Maria ‘Marusya’ Nikiforova (1885-1919) was a Ukrainian revolutionary – and from the age of sixteen, a self-described terrorist – fighting for freedom under the violently oppressive Russian Empire. Often compared to Joan of Arc, Marusya rose from the slums to become a ferocious anarchist atamansha (military female leader) – and, like Joan, she was a fanatic who pursued her goals in a ferocious, ruthless fashion.
Marusya fought for the freedom of the oppressed on three continents; seizing land, weapons and goods – and distributing wealth among the peasants; she organised the first Black Guards unit (armed groups of workers, who were the main strike force of the anarchists); stood trial for her life on four occasions; and was sentenced to death twice. Her exploits became folklore but she was virtually expunged from official Soviet histories and her story was lost for generations.
There is no cult of Maria Nikiforova. There are no shelves of books devoted to her life – even writers sympathetic to anarchism have neglected Marusya, despite the the Black Guards serving as a model for Nestor Makhno’s revered Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (the ‘Black Army’); despite the important role she played in the Russian Revolutions of 1917 and the subsequent civil war.
“Anarchists only want people to be conscious of their own situation and seize freedom for themselves … rebel, rebel until all organs of power are eliminated.”—Marusya