107 years in the Tsar’s service.

Russian soldiers always delighted politicians and militaries from different countries. Their prowess, bravery and the highest professionalism were their business card at all times. However, an ordinary soldier’s life is usually short, especially during wartime. The hero of our story was able to live through a number of soldiers’ lives. 

Vasiliy Nicolaevich Kochetkov – a Russian genius, a warrior of God. He lived over 107 years, 60 from which were spent in real military service. He was a soldier during the reign of three Tsars: Alexander the First, Nicholas the First and Alexander the Second. He served in 12 units in 3 combat arms: infantry, cavalry and artillery.  He took part in 10 military campaigns and suffered 6 wounds.

Born to the family of a cantonist-soldier in 1785 in a Simberian province, Kochetkov was attached to a military department. At the age of 26 he joined the military service as a non-commissioned officer musician at the first.  By the beginning of the Civil War in 1812, not wishing to sit in the background, he asked about moving to a combat area. Among the soldiers of the famous Life Grenadiers regiment, he reaches Mozhaisk, fights at Borodino, as well as at Leipzig, takes Paris and finishes the campaign in the rank of sergeant major.

As part of the Life Guards of the Pavlovsky regiment from 1820 he took part in the Russian-Turkish war of 1828-1829, the war with Polish rebels and in 1831 the assault on Warsaw. In 1833 he was moved to the horse-pioneer (engineering) division of the Life Guards.

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Drawing of Peter Fedorovich Borel’ according to a photo taken on the 20th of May 1892(11 days before the death of Vasiliy Nicolaevich Kochetkov).

Up to 1836, Kochetkov had already seen 25 years of military service, but he didn’t hurry to leave the army. In 1843 he was sent into the Caucasus army to teach other soldiers to build, consolidate and pull apart bridges of boats. According to the personal permission of the grand duke Michail Pavlovich, he remained serving here and then he was ranked among the Nizhegorodsky dragoon regiment.

Taking part in military actions in the Caucasus, he got three wounds: one right through the neck, both legs with a broken left shank bone, and after a year, a broken left shank bone again. Seriously injured, Kochetkov was taken prisoner by Chechens. After 9 months and 23 days of being a prisoner, when his wounds had healed up, Kochetkov made an escape, at the same time showing miracles of resourcefulness, for which he was honoured with The George Cross of the fourth degree.

In 1849, after years of service, Vasiliy Kochetkov was made a junior lieutenant, but he rejected the rank of officer and in 1851, retired leaving a very rich military biography which would be enough for seven lives.

However, after 2 years the Crimean War started (1853-1856) and Kochetkov saw real service in the Caucasus horse –hunter regiment again defending Sevastopol. In 1856, he was moved in the Dragoon Life Guards regiment personally by Tsar Alexander the Second, and later in 1862 he was enlisted into the company of the Court Grenadiers and gained the rank of non-commissioned officer.

By this time, Kochetkov was already 77 years old. He had a good subordinate position, deserved support, had a multitude of decorations, but still felt powerful enough to make further feats. He loved military life and in 1869 reported to the Tsar with a request to send him to the seat of war in Central Asia. During his departure, the Tsar gave him a reward of 50 rubles.

As part of the Turkestan horse-artillery brigade of mountain guns in the post of first class gunner, Kochetkov took part in battles for Turkestan and Samarkand. In 1874, making a march through the desert in a troop under the command of general-adjutant Kaufman, he captured Hiva. In the same year, by the imperial order, he was appointed to serve in the Gendarme Corps, in the convoy of the Imperial Train on the Kursk-Kiev railway.

In 187 Serbia and Montenegro rebelled. The 92-year old Kochetkov went to help ours Slavonic brothers. In 1877, after burying the hatchet between Serbia and Turkey, he was enlisted in the latest Eastern war, as part of the 19th horse-artillery brigade. Here the tireless warrior took part in battles at the Shipka Pass, but lost his left leg in one of these battles. In 1978 he was moved into the Life Guard’s horse-artillery brigade “for distinguished service”, where he served 13 more years.

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Death caught Kochetkov absolutely unexpectedly when he was coming back home after retiring, on the 31th of May 1892.

The course of this brave warrior’s life is an unlimited range of feats. His uniform represented the rarest phenomenon; decorated by connected monograms of three Tsars: Alexander the First, Nicholas the First and Alexander the Second on its shoulder straps, with eight lines of gold and silver lace and braid on its left sleeve; 23 crosses and a great number of medals were housed on Kochetkov’s neck and chest.

Up to his last days, he a was brave, tall old man, with a military carriage, looked much younger than his years, and it was hard to believe how many destitutions and hardships he suffered in his life; visiting Paris, Hiva, travelling all around Russia, the Caucasus, Poland, shedding his blood in Turkey, Hungary and Slavonic lands. 

Text: Alina Sugakova-Romanova.   Translation: Margarita Maslova.

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