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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 18 Jun 11, 16:32
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Real Name: Nikola Sandic
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That means that this is somebody’s property, somebody who can shoo the Minister of Defence, that he dare not wreck it. He has leave to level the entire city, but not the oil refinery. Naturally when the Russian trooper gets wound up, it’s difficult to contain him, but even the Chechens know not to go there. Naively reckoning he is fighting for his shitty freedom, the idiot has no clue meanwhile that we are all simply a part of somebody’s sort-out. Ordinary, urkagan sort-outs, although particularly brutal ones. One little pakhan, decided to throw a big one and establish his own business, so the pakhan sent his posse—the Russian army to sort it out. The little pakhan meanwhile smartly, squealed about independence of state and his “bulls” also rose up also. And so the sort-outs began. Nobody can now properly recall how this **** started. The boys are smashing each-other up, the pakhans are raking in the dough. Using the war as an excuse they take away pensions and allowances. The little pakhan meanwhile is inciting the Islamic world with his cheap religious ideology. God, have mercy and help us!
This sounds so familiar with Yugoslav wars!
It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge.

Косово је Србија!
Never go to war with a country whose national holiday celebrates a defeat in 1389.

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Old 19 Jun 11, 04:12
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Originally Posted by nikolas93TS View Post
This sounds so familiar with Yugoslav wars!
I haven't read enough about the subject to comment, but yes the oil refinery element is interesting. That refinery finally got wrecked in the second Chechen war.
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Old 22 Jun 11, 09:36
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 4

Loading of the wounded began sometime around eight in the morning. By this time vehicles from the first and second battalion bearing their dead and wounded broke thought to us under enemy fire. Due to the fact that there was no room in the kindergarten yard, only the most serious casualties were loaded there. Those who were conscious, could be carried in another’s arms, on stretchers, or could move on crutches were packed into the vehicles. Those who could participate in a fire-fight placed themselves on top of the armour. They all knew very well that if there is a grenade hit or a mine blast, the wounded inside the BM will perish and the responsibility of vigilance weighed down heavily upon the shoulders of those on top. The column turned out to be bigger than was counted on. Fifteen BMPs. We had to forego wheeled vehicles as even a rifle bullet punches a kung all the way through, no to speak of a grenade or a mine.

To our fortune, or not, the city became immersed in fog. In general, the winter weather here is pretty shitty. It’s cold, but there is no snow and the mud beneath us is not even mud, more like slop, which bogs our feet, that we have to tear out with great effort, our shoes weighed down with large clumps of mud. The same happens to the vehicles. What will it be like here in the springtime? The ground froze over slightly overnight, so we hoped to skip through under the cover of fog over the frozen dirt. The comms troops once again announced to all neighbouring formations as well as “Severny” that the convoy bearing the wounded was departing.

There was this paradox—all formations, regardless of their specialty were broadcasting using the same bandwidth and the same call-signs. Meaning that if one was to scan the 3—30 MHz range for a day, they could easily learn which troop was stationed where, what it was doing, the name of the commander, the radioman and a lot of other useful and useless information.
The enemy by the way did not shine with intelligence of inventiveness either, broadcasting on the same frequencies and using the same call-signs weeks on end. We were as dumb as each another, in other words. Radio interception and disinformation services performed fabulously on both sides of the front, but the Chechens had one major advantage. They knew Russian and were capable of misinforming us in our native tongue, whilst we could not do the same in their Chechen language.

The aborigines often established a radio link with our forces, both during battle and otherwise and fed them their propaganda, including threats. They christened us “dogs” from the first days of war. During the liberation of the rail terminal, they successfully disoriented a neighbouring artillery battery, who thoroughly pounded us for half an hour thinking all the while that they were talking to us. And sadly these were not isolated incidents. It took time to counter this menace through a system of codes and passwords and eventually we stopped falling for Chechen ploys, but a lot of people were killed and wounded because of it in the meantime. Regardless, our brigade continued to work on the same frequencies until the time we were led out of the theatre. Army stupidity remains and there is naught to do and unfortunately this is not its only manifestation. Any initiative from below was greeted with derision from above.

And so, upon our convoy’s departure we knew full well that this fact was known not only to the leadership at “Severny” but also to half the insurgents in the city of Grozny. Regardless, we went ahead with our potentially suicidal plan, because we knew that in lieu of proper medical care, the people will simply die and the rest will tie down the healthy troops, serve as additional targets and take up room that will have to be made for the future wounded, as the assault’s date drew near. And so we departed after only a moment’s hesitation, having placed ourselves in the hands of fate. The road ahead of us stretched for fifteen kilometres though the streets of a devastated city, whose ruins were reminiscent of those seen in the footage made in Stalingrad over half a century ago. Each window, each basement were a source of mortal danger for us. There could be an RPG trooper there, or a sniper, and to think of it, we may have graduated from the same military academies, learned to fight together in Afghanistan, Angola and a multitude of “hot spots” of the former Union.

The prevalent, long-standing tactic is to destroy the heading and the tailing vehicle, after which the vehicle column is methodically shot up. This tactic is fool-proof. Very few survivors.
-To your vehicles! - ordered the brigade commander. He got into the second BMP himself.

The recon troops were leading in the first two vehicles and we progressed for ten minutes without incident. A few days after entry to Grozny, the army group command ordered that all vehicles be marked with identifying signage. For example, the sides of our machines were marked with the letter “S”, meaning Siberian Military District.

A bitter taste appeared in one’s mouth, but there was no feeling of nervous excitement yet, that will come later. I as well as others knew this, having experienced similar things before. An infectious tune “Oh, how I want burst into this town”, appeared in my head. Truly, it would have been good to burst into the town, Mozdok best of all, the town where the command that supervised the unified command of our army group was located. Nobody properly knew why the hell this command was required They, who tried to direct the actions of specific formations in the theatre over the heads of local command, resulting in primarily tragic outcomes for the latter. The most interesting thing was that those located in Mozdok, received the same benefits as us. Modest as our benefits are, they are well-earned. Concretely these are one day’s extra pay for each three days served, double pay during leave. And that’s it. Did the reader suppose that war veterans will receive fitting benefits, as becoming of war veterans? Get stuffed. There was no war in Chechnya, it’s all mass media fabrications, nothing more.

My thoughts thus occupied, I remained vigilant, attentively watching over the ruins as we passed them. There was a lot that we destroyed here and will continue to destroy even more. To demolish is nothing like to build. I looked attentively into the fighters’ faces, who were sitting beside me on the armour. They were all dusty, burned by the local winds and frosts, covered in soot of numerous shots and explosions of mines, grenades and shells. I noticed a soldier wearing a burned-through tanker uniform, sitting on the stern; he had a bandage on his head. Yes, there’s somebody living a charmed life - a driver-mechanic, I think he had either a German or Jewish name—Goldstein.

A multitude of ethnicities were represented in our brigade, including even Uzbeks and Tadjiks. So this tank driver was driving his tank during our entrance to Grozny, whilst the infantry was hiding behind him. None of the fighters then knew that they should have been walking in front of the tank, and only then can it cover them, save them. They know this now, but not back then. We paid dearly for such education. And because we were advancing at night, he was riding “tour style”, i.e. with his head sticking out of his hatch. How a sniper didn’t spot him, nobody still knows, others were taken out just like that, but he got lucky. He got lucky a second time when an RPG trooper smashed a grenade into his starboard. Goldstein was projected out of the vehicle, like a candle about five meters into the air and landed in the canopy of a tree. I thought that he lad didn’t live, but was I wrong. There he was, only his head bandaged, meaning that everything else was in one piece. A severe concussion by the looks of it, but he’ll be all-right. They’ll fix him up in the historical homeland. I remember that when they brought in newbies, half a year a go, he kept asking to not be assigned to anything classified. If not for the army, he would have long departed to live with his relatives. His parents have already left, but he remained to finish his diploma and did not leave in time. In any case he will now be decommissioned and will be treated by good doctors and in civilised conditions.

Yurij Shevchuk, the leader or soloist in the group “DDT” (who knows which is which) was riding in the fifth vehicle in our column. He was brought together with the wounded chief of staff and three more injured fighters. This Shevchuk turned out to be a great guy. Everyone expected that he’d feign a rock-start untouchable. Nothing of the sort—the guy was simple like three kopeks. According to witnesses, having spent three days in a basement under fire and enduring counter-attacks, he did not hide. He conducted himself like a real man, assisted the wounded. They did not give him a gun, as he is blind like a mole anyway and God forbid he got hit. Apparently, when the Chechens offered them to surrender, they were told over the radio that Shevchuk was there with them. The Chechens did not believe them, so Shevchuk sang, then spoke to them. They offered to get him out, guaranteed his safety. He refused. Also Shevchuk promised (and as it later turned out delivered on his promise) to send the wounded from our brigade and elsewhere for treatment using his own funds and those of his friends, to Germany. He bought them prosthetics, wheelchairs and all of it without showing off. There were no reporters or press-conferences, everything was done quietly and modestly. In other words—a Real Man.

The reconnaissance detail in the avant-garde reportecoming under fire from a group of up to twelve insurgents and that they have taken up the fight. Hand-held grenade launchers have not been employed yet, they are pounding them out of underbarrelers and assault rifles.

We decide to proceed forward towards a break-out. Because of the fog we cannot see the enemy and they can’t see us properly either, firing at guesswork. The comm-brig ordered to let out the smokes and the fog began to darken as if somebody poured tar into a barrel of milk.

Upon approach, our vehicles fired at the coordinates supplied by the recon troopers. First the cannons of the BMP fired along with the machine guns of the BMP-3, then, as if in a well-rehearsed orchestra, we joined in with underbarrelers and assault rifles. The picture was something to behold. Streams of fire and dark grenade trails were issuing out of a kilometre-length cloud of black smoke that concealed all other detail. This picture was worthy of an artist’s brush. And what a rush! We did not know if the road ahead was clear or not. A wall could have collapsed during the night or was deliberately collapsed. Could there be an anti-tank mine under the heaps of debris? But there was no fear in my eyes or of others, a part of this expedition. We all knew that if we were not to break through, that our wounded friends would die. It was decided to continue until the end. Towards victory or death.

We were definitely in luck. Our engines revved at full power, roaring, adding clouds of diesel exhaust to the smokescreen. And although the convoy stretched over a large distance, the commander decided not to break it up into smaller, more manoeuvrable groups , but to continue on as one long formation.

We traversed this sector at speed, squeezing our dear BMPs for everything that they had. What is surprising, we did not nick any of ours and got through OK. Maybe the Chechens retreated or for some other reason, no-one shot or pursued us, but it was too early to rest and everyone understood this. Forward and survive.

The recon guys ahead reported that they have reached our neighbours’ first checkpoint. That’s more like it. We’ll be lead through friendly territory by the Uliyanovites, a para-troop. Decent lads, but lacking in resolve and they put on a bit too much swank. They are incapable of fighting long and hard for an objective. Their assault is fierce at first, but it peters out to nothing. They are good as support for somebody, but lack the guts to act independently. They were only taught to take over a target, destroy it and then disappear and go and blow up something else. They are simply unprepared for such protracted, heavy fighting. “Makra” is another story entirely. We’ll fight in heat, rain, blizzard and anywhere else. We’ll fulfil our objective in the North, in a desert or in a swamp. We’ll lay our bones there, but fulfil it.

As we passed the checkpoint, the paratroopers waved to us, baring the teeth on their sooty mugs, sooty as our own. It was good to see that we were not alone here in this hostile country.

The battalion’s commander through whose territory we were passing, promised to direct a mop-up detail towards the spot where we were attached.

If Chechen corpses are located there, he will write them up as his own kills and if we manage to return to our brigade’s positions, we will naturally record the approximate number of enemy forces destroyed. One comic at “Severny” once counted the enemy numbers destroyed by our army group. It turned out that in ten days of battle, we have killed the entire population of Chechnya twice over. It’s scary that only ten days have passed, but it feels like no less than six months. During the Great Patriotic War, the Wehrmacht was destroyed one hundred times over, according to army command briefs. We don’t have to liberate half of Europe, but according to the reports we’re ahead of all world armies. So when the reader hears front-line briefs, let them divide the number of enemy killed by two and multiply our own losses by three. Only then will they get a more or less realistic picture of what’s happening.

The paratroopers tried to put up their wounded up with us, but didn’t get anywhere. We barely fit our own asses on the armour and down below, the wounded were stacked like firewood. Want to ride with our column? God willing, but using your own vehicles and your own escort. We won’t wait, every minute counts. What did you say? Louder please, the engine is drowning you out. We’re swine? OK, let it be, we’re swine, but you have to haul your own people yourself. There is no time or desire to argue with you. We understand how you feel—after discussing it, you’ll either convince us or prepare your own transport. You had all night to get ready. Bye-bye, good luck and don’t try to talk us into it. Where did you send us? We’ll be coming back, so stand right there and wait and we’ll sort it out then.

We watched as out brigade commander was talking to the paratrooper’s commander. Of course nothing was audible, but their gesticulation plainly illustrated who was sent where and what the reply was. We laughed merrily when this dialogue was over, but nobody dared to flip off the paratroopers or to say something disparaging. Everyone understood that they too have their wounded, but that they must take care of them themselves. We are all of us slightly sly on the inside, like Jews, who like to solve their problems at somebody else’s expense. But not life-and death matters such as these.

The paratrooper’s sector ended and we had to traverse approximately ten city blocks that were for the time being under Chechen control. OK, bitches, we’ll haul out the wounded and then we’ll sort you out. No distractions. I raise my hand into the air and the soldiers begin to carefully observe the surrounding ruins. There is no desire or any sense to speak or shout whilst on top of a moving vehicle. The noise and the dust and soot from the leading BMPs is so thick that to open one’s mouth would be to inhale such disgusting crap that you would have to hark it out for a long time afterwards. And another thing. The moving BMP rocks and jolts and if one was to open their mouth, they might end up shattering their teeth or biting off their own tongue. There is a story going around that some soldier from a neighbouring formation, not ours naturally—bit off the end of his tongue in just such a manner. The doctors sew it back on and he was decommissioned. I have heard so many of these stories in my time in the army that I could write a book. The funniest thing is that according to the stories, this always happen in other formations, not ours, where there are no such debils, of course. If one was to believe the tales, complete chaos reigns there. But I think our neighbours are of the same opinion in regards to us.

The fighter to the right of me shouts something, pointing his finger to an upper floor window of an intact building and shoots in that direction. My reflexes are instantaneous. The assault rifle lets out a few volleys even before I consciously stop and look carefully in the direction of fire. There is a set of binoculars lying on the windowsill, which immediately shatter from the ammunition’s impact and fall inside. If one wants to live, one has to shoot first. We all learned this after their first engagement. I yell to cease fire and the shooting gradually dies down. I’m not blaming the soldier. In our work, over-vigilance is better than under-vigilance.

The vehicles continue to race forward without reducing speed. Reconnaissance report that they are under fire again, this time on three sides and that they will not manage on their own. The commander calls for backup from the neighbours, so as to supply firepower from the rear and races over to rescue the recon guys.

The trailing vehicles fell back slightly so as not to fall into a tight trap in case of an attack from behind. Upon approach to the intersection where the recon guys turned, it emerged that the street is blocked with broken brick. They have already checked the two adjacent streets, which are likewise blocked. There were no assurances that we would not be blocked if we were to now retreat. The commander decides: break out. I was in complete agreement and so was Ryzhov.

Those that could bear arms leapt off the vehicles, which rolled back, supporting us with their fire. We decided to first push the enemy back into the depths of the housing complex, then, under fire to attempt to pick apart the blocking debris. We began returning fire after taking cover behind piles of rubble. There was an explosion near-by and pieces of a soldier rose up into the air and landed back down with dull thuds, about five meters away from me. A few seconds later another soldier met the same terrible fate. There was no time to determine who it was in the heat of battle. Next to the second casualty, three more soldiers were rolling around on the asphalt shouting in pain and holding on to their wounds. Stains of blood spread on their uniforms right there in front of one’s eyes. At first we thought that they were killed and wounded using an underbarreler, but when a third soldier noticed an F-1 grenade, missing its pin, as he moved a brick, the situation became clear.

The bastards are competent, one has to give it to them, they have talent. They smartly picked the ambush spot, knew that we’ll dig in in a place dictated to us by them and mined it with grenades. During such fighting, you have to move all the time, roll around, hide behind piles of rubble and these “pretty” things are waiting there for us—F-1 grenades, without the ring. Move a brick, the protecting lever flies off and there is an explosion after six seconds. The fragments disperse over two hundred meters, providing a better result than any mine.

And so we were facing a dilemma—either to retreat or to counter-attack and try to knock the Chechens out of the surrounding buildings. A happy perspective. The neighbours reported that they are hurrying to our aid and that they have summoned the aviation. If there is something that we don’t need here, it’s air support. The soldier has many enemies and his own air support is one of the primary ones. If it hits the enemy or not, that’s another question, but to bomb its own positions—that’s for sure. So we asked the reinforcements to recall the air support. They’ll succeed in only one thing—spoiling everything. We communicated down the chain to prepare for attack. Our “boxes” were to open up maximum fire for ten minutes, then to cease and wait for further instructions.

Each soldier and officer carries a medi-pack in combat. Ordinarily it contains a range of basic medicines. These are painkillers, which double as anti-shock medicine, Omnopon, Trimeperedin. Tablets for nausea, radiation and chemical poisoning are also included. Also there are water purifiers—chuck them into any puddle, except for sea water, it will bubble for a bit, producing a sediment and you can drink the water safely, though it stinks of chlorine, but it’s now clean—no trace of contagion in it.

Each detachment carries the so called “combat stimulators”. When the soldiers are tired, and there is no desire not only to go into combat, but to even move and when fear has paralysed all will, then the commander orders the troops to take these tablets in order to save lives and fulfil the objective. Having taken them, they sit around for a bit and suddenly—zing, forward, their energy comes back from somewhere and the fear disappears without a trace.

We didn’t have these tablets now and neither did we need them. After the first two or three engagements, where the Chechens bettered us in every regard and the smallest victory cost the most tremendous effort and losses, the people now believed in themselves. The Chechens started being repelled and no longer advanced wantonly, stinking of marijuana and shrieking something about their Allah. When one sees this for the first time, it’s a little eerie. They would come at us as if bewitched, unafraid of the bullet or death.

And now our BMPs opened up in full force. The barking of the BMP-3 cannons could not be heard at first over the din of BMP-2’s guns, but they eventually lined up with the good old “two’s”. We also kept up our fire, pounding the buildings with our assault rifles and underbarrelers.

The BMPs finished their ten minute assault and fell silent. The ears rang from the shooting and explosions, but we had to move forward. The enemy would be in a worse state now, having to endure detonations within enclosed spaces, they would be stunned and frightened, remaining in a temporary state of shock and that is why we had to move forward, forward, forward.

Nobody had to raise up the soldiers this time, leading them forward by example as it happened in the first days of war. No, they rose up themselves, some with the ancient battle call “Ura!”, others just shrieking in fright and from an excess of adrenaline in their blood, ran forward. Something primordial awakens in you, when you attack in this manner. You see yourself as if from outside your body and perceive almost all corners of the battlefield. It is as if the rage and fright of the collective generates a collective consciousness.

Shouting madly, as we traversed the one hundred or so meter-long stretch ahead of us, we were met with a shallow aimless fire. None of our guys were hit. They sprayed the broken windows above us from the stomach—the source of death-bringing metal hurtling towards us.

We burst into the stairwell of a former apartment block. The other groups are storming the remaining four of this “Kruschevka” block.

The human brain works in such a way as to first notice that which is to their right, then their left. The Chechens exploited this trait by taking up position on the left of an entrance. And as we instinctively looked right, they had a few seconds to shoot us in the back. Later on we started throwing grenades in, before we entered and then, upon entry looked left of the entrance.

The sun began to break through the fog, but the interior of the building was immersed in twilight due to the dust from the shoot-out, mixed with burned explosives and some other chemicals, obscuring our view.

I had about fifteen people with me in this stairwell. As we ran to the front door, I looked them over with my peripheral vision, as to remember them. I didn’t see any cowards there—all good, shot-up lads. There were three apartments on the first floor, meaning that it’s the same above. Three fighters on the next landing to cover us from possible attack from above. The rest, craftily prepare their grenades, tearing off the rings and clutching them in their hands shout to the others “Ready.” They kick in the doors, which are barely hanging on after the explosions. The doors fly off their hinges under the blows of soldiers’ boots. I shout: “Hide, go!”

We fall back away from the door apertures, behind protruding concrete walls. About eight grenades explode almost simultaneously in the three apartments. Our heads ring from the concussions and smoke and dust billow from the mutilated doors. Forward, forward, not letting up our pace. Left, right. The dust, can’t see a damn thing, two long volleys from the stomach. No prisoners, we have nothing to eat ourselves. Forward, forward. Kitchen—no-one, bathroom, the door is ajar, two volleys off to the side from the stomach, the carbon steel bath can conceal one from the shrapnel and the grenades. I nod to the fighter standing next to me, who is covering my back, he jerks open the door and I pull the trigger, sweeping the barrel of the assault gun, it jitters as if alive and hoses down the bathtub with a deadly stream, as the shards scatter in every direction. The other fighters are meanwhile shooting up the dust and smoke-choked rooms. Wardrobes and shelves, nothing escapes our attention. That’s it, the three-bedroom flat is secured. Onwards, upwards.

The fighters standing in the landing indicate that there is some sort of movement in the flat on the second floor. The other soldiers also leap out of the other flats to join us. Those that were covering us on the landing move higher. No-one has to be told where to go and what to do, everyone knows their moves. No need to shout at anyone. We work as a well-oiled machine. Every man covers the other.

Everything repeats on the second floor. When we burst into the apartment, we stumble over a corpse torn apart by a grenade. Baked one. Checking further we find no-one. Three more levels lie ahead of us, then the attic, roof and the dark basement. Forward, forward.

The fighters report that there are two more corpses in the adjacent flat. **** them. Forward. I look at the watch. We have spent seven minutes on the first and second floor. We have to hurry up.

On the third floor, after we kick in the doors, we hear “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!”. No accent. I raise my hand. The fighters wait, not throwing their grenades. I shout: “Come out with your hands behind your head”.

He emerges, weeping, dirty, grenades dangling and a Chechen knife (this thing—a dagger welded onto a knuckleduster) on his belt, but by the looks of it one of ours. Rubbing the tears across his face, he shouts that he is an ordinary prisoner, who was mobilised and who above all did not kill any of our own. I notice that around his neck dangle about five dog tags. Dog tags were issued only to officers and NCO’s in the past and during insertion into Chechnya—to all personnel. It is an oval piece of metal five centimetres in length and three in width. The plate is divided into two halves lengthwise, the top of which is stamped “AF USSR” and below bears a letter and a six-digit number. It is made from non-oxidising, heat-resistant alloy. It first came into use when a new rocket fell onto the inspecting commission, burning them all. Everyone perished. In war everyone carries their dog-tag bearing their identification number on their neck, just like the Americans, except they have a second tag with the soldier’s surname and their blood group on it.

So here I noticed that this “ordinary prisoner” had dog-tags hanging off his neck. There was a lot of rabble hanging floating around in Chechnya, who would have long been in jail back in Russia. But here they were amongst bandits—their own. As the local Russians reported, to prove their loyalty they treated their blood brothers with even greater cruelly.

I grabbed the dog-tag stings with my left hand, they were strong as no soldier wanted to loose them and winding them up on my palm yanked the prisoner, who was trembling with fear. The fighters immediately understood everything. Some Chechens collected dog-tags of the soldiers they have killed.

-What is this then, bitch? - I asked, pulling on the strings.
-I found them, I swear, I found them. I didn’t shoot. I was forcibly placed here, he howled and cried.

With my right hand, I pressed the gun against his chest and squeezed the trigger. The bullets tore up his chest, marring my trousers with blood. The body jerked backwards from the shots, but held on by the dog-tag strings. The vertebrae in the neck cracked. It seemed as if the souls of the dead soldiers held on, refusing to let the killer’s soul go free. I continued to hold the barrel against the dead body and asked the soldier beside me:
-Cut off the strings.
He took the Chechen knife cut the string with a single swish, The corpse fell to the ground with a dull thud. The fighter handed me the knife, but I shook my head and he hid it in his boot. I straightened out, placed the dog-tags into my pocket and ordered:
-Ready the grenades, let’s go.

Grenade explosions rang out again and again we burst into the flats. There were five corpses here. Without looking around or sorting out what’s what, we fired off a couple of volleys. One of the “corpses” came to life at this point, raising up his gun, but assault-rifle crossfire nearly chopped him to pieces.

Suddenly there was an explosion in the square outside and a crackling of assault rifles. We quickly finished off the apartment and leapt out onto the landing. The battle raged in full force there. The Chechens in the upper floors were trying to break through to the bottom. Three fighters were holding them off from below and two more soldiers who were guarding from an attack out of the basement entrance joined them. We joined in on this lively exchange of fire, though we interfered with one another on the narrow landing. Because of that there was no cover on that platform, thank God these morons threw their grenades right after they tore off the pins, so there was time to pick them up and lob them downwards onto the lower floors.

We did not remain in debt to them. Two of us fired the underbarrelers from the knee, whilst four more fired their machine guns over their heads not letting the Chechens raise their heads. Meanwhile something exploded over there, there was a terrible racket and the ceiling collapsed in a kitchen on the third floor. Five fighters quickly leapt into the hole and the battle started up on the fourth floor. Having ascended, we started shooting up the Chechens from the rear at point-blank range. We were afraid to hit our own, but it turned out OK. After the mop-up, twelve bodies remained on the fourth floor, which was not bad, considering the Combat Charter, which stipulates no less than three or four attackers against one defender.

Nobody greeted us on the fifth floor, except for a pair of corpses. We carefully ascended the roof. Nobody. That means we’re the first and we have to go help our boys in the neighbouring stairwells. I consign the people. Myself, I picked the one where Ryzhkov went. We could hear the thunder of battle in each stairwell as we walked on the roof.

We carefully lift up the hatch. By the sounds of it, the battle is between the first and second floors. We begin the mop up on the fifth floor. We can hear voices in the two-room flat as well as shooting directed at the street. OK, bitches, let’s go. Grenades at the ready, a nod of the head, a kick in the door, the grenades thrown, we take cover. Explosion, forward, forward. One soldier guards the stairwell, turn left, volley into an empty corner, another volley forward. The fighter beside me, checks the right hand side, shoots, we are shooting up two wounded next to the window. There is an RPG-7 lying next to them, a nice toy, which we collect along with five or so remaining shots.

The Chechens below seemingly understood what happened above intensify their assault. They are longing to break out of the trap, but are held back by our guys who having realised that help is near also intensify their fire. We descent to the fourth level, shoot up the doors and lob the grenades. We find two more dushman corpses, no idea if they are ours or from before. It doesn’t matter now, forward, forward, lower, tempo, tempo, hold on guys, we’re coming to help.

The insurgents tried to break through to the top, hoping to mow us down. Not a chance. I’m shouting:
-Yurka, don’t come up, I’m going to take them on here!

As we hear the footsteps on the stairwell, we lob the grenades and immediately take cover behind the walls so as to not get cut up by the fragmentation. One soldier cries out—a ricocheting fragment hit his arm. Two of us remain to administer first aid, I and another two soldiers shoot into the unsightly, smoky, dusty darkness that is lingering after the explosion. There is no answer.

-Slava! We’re coming up. Don’t Shoot!
-Go ahead, lads, but watch out, some bitch may be holed up somewhere, I shout to my fighters.

We descend slowly, ready to open fire at the smallest suspicion of any noise or movement. We stumble upon the torn-up corpses of our recent enemies lying on the landing between the third and fourth floors. The clothes are burning on some of them. Our nostrils are assaulted with the smell of burned meat, wool, cloth and something else, terribly pungent and nauseating. I am barely containing bouts of vomit. Suddenly the ascending soldiers’ mugs leap out of the darkness. We embrace happily. Yurka is here also. We embrace.
-You’re alive, you devil, - we can’t take our eyes off one another like lovers after a long time apart.
-We smashed those ****ers to ****. Smashed their souls right out! - Yurka is excited. Steam is rising from everyone despite the cold.
-I caught one shithead here, he was shouting that he is a prisoner, meanwhile he has these dangling around his neck, here, - I retrieve the handful of dog-tags, then put them away, - I sent him to meet his victims.
-Good on you. They were well-dug in here, had a machine gun and everything, we could not approach them. Thank you for helping us out.
-Anyway—let’s go, you owe me a bottle, - I retrieved the cigarette pack that I brought from home “TU-134”, the sniper’s quickly ran out. - Have a smoke, you NATO menace.

Chatting merrily, having not yet recovered from the excitement of battle, we emerge into the street. My casualty is being led behind us, tourniquet on his hand. He’s walking on his own, meaning he’ll live.

The fighting died down in the street also, it looks like the insurgents have retreated from their other positions, fearing that we’ll get to them too. Our neighbour soldiers were approaching from the direction of the roadblock.
-Slava, look—what’s that they have there? - the approaching soldiers wore large cisterns on their backs, like a backpack, which had rubber tubing connected to them.
-I think they are flamethrowers. I’ve never seen them in action, but I’ve heard that some formation took them out of emergency stores and brought them with.

Meanwhile all of our guys emerged from the building. The newly arrived soldiers, joking, approached the basement windows, threw in a few grenades and then started spraying them out of their flamethrowers. Cool stuff. Streams the thickness of a hand and the length of about five meters, widening as they travelled away hosed down the basement enclosures. It immediately stank of choking burned petrol and something else.
-Cool toy, wish we had some of these ourselves to quickly smoke the creeps out. We should hint to the commander to ask for some of these at “Severny”, they’ll come in handy at Minutka, - I said with envy, watching as the flame throwers having finished with mopping up our building, were preparing to roast some other target.
-I’ve heard that a flame thrower tank was being deployed in Afghanistan, but turned out to not be effective in the mountains, so they stopped producing it.—Yurka said, as he climbed back onto our BMP.
-Well, they are ****tards, they could have thought of having to take cities. Not all fighting will be in the fields and mountains. Moskovites—what’s to be had from them, other than stool samples and even those will be shitty, - I spat and started to nudge around for a more comfortable spot on the armour.
-Attention! Everybody ready? - the command rang out over the column: Forward! March!

We set off and the BMP under me jerked abruptly, trying to throw us off, but we held on by clutching onto each-other and any available protrusions. The internal forces are lucky. They have BTR-80s, beautifully soft-going speedy vehicle, and we have these tractors.

As we passed the flamethrower troopers’ checkpoint, we again began shouting greeting to one another.

The rest of the journey was unadventurous, although we were ready for more surprises. We passed the first checkpoint of the “Severny” airport, which was guarded by a whole regiment following rumours that the Chechens were planning a raid to take it over. They even added in a marine battalion.
-One battle is over, but another one will soon begin, much heavier and more important.—I said to Yurka.

The mood began to shift from elation of a safe arrival to something more sombre and serious. Ahead of us was a conference with the representatives of the command, who were anxious to send us to our deaths.

Last edited by UVB76; 22 Jun 11 at 09:38..
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 5

My good mood was completely spoilt. No matter what happens today I will definitely get drunk. I glared angrily at the “Severny” guards. Those guys had already managed to wash up and fix their uniforms. Some were strutting around in fresh new, clothes.

I looked down on my trousers, marred with the dead prisoner’s blood. My coat was covered in dirt, grease, burn marks and punctured in two places by shrapnel. Hmm, if I was to appear like this in normal public, militia would be quick to arrest me.

-We shall positively get drunk, Slavyan, after all I owe you, - Yurka, unlike myself was in great spirits.
-Where are you going to get the vodka? From under the bunk? - Ryzhov and I have pitched in for three cases of vodka before we entered Grozny and as an old favour, I also traded a full camouflage suit for some spirits, with the comms men. I would have been surprised if my partner were to find another source of vodka.
-And where else would I get it form? The Chechens closed down all the street kiosks, and our trading division doesn’t go any further than “Severny”.
-Listen, they should have an outlet near the hospital, let’s try and get some beer from under the counter? - Suddenly I craved beer, right there, that very moment. I imagined it streaming down my throat, firm, chilled, bubbling and pounding against the walls of my stomach. To drink it straight out of the bottle, no glasses. Maybe this is a lack of culture, but I cannot help myself, I love drinking beer straight out of the bottle.
-That is an idea. Might as well—they are going to upload the wounded for about twenty minutes anyway. Only, will there be beer and do we have enough cash? - he said, scooping out the cash, that was almost useless here, from his pockets and counting it.
-I’ve got some too, - I said, and retrieved a clump of notes, - and we should get some cigarettes, preferably something classy.
-Want to live the good life, hmm? - Ryzhov laughed.
-You’d want to, seeing how people live just fifteen kilometres away from you—I said gazing around at the “courtier” regiment’s positions.
-What are you going to say when we get to the hospital and see the women.—Yurka was teasing now.

I decided to continue the subject:
-Either I’ll rape a dozen or so or shoot myself.

We were approaching the hospital. It was located on the former premises of a large restaurant. Rumour had it that it was owned by one of Dudaev’s relatives. We started coming across medical nurses and doctors and there were women amongst their number. On the front—any woman is a goddess. And this is not only due to sexual famine. Simply to look on and talk to a woman, allows one to retain that thin thread connecting them to the real world, not to toughen so quickly. We had no women in our brigade, which is probably why we were so especially drawn to them. Naturally the primary desire is sexual. Why aren’t there mobile bordellos any more? The wars were better back in the day—positional, unhurried. We respected the adversary. A wonderful kitchen, mobile brothels, champagne, white shirts. The times have changed and in my opinion, did not change for the better. On the other hand, medical services are at an all-time high now. None of the wounded brought here have yet died.
-We have arrived! - the brigade commander was the first to jump off his BMP.

Everyone followed his example, stretching their stiff joints and rubbing their frozen asses. The orderlies ran up and started unloading the dead and wounded. The former will be laid into wooden coffins, here or in Mozdok, the coffins then welded into zinc boxes, with handles, so that they are easier to carry and one can tell top from bottom and this “cargo-200” will be forwarded to the parents accompanied by notices of death and gratitude for outstanding parenting of their son. And that’s about it. A blanks salute will sound over their grave, fired by young cadets or soldiers. Both, potential candidates for the same “grande” send-off in the not so distant future. The god of war demands fresh sacrifices and the belligerents deliver them in abundance.

Next, the parents will be awarded money for the dead soldier—ten-year’s salary, a whole five million Rubles. They will receive visits from social workers for six months, after which they will be forgotten. And when the mother or widow approaches the powers that be (it doesn’t matter if it’s the regional administration or the conscription board), at first she will hear excuses and will then be informed that no means to help her are available. If she insists, she would be told that they did not send her son or husband to war, to go and bother those that have sent him to die, because it is they that failed to provide a pension for the loss of a breadwinner, as well as repairs to the roof, telephone connection, etc. And the reader can complain all they like, believe me, to no avail. The powers that be will say: “O, that’s that woman/man, whose husband/son died?” And this will be uttered with such contempt that regardless of age and health, you the reader would weep and run to the door and never come back here, even when you will be granted a laughable sum for a New Year’s or February 23 gift. So have a think about it, is it worth it to send your son to bloody slaughter for some sick Supreme Commander. Have a good think about it. When the Chechen war rolled around, he had a grandson who was of conscription age. But for some reason, I have never seen him there, not even at inspections.

The wounded were being unloaded meanwhile and we walked behind them, unnoticed by anyone. We gawked at the women and even tried to chat them up, although we knew that they are all long taken and divided up with no need for our contribution. Also our outward appearance probably did not inspire a lot of interest. We were searching for the semi-official trading post of the supplies division or in the very least for a local swindler, that would be quietly trading in alcohol and cigarettes. The history of warfare shows that there will always be petty swindlers willing to make an easy buck, from selling small items of popular demand. Nothing particularly unlawful and on the other hand, beneficial, as they bring small pleasures of normal living to those who are deprived of them. For some—it’s war and for some it’s their own mother. Maybe this is normal? I would not be able to do this sort of thing. My upbringing and limited life experience would stand in the way.

To that end as we stalked through the hospital, we asked the soldiers there, where we could find beer and cigarettes. This being an evacuation-type hospital, nobody normally stayed here for more than a day and so nobody could help us. And then we spotted a soldier, whose mug was wider than both of ours. He was dressed in new camouflage and was standing by the window leaf, blissfully blowing smoke in the upwards direction. He looked well-fed and the surroundings appeared to be none of his concern. He didn’t look like a wounding casualty.

I prodded Yuka in the side. He was busy staring at a medical nurse, who had the misfortune upon the dispatch of her business, to hurry by us. Judging by Yurka’s famished face he has, in his imagination raped her at least ten times by now and was planning to carry on in this fashion.
-Stop spoiling the women, we’re here on a peace-keeping mission. Take a gander at this here little picture instead, - I pointed out the brave warrior, - you could cover ten embrasures with that body. It’s as if he embodies the entirety of the armed forces of the Russian Federation, what do you think, Yura?

I was speaking deliberately loudly, so that the fighter would hear us. Yurka understood this and picked up the game.
-Yeah, man, you’re right. He’d do well in reconnaissance as a human shield or in a rapid assault group, to carry out the wounded.

The fighter glanced sideways, but didn’t even turn towards us. Like many officers here, we did not carry any signs of distinction on our uniforms. This was due to the snipers’ nasty habit to take out the officers first. It was as if they totally hated us for some reason. Oh well, everyone has their complexes and this complex is a professional and a well renumerated one to boot.
-Sonny, - Yurka began quietly and politely, - what do you think, should we take you on an excursion to our brigade’s positions? Otherwise you faggot will come home with a medal, having not seen the war properly.

All this he said in a lowered tone, so that the passing medical staff would not notice. As if we were standing there and conversing peacefully, no noise or shouting.
-Why don’t you go **** yourself, - the fighter muttered lazily, not even turning his head and his voice was filled with such disdain that one began to feel awkward. My rage awakened immediately. I knew from experience that in such instances I do not control myself well and can commit various stupidities, the nature of which I would comprehend only later.
-Why don’t you about face, you louse, when addressed by a combat officer and apologise immediately, - I also tried to speak calmly, but the words were boiling up in my throat. No soldier has ever dared to insult me, no matter what state they were in. When I was a snotty lieutenant, I had to pacify a drunken sentry detail. And here a shithead from the rear deigned to talk down to two officers.

The tabby swine turned around and once again looked at us mockingly, not uttering a word. He wanted to flaunt his complete lack of respect fir us. We knew that it was useless to reason with this animal, we had to act. There was a closet near-by that contained utility inventory. Not saying a word ourselves, we grabbed the youth under his arms and manhandled him into that dark, stuffy closet. I grabbed his throat immediately, lest he scream, Yurka, pressed the barrel of his gun against his groin and pushed hard. Our subject turned white, one could see it, even in that gloom. His eyes were ready to pop out of his orbits, the scream ready to issue from his throat, but held back by my hand, which only allowed him to breathe. I leaned to his ear and whispered:
-I’m going to let go of your throat now, so that you, miscreant can quietly offer us an apology. You will also offer us beer and cigarettes, which I am sure you have. If you agree, blink and if you do not, I will suffocate you, whilst my partner shoots off your balls. Nobody will care, they’ll write you off as a casualty of combat. If you scream or pull something, the story will repeat: crushed throat and amputated balls, also we can load you into the vehicle and trade for with the Chechens for a crate of beer and a carton of cigarettes. Got it, ****er? - I squeezed a little harder and Yurka pressed onto the machine gun.

The soldier’s eyelids fluttered like a moth to a flame:
-Please excuse me comrade officers, I made a mistake, won’t happen again, I promise, - tears rolled from his eyes, but I was not letting go of his throat.

-And the second act? - Yurka asked, referring to the beer and cigarettes.
-Yes yes, here, - the fighter scrambled, feeling in the dark and finally retrieving a pack of Holstein beer and a carton of LM cigarettes, or as we called them “Militiaman’s Love”.

We released the little **** and I patted him on the cheek conciliatorily. Producing a crumpled five thousand rubles from my pocket I placed it in his.
-Don’t ever speak rudely to people, you’ll live longer. And this is the money for the goods, so that you don’t take us for bandits. By the way, lend us a couple of bags, so that we can carry our shopping.

Again he started fumbling around in the buckets down there. A nice little hidy-hole he’s got here. Suddenly something clinked against the metal, possibly a pistol. Surely the lad’s not going to be silly? I raised my assault rifle and pressed the barrel into the base of his skull—there is a pressure point there, if you hit it hard enough the guy falls down unconscious. Yurka immediately pressed his gun against his spine in the region of the kidneys.
-Don’t be silly, sonny, - again I was speaking softly, - unless you decided to die a hero, you miscreant, in which case, go right ahead.

With my hand, I retrieved a narrow stiletto knife (a trophy) and pressed it against his throat. The cold steel against his larynx for some reason worked better than the guns. I wonder why that is? Again we heard a clinking, looks like he dropped the pistol back into the bucket. Removing the stiletto knife, I spun the soldier around to face me and pressed my barrel under his chin. He raised his hands into the air, clutching the holster with his left hand. With my left hand again, I felt around behind him and retrieved the pistol. **** me! A silencer was fitted to this gun. Nice. He must have nicked it from some wounded recon or spetsnaz man. With the handle of that gun, I hit him on the nose, the spot where it connects to the skull and he sank to the floor soundlessly. We helped him down to the floor and having packed the beer and cigarettes departed.

Back outside, the unloading of the wounded was drawing to conclusion and the brigade commander was gathering his officers in order to go meet the army group’s command. We threw our bags into our BMP and instructed the mechanic to watch them closely lest they be stolen and we would then castrate him and leave him here. The man nodded understandingly and returned to visually undressing the passing women. As we followed the commander, we leisurely dragged on our good cigarettes and discussed the argument we were going to present against the taking of that ****ing Minutka head-on.

Let’s do it like this: the aviation, then artillery, tanks and self-propelled artillery, and then after they knock everything out, the “makhra” enters, huh? - Yurka asked, dragging on his cigarette with great pleasure, looking over the almost peaceful surroundings.
-And even better, napalm munitions, so that everything around would burn and merry music, the louder the better, so that the Chechens give up their souls to Allah more happily. I was feeling at peace—and an almost sexual pleasure from the cigarette and the calm around me. It’s amazing how little a man needs—a good cigarette, a peaceful atmosphere, women all around him.

We noticed a familiar officer—we took “Severny” together and his regiment was retained here for sentry duty afterwards—lucky people.
-Yura, Slava—you’re alive, that’s great! Your fame precedes you. And Karpov’s fame also. We thought at first that you wacked him, but then it emerged that he himself is an idiot. He has been recommended for the Order of Bravery.
-So you jus thought that me and Slavka just killed that moskovite ****er?
-No no, we all know here, that he’s a massive shithead.

We laughed, me and Yurka:
-Sasha, we saw him for the first time and gave him the exact same nickname: massive shithead. Tell us instead what our prospects are regarding Minutka.
-Guys, the marines and the paratroopers tried to take that ****ing square head-on, lost about thirty people and rolled back. So now they want you to try.
-Let them go **** themselves!
-That shitty rights activist is there also. He keeps appealing to us over the radio. I’ve got an anecdote about him, listen. So this rights activist is sitting there in Dudaev’s bunker with his delegation, forgotten by everybody, unfed, no water. They are considering their options. Suddenly he proposes: “Let’s convert to Islam!” The others ask: “Do you think it’ll help?”, “No but we can make a soup from the foreskins!”. Sashka cackled merrily.

Gagging from hearing such news as well as his anecdote, we too laughed.
-Guys, I got myself up as a commandant here, come by sometime. But you’ll have to excuse me right now, somebody caved in a soldier’s skull at the hospital.

We whistled from surprise at Sashka’s ascension to such a role and departed to catch up with our guys. We were not worried about that soldier. His head was in one piece and the fact he’s got a bloody nose must mean he stumbled over in the dark. Who in our armed forces would dare punch such a fine lad? Naturally as he was lying there dazed, he dreamt up two officers. That’s the least he could have hallucinated with his excessive weight and the heightened blood pressure. He needs to diet, comrade doctor. Or better still, lend him to us for a week or so. You won’t recognise the boy. An officer emerged to greet us and declared that General Rolin was busy at the moment and will be available in ten or fifteen minutes. Apparently he was in conversation with the Minister of Defence. Let them talk. Same shit—nothing will come of it. The brigade commander went off to call the brigade for the latest news.

We noticed Sashka hurrying back and called him over:
-Sashka, how’s the fighter?
-He’s babbling some nonsense about how two officers beat him up. His trousers are wet—he must have pissed himself as he was lying unconscious. And the assailant’s identifying characteristics… - he looked us over suspiciously, - well, basically they match you two, more or less.
-Sashok, do you really think that we’re capable of assaulting a soldier? Personally I just grab by the throat.
-And I shoot off the balls, straight up. You know us well, - Yurka picked up.

Feigning offence, we stared at Sashka Kholin, as if to demand the removal of all suspicion from our persons.
-I know you very well, you punks, don’t worry. I’ve seen enough. No pity for yourselves or others. So it was you who roughed up the soldier?
-Sasha, - I began again in velvet tones, hugging him gently around the shoulder, - tell us, punks, you kind man, why on earth would we be doing in the hospital? You have never been known for your mercifulness and compassion. Even when we brought our wounded to you, you must have been so busy as to neglect greeting your friends.
-Your friends, who by the way came to your rescue when the Chechens backed you and you fighters into the corner of the airport, - Yurka continues, - it’s awkward to remind you that you wowed by the name of all saints that you will never forget your saviours.
-And now, dear father, you want to turn your benefactors in as if they were recycling, - I again continued.—After all we’re not telling anyone that your subordinate is selling your stolen, pardon, spare goods at speculative prices and on top of it all threatened us with a pistol. So, what will it be Alexander? I’m thinking your fighter must have just knocked his head somewhere.
-Why did you do that to him?
-He sent me to hell, very earnestly, imagine it, and didn’t even apologise.
-I’ll kick the little shit’s ass for that.
-Since we found a common language, Sasha, we propose that you supply us with humanitarian aid.
-You’ve already grabbed enough.
-Lies, slander and insinuation, - Yurij proclaimed with pomp, - we did not steal it, we bought it for five dollars, or five thousand rubles, I’m not sure which. It was dark and the dollars were in the same pocket as the rubles. Right, Slava?

-The whole truth, I reimbursed him personally. But I’m thinking that your crappy subordinate is trying to conceal a portion of the taking from you. And all we bought from him was a tiny pack of beer, cans this small, a carton of “Militiaman's Love” and you are refusing to supply us properly for the road ahead?
-Imagine if we’re killed, knock on wood of course, you will feel guilty that you neglected to give us three sticks of good sausage, vodka, from the Moskva factory “Kristall”, a pair of bottles of good cognac, and say some cheese and change. We’d appear to you at night like vampires, - we stretched out our arms like vampires, - “You greedy ****!”

Yes, Sasha, I will definitely cark it without a couple of packs of beer, good cigarettes and some dried fish to go with the beer, and also… -Enough, you retards. Give us some water to drink, kind lady, as we are hungry and have nowhere to sleep tonight, - Sasha mocked us.—Had you not saved my life, you’d be in the brig by now, chewing standard issue rations.
-Well, as I said to Slava during that battle: “Look Slava, a good captain is dying, let’s save him so that when he’s in charge, he can feed us ‘til the end of the war”. Right Slava?
-I swear on my life. Although, Yura it would have been good to spend a week or two in the brig catching lice? Three meals a day, clean sheets, you can undress, go to a sauna! - I closed my eyes dreamily.—Good times! Sasha, maybe you’ll turn us in, meanwhile your butt-licker will change his testimony after two weeks and maybe the war will be over by then? Think about it, Sasha. We’ll shout you cognac.

-You two are positively insane. No wonder the Chechens call your brigade “dogs”. You’ll maul anyone to death or failing that, send them insane.
-We’re going to go hear the command rouse us to go take Minutka. So, I’m thinking Slava, we’ll propose that this regiment should go and take it and we’ll come here to replace it. And after you take Minutka, we’ll continue fighting. What do you think, Sasha? By the way, have you tried out all the girls here yet?
-No they’re all taken here, so don’t stick your nose into another man’s backyard.
-Why don’t you share her for a day or two. We’ll bring her back afterwards, don’t be greedy!
-Idiots, crazy idiots.

A messenger emerged, he called our group of staff officers to go to the commander.
-Sasha, we’ll be about forty minutes, don’t forget the humanitarian aid, or we’ll appear to you at night. And tell you your shithead not to say anything about us and to be polite henceforth, or he’ll get more than a mild fright next time. Wait and we’ll return, but wait well, I paraphrased the famous poem. Don’t forge the beer and everything else, naturally.

Jesting, Yurka blew Sashka a kiss.
-Farewell, my dear! Expect guests!

Sashka spat off the side, demonstrating his disposition to our foolishness. The passing soldiers observed the scene of our parting with a look of surprise on their faces.

We followed our regiment’s officers, hurriedly finishing off our cigarettes and casting off the butts. In war, the cigarette is normally held inside a fist as to hide it from snipers’ view. This habit held during the day. If one had one set of habits for daytime and another for night, it would be easier to mix hem up and make a fatal mistake.

We all entered the room, the army group commander Rolin was already seated there along with our general—Zakharin. In the past, this man bore an Armenian surname, but it was suggested to him that he change it following the Union’s collapse. So instead of Avakyan, he became Zakharin—his wife’s surname.

The chamber’s windows were covered with sandbags. The lighting was not bright enough to illuminate the corners of the room, where a whole range of people were seated—comms men, orderlies, assistants and various other assistants and sycophants of the general.

-Comrade officers, please be seated. Rolin rose to shake Bakhel’s hand. He nodded to the others.
-I just spoke to the Minister of Defence—Grachin. The decision to storm the Minutka complex has been made at the highest level, - he paused as if to underscore the words “highest level”. I am ordered to supervise this operation and for your brigade to carry out this difficult and important mission.
The end of this address as spoken in exalted tones. I wondered if he and Karpov had the same tutor. **** knows who is who at this Stavka.

-Our operational group has developed the plan, which has been confirmed with the General staff and approved by the minister of defence. General Zkharin has just finished familiarising himself with the plan and I want you to listen carefully so that you can do the same. Its correct execution will allow us to liquidate enemy forces in the shortest period of time, eliminating the insurgents and their leader Dudaev, who have taken positions at the state bank building and the so-called Dudaev’s palace. - He began to point at the map laid out on the table in front of him with his finger (Judging by the expression on Zakharin’s face, he was not too fond of this plan), - the other structures here are of little interest to us.

It was amazing that a military man, whilst planning such a bloody engagement would so flippantly dismiss the insurgents sure to be in position in the neighbouring buildings. Not to speak of the fact that he failed to say a single word about the two bridges on approach to the square. It was a safe bet that they were heavily guarded probably mined.

In the army, there is the immediate objective, the next objective and the main objective. Everything begins with the immediate objective, then expanding on the theme towards the main goal. So if one begins at the primary objective, especially when such personages as Dudaev are mentioned, and the intermediate objective are not, that’s pure politics. For the soldier, politics are sure death, because idiot politicians do not think about lives lost or consequences following, only the result and as quickly as possible. The ends justify the means. An old Jesuit axiom.

We all stared at the maps. It turned out that we had to skip over the bridges at full speed. So what if that doesn’t work and only some of our forces get through, and then the Chechens blow up the bridges? And the ones that got ahead, the most energetic ones get slaughtered like lambs right in front of our eyes? Nobody likes this adventure. We are professional soldiers and from our very academy days have been taught to risk lives—both our own and of those around us, but to die this absurdly—no way. Everyone’s face turned grim. We knew that if we do not defend our point of view on this now, the destruction of the Maikop Brigade will seem like a child’s babble in a summer glade. This is the residence of their president, no less. The symbol of national pride. Here one has to either chuck an atom bomb and finish them all off once and for all, or work long and hard with artillery and aviation.

The so-called chief of army group staff emerged from the shadows—Colonel Sedov. Very few people knew anything about this man. The war often elevates great military leaders to the military Olympus, just as it propels there great imposters. I could say nothing about Sedov other than that if this was his plan lying here before our eyes, that made him not just an imposter, but a war criminal—or more precisely a criminal with epaulettes. Sedov began to speak. He had a well-trained speaking voice. One could sense that he was not showing off in front of Rolin and that he had to speak like this many times. Judging by the way he bore himself and his weathered face, this was a field rather than a staff officer. All-right, we’ll listen.
-Comrade general, comrade officers, - Sedov began, - the enemy has concentrated his main forces in the region of Minutka square.
“Tell us something we don’t know”, - I thought.
-Consequenly and as to finally break down their resistance, demoralise them and knock them out of the city, you are offered to fulfil the plan that has been approved by the Minister of Defence and agreed upon by the Supreme Commander. - It now seemed that Sedov was admiring himself, bursting at the seams with pride that his own plan—there was no doubt now that it was his has been approved by Him.
-You are required to march in force and take the bridges over Sunja, rapidly enter the Minutka square and destroy the enemy forces in the State Bank building as well as Dudaev’s government residence known as “Dudaev’s Palace, - Sedov continued to sing.
-”Hello ass-crack, it’s New Year’s”, - rang out in my head.
-To aid the taking of this complex of buildings, formations of parachute troops, marines and the Leningrad regiment are to join you. You will also receive air support and artillery cover.

Most interestingly, practically none of the formations meant to participate in the siege were specifically identified. Neither the numbers of aircraft nor artillery were stated. Was it going to be a squadron and an artillery division? In other words, the plan was not thought-through and its failure was sure to be blamed on us. What a happy prospect!
-The siege will begin in two days. During these two days, you are to take over the hotel “Kavkaz”, hand it over (to whom?) and move out to the Minutka square, - it would seem that everything is perfectly clear to Sedov and therefore to us also and we were to sett off immediately on a black horse and take Minutka. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
-Comrade general, comrade officers, that’s all form me. Any questions? - his tone indicated that he expected only degenerates and cretins to have questions. What else was one to expect from this Siberian “makhra”?
-What data do you have on the garrison numbers at the Minutka square, their armaments and whether or not the bridges are mined? - the comm-brig asked softly, but firmly, having stepped forward from the shadows.
-Their numbers do not exceed three or four thousand (a nice approximation, who would think another thousand or so is important?), their armaments are the usual small arms, plus the underbarrelers, RPG-7s and infantry mortars (who’s up for a dash across the square under mortar fire?) -What about the bridges?
-We do not possess accurate data regarding the mining of those bridges. The enemy is conducting dense fire upon the approaches to them, there are ambushes and enemy secrets everywhere, preventing us from establishing this for certain. But we are constantly working on this and comrades from the local opposition are assisting us too.

We all grinned widely. A Chechen won’t poke another Chechen’s eye out. But to turn in an unfaithful infidel—that’s for sure.
-You laugh, - Sedov seemed nervous now, - meanwhile in Moskva, thanks to the opposition, the question is raised of whether our incursion is pointless and cruel and has irreparably damaged the republic’s economy, angered its people. The partisan movement is gaining more an more popularity (the blind finally see). So there is an opinion that the insurgents should not be killed, but disarmed and let go to their homes, that they are for the most part simple, frightened peasants and that spring is near, they need to sow. Otherwise there will be famine here.
-To hell with them! - I yelled out in the dead silence. Everyone burst out laughing and Rolin and Sedov turned their attention to me. Yurka prodded me in the side, but it was too late.
-Maybe you do not understand, comrade…- Sedov looked at my epaulettes and seeing no stars there, continued: - And by the way—why are you not wearing your stars?
-I’m scared of the snipers, comrade colonel, - I answered as modestly as I could, as much as I was tempted to instigate a scandal.
-Nonsense, what do you think that the sniper is looking out for your stars? Nothing of the sort. How are you capable of leading the personnel without your insignia?

I was ready to launch into a long and unflattering tirade regarding insignia stars and his wretched plan. I’m no hero, but at the front, one knows that you are not going to do any worse unless maybe they are wounded. So all these smartasses can go to hell. If you want my dismissal—go ahead!

{continued next post}
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Old 07 Jul 11, 19:53
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 5 {continued from previous post}

Bakhel, seemingly sensing the pending scandal pre-empted anything that I was about to say by beginning to speak:
-Comrade general, we’ll establish why captain Mironovs’ stars are missing later. It was I, who authorised the officers to remove their insignia. Right now I am more concerned with the upcoming operation. Such tight deadlines will not allow our brigade, which is constantly engaged in heavy fighting to commence executing your plan (Bakhel made an emphasis on the word “your”) without appropriate preparations. Also I propose to immediately issue the order for a massed air and artillery bombardment of the complex. These are to be carried out without pause until the commencement of operations aimed at taking the square. Two hours beforehand, saboteur-reconnaissance forces from the parachute troops are to take the bridges and to prevent them being detonated. By the way, what formations exactly are we to co-operate with? I think that to attempt to take the square head on would be unwise and suicidal. I will not carry out such orders that are equivalent to placing my people in front of a firing squad.
-Do you, colonel understand what you’re saying! - Rolin began to rage. I’ll call Grachin right now and you’ll be court-marshalled! I’ll simply take you under arrest on the spot and fly you to Moskva on the nearest flight! How many people do you think want your position?
-If that can prevent the execution of my people, I’m prepared to submit my resignation immediately! - Bakhel shouted in return.—You’re scared of blowing apart that ****ing square, but are not afraid of laying down a few thousand lads, to drown in their own blood?! Why don’t you think about that instead, or is your tough guy image more important to you than the soldiers’ lives…
-Silence, you traitor! - Rolin shouted. - You colonel have gone insane, you coward. I’d get the Hero of Russia for you idiot in five seconds. What are you looking at, get out of here!

Get ****ed, general, we’ll rip people’s throats out for our commander, he only has to say a word—we’ll tear everyone apart here.
-We support our commander, to go without preliminary air and artillery preparation is suicide. - One of ours spoke out of the darkness.
-So all of you think this way? - Rolin squinted as he looked us over with a heavy gaze. - Oooout! Guards! Lead them out, disarm and detain these traitors!

In place of an answer, we stood closer, shoulder to shoulder. Silence. Death-like silence. The door swings open and two soldiers accompanied by an officer run inside, ready to carry out the commander’s orders. Everyone readied themselves for the worst. And then that good lad, the Armenian, general Zakharin broke the silence.
-Let’s not do anything foolish. We’ll dismiss the officers now and amongst ourselves here, resolve the situation. Calmly and quietly. It is obvious that a frontal assault is dangerous, but together we’ll be able to find the optimal solution, - and addressing us now: - Go comrade officers, wait outside, nothing will happen, I promise you.
-Go and wait, - the comm-brig ordered. His voice was dry.

We filed out. Everyone was rattled, neurotic. The guards followed us out. Somebody grabbed their chief by the collar and started whispering:
-If you bitches decide to arrest our commander, I’m going to kill you, you understand?
-What about my orders? - The frightened soldier asked.
-Want to live?
-If you are going to arrest the commander, we are going to assault you and you will hand him over without any unnecessary noise. Understand? In return you and your soldiers will remain alive. Do you understand?
-We’ll bring the vehicles closer now, so don’t raise an alarm. When our commander and general emerge, we’ll calmly load in and drive off. Remember that we don’t want your blood, but if you get in the way - we’ll kill you. Understand? You know who we are?
-I know. You are the “dogs”. I’ve got it.
-**** off, you got none of it. We’re not dogs, we’re “makhra” and we’ll tear you apart for our commander. That’s all—go. If you or your fighters squeal anything, we’re going to war. Do you want that?
-No I don’t.
-Correct answer. We and you have to fight the Chechens, not each-other. They want to send us to storm Minutka head-on. They are sending us to our deaths. But we don’t want to go. That’s why Rolin is raging. Don’t make any unnecessary noise.
-I get it. I’ve heard that you are real thugs. But that you’d go against Rolin—no-one expected that from you. You lads are something! - the guards chief has recovered from his initial shock and was walking towards the exist beside us. His face expressed both admiration mistrust.

Steam was rising from everybody, as we emerged into the street. We smoked, greedily digesting the information we just acquired. The acting chief of reconnaissance being the youngest, was sent to fetch the vehicles and bring them closer to the airport. The guards chief was told to order the vehicles closer to the terminal building.
-What is this, guys, I’ll get arrested! This is sabotage!
-Do you want us to tie you up or something!
-Tie me up, kill me, I cannot issue such an order.
-All-right lad, cool it, we’ll bring them up to your posts and leave them there. Happy?
-All-right, but let them stay there, otherwise we’ll shoot.
-All-right, deal.

We were perfectly aware of the gravity of our actions, that a failure to follow orders, especially in combat conditions can precipitate almost anything, up to and including the firing squad on the spot with no trial or investigation. The Charter - the army’s law - proclaims: “The order must be carried to the letter, exactly and in a timely manner. The order may be appealed after its fulfilment”. And who will be left to appeal it after the entire brigade lays its bones on that shitty square? Those that would remain alive will be permanent clients of a mental institution.

Yes, an armed mutiny. That is the only way an open refusal to follow orders can be interpreted.
-Slava, maybe we should nick off somewhere, like the battleship Potemkin? - Yurka asked, dragging greedily. - To Turkey or something.
-On a BMP on the Black Sea bottom - not a bad plan. Don’t be stupid and hysterical. We are yet to commit anything unlawful. There’s a chapter in the Charter that says that you have the right to ignore an order you feel is unconstitutional (after the first “Chechen conflict”, the Charter of the armed forces was re-written and this clause was missing from the new version). And to lead people to their peril—is death. Look at Czechoslovakia—not much bigger than Chechnya, yet they prepared for that incursion for six months, whilst here…Because it’s another country there, whilst here they are free to kill a million on either side. Mongrels. I threw away the cigarette butt and took another out immediately. I can’t smoke enough of these lighter once after “Prima”.—Look, Sashka, they’re hauling our aid to us!

Our old acquaintance - the sergeant major from the hospital with a plaster over his nose and two black eyes forming like spectacles on his face, was dragging two boxes as he walked along the solemn commandant.
-Didn’t we tell you not to be rude, sonny! - Yurka and I were smiling widely. - You didn’t want to level with us and so you go it.
-If you’re going to be rude to strangers, you may not live to demobilisation, - I picked up, - Had I hit slightly higher, I could have cracked open your skull. You’re lucky kid, had we waited for you to turn around armed with that pistol, we could have given you an autopsy without anaesthesia.

Sashaka arrived just in time to distract us from such grim thoughts with his hapless assistant. Nobody wants to be a criminal, in their soul being really a patriot. Nobody wanted to lay down their men on a square and then have to shoot themselves. One’s consciousness, one’s officer’s honour would not allow them to continue living with such a burden. A wild desire to get drunk prevailed - there was booze in those boxes. It will help escape the frightening choices ahead, for some time. And then they definitely will accuse one of drunkenness. All the officers present knew this very well.
-Did you guys decide to mutiny or something? - Sahska sounded worried. - Everyone’s frantic, talking about taking you out.
-No, we just said that the airport’s commandant offered to lead the garrison company ahead of ours onto the enemy machine gun fire, but he, get this, doesn’t want to let you go. He stubbornly insists that he won’t let his favourite captain go towards certain death. Personally, I would not spare you shitheads. You can die, he says, your whole brigade if necessary, together with your commander and valiant general and I’ll lay a Hero into each of your coffins, - I was getting angry again. I knew that Sashaka and this fighter had nothing to do with it, but I wanted to let off some steam at someone’s expense.
-Sasha, why don’t you lend us this slink, we’ll write up a report regarding his transfer, he’ll sign anything we want under the barrel of his own gun. No-one will hear the shot and we’ll dump the body somewhere far away in the ruins. What say you, you jerk?

I waited for response on Sashka’s part or that of his fighter, but none followed, not even a gesture. They were silent. I was moody, ferocious, all my feelings, thoughts at a standstill, wound up into a tight spring, ready to explode and release a tremendous burst of energy. Sashka and his fighter remained silent.
-Sasha, have you loaded up the provisions you promised? - I was calmer now, having composed myself, but the spring continued to wind up sharpening the already keen perceptions.—Let’s go and load them up.
-We walked over to our BMP. I went ahead, then the fighter, and then Sashka at the rear. Impassable mud was all around us. The sun was beginning to set. I opened the personnel hatch and the fighter started placing Sashka’s gifts inside. Sashka approached. With a kick, I sent the soldier into the dark recesses of the vehicle and slammed the hatch closed. I grabbed Sashka by the collar, pressed him against the BMP and drew my pistol out of my coat. He turned pale and looked at me, then the barrel with widened eyes.
-So, who gave the order to have us surrounded? Well, chop chop, or as you know either our guys will finish you off or the Chechens later on. Quickly you bitch.

Yurka came up behind.
-They are surrounding us. It will be difficult to break into the terminal, they must have brought in a whole company into there by now, no less. And the mortar-men are there too, they’ll fire point blank.—Yurka was absolutely composed and ready for action.

He spoke calmly, addressing Sashka:
-Tell us who said what and what the orders are.
-Sedov emerged after you did and said that you are not to be let out of “Severny”. The passwords have been changed already and no-one is to be admitted to the terminal. If you attempt to drive off without permission or penetrate the airport building there is an order to open fire without warning. He said that you are planning to cross over to Dudaev with your brigade. I am commanded to distract you, to try to get you drunk. That’s all. Let me go, you’ll choke me. You are thugs after all. What will you do to my fighter? - Sashka was rubbing his neck.
-You can have him, he must have pissed himself from fright by now. What’s the password?
-I don’t know. I was only told to get you drunk and leave quickly. What should I say to Sedov?
-Tell it as it happened, you fighter will confirm. They told you to leave quickly, it means that they will start killing us soon. Well, you should go Sasha. So long.
-Slava, Yura, everything will be fine, they’ll talk it out over there. If you want, I’ll go to Sedov and Rolin and ask that you be left here. Or come with me and I’ll lead you out when it’s all finished. Let’s go, lads.

Sashka said “when it’s all over” and the only thing that will be over is the execution. Because I then understood that I cannot shoot at my own troops, whereas in their eyes we’re—insurgent accomplices.
-Thank you Sasha. Go. Tell them only that we are not traitors, even if we fall here, we’re not traitors. So long.

I opened the personnel hatch. The fighter inside sprung back.
-Don’t be afraid, come out. Did you hear it all?
-If they ask you, tell them what you heard, - and when they walked off for a bit, I could not contain myself and as a farewell shouted: - Don’t be rude to strangers!

The fighter drew in his head as if he was hit.
-So, Slava, shall we go?

We tracked back without speaking a word. My soul was empty, dark. There was no desire to speak. Absolutely nothing depended on us any more. All that remained was to wait await one’s slaughter, like sheep.

All the officers were bunched together, discussing something. Our fighters were seated upon the BMPs, whose engines were running, and many of whose cannons were turned towards the airport terminal’s building. We approached them. It seemed that everybody was speaking at the same time, paying no heed to one another:
-I don’t believe that they will shoot.
-What would you do?
-We took this airport together. Bitches, abominable ******!
-They sold the whole Russian out and now they are ****ing us!
-Oh how I would turn to Moskva now!
-My veteran father was right when he said that the primary adversary sits in Moskva - he desires your death most of all, your aviation is second in line and only third in line is the German!
-Yura, Slava, have you thought of anything? - everyone stared at us.
-I, - I began, accentuating this pronoun, - I refuse to shoot at our guys. The commandant told us that Sedov ordered us to be kept here. Not to let us into the building. He changed the password. Troops have been pulled into the building. About a company’s strength. Maybe more now. In other words—shit.
-So what do you propose, to simply wait until we get shot up like quail? What can I say, a fine goose you are!
-Had I wanted to leave, I would have by now, look it’s a hundred meters to the airport. Sedov is saying that our whole brigade has decided to cross over to Dudaev and is therefore refusing to storm Minutka.

There was a lot of noise. Everyone was speaking loudly and offendedly. It’s impossible to describe these dialogues because the narrative would have to consist of triple dots and particles such as “…and…”,”…or…”, followed by “let them go/do”, “they themselves are/should” and so forth. If the reader was to tune themselves onto the same wavelength, they would independently find twenty or so variants. But believe me, all the prominent political and military leaders both current and past from home as well as from abroad were mentioned along with their parents and other close relatives.

A similarly dense crowd of officers and NCOs from “Severny’s” guarding regiment were standing on the porch of the airport. Our “probable adversary”. Recently our former colleagues, allies, companions, brothers in arms. Our lives depended on them very much right now. If they believe Sedov’s crap, we’re finished. Whatever they decide over yonder, I will not shoot at you, lads. I felt dreary. I did not want to be wounded. To be killed outright would be best. Maybe I should shoot myself? No, too early, nothing is decided yet, I’ll always have time, there is always time to do that.

Behind those closed doors, the fate of our brigade, everyone single one of us here is being decided. A lot depends on the decision to be made. Chechnya’s fate, the fate of Russia is in the hands of those four men, that are now arguing, with foam at their mouths trying to prove that they are right. Our commander and our general may well already be under arrest. Although it would be foolish to execute a field commander and a general without trial or jury. Our little gang can be felled out of a pair of machine guns—no problem, with all questions asked afterwards. Hmm. If you want to come home, shoot first then ask question. I have always followed this rule in my meetings with the Chechens, but being an live target myself now, I felt very uncomfortable. Occupied with such wretched thoughts, I didn’t notice how my cigarettes I smoked until they dwindled down to a single one. There was a bitter taste in the mouth from the tobacco smoked and the stupid situation we were in. I took the last cigarette. It struck me, “Is this my last cigarette?” I smoked it with relish, dragging slowly, unhurriedly. Well, boys I’m ready for anything. With every drag I became calmer, more sure of myself. I’m not a lamb awaiting my slaughter. I am a man, who has made my choice consciously. I began to study the group of officers by the terminal building, who must not had had it easy at this point either. It was possible that they were in council right now, trying to make a decision. To shoot us or not to shoot us. To kills or not to kill, that was the question.
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Old 21 Jul 11, 09:43
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 6

Sashka stood at the centre of the group of “probably adversaries” - our firing squad. He was gesticulating livelily, trying to explain something. Go Sashka, put in the word with your guys. Our friend—the soldier was standing near, listening attentively to what the officers were saying. Many of them were interrupting Sashka, asking questions, but it was impossible to hear what was being said. One thing was clear—it was serious talk. Sashka called over his soldier—the one with the plaster over his nose, placed something in his hand and pointed in our direction. He set off running. As he passed us, he looked intently at me and then shoved something into the hand of the officer nearest to him. He accelerated, continuing towards the hospital. Logical—the commandant sent his soldier to the hospital to fetch a bottle of spirits. From the outside, everything is kosher. We can now find out what our verdict is. To live or not to live.

Our officers gathered around, unfolding the crumpled paper:
“We’re shooting over your heads. Makhra”.

What a reaction that produced! Exultation, glee. As if a stay of execution was delivered to you at the last minute.
-Great work, Sashka! - I said, addressing Yurka.
-It’s a great thing we saved his hide, now he saved us in return. Now we’ll have to feed that freeloader vodka until he chokes on it and falls under the table. Yurka was also happily excited.
-No Sedov can turn “makhra” against one another.
-We fought alongside these guys. Seen each-other in action.
-Shat ourselves together under mortar fire.
-Dived into sewers together to avoid snipers.
-Let them all go to hell.
-They wanted to set “makhra” on “makhra”.
-Eat ****, you rabble, it won’t work.
-We won’t shoot one another.

Those were the sorts of replicas that poured from the lips of our officers. Somebody wanted to go over to our former “probable adversaries” and drink to this matter immediately, but he was held back:
-Are you an idiot?
-What’s the matter?
-They, like us, have plenty of informants, do you want to set the guys up?
-God willing, we’ll drive off, meanwhile they’ll start having sort-outs.
-We’re standing here, blowing smoke. That’s it.
-Correct. We’re waiting for our commanders. We know nothing. Nobody is planning to shoot at anyone, or disobey orders.
-Dying for a drink!
-Shut up, don’t torment the soul.
-We’ll take the medical supply dump, slam down some medical spirits.
-**** me, we have to take that dump today too. Forgot about it completely.
-That’s going to be a two-hour job. Main thing to watch out for is our fighters getting drugs there.
-I’ll show them drugs. Last thing I need is people fooling around with that **** in my battalion. I’ll crush them.
-They have been arguing for a long time in there. Time to wrap it up. We still have to get home and take the medical stores. -Hope the neighbours don’t get there before us.
-They won’t dare. The dump is on our territory.
-They’ll take them quietly and lap up all the spirits.
-I’ll crush them. Drink my spirits? Not going to happen.

Everyone has already set their former fears aside and were discussing how the republican medical supplies are to be taken. Everyone agreed that they should be taken quietly, with no unnecessary noise and with minimal shooting, or the medicines and SPIRITS could be damaged. Spirits and specifically rectified spirits—meaning the purest ethanol is a great thing. It is “liquid currency”, which can buy deficit spare parts for the BMP, a new uniform and one can also drink it in the evening. This isn’t “left” vodka, you can dilute rectified spirits as you like. You won’t poison yourself, and your head will not ache in the morning from drinking it. Rectified spirits are not manufactured from crude oil, but from grain and high-grade grain at that.

The officers calmed down and issued orders for their soldiers to turn the cannons away from the airport, to remain in the BMP, no matter what is happening outside, even if the BMP is hit and not to return fire. In other words we ensured that all measures were taken to prevent one of our guys opening fire, lest the unthinkable happens. If it does there will be vengeance. Vengeance for one’s comrade. All we do here in Chechnya is avenge—revenge for our dead friends, for the Russians, who were being killed and tormented here, thrown out of their own apartments. It’s a terrible thing this vengeance. How can one manage not to drag it into ordinary life, so that it does not become the objective for the rest of their days? It very well can. I wonder how I will look at these Chechen mugs in my own city? Here, the more I kill of them—the better. I will be deprived of such luxury back home. One would have to prove their guilt back home. Here everything is much simpler: a Chechen is an enemy. Black and White. We’re white—the good guys, the Chechens are black—meaning they are the bad guys. It’s utterly absurd. It was we that came onto their land to kill them. Do they want independence? They can choke on it. Bring out all the Russians. Deport all Chechens out of Russia back to their historical homeland. What do we need a “firth column” for? Fence them in and let them live in their sovereign and independent country. No need for casualties and it would be a million times cheaper.

If one was to kill somebody in civilian life—they become a criminal, a murderer. If they were to kill thirty—that makes them a warrior and if they were to kill millions—a conqueror. Their name will be arduously recorded in the annals of history. Their grateful successors will compose odes and construct monuments in their honour.

More than an hour has passed and there is still no word from our commanders. Hopefully nothing has happened. The airport guards were also calm, no movement or rushing, meaning that we too can remain calm. But what if one of them takes aim a little lower? Fate. Nothing to do about it.

In their boredom, the officers started spinning yarns. It’s engaging and the time passes quicker. From a psychological point of view, this is better than sanding there guessing what might happen to you in ten minutes. It distracts one from grim thoughts. It’s important to speak out. It doesn’t matter what the subject is—just to speak. I have heard enough of these tales in my time in the forces, I have a few of my own and so I was called upon:
-Slava, tell us how you became a millionaire.
-I’ve told this one like a hundred times already.
-Tell it again, don’t fuss.
-Alright. The story goes like this. After I finished the academy, I arrived in Kishenyov, went to the barracks, reported as it were, introduced myself to my fellow officers and the collective and took up command in four platoons instead of one. There was a shortage of lieutenants even then. I found myself in the headquarters of the South-Western front. After the lean Siberian days, Kishenyov was like paradise. Salami sausage, fresh meat, wine, fashionable clothes—and plenty of it! And this is during “the prohibition” years. I was thinking to myself, I’ll die a senior lieutenant, but I refuse to leave here.

The company commander has graduated from the same academy three years earlier than me. I arrived with no family or accommodation, I lived at the barracks until I found a flat. So the company commander comes up to me one evening and says:
-Slava, my wife and son have gone on holiday. Why don’t you come over for supper and we’ll grab a drink?

Nobody drank vodka in Moldavia as there was enough wine there to bathe in. Dry, not fortified wine, mind you; and only tourists drunk the wine from the shops. The locals drank home-made wine, which could be purchased anywhere. The Moldovans made there types of wine: “for ourselves”, “for weddings” and “for sale”.

“For ourselves” was the best—hand-picked grapes, not a gram of sugar. It was made in small quantities, consumed in-house and reserved for distinguished guests. The company commander made friends with a Moldovan—he would sometimes consign the soldiers to do work for him or helped him out in some other way—in return, the Moldovan gave us wine that he made for himself.

“For the wedding” is next on the local wine grade chart. It is made from whatever is left over from making wine “for yourself” and additional, ordinary grapes are added. It is made for large-scale family celebrations. This grade makes for a tolerable drink

Finally, “For Sale” features dregs and squeezing, with added sugar and a bit of spirit, purely for commercial distribution.

What’s said is done—we grabbed two three-lire jars of “for yourself” and went to have supper.

There were big manoeuvres going at that time—”Autumn-88” on the territories of the Kiev and Odessa military districts. The Black Sea Fleet also participated. Our regiment was to join in in ten days. We were discussing these upcoming manoeuvres as we rode the trolleybus. There was a colonel beside us, whom, being new, I didn’t know. He turned out to be the chief of the command’s office. There used to be such a post. He lived on the same stairwell as the company commander. They greeted one another, chatted about this and that. Then his slaps his forehead:
-Guys, - he says, - I’m departing for the manoeuvres tomorrow, I got so caught up in it, that I forgot my daughter’s birthday tomorrow. I bought her a doll and left it in my office, forgot to take it with me. Do a good deed, guys, go see the command’s legal council, say you’re from me, I’ll call ahead. Get the doll and take it to my daughter. Tell her it’s from papa. She was asking for it for a long time and was a good girl. Otherwise it will look like I lied to the child. Can you do that?
-Of course we’ll do it! - the company commander assured him.

Meanwhile we arrived at our destination, went up to his apartment and spent the time merrily, as it were, eating, drinking discussing everything.
-Slava, you’ll get the doll from the jurist and I’ll take it to the girl.
-Where is this council’s office?
-**** knows. Ask the communications orderly.

I have only been at that regiment for a few weeks at that point and wasn’t acquainted with any comms men, except my own. So I turn up with a sly grin on my face and ask the comms orderly:
-Where’s the legal council of he command? Where is his office and how do I find it?
-Why do you need him?

I assumed that like any normal officer, he had a sense of humour and will react normally, so I told him:
-He called me. Invited me over. He says that I had some aunty who lived in Canada. She died and bequeathed all her inheritance to me.
-You’re joking!
-No, not joking. I was surprised myself. They say it’s half a million dollars. Maybe there is a mistake, so I’m going to find out now, - I say in a completely serious tone of voice, thinking he gets my gag. I said it and forgot about it.

He explained precisely where to find this jurist. I went there. He was waiting for me. Handed over the doll. There was a largish box and inside it the doll was likewise—remember there were these East German-made ones that walked and talked? Yeah like that. The box was pretty. About meter twenty in height. I’m walking back. I have forgotten the gag with the dollars already. At the exit a mob of officers has gathered with this comms orderly in the centre is telling them something. They fell silent when I approached, meaning that they were talking about me. I said hello.
-So, Yura, how did your talk go with the jurist? - the orderly asks.
-It went all-right, - I answer seriously, meanwhile bursting from laughter on the inside, they could not have fallen for such a childish joke, - we sorted it out. It turned out that I really did inherit money. They handed it over on the spot, although they took twenty five thousand as capital gains tax, but the rest—is mine. There was no bag to carry the cash, so I put it into this doll box. So now I have to haul it home like this.
-You’re kidding!
-Show me the dollars—I’ve never seen them!
-You lucked out!
-You’re making all this up probably.
-I’m making this up am I? Ask the jurist, I just left there. I won’t show you the dollars as I probably won’t make it to the barracks, I’ll get killed and robbed on the way. You’ll probably kill and rob me and divide up the money. I know what you’re like you scoundrels, I’m just like that myself.

I arrived at the barracks, handed the doll over to the company commander, told him my story. We laughed it up and then forgot it. After a while a rumour spread that I was a millionaire. Every time the story was told, it changed. Each time my inheritance became bigger and bigger. The women at the communications office were pissing boiling water that I was already married, but made cute faces and flirted anyway. Officers completely unknown to me would approach and ask questions like:
-Are you Mironov?
-Yes. What’s the matter?
-Is it true?
-It’s true, - I answer, barely containing laughter, - so what’s the matter?
-Is it true about the inheritance, though?
-Why do you want to know? Are you planning to rob me?!

In short, I would not say “yes” or “no”, but would respond to a question with a question, confusing my enquirers. I was being approached and offered to enter a partnerships. I deflected by saying that there are many offers and that I am considering them all. In other words—an idiot house.

It all came to an end, when they calculated how much foreign currency I owed in Komsomol contributions at the political office of the stavka. They went to “Beryozka”, remember those foreign currency shops, - and picked out furniture to buy for their office.

And so I and the garrison commander were summoned to the counterintelligence department. And they start to grill me. I explain that it was a joke and that that dummy, the comms orderly has no sense of humour. In addition he spreads rumours.

And we’re freaking out here, say the counterintelligence guys, checking you out. We checked all your relatives. You have first-level clearance, access to key documentation. And then suddenly some Canadian aunt. We had a right jolly time here because of you. And the guys out of the political office are idiots too—they already picked out the furniture, haha.

Long story short, after everyone was done laughing, they made me sing off right there and then, that I was not affiliated with, did not receive, am not aware, having not seen or heard anything and will not publicise to anyone. For a long time afterwards, I was variously nicknamed as “millionaire”, “millionist” and Koreiko.
-You got them good, Slava.
-Listen, I’ve heard his story and thought that it was idle chatter. Turns out it really happened. That’s great!
-Slava, while there’s still time, tell us about the “posthumous money”.
-What money?
-Have you not heard this one?
-Well, I was commandeered.
-Well then, listen. Slava, tell us about the “funerary” money.
-Not “funerary” but “posthumous” money. Ok, here goes. A couple of years have passed since I had become a “millionaire”. I was made senior lieutenant by then. So, picture this: July or August in Kishinyov. The heat is unbearable, the asphalt is melting. So, I and another guy form the company are supervising two hours worth of drill exercise under this scorching sun. We’re dressed in tunics, caps, boots and sashes. It was pretty awful in other words. First one hour with one troop, then one hour with another. The drilling ground was large. He and his troop in one corner, I in the other.

I became severely bored, so I decided to play a joke on him. As one group of soldiers was handing in their weapons and the other was receiving theirs, we sat in the shade, smoking. So I ask him:
-Have you received the money?
-What money—it’s two weeks until payday. You must have overheated in the sun.
-Look who’s talking. Were you present at the briefing on Friday?
-No, I was preparing for assignment.
-There you go, you’ve got no idea and you say I have heatstroke. There is an order from the minister of defence. It says there, that if an officer was to die, his family receives a posthumous grant of three thousand roubles. However this sum can be awarded whilst he is still alive after a report from the officer stating their motivations and their commander’s approval. So I went and got it. I reckoned that you’ll bury me anyway, so that I don’t stink up the place. You’ll put in a rouble each, buy me a wreath. You don’t have a choice anyway.
-You’re probably making this up. How much did you receive?
-Three thousand, to the copeik. So me an my wife are thinking we should get a used car, or buy some furniture for the flat. I don’t know. Maybe we should just put it in the bank to earn interest.
-You should get the car. So how does one receive this money?
-Very simple. Write a report to the comm-batt. This and that, please issue me the posthumous grant, the sum of three thousand roubles. And make sure to spell out “three thousand”, otherwise they’ll tell you to re-submit it as they initially told me.
-Listen, why aren't the others receiving theirs?
-Hell knows. Maybe they don’t need the cash, maybe there is too much paperwork. There is an inspection soon, so the clerks have no time for it.

We conducted another hour of drill exercise. I finished earlier and ran to the comm-batt. This and that. A senior lieutenant will come to you in a second, sign his report, comrade lieutenant-colonel. Sign it without reading.
-Why would I sign anything without reading it first?
-Sign it, it’s a joke, you’ll see, we’ll laugh together.

I ran off to my company quarters. Changed my clothes and went to the office. I’m sitting there, awaiting the finale. The phone rings. The comm-batt says to me:
-Mironov, report to me immediately.

I quickly descended to the battalion commander’s office. He was sitting there, looking like a new, shiny copper and was smiling with all thirty two teeth.
-Well Mironov. How did you dream up this death money? And Kryukov bought it! Hahaha! Why did you decide to trick him like this?
-It’s very simple, comrade lieutenant colonel. He drilled the whole two hours so loudly that my ears were ringing. I think that he wanted you to notice him.
-I heard him and thought the same, - the comm-batt remarked.
-In other words, he annoyed me, meanwhile it’s so hot, I’m drenched in sweat. I’m bored to death. And Kruykov, here continues to shout. Here’s all the way across the yard, yet he’s annoying me. So I thought I’d play a joke on him and the idea about “death money” came to me as I was smoking. And it so happened that he missed the last briefing.
-The finances chief is going to call now, he’ll **** himself for certain having read Kryukov’s report. - The comm-batt lit up and nodded permission for me to do the same. Together, we waited for the call.

It came, after a couple minutes’ pause. The comm-batt removed the handset:
-Klyonov, speaking.
-Good day to you Valerij Pavlovich, - the finances chief’s voice sounded in the speaker. The comm-batt shifted the handset so that I could hear everything, - this is the finances chief, captain Golovanov.
-Go ahead, - the comm-batt started to twitch from suppressed laughter.
-Kryukov has come to me with some report about “posthumous” money. Has he gotten heatstroke over there? Who sent you, do you say? - one could hear the chief speaking to Kryukov. - Mironov told you? There’s a person you should listen to! Don’t you remember his tall tales from a few years ago and how the whole command was standing upside-down as a result? He’s tricked you too, you dummy. To listen to Mironov is to loose self-respect. Comrade lieutenant-colonel, Mironov must have fooled Kryukov. Told him that there’s some order from the minister of defence that an officer is able to receive the death premium meant for his family while he’s still alive. It’s absurd. Go, go, Kryukov and take your report with you. Tell Mironov, that if he’s going to tangle me up in his pranks, he’ll be the last one to get paid. Begging your forgiveness, comrade lieutenant colonel, this is all Mironov stirring things up and Kryukov believed him.

And for as long as Kryukov served at that garrison, the officers there made sure to constantly remind him of this incident. Meanwhile, no matter what I said, in seriousness or in jest, nobody believed me, thinking I’m trying to trick them and make a public spectacle out of them.

I finished the story and everyone around me cackled with laughter.
-You got that Kryukov, good, Slava!
-Did you come up with it yourself?
-Yeah—I was bored.
-It’s good that you told us this story, now I know there is no believing you now.
-Here we go again. The same thing happens anywhere I tell this, the people stop trusting me. Shit—I spat at my feet in mock indignation.
-Don’t worry Slava, we’re joking.
-Look, the brigade commander and the general are coming out!

And we all saw that they were finally emerging from the airport. Sedov was farewelling them, smiling widely, straight off the “Welcome” poster. He was saying something, pointing in our direction, possibly something about how we were earlier preparing our defence. Laugh it up, you scoundrel, laugh it up. You might answer for it later, you shitty strategist.

The general said something to Bakhel and returned to the building, the comm-brig meanwhile walked over to us. His face, which was normally grim, rarely smiling, now had a completely deranged, it bore worn-out look on it.
-What, were you planning to fight it out over us? - he asked as he lit up.
-There was an opinion like that, comrade lieutenant-colonel. - They brought in a whole company, more even, changed the sentries and passwords. They were not letting us out of the airport or into the building and in the case of us attempting those things, were going to react with deadly force.
-Hmm, were they accusing us of desertion?
-Worse that that, they spread a rumour that the whole brigade was planning to cross over to Dudaev.
-How absurd. And did the airport garrison believe that? We stormed this citadel together after all.
-They didn’t, thank God. They talked it over and then sent us a note that they won’t shoot at us.
-It’s a good thing that somebody still believes us. I was being accused of all these things myself over there. Also in cowardice, betrayal and high treason. They wanted to arrest me already, but it looks like your efforts over here changed their minds. Otherwise it would have ended up with our guys shooting each–other up! They telephoned Moskva. I spoke to the deputy of the chief of General Staff, tried to convince them of the futility of what we were ordered to do. They refuse to accept responsibility and are instructing us to sort it out on the spot. Shitheads. Oh well, let’s go home.

To your vehicles, to your vehicles! - the command sounded, repeated by each vehicle’s commander.

Gradually, the convoy formed up and we embarked upon the return journey. Our officers who remained at the command post informed us that our passage has been “cleared” and that our “neighbours” have also “cleared” the road and adjacent buildings. But they are not wagering anything regarding mines. The Chechens attempted to cut off the route, they had to be knocked out and no resources were left to check for mines. Things were not getting easier by the hour.

We were, however in luck and arrived without incident. Our hands were now untied. All that remained was to work out the Minutka assault plan as no-one doubted any longer that we’ll now have to take it. From a few disconnected replicas on the part of the commander, it became clear that we were granted an extension of four or five days. Guided by some sort of higher motives, Moskva categorically prohibited airborne attacks. We will not get far with only our own artillery and tank firepower. So yes, our prospects did not seem very happy.

I was entrusted with leading the medical supplies requisitioning operation. In our absence, the recon troop established that the medical dump was not guarded. It was unknown if it was mined, so sappers will have to be involved.

We were greeted like heroes. The entire command post went out to meet us. Whilst still in the airport, the radiomen have painted an approximate picture of the situation, so everyone was eagerly awaiting our return.
-Look, they are alive!
-We’ve heard how you were holding a defence line by the airport.
-Why did you have to frighten Rolin and Sedov like that? They are probably on the phone right now, complaining to Moskva, hahaha!
-Sweaty legs in their mouths, let the ass-lickers squeal.

Those were the sorts of things uttered by those greeting us. The people were worn out from moral strain. I shouted:
-Those who have been assigned to the medical “mop-up” yesterday—muster in thirty minutes at the exit checkpoint from the command post.

Me and Yurka walked to our kung, the bags and boxes containing our “humanitarian aid” in our hands. We have not yet had dinner and felt especially hungry having lived through all that excitement. Our mouths salivated and stomachs rumbled, anticipating a tasty meal. Smoke poured from the stack over the stove in our kung.
-What a good lad, that Sashka, he procured firewood from somewhere.
-Well wash up in warm water now, smash down a hundred. I’ll have some time before the briefing and although I should prepare, I’m going to sleep for about an hour anyway. Yurka closed his eyes dreamily. I envied him. Good-naturedly.
-Right now it would be good to nap for about three hours, hmm, Yura?
-That would be great. You take those stores quickly, you hear, otherwise you’ll miss the briefing.
-No, I think we’ll get it over with quickly.
-Get me some tablets against alcoholic inebriation. They’ll be useful back home.
-I’ll get them if the doctors point them out. Otherwise I can take you a whole bunch at random—you can sit there and try them out—see which ones you like. Anything—for a friend.
-Listen, why do they keep throwing you into various actions? You’re not a boy any more, but a senior staff officer.
-I’m a senior staff officer for collaboration and nobody properly understands what that means. Collaboration with whom? With our neighbours? I have already arranged that. For collaboration between battalions? That’s not my problem. So it turns out that this post has been invented, but for what bloody reason—nobody knows. And by the way, this post exists only in combat. In peace, I’m just a senior staff officer. Also I don’t like to idle. I get crazy.
-We, sinners, suspected you were an informant from the special department. You were commandeered at the last moment. You had no specific responsibilities. But having checked you out we saw that you were our man. Same as everyone—”makhra”.
-That’s a good thing. Hey Pashka, open the door, our hands are full, - I rapped on the door with my elbow.

{continued in next post}
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 6 {continued from previous post}

The door swung open. We stumbled into the kung. Pashka has prepared dinner and brewed the tea. There was warm water on the stove. We piled our gifts onto the bunk.
-Sort it out, will you. We don’t know what it all is ourselves yet. We’re going to go wash up. - Yurka said.

Meanwhile, I threw off the gun, flak jacket and coat and stretched my muscles:
-So good! Imagine—in peaceful life, people somehow do without all this metal. That must be so good. Oh well, let’s go wash up. Soon I have to lead the vitamin procurement convoy.

We climbed outside. Yurka also cast off his “harness”. Steam rose up from our backs. We thoroughly washed up, taking turns to pour water over one another. In war one experiences great satisfaction from small things that they take for granted in peaceful life. One remembers it only when they experience it. When one returns home, everything will probably be the same as always and they would not feel such pleasure during an ordinary shower or a drag on a good cigarette. One can simply open up a tap there, or better still climb into a hot bath. Oh—the bathtub. I can compose an ode to you. Because when you spend more than two weeks covered in dirt like swine, the bath begins to come to you in your dreams. You dream of it like you dream of a woman and you desire it no less like woman. I’m not going to even mention the sauna. That’s simply an ephemeral hope. You get fed up of rubbing yourself in cheap cologne or cheap vodka. You want to wash off the sweat and grease, to again feel like a civilized man. Or at least a man not far removed from civilization. If one stops looking after themselves, it’s very easy to degrade. One becomes dense and completely apathetic, uncaring of their fate and that of their comrades. One can even break down psychologically. This is why the commanders grill their charges over their appearance. They somehow try to remind them of their humanity and the values stemming from it—the values of humanity such as compassion and comradeship. It’s the same with cigarettes. At home you can buy any brand of cigarettes in any kiosk, provided you have the money. Here, it’s a cult.

When we, having returned to the kung, saw what Sashka placed into our “humanitarian aid”, our spirits improved considerably. An open bottle of Dagestan cognac stood on the table. There were three types of smoked salami, imported canned fish in oil, cheese and, oh the miracle—a lemon! Thinly sliced and sprinkled with sugar, the fragrant lemon seeped out pale yellow nectar. Its aroma killed the smell of unwashed bodies, dirty socks, cheap cologne, onion, leather and a lot of other filth. The lemon’s fragrance reigned over all other aromas.

We began to eat. Our stomachs churned from hunger. First of all, we uncorked the Dagestani cognac. We poured, sniffed. Mmm, an unearthly fragrance.
-Let’s roll, - Yurka said, clinking with me and Pashka.

Everyone drank, drank the cognac out of habit for vodka on the breathe-out, sensing no flavour. But the taste of it remained on the palate, the taste of cognac, its aroma. Nobody hurried to snack. We sat and savoured that which we were each sensing. We then each took a slice of lemon and placed it unhurriedly in our mouths. How good it was!
-Allright, guys, you can continue to relax here for a long time still, but I have ten minutes until departure. So I’m going to be quick, - I said pouring myself half a glass of cognac and sliding the snacks over closer.
-Yes, yes, of course Slava, go for it, - Yurka poured some cognac for himself and Pashka and we again raised our crunchy Aeroflot glasses.
-What are we drinking to?
-What’s the difference! To good fortune! How about it? - I had no time for sentiments. I wanted to fill up on the food a bit more, but the medics say it’s not good to eat before battle. So let them fast. To forego such cognac and such snacks for another fight—no way!
-That will do! - we raised our “goblets” and brought them together.

And the healing liquid once again streamed down my throat, gently warming everything upon its path. Yurka started to pour the third. My mouth stuffed with snack I pointed and moaned to pour me only a little. Yurka splashed some purely symbolic quantity into my cup and we rose, drinking silently, without clinking. The third toast remains the third toast. We snacked. I shovelled everything into my mouth—cheese, all sorts of salami, topped off with lemon. All good. I looked at my watch.
-That’s it guys, I’m off, - I stood up and began to dress. Yura and Pavel helped me into the flak jacket.
-That’s it, bye, bye. Don’t supper without me, maybe I’ll procure something.
-Good luck, try not to be late for the briefing, - Yurka slapped me on the shoulder.
-Memorise what they decide about Minutka.
-I feel it in my heart, we’ll be spitting blood at this Minutka.
-We’ll see how we go. Bye.
-Good luck.

I almost ran to the checkpoint at the exit from the brigade’s command post. In peaceful life, as far as I remember, I always walked quickly. My friends joked that I was in a hurry to live and experience. Here, everyone walks slowly, tiredly. And nobody hurries anyone without need.

There were three BMPs there already as well as a medic’s MT-LB—a lightly armoured towing vehicle with the characteristic crosses on the sides and top. Although if our convoy gets shot up, it was unlikely to be spared. A wounded enemy—is still an enemy and the Chechens did not sign the Geneva Convention regarding POWs. They hold their own views regarding what is happening here and we—our won. We are in agreement on some things, but mostly not.

There were officers standing next to the BMPs and the tower. The composite team. There were three doctors, two platoon commanders from the third battalion and one from the reconnaissance company. I approached. It sounded like the officers were exchanging anecdotes and tales. Under different circumstances I would have joined in with my own or listened to theirs, but not now. It will start getting dark in an hour, hour and a half maximum and we’ll have to postpone everything until tomorrow then, having returned with nothing. I greeted those that I have not yet seen today.
-All right. Intelligence reports, - I nodded at the recon trooper that the stores are practically unguarded. So I believe there will not be any particular problems.
-That’s correct, I was there myself today. There is no garrison, only some shady characters hanging about, most likely marauders. We grabbed one, but he passed away. He had no time to explain anything properly. We confiscated vials of morphine and some other vile stuff. Maybe he was a junkie, maybe just a speculator.
-Passed away? Again? - the officers exclaimed ironically. You must be in collusion with Nikolayevich (that would be me), or something. Yesterday he failed to deliver the sniper, claiming that he passed away from a bad heart. Vyacheslav Nikolaevich, you must have performed the autopsy yourself, huh? And here you have an unknown person pass away without saying a word.
-Enough with the bazaar! - I cut off the talk.—I and lieutenant Golovin in the leading vehicle. The rest follow at a distance of a hundred meters. The medics in the middle. To your vehicles.

The officers scattered and started scrambling aboard their APCs. I looked them over. Everyone seemed in place. I checked the radio link with them all as well as the command post. Everything seemed in order.

-Forward! - I commanded to my driver and the convoy. At least the internal comms link is functioning on this BMP. Once I had to ride on a vehicle from the first battalion and I say what a farce that was. You sit on the armour, the mechanic-driver is tied with a piece of rope under his armpits and you pull on it to direct him. You pull right—he turns right, you pull left, he turns left. Pull them both—and “whoa” - stop. Just like horse-riding. I suggested that the platoon commander, who allowed the equipment to degrade to such a state be put in the drivers seat, with ropes tied to his ears, but it turned out that he went missing in action.

We drove off. Again this greyness, mud and cold. In order to avoid prostatitis or frostbite of some other body part, one has to put a pillow under their ass. At this point I had the seat of some imported car. Lieutenant Voronin perched himself up front, near the cannon.

Nicknames are often given, based on the surname. Voronin’s had nothing to do with crows. His nickname was Toothy. He was a fanatic of his work and in love with weapons. Knives were his thing. He was a virtuoso with the blade. Many in our brigade, including myself could cut up a man in two minutes. But Toothy held the absolute record. The blade flashed like lightning in his hand. To slice through the main veins in the body—the wrists, in the elbow bend, under the arms, the arteries on either side of the neck and in the groin, - Toothy required less than a minute. He was excellent at throwing the knives also. He was about a meter seventy tall, on the slender side, wiry. Thick, un-gaining, wire-like, black hair grew on his head. His knuckles were smashed up and callused. He was a man of few words, and those who have seen him in action respected him and would never dream of calling him a crow. Not because one could cop a turn kick of a boot into their teeth, but because the man’s work inspired respect for him in the people. He was never needlessly harsh in words, never showed off or feigned a tough guy or a hero. The man simply did his job. I like these quiet, well balanced, silent men. Maybe it is you, Toothy, that will have to take the bridges over Sunja. And your knife-throwing and throat-cutting skills will come in handy. Not a sound or death-yell. And the guard is already gone. The guys from spetsnaz have already made overtures to have Toothy cross over to them. We spent a few days together sheltering in a basement which is where they spotted him. No way! We need such cadres ourselves. The lad got the handle of a shovel from twenty paces in twilight on top of it all! Imagine if that was a sentry's neck. That’s right. And this is not the movies, this is real combat. The spetsnazovites threatened to petition the general staff, the GRU. When the war is over, we will petition for this cut-throat ‘s promotion ourselves, don’t they worry.

Meanwhile, we approached the ruins of some school. Voronin summoned his fighters over the radio and waving his arm called me over. We descended into the school’s basement and then ascended to the second floor using the remains of a staircase. The reconnaissance men were stationed there in relative comfort. One of them was an Uzbek—Badalov, but I don’t remember the other’s surname, only his nickname—Pliers. Fate’s irony granted him a notable appearance. He had an enormous mouth—ear to ear and throughout his life, the lad had to defend his dignity in fights. He was not tall and he was stocky. Good in a fight. Asked to be transferred into reconnaissance of his own accord. And when he was brought over with the other recruits, the whole brigade went over to see him eat. To sip soup out of a spoon, he brought it over to somewhere in the vicinity of his cheek. It was comedic at first, but eventually everyone got used to it. On the other hand the lad fought well, defending his right for a dignified life. At first he was sent to the tankers and only afterwards did he ask for a transfer to intelligence. He withstood a sparring contest with one of the most experienced recon troopers. The most important thing here is not besting your opponent, but the will to win. There are no rules, other than—no hits to the groin. When an inspecting committee visits, they spar wearing helmets and gloves. But in their absence—there is no protection of any sort. There are three rounds, lasting three minutes each. At the end of the second round, Pliers sent the old-timer recon man into a deep knock-out, despite the latter’s advantage in height, weight and experience over the first-year lad.

Plier’s conduct in battle was exemplary. It seemed that all that anger that he pent up from his childhood days onwards and that had no escape found an outlet here. The recon man liked to work with his hands. He liked to snap necks. He’d sneak up to a Chechen sentry from behind and pull on his legs. The sentry would fall, his hands naturally outstretched to prevent hitting the ground with his face. In general male psychology is different from that of women. A woman screams when in danger, louder than a jet taking off, whilst a man is silent, he is focused, he wants to overcome his adversary. We are aware of this and so is the enemy. It would seem to be perfectly common-sense—yell out and somebody will come to your aid, but no—the fighting spirit and psychology prevent them from screaming. And so when a Chechen falls to the ground silently, Pliers leaps up onto their back, presses his knee into the spot where the neck meets the back and grabbing the head by the forehead, sharply yanks it towards himself. There is a crack, the spine is broken, there is no blood. Some including your humble servant, to avoid unnecessary risks (and the former method is really for connoisseurs only) simply cut the throat. It’s soundless and the adversary simply chokes in their blood. Simple, cheap and effective. The Chechens treat our sentries likewise and that is why the sentries shoot up their sector, lob grenades, set up mine-traps, “surprises” - ordinary electrical wire with empty tin cans. There are many tricks and one would think of many more themselves if they want to survive standing at their post.

Badalov is also a good intelligence man. Everyone was apprehensive at first—he is Muslim after all, but he replied calmly that the Russians kill one another too. Meanwhile he grew up in Russian and was used to local customs. And as it turned out he recommended himself as a true warrior in the first days f war. Good lad.

And so they are standing before me, Toothy, Badalov and Pliers and are reporting:
-All’s quiet, comrade captain, the stores are not guarded, only the marauders came but when one of them perished, the others left.
-And how did he perish? - I ask, expecting to hear another sweet fairy-tale.
-Well, we hog-tied him and laid him down in the corner to rest. He cut the binds with a piece of window glass and tried to run away, so I took him down with a knife. He was warmly dressed, I wanted to get him in the leg, but due to a sleight of hand got him in the throat, - Toothy excused himself as if he was a schoolboy.
-All- right, let’s roll, - I waved my arm in resignation, - did you check his pockets?
-We did and did not find anything other than the medicines I have already mentioned.
-Just look at those sly mugs, - I pointed at the fighters, - I’d say they did find something else.

Toothy gazed at his soldiers angrily.
-What are you hiding?
-Here, we found this in his boots, - from his pocket, Badalov produced a stack of crumpled roubles and dollars.
-Here you go, - Pliers handed us a similar clump of foreign and domestic currency.

Me and toothy both instinctively pulled away from the money being handed to us.
-You earned it, you sort it out now, - I lit up and treated Voronin and we left to meet our vehicles that have arrived now and were revving their engines in the schoolyard.
-What’s going to happen to those morons? - Toothy asked, looking into my eyes, worried. I could see that he pitied those soldiers.
-Nothing’s going to happen, if they hold their tongues. Yes they were obliged to report the cash and hand it in and then somebody at “Severny” or in Mozdok would appropriate it. Teach those morons not to be so weak at the knees. Intellegence, my ass, - I remarked ironically, wounding his self-esteem. - Send them with the sappers to go check for mines now, if the building is booby trapped or not. Then they will lug the cartons to the vehicles and then unload them for the medics ate the command post. Off you go, we’ll catch up in a moment.
-Affirmative! - Toothy replied and having turned disappeared soundlessly behind me.

I knew perfectly well that the platoon commander is now going to smash up his subordinates’ mugs. And I did not pity them. And he will be “educating” them so, not because they tried to appropriate the money instead of turning them into the state’s possession but because they did not report it to the commander and turn it into the company’s communal funds. That they concealed it quietly, “ratted it up” and also because they “cracked” so quickly in front of a staff boss, me that is. I will not be surprised one bit to see Badalov and Pliers with bloody noses, when I return.

The usual hustle and bustle by the vehicles saw the fighters, having leapt off the armour take up circular defence. The officers entered the former school’s building, the sappers walked ahead of them.
-How’s the situation, Slavka?
-All’s quiet by the looks of it. No sight of any guards. The recon guys spent a whole day here, didn’t spot anybody.
-And are there mines? Or any other “gifts” from this brotherly people?
-**** knows, intelligence didn’t check themselves, they left this honoured mission to the sappers.
-Should we leave a guard at the APC’s?
-The mechanics will be enough. The rest need to come with us—somebody has to haul the crates after all.

Everyone was calm: if no mines or booby traps turn up, the operation should not present much trouble. Meanwhile, we ascended to the second floor, where we were met by the recon men, who were busy wiping up bloody snot and Toothy, who was rubbing his knuckles. Judging by the identical boot-prints on the soldier’s stomachs the platoon commander’s special move was employed here—the patented turn kick. The fighters’ internal organs were not in danger from these deadly blows as they were wearing flak jackets. This was a purely educational exercise. The fighters understood that they were at fault and did not dare look at me. Maybe they blamed me, but most likely not, they were simply ashamed of their actions. Or more precisely for getting caught so easily.
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 7

-Anyone in need of medical attention? - a doctor, captain of the medical services Zhenya Ivanov approached the fighters. A highly intellectual guy, tall, slender. Bespectacled, he wore a moustache and had a shaven head, very reminiscent of the well-known singer Rosenbaum. The fighters lurched away from the doctor.
-I don’t want anything! - Pliers backed away, but the doctor grabbed him and turned him towards him in that familiar doctors’ manner.
-Be quiet, patient, or I might maim you myself accidentally somehow. Right, right, the bones and cartilage are intact, you’ll live and if not, the autopsy will reveal the cause of death of such a youthful and wonderful creature.
-Shall we go? - Toothy asked of the officers surrounding him.
-Off you go.

I commanded and pointed with my finger to Badalov and Pliers as well as the sappers:
-Forward. We’ll cover you, don’t linger too much and if there are a lot of mines, we’ll do with just a passage—in and out, that’s all. Master physicians, are you ready?
-Yes Sir! - Zhenya answered for all the medics.

We set forth in a line, one after another, looking about us and covering each-others’ backs, ready to scatter and take up a circular defence. There was no other sound coming from the direction of the BMPs other than that of their engines. -Zhenya, - I caught up with doctor Ivanov, - Yurka was asking for these tablets, against getting drunk.
-There is one radical remedy against alcoholic stupor, you know what it is?
-Not to drink at all?
-That’s right! How did you know?
-I just guessed.
-Amazing. Usually they buy it. No way they would guess it.
-Zhenya, you see, I’m a cynic, just like you, and I try not to treat this life seriously likewise, otherwise I’ll go funny in the head and after all what happens, happens. It’s God’s will.
-Amazing—how do you manage to maintain a sense of humour?
-It’s simple. The Turks have a wonderful expression—”kismet”, which means “fate” and I adhere to it. Fate is and no matter what you do, you will not escape it. It is written in your fates that you are to live this long and are to die then and there from a grenade explosion, then no matter what you do, no matter how tough you might be, no matter what security detail you hire, you will spill out your guts due to a grenade blast. Naturally, the same applies to other life events.
-And you really believe that this is how it really is?
-Yes, Zhenya, I believe it. Have you not ever come across a patient who according to all your canons should have died, yet despite all your efforts lives on? And no matter how you deny it, it is by the laws of being that he remains alive? Has this ever happened to you, Zhenya? And don’t tell me that he had a singularly resilient organism or any other such nonsense. You’ll have to agree that there is something unexplained in a lot of medical cases.
-I agree that a particularly large number of such cases occurs right here in shall we say extreme conditions.
-And a lot of cases, where everyone around him is dying, whilst he continues onwards, like he is possessed and nothing harms him.
-I had a case like that. Remember how a platoon from the first battalion got lost and separated from our forces and ended up in an ambush?
-Yeah I remember that. What’s not to remember—they were shot up point-blank.
-There were three survivors. Two of them wounded whilst the third—not a single scratch. Everyone thought that he’d cowered behind others’ backs and they were about to kill him. But the wounded confirmed that they survived only because he drove a burning BMP out of the fire-fight and when he confirmed that the others have been killed threw in the wounded and drove them out. So you are right in many respects. Are you not afraid of death yourself?
-Of course I’m afraid, Zhenya, of course. Maybe I’m just ready for it. But, more than death, I’m afraid to become crippled. Promise me Zhenya, that if I end up on your operating table missing a limb or some other body part that would make me a cripple—you will give me a chance to die in peace. I understand that you yourself won’t go through with something like that, but at least give me that chance.
-Firstly, Slava, I think that you’re suffering from a mental breakdown and are simply in shock. I know what you had to endure at “Severny” and how you refused to shoot at our guys. You were the first to refuse to do it this and thanks to a commandant acquainted to you, our former allies had also collectively decided not to shoot you up. So now you should get drunk or alternatively, come see me and I will give you some tablets. We’ll getting some of them soon, by the way. As for death, everyone has the right to carry on with living as they see fit. There are no hopeless situations—there is always a choice and an exit opportunity. This particular outcome may not always suit you but it is always available. Problems are created by people and only people can solve problems.
-You didn’t understand a bloody thing, Zhenya, - I waved at him wearily, - I’m not a neurotic school girl and am not suffering from any breakdown. The men at the frontline have it a lot harder. I’m afraid of becoming an invalid. I respect men such as Maresyev, that fight for their lives despite their limitations, but I can’t do that. It’s better to lay down on a grenade with my gut than to be a cripple. Enough, we’ll caw in bad luck. ****!
-Look, Slava, the sappers are waving to us, everything must be ready. Let’s be off. Our discussion of morality can continue over a game of cards, or a bottle of good cognac.
-All right, but, you scoundrel still have not given me your word. Remember my request, alright?
-Alright, alright, just leave me alone. I can listen to any request but am under no obligation to fulfil it. You understand?
-I understand. Alright, let’s go.
-Found anything? - I asked the sappers, having come nearer.
-It’s nothing, comrade captain. A limonka was tied to the door with a piece of wire and that’s all—nothing else, - reported the sappers, happy that there was no more work for them to do.
-Go and carefully study the entire premises and when you’re done, come back and help load the crates.

As soon as the fighters heard that they were to carry crates, they were gone with the wind. Go find an idiot volunteering to carry heavy crates, especially at the front, even though it is for the common good.

I looked around me. The Republican medical repository was located in a series of large warehouses, reminiscent of aircraft hangers and there were two, single-storey office buildings. I turned to the medics:
-So, my dear anatomists, where are we to begin? Just as is the case with the mud—there is no shortage of buildings. I propose breaking up into smaller groups so that you can pick out what you need, drag it out into the courtyard and then out to the vehicles. Questions? Objections? In writing please, and in three copies.

There were some sniggers as we dispersed over the premises.
-Zhenya, do you a least know what you are looking for?
-Yeah, I know, - he unfolded a sheet of paper with a long list, I looked at it, but for the most part, it was in Latin, - don’t look you won’t understand anything anyway.
-Will you make it out yourself, doesn’t look like your writing…
-I’ll be fine. We need to look for tranquilisers, anti-shock medicine, neuro-stimulants, treatment for burns, ventilators, cardio and a few others.

We walked up to the gates of the nearest hangar. They were locked. I nodded to a fighter:
-Go ahead! But make sure nobody’s hurt with the ricochets.

Everyone stood behind the fighter, as he shot off the ordinary barn padlock and then the door-lock nut with a short volley from his gun. We walked inside the dark hangar. Long shelves stacked with boxes ran off into the distance.
-Go, doctor, search out the drugs will you be saving us with in the future. Hopefully they are still under the use-by date.
-Point the lights so that I can see properly, it’s dark like a negro’s ******* in here.
-You have been all around, Zhenya, seen everything, know everything, - I replied sarcastically egging on the doctor.
Everyone laughed approvingly.
-Zhenya, is it really dark in there? - somebody asked out of the darkness. Again, everyone laughed.
-As soon as I catch my first one, I’ll shove you in there one by one so that you can personally elucidate the lighting situation there and then you can tell me about it, - the doctor parried un-maliciously.
-And if we score a little negress, we’ll conduct a thorough examination ourselves.
-No it would be better if it was a little mulatto—they are cuter.
-They say, Korean girls are also not bad at all.
-A Ryazan woman would do just fine right about now.
-No guys, the women in Europe are ugly, there is no-one better other than our own Siberian ones.

And so we slowly moved along the shelves of medicines whilst discussing women and negroes.
-Help me climb, - Zhenya scrambled onto the shelving as he was boosted from below. At the top he opened a box and started poking through its contents.—Take these, but be careful, they are glass vials.
-Did you find something?
-Yeah, Cerebrolysin.
-What kind of a tongue-twisting illness is that?
-It’s not an illness, you ignoramus, it’s a medicine, it helps with concussions and contusions.
-Only young guys need something against contusions. Us officers—there are no brains any more—only bone, - I’m in a lyrical mood. After the shake up at “Severny” and the briefing that preceded it, I especially did not want to think about what was coming. I simply wanted to relax.
-When I was in the final year at the academy, there was a funny incident in our company, - I continued.—In the final year, we were quartered at a dormitory. The rules there were a bit more lax compared to the first year, as one might imagine. And so, sometime in April, we’re roused, sent to the toilet block and the sergeants start running us out for exercise. It’s cold outside. We rarely went out for exercise, but here for some reason they wanted us to go out into the cold. For exercise. Maybe there was some commission visiting, or some other reason, I really don’t remember now. Anyway, one cadet whose surname was Popov didn’t want to go. I won’t go, he said even if you kill me. The detachment commander naturally took this personally, he turns Popov about and shouts for him to go. Popov sends him far, far away. The commander as the one who issued the order, according to the Charter is obliged to ensure its fulfilment by any means necessary, so he hits Popov in the face. Popov meanwhile was walking from the toilet block and in his hands, he carried a carafe full of water. If you remember in the army there were these large carafes with carved edges and very thick glass. So Popov hits his own commander in the head right behind the eye socket. The carafe breaks, the commander is bleeding, the blood mixed with water streams over his face and into his eyes. In short, he falls over and we’re thinking, he’s dead. Popov just as surprised, throws down the carafe’s mangled neck and starts running down the hallway. We all run to the commander, who meanwhile throws us back and like a lion rushes after Popov, catches up with him, knocks him off his feet and starts kicking him. We barely managed to drag him off. We thought the lad was in shock so he’s lost the sense of pain, meanwhile the blood is streaming and his skull is probably cracked. We called a nurse, she looked him over and he was taken to the hospital for a check-up and x-rays. The result: the skull is intact, not a single crack, only the skin is split. No sign of concussion was detected. And you reckon we have brains. Bone! If this was a civilian, he would have died, a junior cadet would probably have been severely wounded. A graduate—no problems. -Yeah, that’s right—the military man’s scull doesn’t crack first go.
-Doctor, you’ve seen many skulls, which do you think are stronger?
-The paratroopers’. They constantly hit their head on the side of the aircraft, or land on their heads, - a burst of laughter again shook the hangar, - I’m joking of course. Everyone has their own skull and unfortunately military service does not make them thicker. Otherwise imagine how thick they must be for the colonels and generals? -Definitely, guys, imagine what a skull Rolin must have? He’d take a direct hit from a tank.
-You could go into attack without a helmet.
-Help me up, there are some other goodies up there. Zhenka scrambled up again and we boosted and held him up. - Ooo, just what the doctor ordered. Take it, just be careful.

We took a small box of Cardioamidum and some other poison.
-For supporting heart function. - Zhenka clarified, jumping down and shaking off the dust.

In this manner, he climbed up and fetched boxes for us to take another five or so times. We then carried them out into the courtyard and left them in the sentries’ care. We then visited another pair of hangars, a little smaller in size than the first. When we emerged from the last one, everyone’s pockets were stuffed with vitamins. The soldiers carried large tin cans of the stuff. We happily gobbled them down, chewed Hematogen, somebody found nicotine gum and was working their jaws vigorously hoping to quit smoking. I took vitamins, Hematogen, nicotine patches, ginseng salve, tablets for Yurka, mints and some other crap.

Everyone was in excellent spirits. I looked at the watch. By all counts I was still making it to the briefing. I grimaced from thinking about it—the time for relaxation was over, I had to return.
-Hurry it up! The sun is setting.

It really began to get dark.
-Take the crates, quickly. We don’t want to sleep in this place.

Sporadic gunfire rang out in the direction of the BMPs.
-Your mother! I was hoping that at least this one excursion would go quietly, let’s go quickly! - I walked, carrying a small box of medicines that Yurka handed me, saying that it contained narcotics.

In order to get everything we needed, we had to blow off a small metal door. Why nobody got to the drugs earlier, I do not know. Maybe we just got lucky. Medicine is in deficit with us and I feel it in my ass, that soon it will well and truly come in handy.

After some time passed, the shooting died down. What could that mean? Either the drivers mixed something up, or the fight did not end in our favour.
-Come on!
-Hold on, lads!
-Hold on, bitches!
-We’ll fry them mongrels!
-Hopefully they haven’t burned the BMP!

We bolted over the school’s ruins, shouting mat and other cries and replicas. The top levels of this school have collapsed on the back of the building, forming a gentle slope all the way to the medical base. It was easy to descend it, but not so easy to run back up, stumbling constantly over chunks of brick and concrete. It’s funny, but at this point a line from a children’s rhyme came to mind: “Oh it’s not easy work—do drag a hippo out of a bog”. Panting, falling over, getting back up again, cutting up our arms and faces and breaking the vials of medicine we ascended to the second floor of the school and ran to the bottom. As my carton was the smallest, I ended up ahead and was the first to see the following scene: about fifteen soldiers unknown to us were standing by our BMPs and chatting merrily with our drivers. I stopped and observed the landscape from the shadows.

It seemed quiet. I could not see that anybody has taken cover near-by or was trying to sneak up on us. A complete idyll. I restored my breathing and spat. Yellow-green slime again. I have to quit smoking. The others caught up. They began to descent, slinging their guns. Maybe they are deserters or escaped prisoners again. We’ll see. We’ll sort it out.

When we came up closer, we could see that by all signs, these were our fighters—”liberators” like us, “participants” in the southern expedition”. My BMP’s driver ran up to me when he saw our group, brought his hand to his helmet, in a salute and began to report:
-Comrade captain, in the course of your absence, there were no incidents with the exception of—we took a group of neighbours’ soldiers for Chechens and opened fire.
-Are there any “three hundreds”, two hundreds”?
-No, we quickly clarified the situation.
-That’s good. Otherwise and if you were better shots, you would have killed one another.
-Comrade captain, platoon commander of the 125th artillery regiment, lieutenant Krikov reporting!

Krikov—Kryukov, I rhymed in my head. Strange—I remembered Kryukov today and here, several hours later is Krikov. It’s funny.
-When did you graduate from the academy?
-This year, the lieutenant replied with an air of pride.
-Riiight, - I dragged, - it’s fortunate that you haven’t mowed each-other down. What the hell are you doing loitering on our territory?
-We were fetching water for our artillery division. When we went you were not here so we came upon you when we were returning. We have only a few men, the containers are heavy and no reconnaissance was deployed. Everyone was carrying the water.

The lieutenant spoke in the second person, as though the decision was made collectively, and that was probably how it happened. He was still completely “green”. There was a desire to chew him out, but I contained it. He won’t understand anything until he knocks some lumps on his stubborn head. Only, these “lumps” can turn out to be the first and last here. I spat from having such thoughts. The moron will cark it himself and lay others down too. I could not hold myself from saying:
-Next time, lieutenant, either take more men, or less canisters, otherwise you’ll get caught in an ambush.—I lowered my tone as I said this, but looking him over grimly.

He shivered and wanted to say something back, but thought better of it. You greenie, all your thoughts are written on your face. He hesitated, then asked beggarly:
-Comrade captain, please allow us to drive with you for a couple of blocks. Our guys are there and it would be great not to have to walk as well as encounter the Chechens.
-Get on. Your water is from Sunzha, yes? - I asked the stupid questing, where else would it be from.
-Yes from Sunzha. We were shot at twice, whilst we were drawing, - the lieutenant boasted.
-If they wanted to finish you off, they would have set a single sniper against you and you would have remained on that shore with your canisters. Where did you draw? - as we were walking to the BMP, I unfolded the map.
-Here, - Krikov pointed out a spot not far from the school, five blocks down. - And the fire came form here.
-All-right. We won’t get water from there tomorrow, they’ll be waiting for us again. Did you at least shoot back?
-Of course.
-Allright, get on.

We climbed onto the armour. Forward. The lieutenant asked to be let off after two blocks.

I ordered the vehicles to stop. Lieutenant Krikov and his fighters dismounted and waved to us. They departed for their own positions, weighed down with canisters and buckets. We arrived at our command post in another thirty minutes. The medics ran off to sort out the trophies.

I went to my kung, where Pashka was sitting in front of the stove, feeding it with firewood.
-Tell me what’s new?, - I asked, taking off the flak jacket.
-Nothing new. Everyone’s at the briefing. Is it true that we’ll be taking Minutka?
-It’s true, - I answered drily, - how long has the briefing been?
-About an hour and a half already. They have asked for you several times.
-I’m going, - I lit up on the go as I went outside.

I waded through the mud up to the staff office, where a mob of soldiers and officers were engaged in a heated discussion. I did not want to throw away such a good cigarette and there was no desire to once again sit down and mull over these suicidal plans. The question was simply, how many hundreds of us will die. The devil’s children at “Severny” and in Moskva, did not want to pound Minutka with artillery and aviation and they were tightening the deadlines. We now had to discuss, which battalion was to be shot up first. How to emerge in one piece ourselves. The officers tried to tell me something, but I wasn’t listening. In my head, I was formulating the phrasing and argumentation of my plan, it was not completely formed, but I had something. It seemed that there was an opportunity to reduce the number of dead and wounded. Those around me seemed to have understood the state I was in left me alone. I nodded silently and threw out the cigarette butt which traversed a curved trajectory before hitting the mud. I though to myself that it was just like that in life, as soon as it reaches a peak, it will go into decline. How many lives will be snuffed out in the next few days, having not reached their peak? Old men thought up the war. They are old enough already to be impotent, but have not become wisened, and are just as ambitious as if they were young. They do not want to let go of their power, so they set things up in such a way that the young die for the old ideals. They meanwhile, and having satisfied their meaningless ambitions will embezzle the money set aside for reconstruction. And we’ll be ostracised, marginalised as witnesses of their temporary madness. This is how it was with the “Afghans”. At first, they were made out to be heroes, idols, then they were made into junkies and drunkards. It was said of them that they were only capable of massacring the civilian population. The peaceful population—the only foe they were capable of fighting, not any powerful enemy. They were marginalised, accused of every mortal sin and diagnosed with the “Afghan Syndrome”. They forgot about all the other syndromes from the old Soviet though. Any new “hot-spot” generated a “syndrome”. A bit much for a single country, even as big as Russia.

I was “winding” myself up. It was better to come to the briefing “wound” rather than get wound up there. Everybody was already tired of endless talk and the dead-end situation. So you enter. Aggressive, angry, ready to take down anyone who disagrees with your point of view. And you bring in a fresh stream, a new outlook. My idea began to emerge from my subconsciousness. The main thing was that there should be none of our guys at Dudaev’s palace, otherwise we risked taking them out. The sappers have this de-mining device—I don’t know what it’s called, but it woks wonderfully. It is a small rocket with three engines, one for cruising and two for start-up. This thing takes off and behind it drags a thick hose filled with TNT. It flies strictly in one direction. When the hose (we call it “intestine”) is unwound, the rocket falls to the ground and a second and a half after the fall, the TNT in the “intestine” detonates creating a path about four meters wide. This fire dragon is employed for clearing paths in minefields. Those mines that do not detonate are blown out of the ground and onto its surface.

And if one was to sneak closer to this ****ing palace and launch a few of these “dragons”, little will be left of their stronghold. The main task would be to destroy the lower levels. The palace is tall and flimsy—it will collapse together with its contents and the Chechens inside it. But this is only good if none of our guys are inside, only the Chechens. I went to the entrance, hung my gun on my shoulder and pushed the door open.
-Permission to be present, comrade colonel? - I distracted Bakhel from what he was explaining.

All the battalion commanders and their chiefs of staff, deputies and brigade staff officers were bent over the map. About four people were smoking by the crack in the sandbags over the window.
-You can enter, Mironov, how was the trip?
-All is well, comrade colonel.
-Come on through, but don’t interfere, if something is unclear, ask someone, but do that later.

He bent over the map again, pointing at it with a pen. I could see that the storming of the State Bank building was under discussion. That meant that the brigade has already crossed the bridges on that map, as well as the two hundred meters of open ground under hurricane fire and I will need to find out how this was possible. But this had to wait for later as to not interfere with the commander’s work. My time will come and my plan will come out then, same as with anyone present. The most junior rank will speak first. It is done like that with the purpose of allowing them to speak for themselves and with no influence from the higher ranks. The higher ranks will speak up next and the commander will approve the result. The task of assessing the situation, making a decision, issuing an order and controlling its fulfilment is placed upon the shoulders of just one man—the commander. The chief of staff might play a role, but it is the commander who is ultimately responsible. Why did a battalion, a regiment, a platoon fail to fulfil the objective? The commander of the formation which failed is at fault. They will be made short and strict work of, their epaulettes torn off followed by dismissal, off to raise up the people’s agriculture in the best case scenario. All good and well if they served enough to be eligible for a pension, but what if they have not?

There could be court proceedings, their decorations can be taken away and they could be imprisoned in shame. The worst possible title to bear in our country is “former”. They disrespect and beguile the former president, and as deserved as that may be, think of the former commander’s fate. And if they find out him to have been a field commander on top of that, he becomes to them a person marred with blood, who probably massacred civilians. He’s a war criminal—get him, get him! We are responsible citizens, who have murdered no-one and if our countrymen are being murdered in some far-away corner of our country, that means that it’s necessary. What else do you wish, o ruler? To send our children to another slaughter? God willing! After all, we have elected you, you cannot falter or be deceitful to us? Not in our lives! Is this how you reckoned, reader? Is this how you continue to reason?

Chekov said that one must squeeze the slave out of themselves, each day drop by drop. One can add that our rulers must continue to squeeze out the master on a daily basis.

One only has to look at the map and a question emerges. How can a republic too small to be seen on the map threaten Russia’s sovereignty? It can’t, unless this operetta general with his fiery speeches is being fed with support. He is just a petty fürher with a Caucasian accent. When the need arose to remove Leo Trotsky, they got him all the way in Mexico, and not even with a grenade but with an ice-pick, like a rabid dog. And this former pilot? I will not accept that there was no opportunity or the desire to destroy him, so it’s the same here.

Declare a bounty and they themselves will deliver his head on a plate decorated with greens. Each man has a price and if he cannot be bought, he can be “ordered” for half the money. With the condition that no compromising material exists for your person and that you do not share an account in a Zurich bank with the target.

Meanwhile, we’ll go to the polling booths like sheep and will vote for those who will continue to encourage bloody ‘sort-outs”, set them up, execute our children, and all the while force veterans of the Great Patriotic War to dig around in dumps for empty bottles.

And I’m not speaking of communists, democrats, socialists and other mongers of empty words. No. They all want to earn their bread and butter at your and mine expense, dear reader. And so as to distract us from this highway robbery, they instigate wars and cataclysms.

The meeting continued meanwhile, the attack plan was outlined and presented. It was time to express one’s opinion and reckoning of the issue. A comms man approached and called San Sanych to the telephone. Everyone went quiet. Maybe we are yet to be delivered from this slaughter. He returned looking more grim than before. He sat on his chair and looked us over helplessly. We remained silent and only the brigade commander could not contain himself.
-Don’t torment us, say it.
-We have received information from our intelligence that all out wounded and captured are being brought to the palace. They asked that we proceed with maximum care as we storm it. Air support is denied and we are to use only our own artillery. There will not be any “Uragans” or “Grads”.

In the dead silence that followed one could hear heavy breathing and shuffling of feet, the shifting of chairs and the resounding crack of comm-brig’s broken pencil. It seemed that he didn’t realise he broke that pencil in two, continuing to fumble with the fragments as he stared in one spot. It was as if everyone became paralysed.
-We can’t attack without artillery or air support, we’ll lay our people down, - the first battalion’s commander began. -And we can’t attack when our POWs are there, they will all be killed. We all understand perfectly well that during an assault with or without artillery support they will for the most part be killed, - the tank battalion’s commander continued his thought.
-Either the Chechens will kill them, or a stray volley, a grenade, a mine will end their suffering. But nobody, nobody, wants to become the murderer of their countrymen. It’s a catch twenty two, - the third battalion’s commander was reasoning aloud.
-It’s unlikely that it will be possible to save the captured men, meanwhile, we’ll loose more of our subordinates. The possibility of counterattack on the part of the adversary has to also be considered, - the comm-brig’s deputy picked up. He was also the artillery chief.

The pause in the proceedings dragged on. The brigade commander threw away the remnants of the pencil. -Recess for ten minutes. Not a word to your subordinates! After the break, be ready to talk business, everyone gets three minutes.

The people poured out into the street to gulp down some fresh air, go to the toilet, smoke and discuss what was happening without the commander present.
-What a complete ****-up!
-What have the mongrels thought up now?
-We’ll be climbing the walls with a dagger in our teeth.
-We have to think, not shout, - it seemed that all this noise did not concern the tank commander. He was addressing the artillery chief and commanders, who were standing near-by:
-Could you bring your self-propelled guns closer?
-I doubt it. The bridges won’t take us. How much does your tank weigh? That’s right. Our SPGs are much heavier, their munitions stores are of a lesser capacity and have to be constantly replenished and their speed—you know what that’s like yourself—three times slower. We should be placed somewhere near-by, in concealed positions and we’ll “lay” over your heads and buildings as you like.

It seemed that the “tank” comm-bat was no longer hearing him, as he was muttering under his nose:
-Small ordinance load, resupply speed, revolver. We need to make a “revolver”, a carousel. That’s right a carousel.
First the infantry, then hurricane tank fire. The BMP is no good—the calibre is too small.

He then summoned his chief of staff and together they began to discuss and sketch something. The recess was drawing to an end and everyone went back to the briefing. They sat down at their previous places. The commander began:
-Comrade officers, we are all aware of the situation. We cannot attack and we cannot not attack. During the recess, we phoned Rolin as well as our neighbours, with whose cooperation we are to take Minutka. Everyone is offering us a carte-blanche. We have to take it and at what cost is up to us. Your opinions please.

There was a silence. The “chief tanker” spoke:
-As I understand, artillery and aviation cannot be employed due to the presence of our POWs in the government building, is that right?
-That’s right, - the brigade commander affirmed.
-A shrewd observation, - somebody sniggered from behind.
-The BMP’s guns are too small in calibre and its armour is too tin to be able to conduct effective fire from a large distance, correct?
-Correct, - the comm-brig confirmed, still not sure where the comm-bat was going with this.
-The tanks have larger calibre guns and thicker armour, but less ammunition, meaning that their fire will also be ineffective due to the rapid rate at which their stores deplete. The whole issue then is that of the speed of ammunition re-supply. But to re-supply the tanks under fire is suicide, so I propose that the tanks go fetch ammunition themselves. And so that their fire is constant, I propose that we set up a tank carousel.
-A what carousel?
-I think we’ve got something!
-That’s good thinking! Good lad.

Most present understood the gist of the plan being offered by the tanker. He approached the map and started to point and explain.
-At first, here at the bridge two tanks roll onto the opposite bank. One of them conducts intensive fire, the other supports him a little, but is mainly silent. The third tank is on the bridge awaiting its turn. On our bank, at the approach to the bridge is the fourth tank, the fifth is being loaded. The first after conducting intensive fire at the target and having exhausted its stores returns to our shore to replenish its stores. The tank in the middle of the bridge takes its place and opens fire. The third, which is at the approach rolls onto the bridge. During all this shuffling the tank that was standing there not shooting, conducts suppressive fire, preventing the enemy from destroying the moving tanks. In this manner we ensure a density of fire, its accuracy and cover of the infantry. We substitute for artillery. Artillery can fire at town squares, whilst we can fire at window leafs, - he concluded as approving laughter rang out.
-That’s so great!
-Good lads!
-Thank you for sharing your idea, - the comm-brig shook the tanker’s hand.
-I also have an idea, - the third battalion’s commander stepped forward.—I propose that we make use of the sewerage collector to gain access to the building.
-Wise words.
-We’ll save our men and maybe even that of those captured.
-What if there’s an ambush. They’ll shoot us up like quail.
-It’s a great idea, but very risky business.
-It’s a good idea, but we don’t know where the sewer might lead us. That’s the first thing. The second—the Chechens are already making wide-spread use of the sewers as a means of approach and retreat during harassing missions against us. So we may well encounter an ambush down there. So thank you for the idea, but I think the collector should be detonated instead, caved in so that the Chechens can’t pop up in our rear. Do you agree?
-Yes, agreed, - the comm-batt said with a sigh of disappointment and sat back down.
-Other proposals?

There were many proposals offered, but no-one thought up anything as radical as the tanker’s idea. The hotel “Kavkaz” was not taken today and so and with approval from “Severny”, it was handed over for siege to the marine infantry. The people were brought back closer to the command post. It was decided to let them rest as much as possible and prepare themselves and their vehicles for the pending engagements. At the conclusion of the meeting, the chair was taken by the brigade’s deputy for “educational matters”, or the “zampolit” by the old reckoning, lieutenant-colonel Kazartsev Sergej Nikolaevich.

He was about a meter sixty in height, not thin, rather like a lot of infantrymen—wiry. He’s been through Afghanistan. What set him apart from many of his colleagues was that he did not treat the people nastily, did not run to the commanders over trifles but simply did his job. He knew how to seek out a common language with the people, how to get along with them. He was an authority among both the soldiers and the officers. He was respected for his Afghanistan service and for his ability to calmly work with those surrounding him.
-Comrade officers, “Severny” called, two Moskva banks are preparing to celebrate their jubilees and have decided to direct the “bucks” set aside for that towards “humanitarian aid” for the armed forces serving in Chechnya. So, transports will need to be commandeered tomorrow for “Severny” to deliver the parcels. Each contains a sports track suit, sneakers, toiletries, a block of cigarettes. For the officers—two cans of beer and for the fighters—two cans of “cola” plus some other things.
-Those in charge of distributing the aid lucked out!
-Get as much as you can—for the wounded and the dead as well!
-Yes, yes, get as much as you can.
-Want help?
-Which banks by the way?
-”Menatep” and “Inkom”, - Kazartsev answered over the noise.
-So these would be “menatapian and incoman rations?”
-”Menatapian” has a better ring to it, almost like “NATO”.
-Whoever doesn’t smoke, I’m buying their cigarettes.
-Wait, maybe it will be “Astra” or “Pauper in the Mountains”.
-True, they might get swapped out at “Severny”.
-Yep, those guys could well nick them.
-They won’t nick them, we’re off to Minutka after all.
-What do they care? The would rather hand the aid out after the assault—less to hand out, more left for them.
-Quiet! - the comm-brig’s baritone rang out over the clamour.

The noise died down almost immediately, the people were simply glad to be distracted from thinking of what’s ahead of them.
-Quiet! - the commander repeated. We all have a lot of work, so don’t waste time. Questions?

There were many questions, rhetorical ones for the most part. For this reason and knowing that one would receive no response other than “**** off” and “don’t be a smart-ass”, nobody volunteered. Everyone departed the meeting discussing the upcoming freebies. What a sweet word, it is, “freebie”!

{continued in next post}
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Old 08 Aug 11, 21:37
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 7 {continued from previous post}

Me and Yurka approached Kazartsev:
-Seryoga, don’t forget us when dividing up the parcels. The most important thing is cigarettes. Maybe somebody won’t be smoking.
-Guys, you’re not the first already. And there will be many more. Don’t you have a conscience?
-Yura! What’s he on about?
-What’s that?
-I don’t know. I know about kidneys, liver, stomach, but conscience? I haven’t heard of it. What about you, Slava?
-Me neither.
-Seryoga, we possess an almost absolute monopoly on spirits. I can’t fathom you rejecting your neighbours. Bad business.
-Can you imagine how in revenge we will urinate on the tyres of your vehicle and that we’ll have to also poo under your door. Can you imagine this?
-And this will continue for the rest of this war.
-And this nasty habit might migrate into peaceful life too. We’ll defecate in front of your apartment.
-Just you picture it, you emerge in the morning with the intention of reporting for duty and fall over having slipped over in ****. All dressed up and now covered in ****. Annoying, yes?
-And all because of some cigarettes.
-Slava, I think we have heard that today already.
-Speaking of the devil, when you’re at “Severny”, say hello to the commandant Sashka, tell him to give us more cigarettes and something else of his choice.
-He wouldn’t even remember you.
-He will, trust me.
-So what will it be?
-Either you’ll be sliding in **** until retirement or you’ll get us cigarettes. We don’t go to war with pensioners. -Why don’t you get lost…
-Yura, he chose ****.
-Clearly. We’ll begin this evening. Pashka will help.
-Did they seek you guys out all over the Siberian Military District and purposefully plant you in the same kung? -And not only from the Siberian one. I’m from the South-West Front and Yurka’s from the North Caucasus Military District. So this is fate, Sergej Nikolaevich. You will have to constantly bear this cross.
-Slipping over in ****. But that can be avoided…
-By chucking some cigarettes our way.
-We’ll always be happy to see you then.
-And we’ll tell our children about you, what a wonderful and heart-felt person you are. And if not, we’ll tell them also. That you’re ****.
-The client is not ripe yet.
-Not to worry. Once he slips over a few times, he’ll ripen up.
-We’ll talk tomorrow.
-Why didn’t you say so first? Thank you.
-The client has ripened. Good night.

We went to sleep in our kung. The fatigue came over us gradually, we wanted to sleep so badly. Having arrived “home” we were greeted by Pashka, who has laid the table and was shining like a piece of gingerbread wrapped in foil on a New Year’s tree. Having cleaned off the mud that stuck to our boots making them look like huge clogs, we stepped into the kung.
-What are you so happy abut, did you win the lottery? - Yurka asked Pashka. I was silent. A thought spun around in my head, an important one it seemed, but I had difficulty expressing it.
-Well, I have heard what you did at “Severny”…
-Be silent. Be silent and never speak of it to anyone. Nothing happened. You understand? - I interrupted him abruptly. There was no desire to remember and more so to discuss it.—Take out what we have in the stash. We’ll go wash our hands.

Leaving our weapons behind, me and Yurka emerged with a kettle of warm water. We snorted as we poured the water over us, washing ourselves thoroughly and for a long time. The skin began again to breathe. We wiped with rigid army towels. We sat on the ladder, smoking, facing up to the not so chilly winter breeze. There was a desire to sit like this for a long time. Simply sit there and not have to think. Sit there and smoke. The cigarette lights up in one’s fist as they draw on it. Bliss. Yurka interrupted my positive mood:
-Why did you set upon Pashka like that?
-He’s got no business wagging his tongue like that. What happened, happened and there is no use discussing it, pouring from the empty to the dry, especially for a soldier. He’ll be all over the command post, blabbering about what we tell him now. Let him be offended, just as long as he stays quiet. I’m thinking that even if we get out alive, we might still have to answer for it on the rack—what were you bitches planning? To simply avoid combat or to actually mutiny? So I would suggest to you also to shut it and forget about it.
-Can’t frighten a hedgehog with a bare ass.
-You and I my dear are not fighting in the Great Patriotic War, this war is for someone’s private property. So the owner of this property will be the one to enquire if we were planning to turn the arms entrusted to us against him. To set the people and the vehicles against them. We are participating in such a hilarious vaudeville that if it was not so terrifying, we could have laughed it up heartily. Do you even know what ALL THIS is about?
-Don’t Slava, you’ll go nuts thinking about it.
-I must already be nuts asking questions like that, - I took out another cigarette and lit it up from the butt of the old one, throwing it under my feet and stamping it our with my heel.
-We’ll be thrown out just like so, the time will come and it will come sooner that we’re expecting, we’ll be thrown away. Just like you light up, spit off, so will they spit after us. Remember my words. If we were not afraid to show our commander our teeth as we did just then, then we won’t be afraid to rip out his throat too—the chief, the commander. We’re used to blood and death. I can’t sleep when it’s quiet at night. If there’s artillery, I sleep like a baby, even better if there is aviation.
-Me too, - Yurka remarked quietly.
-Answer me a simple and stupid question. What is nationality?
-What do you mean? - Yura did not understand. –You were born with it. If you will, God gave it to you.
-So suppose you take a Chechen and bring him out as an infant to live in France. Give him a French name, raise him up in that environment. Educate him in a normal French school, then their university, make him take in their culture. What is HE? Or if it’s easier for you to imagine, not a Chechen, take a Russian to France. So, Yura, WHAT IS HE?
-It turns out he’s a Frenchman, - Yura pronounced tentatively.
-So it turns out that nationality is not a biological trait, but a social one. Meaning that this problem was created by the people themselves. They thought up ethnicity and using it as cover are setting one against another. The ancients had this axiom: “Divide and conquer”. Remember that even in Soviet times, when all nations and people were supposedly equal, the Russians served on the national borders, whilst the “niggers” in the Baltic and in Russia and the Balts in Ukraine and Moldavia. When there’s a riot, it’s harder to shoot, at your own countrymen and much easier at the aborigines. And the zampolit daddies stoked up artificial nationalism.
-So what about patriotism? Love for the Motherland?
-That’s right, the Motherland, - Yurka was exalted. This was a difficult question.
-What is this Motherland, Yura? - I asked quietly. - I’m no gypsy, Jew or some nomad. So you tell me what is this Motherland? What meaning do YOU attach to this word? In the past, the soldiers shouted “For God, the Tzar and Fatherland!”, then “For Motherland and Stalin!” And now? “For Motherland and the President!”, “For Motherland and Grachin!”.—I spat off. Maybe in twenty years or so, there will be movies showing troops march onto machine gun fire with such an idiotic war-cry. And as Grachin was saying, that the boys were dying with a smile on their lips, I would love to plant thirty grams of lead in his gut and watch how he dies with a smile on his lips. So what is motherland? A president who broke apart the Union and then threw us into one hell, then another, then a third one. And they didn’t even bother making a note about it in our file. Would a Motherland that loves its sons send them to their deaths? Was it not possible to surgically destroy the cancer—Dudaev? You’re silent. It’s possible, everything’s possible. And we would applaud with the rest of the world the fact that we arranged everything so neatly. Everything’s possible, as long as you’re not conspiring with Dudaev. Patriotism? Oskar Wilde—there was once such a clever Englishman, once said that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. The main paradox is that I love Russia, I love this territory, but I do not like the government. And this paradox gives birth to hatred of the notion of “Motherland”. It’s difficult to live in a country that you hate.
-So why do you fight? And you fight fairly well, in my opinion.
-Don’t suck up. I don’t know myself. I’m defending the Motherland. A paradox. A madhouse. Everything’s simple here. Black and white. Indians and pale-faces. We’re defending our motherland, which they threaten to tear apart. You go crazy from such thoughts. There’s this anecdote: A general comes to inspect a barracks. Walks around, checks everything. Then he says to the commander: “It’s gloomy in here. Paint the fence in all the colours of the rainbow.” The commander salutes: “Sir, yes, sir!” They continue the inspection. The general then says: “Place the bunks in a checkerboard pattern—it will be less gloomy.” The commander responds again: “Yes comrade general!” The general then says “Do you not have your own opinion on this, that you answer ‘yes’ to all sorts of nonsense?” So the commander responds: “I have an opinion, what I don’t have is enough service for a retirement yet, otherwise I would have told you long ago to go **** yourself”. I don’t have long service leave, Yura. Otherwise I would not be suffering from split personality.

-Well, maybe you should go see a psychiatrist then.
-So he can explain to me what a motherland is and whose interest I’m defending. And why we can’t blow up the refinery? And I’m really itching to do that by the way, imagine what an inconvenience that would be for somebody. Only if they were to then restore it from their own pocket, rather than the state budget, that would just be ideal. Surely, you’re aware, Yura that the first thing the aviation blew apart was the local ministry of finance?
-Yes, I know, so what of it?
-Let’s have a wager that right now in the dark, the aviation is not pounding Dudaev’s palace, nor the munitions dumps or the Chechen barracks, but the Chechen State Bank.
-Well, that’s hardly possible, - Yurka dragged, - however if these morons destroyed the finance ministry and then by that logic and on the eve of the assault…They might well be. Thus warning the enemy of the pending assault. What a bunch of morons!
-And that’s what I’m on about. So what is Motherland, Yura?
-Go to hell, you shitty mystic. You should become a zampolit.
-My papa was a military man and I have inherited a firm dislike of political officers from him, although there are some decent people amongst their number. It’s rare but it happens.
-Let’s go eat, or we’ll cark it. Shall we get drunk?
-Gladly, but I doubt it. Especially as it was a difficult day. As you might recall, between the two of us we have consumed a litre of vodka and snacked only with “chicken meat” and that did nothing.
-Indeed, - Yurka spat off. - what a ****ing life. You want to get drunk—you can’t. When I get home, I’ll drink until I pass out in my own green snot. Face in the salad.
-Exactly. Face in the salad. “Winter” salad. Over the ears. Just don’t drown in the dressing.

We laughed. When you ask stupid questions, that you do not have answers for and can change nothing, the only thing that remains is to swim with the flow, holding on to your partner. We entered the kung. Pashka has set the table and placed an open bottle of vodka at the centre.
-Any more cognac?
-Well then put it on the table. Enjoy life. Yurka looked at me disparagingly. It was clear—we may not have a chance to drink that cognac later, but his gaze expressed the question—must I air such rotten thoughts in front of the fighter. Pashka put up the cognac without removing the vodka. I took it up, opened it and filled our glasses almost to the full. There was a wild desire to get drunk.
-Let’s go! - I raised up my plastic glass.

The others followed my example. We brought our “goblets” together, they rustled and the dark liquid inside them stirred as we clinked. Down the hatch. The heavy viscous liquid streamed downwards. I winced in delight. It reached the stomach and began to spread its warmth around in there. We began to snack. Silently, not talking. There is nothing to say.
Everything is already set in motion, decided for us. One could submit their report and go home. But such thoughts did not even arise.

We were chewing quickly and as soon as the warmth in my stomach began to dissipate, I poured the remainder of the cognac. Yurka took his quickly:
-Are we just getting drunk? No toasts?
-No, we’re just having supper. But if you wan to speak then speak up, but make it short as the cognac is hot and I’m not drinking the vodka.
-I propose we drink for, - Yura began, - that God has helped us before. I would like to express out collective hope that fortune does not abandon us and that we make it out of this hell…
-So that we can end up in another hell in a few years’ time.
-And maybe we shall, but for now, in a day’s time we have to go to Minutka and that is why, send us fortune o Lord . To good fortune!
-Yura, do you serve in the army!
-Yeah, so?
-Well, there is the string of command in the army and you are appealing to God, bypassing your direct superior. You might get a talking to for that.
-Go to hell, you idiot! - Yurka sighed and slammed down the cognac.

I and Pashka drank also. There was a bit of noise in my head. Hopefully this was a buzz. That’s great. I was afraid to loose that feeling and was sitting very still. There was a feeling of mild intoxication and it was intensifying more and more.
-Slava, what is it? - Yura asked in a frightened voice.
-I’m OK, - I opened my eyes reluctantly.—bastard, you scared off my buzz.

My head became absolutely clean and clear.
-Curse you. Curse you three times.
-Scared off what? - my partner asked confusedly.
-What, what, - I mocked him, - I’m sitting there beginning to get drunk and you’re interfering with your questions. -I’m watching you sit there like a cat taking a ****, staring into one spot. They your eyes closed completely. I’m thinking you choked. Sorry that I broke your buzz. Maybe you’ll catch up with it?
-Tough chance, - I was getting annoyed, - but I can always try, let’s pour.

I took the bottle of vodka that Pashka initially placed on the table and filled the glasses. Me and Yura were not snacking. Maybe I can get drunk after mixing vodka and cognac. I rose, the cup in my hand.
-The third toast.
-The third, Yurka picked up.
-The third, - echoed Pashka.

Having stood for a while in silence, we drank almost simultaneously and sat back down not snacking or chasing. Still silent, we began to eat unhurriedly.
-Is it true that we are to take Minutka head on? - Pashka asked with his mouth full.
-That’s right, sonny, that’s right.—I knew that he could not stand being called “sonny”. He got angry:
-I’m not your sonny! I’m going to have a sonny of my own.

Then he added:
-Or maybe a daughter. And you’re telling me “sonny, sonny”.
-Well, Pashka, to make a sonny doesn’t require a lot of smarts. It’s a ten-minute affair. Then you have to deal with it for the rest of your lie. For example, they didn’t make a decent person out of you, no matter how they tried.
-Why not? - Pashka was getting angrier.
-You drink a lot, and are rude to us. And meanwhile, we treat you like family. We’ll have to educate you. What do you think, Slava?
-Yeah, - I continued, - it’s time to resort to radical measures. Why the **** did you get the sentry drunk on the train? A drunk sentry with a gun is a criminal. And you are his accomplice.
-What accomplice?
-An ordinary accomplice. Back in thirty seven, they would have charged you with sabotage and put you up against the wall according to the laws of wartime. And put a lead slug in the back of your head, - I touched the back of his head with my finger where one ordinarily gets shot at an execution. He twitched.
-Bad joke, Vyacheslav Nikolaevich.

I lit up. Yurka and Pashka followed my example.
-Alright, Pasha, - I began, - whilst we’re away…
-Where are you going to go? - Pavel interrupted me.
-We’ll be hiding in a basement, - I growled. -Don’t interrupt your seniors. We’ll mostly go with the troops. You, son of a bitch are responsible for the vehicle with your head. And for everything in it. If something happens, then…-I gestured to stop Pashka, who was trying to interrupt me, - If something happens, you’ll pass our things onto our families, you understand? And I’ll take your head off for the vehicle and say how it was. Did you get it all?
-Yes, yes. You’re telling me for a hundredth time. You don’t even have anything, other than dirty socks.
-So you’ll wash them then.
-Tough chance, - Pashka snorted.
-You’ll wash them, you’ll wash them. You’ll remember us and will shed tears for us.
-If I’ll shed tears for anything, it would be for the stench of your socks eating our my eyes.
-Pasha, - Yura interjected, - we have a particular ritual: when there is serious business ahead, we instruct you on what to do with our smelly laundry. But as you have no desire to stuff around with it, you pray for us thoroughly, so that God upon hearing your prayers protects us, thus absolving you of such thankless work—to wash our socks. By the way, do you still remember how our socks smell?
-Whatever you recon! I didn’t even wash dembel socks when I was “young”, and I won’t be washing yours, - Pasha was practically boiling at this point.

His anger egged us on.
-Pasha, as you know, a dying man’s wish is law. Have you heard of that?
-So then, - my voice became solemn, - my and Yurij Nikolaevich’s last will is that you wash our dirty socks, iron them and pass them onto our families. You can keep a pair from each of us for yourself. In loving memory. You can hang them on the carpet above your bed.
-Well, you’re not dying yet.
-What if suddenly…
-I’m not washing anything for you! - Pashka became grim and moody.
-Alright, Pasha, we were joking. Don’t get offended. Instead pour the rest, - Yura said.

Pashka complied and poured the remaining vodka into the three glasses. Everyone waited for him to finish dripping the remnants of the vodka into his glass. Everyone was counting in their heads.
-Twenty two, - Yura pronounced, breaking the silence.
-I’ve heard that you can squeeze thirty three drops out of any bottle, - I added.

We took up our plastic receptacles.
-What does the coming day have in store for us? - Yura asked, addressing us.
-**** knows, - Pashka answered for everyone.
-Be what may. Let’s drink to that. To Fate and to His Majesty Chance! - I said.
-Correct! - Yura acknowledged my toast.—To Destiny and Chance.

Then he quietly added, as if to himself, but we could hear him clearly:
-One has to be ready for death. May this cup be taken away from me, - and he drank.
-You put that the right way, Yura, that one has to be prepared for death. That it does not take you unawares. One has to finish their business and not take up any loans, otherwise their family has to pay for your frivolity. May this cup be taken away from me, - I repeated the evangelist’s words and drank also.

Pashka drank his. We snacked in silence. We cleaned out what was on our plates and in the open tins. Sated and satisfied now, we lit up. The day ahead no longer seemed so grim.
-What cup were you talking about? - Pashka asked as he drew on his cigarette in delight.
-That, Pavel, is what Jesus said on the eve of his death, addressing his God-Father. He knew that he will be executed, he was frightened and so, he though he’d he ask his daddy not to do that, - I explained. - Read the Gospels, when you have time, Pashka. A very engaging and instructive book. You’ll discover a lot of useful things in it.
-Ah books… - Pashka dragged.

It became presently clear that Pashka was not a fan of reading.
-Have a read of it, Pashka, have a read. Books contain the centuries of generational wisdom. You won’t make it on personal experience alone. How will you raise up your child? What examples will you set based on life? From whose life? Your own? You haven’t seen anything other than drunkenness. So you'll teach your child how to drink. Or how you got the sentry detail drunk on the train? - Yurka was apparently in a philosophical mood.
-Don’t confuse the lad’s brain, Yura, - I interjected. In the very least, he’s in no danger of developing schizophrenia.
-Why is that?
-When I was a cadet, I had a girlfriend who was a medical student. So, she told me that in her psychiatry classes, they were told that a person who does not read books is not predisposed to schizophrenia. This is because, when reading a book, the person engages with its characters having filtered its contents through themselves. The personality of the reader then becomes imprinted with that of the book’s character and the splitting of personality occurs. And something else happens. But it was packed with so many medical terms that this is the only thing that I remembered.
-Hm, yeah schizophrenia is no threat to Pashka. White fever on the other hand—very definitely is! - Yura diagnosed. -If in our absence, they start handing out the humanitarian aid, go see the zampolit, lieutenant-colonel Kazartsev and tell him we sent you. Collect the aid for yourself and us from him. If you, creature, drink our beer, you’d better hang yourself. You know the sizes of our clothes and shoes. We’ll write it down just in case. Most importantly, he has to give us extra cigarettes. If he forgets, you will remind him, that he said he promised more cigarettes. Understand? -I get it. Will there be a lot of cigarettes?
-We don’t know. But we hope so. Have we ever ripped you off?
-No. Hasn’t happened. Other staff officers hide their stuff, but you don’t.
-See. We’re thinking how to feed you, supply you with smokes, get you drunk and you refuse to wash our socks, you shithead! - Yurka began again.
-I won’t wash your socks! - Shashka exploded.
-Don’t shout at ranking officers, otherwise you might cop it in the eye, - Yurka said. - We’re going out for a leak and meanwhile you can clean up and have a think regarding the socks. Air out the kung, or we won’t be able to sleep. One could hang an axe in here.
-I won’t laundry your socks! - Pashka issued through his teeth, quietly and stubbornly.
-Why the hell are you winding him up? - I asked, lighting up and taking my spot next to Yurka. We had walked some distance away from the vehicle.
-I’m bored, - Yura answered simply.
-I’m getting a feeling that something is nagging you.
-Nothing’s nagging me, I was just thinking over your stupid dilemmas all night. What is Motherland?
-Ah did it get to you too? So what is Motherland?
-Go to hell. -No, no, don’t you send me to hell. Answer me about Motherland.
-Are you going to ask me about the meaning of life next?
-The meaning of life is definitely unknown, but you should tell me about motherland instead.
-You’re right about one thing, Slava. Motherland and government are two distinct, incompatible concepts.
-Motherland and state are, - I corrected Yura.
-It’s a good thing when the country you live in has a single culture, such as Israel.
-Well, the States have as many cultures as in Babylon. And they understand one another. And the state of Texas does not contemplate seceding USA. Why? Because there is enough work there. If you’re not lazy, you live well.
-That’s right, everything is upside-down here.
-Anyway, enough philosophy. Same ****, we won’t understand or achieve anything. Meanwhile, with our socks we spoiled Pashka’s mood for a long time.
-That’s right. Shall we fire a few off? - from his pocket, Yura produced some captured lighting rockets.
-Let’s go! - I took a few from him.

We walked a little way away from one another, raised up the rocket launchers holding them in our outstretched hands and pulled the ignition cords. Two loud pops rang out almost simultaneously and the rockets hissed off into the dark sky. Up there, with a crackling sound, they lit up their fires and proceeded towards the ground. The sentries also periodically launched these rockets, so the surroundings were almost constantly bathed in an unnatural, dead light. The objects on the ground cast whimsical, fractured shadows. Launching rockets, makes one feel like it’s New Year’s at home. For New Years, I always brought lighting rockets from the barracks and our whole family went out onto the street after midnight to launch them. Me and my son were delighted. I felt the same now. I threw away the spent shell and taking another one, launched it without waiting for my partner. A sour smell of burned powder hung in the air. Yura was right behind me with launching his.
-Let’s go to sleep? - I asked when the last of our rockets went out.
-Let’s smoke the last one and we’ll go, - my partner replied.

We lit up. We were silent for a bit.
-Will they send us together, what do you think?
-No idea. Maybe together, maybe not.
-They may shove one of us into the second battalion, until the new commander is appointed.
-There are plenty of decent platoon commanders there. Is there a shortage of those willing to become a chief of staff in our brigade?
-There are plenty who are willing, but few with the necessary staff experience.
-You think they’ll assign you to command the staff for a while?
-Maybe. They won’t send you, you are an officer for co-ordination.
-We’ll live, we’ll see.
-Imagine it, the guys in the battalions are preparing their vehicles right now, their people, confirming their place in the column. Ammunition, men. What fortune it is to get away from commanding posts. There is no worse place in the army than that of the company commander. You run around like a dog.
-Yeah that’s right. There is a good anecdote about that, but with a navy slant. An old submarine commander is summoned to the headquarters. They tell him: “We want to introduce new benefits for sailors on active sea duty”. The cadres man: “We want to raise their salaries, give them apartments ahead of their turn, give them resort trips. We are thinking that when they find out about this on the shore, they’ll burst from envy. What do you think?” The commander: “They’ll definitely burst. So when the first one goes off, please make me his replacement!” It’s the same here. No matter what perks they offer to the platoon and company commanders, no matter what songs they sing, same ****, you have to keep away from these command posts.
-Let’s go sleep. We have a hard day ahead of us.
-Yeah. Who knows when we’ll sleep properly again. Slava, you know, you’re a massive parasite.
-What? Why?
-With you questions. Motherland or no Motherland. Country, state. ****. My head is splitting.
-I feel good on the other hand. I spoke out and it’s better now. Let others torment themselves now.
-And that’s what I mean—parasite.
-Don’t torture yourself. The search for inner meaning, never did any good for anybody. Forget it for now. If we make it out alive—we’ll talk more. We won’t have time to talk in the coming days. Let the reflexes do the work.
-True, that. Let the central nervous system do some work. It’s a pity about the lads though. A lot of them will remain here.
-Like in Baklanov’s ”Forever Nineteen”.
-Enough with you. Let’s go sleep.

We walked to our vehicle and entered after throwing out our cigarette buts. Sashka had cleaned up while we were away and has gone to bed.
-Are you on sentry duty today?
-No. My turn comes tomorrow and even then, during the day.
-You slacker. Who’s going to guard my sleep?
-It’s your sleep, so you guard it.
-He’s rode again. We’ll have to make you dig a foxhole, standing up from a horse.
-A foxhole, standing up from a horse?
-Exactly. Or you’ll get too mouthy.
-And the horse’s elevation?
-Three meters.
-There are no such horses.
-There are. In Moskva, there is a monument to Yuri Dolgoruki, have you seen it? Well, you’ll be digging for him and his horse, if you dare talk back again. Get it, you dumb-ass?
-I get it, I get it, - Pashka grumbled. He knew that when we get annoyed, we could pull off anything.

Once again, we took off only our boots and socks. We loosened the belts on our trousers. My assault rifle—at the foot of my bunk. Yurka’s—on a nail above his head. A pair of grenades into the head of the bed—under the matrass. A captured PB—under the matrass at hip-level, a round in its chamber, with safety on. One can now loose themselves in a short sleep. I regret not getting drunk. That bastard, Yurka spoilt it. I’ll remind him tomorrow. The light bulb that lit up our premises hung over my bed. I half-unscrewed it and everything became immersed in darkness. For good-night, I declared:
-Bed-time in the comms troop.

Thus finished another long day of another war. God, Fate, Chance willed that I remain alive. Carry me on further. My whole life meant very little. Ahead of me lay the suicidal assault on Minutka. Lord help me! After this silent address to God, I fell asleep.

Last edited by UVB76; 08 Aug 11 at 22:45..
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 8

The alarm clock rang at seven. The night was quiet. Nobody attacked us. I slept like a baby. No dreams. My mouth tasted like a hundred or two pioneers just relieved themselves in there. My throat was dry. The alcohol had had its effect on my body after all, it’s a pity my head remained clear. It would be good to drink some pickle brine right now. Oh, the dreams, the dreams. I got up and got dressed. Went outside with Yurka. It was foggy again. That means fine weather ahead. I raised up my hands a few times and the blood ran quicker through my veins. We washed up and smoked a cigarette. Pashka, meanwhile having risen ahead of us, prepared breakfast.
-What have you prepared for your fathers, sonny? - Yura enquired as we entered the kung.
-Cofee, cheese sandwiches and the “mass grave” - sprats in tomato sauce, garlic, onion, - Pashaka answered.
-Should we sink down a shot? - Yura asked.
-Let’s do fifty grams or so, - I wasn’t against the idea, although rarely drank in the mornings.
-Vodka, cognac?
-How about cognac? It’s vulgar to drink vodka in the mornings.
-Pashka, bring out the cognac. Preferably a French brand, a twenty year vintage, from the south of France. Do we have any?
-We have some from Dagestan, sir, - Pashka mimicked Yura’s tone.
-It’s ****, naturally, but in the absence of letterhead, one writes on plain paper. We’ll have to choke on Dagestani cognac, which is fermented from bed bugs. Pashka, if you procure French cognac, I’ll forgive everything. You can even sell out the Motherland. I’ll forgive! - Yurka was in an uplifted mood.

Pashka meanwhile reached into the box where we kept food and booze, took out a bottle of cognac, opened it and poured into the glasses. Just as we were about to drink up, there was a knock on the door. Our neighbour—the zampolit Kazartsev was at the threshold. He started shouting (in jest):
-Are you devils ****ed in the head? To swill cognac in the morning by the glassful. And to booze up this juvenile criminal! Shove over! Oh look at your huge ass, you must be eating better than a colonel. You need to be chased around more. Or better still sent into some battalion, there is a shortage of people there. You’ll slim up immediately, - Seryoga perched up next to Pashka and took his cup. He sniffed it.
-Bastards are drinking without bothering to invite the zampolit. Swine. This’ll have to be reported to the comm-brig, that staff officers are drinking in the mornings. And what are they drinking? Cognac. And you were extorting cigarettes from me yesterday.
-Will you drink, or what? Are you hoping to spoil our mood this early in the day? - I wanted to sink my shot, but the zampolit was producing distracting noise.
-What a nose you have, Seryoga! - Yurka did not conceal his admiration. - Not too soon, not too late, just as we poured and bang, you’re here.
-He was probably standing at the door eavesdropping.
-Are you going to drink?
-Naturally! - Sereyoga once again looked into the glass he took from Pashka. - You’re too young still, you alcoholic. What are we drinking to, men?
-To luck. We shall all need it in the shortness of time, - Yurka was solemn.
-It’s to luck then, - Seryoga also became solemn.

We drank. Everyone had only a little in their glass. Pashka was deprived of his portion and was staring at us in envy. We began to snack.
-It was decided overnight that some of the staff officers are to be sent to the battalions, - Seryoga said as he chewed on a sandwich.
-Why the hell? - my reaction was instant and genuine.—We’ll only interfere with their work. The company and platoon commander will not be able to properly function as a leader and a commander. We’ll be unnecessary ballast at their commanding post. Like a sleeve on the head.
-Really, Sergej—what are we needed there for? - Yurka was also surprised.
-Hell knows what they are planning. This order came from “Severny”. By the way, our troops took Khankala overnight and consequently the staff is moving there.
-And the point being? No planes will land there anyway, only “spinners”. Plough everything up at Severny, transfer the planes remaining there to the Mainland, or destroy them and there will be less headache. A whole regiment will be guarding that airport and another regiment is taken away from the frontline and sent to defend Khankala! It’s retarded! - I genuinely did not understand the point of all these reshuffles.
-What is this Khankala? - Pashka joined in the conversation.—I’ve heard a lot about it, but what is it?
-Khankala, - Seryoga began out of a zampolit’s habit of answering all the soldiers’ questions, - is a former DOSAAF airfield. Czech-made training aircraft are concentrated there. Dudaev was trying to re-configure them into combat aircraft, but ran out of time. According to rumours and intelligence…
-Which is one and the same, - Yurka interjected.
-That’s right, - Seryoga continued, - they managed to convert a few after all and then fly them off to somewhere. There are ballistic rocket launchers located not far from Khankala. Ballistic missiles were stationed there previously. When they kicked us out of here, we may have left a few warheads behind. Nothing surprises me any more. Plus, there are structures at Khankala. Soon we’ll go to fetch the humanitarian aid, so we’ll get a look at the commander’s new post. -Seryoga, to hell with this Khankala, tell us instead why the **** we’re being thrown into the battalions. We have zero effectiveness as combat units. We are not given a company or a platoon. And we have outgrown such a role anyway. The point?
-I don’t know. It’s Rolin’s command. A maximum of command personnel—to the frontline.
-Alright, at least we can do some good there still. But what about the deputy quartermaster? - Yurka was also boiling over with indignation.
-Don’t **** on my brain, guys. An order is an order. We’re going to the second battalion, together.
-Together? That’s good.
-Did you ask to be transferred with us yourself?
-And what for?
-You don’t want to give us the smokes?
-It’s better to go with you thugs, rather than with some poonce.
-So, Seryoga, you have recognised us for our achievements!
-You might be retards, - Pashka, cover your ears, - but you won’t run, won’t leave me and the men. And you won’t get into harm’s way needlessly.
-That’s right. We’ll send you into harm’s way needlessly instead. A second?
-Let’s do it. And then we’ll go to the staff for briefing. The assault is to begin today at midday.
-Are they all ****ed in the head over there at “Severny”? - Yurka went red from anger.
-That’s it, the brigade’s ****ed! - Pashka expressed the collective’s opinion.
-Shut up, you dumbass, don’t jinx it! Pour it instead and while we’re at the briefing, fill our hipflasks with cognac and vodka. Put spirits into one of them. You know where the bottle is hidden. And not a word to anyone about what you have heard here. You understand? - Yurka was no longer just talking, he was shouting. Anger, fear, helplessness—all these things were written on his face.
-I get it, I get it. No need to shout, - Pashka mumbled in return.

We lit up. There was no desire to say anything. We needed to think it over, digest the situation. Pashka meanwhile poured cognac for everyone and after a nod from Seryoga, for himself also.
-Shall we?
-Let’s go.

We drank. We began to chew on the contents of the “mass grave”. Again, nobody said a word. I looked at the watch. It was 7:40.
-Let’s go?
-Let’s go. With God! - Yurka crossed himself.

And so, we took our coats and weapons and having emerged into the street went to the staff. Staff officers were already standing there, waiting for everyone to gather, before entering the meeting room. The news that almost all staff officers are to be assigned to battalions or companies had already done the rounds. Judging by the few conversations that could be heard, nobody understood what their position was in the emerging situation. It was not a matter of cowardice, but that of subordination. A battalion officer was at a lower level of responsibility than any staff officer and therefore our position had been made duplicitous. On the one hand, a battalion commander and his chief of staff had to submit to us as agents and observers for the brigade staff. But under no circumstance did we want to undermine their authority and standing with their subordinates. On the other hand we cold not submit to their command from our position, and so it was turning out that we were as needed in these formations as a hare needs a stop-signal.

I searched out the second battalion’s commander. This was a legendary character. It was said that once, under fire, he carried out the wounded mechanic and commander of a knocked-out BMP, on his arms. He was riding on their armour. That once, he challenged the Chechens to a duel over the air. When they accepted, the choice of weapon was assault rifles after which the Chechens began to respect him. His first shot went through his opponent’s shoulder from fifty meters and he didn’t finish him off. The Chechen missed.

He fought for his soldiers like they were his own children. He negotiated bringing out the wounded over the radio with the Chechens. They let him do it the first time, the second time, they shot up his MT-LBu, which was transporting the wounded. Six soldiers and one officer perished. After this, he no longer radioed with duelling proposals. Instead he sent his fighters under the cover of darkness to knife out the stoned Chechens. Not fearing the bullet, sometimes on his belly, sometimes on his knees, he went around his fighter’s positions for inspection, visiting each one. He did not see it above himself to talk to his soldiers, joke with them, drink a hundred grams. He was never buddy-buddy with them, but everyone knew that he takes everyone’s death in a hard way and doesn’t want to build his officer’s career on soldiers’ bones. He was not afraid to express his own opinion. An opinion based not on personal ambitions or grudges, but the current situation, life itself. This was probably why, being forty two years of age and having graduated from the academy, he remained at the level of a battalion commander. A most colourful character. About a meter eighty five in height, about a hundred fifty kilograms in weight, but not of fat, of meat, muscle. He could hide an edged glass in his hand. Full of force and energy for work and for war. It was with him and his people that through fate and the commanders’ decisions I was to storm Minutka. The only thing was that he became thoroughly bogged down at this hotel “Kavkaz”. It drained a lot of his blood.

I spotted the man and approached him:
-Good health, Aleksandr Petrovich.
-Good health, Vyacheslav Nikolaevich.
-Have you heard about the thing with the staff personnel.
-Yes, I’ve heard. ****! - he spat and very illustratively expressed his treatment of what was happening and this initiative.—It turns out that I am not to be trusted. Right?
-**** knows, Petrovich, what games they are playing. It’s not to my liking either. You probably know already that I’m being sent to you.
-I’ve heard. Yurka also as well as the zampolit. Why him though? It’s like in thirty seve—a special council of the “three”! Who’s going to be carrying out the sentence?
-Don’t talk nonsense.
-Slava, how can I not talk nonsense, when I’m short of a chief of staff . I can’t assign any of the company commanders—there are no replacements for them either. Some of the platoon commanders are gone. I spent the whole night handing that ****ing hotel to the neighbour, the comm-batt was no longer speaking, he was growling.—And now you with your fantasies. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against you and Yuri and the zampolit is also a decent guy, but what is this whole spectacle for? Am I not to be trusted?
-Go to hell, Petrovich. “Not to be trusted”. I was sleeping like a baby and meanwhile this crap. I’m of the same opinion myself. I won’t put sticks in your wheels. Command as your experience guides you. If you need anything—I’ll help. When you drive off to the battalion, and if they don’t think up something new, take us with. -Alright. But don’t disappear anywhere. Don’t take a lot of vodka, I have plenty of that merchandise. As for smokes—take a bit more—we’re short. There’s enough to eat as well.

At this point all present started to move into the staff premises. San Sanych together with the brigade commander as well as our general were already waiting. By all appearances, the general was assigned the same fate at our brigade as us—to sit there and observe.
-Comrade officers, - the commander began, -the order was received to begin the operation today at 12:00. There is also the order for securing officers of the brigade’s command behind every battalion and individual company as my deputies. Thus ensuring uninterrupted cooperation.

There was a noise in the room.
-Stay calm, comrade officers, I understand your indignation. Nobody is trying to substitute anyone and most importantly this is not a case of mistrust. The chief of staff will now announce who will be attached to which battalion.

Bilich rose and quickly read out the list. As Kazartsev said earlier, the three of us ended up in the second battalion. -What’s the plan of attack? - asked Mazur—the tank battalion’s commander.
-When we entered the city, did we have a plan?
-And we don’t have one now. The first objective is the state bank. The second—Dudaev’s palace. The rest - according to circumstances.

There was again a noise in the room. Everyone expletively discussed this turn of events.
-The tankers are going first, together with the second battalion. They are being covered and supported with fire from the first and third battalions. Questions?

No-one started asking any questions, knowing that they won’t hear anything intelligible in reply. They gradually began to disperse. It was no use for me to stay here, so I went outside. Yurka followed. The brigade’s zampolit and the second battalion’s commander remained with the comm-brig. We lit up.
-So, what do you think of all this?
-Nothing. It’s best not to think about it. Let’s go pack.

The next hour was spent gathering our things and finishing off the cognac left over from breakfast. Then the second battalion’s commander came by and we set off. We arrived after about twenty minutes and from there drove with the column towards Minutka. The neighbours, who were already informed of the nature of our “glorious” mission farewelled us, shouting something encouraging. Amazingly, nobody stopped us, or shot at us upon approach to Minutka.

We stopped four blocks away from the cursed square and the comm-batt called his officers to a briefing. He quickly laid out what was already known. Introduced us as officers for coordination with the brigade staff and added that the brigade’s zampolit will join us later, to also offer his assistance. We knew many of these officers already. Three of the four company commanders were cadre officers, with the fourth having been recently appointed in place of Seryoga Maksimenko, who has been killed. But he was already carrying himself with confidence, he was amongst his own. The rumble of artillery fire and the air raid could be heard from the direction of Minutka. Meanwhile, the sound of clanging metal came from our rear. A few minutes passed and the tank battalion’s column could be seen to approach. Seryoga Mazur was perched on top of the third vehicle, the whites of his eyes and teeth shining.
-Good health!
-Good health, we haven’t seen one another a while, not an hour has passed. Ready?
-Ready for what?
-For your “carousel”? I’ve heard already. Good thinking, hopefully it will work.
-We’ll see. When do we begin?
-In fifteen minutes or so, the artillery will go silent and the aviation will fly away, and we’ll begin.
-We’ll have to wait an extra five minutes or so, to be sure.
-Of course. They may miss the Chechens, but to hit their own—it’s a guaranteed bull’s eye.
-For sure. It’s happened many times. Who goes first?
-Go send your tankers.
-Why don’t send yourself to hell, hmm? When we entered the city, the infantry pissed itself and I had to send my guys under grenade fire.
-We’ll go together then.
-But, my tanks will not go onto the bridge. There will definitely be a heap of grenadiers there. I’ll help you to mount the bridge and get on the other side, I’ll provide fire support when you’re there and you’ll have to rely on your infantry luck from there on in.
-It’s always like this.
-Don’t grumble, gramps. Pour, or I’ll go.
-He’ll come, be rude to us and now we have to pour for him. Don’t you have any yourself, you free-loader?
-I do, but it’s too far to walk.
-Alright, Sashka, - the infantry battalion called his mechanic-driver, - go fetch some snacks and a bottle of “krislallovka”.
-O, you’re living well - drinking moskovite vodka, - we were sincerely amazed.
-That’s from my private stash, which I keep for special occasions.

The vodka was poured for all the officers present, including those from the companies. We drank. We snacked straight out of a can of frozen spam. As we drank, the artillery ceased and after a few more minutes the din of aviation ceased. Silence descended on the scene, broken only by the sporadic crackling of machine guns and rifles.
-Comrade lieutenant-colonel! - A fighter stuck his head out of a BMP. - “Twenty second” (brigade commander’s call-sign) commands “555”.
-Transmit that the order is understood and that we are carrying it out, - and the battalion commander ran off toward his own vehicle.

We went after him. The tankers and second battalion’s company commanders also ran to their vehicles, which then set off. A block before Minutka we were halted by our recon troops, who told us that they managed to push the Chechens back from our side, but that they dug in on the bridge itself and on the other side. It didn’t look like the bridge was mined, but they could not guarantee it. The infantry troopers have leapt off the vehicles and using their sides and the surrounding ruins for cover awaited orders. It was decided that “makhra” will go first and the “boxes” fifty meters behind them.

In breach of every canon of field operations of the entire world, the comm-batt went with the company in the avant-garde, rather than behind his troops. There was nothing left for me and Yura to do than to go with the commander. In short runs, hiding behind the ruins, we reached the bridge. The reconnaissance men were holding off frenzied fire from the Chechens, who were trying to take it back. Beginning somewhere in the middle of the bridge there were improvised fortifications made from chunks of concrete, where the Chechens took cover and whence forth they sprayed our shore with lead. Nobody could stick their heads out. The Chechen mortars started pounding us with mines. They were conducting ranging fire for the time being and the mortars were exploding in the river, but closer to us each time. After a few minutes the first mines exploded on our shore. In addition they began shooting from their under-barrel mortars. The noise was unbearable. The howling of mines was getting louder, bullets and shrapnel were constantly knocking on the concrete blocks behind which we were hiding. The first casualties appeared.

A mine exploded near the first company’s positions, the same one with whom we were located. One of the big fragments tore half the head off of one soldier. His body lay on its stomach, half the neck was torn out and the other half was bent to the right under the weight of the head. Blood was gushing like a fountain out of the mangled throat, painting the wall in a brown colour. A fighter crawled to the body, not to deliver first aid, but to get the dog-tag from the mutilated neck and retrieve the documents from the inner pocket. When the fighter was turning the dead man over, his hands jerked forward and grasped the assault rifle that a second ago belonged to him. It was as if he did not want to part with it. Having observed this scene out of the corner of our eyes, we turned our attention to the Chechens again. They were reinforcing their positions on their shore. From behind came the already familiar clang and clamour. Our guys. The tankers. They could have come sooner.

The leading tank fired, but the shot was not aimed. It flew over the Chechens’ heads and exploded somewhere far behind their backs. The second shot was closer. It chased away a group of Chechens with shrapnel. A few bodies remained motionless on the pavement, a few were screaming and thrashing about there also. Wounded. The mortar fire ceased and assault rifle fire became quieter. The comm-batt ordered:
-Second company! Ready the underbarrelers for battle! Fire! First and third company—forward! He himself leapt up first, drawing the people after him and ran, bending down almost to the ground.

The people followed his example. Some shouting, some swearing, and we also joined in the collective motion. Underbarreler mortar grenades rustled over our heads. The pop and clink of fragments from their explosions could be heard up ahead on the bridge and the opposite shore. The thumping noise of tank cannons sounded from behind us. Explosions from their shells scattered the infantry on the opposite bank. Those on the bridge crawled back and hid behind a burned-out tank. Mortar fire began again. The screaming sound of approaching mines was more unnerving than the explosions themselves. It seemed like the air around you was vibrating, compressing, assaulting your eardrums which are already rough from the sound of explosions. The will is practically paralysed. The sound is such, the feeling is such, that it seems that this particular mine is coming straight for you. Upon hitting your body, it will tear it into a hundred pieces and fling them all around. But gradually through the force of will, you make yourself open your eyes and look at the world.

The second company pulled up to our positions. It was announced over the radio that the first and third battalions have approached and are ready to provide fire support as the bridge is being taken. After a minute, the BMP of the two incoming battalions joined the quire of tank cannons and assault gun rattle. The dog-like yelping of the guns in the first battalion together with the more solid sound of the third’s bigger calibre could be heard.

The Chechens almost shut up. The opposite shore was veiled in explosions from shells and grenades. The air was touchable by hand, the dust cracked on one’s teeth and the throat was raw from TNT and some other crap. The eyes began to water, the shock, the fright of the first minutes of battle was passing. The blood began to thump in the sides of the head, sweat poured from under the helmet guard. It immediately became hot. I unbuttoned my coat and loosened the clasp on the flak jacket. I turned over onto my back. I retrieved the cigarettes and matches. I lit up. Yurka, who was lying near-by extended his hand and gestured that he also wanted a smoke. I gave him a cigarette. It was utterly futile to attempt to speak in this hellish pandemonium.

I drew, with almost no perception of the cigarette’s taste. Only bitterness. Bitterness, mixed with burned powder and nicotine. I knew from experience that this cacophony will end in five or ten minutes and I will have to run and crawl over this bridge. I do not want to! I want to lie here and look into the sky. The fragments of some prayer emerged in my head. I could not recall it properly. The main thing is—forward and survive. At our comm-brig’s order, the fire was shifted deeper into enemy positions. The BMP fell silent. They could nick us. The comm-batt, shouted out: -Forward! Ur-r-r-r-a!

The people began to leap out of their shelters and ran forward, some on their hands and knees, some fully upright. I was also running. The Chechens, seeing our assault begin, opened fire. Somebody to the right of me cried out somehow shrilly. The fighter ahead of me, as if coming upon an invisible obstacle was flung back, spreading out his arms. His gun fell at my feet, I stepped on it and nearly slipped over.

I glanced at the body momentarily, as I ran past. The groin was torn open. The trousers swelled with blood, his wide-open eyes stared into the sky. “The got him” - passed through my brain. I became frightened. I again felt the taste of blood in my mouth. I was frightened, very frightened. My feet began to feel as if they were stuffed with cotton wool. I shouted. Shouted something incomprehensible. I yelled and bellowed from fright. Lord, help me, let me live.

Only a short distance remained to the bridge now. There it was—littered with chunks of concrete and brick, enveloped in barbed wire. Ahead of me, about thirty people ran onto the bridge. They opened up in hurricane fire from the other side. The first ten or so fell down, two were still moving, trying to crawl back. The rest fell back and took cover in the ruins of a former Chechen checkpoint.

I flopped down beside them, then crawled behind some concrete rubble. I stuck out my gun and let off a volley in the direction of the Chechen side. I looked around. The other officers remained slightly behind. That meant that I was in charge here.

Straining to shout over the noise of battle, I yelled that somebody try to pull the wounded off the bridge. The fighters lying next to me nodded in understanding. Two started crawling forward, whilst the rest opened fire trying to cover their guys. The wounded, seeing that help was approaching tried to crawl towards it, but were not doing too well. The comm-batt crawled up from behind and shouted into my very ear:
-You’re a fast runner, Slava.
-I run even faster in the opposite direction, - I answered.
-It’s tougher than “Severny”, huh?
-That’s right. If only we can prevent them from blowing up the bridge.
-And for this reason, Slavyan, we should take it sooner, - and he shouted again: - Forward! Forward, lads!

And the people stirred again and streamed forward out of their holes, towards flying death. The comm-batt himself emerged from the concrete slab and ran forward and I followed. And again the first of us were on the bridge. Those that were crawling to get the wounded, rose to their feet and joined the others.

And so I’m on the bridge. Whistling and clamour. The Chechens shift the mortar fire here. A concussion. I fall. I sit up. I feel myself over. All is seemingly well, except I can’t hear anything. I slap over one ear with an open palm, then the other as if knocking out some water. Nothing. A soundless veil separates me from the surrounding world. Then I get it—contusion. The shockwave whipped at my eardrums, bending them inwards. It’s nothing dire. It will pass in time. I looked there, where the mine exploded. I remembered that there were four fighters ahead of me. Where are they? There they are. The mangled bodies of four fighters lay across the bridge. It looked like they took all the fragments, leaving none for me. For the time being. Either from the contusion or from the sight of intestines or from fright, my stomach churned and I began to vomit. I was turning inside-out for a long time, until only bile was cominng. I spat it off. It was amazing but some of the deafness passed away together with the vomit.

{continued in next post}
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Old 16 Aug 11, 21:24
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 8 {continued from previous post}

People were running all around me. Some were falling and no longer moving. I sat like an idiot next to a puddle of my vomit and was happy. Alive! Alive! There was a bitter taste in my mouth. I was thirsty. I felt for my hipflask and took a large gulp. And I had to immediately spit almost all of it out. Pashka filled this one with cognac. I pushed the air out of my lungs and drank. A concussion was gradually settling in in my head. Right, I have to get out of here. But to walk off the battlefield with a simple concussion is not serious business. I looked at the remains of the fighters that took my shrapnel.

Forward, forward. My thought were still tangled. They were straining through a cotton-wool stupor. I began to get up. Wobbling, I stood on my feet with some difficulty. All is well. This will pass in an hour or so. Not my first contusion. Just need to drink vodka and not be shy about it. And everything will be wonderful. Forward! I made a few stubborn steps. I stopped and looked around. Ahead of me, approximately in the middle of the bridge our soldiers have taken cover. And I was standing behind them, swaying like a pendulum. “It’s amazing that nobody picked me off yet”, was the thought in my head. I somehow managed to quickly locate that spot that permitted me to stay consistently upright and I ran to our positions with my still foreign-feeling legs half-bent at the knee.

I didn’t make the full distance and flopped onto my belly ten meters short, crawling the rest of the way. Having reached my guys, I leant against some chunk of concrete. The fighters who lay slightly ahead of me turned around and shouted something, but my thoughts were still tangled and I did not make out what it was exactly. Judging by their encouraging gestures, it was something good. They worked out that there is something wrong with my hearing and raised up their thumbs. I nodded my head in agreement.
-I’m not wounded, simply contused, - I shouted.

The tankers started firing over our heads again. The enemy fire died down a little and we again moved forward. I now dragged my feet somewhere in the middle of them. I did not fire for fear of hitting my own. Behind us the soldiers of the first battalion have already entered the bridge. It was finally possible to traverse the bridge. The main task was now to hold it. Using mortar fire, the Chechens forced the first battalion to fall back. Only our, second battalion remained on the enemy shore now. The bridge was littered with corpses, about fifty from a cursory glance. A hundred fifty meters of bridge and fifty dead. A grim arithmetic. The wounded were taken away by the men in the first battalion.

Not ceasing to fire at the bridge, the Chechens started shooting at us as well. And now they were putting up a smoke screen—a sure sign of a pending counter-attack. The comm-batt’s order passed down the chain. “Ready the underbarrelers. Fire!” We began to shoot up the growing smoke cloud. There was enough smoke even without this screen, but this smoke was black in colour. Those fighters that did not have underbarrel mortars let off long volleys from their assault rifles into this cloud. The screams of the wounded could be heard coming both from the cloud and from our side. There was a clanging of caterpillars in there. Was it a tank or a BMP? And the decimation of our flimsy positions began. The odd stone and chunk of concrete walls are a crappy hiding place from the shells.

The sound of our jets could be heard from above and bombs started falling from the sky. Has the reader ever been under an airstrike? No? And thank God.

A bomb is five hundred kilos of metal and explosive that hurtles towards the ground with a terrifying sound. The sound of mortars now seems a sweet serenade in comparison. The howl of a bomb paralyses the body with terror and compels its every cell to vibrate in unison with that sound. All thought is lost and you simply lie there, a piece of meat awaiting its death. Everything human leaves you. I have heard it said that a lot of our guys have been taken out by our own aviation, but I have never had to lie under our own bombs myself. And now I have experienced that too.

The first bomb exploded far ahead and it seems that that it sent the enemy into a panic. Their fire in our direction ceased. There explosion released an airborne shockwave. It bathed us in a terrible thunder and a rush of hot air. It felt like this thundering air means to tear off your uniform, break your rib-cage and tear up your mouth, your cheeks. The ear-drums will burst and blood will stream from the ears. A hail of gravel and small stones fell on us. Somebody began to scream off to the side. I looked in that direction. A fighter was rolling on the ground pressing down on his eye with his hand. The blood streamed from under his fingers. The company medical nurse was already crawling towards him. The soldiers around the wounded man grabbed him and pressed him down into the ground. One was retrieving a water flask, another was tearing up his coat to expose his hand. He then produced a Trimeperidine syringe-tube and injected the man. I didn’t watch what happened next. By the sound of it, the pilots were preparing to make another pass. And again, that terrible sound. That paralysing howling. One could hear it rise, as the bomb hurtles towards the ground. You instinctively press into the ground and all around become quiet. Everyone waits to see who and when will taste of this death. Madame Death.

The concussion sounded unexpectedly close. On the left flank of our battalion. And again, there was a hail of gravel. Strangely, after all these explosions, my hearing was almost completely restored and I felt a lot better. The world of sounds has returned. The post-contusion ringing in my head has not yet ceased, but that was something hardly deserving of any attention now. I looked in the direction of the exploded bomb. There was a gaping crater there, tens meters or so in diameter…And around it lay parts of those soldiers that were next to the explosion. Smoke poured out of the crater and it stank of sour burned explosive as well as burned meat and wool. These aromas made one want to vomit. It lapped at you in waves—on and off. I tried to recall how many people were located there. About a platoon and a half. Approximately fifty people. Oh God! We have already lost a hundred people, but have still not gained a decent foothold on this shore! The wounded screamed and moaned loudly from the left flank. One could hear how the comm-batt was swearing into the radio. He was not adhering to any protocol or using call-signs. He was simply bellowing into the radio apparatus:
-Call back the aviation! Call the ****ing aviation back! These assholes have killed half my battalion! Call them back immediately! I won’t hold on with my own forces! Why?! Ask the scoundrels, who don’t give a **** where they throw their bombs! Tell them “thank you”. Call back those faggots. Send reinforcements. I’m beginning to dig in. The Chechens are about to attack. Is that it, have you recalled the planes? Good boy. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I have more than a hundred “two hundreds” and about sixty men who are “three hundred”. What am I going to do with them?! Bring help! Medics as well as stretcher-bearers. Some are not transportable. That’s it, I think the Chechens are attacking. If there is no support, I’m falling back. Give me support. Not from the air, you ****head, send our guys. They promised that the marines and the oh-so brave airborne troops will support! Where are those ****ers? Ask “Severny” where they are! Ask at Khankala! That’s all from me, you can go get ****ed! No time. Come over here and you’ll know why there is no time. **** you!!!

The Chechens again opened massed, dense fire at us and our shore. They again opened up from mortars and BMP cannons. Their underbarrelers, machine guns and assault rifles were also busy. The bullets and shrapnel continued to pierce the asphalt in front of our flimsy shelter. Then, with a ringing sound, they began to shatter the piles of brick and concrete behind which we were sheltered. With a foul squeal, the ricochets bounced away and off to the side somewhere. It seemed that the air became heated from the radiant metal that constantly hung upon it. Again, the screams and moans of the wounded could be heard.

The scraping and creaking sound of caterpillars came from behind us. We all looked back. Two tanks rolled onto the other side of the bridge and opened fire. The Chechens quieted down and transferred all their fire onto the tanks. Our turn has come. The comm-batt ordered “Forward!” Leaving our wounded behind, we again leapt forward. The smoke was thick over the square and we could not see a thing.

We stretched out into a chain. Shooting form the gut, not sparing the bullets. No matter how you strain your eyes, nothing can be seen ten meters ahead. The eyes water from the powder fumes hanging in the air. Forward!!!, Only forward!!! I yell with the others. Some are shouting “Ura!”, some, “Bitches! Death to the bitches!”, I’m simply shouting “A-a-a-a”, with my mouth wide open. It helps dull the terror. And again, the adrenaline is raging in my veins. I can beat the world sprinting record. Dagger-sharp automatic fire greets us from the veil of smoke. Like us, they are also shooting from the belly, with long volleys. They probably waited for us to get closer. We fall. We take cover. You should not lie in the same spot, on the open ground. I roll over. I roll over once again. Aha, here’s a piece of concrete that is so dear to my heart. I strike it very painfully with my shoulder. It’s alright, a hit is not a wound, the bruise will go away in time. I take position behind this boulder and begin firing.

The shock from the initial Chechen assault passes and we take up the fight. The range is no more than fifteen meters, but they have an undisputed advantage. They are concealed by walls, whilst we are ass-up in a square.

The machine gun emitted a dry click and ceased firing. Right, out of ammo. Bad timing, as usual. The paired-up magazines have run out. As I lay down, I raise up the barrel and load a grenade into the underbarreler. It’s more comfortable to shoot from the knee, but there is no choice now. I press the trigger with my left hand. The detonator capsule fires and the grenade flies off towards the enemy. Overshot. It’s alright, we’ll correct that now. Again the grenade is fed into the underbarreler and again I press on the trigger. As the grenade makes its way towards the enemy, I quickly take out the spent magazine and insert another into my rifle.

There is a loud bang behind us. I turn around. **** your mother! The Chechens managed to hit both our tanks. They are burning with a greasy flame. One can hear the crackle of the burning ammunition. The shells will go off next. And sure enough, a second later a deafening explosion rings out, then a second, and the tank turrets fly off. Together, almost synchronously, they slowly rise up into the air and tumble off into different directions. The turret from the first tank, falls into the water, with a loud noise. The second—falls onto our side. The tanks themselves continue to burn. The first one’s hull is split down the middle. Ammunition is bursting inside it.

The Chechens, spurred on by this victory switch their attention and also their fire onto us. The mines again begin to reap their harvest. Pinned down under this hurricane fire, the fighters start to dig in. Those who got a section of asphalt destroyed by tank or BMP tracks were in luck. The mud was exposed there, but underneath it was dirt, into which the “makhra” burrowed up to his ears. Our numbers however, were shrinking before one’s very eyes. Many were wounded. The sun no longer broke through the thick smoke. I listened in hope that the firing would begin on the other side of the square. It is there that the marines and the airborne troops were to begin their assault. Bu the music of battle was not to be heard coming from there. A pitiful band of no more than a hundred fifty people were fighting against a well-concealed enemy from open ground.

There was shouting and automatic fire behind us again and as we looked, we saw that the first battalion was trying to cross the bridge. With redoubled force, we hosed the enemy positions down from our guns and mortars. But, once more something was not going right for them and the first battalion fell back.

And here, our ranks faltered. The feeling of helplessness and futility came upon us and pressed us down. Terror, black terror, crushed everything that was human in us. The instinct of self-preservation was triggered and we began to retreat, no orders issued, we did not run, we retreated. We snarled with assault-gun volleys and the odd pot-shots from the underbarrelers. We took away our wounded. We left the fallen behind. We left them behind, knowing that the Chechens will desecrate their corpses, will cut them up. They will slice off their noses, their ears, their genitals and throw them into Sunzha to feast the fishes. Forgive us, lads!

We retreated to our former positions, where we were hit by our aviation. Suddenly there was a cry: “Dad’s wounded!” Everyone turned around and saw that the comm-batt is running for cover and his left arm is dangling like a piece of cable tied to the petty-coat. He stumbled and fell over to his side, his left leg faltering. The fighters ran up and dragged him out of the line of fire. They dragged him into a temporary shelter. The battalion officers immediately began to roll over, crawl and to scramble to the spot. I hurried over also. I saw Yura along the way. He was alive! I lost sight of him during the recent skirmish. The comm-batt’s deputy had run over also, major Kugel Ivan Genrikhoich. A medic was bustling around the injured commander. He tourniqueted and dressed the wounds. The commander intermittently regained and lost consciousness. His breathing was heavy, there was something hoarse in his chest, it interfered with his breathing. He was pale and large droplets of unhealthy sweat were pouring over his face leaving grey trails over that dusty mug.
-Why are you here? - Petrovich asked, having opened his eyes again. - Go do your jobs, don’t leave your people. Dig in. Go **** off. As I’m lying about in here, my deputy, Kugel is in command. Forward! Off you go! To work, you stomachs, to work!

He closed his eyes again and lost consciousness. We asked the orderly:
-How is he? Is he going to make it?
-The arteries in his legs are damaged, he lost a lot of blood. I can’t tell. He needs to be evacuated to the mainland. -Save him! You hear? Save the comm-batt, or I’ll poke you full of holes! - Ivan Kugel shouted at the orderly.
-Ivan, don’t yell at him! - the first company’s commander also shouted at the new comm-batt.
-So you take him and go break out! Bring him out. We’ll try to cover you, - Ivan shouted again,—try to carry Dad out.

And he yelled loudly, trying to cover the noise of battle:
-Listen to my command! I’m in charge of the battalion, whilst the commander is wounded! First company is going for breakout and is carrying out the commander and we need to cover them! Dig in and hold out to the last! Radioman! Radioman, where are you, you bitch?!
-There’s no radioman, he’s dead, - one of the soldiers shouted.
-Tune the company radios to the brigade frequency and announce that in five minutes, we going to try to carry out the comm-batt and that they are to cover us with fire. Did everyone get that?! Go! Go!

And the first company ran, ran under fire, the devastating fire, over the naked, shot-through bridge. With them, they carried away the comm-batt, who was no longer conscious and three other wounded men. They could not take any more. Only thirty three men remained in the company, a little more than a full platoon.

We were firing. Firing and reloading, when our magazines ran empty. We glanced over our shoulders. Five people from the first company remained motionless on the bridge, adding their bodies to the many already lying there. But those that remained alive and in one piece have already traversed half of the distance. A little more, guys, a little more, hurry it up! The Chechens conducted fierce fire at us and the first company. Don’t worry, bitches. As long as there is enough ammo, we’ll get to you, you ****ing mongrels!

I became calm, my soul was peaceful. This happens when a decision is already made and you understand that this is it. THIS IS IT!!! After this is only the finish line and unfortunately not a bloody thing depends on you any longer. All that remains is to get a better price for your body and soul. One does not want to die, but there is no more fear either. All that remains is a sense of absolute calm and a sober, clear mind, clear, precise thoughts. Sharpened reflexes. An acute perception of one’s surroundings. So, you niggers, shall we fight?! There was even a sense of excitement, adventure emerging. Who bests whom. We’re the good guys and you’re the bad guys. Everything is crystal clear, pity this is not how it is in real life. A good Indian—is a dead Indian! A line from a song came to mind: “In our reserves, we’ve still got chicks and preserves, and out dear AKMS in our hands.” We’re going to war, you mongrels!”
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Old 31 Aug 11, 01:36
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 9

I looked around. Little by little, everyone was digging in. The right thing to do. “Makhra” will chew on asphalt if they have to, but will retain the bridgehead. I didn’t have a spade with me—the small sapper’s spade or the MSL as it was known in the army. About three meters away from me on the right lay a dead fighter and he had the spade in a holster strapped to his back. I rolled over to him and tried to unfasten the holster. It did not budge. A bullet whistled past and I bent down instinctively Even when you hear that the bullet is not for you, still you duck. With a lurch, I turned the body over and undid the buckle on his stomach, taking off the belt. A soon as I again took cover behind the protective remnants of a brick wall, a bullet hit the dead body of the fighter, making it shudder. The ****ing Chechens could have hit me then. I looked at the spot where I was lying. The asphalt was broken in many places. I began plucking pieces of it out with the spade and laying them down in front of me. Soon there was dirt, mixed with gravel. I continued to dig, ignoring the fact that my fingers were torn to blood. The earth was cold and there were patches of mud. Everything that I dug up, I placed in front of me, fortifying the fox hole. My stomach and chest were already concealed in a small trench. Only my head and feet protruded over the surface. I was dirty all over. I tore off my helmet guard and steam pored from my head. It was hot, very hot.

There was a metallic clamour behind me again. I turned around. Back there, the tankers were attempting to tow away the burned-out vehicles. They have attached cables to them and were dragging them off to the side. The Chechens again opened grenade and mortar fire at our tanks. We all stopped digging and returned fire at their fortifications. To my horror, I again heard the dry click of the spent magazine. I’m ****ed, completely ****ed, there is no more ammo! I have no more than seven grenades left for the underbarreler. And that’s it. Kaputt! There was a hipflask and a magazine bag dangling off the belt that I took off the dead fighter. I lifted up the bag. Oho! Heavy. That means we’ll live! And we’ll fight. I took out three magazines and examined them. They are full. Three magazines with thirty rounds each—ninety rounds all up. It’s not much but in famine, even radish is meat. I loaded the assault gun and took aim. I let off a short volley at a dashing shadow. The shadow disappeared. Maybe I even got him. Just in case I switched to single-round fire and resumed digging.

Suddenly the Chechens began to shout up ahead. They can’t talk quietly in normal life and in war they shout so that you ears burst. There was a familiar clanging. I peeked out. A tank and a BMP were rolling out. Fun times. It’s impossible to retreat—you’ll get shot in the back and for now, we can’t counterattack either. To fight a tank in a square is a very bad idea. Two different weight categories. Ivan Kugel shouted something out, but what it was, was impossible to tell due to the distance and the noise. The only thing that could be heard were the underbarrelers reporting. If only it was possible to take on a tank out of those underbarrelers. And this one was dressed in “active” armour.

This active armour is a godsend for the tankers. Small square boxes are placed over the ordinary tank hull, flush against one another. There are explosives inside these boxes. They detonate at high temperatures, so when the stream of plasma from a cumulative round or from a “Mukha” reaches the tank’s armour, it encounters these explosives. They blow, deflecting the plasma stream. The tank is unharmed.

And so this tank that was rolling towards us now was laden with these small boxes. They hung like toys on a new year’s tree. The bastards were prepared for us. An RPG reported from our left flank, I could tell by the sound that a “Mukha” was being fired. The cumulative round hit the exact spot where the turret meets the hull. There was an explosion. Smoke, then fire poured out of the tank and there was a deafening explosion after half a minute and the turret was torn off and flung backwards. It landed on top of Chechen positions. A wall collapsed kicking up a large cloud of dust. There were screams. The tank was burning with a greasy fire. Ammunition continued to burst inside of its belly.

We burst out with cries of triumph. We showed you bitches! That shot! What a shot! Good lad! A Heroe’s star is not enough for a shot like that! Well done!

The BMP rolled back and opened fire at us. Its shells were bursting in front of our positions first, then behind us. A couple of fighters got hit by the shrapnel, but they were not killed, only wounded. It was our luck that they had a shitty gunner. The anti-aircraft gun on that BMP could have torn our fortifications to shreds.

And again, there was that clang and clamour behind us. When we looked around, we saw that two of our tanks are standing at the bottom of the bridge, on our side and are preparing to open fire at the Chechens. The third is coming towards us—onto the Chechen shore and is conducting sporadic fire. There was infantry hiding behind this tank, firing at the Chechens from their underbarrelers and over our heads. Great!

The Chechen BMP continued to roll back until it disappeared from view. We tried to assist as best we could, hosing down the retreating infantry. Our lads came just in time, just in time.

The tank approached and having stopped began to fire at the Chechen positions in front of the State Bank at almost point-blank range. The infantry ran out from behind the tank—it turned out to be the returning first company of the second battalion and a part of the first battalion. More infantry was running over the bridge and according to the guys that have come to our aid, these were the first and third battalions. They also told us that the comm-batt had died, without regaining consciousness. He swore profusely whilst he was out, continued to issue orders, he tossed about and then settled down and died. This news shocked not only the soldier but also the officers. Aleksandr Petrovich was a colossus, something eternal and unshakable. It was as if he was the core of the battalion and now he was no more. It was inconceivable that this has happened. One has no choice in war but to get used to loosing people close to you, but him…It was unbelievable. One did not want to believe it.

Everyone’s jaw muscles were dancing. To his officers and men, Petrovich was not just a commander, he was something of a tutor, a big brother, in other words, “Dad”, “Papa”. It was a pity, a real pity.

The new arrivals brought ammunition. It was quickly collected and inserted into the half-empty magazines and grenade bags. The “newbies” meanwhile had the opportunity to shoot up the Chechen positions and dig foxholes for themselves.

The tank finished shooting and without turning the turret around began to back away. Meanwhile a second tank started from “our” shore and approached us whilst conducting fire from its cannon. The tank “carousel” was open for business! The fun was about to begin.

And once again the adrenaline was raging in my veins and the ardour of battle seized me. I look at the fighters near-by—the exact same effect. If half an hour ago, we were thinking how to sell our lives more dearly, now we were beset by a hunter’s instinct. Out of frightened, trapped animals, we have turned into wolves. No! Not wolves. The Chechens are the wolves, they have a wolf under a moon depicted on their flag. They call us “dogs”. We are “mad dogs”. Just you wait you wretched wolves. We’re coming! We’ll tear you bitches up! We’ll tear you up for all the fallen. For the comm-batt! For those lads that remained on the bridge and for those that are lying on this shitty square. For our terror during the air raid. For EVERYTHING!

The first battalion’s commander took lead. He spoke on the radio for a long time and then began to loudly issue orders. But the noise of battle did not allow everything to be properly heard, so his orders were passed down the chain. They stated that we’ll attack after another two tanks expend their stores. We’re going to attack the State Bank. He also announced that on the opposite side, marines and paratroopers as well as the “makhra” from St Petersburg are preparing for attack. We’ll show the Chechens what Stalingrad was like!

Everyone’s spirits were up. To mob the enemy, especially when he’s attacked from the rear also—this we can do! We intensified small arms fire. The Chechens continue to snarl back. They knew that there will be an attack soon. We burned their tank, the BMP is a toy against ours. They are shaking with fear now!

One tank finished shooting and another rolled out in its place. We saw that the word “catch!” was written on its barrel in fresh white paint. We laughed at the tankers’ joke heartily. We waited, counting the shots. Nobody knew for sure how many rounds the tank brought, but everyone counted anyway.

Finally there is the order: “Get ready!”. We gathered ourselves up, our guns at the ready, our pockets full of loaded magazines. A heavy bag filled with grenades is bouncing off the thigh. The command “Forward! Attack!” sounded out like a song and with the tank’s last shot, we leapt out of our foxholes and ran forward. There was a noise behind us, the bridge was enveloped in clouds of smoke from the cannons and exhaust fumes. Our tanks and BMP began to cross the bridge, meaning that the staff was being transferred to be nearer to its troops, whose positions are now all mixed up. There is no telling who is where as they sprint, yelling towards the enemy.

We were not greeted with flowers. Long machine gun volleys were once again hurtling towards us. Again there was mortar fire, but either because their aim was wrong, or we were running too quickly, the mines fell far behind our backs and did no harm. The BMP, which was concealed behind a wall was firing its machine gun at us. The fighters began to fall and the leading rows started to back down. But they were prodded on from behind, forward onto the bullets. And so we are at our first objective—a barricade made from blocks of concrete and brick walls about five meters tall and fifty meters in length. I looked like construction rubble was brought here over a long period of time. It was a solid obstacle. A direct hit from a tank would not destroy it first go. But we’re infantry! We began to climb over these blocks, to come around its sides. The fighting was at such close quarters in some places that our guys and the Chechens were shooting each other up in long volleys that broke off only because the magazine ran empty or because the gunner was killed.

I was running and again the sweat was streaming down my face. Directly ahead of me a Chechen appeared out of an improvised embrasure. His face was contorted with fear and rage and he was hosing us down out of his gun. I raised up my gun and fired at him whilst still running. Recognising the danger, he switched fire in my direction. I crouched abruptly and toppled to the right side under the force of inertia. I fired at the Chechen from this very uncomfortable position. It looked like I hit him, as he disappeared not to be seen again. It is rare to make out the face of the enemy in such a fight, but I saw his. If I hit him, he’s dead—and to hell with him. That’s not the main thing. The main this is to survive and take this ****ing square!

The Chechens again began to shoot at us from behind their shitty barricade. They used mortars and underbarrelers. Our assault slowed down as the grenades and mines began to explode amongst us. Using their radios, everyone began to demand fire support from the tanks. And again, the tanks began to fire over our heads, using fougasse rounds, straight at the Chechen “erection” as well as into their rear.

Fougasse rounds have one very useful characteristic in comparison to ordinary fragmentation rounds, which explode upon contact with a hard surface. A fougasse-fragmentation round, virtue of its weight, first buries itself in the ground and then explodes. Pieces of ground, rocks as well as its own metal parts and “stuffing” become like shrapnel. They pierce the body just as well as any metal fragment. “Fougasse” rounds are also very effective against dugouts, enemy trenches and barricades mowing down everything living inside.

I became necessary to fall back. Shrapnel, pieces of brick and gravel were flying in our direction, collecting some of the harvest for the god of death. The orderlies were dragging the dead and wounded from the square. Those that happened to be near also helped to evacuate their comrades.

The Chechens concealed behind the ruined walls did not cease to fire back. “Mukha” rounds we hurtling towards the tanks and infantry, trailing whitish, almost invisible smoke. They sensed that we were faltering and decided to counter-attack. Under the covering fire from their mortars and grenade launchers, the Chechens ran out from behind their barricade, squeezing through the fissures and holes made by our tank fire. They leapt on top of us, shrieking “Allah Akhbar!” Many were wearing green bandannas on their heads. They said that that meant they were suicide troops or something of that sort. I had never had a chance to ask. If I get a hold of one, I’ll be sure to ask, provided I have time to do so of course.

With these thought in mind, I rolled to the left and climbed into a small crater excavated by an explosion from a tank round. The ground was still warm and it reeked of sour burned explosive. I popped out and gave off a volley in the direction of the enemy. “Marked myself off”, so to speak. I looked around quickly. The others were also seeking shelter, preparing to repel the counter-attack. I examined the advancing Chechens. Two hundred or so have already climbed out and were trying to advance. Approximately two companies. Not much, kids, not much. We’ll sort you ****** out soon enough.

The Chechens were running at us, shrieking from fear and rage. They were shooting their guns and throwing grenades. We were not letting them get nearer by returning small-arms fire. A machine gun reported to my right and another after a second, then a couple more. They have a very distinctive sound. The fighters were not silent either. They yelled frenziedly, trying to drown out their own fear and terror. They shouted various things in a fit of rage—mostly mat. Nothing creative, but short and to the point, like a machine gun volley. Somebody was shouting on the left flank and after each shout, firing his gun. I sounded like he was mentioning his dead friends.
-For Fyodor! - volley.
-For Vaska! - volley.
-For Pashka! - volley.
-For Senya! - volley.

That man, must have had a special grudge with the Chechens. Unknowingly I aligned my actions with his. When he fired a short, aimed volley using two or three rounds, I also fired. When he was silent, my gun went silent also. I waited for him to shout out another name and whispered it after him. I fire. “For Mishka” - I fire. I select a dark silhouette of a Chechen hurrying towards his death. I pull the trigger. The Chechen is cut down—he falls. I look to see—is he moving? No. He’s done for. Got him. Again the voice shouts: “For Sashka!” I repeat the name in a whisper. I select another Chechen. The green bandanna can be seen on his head. He has put up his gun, he’s firing. The bitch is conducting aimed fire! A fighter screams out to the left.

I breathe in and out, in mid breath, I line up the gun-sight and the Chechen. The bastard is not standing still, he’s shifting around. The wounded fighter to the left is moaning. Hold on little bro, I’ll just knock down this faggot and then come help you. Hold on for a little more! Aha! There’s the scumbag. No longer taking care to line up the shot, I fire a short volley. The Chechen falls and is screaming. I wounded him. Oh well. I’ll finish him off later.

I start rolling over and trying to overcome my fear, I fire off a few short volleys. And here’s the fighter. His face is pale and large droplets of sweat are rolling over it from underneath his cap. His left shoulder is wrecked. The fabric around the wound is wet and swollen with blood. With his right hand, he’s trying to affix a tourniquet to slow the bleeding, but it’s not working out. I begin to unbutton his coat to free the injured shoulder from the heavy garment. The fighter winces from pain and screams into my ear. Instinctively I pull back. -Don’t shout, little bro! - again I begin to take the coat off of him.

His face contorts. He’s queasy. In pain. A lot of pain. With his right hand, the fighter produces a personal medikit from his breast pocket. He hands it to me. I open it. I find the syringe-tube containing anaesthetic. That’s a good start. I put it aside. I retrieve the trophy stiletto knife from its holster and begin to carefully cut the coat on his shoulder. The fabric and insulation is swollen with blood and is not yielding too well. At this point little fountains of dirt from impacting rounds rise up around accompanied by the annoying whistle of ricocheting bullets. You ****ing mongrels! Can’t you see that I’m bandaging a wounded man!

I let go of the fighter and picked up my gun, stood up on one knee and began to hose down the approaching Chechens. They fell and took cover and began to return fire. I yelled to the fighters who were lying nearbly:
-Hey guys! Cover me. I’ll take care of the wounded guy. You’ll help evacuate him afterwards.
-We’ll take care of it.
-We’ll kill the pigs!

The sound of shooting rang out all around me. I looked in the enemy’s direction. At first they snarled back, but soon would not dare raise their heads. That’s right, keep the bastards down!

I laid down next to the wounded soldier and resumed sawing at his coat. It seeped blood with each push, the blood ran down the blade, my fingers and into my sleeve. It seemed like I was not cutting a piece of cloth, but a living being and it was gushing blood. A lot of blood. I have to hurry. There is quite a lot of blood. I hope I won’t loose the fighter. He valiantly endured the procedure.

I cut off the collar, the sleeve and a portion of the coat over the wounded shoulder. Then, without rising from the ground we took off the rest of the coat, which was a collective effort. I sliced the uniform sleeve lengthwise to expose the skin. I grabbed the syringe-tube from the first aid kit and having screwed off its cap, pierced the tiny plastic tube. I then stuck the needle into the fighter’s arm.
-Hold on, man, hold on! I don’t like needles myself. You’ll feel better now, - I squeezed the tube expelling the liquid inside. I pulled out the needle without releasing my fingers’ grip on it. I massaged the arm.—What’s your name?
-Sasha, - the fighter forced out the answer.
-All will be well, Sasha! All will be well! I’m going to take care of your arm now.

The fighter nodded in agreement. He must be very unwell, so as to be in too much pain to talk.
-Hold on bro, only a bit to go, - I unwound the tourniquet and began to examine the wound. I could see shattered bones. - Take a deep breath, I’m going to apply the tourniquet now.

The injured soldier breathed in obediently and held his breath. I quickly lashed the tourniquet at the base of the neck, wound around the shoulder and tightened it over the chest. The lad’s pupils dilated from pain, but he only moaned, fearing to let out the air from his lungs. I patted him on the cheek.
-That’s it sonny. Breathe now. As often and as deeply as you can, but not so much as to give yourself a head spin, you understand?
-Yes, - he hissed.
-Be quiet, man. Save your energy. All will be well. I’m going to apply the bandage and then we’ll drag you off to the medical detachment and they’ll patch you up there. Don’t you fear! We’ll break through! - I yelled all of that into his face and winked reassuringly.

Although my grimace—a dirty face covered in somebody else’s blood—could have horrified a normal person. But the fighter understood me correctly and smiled weakly in response.

Meanwhile, I took his gun and retrieved the pack of bandages from the folding stock. I tore open the rubbery cover, the yellow wrapping paper and took out the bobby-pin laying it aside. I unfolded the dressing pads that were inside and trying to avoid touching their inner surfaces applied them to the wound. One pad on the entry side and one on the exit. I then craftlessly started to bandage the injured shoulder, still lying on the ground on my side. I glanced at the soldier’s face from time to time—is he still alive? He’s alive. With his good hand, he started to go through his pockets. Does he want to shoot himself?
-What are you doing? - I asked him, concerned.
-I want a smoke, but can’t find mine. Do you have any? - he whisper-rustled.
-****! Great time for a smoke! - I was glad. - If you’re craving a smoke, you’ll certainly live!

I produced a cigarette and placed it in his mouth. Lighting up a match I let him light up.
-Don’t drag too hard, or you’ll get a head spin! - I warned him.

I then resumed bandaging him. It did not turn out very elegantly, but the dressing pads were secured well and covered the wounds. Steam was pouring from my body. I yelled to the fighters that were near me.
-That’s it, guys! Take the casualty away. I’ll cover!

I laid on my back, took out the cigarettes and lit up. I was lying in my back, staring At the sky, smoking. I felt good. I committed few good deeds in my life and now I took the opportunity to probably save a man’s life. It’s great! Astounding! I glanced sideways and saw that three soldiers were crawling towards us. I glanced at “my” casualty. I was almost in love with him. I saved his life. He will live! That’s great. I felt that I was such a good person, I was proud of myself. You’re a good lad, Slava! I turned over onto my stomach, pulled up my gun and without spitting out the cigarette, started to look around.

The Chechen attack faltered as I was saving the fighter and they took cover, returning fire at us. No matter! We’ll break though! I re-joined the cacophony of battle with three short volleys aimed at the spots where I noticed Chechen movement.

The fighters reached us and dragged and carried the wounded man off, off towards the bridge. Good luck to you, Sashka, fare you well!

I fired a long volley. The gun issued a dry click. No problem, with my foot, I pulled up the belt, left over from Sashka. It contained a bag, a bayonet knife, hip flask and a sapper’s shovel. I took out a magazine. I loaded it into the gun, placing the rest into the pockets of my trousers and coat. I opened fire again.

The Chechens stirred again and began to retreat. Aha, you mongrels, so you pissed yourself! We rose up and began pursuing the enemy. Who would want to spend the night here?!

Forward! Forward! A bear’s growl issued from my chest. A bear’s guttural snarl, the growling of a lion. Forward, you dogs! Only forward! Trap the wolves! We’ll tear them up, like the dog pack tears up a wolf! We’ll chase them down! U-r-r-a! Snuff out the mongrels! They’re puppies, not wolves! We’ll give the bastards hell. I leapt to my feet and rushed forward along with the rest. There was no order to attack. Everyone ran forward upon collective impulse. Nobody had to be spurred on, to be prodded on with kicks and expletives, dragged out of their fox holes by the collar. U-r-r-r-a!!! A-a-a-a!!!

The blood is boiling again, reason is lost, leaving behind only the reflexes. Let them do the work. There is an objective, there is a mad will to live and reason is of no help here. Only forward! The zig-zag, the “corkscrew”, rolling forward, as long as it’s forward! Hesitation means death. Only forward! U-r-r-r-ra! Snuff out the slinks! A-a-a-a-a!!!

The gun at my shoulder, I let off short volleys as I run. A dash to the left, a roll, I shoot at the barricade from the knee. A roll to the right, then another, I shoot as I’m lying down. I leap up and run forward ten paces, shooting on the move. As we get nearer, the volleys become longer. We’re now shooting at anything—a sound, a shadow, a flash. We shoot without thinking.

Away with reason! The blood rages. A taste of blood in the mouth. I want to smell the Chechen’s blood with my nostrils, to see it gushing from his wounds and feel the warmth leave his body. Away with reason! Go! You will not bear all of this. Let the Neanderthal enter the body completely, take over the brain, let him direct and command so that reason can survive and stay intact! Let the Neanderthal deliver us from this! U-r-r-ra! A-a-a-a-a! And reason disappeared…

I felt powerful. The veins in my entire body bulged from the blood raging inside of them. My mouth gaping for air, there is not enough oxygen. I observe the scene as if from outside my body. As if part of the same organism, the officers and soldiers ran up to the barricade. Some scramble up, throwing off the dead and wounded Chechens. Some climb into the holes and niches in the wall. The enemy is on the run. The wolves of Islam are on the run! Get them! We’ll choke them, tear them up! Get them! Get them, go!

My gun jerked in my hands from a short volley, the bolt issued another short, dry click, my right hand drew out the empty magazine, cast it aside and began retrieving a new one. And at this point a Chechen rose out of a pile of debris and grinning, raised his gun to hip level. There was no point to wrestle in the magazine and try to cock the rifle. No time. That’s the only thought that passed through my head. And the Neanderthal spoke again, or maybe some other ancient human ancestor, that was dormant in my brain. A step forward with my right foot. Then, not a step, but a leap forward with the barrel of the gun piercing the man’s soft stomach under the force of inertia. My mouth is open, I yell with an inhuman voice. It’s is not a yell, it’s the bellow of a victor. It seemed that my own eardrums would burst, not being able to withstand this sound.

The Chechen tried to fire off a shot from his gun. Ha-ha-ha! Not going to work! With my left hand I easily tear the gun away from him and fling it far away. His pupils are dilated with horror and pain and I tear out the barrel of my gun. The Chechen falls, grasping his torn stomach with his left hand. With his right, he is fumbling for something on his belt. I don’t know how, but I know that that something is a grenade. The bitch knows that he’s not going to live and wants to take me with him as he departs this world. Not going to work, you bastard. I grinned like an animal, showing him my teeth. Jumping as far up as I could, I come down onto his chest, directing maximum force into the heels of my boots. I hear clearly and feel his ribs crack. Again I jump up and land on his chest, this time on my knees. Again his ribs crack and I look into his eyes, as I’m still sitting on his broken body. Blood comes out of his mouth like a fountain and trickles out of his ears. His body jitters , bulks and goes still. His open eyes stared at the sky, reflecting the unhurrying winter clouds.

Are you feeling a bit ill, reader? Unfortunately I’m not showing off, simply describing what really happened. I’m not a “tough guy”, not insane, it’s simply that if one wants to return home in one piece, they have no choice but to become an animal in the worst sense of that word. In part, you reader are guilty also, unwilling to prevent the beginning of this war. For you it’s happening somewhere far away. Far away, on another planet somewhere. I don’t know how, upon my return home, will I be able to suppress these instincts. The brain is not an appendix. It can pull out such a trick on you at any point that you’ll be left wondering, how you were capable of doing such a thing. And so, reader, do not be surprised to read how a victim’s intestines were wound up on somebody’s fist in the chronicles of by-gone days. You are partially complicit in it. You as well as your wife, your child or simply people you know or that are close to you could have ended up being that victim. People whom you love, respect and who are dear to you. And all of it because you were frightened or feigned indifference, did not join in on the feeble quire of voices that tried to stop the madness. Madness begets madness. The monster of war will continue to beget monsters in the minds of those who participated in this slaughter and these monsters will spill out into the street and take that which they think belongs only to them. That which belongs to them according to the laws of war.

We know not another law. Our country, our people have betrayed us and turned away. They cursed us. The so called “Afghan Syndrome” will seem like a child’s fairy-tale, when in five-seven years or so we’ll understand that there is no place for us under the sun. That place is taken by you, reader. And we will shove you over then. It will hurt, so don’t be offended, when we drop you mug-first into the rough asphalt. And maybe you will die without grasping what had actually happened to you. We are not insane. And we deserve more dignified treatment for our persons. If it is not forthcoming, we’ll take it in the same way that we have taken it in Grozny in January of ‘95.

Forward, forward, get them! Look, reason—you have no business here. You won’t be able to take it, you’ll depart from reality. The truth of what is happening. And because of you, I’ll loose my mind. No! U-r-r-r-ra!!! Forward!!! Only Forward!!! Shred, tear, gnaw!!! Why? For the sake of my and my friends’ lives!!!

I didn’t notice how I ended up on the other side of the barricade. Fifty meters ahead of us was the cursed, blackened building of the State Bank of the Republic of Ichkeria. We were rushing towards it with wild screams and yelps. The tanks and BMP, flowing around the former barricade obstacle were taking initial fire positions. Enveloped in exhaust fumes, they were being covered by our advance. The Chechens opened up at us from the state bank building. It was small arms fire and although we were concealed by smoke and soot, they were firing long volleys as if in a close-quarters fight.

When firing like that, it doesn’t matter if it’s from the shoulder, waist or hip, the dispersal of ammo is significant. That must have meant that the “wolf cubs” have lost their nerve. Alright, you slinks, we’ll take you on. Blood. Only blood and nothing else. I liked the results of the experiment of opening up the Chechen’s gut with no anaesthesia. I was drunk with battle. Drunk without wine. Ur-r-r-r-ra!!! Forward you Neanderthal! Blood, only blood and survival!!! A-a-a-a-a!!!

Regardless, the first rows started laying low. Some no longer moved, some were howling, holding onto their wounds, rolling on the asphalt peppered with fragments of construction materials. Their own comrades, fellow servicemen, their blood-brothers were hastening to their aid. We’ll tear you up for each “three hundredth”, each “two hundredth”. No fear, lads, let’s tear the Chechens up!

But no matter what kinds of genes were raging inside of me, I thought it best to flop down onto the dirty asphalt and not try to be a hero. It was almost dark now. Our Guarantor of the Constitution and his minister of defence are fools to start a war in the winter time. If this was summer, it would be a whole different story. Warm, dry. Lots of daylight. No need to carry a heavy, sweaty coat, or to worry about firewood for warmth. One could sleep on the ground not fearing the chill. And now? The winter twilight descends. It’s getting cold. The winter breeze chases away the sparse clouds and the moon illuminates us like a bright stage light. The absence of clouds also indicated that the warmth from the ground and from our bodies will not linger, but will escape into the eternal cold of the Universe. Thank you, comrade Rolin for the air support and for support from the other side of the square. They had not joined the fight during the day and during the night, they are sure to leave us here on this shitty square, to die like dogs. And for what? **** knows for what!!! In the Kremlin, the Government House, The State Duma, the Federal Assembly and the Ministry of Defence, it is warm now. And I think that master bankers for whom we are now crawling on the ground and earning good bucks are not shaking from the cold.

{continued in next post}
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Old 31 Aug 11, 01:37
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 9 {continued from previous post}

If we do not move forward now, we’re going to cark it from the cold in a few hours. Many fighters will suffer cardiac arrest from the sharp drop in temperature. Spirits, cognac, vodka, hot food and hot tea are urgently, very urgently required. Otherwise we’ll have no success here. We’re all Siberians and we’re all acutely aware of this. We understood also that we’re not going to get any hot food tonight or take Dudaev’s Palace. Alright, I’ve got cognac, but what about the rest? And by the way, I really do have cognac! It won’t be enough for the whole brigade of course, but I can share it with one or two soldiers, that’s for sure.

The enemy fire was unrelenting. And I could see that two fighters who were ahead of me and lying beside each-other jittered one after another and were still. Their arms and legs twisted in unnatural poses, their heads tipped backwards. The wounded do not lie like that. One of the guys lying next to me leapt forward, but the others held him back.
-Where are you going, you idiot? They’ll pick you off and won’t even ask your surname. Lie down.
-What! Why are you bastards abandoning your own!
-That’s it, they are long gone. A sniper got them.
-Go to hell you cowards. My countryman is there. We’re from the same apartment bock. It can’t be, let go! - the soldier shouted trying to break free from his comrades.

And at this point, one of the guys holding onto him could not any more and let him go. Exploiting this opportunity, the fighter wanted to run to the dead men, but the guy that let him go struck him hard on the nose. The soldier switched off. Two comrades picked him up under his hands and whilst crawling, carefully dragged him to the rear. Voices could be heard to comment:
-What did you lay into him like that for?
-He was eager to get under a sniper, so we calmed him down. It’s alright, he’ll come to and thank us.
-Yeah. He should be grateful!
-He’ll be taken to the medics now. It’s warm there. They’ll bandage his nose. He’ll get to lie about for a few days. Great stuff!
-Why don’t you crawl over here, I’ll smash up your mug also and then drag you off to the medics. How about it?
-**** off, mate.
-Guys! It’d be great to down half a bottle of vodka each now, hey?
-Shut it, you ****! Don’t torment the soul.
-If there is not going to be any spirits now, we’ll have to go and attack.
-Exactly—look the moon is rising.
-We have to either roll back and drink some spirits, or go forward. That moon’s going to illuminate us like a platform at a train terminal.
-What are we going to do?
-**** knows. The commanders are here. So it’s their headache.
-I could do with some some shahlyk now… - somebody pronounced dreamily out of the darkness and let out a volley towards the Chechens.

The tanks began to fire form behind us. After a few aiming shots, their shells began to fall with some accuracy. Each successful hit was greeted with loud cheers on our part. It was getting colder and colder lying on that ground. I withdrew my cognac flask again and after unscrewing the cap took a big mouthful. Immediately, I felt warmer, more comfortable and happy. At this point the twentieth century man was perfectly at peace with the grim caveman from the frozen catacombs, who was ready to take the lead and tear up the enemy with his teeth. It seemed that the cognac came to the liking of both. I made another big gulp. And the blood streamed more readily through my veins.

The tanks were firing non-stop. Our eardrums, deafened by the sound of explosions almost no longer registered this terrible noise. Only the hot air from the explosions periodically rolled over our bodies, ruffling our clothes. It was good! At least a little, but it warmed us. The State Bank building caught fire. We greeted this with victorious cries as we lay there in our places. The snow and mud beneath us defrosted a little and we were now lying in dirty puddles. The twilight was thickening, night was upon us. The moon rose to our left and illuminated us. This was bad!

The order was passed down the chain: “Get ready for attack!” Now you tell us. To tell the truth, based on my experience from previous wars, I highly doubted the effectiveness, practicality and necessity of such night-time attacks. One could argue the point in the headquarters, but here on this square, I was following orders. The command to commence the attack came after two minutes. The tanks have not yet ceased fire and at such short range, they were firing in a straight line. It seemed that their shells were rushing just over the tops of our heads. Having advanced ten meters underneath our own fire, we slowed down. We feared coming under friendly fire, as well as the fragments flying off from the building’s facade.

Reason has gone away once again. I was running without perceiving anything properly. And here was the bank building—right in front of me. Bomb craters gape all around me. The building is semi-destroyed, but still standing. It was of an older-style construction and strong! The Chechens are spraying us with intense fire and it looked like they had snipers holed in there as well.

Our first chain…Approximately twenty people have been killed and wounded. The second chain was attempting to drag away the dead and wounded out of the line of fire. Many of them were also falling. Some stirred, some were rolling around, screaming on the asphalt that was marred with mud and blood, clasping the wounds on their bodies. Some were trying to crawl out of harm’s way on their own. But many of them…Many of them remained there, their heads tilted back and their limbs twisted in unnatural poses.

The light from the burning State Bank and the illumination rockets that constantly hung upon the air lit this scene. The indifferent moon shone down on it all. The night that descended was being pierced by tracer rounds from the machine guns on the tanks. The pandemonium of battle, the screech of flying shrapnel and the squeal of ricocheting bullets, the disgusting smacking sound of them hitting dead bodies combined into a nightmarish sound collage that paralysed the brain. It was important not to think, otherwise insanity was guaranteed. Work, work, work! Only forward, only forward! Another ten minutes trudging in this place and that’s it…

Dear spouse, parents and kin, please find enclosed the tin coffin containing the remains of your dearly beloved warrior-liberator and restorer of Constitutional Order. Don’t forget to sign. Here, then here and here. No use throwing yourself at us. We were not the ones to send your dearly beloved there. How would I know who did? That’s all from us. Please accept our sincerest condolences. Good bye. No. We cannot stay. We have another three such “deliveries” to make. After the funeral, please come to the recruitment office and the social security office where you are registered for residency to fill in the application for the grant and pension. Don’t forget to collect and bring the twenty five forms required. And all originals, mind you, otherwise we won’t give you anything. That’s it, so long.

**** you! Not a chance! They won’t be bringing me back in that damn box, unless I end it myself after being wounded! ****, ****, ****! Forward, only forward! Come on “makhra’, pick up your asses. Make a move on, you stomachs. There may be money in the bank. Ura! The cash, the bucks, the dough! And since this is the State Bank, maybe there are even dollars there? Maybe, but I doubt they’ll be waiting for us. Go! Forward! Giddy up! Don’t prod my back with your rifle, you idiot, it might shoot!

And again, our brigade’s dirty grey mass lurched forwards. And forwards, forwards they went. The tanks ceased fire, lest they hit us. And the bank is near now, but what is this?

Out of the darkness on our flanks the creaking of tank tracks could be heard. Is this “makhra” coming to our aid? Ura! Our guys! Come on, get them, we’ll bury the Chechens now!

As expected, tanks emerged from the darkness. T-64’s. We had T-72’s. And these older-design tanks started shooting us up from almost point-blank range. There was infantry hiding behind the tanks. Not our infantry. At first we supposed that aid was on its way, but the Chechens exploited that precise moment, when we, consumed by the heat of battle attacked. They hit us from behind and, from the flanks. Nobody understood clearly, how many tanks the enemy actually had. They crashed into our formations, crushing the bodies of OUR fighters with their tracks, arms, legs, innards, clothes winding up on their leading sprockets. Simultaneously, they were shooting up the tanks standing in our rear. Again, these were OUR tanks. They could not answer in kind because in doing so, they could have killed off their own infantry. So they just stood there. The Chechen tanks were shooting them up as if they were long-familiar targets at the training range. They have herded us into a small portion of the battlefield, in front of the bank, like we were cattle and were shooting us up from three sides. They were not affording us the smallest opportunity of escape from this trap. We could not escape from it allowing our tanks the freedom to shoot and the tanks could not shoot so as not to kill us. And so there we were, dashing about like sheep.

Somebody managed to kill a Chechen tank. It lit up and we began to break out underneath the flying fragments of its bursting stores. Our tanks were all burning already, their light contributing to the blinding images from that square.

No feelings, except for one remained. It was FEAR. Massive fear. It purged the body and mind of all else. There was no captain, no citizen Mironov. Only a shivering lump of **** remained, who wanted only one thing—to SURVIVE. That was all. Simply to survive. No long-forgotten prayers are remembered now. You are simply hurtling into the darkness, stumbling, falling over, not feeling the pain of impact. There is nothing other than the fear that freezes the soul.

Volleys of ammo are hurtling to catch up with us. Everywhere screams can be heard—screams of rage, pain, screams of the wounded. It’s panic, sheer panic and fear. The fear spreads you over the asphalt, it makes you run at a mad speed and only in a straight line. And it seems to you that you are standing in one spot. In the darkness, you are running across the square that only hours ago you took centimetre by centimetre. It is still strewn with the bodies of both our own as well as Chechen fighters. You stumble over them, fall, get up and continue forward. The corpses of your friends no longer stimulate any emotion, any desire or thirst for revenge. The only thing you feel is irritation that you have so little strength left for running and here they are lying about in your way.

I feel that my strength is coming to an end. I slow down. A lot of our guys are running beside me. Their eyes are bulging, just like mine, with very little left in them that is human. Their mouths are gaping in a silent scream. But nobody is screaming. Nobody is cursing. Everyone is saving their energy for the run. The Chechens are not approaching us. It looks like they are afraid to encounter resistance. There is no need to chase a mouse into a corner. It becomes more aggressive and dangerous than a cat.

We have lost our bearings in the dark and are no longer running towards the bridge, but towards Dudaev’s palace instead. Lighting rockets leap up into the sky and illuminate our stampeding herd. That’s us. There is nothing human in these faces, eyes, their breathing or their countenance.

Machine and assault rifle fire breaks out. The rows up ahead are mowed down, the rest without pausing try to turn back in the opposite direction. The ones behind them crash into them knocking everyone over to the ground. They rise. And again they run. Run in the darkness. Sparks of light are dancing in one’s eyes, from the exhaustion. Nobody is helping anybody. The wounded are shooting themselves, some are trying to crawl off into the darkness, away from the light of the ever-present rockets. That strumpet, ****ing *****, the betraying moon is shining upon us no worse than a floodlight, breaking through the smoke of the fires. My strength has almost left me. God! Anything but capture! Death is better. Not capture! Help me. God! Save me and keep me!

I switch to a power-walk. There is not enough oxygen. I feel like tearing off the flack jacket and the coat off my chest and flop down onto the asphalt, wet with blood and stay there, gulping for air, trying to catch my breath. No! I can’t! If the Chechens come up on me, I will be captured! No, not capture! I’ll try to escape.

The blood is pounding inside my cranium, like a Siberian river cataract. It bubbles and foams, tries to turn over the stones lying in its path. It churns them over. It seems that my skull is about to explode from the pressure. I have no strength left to run. I am almost deaf from overexertion. All I can hear is the rushing of my own blood. I am walking now. I hang my gun over my neck and rest my hand on top of it. My whole body is swollen with blood. I can barely shuffle my feet, much less run. A soldier runs up to me from the right, grabs me and without a word begins to drag me with him. Having run a few meters, I realise that I have no strength to continue and I will only succeed in dragging him down. My voice, struggling through my torn lungs and nicotine stop-gaps can barely be heard:
-Go, go. I’m no help to you.
-What about you?! - the soldier’s almost screaming into my ear.
-Go. I’ll manage… - I have difficulty speaking, much less running.
-I won’t leave you! - the soldier despairs.
-Go to hell. Get yourself out. I’ll follow you, - with the last of my strength, I push the soldier away. We bounce off in opposite directions.

The soldier runs off. That last push sapped the rest of my strength. I sit down on the ground. I breathe heavily. My saliva is viscous, I spit it off onto the asphalt. My heart is pounding wildly. I know from instruction at the military academy that one should not sit down after running, the valves in the heart may close and fail to open. But I have no strength for walking. Once the sparks dancing in my eyes subside, I rise up my gaze and look an looked around me. The gun remained dangling on my neck, there was no energy to take it off. I simply could not move.

There were figures beside me. Some were sitting, some were lying down. These were predominantly officers. Naturally they are no spring chickens any more and their physical form was not what it once was. And the civilians are indignant of how soon military men go into retirement. If there were any men over forty five amongst us then, I guarantee it, that they were not to be found amongst the living later. Some were sitting on corpses. Maybe that was comfortable, but I have not yet crossed that line, that stupor, where nothing matters. Everyone was simply sitting there, looking in the direction of the enemy. Some were ready to continue flight, having thus rested, but for the most part the people, myself including were prepared to make their last stand. There was no desire to run around. The mind was waking, fear receding. Anger was rising. It’s a good that one could feel anger. It means that they have retained a semblance of humanity and are not quite like cattle. It was time to think about how we were getting out of this inferno, how to save one’s own hide, one’s own behind. Somehow there was no consideration for the soul at this point. But there was a consideration for a God—that all-powerful patron who, one hoped would deliver one’s mortal flesh.

I broke out in a coughing fit. A lump of nicotine sludge took a long, painful and torturous time to come up. ****, I have to give up the smokes. One day they won’t let me reach the sanctuary of some boulder, ravine or hill. I spat out the lump of phlegm I could feel the taste of blood on my tongue, meaning that a part of my lungs came out also. I breathed in deeply and again felt the stinging in my chest. I broke out in a choking cough spasm and stopped only with some difficulty. My chest ached and I wanted to tear it apart to let the fresh air inside. I was tired of running long distances. I wanted something simpler, shorter and calmer. My mother had always told me: “Learn English”.

Last edited by UVB76; 31 Aug 11 at 04:20..
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Old 31 Aug 11, 04:21
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Is there anything you don't understand?

Remember that translation and other notes are available at the translation site for this project:

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Old 31 Aug 11, 05:03
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English is not my native language so I'll refrain from trying to correct yours,

just wanted to say it's perfectly understandable -

it feels just like it should, i.e. you can "feel" the russian through the english - if you know what I mean

lot's of colourfull expressions, military slang etc,

Tnx again for doing all this -


The prevalent, long-standing tactic is to destroy the heading and the tailing vehicle, after which the vehicle column is methodically shot up. This tactic is fool-proof. Very few survivors.
-To your vehicles! - ordered the brigade commander. He got into the second BMP himself.
Could've quoted a million things, but this is actually a perfect example of the the dry sarcasm that very often underlines soldiers-own stories - very good read indeed.
High The Admiral Snowy, Commander In Chief of the Naval Forces of The Phoenix Confederation.
Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor - The Napoleonic Wars Campaign.

Captain Atticus Finch - ACW Rainbow Co.

Last edited by Snowygerry; 31 Aug 11 at 09:29..
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