Maria Nikiforova

Maria Nikiforova bigraphy, stories - Revolutionary, anarchist

Maria Nikiforova : biography

1885 – September 1919

Maria Grigor’evna Nikiforova ( 1885–1919), was an anarchist partisan leader. A self-described terrorist from the age of 16, she was known widely by her nickname, Marusya. Through her exploits she became a renowned figure in anarchist movement of 1918–1919 in Ukraine during Russian Civil War.


Postmortem mythology

Throughout her life, Nikiforova had been wounded multiple times, or had been mistaken for dead, only to reappear in good health later. Due to her reputation within folklore, rumors spread in the months following her death that she was actually still alive.

Marusya copycats

Following her death, Nikiforova’s surviving legacy created an opportunity for copycatsfaux Marusyasto appear in the months and years to follow. The only female atamansha while alive, Nikiforova was followed by three women fighters in the Ukrainian War of Independence who adopted her name for propaganda purposes.

In the 1919, Marusya Sokolovskaia became the commander of her brother’s cavalry detachment after his death in battle. A 25 year old Ukrainian nationalist school teacher, she was captured by the Reds and shot. In 1920-1921, Black Maria (Marusya Chernaya) became a commander of a cavalry regiment in the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine. She died in battle against the Red Army. A final copycat, Marusya Kosova, appeared in the Tambov Rebellion in 1921-1922. After the revolt was suppressed, she disappeared.

International espionage rumors

Nikiforova was rumored to have become a spy for the Soviet government in Paris in the years following her death. There, it was claimed, she performed undercover work, and was involved in the assassination of Symon Petliura, an exiled Ukrainian nationalist and former leader of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. In actuality, Petliura was assassinated by Sholom Schwartzbard. A fellow exile and Ukrainian-Jewish anarchist, and former member of Grigori Kotovsky’s anarchist detachment, Schwartzbard had worked alone in the assassination. Malcolm Archibald commented, "The only truth in this story might be the fact of anarchists doing the Bolshevik’s work for them."

Treatment by historians

Nikiforova left few written records or photographs of herself during much of her life. This is owed in part to her hidden activity as an international terrorist. Operating underground, and in exile across multiple countries, Nikiforova did not begin to make her activity public knowledge until the last two years of her life, when she officially held a military command. A few contemporary records of her life survived the Soviet era. Nestor Makhno provided eye-witness accounts of several dramatic incidents in Nikiforova’s life within his memoirs. Makhno’s former adjutant, Viktor Belash, also wrote of her life within his own records, which were rescued from files held by the Soviet secret police. Briefly a member of the Red Army, Nikiforova’s service record exists as one of the few official documentations of her life.

Nikiforova has been largely ignored by historians since her death. Soviet-era historians largely erased her from history, despite the important role she played in the Russian Revolutions of 1917 and subsequent civil war. A biographical dictionary of the Russian Revolution includes hundreds of entries, but does not include her. Of the few Bolshevik women who are included, none held military commands as Nikiforova did. There is no scholarly biography of her life, or historiography of her era which mentions her. The few references made to her by Bolshevik contemporaries in memoirs and works of fiction are biased against her. These depict her uniformly as "repulsive and evil," with little exception.

Nikiforova has also been ignored by non-Soviet historians. Today, Nikiforova remains obscure and uncelebrated within Ukraine. She has been ignored by Ukrainian historians. Critics of this treatment speculate that as an anti-nationalist who fought and was executed by the White Army, Nikforova’s activities have been too difficult to rewrite and reconcile to fit a reformist historical narrative.