An American Cossack

Language – Russian, origins – Cossack, home address: New York

Cossack Colonel Viktor F. Bandurka, Chairman of the Council of Elders of the Cossacks of America and Canada, sent us a unique manuscript, written by his father, F.I. Bandurka – a Kuban Cossack medical officer during the civil war and in emigration. The personal history of this man reflects the story of many immigrants and their children who wound up abroad after the Bolshevik revolution.

“I want to tell our fellow Cossacks about what kind of life we have lived in exile,” he told us by phone. “Give them all our regards. If any Kuban’ Cossacks plan to visit us, we’ll give them a worthy reception. Let them bring soil to our people for their graves, and stones for us to put in the wall of our Cossack church.”

Escape from Russia

Fyodor Ivanovich Bandurka was born in the Cossack village of Otradnaya on March 2, 1895. He went to school in Armavir. For a while he lived and attended school in Kislovodsk. Then he entered the Imperial Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg. He did not manage to complete his first year, fleeing Revolutionary Petersburg in October 1918 on the roof of a train to the south. There he joined the Cossack units of the First Kuban’ Regiment, under Colonel Salamakha, whose divisional commander was General Shkuro.

These units covered the retreat of Kornilov’s and Alekseev’s White forces, who left Russia by ship, while the Cossacks were abandoned. After this, the Cossacks somehow got hold of a barge and also cast off, while the horses they had left behind on the shore jumped into the water and began swimming after the barge. Around three squadrons’ worth of Cossacks could not bear watching this, and jumped off the barge, swimming back to the horses and the Russian shore, where the Reds, who meanwhile had been taking pot-shots at them in the water, were waiting.

Fyodor Ivanovich, together with the Cossacks, made it to Serbia and settled there for many years, marrying a girl from the Serbian royal family Obrenovic – his wife’s grandmother was the sister of the mother of King Alexander of Serbia. “Some Russian in a military uniform came to us,” the son was told by his Serbian mother, “and we fell in love at first sight. ” Her brother, at that time head of the Red Cross, had brought this Russian into the house.

Cossack officer Bandurka had his share of trials and tribulations in emigration, but there were also interesting episodes in his life. For example, once he served as court doctor of an Ethiopian princess. While another time he found himself at a rally at Petersburg’s Finland station, in a crowd of young people that Lenin came up to. “What’s your name?” the young man was asked by the leader of the international proletariat.
“Bandurka.”
“Are you Ukrainian?”
“No, Russian. A Kuban’ Cossack. ”

Serbia became the homeland…

In Serbia, near Belgrade, in 1930, Fyodor Bandurka’s son, Viktor, was born. Fyodor Ivanovich raised him according to Cossack traditions. The boy was in the Cadet Corps in Serbia, together with the son of General Kutepova, the grandson of the composer Rimsky-Korsakov, and shared a desk with a great-grandson of Leo Tolstoy. He received his secondary education in the best traditions of educating Russian Imperial Officers. A different country gave him his higher education – the reason for this was the second world war, which irrevocably changed the lives of thousands of people.

“When the Germans occupied Serbia, we were allowed to create a Russian Corps in Kraljevo.” says Viktor Fyodorovich. “It consisted of 5 regiments. The first was a Cossack regiment. Incidentally, a friend of my father, and the favourite tennis partner of Nicholas II served in that regiment – the Kuban’ Cossack Zborovskii, who had been in the Tsar’s Lifeguard.”

In 1943 the whole family were imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camp at Mauthausen, where Soviet general Karbyshev died. Victor Fyodorovich recalls: “The guards were mostly western Ukrainians and Balts – who were worse than the Germans. Experiments on children were conducted in the camp. There was an orchestra, in which the violinists were mainly Jewish people, while Spaniards sang. The orchestra played in the same buildling where the gas ovens were – where they burned people as music played. One day an elderly Jew fell into a toilet pit, I tried to pull him out, but the German guard with all his might hit me in the face with his whip, knocking out all my teeth on the right side. With the pain, I could not hold on.”

A few months later 17 families were sent to a military factory somewhere near Salzburg. Among them was Fyodor Bandurka and his family. They lived in the Russian camp, Victor graduated from a Russian school. In 1952, he and his elder sister Vera emigrated to America.

… And Then America

In New York, Bandurka Jr. entered into Cossack life and work, joining the headquarters of the Kuban’ Cossack Host in Exile. He was a founding member of the Kuban’ Museum, which housed the Cossack regalia brought out of Russia during the Civil War, the very regalia that were just recently returned to the Kuban’, to Krasnodar.

For eight years he was adjutant of the Ataman of the Kuban Cossack Host in Exile. Each year, gatherings were held, with Cossacks taking part from various villages who had held to their traditions and lived according to laws introduced long ago. There was also the excellent Sergei Zharov Choir, which made many concert tours. Victor Fyodorovich was its manager, and he himself sang beautifully. The choir was created in the most difficult years of exile, in the Chilingir military camp near Constantinople in 1921, where the Cossacks were dying of starvation and disease, but, dying, they prayed and sang. By order of the divisional commander, the best singers from each of the regimental choirs were brought into one, whose participation in acts of worship was meant to raise the crushed morale of the troops. The Jaroff choir traveled the world, becoming legendary, appearing at the most famous concert halls, singing in front of kings, emperors and presidents and consistently enjoying a huge and deserved success.

Viktor Fyodorovich introduced America to Russian church music. On five occasions he brought the great Moscow choir “Akafist” from Russia to America and Canada, performing sixty concerts and releasing six albums. He was personally acquainted with many priests who contributed to the development of Russian spirituality abroad, including the head of the Russian Church. Incidentally, the Orthodox churches in New York were built by Cossacks.

Viktor Fyodorivich’s wife was a Russian girl – Maria Konovalova, who was born in the States. They met at a skating rink in the city park in New York: “He fell and I picked him up” – recalled Maria Alekseevna about how they met.. Eighteen months later the lovers married. Viktor Bandurka’s wife, a maths and English teacher by training, has become a good housewife and a wonderful mother of three children – two daughters and a son. The family has since grown – they have five granddaughters (who all have Russian first names) and a grandson, Vanya. He’s not yet two years old. Many of the grandchildren carry the family name – Bandurka.

“Our whole lives, my wife and I have only spoken Russian to each other at home. Although we’ve lived 58 years in America.” says Viktor. “Our elder daughter Lena speaks Russian, the younger, Nina, and our son, Oleg, don’t speak it, but they understand it.”

The Cossacks are dying on foreign land

For a long time Bandurka Sr. did not dare to return home. But when the political situation in Russia changed, he came with his daughter Vera in 1973, and later with his son, to visit the city where he studied as a youth, St. Petersburg, at that time still called Leningrad. He really wanted to show their children the places which had been linked to his youth and unfulfilled dreams … Fyodor Ivanovich died in January 1987. While a year later, Bandurka Jr. was left without a sister, either…

Viktor and his wife have visited Russia several times. They visited Moscow; the home town of Maria Alekseevna’s father, Chita; her aunts in Kislovodsk; and friends in Sochi. Viktor Fyodorivich has only managed to see one part of Krasnodar – or Ekaterinodar, as he calls it – the airport. But he still remembers the taste of Kuban’ bread, which he tried on the way to Maikop. In the late 1990s, he visited his father’s bithplace, Otradnaya. He found no relatives, but he did meet people with the same surname. “The time came, at last, that my father had once dreamed of. When emigres would begin to return to their homeland.” Says Viktor. “Only there are very few left among them who were forced to leave Russia during the Red Terror. Still, their children come, with the dream of setting foot on the blessed land of their parents and forebears, the land which sustains a spiritual link in the heart of each Russian, no matter where they live.”

To the question “How did our Cossacks settle abroad?” – Viktor replies: “Better than the rest. It’s just the thought of their homeland which gives no rest. In the cemetery in America, they still inscribe on the graves ‘A Kuban’ Cossack, of such-and-such Cossack village…'”

P. S, In future issues we will tell of the Cossacks who created the Cossack community in Serbia.

Facts:

About 80% of the White Army consisted of Cossacks.
About twelve thousand Cossacks in the White Army left for Serbia in the Civil War.

Dossier:

Viktor Fyodorovich Bandurka, 80 years of age. Lives in America. Worked for one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, which has 50 factories around the world. Doctor of Chemistry, Professor. Speaks Russian, Serbian, German and English.