Yevhen Berezniak was born in 1914 in Katerynoslav (now – Dnipro) in the family of workers. According to Yevhen’s memoirs, his family, in which, besides him, there were two more daughters – Lydiia and Yevdokiia, lived very poorly, but in harmony. When Yevhen was five he started helping his father to work in the field, and his father instilled in him love for manual labour.
Yevhen’s mother prematurely passed away after her illness in 1929. After that, Berezniak left his family and entered Pedagogical College in Zinovievsk (now – Kropyvnytskyi). After completing his studies, he worked as a teacher in secondary schools in Kirovohrad and Dnipropetrovsk regions. At the age of 25 he became a Head of Education Department in Lviv and was awarded the medal “For Labour Valour”.
At the beginning of war he was evacuated to Dnipro. As German troops were approaching the city, Yevhen was left for underground work behind enemy lines. More than two years Berezniak was underground, where he was engaged in propaganda work among the population and conducted subversive activities. After the city liberation from fascist invaders in December 1943 he was appointed Head of Information Sector of Dnepropetrovsk Regional Party Committee.
However, the Cabinet work of Yevhen Berezniak was short-lived. In January 1944, the members of Intelligence Directorate Headquarters of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, who were informed about Berezniak’s work in the underground, offered him training in Intelligence School. Yevhen Stepanovych agreed without hesitation and was sent to one of the departments of Intelligence School near Moscow.
The training of 14 future scouts, which lasted for six months, was carried out by more than hundred professionals in various fields. Berezniak recalled that he had never met any of those people with whom he studied in his life, and after war he discovered that all his Intelligence School classmates lost their lives in combat missions. Future scouts were taught to shoot without a miss from different weapons, to skydive, to act in challenging terrain and conditions, using communications devices and encryption. Training passed quickly.
In July 1944, Yevhen Berezniak successfully passed the final exam, the task of the latter was to legalize with fake documents in Moscow and begin to collect intelligence, and graduated with honors from Intelligence School.
In the same month Yevhen arrived to the headquarters of the 1st Ukrainian front, which was stationed in the city of Proskuriv (now Khmelnytskyi). At that time our troops were successfully completing the Lviv-Sandomyr offensive operation, there were favorable conditions for an attack on the territory of Poland and conducting the Vistula-Oder offensive. Consequently, it was extremely necessary for the Soviet Forces to have reliable intelligence information about the enemy groups on the Polish territory.
In the front headquarters Yevhen Berezniak was appointed the commander of a sabotage and intelligence group (SIG), got the nickname “The Voice” and began preparation for the assignment in occupied Krakow with the aim of exploring the German troops defences on the outskirts of the city.
In addition to Yevhen Berezniak, the SIG was composed of the Deputy group commander, an experienced intelligence officer, Lieutenant Aleksei Shapovalov (alias “The Storm”) and radio operator corporal Asia Zhukova (alias “The Hrusha”).
In the night of 18 to 19 August 1944, SIG, which was headed by Yevhen Berezniak (at the time – captain “Mykhailov”), parachuted in Krakow. Due to the pilots’ error scouts landed at a considerable distance from each other and from the desired area. Yevhen Berezniak was quick on the ground and went in the direction of Krakow for further consolidation with the other members of the SIG. However, fate played a trick on him. On the second day after landing behind the enemy lines Berezniak got to the Gestapo. Whether fate decided that he had not fulfilled yet his mission on earth, or thanks to his innate intelligence and ingenuity, but Yevhen Berezniak managed to escape from the hands of the enemy on August 27, 1944 at the Krakow market Tandeta.
Yevhen Berezniak was successfully fulfilling the command tasks during 156 days after escaping from the Gestapo. Overall, during the work in the enemy’s rear, till January 23, 1945, SIG under the command of Yevhen Berezniak fully exposed Krakow grouping of German troops. From among the Soviet soldiers, who escaped from captivity, was created a combat unit, which carried out the sabotage on railway and road communications of the enemy. In addition, the group got a plan for the mining of Krakow by the Nazis.
On the whole the front headquarters received from Berezniak’s group over 140 radio messages with valuable intelligence information about the forces and objects of Nazis located in Krakow and its suburbs. This information was very important for the planning and successful conduct of the operation to defeat the Krakow enemy group by the troops of the 1st Ukrainian front. Berezniak’s SIG practically saved tens of thousands of lives of Soviet soldiers and peaceful Polish residents, and prevented the destruction of Krakow.
After completing the task, and returning to the intelligence section of the front, Yevhen Berezniak reported to the leadership about the group actions, including the time in captivity. After that he was sent for testing in a test-filtration camp of the NKVD. Numerous checks confirmed his innocence and at the request of the Main intelligence Directorate of the General staff of the USSR Armed Forces Yevhen Berezniak was released and demobilized.
After the war he returned to teaching field. He worked as a School Principal, and as a Head of Lviv Education Department, and as a Head of the Main Directorate of schools at Ministry of Education of Ukraine. He presented his thesis, wrote five monographs and over 100 scientific publications. He was the honored teacher of Ukraine, honorary academician of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences. He became retired in 1998 at the age of 85 years.
Berezniak become fully rehabilitated only 20 years after the end of the Second World War owing to some periodic publications in the press and the filming of several documentaries and TV shows. In particular, the article “City Must not Die!” published in the newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda” in 1965, described the activity of the group “Voice” and the rescuing of Krakow. Marshal Vasyl Sokolovskyi wrote in the preface to the publication: “Everything recounted here is true, and is confirmed by documents which are in the archive of the General Staff under a signature stamp “Store eternally, not subject to destruction”.
After the publication of the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR “for exemplary performance of command assignments behind enemy lines and with bravery and courage” Berezniak Y. S. was awarded the Order of Patriotic War I degree. One year later the famous writer Yulian Semenov wrote the story named “Major Vykhor” on the basis of archival materials of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the USSR on the activities of Yevhen Berezniak’s group. That story was subsequently filmed in the eponymous film.
In 1971 the publishing house “Moloda Gvardiia” published the book by Yevhen Berezniak, “I am The Voice,” which under different names (“Password “Dum spiro...”, “The Operation “Voice”) with a total circulation of more than 2 million copies was reprinted five times in Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria, Uzbekistan, and Russia. In addition, the documentaries about Yevhen Berezniak were on screens in different years.
In 2001, Yevhen Berezniak by the Decree of the President of Ukraine “for personal courage and bravery, heroism and sacrifice displayed during the execution of particularly important tasks during the years of the Great Patriotic War” awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine. By the Decree of the President of Ukraine in 2005 he received the military rank “Major General”.
Moreover, Yevhen Berezniak was awarded the highest military awards of Poland, numerous orders, medals and decorations of the former USSR, Ukraine, the Russian Federation and public organizations and became an honorary citizen of Kyiv and Krakow, honorary employee of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine of the Defence Ministry of Ukraine, an honorary soldier of the Military-Diplomatic Academy which is named after him, honorary academician and Professor at many educational institutions of Ukraine.
The legendary intelligence officer of the Second World War Yevhen Stepanovych Berezniak passed away on November 23, 2013.
Since the Russian invaders launched hybrid warfare they have been attempting to rob Ukraine of its historical legacy, namely by appropriating the feat of Ukrainian intelligence officer. However, truth always finds its way. Russian authority acknowledges that Ukrainian, a teacher by education, Yevhen Stepanovych Berezniak served as an intelligence officer during the years of the terrible war and saved the ancient Polish city Krakow from destruction by Nazis.
Throughout his long, complicated and, at the same time, outstanding life the Hero of Ukraine Yevhen Berezniak became a real Teacher and an example of selflessness in military service and his love for Ukraine.