Belarus paid a heavy price during WWII, sometimes overshadowed by the story of the siege of Leningrad, or the battles to defend the Volga towns such as Stalingrad. They took place in Russia proper. Belarus was occupied by the Nazis, its population lived in terror, as it had done in the Napoleonic wars of a 130 years before when overrun by the Grand Armée. It really was the buffer between central Russia and Europe.
It was fitting that the Russians paid this tribute as Belarus was being liberated from the Germans. Was there also some doubt whether the partisans could be controlled after the war? Their strength in this poster is made evident. The Soviet Union would have to re-form itself after the war.
By August 1944 the soviet forces had ousted the Germans from Ukraine. They were pressing forward on their Western front and driving the occupying German forces from Belorussia (Belarus’) as well.
In this advance the Red Army was aided by groups of partisans which formed under the occupying forces as a resistance movement. They were now dedicated to making life as difficult as possible for the retreating Germans.
Przhetslavskii, about whom much still remains unknown, was evidently, as seen in the work we have in the Nottingham Collection, a traditionally trained draftsman and landscape artist (for Przhetslavskii’s work, see TASS 1115; TASS 1146; TASS 1163; TASS 1209). He specialises in battle scenes with horses which find their roots in 19th century traditions of military painting.
His designs bring touches of realism to the run of TASS windows. This work is in complete contrast to the caricatured use of animals to represent the enemy in many of the others. However, he is not above romanticising his subject material, recognising that horses were still especially precious in a country whose pre-WWII agriculture was heavily dependent on them. Russians would not have relished knowing about the wholesale slaughter of horses that their use as transport in the war had brought.
Here we see Przhetslavskii’s skills as a master of the composition of a traditional war painting as well as a master craftsman of horses The horse here celebrated is a true white charger of romantic heroic myth, as he chases down a sole fleeing German infantry man. The movement of the other four horses echoes the charger and enlivens the central part of the picture. Each of the two front ones to the right is in the act of cutting down an individual soldier.
A group of watching peasants admires the heroism of the partisan in the lead, and brings a static counterweight to the central action. This silent witness is extended by the forest on the nearby hill. The effects of German withdrawal can be seen in the burning farm, bringing distance and perspective to the whole composition. Victory is sensed in this painting and the paler pink colours tell a less desperate story than earlier in the war (for further use of these colours see TASS 1197; TASS 1209)
In his verse, Mashistov writes of the victory sensed in this window. There is, though, a careful distinction drawn between the Red Army, the agent of victory, and the localised heroics of the partisans. Their state, Belorussia at that time, would never forget them. The Russian text speaks of ‘our’ victory, meaning a soviet one.