Ukraine Chaves Nogales, a hundred years later back to hell


Contrary to what Dante imagined, hell, when it occurs on earth, does not announce its true nature with a sign. “Abandon all hope,” wrote the poet at the gates of hell in his Comedy. And the power of the phrase contrasts with that famous “Work will set you free” that the Jews were deceived with as soon as they arrived at Auschwitz. If the millions of victims of history have taught us anything, it is that Hell almost always hopes. Perhaps because it is the only requirement to be able to despair when you are already in it. Who best imagined this was K.S. Lewis in his The devil’s letters to his nephewBut that is another story.

Hell is actually reached by lies that take advantage of the weakness of the naive and catch the unfortunate, so prone to deceit, with false promises. This also should not be ashamed, since its threat is constant, and there is no person on earth who has never been exposed to it. Even Christ was tempted in the wilderness. However, history is too full of examples to ignore. By now it should be generally accepted that the path to dystopias is always marked with the name of some other impossible utopia. So it never hurts to read about it.

Chavez Nogales wrote Master Juan Martinez who was therein 1934. This is more than fifteen years after the start Russian revolution. At the time, Spain was going through the bloody outbreaks of its own incipient revolution, and the famous journalist must have felt the need to warn his fellow citizens that paradise is never as perfect as someone who asks you to kill and die to get to it paints it. ..


The Odessa hell-dystopia that he described in the early 1920s, for example, was so cruel that it contradicted some truths that are generally recognized today: they shot at them at close range and made them meekly wait for death from consumption, which was much more comfortable than death. received from bullets. I learned then that it was not true that revolutions are becoming hungry.“, says teacher Juan Martinez near the end of his story, when his path through the revolution took him to Ukraine, which did not even know about the Holodomor.

What is certain is that for something like this to happen, the corruption, injustice, and excesses of a rotten system would have to be so humiliating to the underprivileged that they would eventually feel the urgent need to change tables. What teacher Juan Martinez noticed is that the final collapse of any system occurs only when the one above ceases to maintain a monopoly on force. That is why he could have seen years earlier how the tsarist regime fell, which, incidentally, failed to prevent the soldiers from revolting against their officers, from joining the revolution that promised them something better.

From hell to hell, going through hell

Another difference between reality and the famous work of Dante is that societies that considered it necessary to go through hell in order to reach heaven rarely reached purgatory. Ukraine, like any place on the map, is a land with a bitter history. But his last hundred years were especially exciting. If the story of Chávez Nogales is sublime in any way, it is that it does not attempt to teach, since the annoyance of what it describes is already eloquent enough not to need further judgment.

The most interesting part, in connection with the topic under consideration, is what is happening in Kyiv. A point on a map remote enough from the main revolutionary centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg to allow analysis of the course of a revolution from a distance. Teacher Juan Martinez travels through the city at various times, both before and during the conflict, and captures vivid impressions. the evolution of a society that ended up locked in hell. The drama, first of all, is in reading how so many poor people jumped out of the fire and into the frying pan, replacing one authoritarianism with another and enduring along the way the excesses that every war brings with it.


For almost half of the work, Juan Martinez and Sole, his wife, live trapped in a city that is being taken over and retaken by different parties, each as criminal as the last. Each time, the winner was the one who won the area, and the civilian population always lost. If whoever took it was the White Army or the Petliura nationalists, Juan Martinez could start making a living again. If the Bolsheviks had done this, he would have had to stop working and join an artists’ union with the sole purpose of getting through the vortex of the rigid bureaucracy of the nascent communist regime. In any case, life was practically worth nothing to anyone in power. For this reason, during the last white invasion, after discovering the crimes of the Czech woman and bringing all the corpses to the light so that their relatives could identify them, Juan Martinez writes the following: “Like those who dared to go to hell, they were only relatives of those killed by the Bolsheviks, it seemed indeed, that all this massacre was carried out by the Reds, judging by the indignation that prevailed against them, but I saw there the corpses of many Jews and many workers who were shot by the White Army. It’s hard to tell who won the race on the scale of cruelty..

That’s how he killed the Czech

What is certain is that the Red Terror was imposed early and persisted long after the end of the war. One of the “justifications” put forward by the Bolsheviks to pass off the work of the Czechs as “necessary” was precisely the need to eliminate any counter-revolutionary component that could create a fifth column capable of turning the war against them. However, the first evidence that the work of the Czech woman was not going to be limited to the harsh times of the war was found by Juan Martinez in Odessa, when, after the end of the conflict and the famine that raged among the civilian population, the Czechs continued the massacre at ease according to the arbitrary criteria of those who had weapons.

Before that, the teacher had time to see how it was conducted by members of the Kiev Czech. Due to the vicissitudes of life, he developed strange relationships with some of its constituents, having access to their murderous work and being able to describe it in general terms with the bureaucratic coldness that has always been characteristic of the Bolsheviks. So he talks about everything: from the arbitrariness with which the cells were filled with suspects even the ease with which they were sentenced to death, their names crossed out in red pencil as if they were cattle. Of all the examples he gave, his partner Masakita, an acquaintance he played poker with and who often left in the middle of the game to get more money to continue playing at the table, is striking. His method was simple: he went to the Czech, killed several prisoners and kept everything they had with him.


Although, without a doubt, the most heartbreaking chapter is the one in which Juan Martinez, coerced by one of the white soldiers who had just captured the city, enters a recently abandoned Czech house and finds himself a mountain of freshly killed and dismembered corpses. The Bolsheviks, in a whirlwind of flight, still managed to destroy the bodies, in a last attempt to make it difficult to identify the corpses.

Such stories fill the entire narrative and depict, with the accuracy of the best literature, the drama that so many Russians and Ukrainians experienced exactly one hundred years ago. Later, a notorious brutal regime would be established, and its history of oppression, famine and death would continue, between ups and downs, until almost the end of the century. Decades have passed since the Wall fell and new war pits Ukrainians against Russian despot. So far, we have seen some of the most disturbing images of Putin’s war crimes. Unfortunately, listing so many sufferings becomes an impossible task, as it leaves an eternal feeling of impossibility to be completely faithful to the true hell that man is capable of creating. As Chaves Nogales wrote at the end of his account of the Russian Revolution, “Perhaps one should never exceed the measure of the human.”


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