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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > Current Events > Russia, Central Asia, and The Caucasus

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Russia, Central Asia, and The Caucasus Post-Soviet Russia and some neglected smaller neighbors.

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Old 13 Apr 12, 05:18
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 21

The garden gate flew open with a kick. Butalov entered. He embodied the righteous indignation of the Chechen people. How quickly did he forget Grozny. That’s alright, colonel. A major and three captains are going to set you straight now.
-Rhyzhov! What’s going on here? What’s the meaning of this outrage? The locals came to me and said that marauders are wrecking an elder’s house!
-What? Us?
-Look, comrade colonel, see who’s the criminal here, - which a nudge of his foot, Yura propelled the guns and ammo we found towards Butalov.
-You found this here? - Butalov deflated like an air balloon.
-We also found bloodied bed-sheets. A wounded man was being sheltered here.—that was Yura, the chief of reconnaissance.
-Doesn’t look like a period. Too much blood, - the company commander could not contain himself.
-And their sun is in the DGB. Slava, show him the photo, - silently, I handed Ismadaev Junior’s photograph to the brigade commander.
-Why are you so silent, Mironov? - Butalov asked.

I smirked and stared at him. I knew that he hated being stared at like that.
-Hand this elder over to me for a few hours and he’ll quickly remember where his son is, who was sheltering here and where the guns come from.
-You can’t do it like that, Mironov! You can’t!
-What about Grozny then? What about those lads that hung like Jesus in the Palace windows?
-Are you an animal, Mironov?
-Not yet. But I learn quickly. When we first came here, had we sealed off the village, searched it and only then conducted talks with the aborigines, then very few could have slipped out. Instead we came and made a big noise. A few Chechen radiomen are left in the village now, who will inform on our every move. And these acts of intimidation are necessary so that the locals respect us and so that our fighters remember why the hell we came here.
-Be quiet Mironov! This is no time or place for such talk! You’ll come see me later! Cease this immediately!
-What are we to do with the owner of the house?
-I’ll take him to Khankala now. Let them deal with him there. Any news of the missing chairman?
-Yes! - the chief of reconnaissance lied without batting an eyelid. We all nodded.—We need to check a few houses, he was apparently seen there.
-We didn’t just come to this house, - the recon commander continued, - we received information that your friend was seen here, which is why we came. - Yura made an innocent face.
-He’s not my friend! - Butalov objected. - He is the head of local administration and we must build a normal working relationship with him.
-We understand. - Yura Ryzhkov interrupted the commander so as not to hear this story again. - We were merely carrying out your orders. It won’t happen again. -Return to the command post.
-What is the chairman is hiding at the addresses we have not checked?
-Alright check them, but carefully.

Having taken the old man and the confiscated material, Butalov got into the BMP and drove off.
-So, men, are we going “home” or are going to shake up the Chechens some more?
-What did we start all this the hell for?
-To ****, **** and once more ****, as Mr. Lenin taught.
-There’s nothing to do at the command post. We’ll die of boredom. This way we’ll at least splash some adrenaline into our blood.
-Vodka would have been better.
-Where are you going to find it with these Muslims?
-They can’t drink wine. Allah said nothing about vodka.
-To hell with these true believers! They’ll ****ing poison us!
-Anything can happen.
-We’ll share the spirits with you.
-Thanks guys. Where are you getting those spirits form anyway?
-We distil it out of petrol.
-Yes, no, but seriously?
-Strategic resources. When we set out, all the radiators were filled with spirits, instead of antifreeze. Everyone drank theirs, but we saved ours.
-You two are impossible to talk to. Where are the spirits from?!
-We’d tell you, but you won’t believe us.
-Where is it from?
-How stubborn you are. If only you were as stubborn at work. Our driver - Pashka - has developed special abilities after a surgical procedure. Vodka and spirits are a vital resource in war. But where to find them? Nowhere. Organise their manufacture on the spot? You’ll need raw materials, equipment, meanwhile, you’re sitting in a trench. What to do? And so Novosibirsk scientists from the academicians’ district—you know the one I’m talking about?
-Yes, I do, get to the point.
-Alright, I continue. And so, Novosibirsk scientists, under orders from the Ministry of Defence have conducted an experiment in producing spirits in combat conditions. Though careful selection, a group of soldiers form the Siberian Military District were chosen, on the basis for their propensity towards alcoholism. They were inoculated with special preparations.
-We have already told you too much. Me and Yura signed non-disclosure papers. If we tell - we’ll be shot, right, Yura?
-Swear on my life!
-Alright, don’t **** my brains, keep to the story.
-Pashka produces it and urinates pure spirits. That’s where we get it from. We collect it into flagons, cool it and supply the entire brigade. We are keeping an eye on the results, but nobody has died yet. We have both been promised a medal and Pashka has already been recommended for a Hero.
-**** you are both such morons!
-You’re both sick in the head. Urine! ****! How do you even think up such foul crap?
-What? We don’t drink these spirits. We have pure the pure, factory-made stuff. For comparison.
-Idiots! ****.
-Alright, relax. Have you no sense of humour?
-Not that sort of humour. Alright, let’s go!

The recon men were angry that we fooled them like little children and wanted to take it out on someone. One BMP went to fetch that grandma—the crazy old woman whom we saw yesterday. The second BMP drove towards her old house.

To our surprise, the house was empty. Although the stove was warm and the beds unmade. That meant that the occupants were warned. We’re being watched - which is entirely our fault, seeing the hoo-hah we started. And those white camo suits - were we hoping to remain inconspicuous?

We searched the house, but did not notice anything criminal. The fighters found a can of paint and inscribed “Protected by the Russian Armed Forces” on the green gate. Just let them try to show themselves here! We explained to the curious neighbours, that we’ll promptly have the head of anyone that objects and if need be the whole village may meet with an unfortunate accident. We’ll deliver the goods, no problem.

They brought the grandma. She wept as she walked along the her old walls. She felt the corners and looked out the windows. She constantly adjusted the tablecloths. The fighters went to fetch water. The old woman continued to try to fall at our feet. It seemed that she had lost her mind, as she opened that toothless mouth. Her disjointed story seemed to indicate that her husband died when he refused to move. It seemed that the new owners had a good reason to run. And so they should have. Our fighters would have hung them, that’s for sure. On the green plank over the gate. We left some food for the old woman and the commander promised to send his soldiers every day to help her around the house. We confirmed once more, the addresses of other Russians who lived here and Ilinka. The old woman told us that the new chairman was yesterday taken by car in the direction of Ilinskaya village. And so we’ll have a reason to go there, show ourselves and take a look at this “nest of insurgency”.

We left and before dinner resettled another two families. Only in once case did the new owner try to object, but when he saw that the fighters were in no mood to talk, he promptly gathered up his flock and retreated. A triumph of justice, as far as we were concerned. And if you don’t agree, go to the command post and we’ll discuss it. We told the mullah to tell everyone: the other Russians are to return to their homes. They are not to be interfered with, otherwise we’ll start to interfere with the locals. At first, the mullah played dumb, pretending that he doesn’t understand Russian, but when we told him that we can always check the mosque for guns and reminded him that it was from his minaret that the sniper fired, he promptly remembered this language. He babbled something about some holy month called either “ramazan” or “ramadan” and that fighting is forbidden during that time. So don’t do any fighting, if it’s forbidden. What’s it to us? Everything will be as we say and if not, we’ll make it so. Also and by the way! Bring back your chairman—we like him very much. If you don’t, you’ll regret it. He is our commander’s best friend. That’s it, bye-bye. Regards to your parents! If you’re in the neighbourhood, mullah, drop in to see us!

They days that came afterwards were grey and ordinary. Rain fell constantly from the sky, devouring the remnants of the snow. The vehicles constantly bogged in mud. The mood—zero. Longing. At the command post—the men were quartered in the vehicles, some—in the building. But the battalions lived out in the open fields. The tent fabric which was soaked in water-resistant chemicals did not endure the onslaught of the elements and started to leak. Everyone starting with the comm-batt and ending with the ordinary soldier moved into earthen dugouts. New underwear and bed-sheets were sent up from Novosibirsk. They were taken out of the so-called “untouchable reserves” and the folds on them were as hard as wood. That was half the trouble though. The other half was that they were infested with lice. Also there were some holes here and there—the results of many years of moth-work. We had enough of our own lice here without the Siberian ones and their number had now doubled. The underwear was quickly taken out of circulation and burned. I would venture a guess, that somebody made good money on that underwear. Replacements arrived in a few days—this time without holes or lice. Somebody wrote off a whole lot of linen and underwear, sent a flight back and forth a few times, undoubtedly it didn’t fly empty. So you count how much money was wasted and made. For some it’s war and for some it’s dough.

The situation in Chechnya was paradoxical. The troops stood still. No action in either the western or the southern direction. The insurgents reorganised and started ambushing convoys. Snipers appeared in Grozny again. They actively shot up checkpoints and unweary sentries were being abducted and cut out in the night. The soldiers brooded over the unexplained lack of action. Formations of the Ministry of Extraordinary Situations (MChS) played a significant role in the chaos. In the second half of February three BTR of the internal troops drove up to our positions. There, I met one of my classmates from the academy—Oleg Bassarov. We were in the same company, he was in the first platoon, I—in the second. As is customary, we embraced. He remained a comms man and was currently stationed as Severny where the Internal Forces Commander was located. They went into reconnaissance and came upon an ambush. One man was wounded and they turned back. On the way, they came upon an MChS hospital. They took their wounded fighter to the medics there, but the hospital’s chief started shrieking something about the facilities being reserved for the local population only. He had to be reasoned with using guns and when a couple of barrels pointed at his gut and another one at his head, he perceived that he was wrong and gave the order to operate. I have heard a lot of stories like that. The MChS didn’t like their troops.

It was a given that we got drunk with Yura and Oleg — as one should with a former classmate. We recalled our academy days and the mischief we got into. He left in the morning.

The rains stopped, but then started up again. And then came the day of celebration for all who wear a uniform—February 23—Red Army Day. The first army celebration in Chechnya! The Minister of defence came to Grozny for this occasion. He summoned all the formation commanders stating that he brought a lot of gifts. Butalov went with three BMPs. There was one small box of presents for the entire army group. About ten “Commander’s” wristwatches. And that was it! No decorations or medals. Not-a-thing. Just a parting word expressing confidence that the troops will continue to fulfil the Supreme Commander’s every order. ****! Muscovite shitheads!

We compensated this rotten business with booze and celebratory fireworks. The fireworks turned out no worse than at the taking of Grozny. Once again, we have been spat in the face. We wiped it up and got drunk. “Makhra” will endure anything.
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Old 24 Apr 12, 17:01
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 22

As the time went by, rumours of a pending advance hung in the air. But there was no order. Despite numerous requests, we were not allowed to move to Ilinka. The Chechens, meanwhile were getting bolder. The trees were sprouting a little greenery and one could no longer see straight through the forest. Every night, the Chechens were shooting up the sentries. They tried to come closer, but encountered the tripwires and scattered their guts on the near-by trees. A flock of crows feasted over there for a week afterwards.

A little bit later, a reconnaissance group of paratroopers passed through “the green” on our territory and were ambushed. We didn’t hear a fire-fight and nobody called for help on the radio, otherwise we would have definitely come to their aid. The local kids showed us. One is confronted with such things numerous times in war, but each time they have to suffer through it anew. Six people, our lads, Slavs, lay dead. Their stomachs cut open, gutted and stuffed with dirt. Stars cut into the skin of their backs. The officer had insignia cut into his skin, where the lapels and epaulettes would be. Their genitals removed and stuffed into their mouths. Eyes torn out, ears cut off. The medics said that this was done when they were already dead. To scare us.

On the second of March, two platoons, supported by a pair of tanks moved onto Ilinskaya. First we checked the DGB officer’s house. Once again the enemy radio operator in Petropavlovka warned somebody in Ilinka. Our agents reported that the moment we moved out, all the insurgents ran away in the direction of Gudermes. In short, we didn’t catch anybody. On the other hand we found much that was interesting in two houses there. Six assault rifles, an R-159 radio set, a “Shmel” and three dog-tags. It meant that the Chechens living here, collected dog-tags of our soldiers that they have killed. The soldiers were furious. Smash! Destroy! What’s that standing in the yard? An imported car? Should we blow it up? **** off, we’re not marauders! We’ll just take the stereo and the seats, as they will come in handy. A volley at the car—from the soul. And another volley. How good! The tires burst, the car sinks to the ground. We walk away a small distance and let out a few underbarreler rounds at the house where the insurgents lived. Another round at the car. It’s engulfed in flames and after a few minutes it explodes. We’re not marauders, we’re not after other people’s property.

As we searched for a place to cross the Sunzha during a reconnaissance mission, a tank got mired in the silt. We were ambushed. The Chechens shot us up pretty good. They were hoping to capture the tank. They took up position atop an oil extraction tower. The tank destroyed it on third attempt and that, considering its gun barrel was completely spent back in Grozny and that only the top of the tower was visible from where they were. That’s combat experience right there! You can’t get this good on a firing range. Well done! We shouted merrily as a couple of insurgents tumbled down onto the ground and the debris from the tower fell on top of them. But, taking advantage of the higher ground and the cover of forest foliage, they approached and attacked us again. As night came, we mined the tank and evacuated its crew to the shore. We spent the night there, constantly firing illumination rockets. The BMP crews periodically shot up the opposite shore, preventing the insurgents from coming closer.

In the morning, the insurgents tried to break through to the tank. The used grenade launchers. RPG-7, “Mukha” and “potato” (underbarreler) rounds, which hissed overhead and smacked into the silty riverside. The shrapnel lodged in the trees and clinked on our helmets, but nobody got hurt. Not even light wounds. Truly, God only loves the infantry!

Two tankers from the evacuated crew dove into the painfully cold water in order to hook the towing cables. They managed it on their third attempt. Next, they climbed into their tank, shivering from the cold, where they unsealed the untouchable reserve of spirits as well as the commander’s stash of vodka.

The towing cable was tied to the second tank. It tugged. The cable stiffened, the engine roared, the tracks dug into the ground, throwing up clumps of dirt. They tugged once, twice, then a third time, but alas with no result. The half-sunken tank remained where it was. The insurgents on the other shore howled in delight and intensified their fire. It seemed as if they had an infinite store of RPGs. We radioed for help and another tank rolled up. BMP and small arms fire chased the insurgents back.

Again the soldiers dove into the freezing water. They managed to connect the second cable first go this time. Like some mythical beasts, the tanks pulled in unison and their stricken kin began to emerge out of the mud and onto our side of the river. Its engine was started in order to assist. Water, silt and clumps of mud poured off its sides. We were ecstatic!

The village had to be warned that the Petropavlovka chairman be returned and that if there is a repetition of the ambush business next to their village, that we were going to burn them down. Nobody was actually going to go ahead with it, nor would we have been allowed to do it, but the threat worked. After another day, the chairman returned, although what the hell did we need him for? But Butalov and our general were happy. From then on, that man was constantly present at the command post. Like an enemy agent…

There was another swapout of the officers. I sent some money for a telegram to my wife, in honour of March 8.

Time passed and the 8th of March came. There were no women in our brigade, but we celebrated the date very thoroughly. There were toasts and fireworks in honour of our wives, mothers, sisters and girlfriends.

Following the holiday, we were advised to prepare to move. Only the troops in the western portion of the theatre were shifting. The southern contingent was to stay put. There were not a great deal of us in the west - the Siberians, the artillery regiment from St. Petersburg that was crawling along the crest of the mountain range and a patchwork brigade from Ulianovsk was located near Argun, alongside an MVD regiment. They said that fresh troops were approaching. Perhaps to replace us?

The rain bucketed down for the second week straight, not ceasing for a single minute. How could one move in such mud? The order came on the thirteenth of March, that the entire western contingent move to designated regions. The only things left in Petropavlovka, was the medical battalion, OBMO and the maintenance troop. The rest began to move. And onwards and onwards we went.

The command post was to be shifted to the Ilinskaya village. Positions were to be taken up on the north-west of it, in the direction of Gudermes. Imagine, reader, an unsealed clay road, winding alongside a ravine that often comes up right to its edge, with the entire brigade crawling along it, tethering on the sheer ledge, risking to topple over it and slide down into the muddy depths.

On approach, we came under mortar fire. It was coming from behind the village and the aim was bad. But somebody was spotting it and the mines fell ever closer with each volley. Small arms fire began from the hilltops above the road. We crawled around like turtles, colliding with one another, but for the time being the insurgents were out of luck.

The first and second battalions rounded the village via the fields. The enemy was waiting for them there. They got off the road as best they could, dismounted, started digging in and engaged. Somebody reported over the radio that they scared off two women, who were hiding in the bushes and that they may have been the artillery spotters. Everyone cursed at them over the air. There’s a fight and they are skipping about with some bitches. Idiots! Couldn’t find a better time!

Has the reader ever tried to dig into clay, after two weeks of rain? It’s not dirt, it’s butter. The spade slides, unable to grasp the soil. Mines are falling from above, hitting the mud with a loud smack. They explode half a second later, sending huge fountains of filth up into the air. And with each soul-tearing scream of an approaching round, you are obliged to drop face first into that disgusting mess to wait it out. It’s foul business, let me tell you.

We somehow managed to work out the enemy’s position and using the BMP and tanks spotted the fire form our self-propelled guns. This was a great moment! How many days had we spent, not seeing such a vigorous exchange of fire and a proper fight. The incident with the bogged tank was a mere skirmish in comparison. Somebody may disagree, but that is my subjective opinion, but that particular battle resembled Grozny the most. Again, the adrenaline raged in my veins, that same taste of blood in my mouth. In my soul—a fear, mixed with ardour and a mad glimmer in my eye. I’m in business once again!

Forward! Forward! Rolling and half-kneeling towards the nearest crop of bushes. Yura is beside me, Pashka is a few meters away aiming and spraying the bushes out of his gun. Yura gets up on one knee and fires the underbarreler. Me and Pashka are covering him. Here beside us, other officers and soldiers are shooting, digging in. The primary shock of coming under fire had passed. We have been idle for too long. Forgot what a real battle is like. Got fat. But muscle memory is beginning to awaken. A roll-over, another roll, a volley. Something is moving—a volley in that direction and another one, just to be sure. Me and Yura work well as a pair. He sees the direction of my fire and sends a few grenades there. One of the concussions sounds different. I can hear a yell. An insurgent just bought it.

And then the insurgents faltered and started falling back. Smash them, guys! Forward! Everyone felt it and intensified their onslaught. You could see even without optics that they were retreating. The bushes were swaying and their backs could be seen in the clearings. The first and second battalions report over the radio that the same is happening on their side. Push the insurgents back! It’s victory! The first victory after so many days of waiting! Forward!

Suddenly, someone comes on the air and issues some strange command. Nobody could work it out at first. We thought that the insurgents are trying to fool us again. We switched frequencies and the call-sign and requested confirmation. But no—we heard correctly. We are ordered to stop advancing, disengage and return to our initial positions. What a mad-house. Nobody knows what’s happening, everyone’s confused. Had we been on the backfoot, unable to overcome the insurgents, that would be understandable. But here, we have the upper hand and suddenly this order to fall back!

The first thing we thought was that there is a mutiny at Khankala.
-Muscovite bastards!
-They sold everything that they could.
-We must be next!

Very reluctantly, we commenced our return to our former positions at Petropavlovka. It looked as if the insurgents ran from us and we—away from the insurgents. Who would dream of such a thing? In the eyes of the locals it looked like we got scared and ran away like cowards. That the insurgents were stronger. When we re-entered the village, we could see it in the eyes of the locals that greeted us, that they were jubilant. We on the other hand were as mad as demons in hell. The locals were already scuttling about at our former campsite, gathering up those things that we did not have time to remove. We chased them away with skyward gunfire.
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Old 28 Apr 12, 01:15
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hah glad you came back i was worried id never finish it
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Old 30 Apr 12, 04:22
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no no, not going anywhere. Chapter 20 was a killer that's all - twice the length of any other chapter in the book. I think the writer wanted to finish there, but found more and more things to write, so there are now 3 more chapters left to go, 25 in total. Nearly there!
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Old 16 Jul 12, 07:06
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 23

The general, the brigade commander and the chief of staff, went to Khankala immediately, not taking the time to change after the battle. As it turned out, none of the other formations were able to move, due to the weather. Those useless sons of bitches got bogged! Only the Siberian makhra managed to bring up their vehicles and fulfil the objective! The Siberians have to go and gnaw the asphalt in Grozny, advance as they and their APCs get shredded to pieces and these shitheads can’t move over peaceful mud. Are we not going to do any fighting ‘til July, when the ground dries up?

As it were, we stayed in one spot for another three days. The rain stopped after a day, the wind picked up, the sun came out and dried the ground a little. Forward!

This time the shift happened without incident. The brigade’s command post was deployed in what used to be a school. It hasn’t been operational for more than a year. Dudaev didn’t need educated people. If you read the Koran, that made you an instant academic, as far as he was concerned. These highlanders...what can you expect?

The school had two buildings. The headquarters were placed in one and in the other, which was across the road from it—the reconnaissance, the hazchem troops and the medics, who were to join them in a few weeks. For now, the medics remained back in Petropavlovka. There was an animal farm behind the school, where communications and other services were quartered.

We parked our vehicle in front of the school. Seryoga Kazartsev parked beside us as usual. The rank and file were near there, as well as the secret division, where the topographical maps were kept. The field troops were headed by a new arrival—Major Seryoga Artamas. He had a nickname—Fantomas, but he didn’t like being called that and only tolerated it from his friends. He was much older than me and Yura and thought of us as upstarts. We were not too keen on being his friends either.

We started to get acquainted with the locals. As usual, they assured us of their loyalty and told us terrible stories about how the insurgents tormented them and so forth.

An amusing incident occurred the next day. It was the second battalion’s commander’s birthday. In war, a birthday is a very special occasion. As such, the second battalion’s zampolit decided to undertake a suicidal, but highly noble mission. In the middle of the night, he and some drivers took off in two BMPs. He managed to pass through all the checkpoints, got shot up a few times, god knows by whom, but it seems that idiots have good luck, for by morning he was in Mozdok. How he got through there is yet another question, as the city had extra police checkpoints and was teeming with the military, but what’s clear is that he made it to a cake shop. He roused the night watchman, who called the shop’s director. When the frightened director came, it was explained to him in common terms that the best cake that his establishment has to offer was required for a special mission. Naturally, everyone in the brigade knew that the best cakes are made in Siberia, but in view that there is a war in progress, as well as various shortages in effect, nothing of that sort of quality was required of him. The shop-keep was deeply offended. He went inside and emerged with his biggest and best cake with the words “Happy Birthday” written on it. He packed it himself and included some candles. He refused to take any money.

On the way back, the zampolit used the remaining funds to stock up on Champagne and Vodka and was back the same morning. Imagine the commander’s surprise when the entire battalion lined up to wish him a happy birthday with cake and Champagne. Truth be told, the battalion was at that point a mere thirty men, which included the commander and his deputies. And they were in charge of defending a frontline spanning three kilometres...And this is not a soldier’s anecdote, this story is completely true, not an ounce of fiction. That is the nature of the trust and respect that develops between men in war. It is not a case of the men trying to score points with their superior, no. When they fight, they have their conscience and not their fear in mind. If you have nothing but decorations and promotion on your mind, your own fellows will see though it very quickly. And having done that, when there is a fight, no-one will cover your back or offer you a mouthful of water or vodka. You’re either a part of the collective or, you’re a corpse. There is no third option.

Our sentries started coming under fire at night. There were no casualties. We were forced to mine and booby-trap everything around us. As soon as a few insurgents blew themselves up, the shooting stopped. There was also a notable incident. One night a sentry heard a rustling. “Hold it!”, he said, “The password is five!” Silence. And then a booby-trap activates. Then after a second—a second and then a third one. The illumination munitions fire as well. The booby-traps are rigged to launch about twenty of these, but they do not fire all at the same time, instead they go off one after another to provide lasting illumination. It looks like fireworks—lots of light and whistling.

The entire sentry contingent came running, thinking the insurgents were planning a break-through. They fired, launched illumination, but there was no fire in return. It’s all quiet and they could not see anyone out there. They calmed down, put up some more sentries, just in case and went to bed. The morning arrived without incident. At first light they went to see what it was and the only thing they found were clumps of cat fur. It looked like a cat had tripped a wire, got scared and tripped two more. It was impossible to tell if it was the last booby-trap or our shooting that finished him off.

Life at the field camp, meanwhile flowed down its course. It was calm. During the day, we shot up the highway connecting Gudermes and Argun. It was about 80% visible from the second battalion’s positions. We bombarded the suburbs of Gudermes. The insurgents took up position on the slopes of a hill overlooking the city allowing themselves to control the approaches to it. We learned from intelligence as well as from radio conversations with the insurgents that the then unknown Shamil Basaev was in command there. The spetsnaz that came to visit us were happy to talk to him. They remembered their times together in GRU training camps near Moscow and joint operations in Abkhazia and Ossetia. They told one another to come visit.

The Chechen positions were being worked over with self-propelled munitions day and night. We could sometimes see the huge rockets travel overhead. We called them “telegraph poles” and “humanitarian aid to our Chechen brothers.” We slept like babies, when the self-propelled artillery was working. The kung swayed to and from like a new-born’s crib and the insurgents did not dare show themselves and bother us.

And then came a day, which I shall never forget for the rest of my life. The 21st of March. We came under mortar fire the day before. Only a few mines were launched at the command post, one of which hit a residential building. The bombardment then stopped. But the second and third battalion were thoroughly worked over with fire that by the looks of it was being corrected by somebody who could see our positions. This included hidden positions, that the enemy could not see over the front-line. These artillery spotters had caused us a lot of trouble during the war. No-one was killed though. There were three woundings and they were promptly sent to Petropavlovka to get qualified help and from there—to Severny. The Chechens fired from concealed positions—we could not see their muzzle flashes and therefore establish their precise location. We eventually worked it out approximately and responded with our own mortars and then spotted our artillery. After the seventh volley, the Chechens ceased fire.

The morning was foggy. We didn’t have anything specific to do, me and Yura and were therefore bored. And then came a message from the second battalion that a woman was detained. She was walking along the highway to Gudermes. Wearing soft footwear and concealed by the fog, she passed all the checkpoints and concealed positions like a ghost. She was walking alongside the trenches, when she came upon some of our officers, who detained her. They searched her although not as thoroughly as one normally would in war. They didn’t want to be rude. But, they did find bandages and cotton wool in her bag as well as a miniature pistol a PSM in the lining of her cardigan. She tried to retrieve it when they grabbed her, but did not manage it in time.

The battalion commander reported her to the command post immediately although he kept the pistol for himself. When she was brought to us in a BMP, the officers from the first battalion recognised her. She was that same woman, they saw during the unsuccessful foray into Ilinka on March 13. They proposed that she must be the one spotting the insurgent artillery.

Three people conducted the interrogation: myself, Yura and the general. We did it in a small room behind the gym, where the chief of staff was normally located and where we had our evening meetings.

Had it been a man, everything would have been simple. But with a woman...That was the first time we had to interrogate a woman. And she was pretty. She had no passport on her, which was nothing out of the ordinary. When Dudaev came to power and declared independence, the locals, who accepter an Ichkerian citizenship got a stamp in their Soviet passport, bearing the new coat of arms. A note was also made to the effect. That was why all the younger people carried their Komsomol papers, so as to avoid irritating our soldiers. She too had her Komsomol ID. It stated that her name was Sugalaeva (which was her married name, the birth-name being Berditel), first name Khava, patronymic Dadaevna, born in 1962.

We began in a cultured manner, without any psychological trickery. But she was not co-operating. She repeated the same story like a parrot—that she was in Grozny and was walking to Gudermes, where she lives. Her husband died in a bomb raid in the first few days of the war (meaning that she had no reason to have sympathetic feelings towards us). He sister was minding her young daughter in Gudermes. She was not an artillery spotter and was not in Ilinka on the 13th of March.

We called the officers again, who confidently identified her as being the same woman they saw. We radioed the checkpoints, who reported having not recorded her as one of the people who passed them. No other roads out of the capital were available as they were mined by both ourselves and the insurgents.

It looked like she must have been hiding out near-by and was most likely spotting the enemy mortar fire as well as collecting data on our whereabouts, which she radioed to the enemy. A woman is less conspicuous in war and one must remember that we were not fighting a regular army here, but an entire people.

The recon men, who have not seen any captives for a long time now (and who have a special score to settle with spies like her), were asking to have her handed over to them. She screamed in horror that we not allow that to happen. We played good detective bad detective. Yura was the good one, I was the bad one and the general was playing the impartial judge. When she started resisting, I applied psychological pressure by threatening her with various punishments. I demanded that she confess. We wanted to know where the Chechens were located, so that we could bomb them to oblivion and enter the city without incurring any casualties.

She yelled that she didn’t know anything. I produced a map of Gudermes city and asked her to point out where her sister and daughter lived. She confidently pointed out a spot somewhere near the train terminal. Judging by how she handled a military grade topographical map, one could tell that she had used one before. For this reason, we handed her an old map which contained our previous positions. It was old—almost due to be burned. She was visibly interested in the symbols that denoted our positions. These symbols are double Dutch to a normal person and whilst it was doubtful that she had a military education, she could have had had some special training.

At this point, I lifted the handset, which we used as a “lie detector.” I pretended to order that artillery shift their fire to the spot which Khava had pointed out on the map—the one where her relatives lived. This produced another bout of hysterical screaming. San Sanych stuck his head in through the door at this point. This intellectual was naturally a moralist, who didn’t know that we could do nothing to physically harm this woman. That is not the sort of scoundrels we are. We have not learned to fight wars with women yet.

But San Sanych didn’t trust us. He knew that I was capable of unpredicatable things and that is why he asked us to release the woman. We had to constantly draw from the general’s cognac reserve to calm our nerves as the woman cried. Even though we found cigarettes in her bag, she refused to smoke or accept the cognac we offered her. Even the glass of water that we put on the table for her, she threw to the floor. A determined woman—unwilling to accept anything out of the enemy’s hand.

When me and the general went to the toilet, she offered herself to Yura in exchange for release. When we came back, before opening the door, I pretend to issue a command: “Bring up a BMP, park it close to the gym and rev the engine, so as to drown her screams. We’re going to file her teeth!”

In the meantime, Yura issued a “command” not to bombard the railway terminal district. As a result she told us a little of the Chechen positions and fortifications. I was more and more convinced that she was a spy, a Cheechen Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, whilst Yura was thinking the opposite. He thought that she was detained by mistake. I proposed that she be sent to Khankala, where a filtration camp has been established and where the special division and GRU men can deal with her.

Whilst I was out to get some cigarettes, San Sanych scooped up the woman and put her into his jeep. He took her to the outskirts of the village, where he simply released her. I was furious. I cursed one and all, disregarding rank and convention. Everyone got it: the chief of staff for his noble conduct, Yura for having not resisted his commanding officer...I wanted to give chase, but they never told me which direction they took her in. Profanity burst forth from my mouth like the Niagara falls. Having finished the general’s cognac, I as well as the recon men, whose hopes have so thoroughly been dashed, departed for the second battalion’s positions.

There, I spoke at length with the second battalion’s commander in the course of which he told me in detail how the woman was detained. He also showed me the map she had on her. It was an ordinary military map—one from the General Staff, except that our positions were marked out in a lot of detail using pin pricks. They were barely visible. Our command post, the self-propelled artillery in the first and second battalion—it was all there. The commander didn’t pay any attention to the pin pricks at first. He thought that the woman simply picked up the map somewhere which is why he didn’t report it. It remained unknown if she was the one that made those pinpricks or was simply running errands. But I was ecstatic, because it proved that I was right. San Sanych, together with Yura fell for the woman’s tears, although nobody tortured or raped her, I would not have allowed it myself. But the fact that she was released made me furious.

Having drank more with the commander, I asked him if he could point out the fighters that detained Khava and allow me to interview them. Igor pointed out two soldiers, who were stationed on the extreme left flank. I went over to see them, which the chief of reconnaissance and the battalion commander began studying the pinpricks on the map in the hope of learning something about their author.

I, meanwhile went up to the soldiers, who were busy monitoring the ground in front of them.
-Good health men!
-Good day.
-Good health comrade captain!
-Do you know me?
-Affirmative, we were next to one another on Minutka, digging in.
-That’s right, I remember. Light it up, men, - I handed the cigarettes to them, - and tell me about how you caught your girlfriend this morning.
-We were sitting here, it was quiet, foggy. We’re listening. Visibility—about a meter. You could crawl right up to us in this weather and we won’t notice. But we can hear very well. And we hear something like soft footsteps.
-That’s right—light footsteps. When one of our guys walks, you can hear his boots pound on the ground from far away, but here it was like a rustling. And then we see a shadow in the fog. It’s moving very quickly—we can’t do it like that and it’s almost soundless. As usual, we yell: “Halt! Password! Hands up, face in the dirt!” We approach and see that it’s a woman.
-She was al-right, she offered to pay us right there and then, if we let her go. It was about seven in the morning. She said that nobody would know.
-So, what did you do, guys?
-No, captain, we didn’t lay a finger on her. But when we refused her, she started grabbing at her cardigan, at which point I hit her in the ear.
-With the gunstock?
-No, it’s a girl, her skull would have popped. Had it been a guy, that would have been a different story. We opened her cardigan and the pistol fell out. It looked like a toy—I have seen a general have one.
-Yeah. And in her bag we found bandages, cotton wool and behind the lining, a map. We had a look at it, it was clean, so we handed it over to the battalion commander.
-Is there anything wrong? Should we have finished her off on the spot? Or het her go?
-No, everything’s fine guys. You did the right thing.
-Look, that bush moved!

And there it was—about one hundred and fifty meters away from us, on the enemy’s side, the bushes were moving. We looked harder and saw that an infantry group approximately twenty in number was crawling towards us. It was dangerous to let them come any closer. We immediately started firing our guns. The fighters here had an automatic mortar launcher AGS-17 (code-name ‘Plamya”) I got behind its controls. I aimed approximately using line of sight. It is designed to bombard sections of ground and delivers the munitions in a checker-board pattern. As soon as we started working the Chechens over, they realised that they have been discovered and started returning fire. Help was about three hundred meters away and they were already on their way.

The Chechens decided to back themselves up with mortar fire. The first volley exploded far behind us. And then the next thing I remember is a bright flash and that was all...The ****ing end!!! Some people say that their life passed in front of their eyes. I didn’t see anything like that. I simply switched off, as if I was dead. I felt nothing. The complete and utter ****ing end—the end of all hopes and dreams. End of the line.

In a short while I wake up at the bottom of the trench, even though I was sitting on its side, operating the mortar. I grab my head—I cannot see out of my right eye. I look at my hands and see that they are smeared in blood. My head is splitting and every movement is painful. My right leg is also hurting. I lower my gaze and carefully feel my leg. It’s all there. At this point, somebody tears off my hat. For ****’s sake, it hurts! It’s one of the fighters from before. He starts to bandage me up. It feels like I have cotton wool in my ears—I cannot hear anything—yet another contusion. He continues to bandage me. Very carefully, I feel my right eye. It’s there, but why can’t I see out of it?

As the fighter continues to bandage me, not taking to much care to be gentle, gunfire breaks out overhead. I push him away:
- Go, I’ll manage.

The fighter nods in understanding, stands up and starts firing his gun. Smoking cartridges from his gun fall back into the trench. I continue to apply the bandage around my head and use the loose end to wipe my eye. It sees, it’s simply covered in blood. Swaying, I stand up, my feet are weak. As I do this I notice another soldier’s body in the trench. Part of his scull is missing—shaved off, as if with a razor. The creamy-grey mass that was his brains is scattered about the trench and the top of his scull is lying nearby. It still has a bit of his scalp attached to it. So far, I have been lucky, but we’ll have to see what the doctors have to say.

There was zero emotion. It was as if I had observed it all from the outside of the body. There was only a feeling of regret that I was so young and had done so little. That I could have done more with my life. There was no fear of death. I had stared her in the eye for so long that I had become accustomed to it. Maybe my time to die had come. But why not immediately? Without pain or suffering—like this fighter, with whom I was digging in on Minutka and who was killed outright. I could have been lying dead beside him now. Why not? Is it not time yet?

The surviving fighter was firing his gun and I, having picked mine up from the side of the trench, proceeded to join him. It seemed like a long time had passed, yet judging by how close reinforcements had approached us, I must have been out for only three minutes or so. The bandage kept sliding down, I had to constantly adjust it and blood started filling my right eye again. I switched hands on the gun, which was uncomfortable. I started firing the underbarreler. At first I was looking to see where the grenades had landed, but each explosion sent a shockwave of unbearable pain through my head. I started firing without aim, placing the grenades in the barrel and pulling the trigger in a mechanical fashion. As I was loading yet another round, somebody placed his hand on my shoulder. I lurched backwards and pulled up my face (the blood started filling my left eye) and I saw Igor—the second battalion’s commander.
-That’s it Slava, we knocked them back, - I was struggling to hear him.
-Go sit down, we’re going to bandage you up.
-Yes Slava.
-Tell Yurka, that she’s an insurgent. That she’s a spy. Make sure you tell him. Promise.
-I promise, Yura and I’ll hand over the map. The recon guys had a look and my battalion’s positions are on there in a lot of detail, as well as the command post. You were right, she was a spook.
-Igor! She’s an insurgent! - I was happy at that moment, happy to have been proven right.

There was only one thing that I wanted at that point—that if I was to not make it, that it would be made known to everybody that they were wrong and I was right, that they let an enemy go. They wanted to inject me with Promedol, but I refused:
-No guys, I have important papers on me and when I hand them over to Yura, you can inject me with cyanide for all I care, just take me to the command post.
-You should go to the medics.
-Later. First—to the command post. If I don’t make it, tell Yura that she’s an insurgent, - I must have become fixated on this idea.

They loaded me into a BMP. An officer came with me. The recon men have already gone before the attack began and they took the map with them. As we drove I had to throw up several times and I was in and out of consciousness because of the shaking. We eventually made it to the command post and I was carried into the meeting room.
-Where’s Ryzhov? Get me Ryzhov! - I was yelling.—if he’s not there, tell him that she’s an insurgent!
-Quiet, Slava, we know. The recon guys have brought us the map already. Don’t worry.

I continued to rage and scream, like a drunk in a determined stupor, yelling that the woman name Khava that we released was a spy. San Sanych couldn’t look me in the eye. All he did was approach and quietly say:
-That was God’s punishment Slava. A warning.
-Had you not let her go, San Sanych, my head would have been in one piece. You and Yura took pity on her…

Yura came. As soon as I saw him enter, I started shouting:
-Yura! I was right! She’s an insurgent! An insurgent! The recon guys have her map, which has our positions on it.
-Slava relax, we’re going to the medics soon.
-Alright, but take my notebook, there is something in there that may be useful.
-Give it here and let’s go to Petropavlovka.

They bandaged me and washed my face. I could see out of my eye again. Yura poured me half a glass of vodka as well as a little for himself. We drank and then got underway.

Every pothole and crevice made me intensely sick. The vodka was good, which meant that the sickness was in my head. We arrived at the field hospital. They were waiting for us. I came out on my own and walked into the operating room. There, they undressed me and put me onto the cold metal operating table. My friend Zhenya Ivanov bent over me:
-Salute, Slava, what’s happened to you?
-**** knows, Zhenya. A mortar round blew up next to me, one soldier had his head taken off, but I just got a scratch. Do you remember our talk, Zhenya, when we were cleaning out the medical dump?
-I don’t, - was his terse reply.
-You do remember, you son of a bitch you do. I don’t want to become disabled, especially in the head. If you find that you have to open up my skull, don’t do anything. So that you conscious doesn’t bother me—just give me a chance. I’ll simply go outside for a smoke, before the operation. Agreed?
-We’re not agreed to anything. I’m going to give you a shitload of sedatives right now, so that you don’t skip about.
-I’ll show you a shitload of something...will you do as I ask?
-Go to hell.
-We’ll see who goes who later. I ask you one thing though: don’t open up my skull, not even out of curiosity. You won’t see any brains there anyway, only bone.

Zhenya and his assistants pumped me up full of Promedol as well as something else. They made a small incision in the skin on my forehead and retrieved the shrapnel fragment, which they presented to me on the spot. But, they said, my case wasn’t clear and so they sent me to the hospital at Severny. They loaded me into an MTLB with red crosses on its flanks and top and drove off. Yura sat beside me. I felt pretty sick from the drugs, the operation as well as the contusion. The mechanic was an expert driver. He shifted his gears and the vehicle raced though the green without reducing speed. We did not come under fire. We drove through Grozny. In the centre of town, there was the sound of gunfire and something struck the side of the vehicle. We stopped. Capture was not on my agenda, especially with a broken head. I had no weapon on me, other than the “lucky” grenade. I glanced at Yura, helpless. He smiled reassuringly. The warrant officer was talking to somebody outside. Then the door opened and they shone a torchlight into my face. ****! Then we drove off again. Yura reported:
-There was an announcement on the air that a BMP was coming from the Chechen side, which had already taken out two road blocks. They thought it was us. It’s a good thing that the warrant officer launched the flare, otherwise they might have blown us away.
-That must mean that it is not my fate to die yet! San Sanych said that it is my warning—a waring for bad behaviour. But had he not let that harpy go, we would have all been back at the command post drinking vodka and drilling holes for our medals.
-You’re right Slavka, it’s not time yet. And please forgive me for that chick. Who would have known that she’s a spy? Had the battalion commander handed over the map, we would have worked it out. Don’t stress. We’ll catch more of these people. Don’t let yourself down. You’re alive and that’s the most important thing.
-Don’t let them know back home.
-Do you think I’m an idiot, Slava? Everything will be fine. You’ll get insurance.
-I’ll buy a video player, I would have never made enough for one normally.
-Should I stick my own head out so that I get a video player too?
-Stick your head out after a couple of blocks and something will fly over and hit it. To hell with such money though, Yura. It sounds like we’re almost there?
-We’re passing the checkpoints in front of the airport, - Yura said as he looked through the periscope in the crew compartment.

We drove up to the hospital, which was located inside the airport building. It all looked as it did before. It was almost two at night. I was immediately taken into the care of two beautiful, wonderful and very kind medical nurses. Despite the late hour, the dizziness and the hole in my head, I felt almost as if I was in love with them. I devoured them with my eyes and drew in the scent of their bodies. When, a couple of hours prior I saw Khava who was also an attractive woman, in front of me, I did not feel this way. It was like I was in heaven.

As one filled in my medical forms, the other gave me some sort of injections. Clearly, one of them was for tetanus, made just under the skin, but what the others were, I had no idea. However, I was prepared to endure them all. Wincing from pain, I tried to joke. I grinned and told anecdotes. The girls laughed. A young doctor came. He listened to my jokes and laughed also. Then, when the nurses were finished, he took me into a dark office. A number of x-rays of my head and leg were made. They then took me into to another office and put my head into a vice attached to a huge diagnostic machine and spent a long time looking into the monitor. My x-rays arrived and the two young doctors there started whispering about something. It was taking too long and began to get on my nerves:
-Come on men, what do I have? Is it serious or not? Tell me the truth, - I have moved my grenade from the trench coat into my jacket. The trench-coat remained in the ante-room.
-We can’t tell. There may be a crack in your skull, or it may just be a broken vein.
-Guys, it must be a vein. There was a lot of blood when I got hit. So it must be a vein.
-We can’t tell. We have to look at t more.
-What do you need to look at, what are you tourists? I’ll bet two bottles of good cognac that it’s a vein and in exchange you don’t have to look any more. Deal?
-I also think that it’s probably a vein. It doesn’t look like a crack, - one of the doctors said and then added something in incomprehensible Latin.
-Alright, we’ll stich you up, but tomorrow you’re off to the hospital on the first flight out.
-Which hospital?
-We don’t know. Depends on where the flight is coming from. You’re walking wounded, so probably Rostov or Novgorod. Let’s go, patch your skull up.
-Thanks guys!

I got up and followed the doctor to the operating theatre. They laid me down onto the operating table. The doctor washed his hands, donned the face mask. A young nurse assisted. A lock of hair came loose from underneath her cap, which is how I could tell she was a blonde. Her beautiful blue eyes gazed at me jovially.

How can I die, when I have such beautiful eyes look at me so mischievously? I gazed into her eyes as if they were a bottomless lake. I could not see her face but imagined that it was beautiful behind her facemask. It’s a shame that I am married, as I am almost in love with this beauty.

My bandages were once again removed. Blood started pouring out again. It really looked like I had a severed vein. They injected me with anaesthetic and then started to cut something off and then stick the rest up.
-Is it the kind of thread that dissolves? - I enquired.
-No, we ran out of that on the second day of the war. We use what we can get.
-And what do you have now?
-Black thread, number ten.
-The soldiers at the barracks use those to sew on buttons and so forth!
-That’s right. We get it from the warrant officers in exchange for spirits.
-I agree one hundred precent. Now, bear with us, we’re going to cut off a loose bit.
-They cut it off already in the field hospital!
-There’s some more that needs fixing.
-Don’t damage my skull!
-It caught and stopped shrapnel, so I think it will be OK against a scalpel, - and again that horrible scraping sound filled my head.
-Have you at least soaked the thread in spirits? - I asked, wincing from pain but trying to look brave in front of the pretty blonde.
-We have.
-That’s good. Otherwise it could be like everything in the army…shit happens.
-Things happen. When we operated on the frontline, we sometimes had to use normal thread.
-And they lived?
-They lived, - he reassured me.
-Thank god!
-Captain, try not to breathe on me, - the doctor asked.
-You reek of booze, you could put a horse down.
-My colleagues administered some medicine after I was wounded.
-Be quiet or I’ll fall over. Breathe through your nose.

I started drawing through my nose.
-Breathe quieter, I can still smell it. Just a little longer. I’m almost done, another minute...Here. Done. Go to the ward, you can nod off ‘til the morning. I have already put you on the passenger list. Your war is over.
-Thank you, thank you very much.

Swaying, I walked out to get some fresh air. I patted my pockets in search of cigarettes. They were in my coat back inside. I went back inside and grabbed my coat from the ante-room. I came out again and lit up. My head started spinning. It could have been the cigarettes or the medication—hard to tell. Yura was already gone. Slowly, as my condition allowed, I trudged towards the airport. A sentry called to me out of the darkness:
-Hold it! The password is minus one!
-Go to hell!
-I’ll show you where to go in a minute.
-Shut up and call the airport’s commandant.
-One minute.

Sashka appeared after ten minutes or so. He was yawning.
-Who wanted the commandant?
-It’s me, Sasha. Mironov.
-Slava, it’s you?
-That right brother.
-How are you, you old devil, what’s been happening?
-Nothing serious. I got nicked by shrapnel, but my head is in one piece.
-Let’s go, I know all the doctors here, they’ll fix you up.
-Sasha, they already have. Tell me instead, when is the plane coming to get the wounded?
-It’s usually here around twelve. They collect you over there and fly you off to Rostov, where they sort you out and then forward you onwards all over Russia. So you’re done fighting, eh?
-**** off, I’m not done. Tell me when the transport to Khankala departs.
-I don’t know. There have been no plans for one as of this evening. Why? Do you want to run for it?
-You think fast. If you could think something up for me in the direction of my brigade around eight in the morning, and if not, at least to Khankala that would be great. Can you do that?
-Slava, you should rest. Go home. I’ll arrange for a first class seat for you.
-Send me first class to Khankala instead. I can’t go, Sasha, you understand, I can’t.
-But why?
-Why? Hell knows why.
-You haven’t been a coward, haven’t deserted. You’re wounded and not just anywhere, but your head. You shouldn’t joke around when it’s your head.
-Don’t lecture me. I’m staying, period. And if you can’t help me with transportation, I’ll hitch hike it there. Will you give me transport?
-I will.
-When I go, there will be some noise here. Hush it up. I don’t like scandals. That’s it. I’m off to the hospital.
-Maybe you’d better come sith with me. We’ll have a snifter of cognac. Come on, Slava?
-No, I can’t. I feel a bit ill. I’ll go lie down and will be back here at eight. Alright?
-There will be transport waiting.

I walked inside the hospital. In the dark there, I felt to find an empty bunk. I didn’t undress, just took off my shoes, laid down and went immediately to sleep. I did not dream and woke at about seven in the morning. I washed my face rinsed out my mouth and went walked over to the airport, puffing on my cigarette.

Sasha was waiting for me there. He was smoking nervously. When he saw me, he walked forward and threw open his arms. We met and embraced.
-How are you, Slava?
-I am well, thank you. Transport ready?
-Only as far as Khankala.
-That’s fine. Let’s go and I’ll call the brigade for a pick-up.

We went to the comms room where I radioed the brigade and asked to be picked up from Khankala. They were very surprised, but I told them that they called me a faker at the hospital and kicked me out without even feeding me breakfast.
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 24

The ambulance had to go through the whole city. I was not armed. It felt like riding through the town naked as everybody stares and you don’t even have a vine leaf to cover yourself up. We were passing some ruins. The whole thing was no longer a city, but a never-ending ruin. What was it all built for? For whom and for what? Why did I get a hole in my head? I got off lightly, it could have been worse. I could have been sent back in a pine box, wrapped in foil. And what about my son? ****! Who can explain to me why we destroyed this city, killed so many of its citizens and lost so many of our soldiers? To reduce the unemployment rate? I don’t get it!

Once again I was tormenting myself by pondering the futility of war. There were people scuttling about the piles of debris that used to be this city, pushing trolleys filled with their simple belongings in front of themselves. But the insane thing was that there were still corpses lying in the streets, that nobody had bothered to clean them up after this long! As soon as it gets warmer, the Plague is guaranteed event. ****! When it comes to killing people—there is always plenty of money for it. But when it comes to burying them properly—there is neither the money, nor any desire. They could have allocated at least half a precent of what was looted to the funerals.

It is a completely pointless, senseless war. The generals will get decorations and carry off truckloads of loot. And all I’ll get a modest insurance payout. I calculated it to be something around one and a half million roubles. You can probably buy something, with it, provided they don’t delay the payment. Otherwise inflation will eat it all up.

Little boys were running around in the ruins playing war. They were shouting something in their own language and they were laughing. Children absorb what is around them, like a sponge. And that’s how they’ll grow up—they’ll know nothing but war and they won’t see anything other than these ruins. It’s easy to destroy things. But it takes generations to build something. I doubt that these people, whom we tried so hard to destroy and in the process of which, taught to fight, a people who had had a taste of the outlaw life and what it is like to have a real enemy—us, will be able to or want to rebuild here. Instead, they’ll go to Russia. And there they’ll spread out and have a good time. Perhaps they’ll provide the opportunity to experience the same horror they had, to other Russian cities. Who knows what will happen? Who could have predicted a year ago, that this will happen? My son is going to school this year. We have to finish this whole thing before September 1, otherwise, he’ll be watching war reports on TV instead of doing his homework.

I have not had breakfast. There was a tickling sensation under my tongue and despite the headache, I felt like a drink. Symptoms of alcoholism? We’ll see. The most important thing right now it to get back to my brigade. If I am intercepted in transit, I’m liable to be sent straight home. And why is that that I don’t want to go home? I like to finish what I started. I have to finish this. No-one was sent to replace me. It would be shameful to leave here, shameful before the officers, the soldiers and the Russians who were crippled and have lost their lives here. Also, imagine if I was to come home all bruised, my head in bandages and say, “Hello dear!” **** that! I’ll recover and then go. No order has been issued to send me home against my will. There is no action at the moment, it’s all quiet and I have time to get well. I have gotten the medicine I’ll need myself, at the pharmaceutical dump and if there is not enough, I can barter for it with our neighbours, using our stocks of spirits. Or Sashka, the commandant will get it for me. I’ll get through this! Most importantly—I’m alive

Having to endure serious injury, made me re-evaluated the life I have so far lived. I obtained a different perspective on things. I started to value every day that I was alive, each minute of it and learned to extract joy from everything that was happening to me. To disregard misfortune. I am alive, I have something to eat, my wife and son are in good health and the rest is bullshit. I treasure every breath, every minute of my life. I am happy to see the sun, the rain to feel the wind. I have gained a new love for nature. Nature is our mother—we have come from her and to her we shall return. And those politicians in Moscow are nothing but crooks, who could not give a **** about me or about Russia. No longer do I want to concern myself with the fate of the people, the Motherland. They have no care for me or my family, so why should I? Let every man take care of himself. But God forbid someone touches my family. I will crush them. Combat experience is not something that you can just forget. If the need arises, I can destroy, maybe not spiritually but physically—for sure. I have learned not to forgive insults brought upon me. If previously I was able to shrug my shoulders and leave it be, I can no longer do so now. Society has made me into what I am and must accept me for the same. I have perceived my Identity, identity with a capital “I,” not a mere cog in the machine. I have paid my dues to society and to Motherland. I have paid them with my blood and physical well-being. We’re even now. If society and the Motherland feel that they do not owe me anything, then so am I free of any further obligation to them. No propaganda slogan will stir me now. Don’t get me wrong, I do not claim to be above other people and society, no! But they will never again get me to shoot at my own people and fight a phony enemy that they have given me as a distraction from other problems. That trick will not work on me any more. This whole sad affair, is not the work of enemies from beyond the sea, enemies that robbed my country and bled it dry, who have sent me to my death and who want to deprive my son of his future. This is not a CIA operation. I have no enemies here, or more precisely I had not had any until I made some myself in Grozny. All the trials and tribulations this country endures, a country whose spinelessness and stupidity I both love and hate, all my personal sorrows and misfortunes are the fault of capital city politicians, regardless of their creed and ideology.

With that in mind, I arrive at the checkpoint at the entrance to Khankala. There is a quick documents check. We drive into the base. A lot has changed. The debris has been cleared away, everyone salutes, just like in peace-time. I stop some young soldier in the rank of 1st Lieutenant. There is a big badge on his chest, bearing the word “Khankala” and some sort of a design, possibly featuring a shield, I can’t see to well as my eyes are still watering from the contusion. All the locals have one of these badges.
-Where can I get one? - I ask the valiant soldier.
-Nowhere. The Commander handed these out personally to all who serve here. It’s a distinguishing Stavka badge, - the warrior proudly declares as he gently pats his badge.

I shake my head and walk away. The times we live in! Naturally, come peacetime, these Khankala people will be so proud of their service here and as part of the Chechen War. Seeing that every soldier was given such badges here, what’s to say of the real decorations and ranks, that must be pouring forth on the chosen as if from the Horn of Plenty...

I’ve been told that the brigade’s cadres department representative, who was stationed in Mozdok and whose sole purpose was to fill out decoration forms as well as take care of other paperwork constantly sent the award paperwork back to the brigade. He did it on grounds such as they were incorrectly filled out or dirty or creased...This desk monkey turned lieutenant-colonel from captain in three months and became decorated with every conceivable order and medal. When San Sanych learned of this, he warned him not to come back to the brigade, after which he got himself transferred to the Moscow Military District. There is no shortage of low-lives and dickheads anywhere…

Two BMP roll in through the gates, the familiar “S” painted on their side. So warm and cosy! I seems as if I haven’t seen my brigade’s vehicles for at least three hundred years! Friendlies! Siberians. I hurry over to them. They notice me and raise up as they hold onto protruding bits of armour, they wave to me and yell. Genuine happiness. There is a lump in my throat, it is as if it’s in a vice, my eyes water. I’m getting a little too sentimental and hysterical in my old age. If the guys notice, they might think that I cracked it, having caught one in the head. I brush off a tear. The vehicles stop and everyone gets off. They surround me. We embrace and pat one another on the shoulders. Yura also came. And if I laughed and joked with the others, with Yura, Yury, my good friend, I simply embraced, silently, not saying a word. I felt that his shoulders were twitching slightly too and when I stepped back, I saw him also wipe a tear. I understand, brother, I understand. That means that I have not gone crazy. This is just what real friendship between men, tempered by combat and blood is like.
-What’s new, Yura?
-Just promise me that you won’t worry.
-Tell me what it is already!—sweat appeared on my forehead.
-You see, while I was away driving you to Severny, - Yura began, - some idiot called home to Yurga, where he’s from and said that you have been killed and that I am wounded.
-Did you call everyone in the military district to stop this nonsense?
-I have, but they have already written out a death certificate for you…
-How, why?!
-Well, they thought that it would be better if your wife gets is sooner rather than later, so that she could claim the social security benefits and prepare for the funeral.
-****, what a ****-up!
-Don’t worry, I stopped it.
-Thank you, Yura! - I said and I meant it. I shook his hand firmly.
-They told my wife that I am wounded. I had to get the comms men put me through to her to tell her that it was all lies, slander and provocation. Yurga is closer to Novosibirsk than Krasnoyarsk.
-My wife doesn’t know, for sure?
-For sure, so relax.
-Last thing she needs is a death certificate for a husband who’s still alive!
-Means you’re living a charmed life, when there’s a death certificate for you whilst you’re alive.
-Such good things you say, brother!

An hour later, we were on our way towards the brigade. This night made me realise how much I value my fellows, how close I feel to the officers and soldiers in my brigade. We might quarrel and often, but we are all united by the huge task at hand, even though nobody clearly knows what it is all for.

The medics undertook intensive rehabilitative measures upon my immediate arrival. They injected me with the medicines that I myself collected at the pharmaceutical dump back in Grozny. How I knew it back then that they were going to come in so very handy. How right I was...I can’t sleep on my back now because of that medicine...My headache lessened as the days passed. Large dark circles formed under my eyes, as if I had been in a fight. Everyone was cracking jokes about it, but it didn’t bother me. It was all in kind-hearted jest. I had no idea that the men felt that way about me.

The stitches were taken out after a week. Not taken out, but rather yanked out. The regular thread that was used instead of the silk one began to rot and some of the stitching remained under my skin. The rotten thread came out with the pus. I asked the doctors to make an incision and purge the pus, but they refused. Even the offer of a pair of bottles of good cognac failed to sway them. As a result I had to squeeze the pus out every day like a pimple, forcing out the grotty thread. This procedure made me wince in pain. I treated the wound with spirits. It was very unpleasant to walk around with a festering sore on my forehead. It made me feel like it was about to become infested with maggots.

I visited my godfather in the second battalion. Igor received me as one would a close relative. Whilst I was recuperating, he had managed to dislodge Basaev’s gang from their positions. Those thirty men managed to drive away a whole band of insurgents! They were Abkhazia veterans trained by the GRU and the makhra managed to best them! We went to inspect their positions. While there, I found an almost new set of binoculars. It’s a trifle of course, but a pleasant one nonetheless. It was ours, a Soviet model, an “eight” referring to its magnifying power. Yura found a “seven” and a TR, which is a miniature periscope designed for observing the terrain without having to stick your head out of the trench.

Spring was in full swing meanwhile. Apricot trees were flowering. Their pink blossoms covered the still leafless branches and spread an intoxicating fragrance. It made one long for peace, love and a woman. Some stupid war was preventing them from returning to their beloved!

One time, we drove over to the artillery positions. They were stationed on the tallest hill and were conducting spot bombardments of the city of Gudermes. The special department guys brought information regarding the locations of the Chechen vehicle and munitions stores. That was the first time that I have seen a munitions dump go up in the air. I have to say that it is an incredible sight—like a nuclear blast. An enormous bright-red cloud rises slowly into the air and grows like a mushroom. It’s astounding. What you see in the movies doesn’t begin to even come close to the real thing. But the most amazing, beautiful and at the same time terrible sight I witnessed was a flock of cranes that were circling overhead. They have come back north from warmer countries and were circling up in the air unable to understand what was happening to their home, where all the smoke, noise and fire was coming from. Where were they to raise their young now? Everyone stared, mesmerised by the birds. No one even thought of taking aim at these majestic creatures. They hovered around in a carousel for about two hours after which they lined up in a v-formation and departed towards the north-west.

When we returned to the command post, we learned that two Krasnoyarsk representatives of the “Soldiers’ Mothers Committee” have arrived at the brigade. I am not aware of what they spoke about or what they did. My only interaction with them was when I handed over a letter to my wife. I had to prepare her for the fact that I have a festering hole in my forehead.

As usual, I wrote that I was stationed in Mozdok and that having participated in a joint action, I stumbled over in the street, fell and injured the skin on my forehead. I was afraid that one of the good Samaritans would tell her of the real nature of my injuries. Pashka was preparing the firewood as I wrote that letter. Despite the coming of spring, the nights were still very cold.
-Vyacheslav Nikolaevich, when you go home, do you think you’ll be after the Chechens? - Pashka asked.
-What for? - I asked sincerely.
-What do you mean what for? They wounded you and you fought them.
-Pasha, we were not fighting a war, we participated in the restoration of constitutional order. And it wasn’t a whole people that we were fighting, but their leaders and the local army, which Moscow mistakenly calls “armed gangs”. The people are not a part of it. There is an influx of refugees into Russia at the moment and a little later, former members of these very same “armed gangs” will be joining them. And even then, you will not be able to kill them, Pasha.
-Why not? - Pashka was confused.
-Because it’s against the law.
-They too cannot kill you, despite the fact that you destroyed their homes, killed their families, robbed them and raped their daughters and sisters.
-I haven’t robbed or raped anyone, - Pashka grunted as he split some kindling.
-I’m speaking allegorically. The point is that we have to learn to live together. Simple as that. A peaceful co-existence. There will be no final victory here. We - us and the Chechens are citizens of the same country and no matter how disagreeable you might find it, they have the same rights as you do. Even greater rights in this case. Because they are refugees, whilst you as well as I are murderers of peaceful civilians. No more, no less.
-That’s too much—’murderers’. They are the enemy and besides the Muslims are against us Orthodox Christians to begin with, they treat us as the enemy. And in peacetime, they always cause us trouble.
-You’re wrong, Pasha. I’ve got some friends in Krasnoyarsk—militiamen, three of them, they work together. One of them is a Belarus—Sasha Dubodelov, the second is a Russian—Sasha Nikanorov and the third is Azerbaijani—Natik Talibov, who by the way was not born in Russia, he was commissioned to go there and decided to stay after ’91. And this Talibov doesn’t care about nationality or creed. He works to uphold the law and fights criminals of all nationalities: Azerbaijanis, Tajiks, Chechens, Russians, he does not discriminate. What do you say to that? It all depends on the person.
-A couple of days ago, a tuned “Volga” was stopped at a checkpoint. It had kitting, bumpers, mags, a bunch of antennae on the roof, like a hedgehog, tinted windows...The driver got out, all dressed up, a Chechen dandy. He said that he’s an opposition representative. Naturally, our guys could not give a ****, whom he represented, be it Dudaev himself. Rules are rules. They started searching his car. They found a large briefcase in his boot, which they wanted to open themselves, but the Chechen told them not to. He opened it himself and inside there was a shitload of buttons, indicators, and so forth. He asked them if anybody had a home number to call. One of the fighters told him his area code and phone number. The Chechen produced something that looked like an umbrella, but which opened in the opposite direction. It was a satellite phone. He spent about fifteen minutes setting it up, after which he handed them the handset. Our fighter spoke to his mother. Our guys liked the toy and asked him to give it to him. But he was against this idea. He said that it was too expensive a toy to just give to anyone and that he won’t give it up. So the fighters killed him right there and then, put his body into the Volga, set it on fire and rolled it down the bank of Sunzha. It exploded right near the water. They started playing with the satellite phone, but could not get it to work, however hard they tried, so they shot it up too and threw it in the river.
-He should not have been so greedy. The fighters are also complete idiots. Should have asked for the instruction manual before finishing the Chechen.
-He wasn’t giving it up, that bastard! - Pashka was indignant at the opposition representative’s irrational refusal to share.
-Could our guys not make him talk or something?
-Yeah, they jumped the gun there. And think of it—we could have called home now! What do you think comrade captain?
-Don’t mention it, Pasha.

The letter was finished and I went to find the head of the mothers’ delegation. I asked her to send the letter to its address in Krasnoyarsk—either by simply putting it into a post box or delivery via friends or relatives. I may disapprove of some of the things that this committee did, but at the same time, I’m grateful for them delivering the letter.

Reinforcements arrived a couple of days later. All over Siberia and Trans-Baikal, they had gathered up a bunch of unemployed men, dressed them up in uniform, armed them and put them on a plane to Chechnya. They promised them mountains of gold. They all signed contracts. This was the first time that a “professional” or “mercenary” army was employed in combat, curse their soul. ****!

Some of these “Dudaev’s bane” could barely stand on their two feet. Whilst in transit, they managed to swap their dry rations out for booze and proceeded to get wasted. Had they not been held up by their comrades, they would have collapsed onto the ground. Some were conscripts. They at least had some preparation on a Novosibirsk gunnery range. They were capable of handling a weapon. There were many volunteers. Russia will never have a shortage of ****ing heroes. There was to be another load of “mercenaries” the next day. We started sorting this lot out. These men looked to be three hundred years old. Looking at their faces ravaged by alcohol, I felt in the prime of my youth. I thought they were about ten years older, yet they mostly turned out to be younger than I... Some idiot told them a tall tale about how they will be paid a premium for each Chechen head, on top of their salary. Naturally they carried on like the toughest of warriors next to whom Rambo was a ****ing amateur.

Soldiers who have just been through all the circles of Grozny hell stood near-by and observed this circus with calm bemusement. Eventually the newcomers were sorted out and taken away to the battalion positions.

The command post was roused on alarm at 6 o’clock the next morning. The second battalion’s commander requested our immediate presence at his positions for the purpose of resolving an incident. There were no injuries, but he requested that everybody who could walk and was not busy, come to his aid. We cursed profusely as we got our things and drove to the second battalion’s positions. We witnessed a very colourful scene. The battalion was divided into three groups and lined-up to attention. The first group consisted of Grozny veterans as well as a few of yesterday’s conscripts. The second group, about twenty five to thirty in number consisted of members of the newly-arrived “civil guard.” They, as well as everyone in the most numerous group—the third one were morbidly hung over. Their faces of the men in the third group were beginning to “blossom” with welts and black eyes, their lips were split, noses bleeding and their uniforms were smeared with blood. They were unarmed, their weapons lay on the ground in front of them. The first two groups had their guns on them. The battalion commander reported to the general and then began his story:

I woke up at one in the morning and as usual, went to check on the sentries. The third company was quiet. None of the fighters were in their trenches. I’m thinking—that’s it! Either they were completely cut out or, the entire company deserted and crossed over to the enemy. I raised up all the available officers and we went to look for them. There were no bodies, no signs of a struggle, so we’re thinking—they deserted for sure. But, we could hear some sort of a commotion on the hill, that’s near-by. We trained our night-vision equipment on it and could see that the entire company is three sheets to the wind drunk and are conducting a bobsledding championship up on that hill. They were riding their guns, the stock flat on the ground—going around trees on them, colliding with one another, falling over. They were very happy being about it—a picnic on the roadside of life. We caught them all somehow, lined them up and disarmed them. It was dark, completely impossible to see, but the headcount seemed to indicate that they were all there. Then we questioned them one by one, away from the others. I asked them: “Do you know where you are, you animal?” “No!”, he answers. “You have been captured, you Russian swine. If you agree to shoot at the Russians, we’ll keep you alive.” If the lad would say, “Kill me if you want, I’m not shooting at my guys!” then we would let him go to sleep it off. If he would say “I will!” then naturally I had no choice but to kick his teeth in and throw him into the brig. And if they would say “I’ll do as I’m ordered” - the same. My soldiers, the ones that I could trust laid into him a bit as well. In short, out of a hundred and forty “mercenary militias” only thirty refused to fight against us. They were ready to die rather than do that. The rest of them, comrade general, I request to be sent back to the recruitment offices that enlisted them. Here’s my report.

We studied the soldiers willing to fight us with great interest. Everyone was itching to lay their hands on them, but by the looks of their faces the error of their ways had already been explained to them that night. The “traitors” squirmed as we stared at them. Some were trying to explain something about having families and children, but that produced nothing other than irritation, hatred and disgust. Nobody wanted to dirty their hands of such bastards. Any soldier who lived through the Battle Grozny deserves a memorial made of gold and respect. I have said so before and am not afraid to repeat myself that I am prepared to bow low to the ground before each and every one of them. These lads, eighteen, nineteen years of age had no notion of their own greatness and the strength of their spirit. The magnitude of their sacrifice. Out of the three hundred and seventy five men, only twenty eight remained in the second battalion at that point. It’s a terrible statistic. None of us dared say a single word against these men roughing up these traitors. We would have done the same for those who remained at Severny, Minutka, at the train terminal, the hotel “Kavkaz” and in many other corners of the mass grave that is the city of Grozny.

At around dinner-time more reinforcements arrived—another fifty men—mostly also “mercenaries”. In total, two hundred and twenty of them were brought to Severny and there were plans to bring more on several transports. The scum from the second battalion were packed like sardines into an outbound flight and sent home.
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 25

San Snanych went to address the local people’s concerns which have accumulated over the recent days. He took me and Yura along as bodyguards. It was a weekend, although it didn’t feel like it because in war events tend to blend into one long stream. You forget what day of the month or week it is. On this particular day, there was a solemn prayer event held at the local mosque. We arrived towards the end of it and all the locals came out and surrounded the UAZ jeep we were in. This didn’t come to my and Yura’s liking and we yelled at them to keep a distance of five meters away from the vehicle and line up in single file. This did not introduce an air of warmth to the proceedings, but it made us feel more at ease. There were a lot of young people present, aged up to twenty five years. We could tell the insurgents amongst them by a variety of signs. There was the frayed fabric on the right shoulder from constantly carrying a gun around. The habit of holding your left hand in a semi-bent position, which also comes from having to carry a gun around. The faded fabric on the coat-sleeve of the left arm—from the gun barrel. The face—whose skin is pale from being covered in soot that inevitably settles on it in combat. And a heap of other small clues that unmistakably distinguished the insurgent from a regular person. There was a large group of these men hanging around in the background. They did not participate in conversation. The fact that most of them were dressed in long, loose clothing and held their hands behind the folds of its fabric did not inspire us with a lot of confidence. We had three guns here, not counting the driver who would barely have time to get out of the car before he’s made a part of the local landscape’s palette. The elders stood at the front and were a perfect living shield. It would be hard to get through them to the real enemy. Well, I was not planning to risk my life for the sake of these towelheads.

Our eyes burrowed into the probable adversary, searching for any sign of a suspicious movement. We were ready to respond with deadly force at any moment. Yura stood slightly to the right of San Sanych, ready to shield him with his own body and push him to the ground. My role was to provide cover. We had one definite advantage: the sun was behind us, blinding the enemy. We were also upwind of them, meaning that we had a better chance of hearing any sound, any crack of ammunition being loaded any clinking of metal parts which would signal an impending attack.

I didn’t listen to San Sanych’s exchange with the locals. I think it was something about the spring sowing. All my attentions was directed at the crowd. As I swept my gaze across them, the barrel of my gun followed. At the back, the young men whispered amongst themselves and pointed in our direction. This made us very nervous, but nothing happened. After a half hour of being locked in a state of nervous tension, very similar in intensity to what we felt on Minutka, the meeting was over. We went to see the local elder, who invited us to his home.

The host produced a couple of bottles of pre-perestroika cognac. I decided to decline, citing my injury. He then served a meal, I don’t know what it is called, but he said that it was only served to honoured guests. There were boiled beef bones, some skeleton in other words and something similar to dumplings made from grey flour and served with garlic sauce. I liked that, but the bones looked rather unappetising and I declined to try them.

After about thirty minutes of such peaceful feasting, some old man runs in and starts yelling in Chechen and pointing in our direction. The host explains that two of our soldiers are apparently beating up the man’s neighbour and his wife as they demand vodka. ****! This is the last thing we need!

We run outside and the old man points out where it is—it’s quite near. We run into the yard and see that two recently-arrived “mercenaries” are beating up an old man. The old woman is screaming. The locals have gathered in the street. San Sanych is the first to engage by spinning one of the marauders around and punching him in the jaw. The latter tumbles off into some pit. As he is propelled forward, Yura gives him a good kick in the ass which provides acceleration. I grab the second one and bring him down to the ground, on the way towards which, his face meets my knee. San Sanych lifts the first one up and punches him again, this time directing him towards the exit. Yura does the same with the second one. I approach the old man and help him up. He is about seventy, his face is smeared in blood and he is swaying barely able to stand. I lead him off towards the well. Meanwhile San Sanych and Yura kick the two marauders out and into the jeep. The driver helps. We race to the command post. About a hundred of the newcomers are gathered in front of it as well as the battalion commanders and everyone who was in the command post.

San Sanych sends me to fetch the commander. I had barely the time to reach the door when I hear screaming behind me. I turn around and the hair on my head stands on end. There is an instantaneous release of adrenaline into my blood. The first bandit had produced an F1 grenade from his pocket (this thing has a range of two hundred meters) and had already torn out the pin. His hands are raised up into the air and he is shouting. There was a heap of people all around him. If the grenade was to blow—it would be a heap of mince, a lot of it. We’re idiots, we should have searched them before we got them into the car. I run. Yura and Atomas grab the idiot’s arm and immobilise it. Seryoga Kazartsev runs up behind him and strikes him on the back of his knees, which cuts him down to the ground. Yura and Atomas carefully retrieve the grenade from the fingers of his hand which they twisted to immobilise it. They try to retreat clasping the armed grenade close to themselves. The big guy tries to get off the ground and go after them at which point I run up to him and deliver a powerful kick, its force multiplied by my anger and hatred. The kick connects with his chest, something cracks and he flies back and onto the ground, hitting his head with an unpleasant sound. The people surrounded him and begin to kick him.

I run after Yura, Atomas and Kazartsev. Yura is clutching the grenade, his hands are shaking and his fingers are white from exertion. Atomas and Seryoga fashion a pin out of some rusty wire. They secure it with great difficulty.
-That’s it Yura, let it go! - Atomas says, his voice faltering from the stress.
-Guys, I can’t, my fingers cramped! - Yura is not joking.
-Let’s do it slowly.

The three of us start to unbend his fingers. They feel like wood—completely unresponsive. Soon the grenade is lying in our hands. Kazartsev and Atoms take it and having ripped out the improvised pin throw it into a deep ravine. We fall to the ground. There is a loud explosion and we can hear the shrapnel ring as it smashes into the its sides.

Everyone’s shaking from the stress. Sweat is evaporating off our bodies. We walk to our kung. When we pass through the school yard everyone greets us as we go. Those two are standing off to the side. They are tied up and their faces are bloody. A noose is secured around their necks and connected to their hands. Any movement and the noose tightens, suffocating them.

The four of us enter the king. Yura opens a carton of vodka and without saying a word retrieves two bottles, which he places onto the bed. We get the glasses out. Also in silence. There is no point in speaking. Everyone is still shaking from the stress. We pour half a glass of vodka for each man, clink them and drink. We do not snack. Another half glass, clink and drink. This, finally brings some relief. The hysterics begin. We start to talk, all at once interrupting one another. Atomas takes the chair.
-Men! - he began,— I thought that you were ordinary shitheads pretending to be tough guys at the front, for which reason I treated you somewhat coolly. But I now see that you are real men. So, I drink to you. You can count me as your friend. To you!

We all rose, which was somewhat awkward in the cramped kung, clinked and drank in silence. We have never heard such warm, unpretentious words.

In our last few days of this war we walked around with an heroic aura about us. Five days later, we were told that our replacements have arrived. Two majors. Mine came from Barnaul, Yura’s—from Omsk. We drove to Khankala to pick them up where we placed them inside the BMP. They were offended, but we told them to relax as right now it was most important for us to get them there alive. They’ll have plenty of chances to take a ride on the armour in the near future.

That eventing we got them drunk and had a few ourselves and in the morning drove to Mozdok with the general. He also had a replacement—the army corps’ chief of staff. That man started carrying on immediately. Something about correct uniform, saluting, bed-making and other such army bullshit. It’s all good in peacetime, but there is no place for it in war. Me and Yura no longer cared. We said our goodbyes to San Sanych, Seryoga Kazartsev, and all the others with whom we walked under shrapnel and bullets. It was a pity we had to leave. Here, we left a part of ourselves, our lives and our souls.

At six in the morning, we boarded a bus, all fifteen of us on our way home and at nine we were at the air-force base in Mozdok. An An-12 was waiting for us there. It’s a huge plane which has two compartments. A small one, which has six seats and a second huge one, which is designed for cargo. A customs officer came and started to search us, quite roughly. He was searching us—front-line troops like we were common thieves. After we boarded, the captain asked:
-If you choose to go in the big compartment, we’ll have to fly lower and come into Rostov for refuelling. The trip to Novosibirsk will take about seven hours. If you go in the small compartment, (which is pressurised), we can make it in four to five hours.

Naturally, we chose the small compartment. There were only six seats and we had extra people with us—soldiers whose mothers retrieved them from captivity. All together it was about thirty people. There was no toilet in this compartment and we could not smoke. The air-conditioning wasn’t doing very much. The general was with us, despite the offer from the captain to join him in the cockpit—a show of solidarity and front-line brotherhood.

It was cramped and uncomfortable, but that was nothing compared to being at the front. We landed in Novosibirsk and hitched a ride on a military vehicle to the train terminal. We drank a hundred grams and embraced. He was already on his way home, whilst I had to still make it to Krasnoyarsk.
-Be well brother!
-Good luck to you!
-Thank you for covering my back!
-Same to you.

We were choking with tears. We could talk for the rest of our remaining lives, but it was time to go home. The war was over. Yura walked towards the bus stop, turning around and waving every five steps he made. I waved back, brushing off a tear.

When he was gone, I went to the train terminal and bought a ticket. I sent a telegram to my wife informing her of the date and time of my arrival—sometime after diner. I called my friend—the chairman of the Chamber of Industry and Trade of the Central Siberian region Kostrin, Valeriy Alekseevich and asked him to meet me. He was very glad to hear from me and assured me that he’s definitely be there.

The train was due at three in the morning. It was about eight o’clock in the evening. I walked into a near-by kiosk, bought two bottles of cognac, one bottle of vodka and went to see my friend, Ivan Mironenko, who lived in a dorm on Krasnyi Prospekt..

I knocked on his door.
-Who is it? - Ivan answered.
-Slava! - the door opened, - come in!

He called another friend of ours, Seryoga Mazlov. We drank all the booze as I sat there and talked. I had to talk, talk it all out. And then they came to see me off. They got another bottle of cognac for the road. We drank it as we stood next to the carriage, straight out of the bottle, with no snack. Some people of non-Russian appearance were trying to load sacs of goods into the carriage. By the looks of them they were probably Chechens. The usher yelled at them to go see the train’s supervisor and sort it out with him. They were handing her cash and she yelled at them more. I couldn’t help myself and said:
-What are you yelling at these insurgents for? We’ll go take their **** off them in a second and send them under the train!
-Slava, what are you saying?! - Ivan interrupted me.—Relax, the war is over.
-I’m sorry guys, I can’t adjust so quickly.

They put me in the carriage and I slept off the booze. At this point I was approaching the most beautiful, my most favourite city in the world. I could see the familiar hills and the chapel. My God! I’m home. It’s pointless to try to explain how I felt at that point. Elation, happiness, adoration—there are no words to describe it all.

Kostrin greeted me at the terminal. We embraced and I could not hold back emotion and burst out in tears, right there on the platform. Alekseevich, who is an older man could not take it either and we stood there like two idiots embracing and weeping in the middle of the train terminal. We then went to his work, which was opposite the toy store, where we drank a couple of bottles of champagne.

And then he took me home. My heart was beating rapidly. I felt an unexplainable sense of fear. I flew up to the third floor like a bird and rang the doorbell.

I could hear my dog start barking as the door swung open and there on the threshold stood the most beautiful, my most beloved woman—my wife.

The end
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Old 19 Oct 12, 07:05
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Erkki Erkki is offline
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Thread bump.

The great effort made translating this should not fade into the fog of the forgotten.
“For there is nothing more serious than a lunatic when he comes to the central point of his lunacy.”

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Old 19 Oct 12, 09:31
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Agree - while I haven't read the last chapters yet - it's quite intense to read inbetween work - this is definately one of the most impressive efforts I've seen on these boards.

I have it bookmarked - but I feel it deserves a "sticky" thread for future readers.

Thank you UVB76
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Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor - The Napoleonic Wars Campaign.

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Old 19 Oct 12, 09:55
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YES, a sticky please!!!
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