Chief of the Reds with a Ukrainian accent


A popular Russian TV program “Wait for me”, helping people to find their lost friends and relatives, was requested by a citizen of Poltava, Ukraine – Olga Ruban. She was asking to find her uncle, a military pilot Ivan Datsenko, who had disappeared during the war.

The 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. Even more surprised he was when already in the chief’s wigwam he heard how the owner asked his wife to bring “galushki” and how they set the Ukranian tune together…


The chief of the tribe came to Canada as an emigrant and then in the long arm of coincidence he found himself in a small village inhabited by Indians. Their leader chose him as the strongest and the most courageous warrior to be a husband for his daughter. And that is how a citizen of Poltava became a chief of the Indian tribe “by inheritance”. However, as it cleared up later, he had other important reasons to stay there…

A Ukrainian boy flew his country to another continent but kept silence for years realizing that KGB would find him miles from nowhere. Only many years on Esambaev revealed the chief’s name – Ivan Datsenko. And the press cutting with this detail induced his niece to address the TV program “Wait for me”.


Parting with Esambaev, Ivan sadly said: “I wish I could give it all up and go home, to “Poltavschina”, through seas and oceans I would swim, I would creep on my knees, but I can’t…life is over…” and asked Makhmud to send him a postcard with views of native Ukraine.

Well, what was Ivan hiding from omnipresent KGB?

He was an air fighter and a Hero of the Soviet Union. He’d had a track record of 213 assault flights by the moment when his life turned sharp round. Once in 1944 his aircraft was shot down in a night battle near Lvov. He managed to jump off the aircraft enveloped in flames but was captured. He could escape and even reach the friendly but “the friendly” met him as a traitor and sent Ivan to a concentration camp. On the way he managed to escape again and since then his track was lost for nearly 60 years. KGB actually even got to that tribe, the Indians promised to promote but did not give up Ivan.


The story that seemed fantastic has turned into real. And though the part of Ivan’s life that changed his fate so strikingly remains “a blind-spot”, let’s hope that the mystery of this amazing life will be unraveled till the end.

12 thoughts on “Chief of the Reds with a Ukrainian accent”

  1. So is he an Indian chief now? When did all this happen? Why can’t he go home now that things got a bit better… KGB has already long forgotten whatever he did.

  2. facinating story. I’m from Poland, not far from Russia but i can’t imagin how people may live and be happy in Russia. This is sdtrange country with great corruption.


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