January 20, 2012

Ukrainian pilot became Indian chief?

'Firecrosser': From Soviet war pilot to Indian Chief

By Yuliya RaskevichUkraine has never been a great movie-making nation. But nevertheless, some movies make one proud to be Ukrainian, and “Firecrosser” is certainly one of them. Based on a true story, it's well produced, it features a slice of Soviet reality and tells a fascinating story of a war hero who becomes a prisoner in Stalin's camp only to re-emerge later in his life as a leader of a native tribe in North America.

It took director Mikhail Illyenko five years to produce the film, and finally it's about to hit the big screen on Jan. 19 in Kyiv's Kinopalats, on 1 Instytutska Street.

A young Ukrainian pilot during World War II called Ivan Dodoka ends up in Stalin's GULAG in Siberia for being captured by the Nazis. His close friend, also an army man, pronounces him dead to pursue his wife.

Although Dodoka escapes from the camp, his former friend turned enemy starts to hunt his as a dangerous criminal all over the USSR. Ivan disappears off his radar, and years later his wife finds out that he lives in Canada as has become chief of a native tribe.
Chief of the Reds with a Ukrainian AccentThe first one who threw light on this story was Alexander Syomin living in Kirov. He, in his turn, had been told it 30 years ago by a people’s artist of the USSR Makhmud Esambaev. Before the program’s search results a journalist of “Vyatskaya Pravda” paper met with Alexander Syomin to know the details of the story that subsequently turned out to be rather mysterious.

Syomin told that he had known about a strange Indian chief in 1972 when Makhmud Esambaev was on the road in their place. Alexander used to be a deputy director of the local philharmonic at that time so he could spend much time talking to Esambaev. Makhmud told a lot of interesting stories but one of them seemed especially incredible…

In 1967 Makhmud was travelling in Canada and the cultural program included a visit to a North Indians reservation. By the moment they came all the tribe, about 200 Indians, had already gathered and were only waiting for a chief to appear. And finally he did--a high, slender and strong in a bright Indian garment. He was accompanied by a little fragile Indian woman, his spouse. Makhmud said “hello” in Russian and was pretty much surprised to hear the melodious “Zdoroven’ki buly” in Ukranian.
The One Who Has Passed Through FireThere are all sorts of romantic stories—pure inventions, factual—that really happened, and those that mix fact and fantasy. The story of a Ukrainian, Ivan Datsenko, air force pilot turned Indian chief, has never been properly resolved and is open for several interpretations. Oles PANASENKO presents here his essay based on the materials gleaned from several sources.The two versions of the story:In April 1944, he and his crew were assigned a task to bomb certain targets in the vicinity of Lviv in Western Ukraine, and according to several reports, the bomber he commanded was caught in a heavy anti-aircraft fire, was hit and exploded.

From here on the story forks into two major versions.

In one variant of it, Datsenko did die when his plane exploded; in another—he survived, parachuted to safety, was captured by the Germans, escaped, returned to his unit, but was arrested by SMERSH (the soviet counterespionage agency Smert Shpionam—Death to Spies), was put into a concentration camp, escaped and made his way to Canada where he married a Native American woman, was given the Indian name of The One Who Has Passed Through Fire (also known as Chief Poking Fire), had some children by her, rose to the status of chief in the tribe he had joined, changed his name and died as John MacComber.
And:Ivan Datsenko’s surviving sister and her daughter who lived in Datsenko’s native village, tried to find out more about their relative’s destiny. In the soviet times their search did not produce any results, but in the early 2000s, a decade after Ukraine had regained independence, the international Red Cross in response to their request, reported that there was indeed a John MacComber who had evidently been of Ukrainian extraction and who had indeed been chief of an Indian tribe, but since there were no more Indian reservations in Canada, and since the man had died, it was impossible to establish any more reliable facts.Comment:  On one hand, this story is based solely on the claims of a Soviet artist from 45 years ago. It's not as if the government or media investigated and verified these claims.

On the other, photos apparently exist of John MacComber, a "chief" who doesn't look much like an Indian. If he wasn't a Ukrainian pilot, who was he?

It's possible that a non-Indian could've married into a tribe and become its chief. It's also possible that a Ukrainian could've married an Indian and produced a Native child named John MacComber.

This child wouldn't have needed a fanciful origin. Perhaps his Ukrainian father simply moved to Canada for some reason. If the father was a criminal, for instance, the son might've invented the pilot story because he was ashamed.

Usually the simplest story is the right one. A part-Ukrainian chief who invented a background seems simpler than a Ukrainian pilot who escaped a Siberian gulag, crossed the Pacific, joined a tribe, and became its chief. But you never know.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.


Shadow Wolf said...

Since his "claims" are not proven or even factual for that matter. I'm going to say that this is nothing more than one man's fantasy. We all know how much white Europeans love the Native Americans and it's culture. They vie for it and pretend to live it.

And btw, the stereotypical plains tee-pee in the photo, supposedly made by some Eastern coast "Indian Tribe" of Canada looks bogus to me.

Anonymous said...

This is a bit bizarre, but yeah, claims are claims. I can claim to speak to the dead, and it's ridiculously easy to fool approximately 99% of the public into thinking I do. (John Edward's Crossing Over is a perfect demonstration of cold reading.)

On this topic of indigenous people and the Cold War, fiction also fails to grasp indigenous identity. I mean, look at Last of the Breed. Is there a single Sioux, or Yakut, who doesn't see the US and USSR as pretty much identical? For indigenous peoples, the economy's all basically Josef Stalin and Ayn Rand's demon lovechild, no matter who rules the world.

dmarks said...

"I mean, look at Last of the Breed. Is there a single Sioux, or Yakut, who doesn't see the US and USSR as pretty much identical?"

You must be playing off of some stereotype of Sioux being so insular that they are entirely ignorant of the outside world. I don't buy it.

Rob said...

There are several photographs of someone who looks more Ukrainian than Indian and who allegedly spoke Ukrainian. I'd say these indicators are semi-factual, at least.

Doing a "cold read" of a visiting artist and coming up with the historical pilot story, complete with foreign-language touches, seems more farfetched than the pilot story itself. But I suppose it's possible.

Where did you get the "Eastern coast" bit from? The only geographical reference I saw was to a "North Indians reservation." The Northern Plains tribes in Canada used tipis, I believe.

Lvivska Citadel said...

Well watched the film, thats why got interested in the story behind it.

First it`s art film. It is not really about Indians. And directors stile was never realistic. Film is rather symbolic. So it is not to be taken more then that.

About story itself. It is somewhat obscure. There are number of things that support it. Accounts from soviet visitors that met him. At the time it was rather dangerous to make up stories like that. Second, there was an official comparison of photographs done by Institute of Forensic Pathology in Moscow which concluded that it is the same person indeed. Of course that is not conclusive. The only way to prove or disprove that story would be DNA tasting of his living relatives in Ukraine and Canada. Thats if anyone would bother to take up such investigation.

Lvivska Citadel said...

"And btw, the stereotypical plains tee-pee in the photo, supposedly made by some Eastern coast "Indian Tribe" of Canada looks bogus to me."

It was mainly made for tourists according to Indians that new him. While origin of the "Poking Fire" is obscure he definitely existed.

Marta Petrash said...

I completely agree with Lvivska Citadel reasoning that there is much evidence to support the story while the complete truth cannot be known without the DNA testing.
What outrages me the most is the article author's completely made-up story to explain how the Ukrainian could have become an Indian chief - by which she ended her writing. Those who lived under the USSR system, will recognize a pure KGB tactics to imply something dirty and shady to appeal to darker side of human nature in attempt to discredit the story.