Red Army hero who fought for French Resistance dies

Red Army hero who fought for French Resistance dies

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Red Army hero who fought for French Resistance dies

A file photo taken on May 11, 2007 shows Red Army officer Nikolai Vasenin posing in the town of Novoberezovsky outside Ekaterinburg.

A Red Army officer who fought for the French Resistance before being sent to the Gulag by Soviet authorities has died aged 95, officials said on Dec. 8.

Nikolai Vasenin died a few months after learning that the French love he lost 70 years ago had also passed away.

Vasenin's extraordinary life saw him captured by the Nazis, escape from German captivity, lead a French resistance group only to be locked up by Stalin's secret police on his return to the Soviet Union.

"The fate of Nikolai Maksimovich Vasenin was truly unique," said Yevgeny Kuivashev, the governor of the Sverdlovsk region, where the veteran lived.

After being taken prisoner by the Nazis in 1941, Vasenin managed to escape from a camp in France in October 1943 to join a group of "maquisards," rural fighters of the French Resistance.

The young Russian became a commander of a 25-strong guerrilla detachment later dubbed "Nicolas's group."

While fighting in the French resistance, he fell in love with Jeanne, the daughter of his commander, Gerard Monot. He asked Monot for his daughter's hand, but was rebuffed.

In the spring of 1945, just before the end of the war, Vasenin returned to the Soviet Black Sea port city of Odessa where he was immediately arrested, in a cruel twist of fate suffered by many Soviet ex-prisoners of war.

He was sentenced to 15 years in the Gulag "for treason" but was released early after a few years and sent into exile in Siberia.

At the end of his prison term, Vasenin married a geologist who visited the mine where inmates worked.

He was rehabilitated during the perestroika reforms under the USSR's last leader Mikhail Gorbachev, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Vasenin is a holder of the French Legion of Honour and an honorary citizen of Saint-Sorlin-d'Arves in the French Alps.

He spent the last years of his life trying to find his lost French love. "I must find her at any cost," he told AFP in 2013. "I am 93, there is no reason to wait any longer."       

This past June, Vasenin travelled to southeastern France where he fought during WWII, a month after he learned that Jeanne had died.

"She had died several months earlier but he had not been told," Valery Lobanov, one of his friends, told AFP.  "He took all these events close to his heart."       

Kuivashev paid tribute to his bravery and grit. "He was a courageous, strong, honest man, one of those who lived and fought in the name of homeland, in the name of the great victory, in the name of all those living today," he added. "He was a worthy representative of the great 'generation of victors.'"