Private, "Sea King" (if you believe the family lore)

This photograph came to me along with a newspaper writeup of a family story from Anatolii Andreevich Kostyukov regarding his uncle Pion Alekseevich Lifar, the man in the picture. Supposedly, Lifar was conscripted in the Tsarist army and assigned to little known army unit called the "Sea King Battalion". On Lifar's right uniform shoulder strap were the Cyrillic letters KOR and on the left -- OL, these forming the word "korol" meaning "king." On this photo I cannot make out any such letters. According to Kostyukov, the battalion was cossack infantry (plastunskii) and had its own postal code, flag, and marching tune. The unit was intended to serve during peacetime on lakes and rivers along the borders of the Kuban, and during wartime it would be used for reconnaissance. After completing his term of active service, Lifar returned to his native village of Belotserkovka (here Kostyukov crossed out the newspaper's statement that the village is now called Kamyshevatoe, and wrote that the newspaper didn't know what it was talking about). Litfar married and settled on land in Siberia granted to him by the tsar. After the First World War broke out, non-commissioned officer Litfar was seriously wounded and lay in a hospital in Kiev for over nine months. He did not survive, even though attended to by his wife all that time. The photo shows where Litfar shed a tear as he sensed his approaching death, on the part with the shoulder strap and allegedly the letters KOR. He died in his wife's arms, and she never remarried. The family story regarding the plastun battalions of the Kuban is historically accurate, but the name "Sea King" is most improbable. Dividing a unit title by spelling it out across the should straps is unheard of in the Russian army, and the letter M on Litfar's cap more likely just stands for the name of a local district. The article appeared the newspaper Priazovskii Rabochii, No. 184, 6 December 1995.

Page by Mark Conrad, 2023.