily during the final years of his life, "when he knew that the tuberculosis was killing him anyway."[276]

Makhno's widow and his daughter Olena were deported to Nazi Germany for forced labor during World War II.[277] After the end of the war they were arrested by the Soviet NKVD and taken to Kiev for trial in 1946. For the crime of "anti-Soviet agitation", Halyna was sentenced to eight years of hard labor in Mordovia and Olena was sentenced to five years in Kazakhstan. Following the death of Stalin, the two were reunited in Taraz, where they spent the rest of their lives: Halyna would die in 1978, followed by Olena in 1993. Makhno's relatives in Huliaipole faced harassment by Ukrainian authorities up until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.[278]


The Ukrainian anarchist insurgency continued after Makhno's 1921 flight to Romania. Makhnovist militant groups operated clandestinely throughout the 1920s. Some continued to fight as partisans during World War II.[279] Although the Soviets eventually extinguished the Ukrainian anarchist movement, an anarchist underground continued during the 1970s and following the Revolutions of 1989. The Revolutionary Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists [uk] founded in 1994, naming itself after Makhno and organizing itself along the lines of platformism.[280] The anti-neo-Nazi militants of Revolutionary Action have also lay claim to Makhno's legacy.[281]

Makhno is a local hero in his hometown of Huliaipole, where a statue of the Bat'ko stands in one of its town squares.[282] The Huliaipole City Council was preparing to request the return of Makhno's ashes from France, as part of a late 2010s campaign to attract tourists to the city, declaring Makhno to be part of the city's brand.[283] Since the Dissolution of the Soviet Union, sections of the Ukrainian right-wing have also attempted to reclaim Makhno as a Ukrainian nationalist while downplaying his anarchist politics.[284]

Pavel Derevyanko portrayed Makhno in the 2005 Nine Lives of Nestor Makhno
Pavel Derevyanko portrayed Makhno in the 2005 Nine Lives of Nestor Makhno

Multiple Soviet and Russian films depicted Makhno, often in a negative light. Makno was the antagonist in the 1923 Red Devils, portrayed by Odessa gangster and part-time actor Vladimir Kucherenko. He reprised his role in the 1926 sequel Savur-Mohyla and returned to crime, using the name "Makhno" as a pseudonym.[285][286] Boris Chirkov portrayed Makhno in the 1942 epic film Alexander Parkhomenko, during which he sang the traditional Cossack song "Lovely, brothers, lovely", one of Makhno's favorites. According to the Russian journalist Pavel Sadkov [ru], this was the first time in the history of Russian cinema that Makhno was portrayed positively.[286] Valeri Zolotukhin plays Makhno in the 1970 drama Hail, Mary!,[286] about a Makhnovist who works as a Red Army informant.[287] Aleksey Tolstoy's novel trilogy The Road to Calvary portrays Makhno as a dangerous deformation of the revolution with a corrupting influence on the morally unstable.[288] Television miniseries adaptations of the novel in 1977 and 2017 similarly present Makhno as "nasty"[286] and "the kind of monster that even Hitler's men are not often shown in movies."[289]

The 2005 Nine Lives of Nestor Makhno is a Russian biographical miniseries about Nestor Makhno's life. Pavel Derevyanko portrayed Makhno and Russian critics gave his performance high praise.[290] The series was noted for its positive portrayal of Makhno and commended for its historical accuracy, although some critics mentioned that this dedication to accuracy resulted in a lack of narrative coherence.[291] Hélène Châtelain directed a 1995 French documentary about Makhno.[292]

Makhno additionally has been referenced in popular media as a cultural allusion, such as a supporting appearance in Michael Moorcock's 1981 alternative history novel The Steel Tsar,[293] the opening track in the Russian rock band Lyube's 1989 album Alert [ru] during the fall of communism in the Eastern Bloc,[294] a song U.S. representative Dana Rohrabacher had written and played for the 1991 official visit of a People's Deputy of Ukraine, and the pseudonym used by the leader of an "anti-yuppie crusade" in San Francisco against perceived gentrification by Silicon Valley.[295]

See also


  1. ^ The given name "Nestor" is not a traditionally Slavic name, having its origin in the Greek language, tracing back to Nestor, the legendary King of Pylos from Homer's Odyssey. Its first use as a Slavic name was by the Ukrainian monk Nestor the Chronicler. These examples led Victor Peters to conclude that "[Nestor's] mother may well have cherished the dream that her son too would grow up to be a warrior or scholar."[2] The surname "Makhno" was itself a corruption of Nestor's fathers' surname "Mikhnenko".[3] After Ivan Mikhnenko died, Nestor's mother came to be known in Huliaipole as "Makhnovka".[4]
  2. ^ According to Alexandre Skirda, the term Bat'ko had been used by the Zaporozhian Cossacks as an honorific for elected military leaders. As Makhno was still quite young when he was given the name Bat'ko by his detachment, the literal translation of "little father" may not be entirely accurate, as the term is not exclusively used in a paternal sense. Makhno was also not the only person with the title of Bat'ko in Ukraine, there were even some other Bat'kos within the ranks of the Makhnovshchina.[5]
  3. ^ Other sources have listed his birth year as being in 1889,[7] with the Great Soviet Encyclopedia listing it 1884,[4] but Church records indicate 1888 as Makhno's true birth year. It is likely that Makhno did not even himself know his correct birth date.[8]
  4. ^ Nestor's brothers also went on to become anarchists and active partisans of the Makhnovist movement. In 1918, Emilian was executed by the Austro-Hungarian Army; in September 1919, Grigory was killed in Uman by the Volunteer Army; and in February 1920, Savely was killed by the Red Army in Huliaipole.[14]


  1. ^ Skirda 2004, pp. 291–292.
  2. ^ Peters 1970, pp. 14–15.
  3. ^ Palij 1976, p. 67; Peters 1970, p. 14.
  4. ^ a b Peters 1970, p. 14.
  5. ^ Skirda 2004, p. 9.
  6. ^ Malet 1982, p. 85.
  7. ^ Avrich 1988, p. 111; Darch 2020, p. 176; Footman 1961, p. 245; Kantowicz 1999, p. 173; Palij 1976, p. 67; Peters 1970, p. 14.
  8. ^ Darch 2020, p. 176.
  9. ^ Darch 2020, p. 176; Malet 1982, p. xx; Palij 1976, p. 67; Skirda 2004, p. 17.
  10. ^ Darch 2020, p. 1; Peters 1970, p. 14; Skirda 2004, p. 17.
  11. ^ Avrich 1988, p. 111; Darch 2020, p. 1; Malet 1982, p. xxi; Palij 1976, p. 67; Skirda 2004, pp. 17–18.
  12. ^ a b Skirda 2004, p. 18.
  13. ^ Avrich 1988, p. 111; Palij 1976, p. 68.
  14. ^ Peters 1970, p. 15.
  15. ^ Skirda 2004, pp. 18–19.
  16. ^ Skirda 2004, p. 19.
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  18. ^ a b Skirda 2004, p. 20.
  19. ^ Avrich 1988, p. 111; Darch 2020, pp. 2–3.
  20. ^ Peters 1970, pp. 18–19; Skirda 2004, p. 20.
  21. ^ Skirda 2004, pp. 20–21.
  22. ^ Darch 2020, pp. 4–5; Malet 1982, p. xxii; Peters 1970, pp. 20–21; Skirda 2004, p. 22.
  23. ^ Skirda 2004, p. 23.
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  25. ^ Skirda 2004, p. 24.
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Further reading