Viacheslav Shiryaev, popularly known as Comrade Ivan, was born in January 1938 in the town of Orsk, south of Urals, Russia. He completed the Higher Engineers Navy Course in 1961. In 1969, he completed his studies at the Diplomatic Academy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) Foreign Affairs and became a First-Class Counsellor in the diplomatic ranks. He served in diplomatic roles in countries such as Angola, Algeria and Madagascar in the years 1969 to 1979 and from 1986 to 2000 when he retired.
The years 1979 to 1983 bear the imprints of Comrade Ivan’s connection with the African National Congress (ANC) as a liberation movement. During these years, he was deployed by the USSR Government in Angola, as the First Chief of the Soviet Specialist, under the ANC leadership attached to the ANC Regional Command, as the military-political adviser.
Among his key tasks was to help the ANC in reorganising its combat units into regular armed forces. Three basic camps, Kashito, Luanda and Malange, were chosen for preparing the ANC combat units.
Through his recommendation, Soviet specialists were brought into Angola to work with the ANC after the success of the revolution in Zimbabwe. In total, 6 000 ANC combatants were trained under his command. The training conducted under Comrade Ivan’s command included training instructors in tactics, military engineering, radio communications, artillery, anti-aircrafts, political education, motor mechanics, translators/interpreters and medical orderlies.
As the Head of the Soviet Military Specialists, under the ANC in Angola, he had regular contacts with the ANC leadership, special representatives of the President of the Angolan National Liberation Movement, Augustino Neto, the United States military mission in Angola and the Angolan provincial leaders in Kashito and Malange.
He also provided special training in underground military combat work to ANC cadres. Shiryaev accompanied Chris Hani on visits to six USSR military schools that were preparing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) combatants in Russia and the Ukraine in 1985. During 1985 and 1986, he played an important role in the decision by Oliver Tambo, Alfred Nzo and Joe Modise to train MK pilots and naval combatants in the USSR.
Comrade Ivan continues to promote good ties between Russia and South Africa. In 2004, he assisted the leadership of the United Russia Party to establish contact with the ANC through the Office of then Secretary-General, Kgalema Motlanthe. He is a regular participant in the activities organised by the South African Embassy in Moscow, including the recent State Visit by President Jacob Zuma to the Russian Federation.
He has been actively promoting and advocating the establishment of a Russia-South Africa association of veterans of the liberation struggle, which will promote further friendship ties and undertake various joint cooperation programmes and projects.
Comrade Ivan is one in the legion of international cadres who demonstrate that the success of the struggle for freedom in South Africa owes much to the distinct role and sacrifices of the international community.
On 27 April 2011, the State President, Jacob G Zuma honoured Viacheslav “Ivan” Shiryaev with the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in Silver for his tireless efforts in assisting the ANC while in exile to advance the struggle for liberation in South Africa, and for showing the spirit of internationalism and friendship to the people of South Africa.