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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 01 Sep 11, 03:56
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Cheers for the words of encouragement, Snowygerry.

I'm trying the get the text to "flow" as much as possible whilst retaining the original feel of the narrative. It's both difficult - because some of the more colourful aphorisms have to unfortunately be dropped, or paraphrased, and easy - you just have to retain as much of the original sentence, making sure to restructure it to adhere to modern English. (Previous attempts to translate this text into english were often very lax in this regard, which is partly why I wanted to give it a go). So what you say is encouraging, that that Russian feel remains. It make me think of something like "All quiet on the western front". The soldiers' dialogue retains a "german" feel to it even in the English translation. What am I still not sure about, is what the standard way of translating something like "combat", as in the battalion commander is. To transcribe is as "battalion commander" each time is a mouthful. I realise, that I have not read any Russian military language in translation before - no need as I understand the original. If somebody could point me in the right direction there, that would be great.

And thank you all for reading. Chapter 10 is nearly done and will be up today Australian EST.
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Old 01 Sep 11, 04:28
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Originally Posted by UVB76 View Post
Cheers for the words of encouragement, Snowygerry.

(...) What am I still not sure about, is what the standard way of translating something like "combat", as in the battalion commander is. To transcribe is as "battalion commander" each time is a mouthful. I realise, that I have not read any Russian military language in translation before - no need as I understand the original. If somebody could point me in the right direction there, that would be great.
(...)
To be honest neither have I - perhaps one of the more knowledgeable(russian) members here can help you out.

I see a lot of abbreviations like CO and XO etc. in english military narratives - don't how that works in russian though.

Grtz.
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Old 01 Sep 11, 04:43
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Originally Posted by Snowygerry View Post
To be honest neither have I - perhaps one of the more knowledgeable(russian) members here can help you out.

I see a lot of abbreviations like CO and XO etc. in english military narratives - don't how that works in russian though.

Grtz.
There are heaps of abbreviations. I'm trying to avoid them as much as possible. They won't translate well anyway and the book should be readable by your common reader (it should be readable by the common reader - the **** in Chechnya is the same **** that's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, and for the same reasons - where these people's troops are currently fighting).
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Old 01 Sep 11, 06:48
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 10

Meanwhile the resting men began to gather together. There were approximately fifty soldiers here, mostly officers, but there was a good deal of petty officers and privates also. Many have already cast off their flak jackets to allow themselves easier movement. The looks on their faces were of those lost to and at mercy of their circumstances. Everyone began to quietly discuss what had happened. They wanted to talk it out after such a massive shock, shame and stress. They mainly blamed the army group’s leadership. Everyone felt that the brigade has done all that was necessary.
-They got us good.
-The ****ers have lost the whole brigade!
-**** off, they lost it. Many were able to escape from under the fire.
-****, no! They didn’t escape. Did you see the tanks burning?
-We saw it. We saw it all. About seven or eight tanks got killed for sure!
-Why didn’t our guys shoot?
-What do you mean why? They would have buried us there!
-Better that, than to run away like cowards.
-So why did you run then? You could have stayed there and they would have given you a Hero. Posthumously.
-They would have caught up with you and given you some more.
-There won’t be any gratitude form these bastards in Moskva and Khankala.
-If not for those ****ers and their retarded plan of attack head on of that ****ing square, we would not have had to run like the Swedes in Poltava!
-Retards!
-****ing faggots!
Rolin probably didn’t bring in the other troops on purpose, so that our brigade got shredded like cabbage!
-Exactly, he can’t forgive us for the mutiny at “Severny”!
-Where is that bastard!
-It would have been good to see him here.
-Same ****. They are going to blame the attack’s failure on us.
-Go to hell, you…
You’ll see. They’ll say that the plan was excellent, but we were against it from the beginning and for that reason refused to fulfill it.
-They may even accuse us of sympathising with Dudaev.
-Go to hell with your Dudaev.
-He’s as yours as he is mine.
-I’ve seen him in the grave in white slippers!
-For now, it’s him who’s trying to put us into the grave.
-Like hell he will.
-He’s already succeeded with half the brigade.
-That’s right and he might get to us soon.
-We have to leg it out of here! -How?
-Onto our own shore. The brigade’s vehicles drove off in that direction.
-Could it be that the Chechens are waiting in ambush there?
-Everything’s possible, but we can’t stay here forever.
-That’s right! We have to go.
-And the faster, the better.
-What if we get arrested?
-For what?
-For not following orders!
-They won’t arrest the whole brigade.
-It’s not nineteen thirty seven!
-Neither is it nineteen forty one, when thy put up firing squads in the rear.
-That’s right!
-There were no orders such as Stalin’s “Not a step back!”
-There was only one order!
-Which one was that!
-Not to touch the oil refinery.
-Those bastard slinks, ****ing cattle, retarded faggot condoms! They set us up!
-Don’t yell! The Chechens will hear.
-**** them. Let them hear.
-You want to be a “two hundred”? Go ahead. But leave us out of it. Go. The Chechens are waiting.
-Enough banter. We have to go.
-That’s right.
-We have to go quickly.
-What if there is an ambush.
-We’ll have to fight.
-Anyone got a radio?
-I do, - I fighter emerged from the darkness, wearing a large radio backpack. Who knows, why he didn’t leave it behind during our “race”.
-Call our guys, - judging by the voice that was the first battalion commander.

The radioman began to mumble into the handset. There was an answer after about five minutes. The radio man handed somebody the handset and he began to speak. Everyone stirred and listened.
-”Sopka-25”, I’m—”Uran-5”! Can you hear me? I can hear you well. Where are we? - and he asked us out of the darkness:
-Where are we, guys?
-In the south-eastern end of the square. About three hundred meters from the bridge. Ask them if they are prepared to support us with fire, if we get shot up by the Chechens as we break out.
-Hello, “Sopka”! We’re on the south-eastern side of the square, approximately three hundred meters away from the bridge! You need to provide fire support if we attempt to cross? What do you mean you’re not there? Where are you then? What about us? I understand. Break out to brigade’s old command post. Is that all? What? Who’s been wounded? And where is he? What about San Sanych? - the comm-batt was breaking all conceivable rules of radio exchange, but nobody gave a damn. They can come and arrest us if they don’t like it. Everyone listened closely.
-So what do we do? I can suggest that to you myself. Where are you driving to? You’re being pursued? Were many of our “boxes” destroyed? How many? **** me! So what are we going to do? Yes I understand that we need to go to the old command post. Have you reported to that retard Rolin? So what did he have to say about reinforcements? Nothing? The swine! That’s all. I’m signing off.
-So?
-Say it, don’t pull the cat by the tail.
-Quiet guys, let the man talk.
-Allright, guys, - it was apparent that it was not easy for him to speak, - firstly, Bakhel is wounded…
-What how!
-Is he alive?
-Where is he wounded?
-Where is he? - the men were frantic.
-Don’t interrupt, let me finish, then you can ask questions.
-Talk then, don’t torment us.
-Bekhel is wounded in the leg, his thigh. The wound is serious.
-Is he going to live though!
-Shut up, retard! - somebody shouted, annoyed.
-No, you’re a retard, don’t yell.
-I’ll go over there and crack open your stupid head in a second. Shut up, you pig!
-You’re a pig yourself! - It was impossible to see the arguing men in the dark. The moon and illumination rockets that were going up in the distance cast off only broken, uneven shadows.
-For ****’s sake, you going to shut it, or not?
-Don’t make me go over there and calm you both down! - That was the voice of the first company commander from the second battalion. - He’s alive, so he’ll live.
-I repeat for the extra dense: the brigade commander has been wounded in the leg. In the thigh. The injury is serious. He was taken to “Severny” in an unconscious state. That is all. That’s the first thing.
-What else did they say about the commander?
-Why the **** are you so dumb?
-Let him finish, then ask your stupid question!
-Go on.
-Nothing else about the commander. All I know is that he was taken to “Severny”, but they didn’t make it there—the Chechens blocked the way. They made it to Khankala and after the first operation they took him to “Severny” on a “spinner”.
-Oh thank you Lord…
-Are you going to shut it, you mongrel, or not!
-Then what?
-Bilich is in command for now.
-San Sanych?
-Who else? How many Biliches do we have?
-Bilich is in command of the brigade, - the comm-batt repeated. - they left and broke through to the south. Some of the vehicles went over the bridge, but they are not there now.
-That’s the end of the brigade!
-Yep. Knocked out, pulled apart… - the man's voice attained a hysterical tinge.
-Shut up, you!
-What’s next?
-Five of our tanks and three BMP were killed.
-Five tanks?
-That’s it, the brigade is done for!
-Are you going to be silent or not!
-They suggested that we break through to the location of the old command post and wait for the rest to pull up. That’s all from me.
-Where did they go off to?
-They had the Chechens tailing them. Got ambushed several times. Lost another five or so people, and now they broke up into smaller groups and will be regrouping at the old command post.
-Fun times!
-We were destroyed, just like the Germans at Kursk during the Great Patriotic.
-Why don’t you shut up, you lousy bastard!
-Do you have to hero, do you?
-We have to surrender to the Chechens. After all they returned the guys that survived from the first tank column in November!
-Like hell they’ll hand you back!
-Have you forgotten what they do with the guys they capture?
-We’re no better…
-Yes, there’s blood on our hands all the way up to the neck.
-There will be no mercy.
-That’s a fact.
-So what are we going to do?
-What do you mean what? We’re going to break out towards our guys.
-We need to reach any friendly formation we can and then to the command post.
-And how do we get there?
-Hell knows.
-Let’s look on the map.
-The map is from the year nineteen forty seven. It’s the same as trying to navigate using a “Belomor” pack.
-Hmm, we have to get to our positions.
-Let’s get off this ****ing square first.
-”Let’s”. It’s easy to say “let’s”. And where are we going to go? Which direction?
-Let’s try to use the bridge. Some fighters went that way and there didn’t seem to be a lot of shooting.
-If you were the Chechens, would you have left the bridge unprotected, when you knocked us out?
-Pro-o-obably not.
-That’s right. We went to the same military academies as them, so we think alike.
-They don’t think. They’re “niggers”!
-If they were “niggers”, we would not be sitting here, shaking with fear!
-Exactly!
-We should proceed as we were, due south east and then cross over to the other shore somehow.
-****ing mongrels!
-Who do you mean?
-Everyone! The moskovites, as well as the retards from Khankala and Mozdok. The Guarantor of our Constitution also, as well as the minister of defense and the ****ing Chechens also! What do they need this Chechnya for?
-Don’t whine.
-I’m whining? I want to live! Understand! I want to live!
-So live, we’re not stopping you.
-You’re not stopping me, but these moskovite slinks are.
-They’re stopping the whole of Russia from living. So what of it?
-What do you mean what? Let’s go to Moskva!
-Right from here?
-You should first get off this square, then you can gather the troops to go to Moskva.
-What we need is a leader, a chief.
-Only Indians and tribesmen have chiefs.
-Enough chit-chat. Let’s go.
-Which way?
-South East. There is no other way.
-Should we risk the bridge maybe?
-You go risk it then.
-Any volunteers to check the bridge?

Silence, broken only by gunfire near the State Bank and the shrill yelling of the Chechens off in the distance.
-No volunteers. That means we’re going south east. We’ll look around during the day, rest, talk to our guys. Let’s go.
-Let’s go.
-Maybe over the bridge after all?
-Go. Nobody’s holding you back. Go.

We set off. Stretching out over thirty meters in length as well as in breadth. We walked unhurriedly, looking carefully under our feet, listening to every sound. The moon was in the zenith and lit up our way as well as ourselves.

The Chechens didn’t think to pursue us. Either they were afraid, or didn’t want to bother with chasing after us. During sea battles in the times of Catherine the Second, the retreating enemy was not pursued. This was called “building of the golden bridge”. An honourable undertaking. Ushakov, who later became an admiral was the first to break this tradition and kicked the then Turks in the face as well as in the ass.

A mouse should not be chased into a corner and deprived of hope of escape. We were like these mice. Maybe we were frightened, trapped, but if we were to be forced into a mouse-trap, we would fight like we were condemned. Nobody was hurrying to our aid. Nobody was organising rescue missions. I would not be surprised that if we were to make it out of this “sack”, it will emerge that our brigade is no more. Dissolved under the guise of personnel cut-backs.

Hmm, this is not America. There, a whole fleet was sent after some pilot downed over Yugoslavia. And they rescued him after all! Found him in some impassable forest and got him out. And what about us? As a classic writer once said: “Cursed and forgotten!”

Oh Motherlad, Motherland. You’re no mother to us, but some evil aunt. I don’t want my son to serve in your Armed Forces. So that like me, he can shoot at his own people on the craft-less whim and political impotence of senile Kremlin alcoholics.

When you’re up to your ears in ****, not knowing if you’ll ever get out of it, you will curse everything and everyone. The whole wide world is at fault, except yourself. But upon closer examination of the situation, it turns out that I am not at fault here. And neither are the people walking beside me are at fault. The only thing at fault here are somebody’s unsatisfiable political ambitions. When cannons speak, the diplomats are ought to be silent.

These thoughts were swarming in my head as we carefully left the square, trying not to make any sound. We gingerly walked around and over the corpses. It was a mix of our officers and soldiers with Chechen insurgents. Everyone knew, that nobody will be burying our lads, nobody will be sending their bodies back home. The Ministry of Defense will save some serious money on funerals for their own soldiers. They can hold back the benefits, pensions and life insurances for five years. Why? He’s simply missing in action, and that’s all. Yes, we’re looking for him, but understand that there are no resources, there was heavy fighting, mass graves and other such ****. God forbid to be lying there like this. I’m no good Christian, no! I simply do not want to deprive my family of the means of survival even after I perish. So it turns out that in our country you must die in such a way that your mortal remains are identified, flown back to your relatives and interred to the sound of saluting guns. A madhouse, sheer madhouse. And there is no bringing back those boys that I am now stepping over, not feeling the usual bouts of sickness. No bringing them back, no sending them home. Not living or dead. No amount of sharp words from parliamentarians and politicians will help here. Neither will church sermons help the matter. And by the way, why doesn’t the Orthodox Church oppose such madness as is this war? A very interesting question. I haven’t seen any priests here. There is only one, they say, a pastor of a local church. I have never seen anyone in a clerical robe near the troops. Meanwhile the local Russians, whom the Chechens were slaughtering like rams, and whom we then bombed from the air and shot in their own homes, not knowing that our people were there, meanwhile, they need not only medical aid psychological support, they also need the word of God. Where are these servants of the Lord, the devil take them?

None are to be found. The centuries-old war the government wages against its own people continues. The Church is as usual not involved. And worse still condones a criminal war. History repeats, but on yet another twist of the spiral. Why, Lord, why was I fated to be born in the country that You yourself cursed?

The paradox is that I love and hate it equally much. I can forfeit my life for my loved-loathed Motherland. But only for my Motherland, not its rulers.

The term “sobornost” is popular nowadays. It took me a long time to understand its meaning. And it represents the Russian people’s eternal belief in a wise, kind tzar. The Master will come and sort us out. Bah! None of Russia’s tzars or rulers, including the current ones have ever cared for its people. Its people are the rulers’ enemy, worse than any enemy any foreign agents or other foreign foe. Nobody ever thought of the people’s welfare. NEVER! A dead people is a good people. It’s very convenient to set two tribes in your country against one another. As they fight one another, nobody will be thinking why it is exactly that their life is so bad. Why their wages are not being paid? Where are the pensions? Where are the benefits? Stipends? What do you mean, where? The evil Chechens are at fault for everything. Everything went towards war with the foe. So as soon as we are victorious is as soon as you’ll get what you earned. And the inflation? What does inflation have to do with it all? It’s war and as you might imagine we raised the prices a little because of it, printed a little bit more money. Not to worry. We’re not saying you’ll never get it. You’ll get it, you’ll get it! Just be patient. They say that during the Great Patriotic no money was issued at all. Everything For The Front, Everything For Victory! So how is it different to now? So what if we attacked Chechnya and not the other way around? Shut up and endure it. We’ve got a lot of various republics, we can go to war with them too, in which case you’ll never see your money or your children!

I didn’t see any of Zhirkovskij’s eagles in today's battle. Nor did I see the black-shirts that are so fond of throwing up their hand in a fascist salute. And it was them, in ninety three, that shouted the loudest about patriotism, sovereignty, Orthodoxy and other such nonsense.

“The Russian People - Chosen By God!” ****! How absurd! Paranoia! Only a hundred years ago, one Orthodox Christian could exchange another for a pedigree puppy dog, flog them to death as they please, shoot them. Torture on the rack, they say is our native invention. Other peoples had similar things naturally, but they quickly went out of fashion. The “Spanish boot” for instance. Torture and prisons are customary with us from ancient times. That’s how we end up with a third of the people in prison, another third at work, where conditions are not too dissimilar from prison and another third guarding the prisons and searching for candidates for prison in the workforce.

There has been a change of guard, but the system, the habits are the same. The nomenclature rules over us as before. Although many deigned to think that it’s acceptable to discuss the decisions of the Klan, the Family, so they decided to create a distraction. And by the buy to rob the people a little, cull the population a bit. No need to feed and educate them. They disappeared somewhere and to hell with them. This is no Rio de Janeiro, this is much worse. Here, the only people who wear white pants are the soldiers, before lights out. There’s not enough for all…

We were getting further and further away from the shooting and explosions, the throaty victorious yelling of the local aborigines, who deployed a classic tank trap move. The lads studied tactics well at the academy. With small numbers, they destroyed a numerically superior opponent, and on top of that from almost a convoy formation. Alright, you bastards, we’ll be back. We’re sure to be back. And we’ll make you answer, with interest, for the shame and panic we endured. We’ll just sort out the goats from Khankala regarding the reinforcements they promised and we’ll come back. Hopefully we’ll return, prodding the fat-ass colonels from Khankala and “Severny” in front of us with bayonets. Or better still—shielding ourselves with their bodies. It's a shame only that the real men that are lying beneath our feet, whom we are stepping over, having no strength left to go around them, will not see it. There will be victory, that’s for sure. Even if it is a Pyrrhic victory. But it will come. Paid in a lot of blood. We won’t leave here. Not because we don’t want to, but because we are dangerous. There will be many more assaults and the more of us remain here on this filthy, bloodied asphalt, the better it will be for the geriatric Muscovite alcoholics from the old CC of the CPSU.

Perhaps one of the soldiers lying here had parents working at the factory that produces the ammo, shells and grenades. And who’s to know, maybe that same bullet, shrapnel, shell killed their son. And the parents have not yet been paid their wages for the work they did. Nightmarish! No, Slava, you’re definitely going nuts, really nuts. Such fantasies and association cannot be a product of a normal mind.

I fumbled at my belt. There was something swishing about in my hip flask. Maybe half a mouthful of cognac. I’m thirsty for some water. I quickened my pace and touched the one walking ahead of me. I couldn’t tell in the dark if he was a soldier or an officer. “Everything was mixed up in the Oblonski house…”
-Man, do you have any water?

He turned around. It was a soldier from the second battalion. He was next to me when we were running over the bridge. He must have also recognised me and smiled, pointing at his ears. In the moonlight I immediately noticed that blood was thickly caked up around his ears. Contusion. A very bad one—the burst eardrums. Compared to his, my contusion is child’s babble in a glade. I gestured my desire to drink. The fighter nodded in agreement and took his hip flask off his belt. I swallowed a few mouthfuls then handed the flask to him. Accepting it, he finished it off, then put the empty flask back onto his belt.

I took mine out and flicked my neck, indicating that it was alcohol, then handed it to him. He took one gulp and passed it to me. I indicated that he can finish it off. He accepted with gratitude. He needs it more than me. When contused and despite all warnings from the doctors, military men drink alcohol numbing down the pain and thus ensuring a speedier recovery.

I badly wanted to smoke, but no-one risked lighting up. Everyone trudged on in silence. Only the sound of gravel under somebody’s boot could be heard. Nobody wanted to talk and it was pointless. Everyone was crushed by what has transpired.

Firstly with their shameful retreat and the loss of their people. Look how many were left lying there, unclaimed, behind our backs. With nobody to take them away and bury them.

Secondly—the brigade's destruction, practical dissolution and loss.

Thirdly—the commander's wounding. He will not be returning to us. San Sanych is a good chief of staff of course, but what kind of a commander is he? They are liable to send some dodgy guy to replace him. Who doesn’t give a damn about our brigade. He’ll come for the sake of promotion, medals and will treat us no better than our President treats his people. We’ll live, we’ll see. If we live for course.

And fourthly—the complete state of uncertainty we were in. What will happen to me personally, in this mincer, what will happen to the people walking next to me? Nobody could tell or even think about it.

Out of the two objectives placed before me earlier, namely to fulfil the objective and to make it our of here, remained just one—make it out of here! And having done that, we can establish who is responsible for your triumphant shame. The President is far away, but the Chechens are nearer. For now, we’re running away form them, but it will not always be like that.

Still, it’s a shame, a real shame that it’s impossible to get to comrade Guarantor of The Constitution. A real shame. Oh well. The elections are coming soon. This time we won’t vote for prostitute-communists or the hysterical Zhirkovskij, no!. Let’s hope that somebody clever will emerge, who will not conduct a barbaric war against its own people.

Oh the dreams, the dreams. Dreams of an idiot Russian, who hopes for a good Tsar. A Tsar, who will not rob his people, will not sell national treasures abroad and keep the money in their foreign accounts. The dreams of an idiot! You can’t perceive Russia with the mind. You can only believe in her. Meaning that she’s so hysterically schizophrenic that it is impossible to converse with it using the language of ordinary logic. That’s how it is. Who’s to blame? The rulers reckon it’s the people. The people, think it’s the talentless rulers. And when there is no agreement between friends, no good can ever come of it. It’s absurd, absurd…For what sins, oh God did you birth me in this country?

And here a funny though came into my head. Maybe there is no hell or heaven in the sense in which the “holy” church fathers would have us believe? If one was to suppose that we all lived in another dimension at some stage, and hell is really here. And so the sinners living on that planet are sent here for re-education. If you endure the test that fate assigns you with honour, not breaking the ten commandments of Christ and however many Muhammad’s got as well as other “true” believers, then you’ll be taken to heaven or returned to normal life. But since there are always more bastards in life than there are good people, the worst scum is sent to Russia. Its territory is appropriately huge. Those that sinned less get sent to more civilized countries. That means that I must have sinned a lot in previous life and even more in this one.

I could not help but smile at this heresy. If only it was that simple! As I was discoursing thusly, the time passed and a lot of ground was quickly covered. We were fairly far away from the square now. Ahead of us and to on our flanks stood wrecked buildings. Not buildings, more like ruins. They changed hands many times and now a lot of them were completely destroyed, others had no roofs or upper levels. They were cratered by bullets and shrapnel and stood there abandoned. Sheer Stalingrad! In the transparent lunar light it all looked a little unreal. The head was humming, the body craved rest, coloured shapes crossed one’s vision from the exhaustion. Not a single thought remained any longer. My feet simply carried me somewhere by the force of inertia. Not a human in the proper sense of the word, but speechless cattle. Even if the Chechens were to attack now, it was doubtful that anyone could have resisted them effectively.

Our leading ranks approached some building, which must have been prestigious in the past. It was almost in the center of town and the flats here would have been amongst the most expensive. Now it was worthless.

Another small group went to inspect a building standing next to it. Despite our exhaustion, we knew very well that it was unwise to hide in a single rat hole. That was dangerous. For that reason two rat holes were occupied. Rats of steel, we'll become and gnaw through concrete walls.

The first group returned first and waved, inviting everyone for sleep and rest in the basement of the nearest house. Nobody issued any orders. Those that wanted to go to that building—simply went. I went with the second group. Why? I don’t know. I simply went. About thirty people occupied that building, or more precisely its basement. They did not all stay in a single room, but spread out however they liked. Thankfully it was a large basement. Six people remained with me. The room was dark. They began burning matches, lighters, to light up the enclosure. It was a square room, five meters by five. There were two windows out onto the street. The exit from the basement was about ten meters away.

When the matches were lit, rats scuttled out of the corners and in all different directions. I’m not averse to various animals, as long as they don’t bite or try to eat me.

We deployed sentries and leaning close to one another for warmth sunk into restless sleep. We wanted to eat and drink very much, but neither food nor water were available. The only thing that remained was to sink into heavy delirium, waking up from every sound and burst of gunfire.

Waking up constantly, tossing and turning, folding up our damp, cold feet and brushing away the rats which were sniffing us, hugging one another, we slept no more than three hours. This sleep did not bring relief. The feeling of helplessness intensified due to the even greater hunger and thirst. The radio station remained in the adjacent building and so we were in complete ignorance of what was happening around us. Slowly, heavily the people came to. They smoked cigarettes, “visited” the fighters and officers in the adjacent enclosure. It was still dark outside. The scent of smoke and roasted meat began to issue form a far-off corner of the basement. Yes, roasted meat. This unearthly scent, there is no mistaking it for anything! But where is the meat coming from?

The whole mob pored out towards the source of the smell. It tickled the nostrils and intoxicated slightly, provoking painful spasms in the stomach, inspiring hopes for the best, awakening memories of home, of picnics and shaslyk. God what a scent this was! I have never sensed such an unearthly aroma in my life.

When the hungry mob rushed to the hearth, Improvised from pieces of furniture and newspaper, they saw that two soldiers were roasting small pieces of fresh meat using improvised skewers. The meat oozed and bubbled with juices and droplets of blood were falling into the fire. An unforgettable sight! Naturally everyone had one question:
-Where’s the meat from?
-Where did you get it?
-Is there more?
-It’s not human is it?
-No, it’s not human! - the soldiers laughed, proceeding to roast their shashlyk.
-So, where’s the meat from?

The people were overcome with impatience and hunger. The fighters continued to roast and were shuffling about shyly, obviously unwilling to share their culinary art secrets. The pause dragged on. The tension rose. A mob of armed and wound up men could have chopped the chefs themselves into shashlyk. Finally, one of them mumbled:
-Rat.
-Rat?!
-Yes, it’s a rat, - the fighters confirmed.
-What, are you mad? - many were shocked.

The stomach contorted from a spasm, not of hunger now, but of sickness. If it contained anything, it would have surely come up as vomit. Many reacted in the same manner. But about half of the men did not show any emotion. They came nearer and began to interrogate the “chefs” regarding their hunting and preparatory secrets. I walked out into the fresh air, as quickly as I could. Behind me, the various replicas of the “gourmets’” and fanciers of exotica could be heard:
-Have you tried it?
-No but look how fat it is!
-Yeah and how juicy and oily it is, mmm! Very nice!
-Is this one rat or two?
-One.
-Look how big it is.
-Lots of them here, enough for everybody!
-I have read and they taught me in school, that rats are carriers of various diseases, including the plague.
-They taught a lot to us in school and what good is it?
-Don’t like it, don’t have any! - somebody replied with steel logic.
-Nothing will happen.
-That’s right. Just need to cook it through thoroughly.
-Cook it through well, but not too well, otherwise the meat will be dry, brittle and un-tasty.
-Look, there’s a crust forming already.
-Yes! What a nice crust!
-Guys, can I try a little piece, hmm?
-Yes, we don’t need a lot.
-If we like it, we’ll catch some rats ourselves.
-It’s a pity that there are no dogs around. There’s more meat there.
-There’s even more in a human. Why don’t you eat that?
-Go to hell with your jokes. You can eat that yourself.

I could not stand hearing this talk, so I went into the hall in order to examine the flats. The smell and the smoke streamed from the basement, went up the stairs and pursued me closely. I lit up a cigarette in order to chase away the persistent aroma. The stomach churned from hunger and then from the thought that I’m sniffing roasted rat. Br-r-r-r!

From previous experience, I knew that the sensation of hunger will disappear sometime around day four of the famine. Only an obtuse sense of exhaustion will remain, but the hunger will disappear. All thoughts will pass slower and not to the point but all around food.

When in nineteen ninety we were sent to Baku, at first they threw us onto the Salyan barracks and only later transferred us to the fourth micro-district as a commandant detachment. We were responsible for the keeping of order and adherence to curfew in that residential district. Our comm-batt was no fool and organised the command post on the premises of a large supermarket. When we descended into the basement, there was a ton of food there. Except there was a shortage of bread, so we had to spread butter over salami, just like in that anecdote. But I’m repeating myself. My thought are already getting stuck on food. Instead of food, I was gulping down bitter smoke. There was a disturbance downstairs. I stopped and listened. Chechens? No. Excited yells were issuing out of the basement:
-Get it, get it!
-Chase them towards me!
-Where are you chasing them, you idiot!
-Let’s start all over.
-They ran to that corner over there.
-Go around, around.
-Pity we can’t shoot.
-Don’t you dare shoot. The Chechens will hear.
-Pound them! Pound them!
-Not with the barrel, you moron!
-Hit them with the stock!
-It’s not a club! Hit them with the bottom of the stock.
-But it’ll get blood all over it!
-Don’t worry, you’ll wash it off!
-Don’t you want to eat?
-Got them!
-How many?
-Three.
-Not enough. We’ll need more. Look how many of us are there.
-They can get their own.
-Don’t babble. There are enough rats for everyone.
-They are fat ones!
-They are normal.
-Get the fat ones.
-I can’t see if they are fat or not.
-Go around, we’ll start chasing them again.

Trying to restrain bouts of vomit, I went out into the street so as not to hear the rats’ death screams. It was almost light now. I paused. I observer the street for a long time. No movement by the loos of it. The odd gunshot came from the direction of Minutka. It didn’t sound like a battle was in progress. It was more likely to be the sentries shooting through their sectors. I crossed the street diagonally at a run, bent over double and entered the stairwell hall of the house where the first group took cover. At the entrance, I was greeted nervously by two sentries.
-Greetings, men! - I said to them.

Seeing that I’m one of their own, they relaxed and smiled.
-Good health to you comrade captain, - one of them smiled widely. All thirty two teeth.
-What’s new?
-Nothing. What's all the noise over there?
-Chechens? - the other one asked.
-No. Our wise guys have opened the hunting season on rats.
-On rats? - one was genuinely astounded.
-On rats? - the other, however was thoughtful. It looked like he was mulling over the though of a roasted rat. His eyes glazed over dreamily.
-Yes, rats. The fighters breakfasted on rat this morning, inspiring others to want to do the same.
-And did you try it? - the second fighter asked. The first was already visibly ill from the very thought of a rat.
-No. I haven’t tried it. And I have no desire to do so, - I answered honestly.—Where are our Father-commanders?
-Over there, - the first soldier waved at the stairwell leading into the basement, vaguely.

Dragging, as I went, I unhurried descended into the basement using the gravel and debris-checked stairs. There were about ten people sitting there. Another ten or fifteen were lying in the adjacent room. I noticed Yurka amongst them. He was dosing. I approached. Kicked him in the side lightly.
-Get up. You’ll sleep through the coming of God’s Kingdom.
Yurka quickly opened his eyes, and leapt to his feet, seeing that it was me.
-Alive? - he was sincerely glad.
-I’m alive. Where am I to go.
-And I thought you might have been, you know…
-Go to hell!
-Go on then, tell me something good, - Yurka was restless.
-What do you expect to hear? - I was surprised, - Everything’s the same with me as it is with you. Come visit my basement, if you like and you’ll see how the fighters there just slaughtered a few rats and are making breakfast.

In short, I described the rat “epic”. He was astounded and did not deny that his stomach churned from a single thought of eating rat.
-Did you yourself try it at least? - he asked repressing a bout of vomiting with some effort.
-No. Haven’t gotten to that state yet.
-But rats!
-Why are you surprised? The Chinese say that absolutely everything that grows and moves can be eaten. One simply must know how to prepare it properly. Don’t worry Yura, if we get hungry enough, we’ll eat anything, not to mention rats.
-We have to get out of here as soon as possible, or we’ll completely loose our minds.
-You’re right there, brother. If we stay here any longer, it will be the ****ing end of us.

Those sitting near us were listening to our exchange. They began discussing the issues of procuring nourishment by any means available. We did not interfere and stepped off to the side.
-What’s the news from the staff?
-We radioed them. ****! - Yurka spat off. - Nothing good. The remnants of the brigade are trying to break through to the old command post. The staff, or more precisely whatever’s left of it are surrounded and are fighting.
Airborne troops were sent to their aid. Don’t know if they’ll reach them. It’s all ****.
-I know it’s ****, myself. What are we going to do after all?
-There’s a plan already, right?
-There’s no plan. We’re sitting here, guessing.
-We have to leg it, before there’s a mop-up. They’re not idiots either.
-I’ve told them already… - Yurka waved in resignation. —They say we have to sit it out, clarify the situation. Which is why I say, it’s all ****.
-Let’s go and try to talk to them. We’re staff officers after all.
-Let’s go, but it’s going to be pointless.

As soon as we entered the first battalion commander’s shelter, one of the sentries from the entrance into the stairwell hall ran in. He half-whispered, half-yelled:
-The Chechens are coming!
-Are they far away?
-A few houses from here. They’re conducting a mop-up.
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Old 07 Sep 11, 04:35
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.

Chapter 11

We could now hear grenade explosions and the rattle of gunfire. There were shouts:
-To battle!
-How many are there?
-I don’t know exactly, approximately fifteen men! - the sentry man was almost shouting now.
-To your places!
-Maybe it’ll blow over?
-Maybe they won’t notice us?
-High hopes!
-Let’s go guys!

Everyone scattered. Some took cover at the exit, some next to the little windows into the basement, whilst me and Yurka, along with a group of soldiers ascended to the second floor and sat near the broken windows.

And there they were; a group of twenty or so insurgents, proceeding unhurriedly along the street. They moved according to all the usual rules of conduct in an urban warfare environment. Short, running advances, covering one another as they ran, carefully inspecting the smashed-up stairwell halls and windows of the buildings around them. Having approached the house nearest to us, they paused. Five people ran up to the basement windows and threw grenades in there. They rolled back. The others waited, their guns at the ready. As soon as the grenade explosions rang out, they let off a volley each.

Dividing into small groups of three-four people, they then entered the stairwells. Short volleys could be heard coming from there. Three of them remained in the street. Soon all those who went to mop up the house emerged outside.

I counted. It turned out there were eighteen of them all-up. We have more men, but we need to quickly, very quickly eliminate these guys, before the enemy’s main force arrives. Otherwise we’ll have no success here. Everyone present clearly understood this.

The Chechens were getting nearer. They talked amongst themselves in short, throaty replicas. Everyone went still. The distance to our building shortened; ten, eight, five meters remained. And this is when storm of fire broke out. We were firing from the top, the bottom and the straight. They were shooting the Chechens up out of “my” house also. The enemy tried to take up defence. It was pointless! Fear, hunger have disappeared. The confidence in one’s own strength had made a comeback. If we are to fight, then we’ll fight. We need a victory right now, even if a small one, but a victory nonetheless. So that we could again perceive ourselves as humans, as fighters, a monolithic collective. Everyone understood this and were mercilessly shooting up the little band of insurgents.

The Chechens that survived the initial assault, tried to escape, but were falling to the ground, their arms outstretched. Soon, our fighters were running after them. They tore the hip flasks off their belts, took away their grenades and ammo. They tuned their corpses over and ran their pockets in search of edibles. They were stuffing something into their own pockets and under their flak jackets.

Those that remained in the buildings were frantically preparing to evacuate. We had to move on. Break out to our positions.
Another two days. For two days that seemed like an eternity did we press onwards. Everything became mixed up—day and night, sleep and wakefulness. We sat it out in the basements during the day and proceeded at night. A couple of times we encountered ambushes, but not taking up the fight, retreated whilst returning fire. Some people fell back, disappeared. Some—deliberately so as not to drag us down. Not to be a burden on us. Exhausted, they quietly, so that nobody would notice, broke off and fell back. Some stayed back to cover everyone else’s movement onwards. When we shouted angrily that they are ordered to come with, they turned their guns on us and chased us away with expletives. Before covering us over with mat, some, silently handed us their dog-tags, documents, personal effects and letters. They asked us to inform their relatives. They did not want to become “missing in action”. And we walked and crawled onwards. We took away our dead and wounded. When we had no strength for that any more, we left our casualties and those who died from their wounds in the basement of a house, wowing to come back for them. We buried them in the corner of a basement enclosure, lest they be gnawed over by animals.

We continued forwards and only forwards. Movement is life. Nobody argued or discoursed any more. There was no strength left for that. Only forward. Only the dumb desperation forced us to continue. Animated only by the blind survival instinct. The fighters extracted shrapnel, that was not lodged too deep, themselves now, without any narcosis. We could not wash the wounds much less treat them with antiseptic. So, to avoid contamination and to stem the flow of blood as there were no bandages either, the contents of the medikits having been eaten out of an acute hunger, open wounds were covered in gunpowder, which was then set on fire. The powder flashed, stinking sourly and of burned flesh. The flow of blood ceased, the wound became sealed.

Some wounded shot themselves, or blew themselves up with grenades. We tore the dog-tags off the stings around their necks, retrieved the documents from their pockets and crawled, walked onwards.

One night we came upon a group of airborne troops, who have also become separated from their own and, like us, were wondering about like blind kittens abandoned by their mother. When we first met, we nearly opened fire. But because everyone was afraid of attracting Chechen attention, it was decided to fight with knives. Then we learned that they were ours. The skirmish ended with two small cuts and one broken rib. One of our fighters jumped on top of one of theirs and when he fell to the side kicked him in the ribs. In short, nothing serious.

Our radio station had long ago been broken and thrown out. But the one the airborne guys had was in perfect working order. Having tuned to our frequency, we went on the air. Maybe it’s a good thing that frequencies and call-signs do not change? There is some good in it after all. We managed to talk to our brigade after all this wandering. It turned out, that almost everyone had already gathered at the old command post. They were waiting for us. They’ll help us traverse Sunzha. We have a new comm-brig. One Butalov Alexej Mikhajlovich, rank—colonel. Prior to this, in command of a medical cadre regiment. By the order of the Minister of Defence Grachin, he is now assigned to head our brigade. The old comm-brig is alive, they saved his leg. He’s at the Central Burdenko Hospital of the Ministry of Defence in Moskva. Good luck to you, Commander!.

Everyone was shocked by the news that we’ll now be under the auspices of a former cadre and on top of that medical regiment commander. And a colonel, on top of that!

Does the reader know what a cadre regiment is? Not simply a cut-back, but a cadre one? Your ordinary infantry cadre regiment consists of a commander, chief of staff and his deputy. Ordinarily, there will also be a deputy for armament. No more than ten-fifteen officers in the whole brigade. About twenty warrant officers. Approximately fifteen soldiers. And that is all! That is all!!!

Their primary function is the servicing of vehicles. In other words—scheduled maintenance, the swap-out of all rubber parts once every five years and other such busywork. During Soviet rule, reservists were often called up for this work—”partisans” as they were called. They would back the vehicles out of the garage, drive them around a little and put them back into conservation. That’s what a cadre infantry regiment is.

What a medical cadre regiment might have been exactly—I didn’t know. The officers and warrant officers that were with me have not heard of it either. Lieutenant-colonels were ordinarily placed in command of an infantry cadre regiment, very rarely—majors. And here it was a colonel! It was hard to imagine all this. Most likely, this regiment was meant for the Third World War, where weapons of mass destruction would be employed.

Apart from that, we were informed that the new comm-brig is from the North Caucasus Military District, whilst we were from the Siberian Military District. Only people with “connections” served in the North Caucasus Military District. Either those, or replacement transfers from the Far East or Transbaikal Military Districts (the latter, colloquially known as the “God-forsaken Military District”).

Alright, when we get out, we’ll sort it out—who is who. The mere fact that the brigade survived, even if it was not up to its former numbers, but it survived, was encouraging. And the most important thing was that we were not forgotten and this warmed the soul. The airborne troopers were also glad. They could now come out to our detachment and from there proceed onto theirs. The sense of dumb exhaustion and indifference towards your fate and that of those around you disappeared. Everyone’s mood was lifted. Despite the intense exhaustion, we wanted to live.

The operation for our rescue and evacuation was set for five o’clock in the morning. We had to traverse about ten city blocks and improvise some sort of a bridge before it began. Our guys could only offer fire support.

We set off as soon as it was twilight, not waiting for the dark. Of our initial number, twenty two men remained, including the wounded. The airborne troopers had sixteen men, with wounded. So our troop was quite a heterogeneous one. We did not have a lot of ammo, but enough anger and determination to survive for an entire battalion!

After five blocks, reconnaissance reported, that they have discovered a group of insurgents, numbering up to fifteen men. One cannot suppose that all insurgents are subordinate to a central command. Not at all. They were all divided into mini-groups, mini-bands. Some formations had up to a thousand people. Others—five or six. Naturally, the bosses of the larger formations maintained communications with Dudaev’s staff and their operations were somewhat centrally co-ordinated. But the chaos that reigned in Grozny in those days did not allow them or us for that matter to act in an organised manner.

That is why, we and the airborne troopers determined, that this must be some “feral” band or just ordinary marauders , masquerading as insurgents. We have come across such things before, although to be honest, I don’t see a big difference. One has to know the mentality of the Chechen people to understand this. From the times of Caucasus’ conquest, these people were noted for their unbridled greed and avarice. From the very beginning, they were prone to kidnapping people for ransom. Re-read Tolstoi, Lermontov, Ermolov.

This is why we made the decision to attack this insurgent “brigade”. At first there was the desire to go around them, but reconnaissance reported that the neighbouring streets are obstructed with rubble and it is impossible to traverse them whilst carrying the wounded. We’ll have to constantly climb up and down piles of construction rubble. No way to avoid making a noise and there’s a big risk of collapsing rubble and more injuries. The desire to reach our guys was strong. Another issue to consider was that, and judging from a captured “tongue”, the Chechens thought us to be a recon-sabotage group, which they wanted to destroy. Destroy at any cost, as they thought that we had captured one of their field commanders and were trying to transport him over to our side. Our brigade partially confirmed this when they asked us over the radio, if we were dragging some Chechen along. To this, we said that Siberians do not take prisoners or surrender. In sum, all of this meant that we had to hurry. If we have to fight, we have to fight. Forward, forward!

When it gets quiet in war—quiet by wartime standards that is, one tries to make the best of it using the smallest of opportunities to get a little sleep. Everyone also goes to sleep as early as possible. The Chechens were no exception. Like all warriors, they went to sleep early, after deploying sentries.

Their sentries were not much different from ours. To chase off the sleep, as well as for entertainment, they shot through the ground in front of them. Each had their own zone of responsibility. There were two of them. Also, they periodically fired off illumination rockets, taking delight in picking off the scuttling rats (the night was moonless and dark) in the resulting light. According to our observations, neither succeeded in this task.

After about an hour, they came together, which is strictly forbidden in all armies of the world, and lit up their cigarettes, which is also extremely dangerous for the sentries’ health. Firstly, it’s distracting and secondly that light blinds the vision. These were the last cigarettes of their lives. After all it was right there on the packet—the Ministry of Health warns that smoking is dangerous to your health. They must have been illiterate.

We took this pair out quickly and painlessly. They went to meet their Allah and prophet, having not properly understood what had happened. It was risky to try to crawl up to them. Too much crackly, loose gravel underfoot. And as soon as they lit up, they were hit out of two pistols with silencer attached, a bullet each. We got them first go, thank god. Nice and quiet. Only two distant pops, as through somebody clapped their hands trying to shoo away the rats. There was no need to finish them off.

We then all descended into the basement and began to cut out the sleeping Chechens. The main thing in this business is that the man doesn’t start screaming as he wakes. So, you give him a whack on the cheek with your left and slice his throat with your right hand.

Felling ill, reader? What’s there to do, when you want to live? You’ll pull even worse things off and eat even fouler food than rat. I had to try it after all. Nothing to eat. It’s cold. I’m swaying from hunger and exhaustion. My vision is blurred, not even blurred, but blackened. You sleep an hour, hour and a half at a time. You sleep on rocks, without undressing. You can’t start a big fire to warm yourself—you’ll be spotted. So we pounded the rats quietly, built little fires—just enough to roast small pieces. All the best pieces would go to the wounded. We did not draw the water from Sunzha. It was too open there and we could have been spotted. Instead we drew from pits and craters. After that Sunzha water seemed like the issue of a mineral spring in some prestigious resort. And so, when you have already turned into cattle, and a light of hope appeared before you, hope for deliverance out of this situation suddenly there appeared a band of armed robbers in your path, who had unimaginatively gone to sleep. What would YOU have done?

I would imagine that when the borders between illusion, a hungry delirium and reality dissolve for you, you would do the same. I’m speaking of strength, not valour. In an extreme situation, it will not be a question of valour. The reflexes of destruction and self-preservation, which will emerge out of your subconsciousness as the ancient man awakens. And it is here that you will need strength. If you are too tired, too out of shape or simply too old, you will not survive. And it will be difficult chase these reflexes back inside later. After being dormant for so many years, much too much do they like developing out in the open again.

It’s flattering to a human to perceive themselves as some sort of a super-human. Better still, when the complexes acquired in one’s upbringing and education, such as conscience, empathy for the enemy, those near to you—disappear. And this makes one a bit stronger. Is this not a confirmation of Hitler’s Nietzschean theory regarding the fair-haired beast? One begins to feel better too—the pain reflexes are deadened, the tiredness almost disappears. You’re Hercules himself! Probably a release of endorphins. They are produced by the body as a result of taking drugs. Here you get a high without the drugs.

You, the reader should not have participated, even indirectly in sending young strong boys, here. For now I’m successfully keeping this beast caged, which is a fairly difficult business. Its appearance at the storming of the barricade on the square and the slaughter of the Chechen gang is enough for me. But the young soldiers may not cope and the beast may one day leap out in civilian life. So watch out, reader. I am not dramatizing or romanticising the situation one bit. I’m, warning you. Beware!

Having killed off the sleeping insurgents quickly and without kicking up the dust, we moved on. We went, taking every precaution. The casing on my flak jacket had long worn through. The plates inside had fallen out, so I took it off and threw it out. It was easier to walk and crawl, but the coat was not as warm any more. Its outer fabric was torn from me constantly crawling through basements, over piles of gravel and construction debris. Clumps of dirty cotton wool stuck out. My trousers were torn in many places. Even the double padding on the knees did not save them. This was not only me. Everyone looked no better. Their mugs have grown over with, not stubble, but some sort of feral hair. We looked terrible. Untidy, frightening and repulsive and at the same time somehow pitiful.

There is a pile-up ahead, it blocks the street. It looks like a building had collapsed after a bomb hit. On its way down, it took another pair of buildings with it. There is not enough time to go around it. We’ll have to climb over this pile-up. The sky is cloudy. It’s dark, except for the illumination rockets in the distance, but they no longer shine the way for us. Neither do they illuminate us.

We’re crawling. We’re crawling, two three people at a time. The building debris, gravel, sand and broken glass are scratching, tearing up the skin. The breathing is uneven from the constant stress and lack of energy. You want to stop and rest, but it’s not going to happen. There are people also crawling behind you and they spur you on with the barrel of their gun into your buttocks. Neither do you want to rise up and proceed onwards in short running dashes. This a very convenient pileup and it is bound to be in use by somebody for an ambush. It is the highest point in this area and you won’t take it just like that from a running start. And so we are crawling.

Dust and sand are pouring into your face, into the wide-open mouth, into the ears, behind the collar, into the sleeves. You periodically spit it off. And again you move forward, forward. “I want to live, I want to survive!” And so we’re at the crest of that hill. We’re still. Those behind us have crawled up and are also still, listening, looking into the sightless darkness. It’s quiet, it seems. Carefully, we descend from this pile, trying not to fall over. The meeting place is at an arm’s length now—no more than a block away. We’ll also need to find some means of crossing the river.

Sunzha is not very wide in this spot—maybe ten, fifteen meters. But try crossing it in the dark. To my shame I cannot swim even to this day. To float—yes, that’s one thing, to confidently cross a river whose source is in the mountains which makes it fairly cold and rapid and to do so at night and in wintertime—that’s a whole other matter. Not to forget also that the wounded need to be transported across somehow. This uneasy task lay ahead of us.

Having walked up to the supposed crossing spot, I looked around. Fun times! It’s night, can’t see ****, Sunzha is rushing below. The shore is silty, slippery—very easy to fall in. We left the wounded behind to keep an eye on the surroundings and walked off in different directions. The task seemed so simple—to find something sturdy and light, that can be thrown over the stinky river to act as a bridge and then cross.

To search for a black cat in a dark room, especially when it is not there is an extremely difficult task. There are few trees in the Caucasus. Those that stood in Grozny had long been chopped down for firewood by us, the locals and the insurgents. We’re equal in that respect. Should we bring a concrete slab? Who’s going to lift it? That’s what I was thinking, wandering around in the dark, stumbling and swearing softly. It’s pointless to search inside the houses either. Everything valuable has already been taken. The first to rise gets the slippers, so to speak. And here some dickheads have rocked up and are trying to find something.

With such foul thoughts on my mind, I reached the opposite side of the street and stubbed my foot very painfully. With some difficulty, I remained upright and had to sit down on a pile of some crap, rubbing my ankle. I then realised that I hit a street light post. Hold on, that’s an idea. We could make an effort and throw it over the river and attempt to cross.

I trudged back where I came from. When I met our guys, I told them about my discovery. We went to gather the others. When we got back, we saw the paratroopers tying a rope they found to the second floor of a building.
-Are you guys planning to hang yourselves? - I asked.
-No, we’re preparing a crossing.
-How are you going to fix it on the other shore?
-When our guys arrive, we’ll throw it to them and they can tie it to a BMP or something and we’ll cross using this bridge.
-We’ll see. How are we going to get the wounded across?
-We’ll try. Do you have any ideas?
-To bring over a lighting post, throw it over and use that.
-We can try that also and if it doesn’t work we can cross this way.
-We’ll be alright to cross, but what about the wounded? Some are seriously wounded.
-Those won’t be able walk over the post either. There needs to be some sort of support.

Everyone thought it over and arrived at a compromise. We were going to need the rope for the railing and the pole for the bridge.
-Alright, let’s go drag your pole over, - the paratrooper sighed and waving to his guys followed me.
-Don’t be sad, - I consoled the paratrooper, - naturally, I understand you. It’s not the first time for you to take a head-first plunge, but for myself and the others, it’s a new thing.
-Go to hell, you, - the trooper grumbled.
-What, are you upset over this pole?
-No. I just don’t like carrying heavy things. Will there be enough of it, to bridge it from shore to shore?
-There will, there will, - I consoled him.
-It’s dark, - he complained again, - you walk here empty handed and stumble over and now with that thing…
-Quit complaining, - I cut him off.
-Get this, I was going to prepare for acceptance into the academy and go do the exams in June, but got into trouble and they sent me… - he sighed.
-Did you punch someone’s face in? - I was curious.
-No, worse. We went hunting at the end of October. All the officers in our regiment. We went for hog. As is customary, we brought vodka. So it’s the first evening out, we got drunk like piglets. Three sheets to the wind in other words. There was a lot of hog this year. So we camped on the edge of a reaped field. The locals told us that the hogs come out at night, a whole herd of them and dig for various roots. The bears also mess around a bit, before they hibernate. Although when we went, it was a bit late for bear. Anyway, we’re sitting in the tent. Drinking vodka as it were. Telling stories. And here nature called me. And the guys tell me: “Take the rifle. You might come upon a hog. Or a staggerer-bear. Take it. The Lord keeps his own”. And unfortunately for me I took it, - the paratrooper sighed.—I’m standing next to a tree, relieving myself. The rifle is hanging off my shoulder and then I hear a rustling in the bush three meters away, and as if somebody is oinking. I raise up the rifle and ba-a-a-ng! out of both barrels. The guys ran out with torches and over to me. I told them. They went there. The regiment’s gym instructor is there. It turns out he came out earlier than me to relieve himself. Why it came into his head to make oinking sounds—I don’t know. In short, I wrecked his skull. The barrels were loaded with buckshot as it turned out. So yeah. The military tribunal investigated for a long time afterwards trying to determine what happened—a murder, an accident or criminal negligence. I lost a lot of heath back then. Naturally no academy for me. The criminal case was closed. They wrote it off as an accident. And they offered me to go here as a volunteer. And I could have been preparing for the academy now…
-Must have been his fate, - I inserted.—Also, man, had you finished a normal military academy, you would not have been so quick to fire at a sound. But here, your reflexes worked fine.
-Exactly. I was drunk. Wasn’t thinking. Is it far to walk?
-Don’t know, I think we might have passed it already. Stop guys! We need to go back.

We turned around and after another thirty metres came upon that cursed pole. We gathered around it.
-How are we going to carry it, huh?
-Hell knows.
-The bastard’s large.
-Are we going to stand here, or are we going to carry it? - I was impatient.
-Alright, let’s grab it.
-Should we drag it maybe? - somebody asked with a note of hope in their voice.
-It’s fragile. By the time we drag it over, only the metal skeleton will remain.
-It might be fragile, but it’s probably heavy.
-Up it goes.

There were fifteen of us. Those who were wounded, could not move or were too exhausted were left behind on the pileup. We also left all our weapons there. They would only get in the way. We were huffing in the dark, getting in each-other’s way, holding up that concrete pole.
-**** it’s heavy! - could be heard out of the darkness.
-When I get home, I’ll complain that these things are not made exclusively out of aluminium. Careful with the leg.
-Well don’t stick it out then.
-I’m not sticking it out, I’m moving it.
-Ready to take it up?
-Ready.
-I’m going to birth a small elephant in a second.
-Let’s go.
-What do you mean, let’s go, I’m under it!
-Hold it, hold it guys, um under it!
-Get out from under there. Stop! What are you doing there! Slacking off?
-Who’s slacking? I stumbled over.
-Look where you’re going, you retard.
-I can’t see **** in this dark!
-Look anyway.
-Quiet guys!

There was a stirring in the darkness. One could hear the squeak of gravel under a boot heel.
-Chechens? - somebody stuttered in a whisper.

It was getting more difficult to hold that concrete thing. It seems to be easier when you’re walking, but when standing still—it becomes unbearable. My palms became completely moist, the muscles were “choked” with blood and became like stone—uncontrollable. No weapons. Maybe somebody had a pistol. The rest, apart from grenades and knives were armed with only naked enthusiasm. And this concrete thing in our weakening hands.
-Guys, guys! - Somebody called to us quietly.—Where are you?
-In your mother’s ****, ****ing your aunt…****! - could be heard in front of me.
-Let’s keep going.
-Let’s go, or I’ll drop it in a second! - somebody begged.
-What do you want?
-Guys! Our guys have arrived over there. We threw the rope over to them.
-The rope’s good. If we were to now throw this ****er over, that would also be good!
-Alright, let’s go quickly.
-Stop!
-What now?
-I fell and this thing fell onto my head. It hurts!
-Is the skull intact?
-Nothing’s going to happen to it.
-Let’s keep going then.

We moved forward again, swearing and cursing our heavy burden. Finally, we could see the busy figures, illuminated by headlights on the other shore. Our guys. Ou-u-u-urs! It was like a burst of strength. Everyone ran forward. Thankfully it was easy to run. The ground began to slope towards the river. Our feet spreading, sliding over the clay, hurtling under the weight of that ****ing pole saw us nearly fall into the water. We began to raise up one end of the pole and moving the other end, throwing it over onto the other shore. The pole, heavy as a tank, weighed in and fell into the water. We dragged it out somehow and began again. It was cold, wet and dark. They began to illuminate us with headlights form the other shore. We could see some pointers. With the last of our strength, we retrieved that ****ing pole onto our shore and managed to bridge to the other shore after rocking it and throwing it over. A hellish job.

The crossing had commenced. The boots were stuck with wet clay. The feet slid over the pole. If not for the rope railing invented in conjunctions with the paratroopers, we would had had to take a dip in the black, icy Sunzha.

We were greeted like family on OUR shore. Each new arrival was embraced warmly by his friends, his brothers in arms. There were recon men there as well as medics and comms men. In total, about fifty people came to greet us. The recon guys went to the other shore and helped the wounded cross the river. Each one of us was immediately wrapped in blankets and given a full glass of vodka.

Some were crying, some were laughing. I was in a stupor. Yurka was dancing around me like a madman, stirring me up.
-Slavka! We crossed it! We survived! Slavka! We survived!! We did it!!!
-We did it, we did it, - I was tiredly waving Yurka off. - Settle down already. We’ll go to the kung now and get drunk.
-Exactly! We’ll get drunk until there’s green snot. Mug-first into the salad.
-Where are you going to find salad, you beast? - climbing onto the armour of our recon BMP.

The soles of my boots were covered in river clay, my feet were sliding. It took three attempts for me to climb onto the BMP. Perhaps the alcohol in combination with exhaustion had its effect also. I’m on top. Near the cannon. I have never been so happy. The life ahead seemed like it was going to be a fairy tale. I have lived through such hell, could there be anything worse? If God delivered me out this ****, he will surely do the same again.

And so we were on our way. The alcohol and tiredness were doing their work. Disregarding the shaking, I dosed, grasping onto the armour when we turned. The tension, the fear have disappeared. The fear that gnawed all these days from within. My soul attained peace. I have not experienced such calm in a long time now. The vehicle drove into some wide street and I began to feel the cold wind on my face.

Nobody spoke. Everyone was silent. The rescued were recovering from their experiences. The rescuers were filled with the sense of pride. Gradually, I began to recognise the surroundings.

No more than fifteen minutes of riding remained. One thing was surprising—the absence of checkpoints. We drove by an abandoned trench. I spoke to a recon man who was sitting near me:
-Buddy, where are the checkpoints?
-Nobody properly knows. When we got back, we discovered that our “neighbours” have completely disappeared. We’re alone here. The Chechens have lost all shame. They raid us every night. In the third battalion, two sentries were cut out last night. There will be plenty of work, provided you all don’t get sent to hospital, - the recon man shouted back.

Is seems that the look of me made him think that I will be going to hospital.
-Do you by any chance know, if Pashka and our kung are still there?
-The ginger one? The one that got the sentry detail drunk when we were coming here?
-Yeah.
-He’s alive. Where’s he going to go? He did not believe that you and Yurij Nikolaevich had bought it.

I laughed. Looks like he really didn’t not want to wash our socks and underwear. Maybe he is our talisman, guarding me and Yurka from trouble? Who knows how the Lord sends us his signs? As for the hospital—I won’t go. My bones are intact. As for the contusion…It will pass, just need plenty of vodka. We’ll break through!!!

When the convoy drove into the painfully familiar yard of the former kindergarten, my heart began to pound, as if I was approaching my family home.

We drove up to the staff and came to a rest. Everyone began to leap off the armour. Those that were present at the command post came out to greet us. The chief of staff, our San Sanych was standing on the semi-lit porch. Next to him, stood a colonel unknown to me. Probably our new comm-brig. We’ll work out what sort of a man he is later.

We were embraced, slapped on the back. Cigarettes and vodka were brought. Not shying of the new or “old” commander, everyone was drinking fifty or hundred grams of vodka or spirits. They began to unload the wounded. They will now be examined by the doctors. They will operate on those that they can—the seriously wounded. The rest will be driven off to Khankala and “Severny” where they will be distributed to hospitals over the huge territory of Russia. That’s it lads. The war is over for you.

Yurka approached from behind, patting my shoulder and said:
-Let’s go introduce ourselves to San Sanych, Slava.
-Let’s go.

We approached San Sanych and ignoring the new colonel, reported to our immediate superior:
-Comrade colonel, Major Rhyzhov and Captain Mironov reporting from…-we could not decide how to correctly state where we cam from. Something sarcastic and offensive was on the tip of the tongue.

-Alright, enough of that! - the chief of staff stepped forward and embraced us. First one, then the other. - Congratulations on your return, lads. I’m glad to see you alive. Good work. You’ll tell me of your feats later. But right now, - he addressed the new colonel, - comrade colonel, allow me to introduce two senior officers of the brigade staff. This is major Rhyzhov and this is captain Mironov. And this is the new brigade commander colonel Butalov.
-Comrade colonel…, - we began introducing ourselves, but with a lazily gesture he cut us off.
-No need, go rest and we’ll sort it out later.
-Go, lads, go, rest. We’ll talk tomorrow. Come back once you sleep it off. Good night.
-Good night.

We went to our dear, homely and comfortable kung. Pashka was standing by the door, smoking. It was evident from the sight of his stiff figure that he was nervously peering into the darkness. We approached him from the side, which is why he did not notice us at first.
-Well, hello, my illegitimate son, - I began.
-Wishing good health! - Pashka threw out the cigarette and looked unsure now. It seemed sort of inappropriate to go embrace him first.
-Good health, Pashka! - Yurka was the first to embrace him.

I then approached him and extended my hand, and after greeting one another, we embraced. I felt that his shoulders were shivering slightly. I patted him on the back.
-That’s it Pasha. That’s it. We’re home. Welcome us in!
-Yes of course, - Pashka began fussing around, which was never a character trait of his. It seems that we have all become slightly sentimental after the Minutka madhouse.—Everything’s ready. Everything’s in the kung. Come in.
-Whoa! - we were in awe when we entered the kung.

Everything was washed, cleaned and neatly tucked in. The table-crate was dressed with a clean bed sheet. Upon it, stood bottles of vodka, a pair of bottles of cognac, a bottle of fruit liquor, who knows where it came from and finally beer! Beer!!!

Me and Yurka grabbed this beer and without sitting down or undressing opened one each and began transferring the contents into our stomachs straight our of the can. How good it was! What bliss!
-Well, Pashka, our brother, how you pleased us! - we did not conceal our admiration.
-Well, the beer and everything else was sent to you from “Severny”. And it was brought here by zampolit Kazatsev.
-Good lad, Seryoga!
-Good lad, Sashka-commandant.
-Is there any water, Pasha?
-Yes, warm water, a whole bucket of it.
-That’s great!

We quickly cast off all that remained of our tattered uniforms. There was the desire to throw them out, but what would we wear in the meantime?
-Why don’t you throw out your rags, I procured new uniforms for you from the quartermaster. It’s not camouflage unfortunately, but it’s new, - and Pashka produced two sets of new uniform.
-Good work, Pasha.
-You are our father-provider, - Yura continued.

We cast off the last of our rags, leapt out into the street naked and using his bucket, Pasha poured warm water over us in the cold Chechen night. This was bliss. An almost sexual bliss. We washed our short-cut hair long and thoroughly. Thoroughly scrubbed our bodies. And we were deeply indifferent to the fact that we were bathing at the command post of the brigade, at night, naked. To hell with it! We were happy! Happy that we managed to walk out of such hell. Dante’s hell, with its primitive frying pans and boiling tar were nothing to us—a fairy tale. We lived!!! I was alive!!! And to hell with convention. It’s a pity only that there are no women in our brigade.

Next, Pasha brought out the cheap Polish cologne, which we privatised back during the storming of “Severny”. Not sparing it, we poured it abundantly over our bodies. Rubbed it in. It prickled painfully our numerous small wounds, bruises, cuts and scratches. The body was reclaiming its former sensitivity. The warmed-up blood no longer simply ran through our veins, it was raging. It was good! Warm! To hell with the frost. Steam began to pour form our skin.

We returned to the kung. We dressed in everything new, fresh and clean. It didn’t matter that it was not camouflage, but the ordinary green uniform. New, fresh underwear and uniform to match caresses the body. In our absence, Pashka also managed to procure meat from somewhere and has now prepared something akin to shahlyk. He produced a little cauldron from underneath a pillow. What a divine aroma! So good!

Yura poured half a glass of vodka for everyone, including Pashka.
-So, Slava! To our return! - Yurka raised the painfully familiar, dear white plastic cup.
-To our return! Let’s go, Pasha! - we clinked and drank.

We began devouring the food, without waiting to drink the second. The famished body demanded its nourishment. We chewed in silence, quickly swallowing large pieces. We relaxed gradually and the alcoholic intoxication rolled in. Not even alcoholic, but intoxication from the warmth and the good food. We quickly poured the second.
-To good luck, men, lest it abandon us!
-Exactly. If it wasn’t for luck, we would have never made it out, Pasha. To luck! - the glasses rustled once again and we drank.

The door was opened without knocking. Seryoga Kazartsev stood at the threshold.
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Old 08 Sep 11, 10:33
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some reviews, introductions and most interestingly, an interview with the writer:

http://pobdz.youhaveaids.com/doku.php?id=chechnya_about
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Old 19 Sep 11, 05:46
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, published with permission.


Chapter 12

****, you staff guys are drinking again. Didn’t you have enough time for this when you were surrounded?
-Come in dear Sergej, come in!
-Pashka, get another glass and fork!
-No guys, I’m not drinking.
-Don’t be silly. Are you not going to drink to our return?
-Alright, splash me a little.
-We’re drinking the third now, and you’re only on your first. You’ll need to catch up!
-No. I’ll drink the third with you.
-As you wish. Pour, Pasha! A little.
-So, men, the third!
-Yes, the third!
-To those who remained.
-Be silent.
-I’m silent.

We rose and after a second’s silence drank, without clicking. Again we began devouring the food, washing it all down with beer. Perhaps due to the greasy food, or for some other reason, the alcohol began to wear off. My head cleared almost completely. The zampolit was the first to break the silence.

-So my heroes, pray tell me how you managed to get yourselves so stuck.
-If you’re going to speak to us in that tone, we’re going to immediately smash your face in, - I warned him.—You were supposed to be there with us.
-Yes, supposed to, but the powers that be sent me to “Severny” to fetch the humanitarian aid. I brought it. Your share is with me. I did not hand it out, lest this troublemaker, - Sergej nodded at Pashka, - eat and drink it all.
-What about cigarettes?
-I got you extra cigarettes and beer, I’ll give it to you in the morning. Your buddy Sashka– the commandant is sending his regards and says hello. Tell me what happened already.
-What can we tell you, Seryoga. You know the basic details already.
-I do, but tell me anyway.

Interrupting one another, we hurriedly explained what we had to live through. We did not conceal gloss over anything. We still remembered everything very vividly and our minds kept returning into the nightmare we managed to escape only a few hours ago. We had managed to return, whilst the others had not.
-It’s not our fault, Seryoga, that we came out and the other guys did not. It isn’t.
-Don’t worry. Everyone already knows it isn’t. They reported to Moskva already, to the minister, and other bigwigs. Although this was only after Rolin reported that it was all our fault. It turns out that we were the ones meant to storm the square and everyone else was merely to provide fire support, or at least that’s what they say at Khankala.
-There was no support whatsoever. The Chechens laid an excellent trap for us, that we walked into it like blind kittens, - I pronounced gloomily.
-The Chechens outnumbered us, - Yurka confirmed.
-Threw us to our deaths, the muscovite bastards.
-How’s the new commander? - I asked.
-What can I say! He turned out to be a buddy of the Minister of Defence Grachin. And so he was assigned with the help of his connections.
-You mean from a cadre medical regiment to a front-line brigade?
-Yes. To our brigade.
-****!
-We have already mulled this over here. He’s not just incapable of drawing a map, he can’t read one. Nothing other than mat at the briefings. And when Bilich speaks and employs military terms, Bulatov falls asleep.
-What do you mean asleep? - Yura didn’t get it.
-Very ordinarily asleep—he hangs his head on his chest and snores. He’s a zero.
-Does he not want to get a Hero?
-It doesn’t seem that way for now. The way he led the staff convoy towards the old command post—guys, ****! Illiterate—I mean completely. Had San Sanych not taken up command we would not have made it. When there’s transient fire at the column, some kid shooting his gun probably, this fool orders “Stop! Return fire!” And when we were ambushed, he commands “Proceed without reducing speed.” Meanwhile, the road ahead is blocked with rubble. In short—an idiot.
-This is horrible! We’re going to get it with him.
-Definitely. Tomorrow evening, we’re going to Minutka again!
-What do you mean, going?
-Orders from Moskva. Although we’re not going alone this time. But we’re using the same route again.
-Over the bridge again?
-Yes, folks, over the bridge.
-Pour it, before I go nuts.
-Slava, exactly. There will be no clarity here without the aid of the bottle. We didn’t take it with Bakhel here, and with this medic…Hmm!
-Pour it, Pashka! Half a glass each.
-To luck, lest it abandon us! - we drank without clinking. These were astounding news. We sat in silence. Nobody snacked.
-How’s Bakhel, how’s the second battalion commander? - Yurka asked, as he sniffed a bread crust.
-Bakhel is in Moskva. They kept his leg. He’s in the Burdenko hospital. As for the comm-batt…- Seryoga sighed heavily. - He’s no more. His body was sent to Rostov and from there home to his wife.
-Yeah. He was a good man. Eternal memory and may he rest in peace!
-How many of our guys remained…there? - there was a lump in the throat, when I remembered the comm-batt.
-Many, too many. A lot of them missing. Maybe they are sitting it out in basements, maybe captured. But some are returning, announcing their whereabouts. Some are fighting in other detachments. Unable to reach us. As for the dead, at least those that are confirmed—there are a hundred dead. Maybe sixty-seventy missing. Quite a few tanks were killed also. In short, we’re ought to be led out of here for rest and regrouping, instead, we’re being sent into battle again tomorrow. A madhouse!
-”Madhouse” is putting it lightly, Seryoga. It seems like they want to finish it us off. So that nothing besides the flag and designation remain.
-Just like with the Maikop Brigade. Bastards! Lousy bastards!
-Don’t steam, Slava. Nothing’s up to us any more. Better we drink something!
-Let’s. Not a bloody thing’s up to us any more. Pour it. A little for me.

We drank in silence, no toast, no clinking.
-Seryoga, you bring us nothing but bad news. As before the first attack, same here. Maybe you’re the root of all evil? - Yurka stared intently at Kazartsev, who in truth had nothing to do with anything.
-So shoot me then, see if that changes anything, - Seryoga was unperturbed.
-Why the **** are they sending us into that **** again? - I continued to fume.

The stupor wore off. Anger seized me once more. It was difficult to contain myself. I was swearing profusely so as to let off some steam.
-****ing bastards, sons of ******, pus-ridden faggots, cattle, bitches and bloody scoundrels. It’s not enough to kill them. These bastards would have been up against the wall in thirty seven, a control shot in the back of the head each.
-You would have been the first up against the wall for such talk in thirty seven, - Yura parried calmly.
-You’re right, but how about these degenerates?
-Calm down, Slava. All that’s been, has been, all that will, will be. If you’re going continue to fume, we’ll **** on you.
-Alright, - I calmed down. Seryoga, me and Yurka—where are we off to?
-I don’t know. There was no discussion regarding you two. But all staff personnel are being sent into the battalions. I’m being sent to the second. You’ll probably stay at the headquarters.
-The hell, I’ll stay with that new commander, - I began to yell again, - I’ll go to the second with you. At least I’ll get my kicks there.
-Exactly, Slave, we’ll go together! - Yurka was pouring the vodka again, only a little, a mouthful.
-When are we setting out?
-At seventeen hundred hours, according to the plan. We’ll be there by nineteen. The convoy is going to be large and there may be an ambush. And once we’re there, a “tank carousel” again and then…And then again, with a bare as at the Fritz, - the zampolit concluded.
-We have time for sleep!
-Exactly. We’ll have the last drink now and lights out. Pashka! Do not disturb, handle with care, in case of fire evacuate immediately! Alright, let’s go! - we drank and went outside for a smoke, leaving Pashka to tidy up in the kung.
-I didn’t want to say it in the fighter’s presence, - Seryoga began, - but it was seriously discussed if Bakhel jeopardised the people deliberately.
-**** off!
-What are you serious?
-Very serious. Rolin had remembered you, Slava and they thought that you were a saboteur, and so…Seryoga faltered.
-Say it, continue! That I deserted? Is that what you’re saying?
-Yes. Precisely that you deserted.

I felt a wave of heat that my face was swelling red with blood. My rage awakened. I wanted to punch somebody face in, right there and then. Preferably that somebody would be Rolin or Sedov. The kids from military prosecutor’s office would do also. Also—a Chechen.
-Fun times. So, what, am I to be court-martialled now?
-No. San Sanych fought you off. Those fighters and officers that returned before you, confirmed that you did now cower or shoot at your own and fought like everyone else. That you bandaged the wounded.
-Listen, Seryoga, during the fight, somebody killed a tank first go, using a grenade launcher. It was all covered in active armour and this sniper got him right in the base of the turret. That sort of action deserves a Hero, but I have no idea what that lad’s name is. Can you find out?
-That’s right, Sergey, that was a classy shot and we went into attack after that. That shot preserved a lot of lives.
-You guys are not the first to tell that story. We have already confirmed the fighter’s surname. He was wounded and later died. It has been confirmed.
-They could give him a Hero posthumously, at least. He’s earned it.
-We have recommended many men for decorations, but those bastards at Khankala are saying that we failed to take MInutka, yet we’re asking for medals. Faggots! -That’s nothing, Yura. We recommended the dead and wounded. Those that are no more or whose war is now over. And the swine don’t want to hear a word of it. “Nothing to award for”, they say.
-Those ****ers.
-Yes, they are ****ers, - Seryoga agreed.—A battalion of paratroopers, a “makhra” regiment and a detachment of spetsnaz are guarding Khankala. They were transferred there from the frontline. Our neighbours have been removed. We now have to toil for ourselves as well as those guys. You have probably seen that there are less checkpoint convoys?
-We haven’t seen any at all, actually.
-That’s what I’m saying. The brigade’s numbers have shrunk, yet our zone of responsibility has grown.
-Have they taken the hotel “Kavkaz yet? - Yura enquired, lighting a new cigarette off the but of the old one.
-Who’s going to take it? A battalion of paratroopers had been recalled from there also and sent to Khankala.
-What, are they expecting us to fight the Chechens on our own?
-Not a bad setup, they have, I like it!
-Alright guys, don’t let it get to you. Go rest. I’ll make sure that you are left alone. Sleep it off. We’ll talk about the rest tomorrow.
-Don’t nick our aid!
-What are you saying, guys, that I’m a rat, is that it?
-Not yet, but who knows…Good night!
-Good night, you scoundrels!
-You’re the scoundrel, we shouted after Seryoga, into the dark.
-What do you think of all this? - Yurka asked after we re-entered the kung.
-Nothing. As long as I don’t end up court-martialled as a deserter. That’s what I think, - I grumbled.
-And regarding tomorrow’s function?
-Honestly?
-Of course.
-If we are sent there alone again like puppies, I’d expect only about ten-twenty people to survive, who will be forwarded onto a mental institution or a court-martial for desertion, lest they wag their tongues needlessly.
-I think you mentioned this before already.
-Yes I have and I remain of the same opinion. I we manage to get out of here we should not hope for any greater honour than not to end up in a crazy house or a prison. And that’s it. And what do you think, Yura?
-That’s what’s most likely to happen.
-Yura, do you hear somebody bombing Minutka right now? What about the State Bank, the Palace of that ****ing Dudaev?
-Nope, can’t hear it.
-That’s right, just like before the first assault. Remember, we spoke about this?
-I remember. Alright, let’s go sleep.
-Let’s go Yura, let’s go. Tomorrow another coil in the madhouse spiral’s will begin.

We entered the kung and quickly undressed. To hell with the possibility or coming under attack. The skin, the body have wearied of these clothes. There was a desire to relax. We quickly went to bed. I turned off the light and sank into a deep sleep.

I had nightmares. War, war, war. Nothing but war. Although I seemed to also have dreamt of the prosecutor, who was making some sort of accusations, but I kept shooting him and throwing the body to the Chechens. A sheer nightmare.

I woke because Pashka was shaking me by the shoulder.
-Comrade captain, comrade captain, wake up! Vyacheslav Nikolaevich! Time to get up.
-Hey, what, Chechens!? - semi-awake, I grasped for my gun.
-No, there are no Chechens, it’s just that it’s three o’clock and it’s time to get up.
-The hell? - having just woken, I wasn’t thinking clearly.
-We’re moving out at five o’cklock. Have you forgotten?
-I have. Where’s Rhyzhov?
-He’s up already, he’s washing up.
-Is there breakfast, or more precisely dinner?
-Everything’s ready. The chief of staff is expecting you in forty minutes.
-Right.

We quickly washed up, shaved and breakfasted. After that we leisurely strolled to the headquarters whilst puffing on our cigarettes. Other officers greeted us merrily as we went. We replied in kind. We paused at the entrance to the kindergarten-headquarters and finished our cigarettes. The clamour of explosions and screaming of jets could be heard coming from Minutka. Good, very good, I like that cacophony. If only they would lay their bombs accurately. Otherwise there will be craters all over the place and we’ll have to crawl over them later. “The pilot flies high, makes a lot of money. Mama, I love pilots!” - I remembered the words from one crass children’s song. We finished our smokes, threw down the butts and crushed them underfoot. We headed off to see the chief of staff.

San Sanych was in the same room. His table was placed in the exact same spot as before. It seemed as if nothing has changed. Except that Butalov was sitting there instead of Bakhel. Where will you take us, o new commander? Having entered, we paused at the entrance. San Sanych, having raised his head noted our arrival and invited us:
-Come, come. Don’t be shy! You’re standing there like you’re not our own.
-Who knows, maybe we’ve already been taken off the roll-call, - I joked.
-It’s not so easy to write you off, - San Sanych approved of the joke and responded in kind. - How are you feeling? Maybe you’d like to go to the rear or the medics for the time being?
-What for? - Yurij was confused.
-Maybe you’re tired. Maybe you’d like to get some medical treatment?
-Everything’s fine, - I answered.
-Maybe you don’t trust us? - this was Yura getting prevocational.
-No, no, why would you think that?
-We just heard that we were about to become scapegoats for everyone’s sins here, - Yura was getting mad.

With some difficulty I was still able to contain myself. I understood that Sanych has nothing to do with this and I was very thankful to him for delivering me from the tribunal. Otherwise I would be no my way there now.
-Yura, don’t get started. The chief of staff did everything in his power to clear us of all suspicion.
-And how do you know this?
-The folks in the brigade told us, - Yura answered vaguely, as he recovered from that burst of anger.
-We are all a bit jumpy. We should be calmer.
-There is a lot of banter in the brigade. Their tongues should be shortened, - Butalov spoke up. -I summoned you to offer you a choice of placement during the assault. I need bright heads in the staff here. So, I propose that you remain here, - San Sanych watched us with tired eyes..

It was evident that it is physically difficult for him to carry on and the lack of collusion with the new brigade commander was obvious.
-Thank you for the offer, but I’d like to be sent to the second battalion.
-Me too. There is a lack of experienced officers there and I believe, we’ll be of more use there than here at the headquarters. Yura was also trying to state his case politely, but firmly.

It seemed that the chief of staff was not expecting any other answer. He spread his hands in resignation. The comm-brig on the other hand looked at us in surprise. It seems that he hasn’t seen such thugs before. “Have a good look. Get used to it—I gloated.—We have a lot of such thugs—a whole brigade. What about you though, are you going to fit in with our show? We’ll see.”

The pause continued. Had this newbie not been here, we would have spoken to the chief in more detail. But not with this guy here! San Sanych broke the silence first. He sent us to get ready for the fight and the coming move.

Everyone who was capable, was going into battle. Only the drivers remained, as well as a few comms men, the mechanics’ and the supply battalion. The medics were going with the troops as well. Only those who will operate on the casualties remained there. If they are to be evacuated. Save and protect us. With God.

At seventeen twenty hours, the brigade’s convoy had lined up and set off in the direction of Minutka. The sound of battle could already be heard coming from there. The third battalion and the reconnaissance men have taken and were holding the bridge. That cursed bridge! They have already crossed it and were defending it on the other side. It’s hard work to drag a hippo out of the bog. Hold on lads, we’re coming!

The column was huge by war-time standards. It stretched over about five kilometres. This was not to anyone’s liking. Especially in urban conditions. There is little that’s good about it. We presented a great target.

The Chechens were of the same opinion. They struck when the leading BMP drove only about four kilometres. There was no blockage or mines. They just fired out of their RPGs from above and burned the first two BMP of the first battalion. Simultaneously, they struck at the middle and the end of the column. And it began, not so much a fire-fight, but a firing of the column. The single line began to break up. The driver-mechanics dashed into the side streets, trying to take their vehicles out of the line of fire. They drove into the little yards and squares, crushing the flimsy ruins with their frontal armour. Some got stuck under the rubble and were finished off by the Chechens. There was no attempt to organise proper resistance. Those that could, left the scene. There was no single command. The column was too huge for anyone to come to its aid. There was no radio link with the command. It was a panic. Each man for himself. In this fiery hell, where BMPs and tanks burned and exploded, spilled fuel blazing on the ground figures of burning humans dashed about. These living torches fell to the ground and rolled, trying to knock off the flames. If somebody was near, they came to their aid. Sometimes they even laid on top of them trying to smother the flames with their own body. But sometimes the flames from a burning coat soaked in diesel spread onto the rescuer, they came alight and perished also.

The commander’s vehicle was fifth in the column. Everyone awaited orders. Any sort of orders, but orders nonetheless—advance, retreat, take up the fight on the spot. But there were no orders. The new comm-brig’s BMP was the first to break ranks and dash off into some side street, crushing the gravel under its tracks. The radio was silent. The chief of staff tried to assume command a little later, but it was already too late. It was chaos in that convoy and panic in the souls of men abandoned by their own commander. Each man for himself. Save yourselves!

The battalion, company, platoon commanders tried to conduct an organised exit from under fire and somehow repel the Chechen attack. This was the case with our second battalion. The new commander, who was assigned to replace the fallen comm-batt (all deputy commanders, except the zampolit, have fallen or went missing during the first attack on the square), captain Bobrovykh Andrej Anatolievich quickly regained his composure and shouted:
-Aim at the five-storey apartment block! Reference—that populous tree. Fire! Infantry—dismount and try to knock back the Chechens! To work! Fire! Fire!

He leapt off the armour first and started hosing down the enemy out of his gun. There was a radio man next to him and Andrej managed to somehow co-ordinate his charges. This resulted in us being able to knock the Chechens out of their positions. This was success, this was victory. Albeit a small victory, but the people began to believe in their new commander. Unfortunately the other commanders were not so quick to re-orientate themselves and the second battalion, and myself and Yura with it, had to retreat. It so turned out that Yura found himself on the leading vehicle and he conducted the second battalion’s egress from under fire. We managed to reach Minutka via some side streets and back yards. The order for us to begin the assault was not cancelled and we had no right to do our own thing. Although we have reached our starting positions, we were not in a hurry to commit to battle. We took cover and supported the third battalion with quick fire and by launching guided anti-tank missiles.

There are fourth-generation ATGMs available now. It’s a nice toy, but there are only few of them in the army due to their price. Too few.

So, we were feeding the Chechens with these “presents”. At first we began to work over that fortification that was erected using construction rubble. Wizened by bitter experience, we did not want to loose our people whilst taking this monument of architecture and senseless war. We stayed in touch with the remnants of the column over the radio. The comm-brig remained silent and we assumed that he had been killed. The chief of staff had taken up brigade command. The tankers lost another two tanks. The first battalion—four BMP. The comms troops—three radio stations. We lost a lot of people—twenty three men. How many were missing, we didn’t know. The medics, who rushed to our aid from the command post also went missing. It was said that they made a wrong turn somewhere. Medical Senior Lieutenant Zonnov Zhenya was missing. He was a smart lad. A real man. A pity, a real pity.

The remaining tankers, as well as the first battalion began to gradually pull up to the shitty square. By about three o’clock at night, the remnants of the brigade gathered in the lanes and yards adjacent to the square. The surroundings were immediately cleaned up, lest some Chechen bastard interfere with us. The third battalion and the recon men were replaces with a collected team from the rest of the brigade. The tankers started up their “carousel”. But nobody wished to or longed for an attack in the dark.

The chief of staff, also the brigade commander pulled up at five in the morning. A briefing was called at five fifteen. The briefing was conducted in conjunction with breakfast. There was no time. In two, maximum two and a half hours it will start getting light and we’ll have to go attack. When will we eat again!

Khankala was also in no hurry to begin the assault. They were waiting for us. Having reported the destruction of the convoy, we were not declaring our readiness for attack yet. The ideal situation would have been where the troops on the other side of the square would start chasing the Chechens over to our side and we were to greet them here. But alas, we knew that this was not going to happen and we had to point our horns forward and lay down our bones and take the square. There were rumours that Dudaev had long since left there but our strategists in Moskva and Khankala seemed to be equating this Palace to the Reichstag, which is why they wanted it taken. Maybe these grandpas thought that the war would end after that? **** off it will end. The resistance movement will be so strong that we won’t get by without scorched earth tactics. If we’re game, that is. Otherwise it will be like Afghanistan again—a slow positional war. Hmm! What will happen? Who knows!

There is but one objective before us now—the square with its complex of buildings. There it is—before me. All dug up by craters from aviation bombs, shells, tangled in barbed wire, lit up with artillery illumination shells, mines and rockets. They hang upon their parachutes lighting everything up with an unnatural bluish light. There are almost no shadows.

When I saw that square again and remembered how I crawled on my gut, dug in and then ran from it, I felt fear and a cold, cryptic draft. With an effort of the will, clenching my teeth until my jaw cracked, I made myself calm.

I chain-smoked my cigarettes, one after another, not feeling their flavour. I could not take my eyes away. A thought even dashed through my head, to approach San Sanych, now that the new comm-brig is absent and ask to stay at the staff for the duration of the battle. But I chased it away immediately.

We’ll break through! For sure! I provoked anger within myself. And gradually anger took the place of fear. Only anger remained, anger at myself, the Chechens, Moskva, Khankala, “Severny”, at peaceful life in its entirety. Anger at everything. The only thing that I was not angry at were the people that surrounded me. Together with them, I am about to go to this “frying pan”, where, disregarding our positions and ranks, achievement for the Motherland, disregarding our family situations the enemy will try to fry us up. I sighed deeply. Fear disappeared. Pity for myself and others disappeared also. I was calm. I am trying to remain calm. It was in that state that I went to the briefing with the chief of staff.
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Old 19 Sep 11, 16:00
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some reviews, introductions and most interestingly, an interview with the writer:

http://pobdz.youhaveaids.com/doku.php?id=chechnya_about
It is very interesting to see Politkovskaya´s name there...
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Old 19 Sep 11, 21:26
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It is very interesting to see Politkovskaya´s name there...
Yeah...The conspiracist in me or somebody else might immediately snap to attention. "If Mironov is against Politkovskaya, then that means he's with THEM...etc." But I have read enough on the subject to know it's not that simple. I think that it would be more accurate to see Mironov's account as being a third side - the view of the armed forces, who have their own complicated culture and system of allegiance. For example the conversation of Savin (commander of the 131st MSB) with the Russian rights activist, who is offering him to surrender, that's floating around on the internet. The Russian forces saw these rights activists as meddlers at best, but more like traitors. Politkovskaya, in my opinion is mentioned in that context.

Have you read the "Penkovkiy Papers"? A similar view is presented there: the Soviet military was on the brink or revolt due to what they perceived was unfair treatment of their cadres by the Khruschev administration.
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Old 20 Sep 11, 17:01
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"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
what strikes me about this book is that it absolutely doesn't sound like Russian to me; that is for example we Russians would never react to the hardships this way: 'this is not America. There, a whole fleet was sent after some pilot downed over Yugoslavia. And they rescued him after all! Found him in some impassable forest and got him out. And what about us? As a classic writer once said: “Cursed and forgotten!” Oh Motherlad, Motherland. You’re no mother to us, but some evil aunt. I don’t want my son to serve in your Armed Forces' - a very unlikely passage ("America"?.. "a classic writer"?.. "evil aunt"?.. a German or Jewish-like 19th century styled moaning: "oh Motherlad, Motherland"? we Russians don't say "oh" these days, and have left alone "motherland" long ago) because a person of such a state of mind would have never waged war, not to mention the war in Chechnya.
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Old 20 Sep 11, 17:31
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Yeah...The conspiracist in me or somebody else might immediately snap to attention. "If Mironov is against Politkovskaya, then that means he's with THEM...etc." But I have read enough on the subject to know it's not that simple. I think that it would be more accurate to see Mironov's account as being a third side - the view of the armed forces, who have their own complicated culture and system of allegiance. For example the conversation of Savin (commander of the 131st MSB) with the Russian rights activist, who is offering him to surrender, that's floating around on the internet. The Russian forces saw these rights activists as meddlers at best, but more like traitors. Politkovskaya, in my opinion is mentioned in that context.
What one often misses in the west is that Politkovskaya sided very heavily with the Chechens, making her and her employer Novoya Gazetaher very unpopular in certain circles as well as, I won´t speak ill of the dead but I don´t like Gazeta at all, has to do something with that Gorby more or less owns it. Anyway quite the opposite of what many thinks she wasn´t killed because she was Anti-Putin or anti-government, many more was and is that, and they were and are still alive and well. The most reasonable thing I heard so far is that she came to know some "Buziness" of a Chechen mafia boss or something like that, something he didn´t want her to know so he disposed of her.

I have come to understand that these activists aren´t to popular even with the Russian public, save for the oppositional 1% approval guys.

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Have you read the "Penkovkiy Papers"? A similar view is presented there: the Soviet military was on the brink or revolt due to what they perceived was unfair treatment of their cadres by the Khruschev administration.
Not yet at least
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Old 20 Sep 11, 21:23
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what strikes me about this book is that it absolutely doesn't sound like Russian to me;
Well, that's sort of the point - this translation is meant to be readable and understandable to a modern English speaker.

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that is for example we Russians would never react to the hardships this way:
Do you speak for all Russians? But alright - the point I take it is that the passage below doesn't sound plausible?

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'this is not America. There, a whole fleet was sent after some pilot downed over Yugoslavia. And they rescued him after all! Found him in some impassable forest and got him out. And what about us? As a classic writer once said: “Cursed and forgotten!” Oh Motherlad, Motherland. You’re no mother to us, but some evil aunt. I don’t want my son to serve in your Armed Forces' - a very unlikely passage ("America"?.. "a classic writer"?.. "evil aunt"?.. a German or Jewish-like 19th century styled moaning: "oh Motherlad, Motherland"? we Russians don't say "oh" these days, and have left alone "motherland" long ago) because a person of such a state of mind would have never waged war, not to mention the war in Chechnya.
Well, I'm not making it up...have you read the original? I'm trying to stay as close to it as possible, at least for this draft translation. And the writer does allude to 19-th Century writers such as Lermontov and Tolstoi, so it's not that implausible that he would use such a device. The fact that it might sound strange in translation is a matter that I'll have to pay some attention to as I go over what I've done so far and clean it up. SO thank you for your feedback.

- - -

@Erkki:

Yeah the Politkovskaya business is a big mystery and a new one to me, as I have not read up on this particular subject before. As such, I have no opinion on it yet. From what I have read so far - the timing of her death was ominous - she was on the way to talk to the Chechens once again. That she was disposed of in such a way - poison apparently, I would argue is uncharacteristic of a Mafia hit. Maybe it was meant to look that way, maybe not. Is there any material on the internet regarding this matter that tries to examine the issue objectively? If so, I'd like to read it...

Last edited by UVB76; 20 Sep 11 at 21:30..
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Old 21 Sep 11, 04:35
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the point I take it is that the passage below doesn't sound plausible? 'this is not America. There, a whole fleet was sent after some pilot downed over Yugoslavia. And they rescued him after all! Found him in some impassable forest and got him out. And what about us? As a classic writer once said: “Cursed and forgotten!” Oh Motherlad, Motherland. You’re no mother to us, but some evil aunt. I don’t want my son to serve in your Armed Forces'
no it absolutely doesn't ...to start with, everything the Americans did in Yugoslavia rouses among the Russian ranks nothing but contempt and disdain for it; and the reflections of the main character are copletely falling out with life's logic that a person cannot sound so pathetic after being to a war like that in Chechnya.
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Old 21 Sep 11, 04:45
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no it absolutely doesn't ...to start with, everything the Americans did in Yugoslavia rouses among the Russian ranks nothing but contempt and disdain for it; and the reflections of the main character are copletely falling out with life's logic that a person cannot sound so pathetic after being to a war like that in Chechnya.
Maybe you're right, but you also speak in generalisations...Mironov does not refer to "everything" the americans did in Yugoslavia, just that one rescue. I don't know what you mean by the rest of that sentence.
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Old 21 Sep 11, 12:11
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Mironov does not refer to "everything" the americans did in Yugoslavia, just that one rescue.
it is exactly that rescue operation and its publicity that would make a Russian soldier despise it rather than use it as an example.

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I don't know what you mean by the rest of that sentence.
sorry, English is not my native language, but i said what i meant: "pathetic" ...let's read again: 'Hmm, this is not America. There, a whole fleet was sent after some pilot downed over Yugoslavia. And they rescued him after all! Found him in some impassable forest and got him out. And what about us? As a classic writer once said: “Cursed and forgotten!” Oh Motherlad, Motherland. You’re no mother to us, but some evil aunt. I don’t want my son to serve in your Armed Forces' - yes, pathetic.
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