Maria Leontiyevna Bochkareva

Maria Leontiyevna Bochkareva

Maria Bochkareva, née Frolkova (1889—1920) was a Russian commander during WWI, and a White Army (anti-communist, pro-monarchy) supporter during the Bolshevik Revolution. She was born to a peasant family in the Novgorod Governorate, and at age fifteen she married Afanasy Bochkarev. They moved to Tomsk, Siberia, where they worked as laborers. When her husband started to abuse her, she left him and began a love affair with Yakov Buk, a local man. They opened a butcher shop together, but in May 1912, Buk was arrested for theft and sent to Yakutsk, the capital city of the Sakha Republic in Russia. She followed him there, mostly on foot, and they started another butcher shop. In 1913 he was caught stealing again, and they sent him to Amga. Bochkareva followed him again. There, Buk began to drink and to abuse Bochkareva.

In 1914 at the outbreak of WWI, Bochkareva left Buk and returned to Tomsk, where she joined the 25th Tomsk Reserve Battalion with personal permission from Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia. The men on the battalion harassed her until they saw how good she was in battle. As a member of this battalion, Bochkareva was wounded twice, and was decorated three times for courage.

In the March of 1917, when the tsar was forced to abdicate, Bochkareva was assigned the task of creating an all-female combat unit, in the hopes that it would make the men more likely to fight rather than feel bested by women. It was called the 1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death, and at first the idea was very popular, attracting around 2,000 Russian women. During the training period, many women quit under the harsh discipline of Bochkareva, leaving only 300 dedicated women in the Battalion.

The Battalion participated in the Kerensky Offensive, where they fought in a battle that took place near a small village. The women performed well in battle. Bochkareva, however, was wounded and was sent away to recuperate.

The unit was at the front lines during the Bolshevik Revolution in the October of that year, and did not participate in the defense of the Winter Palace. Another women’s combat troupe did, however. On the front lines, after repeated and increasing harassment and hostility from male soldiers, the 1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death was disbanded. In 1918, Bochkareva left for Petrograd. She received a telegram to take a message to General Lavr Kornilov, the commander of the White Army in the Caucasus. After leaving Kornilov’s headquarters, she was captured by Bolsheviks, who learned of her connection to the White Army. They schedule her to be executed. Another soldier whom she had fought beside in WWI heard of her execution and managed to convince the Bolsheviks to release her. They acquiesced, and gave her a passport and passage to the United States.

In April, 1918, Bochkareva left for San Francisco. In the USA, she visited both Washington D.C. and New York City, receiving funding from the wealthy socialite Florence Harriman. On July 10th, 1918, she met with Woodrow Wilson, whom she begged to interfere in Russia’s civil war. In NYC, she dictated her memoirs.

After that, she traveled to Great Britain, where she had an audience with George V, King of England. They gave her funding to return to Russia. She returned in the August of 1918, where she tried to create another unit, but failed. In April of 1919, she went back to Tomsk, where she made efforts to organize a women’s medical detachment under the head of the White admiral Aleksandr Kolchak. She was captured by Bolsheviks and brought to Krasnoiarks, where she was interrogated for four months. She was found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad.

On May 16, 1920, she was executed.