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Soviet intelligence officer who saved Krakow from destruction marks 101st birthday

Alexei Botian, who holds the title of a Hero of Russia, served as a prototype for the protagonist in the short novel ‘Major Vikhr’ by the Soviet spy-fiction writer Yulian Semyonov

MOSCOW, February 10. /TASS/. The Soviet intelligence operative Alexei Botian, whose reconnaissance group saved the Polish city of Krakow from destruction by the retreating Nazi units in spring 1945, marks the 101th birthday on Saturday.

Botian, who holds the title of a Hero of Russia, served as a prototype for the protagonist in the short novel ‘Major Vikhr’ by the Soviet spy-fiction writer Yulian Semyonov.

"For many Russians, you are a legendary intelligence officer who scored quite a number of combat achievements, including salvation of the refined City of Krakow from destruction by the Nazis," the press bureau of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service quoted its Director, Sergei Naryshkin.

"It is not a yet another birthday but, rather, the start of a second century of your life and we congratulate you on it today, on the 10th of February," he said in a congratulatory message.

"I am glad you are full of energy today and surrounded by the caring family and colleagues," Naryshkin said. "And I remember you continue holding the title of First-Class Junior Sportsman in chess."

Alexei Nikolayevich Botian was born on February 10, 1917, in the village of Chertovichi, Oshmyany county of Wilna Governorate of the Russian Empire, which is currently located in the Volozhin district of Minsk region in Belarus. His parents were farmers.

In March 1921, the Oshmyany area became the territory of newly independent Poland

Upon finishing school, Alexei Botian was drafted to the Polish Army where he rose to the rank of an antiaircraft crew leader.

He took part in combat operations against the invading Wehrmacht in September 1939 and downed three Junkers planes near Warsaw.

Botian received Soviet citizenship in October 1939 and briefly taught at school. He proceeded to the frontline right from the legendary military parade on Moscow’s Red Square on November 7, 1941.

In 1942, he took a course of specialized training and was engaged in what is known as ‘rail-track war’ - the operations of Soviet partisans [guerilla units] to blow up Nazi echelons on railways in the occupied parts of the USSR and thus to disorganize the Wehrmacht’s vital deliveries to the Soviet front. These operations in the enemy rear also included disruption of telecommunication lines.

The culminating point of his wartime service fell on the winter of 1945 when Soviet troops were liberating Poland. The recon crew led by Botian managed to find and eliminate a stock of explosives in an olden castle in Nowy Sacz, Lesser Polan Voivoship. This happened on January 18, 1945.

The explosives were meant for blowing up the cultural monuments in Krakow, the Roznow dam and a bridge across the river Dunajec.

The operation of the Soviet intelligence operatives that disrupted the Wehrmacht’s plans was featured in a documentary titled ‘Alexei Botian: How We Liberated Poland’.

President Putin awarded him with the title of Hero of Russia on May 9, 2007.