Mishka Yaponchik was an Ukrainian gangster, Jewish revolutionary and Soviet military leader. His commanding personality and unconventional nature led Isaak Babel to base his character Benia Krik in The Odessa Tales on this legendary criminal.
Born Moisei Vinnitsky, Yaponchik was an exceptional and eccentric character. He rose quickly through the ranks of the criminal world, becoming head of the mob and establishing his own code of conduct forbidding the robbing of the poor and professional classes. Hailed as the next Robin Hood, he held the hearts of the people in his hand and soon controlled the entire city.
Artistic and witty, his bold crimes played out like mini dramas but Yaponchik, always calculating his next move, also had a generous nature. He held huge feasts for the whole population of Odessa, giving money and food to orphans, the homeless, the unemployed, newlyweds as well as families who had fallen victim to gangster crime.
Yaponchik was in power for only three years from 1917 to 1919, but these were the most dramatic years of his life, filled with more action than most people experience in an entire lifetime - his rise to power, his daring crimes, his idealism and generosity and his love of two women - his beautiful wife, Tsilia and anarchist Lisa, his loyal accomplice who remained by his side until the end.