Valentin Petrovich Purgin, aka Vladimir Golubenko
The real name and surname of our “hero” is Vladimir Golubenko, but in history he entered forever as Valentin Petrovich Purgin. This swindler largely bypassed the famous book hero and favorite of millions of readers of Ostap Bender. The biography of Vladimir Golubenko can be safely filmed or written on the basis of these events a full-fledged novel. A swindler and a recidivist thief, he led the NKVD by the nose for several years and managed to build just a fabulous career in the pre-war USSR, officially getting a job as a military journalist in Komsomolskaya Pravda.
Neither before nor after, not a single person could repeat what Vladimir Golubenko managed to do. This man managed to circle a finger around the system in which the state security authorities controlled each screw. The fraudster was ruined by excessive greed and faith in his absolute impunity. Under the name of Valentin Purgin, our hero managed to obtain the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, for which he ultimately paid cruelly.
How Vladimir Golubenko became Valentin Purgin
Vladimir Golubenko was born in 1914 in the family of an ordinary worker and cleaner in the Urals. The worker-peasant origin did not in any way affect the fate of the young man in the new state under construction. Already at the age of 19 in 1933, Golubenko was first convicted of theft, and in 1937 he was convicted again. This time the crimes were more serious. Golubenko was accused of theft, forgery and fraud. The recidivist was sent to serve his sentence to Dmitrovsky forced labor camp.
At that time, Dmitrovlag was the largest camp association within the OGPU-NKVD, which was created to carry out the construction of the Moscow-Volga Canal, which was named after Stalin. The canal was an important strategic project of those years and was intended to provide the capital of the Soviet Union with drinking water. The second equally important task was to raise the water level in the Volga and the Moscow River to ensure the free passage of ships. For the construction of the canal, prisoners' labor was actively and massively involved. But instead of building a canal, Golubenko decided to run away. The most amazing thing is that he somehow succeeded.
Having escaped from Dmitrovlag, Vladimir Golubenko boarded a passenger train, where he again put his skills into practice (according to other sources, he escaped from the train during transportation to the camp). The first time Golubenko was convicted of stealing a wallet on a tram, this time our hero stole a passport from a random companion. Now the theft was successful, and the stolen document, owned by Valentin Petrovich Purgin, gave Vladimir Golubenko a new life. Having got off at the nearest station with a new passport, Golubenko redid the document in a week by pasting his photograph there. At the same time, according to new documents, he became five years older.
Subsequently, the story took the most unpredictable turn. Many of the "normal thieves" who managed to escape from the camp would simply hid and behave quieter than water, below the grass, but our hero was not one of them. Either he really wanted to surpass the great combinator who knew 400 relatively honest ways of taking money from the population, or he simply dreamed of a beautiful life, but in any case, the newly made Valentin Purgin was not going to hide and hide from the world. On the contrary, Purgin decided to break into people and build a career of a successful Soviet citizen and worker.
How a swindler arranged his career as a journalist
With a new passport, a fugitive recidivist reached Sverdlovsk, where, having forged documents on graduation from the Military Transport Academy, he was able to get a correspondent in the local newspaper Putevka. It was a departmental railway publication. How Purgin worked in the newspaper is not very clear, because according to some reports he did not even have a completed secondary education. However, the lack of education did not prevent the swindler from masterfully forging documents and achieving his goals. It is believed that Purgin himself was engaged in forging documents, approaching this process very responsibly, paying attention to even the most insignificant details. For example, he artificially aged sheets of those documents that could have been stored in archives for years.
From Sverdlovsk the swindler soon moved to Moscow. Valentin Purgin did not come to the capital empty-handed. In addition to the stolen passport, he issued a fake high school diploma, a letter of recommendation signed by the head of the Military Transport Academy located in Sverdlovsk, and an excellent description from the place of study. With this set of fake documents, the swindler easily got into the Gudok newspaper, continuing his career in railway publications.
True, the man who appropriated the surname Purgin, wanted more. In 1938, he managed to get a job at Komsomolskaya Pravda, which was one of the most prestigious newspapers in the Soviet Union. In many ways, this helped Purgin's connections, which he quickly started in the capital. Apparently, he was a sociable person, not without charm. Valentin Purgin easily met people and easily built trusting and friendly relations with them. In Moscow, he met with Komsomolskaya Pravda journalists Donat Mogilevsky and Ilya Agranovsky, who, in turn, brought the fraudster to the post of executive editor of the publication Arkady Poletaev. That is how Purgin managed to get into a prestigious publication: Poletaev also became a victim of his natural charisma.
In "Komsomolskaya Pravda" Purgin very quickly made a career. He became already in March 1939 the deputy chief of the military department of the editorial office. According to the recollections of colleagues, in the editorial board, Valentin Purgin created an aura of mystery around himself and hinted in every way that he was somehow connected with the NKVD. On some days, a con man appeared at work with the real Order of the Red Banner. When asked questions about what he was awarded, Purgin left the answer, often mysteriously fell silent or translated the conversation.
Naturally, Purgin was never awarded any orders, but this will be revealed much later, during the investigation. The award was stolen by the mother of a con man who worked as a night cleaner in the building of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. She stole the Order of the Red Banner and order books from the office of Mikhail Kalinin, and then transferred it to her son. To fake orders and order books for them, Purgin turned to the services of an engraver. Later, both the mother and the engraver will be arrested, the cleaner will be given five years in prison, but during interrogations she did not admit to whom she had stolen awards.
"Military trips" and the Golden Star of the Hero
In July 1939, the war correspondent of Komsomolskaya Pravda, Valentin Purgin, was sent to the Far East, where another conflict broke out between the USSR and Japan. In autumn, a letter came to the editorial office stating that Purgin was undergoing treatment at a hospital in Irkutsk, and he was injured allegedly during a battle on the Khalkhin-Gol River. Purgin arrived from a Far Eastern business trip with another award, this time with the Order of Lenin.
At the same time, the presentation of the award was made on the letterhead of the military unit, which was stationed in Grodno. Later, investigators will find out that the letter about the treatment in the hospital and the idea of awarding the Order of Lenin were written on the forms of the 39th Special Purpose Division, which was stationed in Grodno on the territory of Belarus. In December 1939, Purgin wrote a short essay about this unit, simultaneously stealing a number of forms from the division headquarters.
In the winter of 1940, Purgin was sent on another business trip, this time to the Soviet-Finnish front. However, the scammer was not going to endanger his life. At the end of January 1940, a letter came to the newspaper’s editorial office in Moscow stating that Purgin had been sent to Leningrad to carry out a secret mission. The letter also indicated that in the case of a long absence of the correspondent, it should be considered that he had temporarily departed to undergo the necessary further training. Some believe that Purgin was already preparing for himself the path of a possible retreat and was going to really lay low. One way or another, all this time he did not even leave the capital. Purgin not only didn’t get to the front, but didn’t even come to Leningrad, spending all his time in Moscow at his friend’s apartment. At the same time, he managed to skip travel money in capital restaurants.
After the end of the Soviet-Finnish war, Purgin decided once again to try his luck. This time against the backdrop of mass awards, the wave of which began after the end of the conflict. On the form stolen in Grodno, Valentin Purgin sent to the award department of the People’s Commissariat of the Navy an idea of rewarding himself. At the same time, in the sent documents, he also entered data on the orders allegedly received by him earlier. Once again, the scammer was lucky. With the connivance of the People’s Commissariat employees, the award documents were satisfied, and on April 21, 1940, Valentin Purgin was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. The corresponding decree was published the next day on the pages of the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. In fairness, it can be noted that the award commission did not double-check the performance, since Purgin had previously been awarded the highest military awards, and was also an employee of the central printing organ of the Komsomol Central Committee.
After that, the fame and glory of Purgin as a journalist soared in the editorial office even higher. In Komsomolskaya Pravda, he was considered a recognized authority. The news of the award caught a swindler in Sochi, where he was relaxing with his young wife, the beginning journalist of Komsomolskaya Pravda, Lydia Bokashova. A month later, on May 22, a detailed essay was published in the newspaper, which outlined in all its colors the exploits of Valentin Purgin. This essay was prepared by a friend of Purgin Agranovsky, who really masterfully owned a pen.
It was this essay, which was accompanied by a photograph of the hero, brought down the whole legend of Purgin. The feats described in the essay would be enough for a few people. In particular, Agranovsky wrote that Valentin Purgin managed to distinguish himself in battles on the Far Eastern border at the age of 18, he was first injured there. Then the Motherland appreciated his exploits, presenting him to the Order of the Red Banner. A series of completely fictional episodes followed, including fictional events involving Purgin on Khalkhin Gol and the Finnish border. But this text, perhaps, would have gone unnoticed by many, if not for the photograph of the hero. The article was crowned by a smiling and contented life, Valentin Purgin with orders on his chest.
The photo became fatal, according to it a large number of people who had a collision with Vladimir Golubenko were able to identify it. Starting from the NKVD officers and ending with his former cellmates. All this time, Golubenko was on the All-Union wanted list. Soon the swindler was arrested and all his adventures were revealed. This story literally shocked the entire editorial board of Komsomolskaya Pravda, many of whose members were demoted and reprimanded, while friends of Valentin Purgin, Mogilevsky and Agranovsky, who knew about his scams, received real prison sentences.
The “hero” himself in August 1940 was sentenced by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR to be shot and deprived of all orders and awards that he had appropriated to himself by deceit. The sentence was executed on November 5 of the same year. Golubenko's appeal for pardon was ignored.
Valentin Purgin, aka Vladimir Golubenko, entered the history forever as the only person who fraudulently won the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. He became the first person who was officially deprived of this title on the basis of the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of July 20, 1940.