Victory banner-bearers

Victory banner-bearers


Anna Demchenko exclusively to Vestnik Kavkaza

According to the canonical version, the first flag was hoisted over the Reichstag by Mikhail Yegorov and Meliton Kantaria. They were present at the first Victory Day parade, but not involved in it - they were placed in the stands, along with the Soviet leadership. They carried the Flag of Victory on the 20th anniversary of the Victory Day parade.

In 1995, in connection with the 50th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, a programme was compiled by Nikolai Svanidze. During its preparation, one of the interviewees, a war veteran from Kiev Alexei Kovalev, saw a photograph taken by the photographer Evgeni Khaldey. On May 13th 1945 it was published in the journal Ogonyok and was subsequently spread throughout the Soviet Union and the world. In the picture, three unknown soldiers are hoisting a flag over the Reichstag. Kovalev said: "Yes it's me, and next to me there are Leon Gorychev from Minsk and Abdulhakim Ismailov from Dagestan». Searches began. It turned out that Gorychev died early, 40 years after the victory. Abdulhakim Ismailov, who was 79 years old, lived in the village of Chagarotar in the Khasavyurt district. The veteran repeatedly told friends and countrymen after the war that he had participated in the assault of the Reichstag and hoisted the flag with his friends over it, but his stories were not taken seriously - none of them (including Ismailov) had seen a photograph in which Abdulhakim Isakovich was captured along with his comrades.

Subsequently, the veteran told the press about the assault of the Reichstag:

- On April 28, our 83rd Guard Reconnaissance Company of the 82nd Guards Rifle Division heads for the Reichstag. The density of the troops is huge, the shelling is merciless, but the Reichstag for the Germans is a shrine and a symbol, and they resist a thousand times harder than usual. Four times a day the troops storm the Reichstag with huge losses and fail. Being in close proximity to the palace of the German parliament, we cannot advance even a meter. The commander of our company Shevchenko is ordered to send reconnaissance and, in turn, instructs three scouts to do this job – these are me and my two friends: a Ukrainian Alexei Kovalev and a Belarusian Leonid Gorychev. We came up to the palace and got through to the ground floor of a building full of Germans, mad and drunk. We climbed to the next floor. I almost died there. I was saved by accident. Pausing on the threshold of the great hall, in which there were Nazis shooting back, I saw two German machine gunners lurking behind the door in a large palace mirror. I killed them and ran on, carrying out my reconnaissance mission. In the end, my friends and I were on the roof. At the bottom there was a fight, a shoot-out, the roar of artillery. We were not given the task of hoisting the flag. But all those who stormed the Reichstag had a flag. It was with us. And we put it up – not on the main dome but on one of the towers.

According to the memoirs of Company Commander Shevchenko, published in the "Red Star", Ismailov and Kovalev also put up a flag over the Reich Chancellery with him two days later: "On the night from April 30th to May 1st 1945, a group of scouts - Grishin , Zabolin, Kovalev, Romanov, Ismailov, Devyatkov and Boyko and other scouts came to the Reich Chancellery to bring down the barrier of the Germans. They burst into the office, and the Nazis were eliminated by machine-gun fire from Kovalev and Ismailov. And the scarlet cloth was set over the Chancellery."

But Ismailov and Kovalev had a chance to put a flag over the Reichstag again, accompanied by press photographer Khaldey, on the morning of May 1st. And the photographer, when the four people went up to the roof, noticed that there was not a single flag, though flags had been put up at least 2 times after the raid of Ismailov, Kovalev and Gorychev - at 22:40 on April 30th by Sergeant Mikhail Minin from the Assault Group of Captain Makov, which consisted of commanding Sergeant Alexei Bobrov, Sergeant Ghazi Zagitov, Sergeant Alexandr Lisimenko, and at an unknown time in the night from April 30th to May 1st, by Yegorov, Kantaria and Berest. The lack of flags on the roof was due to the fact that the first flags were either removed from the roof by Germans entrenched in buildings which were not fully occupied, or were shot down during the shelling.

Minin in his memoirs "Hard Road to Victory" writes about the raid of April 30th: "Two days after the entry into Berlin, Bobrov, Zagitov, Lisimenko and I, along with other soldiers of the 136th artillery brigade voluntarily went on the last difficult combat mission ... exactly at 21:30 local time, when in Moscow it was 23:30, on April 30th an artillery preparation for the assault began. On the orders of Makov, five minutes before it ended, with two red flags, we jumped out of the corner window and immediately rushed to the channel. Zagitov had an eye on the ground at all times. He led us in the dark to the pre-reconnoitred place of the crossing ... Not waiting for the main forces, we immediately rushed towards the front door ... We could not tarry with breaking the doors, for we could miss the element of surprise. Ghazi offered to bring a log that was lying at the bottom and hit the door. Makov immediately endorsed this initiative ...

After a couple of ram strokes that were made with the participation of more than a dozen people, the door swung open. A stream of Soviet soldiers rushed inside the building. Zagitov was ahead, and broke into the lobby with a log in his hands... Taking advantage of the confusion of the enemy and the success achieved by the attackers in the first minutes of the battle, the commander of our group decided to break into the top of the Reichstag ... We rushed up the stairs... We threw grenades and shot towards all the corridors which led to the stairs. Soldiers from infantry units rushed to help us from below... One by one we climbed to the top. As always, Ghazi Zagitov was ahead, and I followed him with a flag... We climbed a chain four meters until we reached the roof window, through which we came out on the roof. Nearby in the dark we barely could see the silhouette of a small tower, to which Zagitov and I attached the red flag. Suddenly, amid the fiery glow of the exploding shell, Lisimenko noticed our landmark - the "Goddess of Victory", as we called the sculptural group then.

Despite the shelling, we decided to hoist the red flag on the top of the sculpture. On the roof in the dark, I wrote our names on the canvas almost at random. The clock showed 22 hours and 40 minutes local time.

On the roof of the Reichstag shells and mines were bursting... Soon Captain Makov came to help us with reinforcements. He embraced and kissed each of us with undisguised delight. Then, accompanied by Bobrov, he went down and immediately reported on the radio about the carrying out of the combat mission to the corps commander, Major General Perevertkin.

The battle for the Reichstag became tenser every hour. The enemy tried to recapture the stairs which we controlled several times... In one such battle our fearless scout Zagitov was wounded in the chest. The enemy bullet went right through him one centimetre from his heart (as it was established by doctors), through his party membership card and medal "For Courage", but the hero did not leave the battlefield. Being wounded, he went up to the attic three times for the preservation of the first Flag of Victory." It is noteworthy that in the representation of the title of Hero of the Soviet Union it was written that on April 30th, during the storming of the Reichstag, Zagitov first broke into the building, but this time he got a perforated wound to the chest through his party card and that after that Minin and Zagitov climbed the tower of the Reichstag, where they hoisted the first Victory Flag. The command of the 136th Artillery Brigade on May 1st 1945 presented all five people with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, but on May 18th 1945 they were awarded only with the Order of the Red Banner.

The photo by Khaldey was published in Ogonyok, but in the authoritative "Pravda" there was a photo with Kantaria and Yegorov - a Russian and a Georgian raising a flag over the Reichstag were much more symbolic than a Russian, a Belarusian and a Kumyk (according to other sources - a Chechen - the two peoples cannot decide to whom the hero belongs). Later, in an interview, Abdulhakim Isakovic said that he was happy for "these brave men who also hoisted the flag over the Reichstag" - Yegorov and Kantaria: "They deservedly became Heroes of the Soviet Union. Just it is a shame when the feat accomplished by us has not been recognized for 50 years." And yet, 51 years after the hoisting of the flag, by presidential decree Ismailov was awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation.

However, not only two groups hoisted the banner of victory before the official flag-bearers, but also Alexei Berest accompanying Kantaria and Yegorov was not mentioned in the textbooks and anthologies. Neustroyev, commander of the 1st Infantry Battalion of the 756th Infantry Regiment of the 150th Infantry Division which stormed the Reichstag, said: "We decided to send Berest on a safe mission. He would definitely reach the goal - a powerful, strong-willed man. If something happened to Yegorov and Kantaria, he should carry out the mission." By the time the soldiers were sent to hoist the flag, according to Neustroyev "the whole facade" was already "decorated with flags... the fighters installed banners even in the windows. But among them there was not one of the nine flags (number of connections in the army) specifically intended for the official hoisting. One of these flags was hoisted by Yegorov, Kantaria and Berest on the roof, on the monument to Emperor William sitting on a rearing horse. So on the night from April 30th to May 1st the banner was attached to the horse's leg by a trouser belt, because they had no rope. On the morning of May 1st the banner was removed from the monument in front of the press and moved to the dome, where it was too dangerous to climb before - because of the gaps in the glass and the darkness of the night.

It is notable that it was Lieutenant Berest who on May 2nd negotiated the final surrender of the Germans entrenched in the basement - they demanded a general or a colonel to talk to them. Berest, a tall and powerfully built man, was dressed as a colonel, and Captain Neustroyev went with him as an aide. When the negotiations were delayed for several hours, Berest said: "If after 20 minutes you do not give up, we will attack," and left. His back was shot at several times, but the lieutenant was lucky - only one bullet hit his cap. After some time, the Germans surrendered. Although Berest was promoted to the rank of Hero of the Soviet Union, he did not receive it. There are different versions of why this happened. In his own words - "Because Zhukov did not like political workers, and I was a political worker." In another version, he did not let senior officers bring valuables out of Berlin.

After the war the heroes who hoisted the flag over the Reichstag returned to normal life. Their fates took different forms. Abdulhakim Ismailov had a long peaceful life – a hero who went through Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, the Baltic states, who relieved Zaporozhye, Odessa, Warsaw, who was wounded in the war three times, returned to Chagarotar and worked in agriculture, Even in troubled times, in the 1990s, - just over ten kilometers separated Chagarotar, where he lived, from Chechnya – Abdulhakim Isakovich enjoyed universal esteem on both sides of the border between Dagestan and Chechnya: Aslan Maskhadov, after learning that a bull was stolen from Ismailov, ordered a small herd to be driven to him. But the veteran refused, saying "My bull is not here, but I do not need others." Once, when he was asked for help by the relatives of hostages, Ismailov drove to neighboring villages and asked for the prisoners to be released, if anyone was holding them. As a result, several hostages were released without ransom. Ismailov lived the longest life of all the soldiers who hoisted the flag over the Reichstag - until 2010.

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