Русский | Comments | Chudnova Irina Viktorovna (
English Translation by Katherine Ilachinski

General Kappel. Finding

The summary:
On December 14, 2006 in the city of Harbin (China) Lieutenant General Vladimir Oskarovich Kappel (1881-1920),have been found; they were taken out in 1922 during the exodus of white armies outside the limits of Russia and reburied in Harbin along the northern wall of Holy-Iveron Church.
The essay author was present during excavation and examination of remains.

Excursion to history

Lieutenant General V.O. Kappel, who was awarded St. George's medal (the highest honor), the commander-in-chief of white armies of Eastern Front, heroically perished during the Siberian Ice campaign during the crossing through Baikal. He, up to last hour, has shared with his soldiers the burdens and deprivations of wartime, and fighters (soldiers) have not left their commander, they proudly named themselves even after his death kappelevtsami (belonging to Kappel).

The Ice campaign is: 3000 versts from Omsk up to Transbaikal, the end of 1919, the winter, the transport which has stretched in a chain of the tired, hungry, dilapidated, freezing and sick people, steadily going forward after the commander to whom they tremendously trusted.

Kappel not dressed in winter attire, refusing the slightest comfort, was always in front of the army. During difficult crossing in blizzard far from any habitation he fell in a deep snowdrift up to his belt and has soaked his frozen legs. They were immediately covered by ice crust. For 70 versts up to the nearest village the general walked on lifeless, unbending legs, shivering, losing consciousness. On third day, in unconsciousness, he was brought to taiga village Barga, where the doctor has made with a simple knife, without anesthesia, amputation of the frozen skins on both legs. However and after operation Vladimir Oskarovich has refused to abandon the saddle, disregarding the fact that his soldiers have found a sled for the sick general. In the evenings the commander-in-chief was taken from the saddle and carried to a bed, from which he continued to command the army, he could not walk any more.

About one week has passed after amputation has taken place, but the general's condition worsened — fever rose, he was losing consciousness from time to time, cough (to which the doctors did not pay attention) did not stop, pneumonia (the inflammation of lungs) has developed, and Kappel was put in the sled. On January 21, 1920 Vladimir Oskarovich transfers command of Eastern front armies to general Voitsekhovsky. Physical strengths promptly abandon Kappel, at dawn on 25th of January he died in a field infirmary, without regaining consciousness. Shortly before death Kappel has given to Voitsekhovsky a wedding ring and St. George's cross with the request to deliver them to his wife. Vladimir Oskarovich did not posses any other valuables.

The coffin with V.O. Kappel's body despite wartime difficulties has been delivered to Chita. In the autumn of 1922 Kappel's remains have been transported to Harbin by White Guard armies who left Russia and reburied along the northern wall of Holy Iveron Church. Above the tomb they have installed a granite monument with an inscription "the Joint Staff Lieutenant General Vladimir Oskarovich Kappel"; the monument has been destroyed in the 1950s by the order of the Soviet authorities.

Many legends were told about Kappel's tomb in Harbin. They were saying that remains have been secretly transported to an Orthodox cemetery outside the city; and that, ostensibly, a certain Chinese to whom authorities have charged to profane a tomb, has dug it and, having found imperishable relics, has placed a cross from the monument on the coffin's cover. He then covered the tomb with earth and has reported that the task was performed. In addition to legends there were also inconsistent data from those citizens of the USSR who worked in 1950s in the Soviet establishments of Harbin and were involved in destruction of monument.

In 2003 news agency " White Soldiers ", engaged in illumination of Russian military history of XIX-XX centuries, has initiated the organization process of relocating the remains of General Vladimir Oskarovicha Kappel to Russia.

From this moment long and laborious work has begun to organize exhumation and reburial of remains in which many representatives of the secular and spiritual organizations of Russia and China have taken part.

The beginning of the way to Russia

I have taken part in the expedition by Dmitry Napara's invitation, one of those people without whom the finding of the hero's remains could not have taken place. Further I will tell of what happened in Harbin on December 13-14, 2006 (what I witnessed) and how I remembered it. It is not an official report, but only a sketch of the eyewitness.


  On December 13th


On the morning of December 13, I have arrived in Harbin by train, half a day went on accommodation and the decision of organizational questions: tickets, contacts, photo-equipment. During lunchtime I have called D. Napara - having agreed to meet in the evening at Nikolai Nikolaevich Zaiki. I went to Holy Iveron (military) church. In Harbin there was a sunny, snowless, frosty weather, for the middle of December surprisingly warm - minus 5 during the day, minus 11-13 at night. Old residents said, about thirty years they did not have such warm winter. The earth had not had time to freeze. The taxi driver brought me to the Factory lane.

On the narrow, randomly built up pass, I came to Holy Iveron church. Once upon a time the most beautiful church in Harbin, constructed in 1908, graceful five-domed, visible from apart,

now it is in a pitiable condition.

However it has the security status of the Second Class Preserved Building,

Reconstruction works will begin in the spring of next year. After church restoration ground work at its walls would become impossible, this is one of the reasons that the excavation have been done in cold time. I have circled the church from different sides, photographing extensions, sheds, stairs, and other latest additions making the building ugly. Here is how the northern wall of a temple looks, where the next day the excavation will start. They will just dig in 7-10 meters behind the tree trunk.

Having finished photographing, I have gone to Nikolai Nikolaevich Zaika with whom I got acquainted in February of this year during work of REN broadcast about Orthodoxy in China.

In the old Russian house on Torgovaja Street this day there were many visitors. Basically there were Russian news channels - from Moscow and Vladivostok.

The owner was very excited; in a corridor they had equipment, supports, cameras, someone's clothes. Operators and correspondents passed from room to room, taking pictures, writing Zaika's stories, exchanging information, getting acquainted. Then they left, the house became silent for some minutes, Nikolai Nikolaevich has treated me to tangerines and tea, I gave him disks with record of the February program and my photos. A search group "White soldiers" has arrived - Alexander Alekaev, Dmitry Napara, forensic expert Sergey Nikitin, Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov and others. Conversation was about the site of General Kappel's tomb. Nikolai Nikolaevich has shown the plan made by memory by a Russian lady from Harbin, who emigrated in Australia, she lived long years next to Holy Iveron Church. On the plan there was an error: Kappel has died in 1920, and not in 1919.

Then there were long conversations - about Kappel, about white emigration, about old Harbin and KVZhD, about Russian in Russia and outside of it, about Australia, about searches forthcoming in the morning, about Nikolai Nikolaevich's future book, about Huangshan Orthodox cemetery, and about many other things. Tomorrow was a day of solutions.

On December 14th. Finding of a body

Since early morning the entrance to Holy Iveron Church is surrounded by police, they let people in only with distinctive badges. Above the church's northern side, the tent was already hunged: to block the curious, for warming, and also, according to the Chinese tradition - it is considered, that sun's beams should not penetrate the open tomb. At 8:30 AM Father Dmitry has served moleben. Expert Sergey Nikitin has defined a prospective place of the tomb, and the Chinese workers are already breaking with jackhammers brick stone blocks.

The beginning of works

The earth was practically unfrozen, work progressed easily; prevents only the broken brick (constantly found across in a cultural layer), which later will be replaced by the ordered laying of brick in the form of an arched fan.

(The arch of a crypt?)

However, it remains not clear- whether it is a crypt (walls have not been found) or is it a certain building debris which has fallen down and was covered by the earth. There are old residents witnessing about the construction of a granary near the place of excavation, running forward, I shall say, that at about three meters depth, near the tomb an empty space has been found, but the general's burial place has not suffered from it. Work is proceeding, each find causes a lot of reflections and conclusions, nobody yet knows, what waits ahead, but everyone trust in success, Father Dmitry does not doubt it for a moment.

Moscow TV,
reporting from
the excavation site

The Russian TV channels alternately take reports, photographers and operators fix each stage of works, it proceeds like that to somewhere up to one o'clock in the afternoon while, at last, in the depth of two meters under a worker's shovel an indistinct sound is heard: iron screeching on wooden boards.

Sergey Nikitin nervously half inhaling, smokes a cigarette and goes down in the excavation.

S.Nikitin surveys
Wooden sarcophagus

They found a big, wide wooden box, laying along the wall and a little bit moved from it; it is visible, that it is very heavy and strong. A tomb is enlarged; it takes even more hours of excavations. A box is dug around from all sides; the day promptly is coming to an end, powerful building lamps are brought from somewhere and work proceeds. They start to take apart the wooden box; it becomes clear, that it is a sarcophagus, inside of which is a coffin.

The wood is perfectly intact. The top boards are taken off.

Forensic expert and worker
open the sarcophagus

The top boards of the sarcophagus

Zinc plates


Under them are zinc plates, space between coffin and sarcophagus is filled with pressed plaster powder, among plaster one comes across green fringes. On the crest of coffin's cover one sees silver incrustations - on one side two-headed eagle, on the other - a wreath of leaves. Practically nobody doubts that it is Kappel's tomb. Sergey and the Chinese worker clear away the coffin, it is visible, that it is made from dense, probably, red wood. The top of the cover is strong, an idea was raised to lift the coffin, without opening, and almost immediately the idea disappears - from below the coffin's boards are concreted with the bottom of a sarcophagus and they have rotted through; they will have to be lifted in parts.

Removal of coffin's cover

Raising of coffin's cover

Palm leaves, St. George's ribbon,
small icon of Mother of God


At first they tie and lift the cover, under it one sees the general's remains.

From above are visible palm leaves, small icon of Mother of God and the ribbon of the St. George's award.

small icon

Small icon is given to Father Dmitri, he stands beside me, on the left, supports, when I too dangerously bend above the excavation to take picture of work below. To the right of me stands the first secretary of the Russian Embassy Victor Pashkov, he does not leave the tomb for a minute, coordinates work. On the opposite side - Nikolai Nikolaevich Zaika, as if he is glued to the earth; for the whole day he never left from the tent. General bustle — one prepares to raise the coffin, TV men adjust their photo cameras.

Under the coffin they put a tin sheet, the ropes are tied, general's remains, eighty four years lain in Harbin's earth are lifted gently to the surface.

Under the coffin a tin sheet is placed

Elevation of the coffin with General's remains

Sergey Nikitin examines
the empty tomb

Participants of search
group before rmoleben


From the earliest morning, at the lane's departure point, there stands a vehicle equipped to carry a catafalque, which came from Harbin's Bureau of Religious Affairs. This vehicle gave a lot of the diversified rumors among inhabitants of neighboring houses, which we tried to dispel.

While Sergey Nikitin surveys the bottom of the tomb, a catafalque is brought to northern wall of Holy Iveron Church.

All is ready for moleben for Lieutenant General Vladimir Oskarovich Kappel (St. George's award bearer). Father Dmitry reads, candles burn evenly in frosty, windless air of Harbin.

Father Dmitry Smirnov
during moleben

Solemn moleben

After the moleben, the coffin with remains are loaded on a catafalque, TV leaders of the Russian channels take few short interviews from the main organizers of search group, and we went to the Bureau of Religious Affairs. It is 9:00 PM. Excavation lasted exactly 12 hours. Next will be expertise.

It is a long journey, we have time to get a little warmed up and exchange impressions, Alexander Alekaev repeats all the time during the journey: "be truthful to the death, and I shall give you a wreath of a life". Yes, the white general was true to duty up to the end. There is no doubt, the remains taken today from under walls of the military church belong to Vladimir Kappel. However formalities should be followed. When we approach the Bureau of Religious Affairs, snowfall begins, in few hours all Harbin's street will become white.

  On December 14th. Autopsy

S. Nikitin, Father Dmitry
and A. Alekaev during
forensic examination of Kappel's remains

Autopsy was conducted by Sergey Nikitin in the presence of officials from the Chinese side and the observer of the Russian Embassy. The results I shall state by memory in my own words. In the photo from left to right: forensic expert S. Nikitin, Father Dimitry, A. Alekaev during examination.

From the coffin were taken St. George's ribbon and one more small icon, not in good shape so it was not possible to ascertain, what was represented on it.

St. George's ribbon of the bearer
and the second small icon

Hair and beard were preserved on the head of the departed. The shape of the head, beard and hairdo coincided with those on known Kappel's portraits. The height is about 170 cm, which is a little bit more than known lifetime general's height, however, for horizontally laid out body it is characteristic to elongate. Besides St. George's ribbon and two small icons, one can discern on a uniform shoulder straps of the high general-staff officer.

Fragment of the shoulder strap of
the officer of The Joint Staff

One of the most important attributes identifying Kappel, are sols. As is known, shortly before death, Kappel had undergone an amputation. On the right foot of lying in a coffin is found well preserved remains of light woolen sock, and on this foot there are no top phalanxes of toes. On the second foot there is only a heel bone left.

Other objects - awards, ornaments, weapons, and documents were not revealed in the coffin. The body of the departed is covered by palm and coniferous branches, decorated by paper flowers and leaves.

After the termination of examination the coffin with Vladimir Oskarovich remains has been laid in a zinc sarcophagus and prepared for sending to Moscow.

Putting of the coffin with
the general's body in
Zinc sarcophagus,
Dec 14, 2006, 23:30

On 17th of December at 16:11 Beijing time remains of General Kappel were sent by train number 19 Beijing - Moscow, all efforts of cargo registration was taken by Dmitry Napara.

According to news agency "White soldiers" it is supposed, that after a while remains of General V.O. Kappel will be reburied in the Don monastery near the tombs of Russian thinker I.A. Ilyin and General A.I. Denikin.

  December 21, 2006.


  During preparation of essay materials from IA "White soldiers" were used:

  The appeal of News agency "White Soldiers" "About transfer of remains of general V.O.Kappel to Russia"

  In Harbin, General V.O. Kappel's remains are found out

  Kappel and kappelevtsy ( soldiers serving under Kappel)

  Writings from Live Magazine of Armen Gasparyan leader of the program "Russian outside of Russia " on radio the Beacon:

  " Russian outside of Russia " - General V.O. Kappel

  Video. The general's remains are met in Irkutsk

  Vladimir Gladyshev's article

  " People and destiny "

  And a number of other materials.

  Concerning accommodation of the text and photos on other resources to address to the author: