A Grave Among the Oaks


There’s a spit of land cleaving Lake Blagodatnoe from the Sea of Japan in the Sikhote-Alin Reserve; a sandy rise five hundred meters long and half as wide, covered by a thin layer of soil and crowned by a monotypic forest of Mongolian oak. It’s not really a destination in and of itself; scientists or reserve rangers usually shuffle quickly through en route to the lake or further on to Khuntami Bay, pausing only to admire a tiger track or observe a flushing roe deer. But this unassuming patch shelters a remarkable secret; one with ties to the Russian Revolution itself. This forest contains a grave.

Gladchenko GraveIt’s not easy to find the burial site—a low, oblong mound easily overlooked among oak trunks and the bright green vegetation of the understory—in fact it took me years of casual searching before finally stumbling upon it in 2012. Covered by a patchy bed of mosses and grass that cushion a carefully-arranged blanket of beach rocks, the grave is marked by a rusty stake and crowned by a faded tin star once painted a deep Communist red. A hand-carved inscription, cut into a disc of metal, is bolted to the stake, which reads:

Gladchenko, N.E.
Born 1875, Died 1950
Participant in the 1905
uprising of the Battleship Potemkin and a partisan
in the Far East

There is a tremendous amount of history in these few, crudely-chiseled lines.

The Battleship Potemkin—known best in the West from the influential 1925 film of the same name by Sergei Eisenstein—was the scene of a famous mutiny. Gladchenko was one of hundreds of disgruntled sailors that wrested the Potemkin from its Tsarist officers and controlled the ship for nearly two weeks off the Ukraine coast in 1905; an event that ended in surrender at a Romanian port. The short-lived uprising is viewed by history as a tremor preceding the earthquake of Russian Revolution in 1917.

It’s unclear when Gladchenko made his way 7,600 kilometers east to Primorye as, fearing arrest or execution, many participants in the Potemkin uprising did not return to Russia until after the Revolution. But once in the Far East, Gladchenko again sided with the Communists in the bloody Russian Civil War. From 1918-1922, the southern Russian Far East changed hands like a bone among a pack of hungry wolves; at one point the capital Vladivostok was even stripped of Soviet rule by a Czech-led coup.

When Gladchenko died in 1950, this forest patch held the village cemetery of Blagodatnoe, a small settlement that was abandoned a few years later when the herring fishery in the north Pacific shifted off shore following a powerful, deep sea earthquake. The trees, the deer, and the tigers subsequently reclaimed what was once theirs, and the village melted back into the land.

Histories of national, provincial, and local importance converge at Gladchenko’s grave; a quiet site shaded by an oak stand on the shores of the Sea of Japan.


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