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     © Copyright 1996-1999 Vyachslav Mironov
     © Copyright 2001 translation by Alex Dokin (adokin@today.com.au)
     © Copyright 2001 translation by Konstantin S. Leskov
     © Copyright 2001 translation by Marta Malinovskaya
     © Copyright 2001 translation by Oleg Petrov (siberiaforever@hotmail.com)
     Date: Feb-Mar 2001

     Перевод романа В.Н.Миронова "Я был на этой войне" (Грозный-1995)
     Origin: http://lib.ru/MEMUARY/CHECHNYA/chechen_war.txt

     Translation includes 1,2,3,4,5,7,8,9,18 parts of novel.

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 © Copyright 2001 translation by Alex Dokin (adokin@today.com.au)
 Date:  7 Mar 2001
 Date:  9 Mar 2001
 Date: 26 May 2001 Corrected version
 Date:  4 Oct 2001

     I'm running.  The lungs are  bursting. The  damned wheeze is  a murder.
Have to run a zigzag path (in our brigade we call it "run a screw").
     God,  help... Please help. Help keep this insane tempo. That's it, if I
ever get out of here - quit  smoking. Zapp... Zapp... Sniper!!??... Get down
and crawl, crawl out of the killing zone.
     Lying. All seems OK - no sniper, probably just "shul'nyak".
     Alright, now  catch your breath, find your way  around and race ahead -
to the Central Post  of our brigade's the  first battalion. Just a few hours
ago  they reported  on catching a sniper. From the report  we  knew  he  was
Russian and, from his own words, even from  Novosibirsk.  F..ing compatriot.
On two APCs, along with the recon squad I set off to pick up "the clapper".
     En route  to the Central Train  Station, the  streets  are crammed with
burnt and mangled hulks of "armour" and strewn with dead  bodies. The bodies
of our Slavic brothers, all that's  left of the Mikop Brigade, the  one that
"spooks" burnt and wiped out on the New  Year's Eve 95-96.  God,  help me...
let me  out  of here...  They  said,  when  the  First Battalion  busted the
"demons" out of the Station building, as the gunfire slacked off, one of the
grunts,  having looked around, howled. From then on other grunts stayed away
from  him -  another crank. Now charging through the walls like  spellbound,
scared of nothing. And there are enough screwballs like  that in every unit,
the enemy and  ours. Eh,  Mother Russia, what've you  done to your  sons? We
thought,  maybe medivac the fellow, but then  again, can't  even medivac the
casualties,  and  this one, though a crank, still fighting. Up there on "The
Continent" he'd definitely go nuts.
     Literally in a few blocks we  came under ferocious gunfire.  The spooks
were spraying  from above, madly  (about 20  guns) but disorganised. With  a
couple of grunts now had to leave our  APCs behind and sneak our way over to
the headquarters. At least the dogfaces are more confident now, more or less
used to  this,  all were  tested by fire. In the beginning I  howled a wolf,
just like that mad  grunt. The men were  all  "green", some rushing forward,
others  still fear struck in their "armour". I had to boot and kick them out
of  their  APCs  and  foxholes. As for myself, I'm OK.  Baku, Kutaisi  - 90,
Tshinvali -91, Moldova - 92  and now  Chechnya. Alright, just let us get the
hell out of here. But only in one piece.  If crippled, I've got a little toy
in  my pocket  -  RGD-15.  Surely enough  for  me. I've  seen  enough of our
crippled post-war  heroes living  in peace  life.  They too  were  following
orders  of their  Motherland,  their Party,  their Government and hell knows
whom else. "Reinstating Constitutional Order" on the territory of the former
Soviet  Union. And  now  again, we are  beating  our  own  Russian  land  on
somebody's hugger-mugger order...
     All this sped through my mind in  a few seconds. Turned around - all my
grunts are  fine, prone on the  ground, watching. Their faces  are all black
from gunpowder, eyeballs  and teeth are shining. I'm probably no better. Nod
to  one, point direction to  another and we are  all off  sprinting forward,
zigzag,  "screw" and roll. Although, these coats were  surely not  made  for
rolling. The  sweat is blanketing my eyes, fatigues are steamy; the taste of
blood in my mouth is  unbearable and  temples are pounding heavily. Blood is
jammed with  adrenaline.  Short  streaks forward,  bits of  bricks, chips of
concrete and broken glass everywhere. Carefully  avoiding open spaces. Still
alive, thank God.
     Zapp... zapp... again! Damn  it,  could it  really be a sniper? Ducking
into  the nearest basement, grenades on stand-by. Who or what is waiting for
us  in there? Pair of corpses. Fatigues seem like  ours - Slavic. Nod to one
of the grunts to  secure  the window, and then myself move to the doorframe.
The second grunt kneels near one of the bodies, unbuttons his coat and flank
jacket and fetches his papers and the dog tags. Same with the second corpse.
The  boys  wouldn't  mind  anymore  but their  families  must  be  notified.
Otherwise smart  asses  in  the Government  won't  pay them  their pensions,
reasoning  that soldiers are missing  in  action  and who knows,  maybe even
crossed over to the other side.
     - Got the papers? - I asked.
     - Got'em - answered private Semeonov, nicknamed "Semeon". - What's now?
     - Now, via this basement we run across to the neighbouring street, then
to  the first batt (battalion). Do we have radio  contact  with them? -  I'm
asking  my  RTO (Radiotelephone operator), private Harlamov. His nickname is
"Glue". His arms are long, sticking out of his BDU, like sticks, no one size
fits. Wrists are  disproportionately huge.  First  time you see the  guy the
impression is like torn gorilla arms were sewn to a man's body. Now probably
no one could recall where his nickname "Glue" originated.
     Our soldiers are  Siberians  and  all together we  are "mahra" (Russian
word for cheap tobacco). In the  WWII books and movies,  infantry is  called
"The Queen  of  the battle field  ".  In  real  life, however, we  are  just
"mahra". And one individual infantryman is a "mahor". That's life.
     - Get on the APCs too, - that's me about the left behind at the Railway
Station APCs, - ask how they're hanging.
     Glue moves away  from  the  window  and a  starts  muttering  into  his
handset, calling onto the 1st Battalion's Road Post and our APCs.
     -  All OK, comrade Capitan, -  says  RTO. - "Sopka" is waiting for  us,
"boxes" were fired upon and rolled back a block.
     - Fine, let's  go, or  we'll  frost down here, - I make terrible hoarse
sounds  coughing. At last my normal breathing  came  back. I spat with green
and yellow slime  - consequence of my many years of smoking. - Eh, mama told
me: "learn English"
     -  My mama told  me:  "Do  NOT  crawl into  wells, sonny". -  Picked up
     No sign of the enemy in  the window at the other side of  the house and
we  leapfrog,  taking  short streaks,  stooped four times our normal  hight,
towards the Central  Train Station. High above in the sky, a  jet fighter is
barraging the city with high explosives and shooting at somebody's positions
from  an  unreachable hight.  Down  here,  there  is  no  single front line.
Gunfights  are starting everywhere sporadically and sometimes turn into some
kind of cheesecake: ragheads,  us, ragheads again and so on (US Marines call
it  a "cluster fuck").  All of it, in one  word could  be called a madhouse,
almost no interaction anywhere.  Especially  difficult  to work with are the
Internal Forces. To be precise: all THIS is their operation, but we,  mahra,
are doing their job  for them. Often we storm  the  same objects in complete
ignorance of each other's presence.  Sometimes we  even point  the Air Force
guys onto them and they onto us. In the dark we fire  on each other and take
our own grunts prisoners.
     Now we are  going  to the  Central Train Station, where, in almost full
complement,  was wiped  out  the  Mikop  Brigade.  Vanished  into the night.
Nothing was  done before  they were sent in. No reconnaissance  to ascertain
the spooks' defensive structures, no artillery runs to  soften them up. When
after the battle they  began to  fall asleep (imagine  no sleep  for a week,
adrenaline and Vodka for breakfast,  lunch  and dinner), spooks slunk up and
wasted  them  from  a point blank  range. Just the mistake Chapaev made:  no
guards along perimeter.  Here,  though,  all guards were soundly  asleep  or
spooks gashed them quietly. Everything was  on fire, all that could burn and
even all that couldn't. It seemed like  the Earth, asphalt and  house  walls
were  ablaze from  the  burning fuel. People  panicked in the inferno,  some
tried to return fire,  some  helping the wounded.  Some even shot themselves
not to get into the ragheads' hands. Few were trying to flee. No one of them
must be judged.  What would you, my reader, do in that hell  on earth? Don't
know? Ha? That's it. Then don't you dare judging them!
     No  one knows what exactly  happened there. Their commander, with  both
his legs injured; still tried to reassert control, although he could retreat
to the rear. He stayed though. God, guard their souls and our lives...
     When our brigade fought its way through  heavy rebel  defences to  help
them, our tanks had to struggle through barricades of corpses of  our Slavic
brothers... When you  see how tracks chop  and hummer human flesh, how heavy
leading  wheels coil  intestines of people just like yourself...  When heads
pop open  with  a  crunch  under a steel  caterpillar and all around  it  is
sprayed with a grey and red  mass of brain. Brain  of a maybe unaccomplished
genius, poet, scientist  or just good lad, father, brother, son, friend  who
didn't chicken out and came here in this shithole of a place called Chechnya
and, may be, to his last moment, didn't even realised what the hell happened
to him. When your boots slip  on the bloody  mucus, then the important thing
is to  think of nothing, and concentrate  on  only one  objective:  survive,
survive and save your men. Because those you'd lose will come to you in your
     As their CO you'd then  have to write up  their Death Notifications and
body ID reports.  The job I  don't even wish to  my  worst enemy. I'd rather
choke  in an attack, blasting  from my  beloved AKS left, right  and forward
with  my eyes popping  out, rather than write those horrible papers. Why all
these wars? Although, honestly, no one of us  has really understood what has
transpired here. At all times only one goal in mind  - survive, complete the
task and save your  men. And what  if you don't?  They'll send more in, who,
maybe, because of your inexperience,  cowardice and desire to go  home, will
drop under machinegun  fire and will be ripped to pieces by grenades, mines,
mortar or be captured.  All THIS:  because of  YOU. The very thought of this
responsibility makes my stomach rumble. How about you, my reader?
     Glue noticed some movement in a window of the five-story building, next
to the Station Plaza. He yelled out: "Spooks!!!" and leaped back. Semeon and
myself too  hastened to take cover behind the nearest heap  of rubble.  From
behind his corner, Glue opened  up  at the window from his AK. Shivering, we
too began to load up grenades in launchers.
     Eh, what a wonderful device, this launcher (Russian GP-25, under-barrel
grenade launcher for AK  assault rifles, similar to M203 - grenade-launching
tube sometimes  mounted under  the rifle barrel  of  an  M-16).  We call  it
lovingly: "podstvol'nichek",  although,  weight  of the device could prove a
bit too much (about half a kilo). It is mounted under the rifle's barrel and
can be fired  straight  into the target or launch in an overhead trajectory.
It could  be described  as a  tube (about  2.5  inches in diameter)  with  a
trigger and a  safety pin. There is also an aiming  mechanism, but since the
first days  we  conned it  so that now  easily  can  do  without it. From  a
standard  issue  GP-25, a grenade  can easily be  dropped into the  smallest
window or thrown over any  structure.  In  a straight  line it delivers  its
mighty punch  to  about 400 meters, its shrapnel (after the explosion) cover
an  area  of about 14  meters. A fairytale of firearms. It  saved  countless
lives in  Grosny. How would you bust  sharpshooters  from  upper floors in a
quick gunfight in town? There is no other way but the GP-25, believe me. You
could call for  an air strike or long range artillery and then pull  out  or
try to contact your own "armour",  which, by the way, can be easily burnt by
RPGs...  On the other  hand, there is an every  soldier's personal  launcher
that he can use to bust the ragheads  by  himself. The device also possesses
one other undisputed  advantage: its grenades  explode  on impact. Imagine a
gunfight  inside a block of units when a  raghead  is above you on the third
floor. Next, you throw a standard issue grenade with a time-delay of about 5
seconds.  Now, count:  fetch the safety pin and throw,  then the bitch  hits
something on the way up and falls right back into your lap. Only later on in
January they  shipped us  these  mountainous  grenades, or as we  call  them
"afghan" grenades. These  babies only explode when they hit something  hard.
Before then, some  local  "Kulibin"  (famous Russian inventor  of  the  19th
century) guessed to slam the grenade  up his heel, thus arming it, and throw
the  darling  as  far as he  could away  from  his  persona. And, ramming an
obstacle, it burst with shrapnel, obliterating every living thing around it.
     Now Semeon and I were  blasting off our grenades  into the window where
Glue spotted motion. Semeon hit the target from his first attempt; I made it
with my second. The first one slammed into the wall and burst, tearing off a
decently sized piece of masonry and making a huge cloud of dust.
     Putting to  work the results of  our little  skirmish, all three of us,
glinting  at  the dreaded house,  quickly  cleared  the  open  space,  then,
sprinting and sneaking, a few blocks later, at last made it to the HQ.
     The silly bastards imagined we were ragheads and nearly shot us.
     They escorted us  to the outpost where we found our Com-batt (Battalion
     Tough chap is  our Com-batt. Physically not so much a big man, but as a
commander and a person: giant. I  won't hide  the fact that our  brigade  is
blessed with battalion commanders. It'd take a while to describe each one of
them, so I'll  pass on that, but to say  the least - all are real  men.  Who
once went to war, would know what I mean.
     1[[st]]  battalion's   HQ  was  situated  in  the
Railway Station's basement. As we walked in, the Com-batt was boldly cursing
somebody on the field radio.
     -  F...ing  hell, where are you charging, moron? You schmuck,  they are
luring you out there. And you are buying it with your dogfaces. Clean up the
area around you!  To the last "spook"!!!  - Com-batt was  yelling  into  the
handset.  - Pull the "boxes" out  of  there, let the grunts work!  Yourself,
stay on the BP and don't stick your head out there.
     He hung up and saw me.
     - Hey man, - he smiled.
     - God bless, - I said shaking his hand.
     - What's new in the Group's HQ?  Let's go eat, - he offered, looking at
me merrily. At war, seeing a familiar face  before you  is always a delight.
That means that luck not only follows you but also your comrades.
     Still  in the heat of the  past clash, I knew that  if I  don't have  a
drink now, I'd soon be shaking with a  nervous, drumbeat-like  fever or turn
hysterical and just keep  gabbling ...  So I  accepted the  man's offer with
     Setting himself on a box from artillery rounds, Com-batt softly called:
"Ivan,  we've  got guests,  come on eat". Then from a  neighbouring basement
appeared   the  1[[st]]  Battalion's  chief  of  staff
captain  Ilin.  Skinny  fellow,  the  biggest  volleyball aficionado  in our
brigade,  although, at  his  job,  pedant and  perfectionist. In  peace life
always tight,  in  perfectly ironed and shiny uniform, now he  looked barely
any  different than any other man around  us. Same gunpowder- parched  face,
unshaven and in need of sleep.
     - Hey,  Slava, - he  said and his eyes glinted a little. We were almost
of the same age,  only I was a senior officer in the Brigade's HQ and he was
a  chief of staff  in the battalion.  Both  captains.  We  had a history  of
friendship, so did our wives and kids.
     I couldn't conceal my emotions and went straight for a  hug. Slowly  my
nerves  were giving in and  I was turning a bit hysterical  after our little
     I wasn't worried for my grunts.  They were all here, amongst their own,
thus will be worm and fed in no time.
     - You've come for the sniper, Slava? - Asked Com-batt.
     - Sure, who else, - I replied. - How did you manage to grab that son of
a bitch?
     - He just wouldn't let us breath for three  days, - Ivan turned grim. -
He made up a nest by the  Station and plinked at us over the  plaza. Knocked
down three grunts and shot our first company leader through his leg. We were
unable to  medivac  the  wounded and had  to  fetch the medics  over here to
operate on them.
     - And how is he, - I asked. That  story about the  medics  I've already
heard: fine job. But the company leader: would he live and walk again?
     - Yeah, yeah, sure, - Com-batt confirmed merrily, - I let  him rest for
now,  only  the problem  is  we're short on company leaders, you know it too
well yourself.  So we have to use the two-year-termers ("civilian officers",
college  graduates  on the obligatory  military duty, in  officers ranks  by
default).  But this  lad  is  rather snappy. A bit of a hotshot though: like
Chapaev on his horse, rushes to free all Chechnya by himself.
     - What did the sniper have on him? - I asked. - Maybe, he wasn't even a
sniper after all. You know,  could've been  some daunted local, a great deal
of them bumming around town these days.
     Com-batt and the CoS almost seemed upset. Ivan leapt to his feet, raced
to his niche and fetched a  soviet SKS  rifle. Only the scope was foreign, I
noticed  that instantly,  - I've  seen those before. Most probably Japanese:
fine toy.
     Pal  Palych  -  com-batt  -  while Ivan and  myself were inspecting the
carbine, was telling that the detained shooter had two boxfuls of  rounds in
his  pockets and  in his nest  they found a case of  beer and  two packs  of
cigarettes.  While recounting this, Palych was setting up the table: carving
bread, opening  stewed  meat cans,  condensed  milk containers, salads  (God
knows where those came  from), pickles and marinated  tomatoes. And at last,
positioned a bottle of Vodka on this improvised table.
     By  then  I  counted  all  slashes  on  the  carbine's  butt:  equalled
thirty-three. Thirty-three chopped lives. The way the snipers worked here we
all knew first  hand. They met us while we  were coming into town, at night,
by  early  WWII maps. Though we raced, crushing our  heads against the walls
inside our  APCs, ragging our teeth from  the mad ride  and damning everyone
and  everything,  snipers managed  to shoot  off dangling  antennas from the
passing armoured vehicles, at night  and in clouds of dust. Without intercom
they'd stop and officers  sent men to check out what the hell happened, this
very moment snipers  picked them out. They also had another slick idea: they
didn't always finish off their "game", but  rather wounded him, shooting him
through his legs, so that he wouldn't crawl out of the killing zone and then
held back. The downed men cried out and snipers picked the speeding helpers,
just like the duck silhouettes  at a shooting  gallery. By now, our  brigade
has  lost about thirty men to this kind of sniper fire, thus adding  to  our
special account  to be  "invoiced" to "spooks" some  day.  Amazing that  the
grunts brought this cocksucker alive.
     A few days ago, grunts from  the second battalion discovered a nest, by
all clues - female.  All was like always: a sofa or a  chair, soft drinks, a
doll and  a rifle, hidden close by. The grunts  spent all day  stalking  her
concealed, completely motionless. No piss, no  shit, no smoke.  Finally they
succeeded. What happened next  - no one  knows, but the Chechen woman took a
flight off the roof of  a nine-storey building,  but half way down her  body
burst  from a  grenade explosion. Afterwards, the grunts solemnly swore that
the woman  sensed the  stench of their unwashed bodies and  sprinted for the
roof,  and from  up  there,  dived by  herself. Everyone, of  coarse, showed
compassion,  but  still regretted that themselves couldn't  help her flight.
Nobody  believed,  however, that for her last dive  with grenade she went by
herself. Chechens never committed suicide - that is  in OUR character - fear
of  captivity,  dishonour and torture.  After  this  memorable  event, their
com-batt declared a  phrase, which  was then to become our  brigade's motto:
"Siberians do not surrender, and do not take prisoners".
     By now Com-batt poured out  Vodka and Ivan and myself settled down too.
If  anybody tells you that we  fought  here intoxicated,  - spit him in  his
face. At  war,  people  drink  for disinfection. Not often you can boil your
water or wash your hands properly. Our corpsmen's motto is: "Red  eyes never
go  yellow". As for the  drinking water, we had to  get  it from the  Sunzha
River  - a  tiny  river that  flows  thought the  whole of  Chechnya and, of
coarse, through the Grozny.  Only no one could possible tell how  many human
and  animal corpses drifted in there, which meant  we could forget about the
proper hygiene. I'm telling you, at war, nobody would drink to get shitfaced
- that would mean certain death.  Your comrades, too, would never let you do
that kind of stuff - with firearms, who knows what's on the drunk's mind?
     We lifted up  our plastic  glasses - lots  of these we  chunked at  the
"North" airport - and struck them together. There  was no ding, just rustle,
"so that our zampolit wouldn't hear", officers jested.
     - Here is to good  luck, men, - Com-batt enounced,  and, having exhaled
all air from his lungs, "capsized" half a glass.
     -  To her, the  damned,  -  I picked up and tipped my glass.  The  heat
flooded my throat, worm wave swamped my guts and halted somewhere inside the
stomach. My body suddenly  relaxed.  Then all  of us attacked  the food: who
knows  when the next  opportunity  like  this  would present  itself. Bread,
stewed  meat, pickles, tomatoes. All  vanished  in  our stomachs.  Now, Ivan
poured  out Vodka; we  toped,  with the  usual  silent rustle. Lit  up  some
smokes. I almost  pulled out mine, from home, "TU-134", but noted Ivan's and
Com-batt's Marlboro and tossed mine back.
     - Sniper's? - I inquired, reaching for one.
     - Yep, - Replied Com-batt.
     - How  is the Second Battalion  hanging?  -  Ivan  asked, taking a deep
     - Storming the hotel "Kavkaz", now we're throwing the Third Batt  in to
help  them and  some  tanks too. Ragheads are  deeply  entrenched there  and
holding it so far. Ul'yanovtsy and marines are attempting the assault on the
Minutka  Square and Dudaev's Palace. But  having no  luck there as yet, just
loosing men.
     - All of which means that we'll be sent in to help them soon - Com-batt
broke in our conversation. - It's not as  simple as  a slugfest in  a corner
bar; some thinking must be done beforehand. To save the men and complete the
task... I could never grasp the concept of the airborne troops: how is it so
that  they,  absolutely sober and voluntarily, would jump off of a perfectly
good aircraft, ha? - Palych made a joke.
     - And I  never  understood the  rangers,  -  picked up Ivan, - for four
years in college, they learnt how to use binoculars and tail behind a K-9...
I'm sensing with my heart: we'll be crunching on asphalt down there  at that
freaking Square.
     In my mind I've already made a conscious decision:  the captured sniper
wouldn't make it to my HQ. He'll die on the way back,  attempting an escape.
He's already told everything he knew.
     In  movies, agents,  working  with  "a  clapper",  try to formulate the
necessity  to give  up the information he possesses  as  well  as break  his
ideology.  Real  life,  however, is much simpler. Everything depends on your
imagination,  rancour  and  time on  hands. If time  permits and there is  a
matching desire, we can try to scrape enamel from his  teeth, with a rasping
file. Or we can use our field phone. A brown box with a side-handle. Connect
your interlocutor to it  with two stripped wires and spin the handle, having
asked him a few questions beforehand. But all this is fine  if you're housed
comfortably  and he's  to  stand  trial afterwards. This kind of questioning
will leave no marks.  Of coarse it's best to soak him in water first. As far
as the screaming is concerned,  for that you  fire up a heavy armoured truck
near by. But, again, all this is for aesthetes.
     In the trenches  it becomes even simpler. You shoot the fingers off his
feet, one by one,  with your assault rifle. There is no one human  being who
could  take  that. He'll tell you everything he knew and everything he  ever
remembered.  Feeling a little seek, ha?  During which time, you, my  reader,
celebrated  New  Years Eve, visited  your friends,  skied  shitfaced from  a
hilltop with your kids. You didn't come out on the Red  Square  demanding to
pull  our soldiers  out of that shithole.  Neither were you  collecting worm
cloths or money for those Russians who fled Chechnya. Cold soldiers in their
frozen  bunkers never got so much as a cigarette from you. Therefore, do not
look away. Listen to this truth of war.
     -  OK, let's  get the  third one over with  and we'll go take a look at
your shooter, - I said pouring out the remains of Vodka.
     We stood silently for a  few seconds, and  toped without  cheers. Third
glass - is the most important in the military. Civilians drink it "to love",
students:  to something  else, but soldiers always drink it "to the fallen",
always  standing  up and in silence. Every one sees before him  those he has
lost.  It  is a chilling toast. Although, on the other  hand,  you know  for
sure,  that  if you perish, regardless of  how many years  would pass,  some
green lieutenant,  in  a God forsaken garrison  in the Far  East, or a stale
colonel in the most prestigious headquarters, will stand up and  drink their
third glass to You.
     We toped;  I  cast another piece  of stew in my  mouth, a  few bits  of
garlic  and "the  officers  lemon" - onion. There  are no  vitamins at  war,
although your body constantly demands them. That's  why we refer to onion as
"our lemon". At war  onion  is a commonplace. The stench around  is horrible
though, but  we've no  women here, so we've grown  used  to  it by  now  and
wouldn't  even notice  anymore. Moreover, it fights the  sickening odour  of
decomposing human flesh that otherwise  turns your  stomach inside out. I've
chased the alcohol  with refection, sipped condensed  milk right  out of its
container, fished a smoke out  of the Com-bat's packet and  started  for the
exit. Com-bat and Ivan followed me.
     In about 30 yards from the basement's entrance, grunts encircled a tank
and were  having  a  loud discourse. I  also  noted  that the tank's  gun is
unnaturally cocked  upwards. As we walked closer to the  scene,  we also saw
that a stretched rope was hanging from the barrel.
     The grunts saw us coming and gave way. The view that opened up in front
of  us  was  picturesque but terrible.  At the  end of that  rope a  man was
hanging. His  face was swollen from beatings, his eyes half shut, his tongue
hanging out and his hands tied up behind him. Although, by now
     I've seen lots of stiffs, still, can't get used to them.
     Com-batt started yelling at the grunts:
     - Who did this?! You sons of bitches!  - I'll leave out the rest of the
names he  called them. Ask any line officer,  who  served in the Army for 10
years or more, to swear a little and you'll greatly increase your vocabulary
with all sorts of idiomatic expressions.
     Com-batt kept going at them, trying hard to beat the truth out of them,
although I somehow knew, looking at his sly  face, that he's not mad at them
at all.  He might've felt a bit regretful that he didn't send the bastard on
his last journey, but mostly my  presence, the HQ officer, drove him to this
theatrical performance. All of us: the grunts and  myself read it  well.  We
also realise that no one commander would ever report anything of this  kind.
All  this breezed through my mind while I was sucking on my  cigarette. It's
funny, but these cigarette  belonged to this hangman,  whose  limbs are  now
dangling before  my eyes, then to the Com-bat and now, I am smoking it while
observing this spectacle.
     Tired of the circus,  I asked  surrounding us grunts, amongst  which  I
picked Semeon and Glue:
     - What did he say, before he died?
     Out of the clear blue  sky the grunts exploded. They told, interrupting
one another, that the son  of a bitch  (the most delicate epithet they chose
for him)  squalled  that he regretted  he  only managed  to  nock  off  only
thirty-two of "your kind" (as he put it).
     In their recount the grunts especially emphasized the words "you kind".
I gathered they  were telling the truth and if he hadn't said this memorable
phrase, he might've lived a little longer.
     All of a sudden, one of the grunts announced, invigorating everyone:
     - He throttled himself, comrade Captain.
     -  With his hands  trussed, he tied the rope around his neck and leaped
off the "armour", all by himself. Right? - I choked laughing.
     Then I turned to the Com-batt:
     -  Alright, take your  hangman down. Let's write in  the report that he
couldn't take  the torture of his guilty conscience  anymore and  thus ended
his life strangling himself. - I  spewed the cigarette's butt and pressed it
into the mud. - His rifle, however, I'll take with me.
     - Nickolaich, please,  - First time the  Com-batt called  me by my full
name, - leave the rifle: every time I look at it, my body bends.
     I glanced into his praying  eyes and knew: it would be of no use to try
taking carbine away from him.
     - OK, you owe me one, and you, - I turned to Ivan, - bear witness.
     - Many thanks, Nikolaich, - Palych was violently shaking my hand.
     - Because of this moron I had to  drag  my ass all the  way down  here,
under fire. And now I have to hoof back.
     -  Take him with  you,  if you like. Tell  them he  was  shot during an
ambush or something, - Ivan tried to make a joke.
     - Go to hell, - I jested back. - Why don't you try and  drag this stiff
back. And if you ever have a misfortune taking a prisoner,  drag him to  the
HQ yourselves or waste him down  here please. Another  thing: get  something
nice  for the grunts that grabbed  him, will you? That's it. We're off. Give
us some escort for a few blocks, OK?
     We shook hands and Com-batt, sniffing, pulled out a brand new  Marlboro
packet from his inner pocket. I thanked him and sent for my grunts:
     - Semeon, Glue, let's go.
     They came up, fixing their rifles.
     - Ready? Did they feed you?
     - Yep. And a few drinks along with it, - said Semeon. - Also  restocked
on ammo and grenades for launchers.
     - Cheers men, let's run. We have to get to the HQ before the nightfall,
- I muttered, buttoning my coat and attaching new magazine to my rifle.
     I made  a  "royal mag"  by  binding two 45-round  RPK  machinegun clips
head-to-toe  with an electric  tape. This gave me  90  rounds  always at the
ready. It's a  pity though, the calibre is 5.45,  not 7.62, like before. The
5.45 bullet has some ricochet and once fired is all over the place. The 7.62
round, on the other hand, goes straight as. There is a  legend  - during the
Vietnam War, American GIs  had complained to the gunmakers that their  M-16s
wounded too many while killing very few (our AK-47 and AKM suffers from  the
same imperfection). Then, the gunsmakers came right to the trenches, studied
the  problem and began experimenting on the spot. Here's what they did: they
drilled a hole  through the bullet's  tip and soldered  a needle inside  the
hole.  These modifications  resulted  in shifting of the bullet's centre  of
gravity and when it hit  the target, it reeled on almost all of the target's
guts too. Although the rounds' stability suffered greatly and the bullet did
produce more ricochets than before, the end result was more enemy fatalities
after all.
     Soviet Army didn't produce  anything original  but  rather  copied  the
American idea and,  during the Afghan Campaign, swapped all 7.62 calibre AKs
with the 5.45 ones. Maybe fine for some, but I am personally not ecstatic.
     We geared up, jumped a few times to warm up and studied each other.
     - God help us, - I said  and turned around. The five escort grunts were
busy carrying out the same manipulations. They were getting themselves ready
to see us off.
     I looked again  where the strangled sniper was meant to be hanging, but
the tank's gun was  back to its normal state  and the rope with the dead man
on it was already gone.
     - Alright, let's move, - I ordered  and nodded to the  escorting grunts
to go first.
     Knowing the  surrounding  terrain  much better, they didn't  select the
path we had  chosen coming down,  but rather dived  into some basement first
and then took us through piled up slabs and breaches. At some stage  we even
went  down underground sewage  network and afterwards and had  to climb back
up.  I completely lost  my sense  of  direction and could  only glance at my
wrist  compass at times to see whether the overall course  was correct.  All
seemed right though. In  about  30  minutes,  the  sergeant,  who headed our
venture, halted  and lit  up  a cigarette. All of us did the  same.  Then he
     -  That's  it. Now, from  here, it's about 7  blocks, no more, till you
reach your "boxes". Although, no more cover, only open spaces.
     I finished  off my cigarette and  shook the  sergeant's  hand.  Then, I
thanked every one of the escorting grunts and said:
     - Good luck! We all need it, don't we?
     - You guys go ahead; we'll stay here  10 more  minutes. Just in case, -
said the sergeant.
     -  Let's move, - I  ordered,  turning to  Semeon and Glue, pointing the
direction to  them. Myself  first, I popped out  from the basement, tumbled,
whirled,  finally coming up  on one knee and scanning the surroundings in my
sights. There was nothing suspicious there and I waved  to  the guys  the go
ahead. First, Semeon quickly popped out and then Glue emerged with his radio
     Scurrying this way during the next forty minutes, we finally touched up
with our "boxes". As we started for the home base, furious fire came down at
us from the  upper floors. I rode on the APC in the head of  our convoy. The
vehicle took  a spin  to the left and  hit the corner, then slowed down  and
finally came to a complete halt. All of us, riding atop of the "box", opened
up in bursts of suppressive fire.
     - Driver... You, screwed in the head mother! Get the hell  out of here,
- I  yelled into the hatch. Then ordered the grunts next me to start setting
up the smoke diversion.
     - One of the caterpillars is torn! - The driver shouted back at me.
     - F...ing  hell...  everyone  off the "armour", now!  Four of you start
pulling  the  track  back  on,  the rest - secure  our perimeter. I need two
GP-25s with me; second APC, load your cannon. That's all. Move it!
     Again,  the  heat  of  the  battle  consumed  me.  The  first  feeling,
naturally,  is fear.  But  after overcoming it, you begin to taste  blood in
your mouth  and suddenly find yourself feeling cool and mighty; all  of your
senses  sharpened. You note everything  around you and  your brain is like a
computer,  always  gives off the right  decision as well  as  lots  of other
possible options and combinations. I instantly leapfrogged off the  "armour"
and hopped behind  the piece of  concrete  wall  close about.  Convulsively,
trying to find the target  but so far, can't find anything  to fire at.  OK,
now  breathe... I'm ready... let's rock, men! Give them Hell! Blood  is full
of adrenaline and I'm on fire again.
     The grunts didn't have to be told twice.  They promptly pulled the pins
out of smoke  makers and our APC  was wrapped  up in  the  colourful clouds.
Russian soldier is very resourceful and, just  in case, nicks off everything
that lies  around unattended.  After we took the  Airport "North", the  lads
collected all kinds of these smoke makers. In the second APC, fellows echoed
our  little trick with the smokes. Actually, they did  it just in time.  The
"spooks",  obviously,  realised  that  it'd be too hard to  blindly mow  our
grunts off the "armour" and this time went for their RPGs.
     What is RPG? It is a  standard rocket grenade  launcher. The  toy has a
sister   too:  called  "Muha",  a  tube-like  devise  (first  versions  were
telescopic).  "Muha" is an antipersonnel weapon, whereas the  RPG is for the
anti  armour use. When a rocket-propelled grenade hits  an obstacle (usually
an armoured plate), it blasts off thin, needle-like, piss that burns through
steel  and creates a temperature of  about three  thousand  degrees  Celsius
inside  the vehicle. Obviously, tank's ammunition  detonates which, in turn,
rips off the tank's multi-tonne turret, tosses it off to about 30 meters and
tears  to pieces bodies of the crew and infantry  inside it. Many died while
they were still confined  inside  their mobile steel  traps. In  some cases,
drivers watched the road from the open hatch and were only cast out of their
vehicles by explosion, broken  and  muffled a little,  but  still alive  and
mostly in one piece.
     Now, these  sons  of bitches opened up on us  from their RPGs and added
Shmels  to the  chorus.  (AD.  Shmel" (Russian word  for bumblebee),  is  an
antipersonnel rocket Infantry flame-thrower (RPO-A, so-called bunker buster.
End of comment. AD) Although, neither  they could clearly  see us, nor could
we see them. In fact, the  whole scene  looked pretty comical. Wrapped up in
heavy, standard black smoke,  from  which  the  coloured fumes were raising,
like  geysers into the sky: blue, red and yellow. They  tangled  in the air,
mixing  up and  coming  apart again, diverting the ragheads' attention  away
from us.
     Our  second  APC's  cannon  let  off a  burst,  firing blindly  in  the
direction where the spooks' rockets came from.  Then  suddenly, somewhere in
there something blew up. May  be it  was us,  actually hitting something, or
their  RPG gunner made  a mistake in the heat of the gunfight. "Shmel", same
as "Muha",  is  just a pipe. For the total  fuckheads,  there is a direction
arrow with  the description printed on it. Anyway, no one knew what happened
up there, but the God,  evidently, was  on  our side today. As  there was no
more  gunfire  coming  from  the  spooks'  positions,  my grunts  have  gone
jubilant. Mostly they yelled out curses that could probably be understood by
soldiers of any army.
     - Shut it! - I barked at them. - Keep pulling the track on. Second APC!
Secure our perimeter. Move it!
     I rose and tried to loosen  up my back and  numb feet, I was still wary
and scrutinising the building where the shooting came from.
     Judging from the angle: third floor. In the havoc  and because  of  the
fumes, I  never got the clear picture of what took place.  Now, through  the
clearing smoke, I could see  a huge hole in the third floor's reinforcement,
blasted by the explosion. Thick black smoke was coming out of there.
     During the whole encounter, Semeon stayed next to me and  now declared,
pointing at the breach:
     - Cooked the mothers! Vechaslav Nikolaevich, can we go check?
     He was practically begging. It seemed like  his fiance  was  holding it
off for him up there. I was curious myself though.
     - Hold on,  - I  said  to him and asked the crew, labouring  near their
"armour", - How much longer?
     - Any time now, comrade Captain, maybe 5 more minutes, - coughed up one
of the grunts, forcing the busted caterpillar onto the leading wheel.
     - Semeon, Glue,  Mazur, Americanets, Picasso  -  come with me. The rest
stays here,  assisting  the repairs  and watching  our backs. If we  do  not
return in half an hour, move  forward, two blocks  to the north. Over there,
you wait  for  another half  an  hour  and then ride back to  base.  Gunnery
sergeant Sergeev will take over from me for  the time being. All  call signs
are the same.
     Now to the grunts who'd come with me:
     - OK, children, let's  move it. Picasso leads, Glue at the rear. Semeon
- right flank, Mazur, take the left one. Have your grenades on stand-by.
     - And  me? -  The skinny private  put  up  his voice.  The  chap  was a
qualified rock climber,  nicknamed "Americanets" (the American). When he was
drafted, he came into the office wearing his American flag shorts.
     - And you will walk by my side and watch your ass, - I replied in jest.
- Let's go clean them up.
     Everyone understood perfectly  what the  words  "clean up" meant.  They
meant, "take no  prisoners". "Good apache - dead  apache", -  Conquistadors'
motto was a close match in our case. What could we possible squeeze out of a
live spook? Nothing:  no maps,  no  storage hides,  no  communication system
layouts - NO-THING. Moreover, a wounded raghead would be a major pain in the
ass. First,  you'd have  to pool men  to  guard  him. Second, he'd still  be
perfectly  capable of pulling some  kind  of  shit on us.  Nor could  he  be
exchanged  for anything.  Finish him off on the spot and that's that. He too
would surely like it better than torture.

     With caution, we came up the third floor. In two neighbouring flats the
rag-heads made up their firing nests. In the first one  we found the "Shmel"
shooter, in the second - two of his unlucky comrades, with one RPK each. The
most disturbing thing was: they were just  kids, most probably only about 13
to 15  years old.  One of  them was still alive  and  while unconscious  was
quietly groaning. Judging from the fact that  one  of his legs was torn  off
and he was bleeding heavily, I figured he wouldn't live for much  longer. It
seemed like one of our  cannon rounds dropped into  the room  where  he  was
launching  his  rockets from  and blasted  to shit his ammunition  store.  I
looked  around,  my  good  mood  was totally gone  by  now. Of  coarse these
rag-heads tried to blow us and all but...  they're just kids for God's sake.
Damn it. I spewed  and gave another  order to my grunts: "Finish him off and
then sweep the block, someone might've got away." Although even I had doubts
that anyone of them could escape.
     My grunts,  Semeon,  Glue  and Picasso  each let off  a burst  into the
disfigured  body, one  after  another. The kid's  body flexed  out,  bullets
ripping his chest  open, some blasted his head to pieces  and it sprayed the
walls in red clots of his brain. I calmly watched this murder. Then I looked
away from the corpse, still not used to this or maybe it's just normal human
reaction?  Who can tell?  I  fetched the sniper's Marlboro packet and handed
some cigarettes to my grunts.
     -  Didn't you hear  what  I just said?  "Sweep  the block". Anyone  not
clear? - I uttered, taking a puff. The grunts left, mumbling something.
     Left alone, trying hard no to vomit, I went through the dead rag-heads'
     Wow! An Army ID tag and  many of them, OK, let's see:  Semeonov Aleksey
Pavlovich, born 1975. Semeonov, Semeonov, Semeonov... It suddenly clicked in
my mind. Is  that the  Semeonov from the engineering  regiment,  which  went
missing after we  stormed  the Airport?  They  sent the fellow for some mine
sweeping  cord  and  he  vanished. Was  that he, shooting at us? I carefully
studied the  dead rag-heads'  faces,  matching them  to  the badly preserved
photo on the ID Tag; I even looked inside the breach in the  wall and at the
dead  "Shmel" launcher's face. No,  not him, thank God. Turned  a  few  more
pages in his  ID. Shit! Yes! Our division. Our  Semeonov. Your deaths  saved
you a  lot of trouble, assholes! Your end would've been  brutal. I  would've
dealt  with you  myself. During my adventures in the  former Soviet Union, I
learnt well how to make people talk, make them  last long and stay conscious
all the way.
     My  sadness was gone in a heartbeat. I cared about the dead boys' souls
no more.  My teeth cramped in rancour. If  needs be, I'll tear anybody apart
for  Russian soldier. I'll crush anything  just to return the youngster home
alive and in one piece.
     All of a sudden somebody was screaming from upstairs:
     - Comrade Captain, Comrade Captain, they found some guy up there on the
roof. I think one of ours! - Americanets was fretting.
     I flew up the stairs  and  felt no wheeze. On  the roof, nailed  to the
cross, a dead soldier's body was  resting, just like Jesus. His own cut  off
penis stuck in his mouth. Without even looking at his dirty face, I knew: it
was he, Semeonov. I  probably only  saw him about 10 times before  and never
even  spoke  to the man.  But suddenly tears were in  my eyes and  something
pinched in  my nose. Now I regretted that I never got the chance to properly
meet  the  lad. I think  he  wasn't even  one of the permanent  staff. Right
before the Chechen campaign, he was attached to our brigade from Abakan.
     -  They nailed  him to the cross and put it  up on  the roof. The cross
collapsed from the  explosion and that's  probably why we  didn't  notice it
before. - Picasso tried to explain something to me, feeling a little awkward
that we didn't discover the body earlier.
     - He's one of ours. - I pronounced, labouring to stay calm, - Semeonov,
of the sappers.  Disappeared off the "North" while minesweeping. I found his
ID tag on one of the shooters.
     The grunts were  like  lightning-struck;  they  fussed about  Semeonov,
removing him carefully from the cross. While doing that,  they  tried not to
hurt him, handling his body like he was  still alive, whispering not to wake
him up and  tears were falling down their  faces  complicating this chilling
job even further. I looked away, pulled out a smoke and lit it up. Thirstily
inhaling I tried to push the clog in my throat further down, glancing at the
hustling  grunts  at  times  to  see  how things  were  moving  along.  When
Semeonov's body was at last removed from the cross, lads placed  it on  some
kind of stretchers  they put together from all sorts of  rubbish  they could
collect around here. When it was all over I said:
     - Glue,  get on the "boxes".  Tell them to come closer and that we  are
coming with a "cargo 200"... Our "cargo 200".
     I was coming down  the stairs ahead of  the rest, checking for anything
suspicious along the way. My grunts were carefully  carrying the stretchers,
like the man  on them was  only wounded. At the  rear,  Glue was  struggling
under the  weight of his  radio  transmitter  and  scraps of the armoury  we
discovered at the rag-heads' nest.
     We  loaded the body  into  the infantry compartment inside  our APC and
started for the  home.  I  felt that for any "spook" that tried to stick his
nose out now, this attempt would be, for sure, his last.  Confirmation to my
thoughts was the empty and  terrifying look in my grunts' eyes, were I could
see  the  reflection of  my own  feelings. Only  the fire  of vengeance  was
blazing inside them  and nothing else. Blood;  blood;  I now only craved for
blood to drown my rage, breaking their skulls with my rifle's butt, crushing
their ribs under my boots, tearing  and  ripping  their veins with my finger
nails, looking in his, her, their eyes  and  asking: "Why, why did you shoot
at the Russian soldiers?"
     OK, hold on motherfuckers, I'm coming. No mercy for anyone, not for the
elderly, not for the children,  not  for the women - NO BODY will be spared.
Ermolov and  Stalin were both right -  these folk are not to be re-educated,
only exterminated.
     Our APCs were both speeding ahead. It seemed they were feeling our mood
too  with their  engines running absolutely  fine  now.  Periodically,  they
drenched us with their oily exhaust fumes, adding some kind of foppish gloss
to  our  black  appearance.  But our  eyeballs  were  ablaze with  mad fury,
demanding  vengeance  and  there was now no place in  our  minds  for  fear.
Probably, in this state of mind, men run at machinegun nests to save others'
lives at  the price  of their own. Desire for vengeance suddenly  grows into
care for those who are close to you and self-sacrifice for others.
     Glinting at the  surroundings I  could feel movement inside the rubbles
with my skin. Resting AK on my elbow, I pulled out other ID tags and flicked
through a few more. Petrov Andrey Aleksandrovich - Maikop Brigade. Elizariev
Evgeniy  Anatolievich  -  Internal Forces (they  and the  Rangers have their
garrison  numbers marked  with four digits and The  Army have  theirs marked
with  five). Altogether,  eight  IDs  -  eight  lives.  Where are you  boys?
Probably, no one will ever know and  your mothers will be crying tears until
the end of their  lives: their dead sons will have no graves. All of this is
awful. I finished off reading all of the remaining IDs, I was positive there
were no more grunts from our brigade  in there.  I hid them back in my inner
pocked, looked at my "cavalry" and shook my head, assuring them that none of
the remaining  IDs belonged to  anyone  of ours.  They  again  turned  away,
watching out, racing past onetime battlefields. Demolished houses, torn down
trees,  burnt  and  given up  machinery.  It  was  mostly  tanks  with  torn
caterpillars  and  their  turrets  ripped  off  and  tossed  over  to  great
distances.  APCs,  with their  thinner armour  plates, were  just blasted to
pieces. All depended on where the rockets hit and how much ammo the  "boxes"
had onboard. Some drivers were lucky, others - not so much.
     With pain I  was  looking  at the trees.  I  like nature. Humans have a
choice. They can refuse  to come  here and go to jail  for desertion or self
inflict an injury, thus buying themselves "the white" ticket  out  of  here:
crafty  Russians are capable  of anything. But the  trees  and  animals  are
helpless. Men planted them at will; others came and wiped them out. And they
can do nothing in response. Neither  trees,  nor animals can flee  or defend
themselves. Thus many died together with their owners on their porches. What
remain,  people will eat later because of  the famine. These-days people are
frequently seen  tottering  about  like shadows  amongst  the rubble. Mostly
these are elderly men or middle-aged women. Everyone, who could fire weapons
and  more  or  less  think  clearly,  escaped  into  the  mountains  seeking
vengeance. No problem, we, in turn, will take revenge on them. Thus, closing
up this vicious circle. Every one of us thinks he's right. We all believe in
our own gods,  praying them  to help us and demanding retribution for deaths
of our friends and brothers.  But God  deals  spoils  and losses equally for
everyone. OK,  so we'll fight. It would be pretty  tough to fight the  whole
nation though, as opposed to a regular army of one particular  state. That's
what  we've  been  taught  to  do.  In  an open field, busted your opponent,
occupied a town, picked up the spoils and back to  the field. Here it's more
like in Afghanistan, fight the  folk all  you want.  The whole thing  is not
even a war. According to the law, all this is a piddling policing operation,
exclusive  purpose  of  which is  reinstating of  the  constitutional order.
However, no one knows what this order  used  to be like in the  first place.
OK, while the "spooks" and us are mincing one another, someone in Moscow has
hit the jackpot. We've all seen a  lot of  that  going on. For some, war  is
like their mother. Not even one  son of a bitch went down  for all the blood
they've spilt in our spacious former Union. Not counting the Baltic States -
a couple of squealers and OMON guys went to jail, so  what? They did nothing
but avenge the deaths  of their  friends, but those who gave  them orders...
their  bellies I would twitch with  my bayonet,  looking in their  wide-open
from pain and fear  eyes, listening to their deafening screams and breathing
in smell of their blood. That would be fun.
     Yet here, people lived by penitentiary laws for four years. We fed them
with money, supplied  with weapons and taught how to use  them. Then we sent
them to fight in Osetia and Abhazia for us, - like we are not even aware  of
what's going on.  And when there was no longer need for them, they should've
been eliminated, but no, - we tried to domesticate the Chechen. Yeah, right!
He  turned against our Moscow gang.  Why, though, should  the  whole country
suffer? We even came here from Siberia to break up the dogs. China is closer
to us than Chechnya. Then  men  from ZabVO, DalVO and TOF were dragged  down
here too.  They can  walk  to  the States or  Japan. One  thing  isn't clear
though. Why  is it so that  the rag-heads left the  oil refinery intact? We,
too, were strictly ordered not so much as  touch it. Here is our  Air Force,
happily bombing the city's living quarters, but as for the Staropromyslovsky
part - no way.
     All of  which means: the plant is somebody's property. Somebody who can
hush our Defence Minister and tell him specifically to leave it alone, - you
can  level the whole town  to the ground,  but  don't you  dare ruining  the
refinery. Of coarse, when Russian soldier is in rage, he's very difficult to
hold  back, so too  the  rag-heads, not  all  are  aware  of  the refinery's
importance. They naively think that they are actually fighting for their own
fucking freedom and don't get it, morons, that we are all simply taking part
in an ordinary criminal quarrel, very  big though. One  little baron decided
to screw The Big  Daddy and start his own business. Then, Big Daddy sent his
own hood, the Russian Army,  over, to bang the little  fellow. But the baron
was a  smart chap; he squalled with  independence  and sent  his "bulls" in.
That's how  the quarrel has begun.  Now, no one  can remember why the  whole
thing  started in the first place.  The hoods are  busy taking vengeance  on
each  other;  meanwhile,  their  barons  are  making big bucks expropriating
salaries and pensions. The little  one is pulling in Islamic World now, with
his cheap religious mottos. God, help us and forgive!
     My  APC took a sharp U-turn,  which  nearly  cast me off the  "armour".
That's right,  moron, your business  is to keep  your teeth  from  clapping:
you'll break  your neck one day, falling off the "armour" or  a sharpshooter
snaps  you. Your  COs are there  to think for  you and  supply  you with the
ready-made decisions. Your objective is  to  survive and complete the  task.
All else is shit. Take  Andrei Petrov,  former mortar  platoon commander. He
had principles, right? He demanded that he be given two weeks to prepare his
men, considering the fact that  his grunts were only drafted in November and
have only seen their rifles once before - during the oath. He was dismissed,
made an example, like a coward, a deserter. Replaced with a raw lieutenant -
two-year-termer  college graduate.  Where is that  lieutenant  now  with his
mortar  platoon?  During the  Airport assault he lost  almost all of his men
and, himself, perished too. You see? They draft too many morons in The Army.
Some of them you have to stand for two years, others for twenty-five.
     We tried to reason with our multi-star commanders that we are not ready
for any  war,  not  technically,  not  logistically.  Men  are not  prepared
physically. Then, in December, when the order came to load the gear onto the
locomotives  and  step  out, the weather was freezing  cold. As it is always
done in our  Army, the diesel fuel, that  vehicles  were filled with, was of
the  summer kind and rather depicted a tomato sauce. So, some smart ass from
our garrison came up with the  idea to mix this  "sauce" with kerosene. Yep!
You guessed it. One of  the APCs blew up right in  the parking lot  with its
full  ammo  complement onboard;  by  some weird luck nobody was hurt. Second
burst while loading onto cars. And again God was on  our side. And, as it is
customary in The  Army,  these events were  used  to write  off much of  the
property, just like  Suvorov  described in  his "Saviour".  According to the
official documents, those  APCs had  on board:  not less  than fifty uniform
coats,  twenty-five night-vision devices, no fewer  than  a hundred pairs of
shoes and BDUs. When the papers were to be signed by  the HQ representative,
he read that  masterpiece and pronounced: "Add one more parka plus one  more
BDUs, for me". Supplies XO added each of them  by one and the General signed
the papers with his eyes shut.
     Now  this  general  is here  somewhere. Thank  God,  he's  just signing
papers. "Material battle losses" is probably his credo.
     For now, my mind was occupied by thoughts of the dead sniper. What do I
tell at the HQ? How did it happen  that  he  didn't make here?  I knew well,
that  no one would be breathing in my face with  his honourable  anger, only
with   disappointment  that   they  couldn't  hank   his  guts   themselves.
Particularly, the GRU  and  recon guys will be sad.  It's  their cup of tea,
just let them  play with the fellow, they'd make him  talk.  We  can do that
too, quick and simple, but they handle it gracefully. Liquor can't  kill the
     Suddenly  something  moved in the rubble, twinkling  with  rays of  the
setting sun.  My mind  hasn't even  produced a  thought  yet, but  my  hands
already responded, quickly raising my AK, finger  clung to the  trigger. And
only then  my judgement kicked in  - I saw our artillery spotters,  the lads
constructed their positions in one of the remaining pieces of a house by the
road. They too met us with their rifle barrels.  All of us, however, managed
to  keep our  cool and hold  fire.  Moreover, they just began to wind  their
"Shilka" in our direction. It is  a  large  calibre  anti-aircraft gun (ZSU)
with  four barrels. It would've chopped us  to chips for  sure. Alright,  at
least we identified each other in time. We shouted merrily something to each
other for greetings. This meant  the HQ is near.  Yep,  there is the blazing
fire-fountain from the breached gas pipe. 200 or so yards and we're  "home".
Now we can relax a little.
     - Hey,  radioman, - I said  to Glue, - Let them know  we're  coming, or
they'll shoot us to hell.
     Glue tattled something in his headset and nodded to me that  we were OK
to go.  Talking or rather shouting through  roaring diesels seemed senseless
and inappropriate with the dead  man onboard our APC. Everyone felt a little
guilty for  some strange reason, although, on the other hand, knew well that
he, himself, could've been down there in his place.
     Cars  retarded  a bit  and, manoeuvring this way, we passed  a  virtual
labyrinth  of  remaining concrete  blocks  and  bricks. Soldiers  watched us
through their sights from behind every  corner. Their faces were all covered
with dust and, from  that, seemed made of  stone. They all looked exhausted,
with their dog-tired red eyes. The lads greeted us with smiles and gestures,
lowering their guns. We greeted  guards the  same way. I knew, our  officers
and men  would be  betting  on  me delivering  the  sniper  alive  and well.
Personally, I wouldn't put my money on his safe journey.
     Lucky,  we  returned  before the daybreak.  Some  smarty-pants  in  the
defence ministry  invented a new password  system for us. Before, everything
was  nice  and  simple, but  now, the thing is  a brain surgery, without ten
years  of high school  or  lots  of liqueur,  impossible  to translate.  For
example,  before,  the  password  was  "Saratov"  and  the reply  to it  was
"Leningrad", even a moron could understand that. Some grunts can barely read
or  write: outcomes of the "perestroika". The core of the new system is  the
number: say thirteen. The guard, seeing a silhouette in the dark, calls out:
"Stop! Password - seven!" Now, you have to instantly take  away seven out of
thirteen  and quickly yell  back: "Reply - six!". After all  this, the guard
must add his "seven" and your "six",  get "thirteen" and  then let you pass.
But, if any one of you can't  count well enough or has something else on his
mind, then, according to the Statute  of the armed  guard service, the guard
can, and will, shoot you on the spot without any further  investigation. And
no  one prosecutor would  lift his finger to pursue  this issue any further.
You, moron, should've been learning your math back in  high school. Fine, if
you are not completely deaf and  the grunt on  duty can actually  count, but
some  smart  asses  call out fractions and negative numbers. That's when you
recall all of  his relatives, and your  math skills, while you're at it. For
all this, some shithead got promoted back in Moscow, or maybe,  even a medal
on his chest. Those snakes are capable of anything.
     Thinking this way, we stopped  near the partly demolished kindergarten,
where  our brigade's HQ was  now situated. I jumped  off  the APC, rubbed my
stalled and frozen feet and started for the entrance dragging my stiff legs.
I had to see our  HQ's CO, Lieutenant Colonel, Alexandr Alexandrovich Bilich
first.  All of us called him San Sanych. Already on  my  way,  I ordered  my
     - Start offloading our hero, carefully.
     Grunts nodded understandingly.
     San Sanych  was  about  1.75m tall with broad  shoulders  and  constant
sparks in his blue eyes. Or were the sparks just a fruit of our imagination?
San Sanych  was  somehow different from all the officers in our Brigade.  He
was  actually well mannered. At  first, it seemed superficial, but  the more
you got to know him the  more you  were convinced  that  it is really in his
nature. It seemed, he should've been born in times of chivalry, high society
and duels, definitely  not in our mad century. Even now, when we are more or
less bottled in OK and started hammering our opposition, when the war, maybe
only at times for now, but  has taken a  proper shape of the trench warfare,
every day our lieutenant colonel Bilich has found the time for brief morning
     Every morning, if  it was possible to catch any sleep at all  at night,
we crawled out of our cellars  shacking from the  cold. Because it's winter,
may be southern, but still a winter. As a rule, there was no  water, and our
old unshaven whiskers were no longer rough, but  felt rather fuzzy. However,
looking at your CO, you, unwillingly, pick  yourself  up  and find the time,
the water and the razor. Although, many officers, some superstitious or some
just plane  lazy,  grew beards and  moustaches. Some even looked  great like
that. The only one who looked exactly like a Chechen, was, our recon platoon
leader,  Hlopov Roman,  naturally possessing  dark  skin and having  grown a
dense  beard. This way, during the Station siege, he was nearly  shot by his
own grunts.  Luckily,  he put on  a helmet and his armoured west; otherwise,
our sporty protectors would've definitely done him. Since  then, Hlopov - we
called him Hlop - developed a habit to shave every morning no matter what.
     About one and a half weeks ago, when he and the reconnaissance CO broke
through  to the  Airport "North", the allied commander's HQ, on the way back
they  ran into  an ambush.  Their APC was blasted by  RPG fire from  a point
blank range. Hlop died instantly, the CO had a bad concussion. For two days,
skirmishing along the  way,  their grunts were  slowly  sneaking home.  They
brought back the Hlop's mutilated  body  and  the severely concussed, almost
deaf and blind, reconnaissance CO, Captain Stepchenko Sergey Stanislavovich.
As they  recounted  afterwards,  the days  they spent in  basements  and  at
nights,  risking the bullet from  Chechens or  from  us, they crept  back to
their home base. They slept in turns, using parts of the poor Hlop's body as
     Maybe after his concussion or maybe after hiding in basements with  the
corpse,  Sereoga  Stepchenko  started  having problems. We almost cured  his
sight and hearing with liquor, but he couldn't stand closed and tight spaces
anymore.  Mostly he's  OK,  working  and fighting,  but sometimes he's  just
mumbling  something completely out of this  world. Our  brigade's Commander,
Colonel  Bahel  Alexandr Antonovich,  placed an order to  dismiss Stepchenko
from his post, and  watch him  so he doesn't make any trouble.  There was no
chance  to  medivac  the man as  even  our wounded  were lying  in  bunkers:
choppers  couldn't land. He  was, temporarily, replaced by senior lieutenant
Krivosheev Stepan. Bilich San Sanych was taking care of Stepchenko, not just
him though, of everyone  around him. He arranged for the grunts that brought
him and the Hlop's body back,  to  be  awarded each by  the Hero  Of  Russia
Medal. But for now, the papers were kept in Chiefs of Staff's safe.
     Out of his principles, Bilich didn't recognised physical methods during
conversations  with  the  enemy  or  cursing  with  his  own  men.  But  the
interesting part was, I knew  from my own  personal experience, that  if you
yell cursing at somebody, everything is done more quickly and clearly.
     And now I had to explain to this gentleman that I failed to deliver the
sniper because grunts' thin patience wore off and they hung him off a tank's
barrel. Trying a few combinations  in  my mind that could spare San Sanych's
delicate hearing and let the Com-Batt and Ivan off the  hook,  I entered the
HQ. On  the way in  I met  our Supplies XO,  Kleymeonov  Arkadi Nikolaevich.
Everybody was  describing  him with Suvorov's words: "...we  can comfortably
hang any  supply officer in one  year  time...". Looking at the  well-shaped
figure  of our "rear XO", you  knew  that the  Generalissimos was absolutely
right: in his time, Kleimeonov  would've being dangling off the tree by now.
His personal luggage has  been growing in size by the day, regardless of the
heavy fighting.
     - Ah, Slava, how was the trip? Got the sniper?
     - No  such  luck,  Arkadiy  Nikolaeich, he  passed  away,  -  I  made a
compassionate face, my eyes were telling a different story  though  and  the
rear XO picked up on my game.
     -  Really?  - Kleymeonov made  a puzzled  face and  asked me,  sounding
     - Weak heart, - I smiled,  -  he was wounded too, so didn't survive the
departure.  Now I have to  delicately  explain it  to San Sanych.  He'll  be
really sad.
     - He's too busy for  that now. By the way,  nobody believed you'd bring
him anyway. Il'in and yourself  could've thrown  him harakiri  over there on
the spot.  It is a petty though;  we had people queuing up to  converse with
him, - Kleymeonov shone his teeth.
     - They were betting, weren't they? - I asked.
     - Sure, but mostly on your failure.
     - By the way, I also brought a soldier  with me, Semeonov,  disappeared
during  the "North"  siege; my grunts are offloading  him now. What else  is
     -  You  were only  gone  for four  hours.  Oh, yeah, - his voice turned
gloomy, - Chief of Staff of the Second Battalion was wounded.
     It seemed that the walls around us swayed.
     - Sashka Pahomenko? - I asked.
     -  Himself. They  are trying  to break  through to the hotel  "Kavkaz".
There are  as many rag-heads there as there are demons in hell, so he caught
a bullet in  his chest. Medics couldn't get up there. Sargent patched him up
for  now. Now we're  getting a  storm group ready, made of scouts. Under the
cover of dark, they'll try to get him out of there, - I could see Kleymeonov
was pretty sad, telling me all that.
     Captain Pahomenko Alexandr Il'ich was loved by all in our brigade. Very
tall fellow, open-minded, he loved having fun. He knew countless gags, funny
stories and practical jokes, never malicious. The  main thing  about him was
his  openness and honesty.  It always  deeply affected people who knew  him.
While  taking  to him, in about ten minutes  you felt like you had known the
man  since your college years. With all that he was  never a layabout or  an
idler. He  was always the first  one where it was the hardest, always rushed
in to help everyone. Our officers and men liked  him  unmeasurably. He could
help with his words  or action, he could also swear like hell  - was a  real
virtuoso in that field. He could get behind the steering wheel of an APC, in
freezing cold fix an engine or give soldiers  a good lecture. Well, the very
type of  officer  that our information sources were always pounding us with.
Detesting his enemy, never  hiding  his genuine feelings, never  refusing to
give a helping hand. A bit loud at  times, but you get  used to it in  time.
That's what he's been to  us, Sashka Pahomenko, who always asked to call him
"simply Il'ich". Strange, but at  war, these  little, long  forgotten things
are suddenly surfacing in your  mind.  And  now this young man was lying  in
some basement with a hole in his chest. God help him.
     - OK,  Arkadiy Nikolaevich, I'm off to see San  Sanych,  - I nodded and
headed off along the corridor.
     - He's in there with an Allied HQ  representative. Bahel  is out in the
Third  Battalion's HQ,  meanwhile this clean-cut chap  is stamping  Sanych's
brain. They'll probably  throw  us in  to  push  somewhere, where our  elite
forces shitted themselves. It's always like that, they get to receive medals
and  fire  at the parliament palace  in Moscow and we,  Siberian  mahra,  to
crunch asphalt in winter. For that, we get to go home and they will pose for
cameras and tell stories to girls, - he spewed and wondered off.
     The corridor was full of officers and soldiers. Some were smoking, some
taking  a snooz, leaning against  walls riddled by bullets and  shrapnel and
raising their heads time to time from close explosions.
     We paid one hell  of a price for this kindergarten. In his time, Dudaev
announced that Chechnya  does need scientists but needs warriors. Thus, boys
should go to school for three years and girls for only one. Since women stay
at home at all  times anyway,  kindergartens became  obsolete. Then, people,
close to his government, some with bribes, some with force, has claimed them
all. This one too was rebuilt as a villa and belonged to one of the Dudaev's
bandits. The owner and his gang fought for it with ferocity.
     We were busting these snakes out of here for 12 hours straight and when
finally broke  in,  learnt that he  maintained  a pretty good live style  in
here: all floors were covered in carpets, not the cheap stuff but  handmade.
Design  furniture,  crystal  and  china,  appliances  we  only ever  saw  in
brochures. Left around photos had all  his family pictured.  We lacked women
here,  that's  for sure,  but  I have never  seen a pretty  Chechen, not  on
pictures, not in real life. All had small faces, narrow eyes, hooklike noses
and thin lips. Just like  rats, if you ask me. Everyone has different tastes
though.  As  we say, -  "there are no  ugly women, there is just not  enough
liquor, but I couldn't drink that much..."
     Occupied by  this kind of thoughts I entered  the main HQ's room in the
basement. I  pushed  the door  covered  up by a  raincoat-tent and  felt the
warmth coming from  the army  camping  heater in  the  corner. I guess these
heaters are only still alive in the Army. As long as the army exists they'll
always  be there on  manoeuvres  and at  war, to  offer  soldiers warmth and
     - Comrade Lieutenant Colonel,  captain Mironov, reporting back to duty,
- I  reported, looking  at Bilich, who was leaning at the map. Next to  him,
bent over the map, were my partner or, as we called  each other, "henchman",
major Ryzhov Yuri Nikolaevich and some other officer.
     - We've  been waiting for  you, Vechaslav Nikolaevich. Did  you pick up
the sniper? - The Chief of staff asked me, inquisitively looking in my eyes.
- Here  is your mate, - he nodded  at  Ryzhov,  - was betting  a six-pack of
cognac that you won't.
     -  If  I  had  only  known about the cognac, Alexandr  Alexandrovich, I
would've brought back at least  his head. But the dog  died from his  wounds
and probably from some kind of heart condition. The son of a bitch was, from
his  own words, our compatriot, from Siberia. Thirty-two slashes I  found on
his rifle's butt and a fine Japanese scope too.
     - Where is the rifle? - Took interest in our conversation Ryzhov.
     - I left it back there. They show it to the grunts for ferocity and not
a bad feed for themselves too.
     - Yeah right, "feed". We  all need only one  feed  now -  air  support,
probable  enemy  positioning  and  where  the  bustards  are  getting  their
resupplies from.  They were  not ready  for this war  for sure and  prepared
nothing: no arms, no ammunition and no food.
     - That's  not all,  - I interrupted Bilich,  - on the way  back we were
fired upon and took on the rag-heads. After the counterattack, destroyed our
enemy and  found these on  the corpses... -  I reached my hand  out with the
dead soldier's ID tag. - One of ours. Semeonov.
     Again a clog was stuck  in  my  throat, making it difficult to  talk or
breath. I pulled my cigarettes  out. Bilich wouldn't object, realising  what
state I was in, although himself was a  non-smoker. After a few deep gasps I
felt the clog disappearing and continued:
     - The snakes,  probably,  were torturing him  for some time, and likely
while  he was still alive,  cut his  penis off. Then nailed  him to a cross,
like Jesus. Penis  stuck in  his mouth. We brought him  back; my  grunts are
probably offloading him now. Here is some more, - I fetched the  rest of the
IDs, - them too I got off the dead "spook". No more of ours though.
     San Sanych  carefully listened to  me,  looking straight  into my eyes,
then,  took  the  ID tags, briefly  flicked  through them,  noting only  the
garrison numbers,  added them up in a little  pyramid  and  handed it to the
unfamiliar officer.
     - By the way, let me  introduce you, - he  turned to the major, - Major
Karpov Vechaslav Viktorovich, Allied HQ representative,  General Command  HQ
officer.  And  this,  -  he said pointing  at me,  -  Captain  Mironov,  our
Brigade's HQ senior officer, an adventurer and  a  warrior. Still  can't get
accustomed to  the  fact  that he is  a  HQ officer now not a combat company
commander, - San Sanych somewhat fatherly lectured me.
     I was  a  bit  stunned by  the fact  that my CO would speak  of  me  so
heartily. I reached out and shook the major's hand.
     - Vechaslav, - he introduced himself.
     Namesake. We'll see, what kind of bird you are and what the hell you're
here for. I figure, one of  the  big boys, since was sent  to us. They might
want  us softened up  before giving some suicidal task or  maybe find out in
what state of affairs the brigade is in and then fire the CO. These fat cats
from Moscow love this kind of tricks.
     I  looked at him  a bit more carefully  this  time. The face definitely
looks familiar, but where I saw him before, I, for now, couldn't recall. OK,
we'll figure that one out later. The  fact that he was from Moscow and  from
the General Command HQ,  immediately made me, like  any  other  line  combat
officer, dislike him.  All grievances  come from them. They are all bastards
and voracious rats. All soldiers knew  this axiom, watching them do  nothing
but  drink themselves stupid at every inspection and then departing for home
with  generous  gifts. Human garbage, from first to last. It's  their  fault
we're here in the  first place. Moscow has planned the first and this Grozny
assaults. 25[th] of November and 1[st] of January will
both be black pages in the Russian Army's History Book.
     I thought about it while  I was shaking  the Moscow officer's hand  and
squeezing out of my face some kind of smile. Although, I think,  my  parched
face reflected all my thoughts pretty well. But I couldn't send this coxcomb
to hell right here, in front of San Sanych, whom I respected too much.
     - Vechalsav, - I introduced myself back to this Moscow rooster.
     -  Major  Karpov, take  these IDs to the HQ  please, let them  work out
which regions the soldiers are from and notify their families,  - San Sanych
passed the tags to him.
     The rep  nodded,  took the  IDs and without even  looking or  counting,
dropped  them  into one  of  his parka's outer  pockets. Any  normal officer
would've at least counted them respectful of the dead.
     I was  a bit disturbed by this and asked  the son of a bitch with badly
hidden irritation:
     - Aren't  you  going  to loose them like this, my honourable man? Human
lives are behind them.
     Spotting the rage in my voice, San  Sanych and Ryzhov looked at the guy
like he was an enemy of the state. He  must've understood his lapse, mumbled
something and  placed the IDs in  one  of  his  flank jacket inner  pockets,
meanwhile giving me  a very expressive look, like he wanted to grind me into
dust. Alright, my boy, look all you want, I can chill a drunken soldier with
my look, as for you, dandy ass, I can bring you down to your knees. I calmly
stood  the look of  his  watery eyes.  He  even seemed flimsy. About a meter
seventy in hight, may be less,  skinny  and with small head. All blond, like
albino,  except his  eyes, they weren't  red,  but  rather  colourless.  His
appearance was just repulsive, and his quiff, that he was fixing constantly,
was even adding  something female to  it. Maybe he's  gay: a  funny  thought
breezed  through  my mind.  The General Command HQ Officer is  a  homo. That
would make a lot of noise. Well, I heard,  in Moscow,  it's very fashionable
these  days - alternative sexual lifestyles. I don't  think I'll be sleeping
next to him. Though,  I think he's just lifeless, like  a jellyfish. I might
offer  to paint this queer orange,  for fun. Would make  snipers' job easier
     For a second, I  imagined the major painted  in red colour and  a smile
stretched  my lips. Karpov studied himself nervously  - something wrong with
his dress? Having ensured that his uniform was intact and finally  realising
that I'm just laughing at him, he stared at me angrily in response.
     Knowing my wild character  and to relieve  the tension in  the air, San
Sanych declared, talking to everyone at the same time:
     - Let's stop plotting against each other for  now and go see Semeonov's
corpse. We'll  fill  in the paperwork  and  you, Vechaslav Viktorovich, - he
looked at Karpov, - would have  to take him with you to the airport and send
     We  all moved for the exit.  Officers  and men  were already out in the
yard. The corpse was carefully placed on the rolled out canvas, hands folded
on  his chest.  Nail holes in  the  wrists were  clearly seen,  his face was
thoughtfully  covered with a soldiers'  handkerchief. Hats off,  all present
were just standing around in silence. What was on their  minds could only be
read on  their tight-lipped faces. Lucky for the sniper, he was dead.  Here,
he would've lived a long time, to his distress.
     Bilich came over to the diseased, lifted up the handkerchief, looked at
his dirty face with forever frozen mask of terror on it, sighed and, turning
toward standing next to him Kleymeonov, gave him an order:
     - Arkadiy Nikolaevich, fill in the ID report and prepare the body to be
sent home. The HQ representative will take it with him.
     - Sure, Alexandr Nikolaevich, - and then to the surrounding him grunts,
- Take the  man inside.  It's warmer in there. Call for the bookkeeper; tell
him  to write  up the ID Act,  the death notification  and  whatever else is
     Everyone suddenly went active. Bilich announced, talking to Ryzhov, the
Moscow dandy and me:
     - Let's go eat.
     I had, of coarse, nothing against throwing something  in my stomach and
tipping a nip or two, but not in  the company of this faceless  shit, that's
why I politely refused his offer:
     - Thank you  so much, comrade  Colonel, but  I'd rather do it later.  I
have to  wash off the  dust first and  get the sniper and Semeonov's reports
out of the way. Other paperwork can't wait for too long either.
     - As  you  wish. But at  2100, please be  here at my meeting.  Com-brig
should be too back by then, - carefully looking  at me, said  San Sanych. It
seemed that he figured out what the real reason for my refusal was.
     They went inside. I  watched the grunts carrying away all that remained
of  Semeonov, then  turned  around  and  wandered off  to  my  truck.  Every
brigade's HQ officer  had his own truck. With  Yurka Ruzhov, between the two
of  us,  we  shared GAZ-66  with  a plywood  cab.  Although,  most  officers
preferred to spend those few minutes of rest in basements, we loved our cab.
We  also had  a personal driver,  Harin Pashka, one meter and seventy  tall,
with broad  bone, big and  always twinkly face,  little eyes  but  red hair,
short, almost  shaved, hairdo at the back,  according to  soldiers' fashion,
and always waving long quiff. Naturally, Pashka was a  crook and a worm, but
I repeatedly observed him in gunfights: many times  he pulled out the truck,
with us, from under fire, for that  we cared for  him and  trusted  him.  In
peacetime  Pashka was  a  leave abuser, bitter  disciplinary  offender,  big
liquor  fan and a womaniser. His pregnant fiance  was  waiting for  him back
where we  came from.  He had  another year to serve before discharge. Pashka
knew practically everything that was  going on  in the brigade thanks to his
friendship with  the  grunts from the HQ, communications hub and canteen. He
supplied us with news, some of which he found out significantly earlier than
we did, receiving his information from the comms operators. All of this gave
us  more  time to think about  it and then come forward with good advice and
initiatives during the  Sanych's or  Com-brig's meetings, while  others were
only  chewing  on  the  newly  received information.  For that our superiors
regarded us highly as competent officers. Although, we've always been on top
as it is, the head start was never a burden.
     Walking up to our truck I noticed with satisfaction that Pashka managed
to fill up the sandbags and enclosed  the truck with them. Now we can breath
almost freely. There was a thin puff of  smoke  rising from the pipe meaning
that we've got heat, hot water and dry cigarettes. I came up to the door and
called out without opening:
     - Pashka! Where are you?
     - I'm here, comrade Captain. Guarding.
     Pashka's figure emerged  from the dark;  I glanced at  the position, he
has chosen for his guard and noted to myself that he did it rather cleverly.
     -  All right,  my lovechild, what've you got to make your father happy?
Did you behave? - I asked him jokingly.
     - Everything's  fine, Vechaslav Nikolaevich.  Enclosed  the  truck with
sand, got some food too.
     Food  was   a  problem,  same  as   matrasses,  linen  and  the   BDUs.
Reinforcement  columns were left  behind at  the airport; it  made  no sense
dragging them down with us under fire. Only the tankers, carefully  guarded,
carried  over  fuel for vehicles  and  power  generators.  Of  coarse, every
officer and soldier had reserves in  their  tanks and APCs: canned  stew and
meat kasha containers.  But that's no  real  food,  a paved road  to stomach
ulcer. That's why everyone was constantly busy hounding for nutrition.
     During the assault on  this  nice  kindergarten,  in its basements,  we
found  a decent  supply  of food and beverages.  Much of  that we've already
eaten and  drunk, but we all knew who amassed most of it and  using  Pahka's
personal charm or  his cheeky character, periodically expropriated some from
the comms operators.
     - Sonny, -  talking  to Pashka, I worked my  way  into  the cab, - What
kinds of  entree and oversees brandy do  you have  to soften up your old and
sick father?
     - Dutch ham, roasted lamb, sardines, I think French, and two bottles of
cognac, judging from the labels, also French.
     - Got the hot water? - I inquired taking off  my rifle,  coat and other
     - Yep, full kettle, -  reported  Pashka, throwing  the rifle behind his
     - Let's go, flush some on to me and then have dinner,  - I have already
comfortably  settled in the warm atmosphere of  the cab and  now unwillingly
stepped out into the night cold undressed.
     I scrubbed myself slowly and carefully, huffing  and spitting out  dirt
and dust that clogged my nostrils  and mouth. We had no steamer here so far;
for  that reason  we  gathered a lot  of fresh towels  and some cheap polish
fragrance in the airport and periodically, stripping naked, rubbed ourselves
with them. Our underwear we just chucked, putting on new pairs each time.
     I  got back into the cab, put some cloths on and was wiping up my rifle
with a piece of cloth. Meanwhile, Pashka cut up the ham and smelly lamb ribs
and  opened up a can of sardines.  In the  centre of the table he set up the
sealed bottle of cognac "Hennessey". I opened  it and smelled the  contents.
Not bad  at all. Poured  out some of it into plastic glasses, a bit more for
myself. I  lifted  the  glass, looked though  it at the  light, shook it and
smelled once more, I definitely liked the aroma.
     - So, Pavel, to good luck.
     We cheered and tipped the glasses.
     - Vechaslav Nikolaevich, what happened to the sniper?
     -  Don't  you know  already?  Glue,  Semeon, Americanets and the others
must've told you all about it by now.  He died from  the heart condition and
his wounds; the  rest is none of your business. Now give me the  news. Isn't
the war over yet?
     - Not by a long shot, - pronounced Pashka, - on the contrary, the order
came through,  to speed  up  the assault of  the hotel  "Kavkaz".  They even
promised us air support. And then the brigade will be thrown in to storm the
Minutka Square with the Dudaev's Palace.
     - That's where we'll all drop dead, because it is an obvious suicide to
attack a structure of this kind with only one brigade. What else?
     - The second  batt's Chief of  Staff was wounded and  some artist is up
there stuck with them. Shevchuk from "DDT". Ever heard of him?

     - No, never heard of him before. What's he doing up there anyway?
     - Nothing really. He came to Grozny for a concert and then asked for  a
ride to the front  line. Left all his musicians at the airport and popped up
over here. Who could predict that the second batt would be then screwed like
this? So now he's stuck there.  Lads said on the radio he's  pretty  snappy,
not scared at all and even rushing into battle.
     - Yep, now they'll throw our reserves in there to get him out and maybe
even take the hotel for once. Finally medivac all our wounded to the airport
and then go home.
     - The Moscow  officer was going around taking to  grunts. What's  up in
the brigade and how they're coping?
     -  You should've told him  to go  screw himself and  that's that.  They
won't send you any further than here. We've got our own zampolit to do this.
We've all  seen him  in  action; he's  not hiding behind grunts'  backs  and
doesn't crunch on his rations under the bed. And never throws any theatrical
shit  either. OK, I'll figure out  later  what  to  do with that  dick. It's
killing me that I can't remember where I saw him before, but I did for sure.
     -  He says he was  in  the Prednestrovie at some stage.  Something like
this went down there.  You were  there too, weren't you? May be that's where
you met the man?
     - May be so. Only I can tell you, Pashka, Pridnestravie of coarse was a
lot of fun,  but compared  to Chachnya all that was like an innocent walk in
the park. Over there, the war  was more of a classic trench style, although,
Bendery and Dubosary did change hands a few times. But overall,  compared to
this madhouse - boy-scout camp "Sunrise".

     Now I noticed that Pashka was wearing a rifle bullet on a piece of rope
around his neck - an  ancient soldiers' amulet;  supposedly this very bullet
was  meant  for you. If it  was  only  so!  These  "charms"  only  relax you
unnecessarily and flatten your sense of vigilance. I smirked:

     -  You  better  hang  a hand-grenade there by  its safety pin, and I'll
fetch it, or  a mine.  How about artillery round? How do  you know that this
bullet was cast  for  you?  Not shrapnel or a concrete block? Go ahead, hang
everything on your neck, it might be useful.  Remember  that grunt  from the
tank battalion? They found him strangled by this very rope with bullet, just
like yours. It didn't save him. Thus, don't be a moron - take it off and use
the bullet as intended

     Gabbing this  way, I slowly wiped  out the food on the table  and leant
back. Lighting up a sniper's cigarette I took a puff. The packet  was  a bit
wet though, possibly from my sweat or humidity.

     - Pashka, got dry cigarettes?
     - Yep, - he handed me a packet of "Palmira", or, as we call it, "Bum in
the  mountains". Because the  packet depicted some kind of hobo with a stick
over  his shoulder,  wearing  vocational panama and  jellaba  (just  like  a
"spook") and  a  mountain gorge  on  the  background.  -  Please,  Vechaslav
Nikolaevich. I've got more drying out on the heater. Give me yours; I'll fix
them up too.

     I took the packet,  twirled it, then lit up and stashed it in one of my

     - Give me paper, will you. I'll start on the sniper's report.

     Pashka gave me paper and sat down near:

     -  Kozaks arrived, asking to let  them fight.  Even submitted letter of
recommendation  from the  Commander  in Chief, -  Pashka said  softly  while
cleaning up the remainders of my dinner.  Meanwhile I was finishing  off the
     - Well, if they are so anxious to fight for mother Russia - let them do
it.  In  Moldova  they  fought  pretty  well,  even  captured   weapons  for
themselves, - said I without raising my head.
     - Bahel said  the same thing and sent them to the  recon guys. All five
of them.
     - I suppose I should go and meet them at some stage.

     All of a sudden, somewhere close by, a furious skirmish broke out. Both
of us  flew out of the cab  at once. Shivering, I pulled on my  coat; my mag
pouch  with a  few  extra clips was dangling  on my shoulder. In case of  an
attack on the HQ, every officer and soldier knew his area of responsibility.
That's why without any extra fuss we  sprinted for our  little foxhole,  dug
about by Pahka a few days ago.

     Somebody  was  discharging long  bursts, meaning that the contact was a
close one. Someone was yelling from the dark:

     -   North-east,   white  five-story  house.   Discovered  an   infantry
detachment, about ten men in all, could be a diversion of some kind.

     Not  much could  be  seen  in  the settling dark, except  a few blurred
silhouettes.  Somebody  started  launching  flares.  Pashka  too  launched a
couple. Then, in about  thirty  yards, I noticed  rag-heads, crawling toward
us. They were all dressed in nice Turkish camouflage of significantly better
pattern and quality than ours. If I catch a "spook"  of my size - definitely
strip  him. Back in  Prednistrovie, we caught a "policeman"  once, in  May's
excruciating heat. My  feet were  boiling  and  this guy was  wearing  these
really cool boots. Back then  they were a rarity, light afghan type with the
reinforced base, especially for mountaineering. So I got  them off him. Back
then  we  didn't kill  prisoners; they were kind of the same as us, fighting
because of morons politicians. Now I have been wearing them for three years,
although they  lost  their  attractive looks but nobody  makes them anymore.
Maybe, someone will pull them off me just like I did, perhaps alive or maybe
dead. God alone knows.

     I touched Pashka's elbow and showed him the rag-heads.

     - Let's go, - I whispered.

     We opened up in short bursts. In flares'  light we could see the little
geysers of  mud  and  snow. The  rag-heads  realised  that  they  have  been
discovered and fired back at us.  They  were definitely in a worse situation
and thus were letting off long bursts, crawling backwards. Someone opened up
from his under barrel launcher cutting them off. Suddenly a machinegun fired
from behind us. Did they plan to encircle us?

     No freaking way, assholes! I felt my fatigue beginning to disappear and
again, intoxicating rush of the gunfight was consuming me, the flow of blood
thrusting into my head forcing out remainders of the grogginess.

     - Pashka,  cover  me, I'll do them  from  my launcher,  - I yelled with
excitement, getting the weapon ready.
     - Come-on my darling, don't let me down, -  I muttered, shoving grenade
into its black trunk.

     "Bang", said my  launcher, spitting the grenade towards the  rag-heads.
Too high, I  noted correcting. Another one. Gotcha. The  grenade burst right
in the middle of the group of crawling "spooks". Two of them whirled around,
obviously wounded; the third got up on his knees  holding his head and  then
dropped face down in the mud.

     -  That one's cooked, -  I yelled  in intoxication, meanwhile  spotting
another target. But  the rest  of  the reg-heads managed  to hide behind the
rubble and  began to gush at us  from their  rifles. Now, the  flares worked
against us, clearly giving away our positions.

     A  grenade  exploded right  behind  us.  Looks  like they too  have the
launchers. "Issued from the same warehouse?" I thought, bitterly grinning at
my sad idea.

     I switched to automatic  now, trying to spot where  the enemy fire  was
coming from. Somebody was running  at  us from behind, heavily treading.  We
turned around sticking our  rifle barrels into the dark, ready to open up at
any moment. That was Yurka Ryzhov.

     -  Shit, man,  you scared the devil out of us, - said I getting back to
     - Yep, it's definitely more fun  over here than with that Moscow creep.
Ragging  and ragging constantly.  This  is not  right; that document is  not
correctly filled in. Do not write down  that the man was captured  prisoner;
indicate  that  he  is being unlawfully  detained by the illegitimate  armed
formations. He also recommended that we speed up the hotel "Kavkaz" assault,
ourselves, take it in the shortest possible time and then proceed toward the
Minutka Square and storm it on the march, - he stopped for a second and then
added: - head on.
     -  Stuff that. They can storm it themselves if need it so much.  As for
us,  we  need  more  air support, - I  yelled angrily, firing back into  the
night. After the Yurka's news I went  frantic  and  was hammering  with long
bursts,  -  you see, I just took  one out,  the  other  two are  over  there
whirling, probably wounded.

     Judging from  the  shooting, we figured the reg-heads  were not leaving
just like that.  Somewhere from behind our backs we  heard "Shilka" talking,
the one  that was set up this morning.  Well, now  it'll chop them  up  like
salad  with its  rapid fire  and calibre. Yurka  together with us, was, with
excitement, picking at the rag-heads with long  bursts, keeping the bastards
from raising their heads.

     - Slava, the Moscow shithead says he saw you before in Kishineov.

     All of a sudden, it became  crystal clear. Now I remembered everything.
When back in Kishineov, without any ID papers,  we were transferred over the
front line back and forward; this  degenerate was there in the Staff Office.
Then his Office  was  reassigned to the Moldova Republic. Although he stayed
there in the same department and  rank. Our  personal folders then fell into
the Moldovans' hands. At the end, all of us were pronounced war criminals. I
came  to him asking to return my folder, but  he bluntly refused, motivating
that I am, in fact, a war criminal and he wouldn't want to be my accomplice.
Then he suggested I leave immediately or he'd call the guards and  arrest me
on the spot. The  son of a  bitch changed  colours quickly,  but apparently,
eventually had to run  for his life  too. In  a few months, they declared an
amnesty and I am, for now, not a criminal anymore.

     The  rag-heads started  hammering our  positions  with  renewed energy.
Somebody  screamed from  behind us after the next burst. Shit,  someone  was
hit. We saw a  flash in the dark and redirected  our fire over there.  In  a
couple of minutes somebody in there screamed and something made a noise.

     For a  few more minutes,  in excitement, we kept going  in  the enemy's
direction,  but there  was no response.  Apparently the  rag-heads retreated
having  got enough. We had no particular  desire to go  and  check the area.
We'll find out when the sun rises.

     - Apparently the original owner came for his liquor, - jested Yura.
     - The moron must've forgotten what Karl Marks wrote in his "Capital" on
the second page first paragraph.
     - What did  he write, Vechaslav Nikolaevich? - Pashka enquired from the
     - A  very simple phrase - was yours, now is  ours. Expropriation of the
expropriators. If they hadn't screwed  around, we wouldn't have come here in
the first place.
     - Anything left to drink? - Ryzhov wondered.
     -  Sure, don't you worry; haven't  you  had a  drink  with the faceless
shit? - I replied.
     -  We have, but he  is too fussy.  We didn't offer him  any cognac  but
rather had Vodka. The son of a bitch wondered if we,  by any chance, had any
spoils left.
     - Moscow motherfucker, - I spewed  into the mud, meanwhile, in complete
darkness, filling up empty magazines,  feeling the rounds with my fingers. -
All  seems quiet. Let's  go  back. I still have my report  to finish and San
Sanych's meeting to attend.
     - OK. Pashka you stay here and guard, if you spot  anything - call out,
we'll come and rescue you form the evil Chechen, - Yura jested.

     We  got out  of the foxhole  and,  shaking off the dirt from  our BDUs,
started for the cab.  Around us in the  darkness, officers were  walking, to
their trucks to prepare for the meeting.

     - Hey people, who was shot? - I yelled into the night.
     -  The comms  driver,  Larionov.  He's  OK  though. The  shrapnel  only
punctured the skin but the bones are fine. He is in  the  sickbay now. He'll
live,  -  a  voice answered  me  from  the dark, sounded  like  the  Arms XO
Cherepkov Pavel Nikolaevich.
     - Soon, there won't any more room in the sickbay to put the wounded. We
should try  to break out the  blockade and ship them  all out, or we'll lose
them, - said loudly Yura, returning to the cab.
     - We should look  into  it and discuss with our COs, -  I picked up his
     - Let's have a drink and then go listen to the rant of the Moscow pimp,
- said Yurka, casting his rifle in the corner, - for  I am sick of doing  it
alone.  According to  their perception, we can't fight for shit; we have  to
inspire men, make them imagine that all  this is  the Berlin assault and the
Dudaev's Palace is  the  Reichstag. Bloody paranoia. If it were up to  them,
these  bastards  would lay  us down  like  rails  for  their  cheap glorious
speeches, - Yurka was heating up more and more, that however didn't keep him
from pouring out Vodka and opening sardines cans.
     - Alright, Yurok, stop  it.  Let's drink  up and later  on the meeting,
we'll bonk the  asskisser. Don't worry too  much. Whatever  they cook up, we
are the ones who will be carrying it  out.  With the present air support and
artillery back up, we're stuffed anyway. He can go and  screw himself. OK, -
I lifted the glass  to  my eye level and looked at the colours play, - let's
go, to us, the good guys, and death to the morons.
     - Yeah right, start holding your  breath, -  Yurka  just wouldn't  cool
down  and, it  seemed,  was boiling even more. -  Fight them  all  you  want
they'll win anyway. It  looks like  they  are intentionally working  for the
Chechens, to kill as many our men as possible.
     - OK, Yura,  stop  yelling,  we  have  to think of the  way to  get the
wounded  out  of here. They won't give us a break until we  step out anyway.
And  during the assault  we'll  take in more casualties for sure, now you do
the maths. If you ask  me,  tomorrow morning we have to fetch the recon guys
from the third battalion with whatever they still have that we can  ride on,
and break out. Otherwise we'll lose shitload of men. Drink up, - I raised my
glass and toped it without cheers. Yurka too drunk his.

     Since  we were under our  full  strength during  the departure, we were
complemented  by one  more battalion  from  Novosibirsk.  According  to  the
initial plan, we had to complete all  preparations  by autumn and depart for
Tadzhikistan for  integrating  into the 201[st] division  or some
peacekeeping force;  anyhow, to fight for God  knows what  or  who. So  this
battalion arrived on new,  experimental BMP-3s.  The machine  looked  great,
everything seemed thought of, - however, turned out total shit. Stuffed with
electronics like your Lexus, but made in mother  Russia.  Thus, at first, we
coped so much  shit  from it.  It  couldn't fire  its  weapons on  the  run:
equipment failed from  vibration. All its  sighting systems were electronic,
thus totally useless garbage. When it did fire, it couldn't move:  something
again  to  do  with the damned computer. Well, all in one word, - very crude
system and  thus terrible. In the  third battalion, twenty-four  men died in
the  first  quarter  of  January  because  of this  buggered  APC.  Terrible
statistics,  isn't  it?  All because this unrefined machinery was shipped to
the Army,  furthermore,  to  the war zone.  About  five of  them we've  lost
already.  We've  moved  them off  to  a safe  place  and, for  now,  use  as
machinegun nests. Although the cannon jams after it fires its first shot. Or
as taxi charter in the more or less safe neighbourhoods. I wish those snakes
that accepted this weaponry dropped dead.

     Having my  second drink I listened to Yura telling me  about my  Moscow
namesake. He was on fire after  I left - at  war, he said, some officers let
themselves  loose and do not exercise proper behaviour  code  towards  their
superiors;  the  discipline  is lax and so on and  on. Then, having sent all
this Moscow bullshit artists to hell, we finished off the bottle and in good
mood  left for the meeting. We felt like teaching the Moscow rep a lesson in
gallantry and military science,  in  front of all the brigade's officers. At
war, feelings towards all representatives are always  the same - nobody  can
send  you any further  than these  tranches, and their official warnings are
not like clap, they'll hang out there for  a while and then fall off at some
stage.  By  the way,  my  honourable reader,  -  clap (gonorrhoea),  is "the
officers'  heyfever".  Back in their college  years,  half of  the officers'
corps  managed  to catch it. In the Army, compared  to  civilian life,  this
disease is not considered shameful. Shit happens.

     At the meeting, every officer  knew his spot. Like all HQ  officers, we
were sitting close to the Chief of  Staff. The meeting room was situated  in
the former children's basketball court, which  had  become a lounge  room at
the Chechen owner's  villa,  where he built in a beautiful fireplace,  which
we, in turn, were feeding  with his own furniture.  By  the  way, red timber
burns badly, a lot of smoke and not much heat.

     Our com-brig  was sitting at the  head of the big  dinner table. As  we
could see he didn't even wash up since his return. Judging from his mood, we
figured second battalion was in deep shit. Somebody was talking behind us; I
turned  around - it  was our  Recon  CO. His  face  was just as dirty as the
com-brig's. I figured they went together and thus asked him:

     - How did you two go? How is the second battalion?
     - Totally stuffed. On the way back we drove into an ambush, one APC was
hit.  Driver  wounded, Gusarov,  you know him? First,  busted the track then
wasted us at close range. Barely escaped with our lives.
     - No, I don't know him. - I shook my head. - Bad wound?
     - His wrists are badly burnt, shrapnel cut his shoulder and part of his
ear is gone.  If they keep his hands, he'll be fine. It's a petty though, he
is a smart fellow and I wanted to make him a sergeant.
     -  Listen, I'll be suggesting now  that before  we go out and help  the
second battalion, we should  ship our  wounded  off, or  they're all goners,
your driver too,  by  the  way.  For  that we  have to  contract  the  third
battalion and your lads. What do you reckon?
     - Sure, count me in. While we were offloading the wounded, I remembered
that there is  a republican  drug warehouse here near by and  our  corpsemen
have nothing besides aspirin and their enthusiasm.
     - OK, go on, make a suggestion. We'll work on that and snatch the drugs
from the rag-heads. Otherwise addicts and marauders would bag them anyway.
     - Attention please! - Chief of Staff spoke out.

     The humming  in the room stopped and  everyone was now looking  at  the

     -  During  yesterday,  our brigade was participating  in the  following
assaults: central  train  station,  hotel  "Kavkaz" and  here.  Also,  while
proceeding to locations of the brigade's detachments, several HQ Groups were
fired upon and became involved in short skirmishes. As a result, our brigade
has  lost, - there  was absolute silence in the  room, -  two  KIA,  private
Azarov  - tank battalion, sergeant Harlapidi - engineering battalion.  There
have  been  four wounded:  Chief  of Staff of  the  second battalion, senior
lieutenant Pahomenko, first battalion company commander lieutenant  Krasnov,
Private  Gusarov  -  recon  company  and  private  Larionov  - communication
battalion.  Also,  we  found  a  body  of  private  Semeonov  -  engineering
battalion,  who was  earlier  declared  missing in action.  The man  died  a
terrible death, - here San Sanych looked up, faced everybody in the room and
continued without the bulletin, - his was tortured, then nailed to the cross
and his penis cut off and  placed into his mouth.  Horrible image, I have to
tell you, gentlemen.

     The room went buzzing. Officers, despite the presence  of their COs and
the representative from Moscow were  loudly and resentfully discussing death
of the soldier.

     - Calm down, gentlemen, - Bilich resumed his speech after pausing for a
moment, - I'll continue, I am no less disturbed by this, but let us dedicate
our emotions and rancour to the enemy, right now, there is nothing we can do
about  it.  Next, first battalion captured a sniper, from his own  words our
compatriot, from  Novosibirsk.  Captain  Mironov was  not able to bring  him
over, from his words, the latter died from his wounds and heart condition.

     And again the  room went  buzzing with noise, this time with  approval.
Those, whose eyes I met, were nodding and winking to me, approving, as I was
the one who  wasted the  sniper. Someone from the back of the room declared:
"his guilty conscience killed him". Officers cackled with approval. The room
was scarcely lit, actually, only the table with the Com-brig, Chief of Staff
and Karpov was illuminated, the rest was all covered in darkness. That's why
those  at the back  were making  all  sorts of  comments without the fear of
being recognised. Lucky bastards.

     Again San Sanych  had to  call for  order.  Slowly the buzz settled.  I
inwardly was watching the faces of our Com-brig and the Moscow major. If our
CO's lips  were  touched  by  a  smile  after the  "conscience"  remark, the
representative kept cheerless  expression on his face  with his  thin  lips,
displaying his negative impression of the  matter. A rat is always a rat. It
would be interesting  to  know if he was ever a platoon leader or  a company
commander.  Or straight after the college he  popped up on the HQ parquetry?
I've gone through all the  necessary stages, neither was I ever elevated  in
rank before the right time, kissing  commanding asses along the  way. That's
probably why I travelled  all over our country's hot spots. I have no desire
for my son to serve in the military, although my father, my uncle, father in
law  and  myself  went to  the same damned military college. If I  had  ever
learnt English language, wouldn't have ended up in this shithole.

     Now San Sanych was telling us about our future  objective, which Karpov
brought  with  him. The latter was erupting with self-importance;  it seemed
all this was his idea and we owe him everything. The officers were listening
carefully, quietly exchanging their comments at times.

     Then Karpov made his speech:

     - Gentlemen! Our Allied  Force Head Quarters  has set up  an honourable
task for you: amongst the first troops,  you are  to spearhead the attack on
the lair of the savage and then  destroy him. The Commander in Chief himself
is keeping this operation under his control. You  have proven  yourselves in
the  past battles  and  therefore, as  the  Commander's representative, I am
confident that the Siberians will handle their challenge with honour.

     And  more of that boring rant,  in the worst  traditions of  the soviet
cinematography. If he thought his  listeners would  explode  applauding  and
give him standing ovations, he was dead wrong. There was nothing in the room
besides quiet chuckles and calm remarks.  Then someone from the back clearly
and  loudly  yelled out "Go to hell". From the construction  of the phrase I
figured who that was. Only one person in the room could express himself like
that - our tank  battalion commander, Mazur Sergei Mihailovich. When we came
here, we  had forty-two tanks  T-72, now we have twenty-six. In ten  days we
have lost sixteen tanks, mostly with their crews. That's why major Mazur had
the right to send all smarty-pants from Moscow the farthest and most often.

     Everyone was waiting for the response. It came swiftly:

     - Who said that? I suppose it's not  a smart and honourable officer and
unlikely that he would come out and say it to my face.

     But Mazur  rose,  and pushing away officers in their chairs, came up to
the table.

     - I said that, so what are you going to do? Because of fucks like you I
have lost forty-eight men and God knows how many more I will lose because of
your hallucinations. Why won't the air force and artillery beat the crap out
of  this damned square  with all  that's still  there? And the  grunts would
block the  approaches  and take  out  everyone who would try to  sneak  off.
That's all. There  won't be as  many  soldiers' blood  spilt though and we'd
have to spend more time.

     Now everyone was watching Karpov. He was obviously confused:

     - The problem is that the  whole  world is  watching what is  happening
here. All major news agencies and  television stations have been  registered
at the Head Quarters.  If we use air force and artillery on a square of this
kind, the world community might not take it well. As you correctly mentioned
that it would take more time, but our government needs this conflict to stop
as soon as possible. Local opposition, which is  on our side, would also  be
against using air force and artillery to  solve this problem. Maybe somebody
would  wish  to surrender?  Moreover, we had received authentic  information
that a  group  of  well-known human  rights  activists  headed  by the  Duma
politician  Krylov  is  in  one  of  the Dudaev's basements.  Krylov  is the
guarantor of Dudaev's personal  safety. As  a result of a massive air strike
they might get hurt.
     - Screw them!
     - I'll become an artillery spotter, so that the lads wouldn't miss!
     - Hang the bitch!

     The  well-known   human   rights  activist  Krylov   was   called  many
unflattering  names. This madhouse would've  gone  on for a  while,  if  the
Com-brig hadn't barked:

     - That's enough!  Please comment only on the subject. Orders are not to
be discussed  - they  are to  be  carried out.  Other details  like air  and
artillery  support, time  frames and interactions with other  units would be
discussed later on. I am listening. Please note that the hotel must be taken
within the next three days. Any suggestions?

     I raised my hand.

     - May I? Comrade Colonel, - the CO nodded to me and I went on, - If  we
are to face an  assault like that it is possible to expect that we will take
more casualties. Our wounded, however, are cramped in  the sickbay as it is.
We  are also running out of medicaments. Therefore, I suggest the following:
tomorrow,  with the strength of  the  third battalion, support of  the recon
company  and chemical  defence company  we would break  away  to the "North"
airport and  medivac all  our wounded out  of  here. Then, in  our immediate
proximity, we have the republican medical  warehouse. Medicaments definitely
wouldn't hurt to have at this stage.
     - This warehouse is for the local population only! - The moron moscvich
gave off a remark. - We  must never do that, it would set the locals against
     - Keep quiet, major, - cut him off Com-brig, - we've already given  you
an opportunity to speak up. This war has already set them against  us. There
is no way back. Mironov, continue.
     -  I'm  pretty much  done  here. If  my  plan is approved,  I  offer to
personally head the convoy. Other than that we have to notify the battalions
so that they ship their wounded over  at  the  HQ as  early  as possible. We
should be  under way  at about 9.30 and if everything  goes according to  my
plan, we could be back by  about 17.00, leaving us  enough time to start  on
the medical warehouse.
     - What about the hotel "Kavkaz" and the Square?
     - I suggest, that during evacuation of the wounded,  myself, or someone
else,  would  contact our front command office  and  discuss  all  available
options. If somebody is willing to take over the train  station from us, the
first  and  second battalions  could easily bust the  rag-heads out  of  the
hotel.  We can also give them the third battalion for support  and clean  up
operations. If we could also move the self-propelled howitzers a bit closer,
we might  be able to complete the  task within the previously mentioned time
frame. Only if  our friends from the "North" don't shell us again, as it has
happened many times before, - I couldn't help myself and again kicked the HQ

     The discussion  of all  "for" and "against" arguments of my plan took a
while after that. In about half an hour, our CO approved it overall. He made
a decision to  personally head the convoy to the "North". He was also taking
several  officers with him:  myself with Ryzhov, recon CO, medical CO, third
battalion CO and Supplies XO.  After brief calculation, it turned out we had
one  hundred and twenty-two  wounded to  transfer, including  all  from  the
battalions. Many of them  refused to  medivac. It's strange though, for them
this war was  over,  they didn't chicken out  or self-inflict their  wounds,
many  of them were even about to be awarded medals, some could be discharged
before their term  after  this. But even the  badly wounded  refused  to  be
shipped out. Their  COs  yelled  at  them,  some  ordering,  some  trying to
convince them to go.

     A lot of grunts  were  broken  down crying,  like  they  were  unjustly
punished or  something. A  few didn't want to go because  of  the  soldiers'
brotherhood,  the real one not the  imaginary kind. Some were frankly saying
that their thirst  for blood  isn't quenched yet for  their fallen comrades.
Looking at their faces and their madly blazing eyes, you begin to understand
that these men could easily give up  their own  lives for their comrades. No
looking back, no bargaining  with death or enemy,  just  stand  in  the path
between  the bullet  and  his comrade without making  demands for rewards or
medals.  I asked  myself a question that I haven't yet been  able to answer,
maybe  that's what this  superior spirit of the Russian  Soldier is, that no
army could  ever break?  Despite the fact, that every government  in  Russia
hated and dreaded  its own  army,  trying  tirelessly to break its backbone,
something that no enemy could ever  do. But the Russian mahor, regardless of
his superiors' scams, has  always sunk his teeth into his enemy's throat, in
spite  of  his  furious  resistance, avenging the  deaths of  his  brothers,
himself died  but killing  his foe. The death of one would cause desire  for
vengeance in the  others  and  this would  go  on to the  last soldier.  The
government,  knowing  this  phenomena,  periodically  makes  new  opponents,
because  when the obvious  enemies are dead, you, having tasted their blood,
can't stop any more and start looking back.

     And if you did look back, you'd  understand, my reader, that while  you
were fighting here, at someone's obscure order,  life in your country calmly
went on.  Somebody even  made  a little fortune from this war,  someone else
transferred money overseas. But  your comrade, whose mutilated body you were
dragging out of the killing zone, under fire, yourself soaking  in blood and
sweat, he now receives a pension from the government, for both his legs that
he lost out there, 300 rubles.

     When after the third toast, he'll grab your hand and, looking into your
eyes, ask you in breaking voice: "why the hell did you pull me out of there,
why?" You will feel sick and ashamed that you saved his life. This very act,
that you  were  so proud  of  and  maybe even rewarded, -  will be  the most
shameful and bitter act of your life.

     Because your government sent you  into this butchery and then,  chucked
you out, the still living ones as well as all the dead. It  has bedamned and
forgotten  you.  There  was  nothing  there.  All  this  was  your  paranoid
hallucination caused by the posttraumatic syndrome and multiple concussions.
But  don't you worry.  We'll fix  you  up in  the mental home in  about five
years,  come  on  in.  Whatever  remains  of the  army, we'll  disperse  and
downsize, so that they don't  tell anybody anything  and debate our actions.
Same as witnesses after a  crime, they'll remove the military  after each of
their "salvaging operations".  Like they did after Afghanistan, Germany, and
so on. Because they knew for sure, the Army can turn around and see that the
real enemy is right here in Moscow.

     Thus, when they throw you out or lock in a God forsaken garrison, you'd
look back at  your  life  and realise  that  the  brightest,  most memorable
moments and impressions, the taste  and price of  life  you experienced back
there at  some war.  Your whole life  will  be  now  divided  in  two parts:
"before" and "after" that war.

     Here you will be  put before the choice, the infinite Russian question:
"what do I do now?"

     You can try and live you life like everyone else, but you know that you
won't get far.  You can try and enter the police force. By the way, they are
not  ecstatic  to  see us there, they  say we are all psychos. We can become
contract killers, our familiar business and the  money's good too. To  kill,
not  as many  people, not  for some principles or vengeance  but for  money.
Would you do it? Does it make you sick? Some go for it.

     There is a third  path however - mercenary.  It's true  though you'd be
fighting side by  side  with those you were shooting at not so long ago, but
that's OK.  Money  doesn't smell and who knows, you might even like  it  and
take vengeance  on  the locals  for  your fallen  friend who used to be your

     All our wounded grunts knew it only too well. Some knew; some sensed it
with  their skins that all this is what  a man lives  for, and if they leave
now, they would  never again experience it. That's why they hung in to every
opportunity to stay. To some their COs plainly lied, telling them that  they
are only going out there to  accompany  the column and  would then come back
here again. Some  of them believed it while others wanted to believe, hoping
that the convoy  won't be  able to break out and  would have to return. Some
grunts anticipated  that before  the medivac they would,  for one last time,
fight and send a few more true believers to see their Allah for themselves.

     They  do like squalling "Allah akbar,  Allah akbar", - so what? We  too
know that he's  "akbar",  but they, for some reason, don't rush to meet him.
That's no  good. Moreover, they are promised  a heaven for the holy war with
the kafirs. Therefore, we are actually doing them a favour, sending  them to
paradise, but they are resisting it like blind puppies.

     This  night at  the HQ  was pretty  much sleepless. All  of us,  Yurka,
myself, Chief of Staff, recon  CO and  other  officers were  working  on the
details for the medivac convoy.  We  talked to all  the  neighbouring units,
arranging the  safe  passage through their territory and interaction in case
of  an ambush. Mechanics were  busy getting  their  vehicles  ready  for the
transit and gunsmiths tried  to  adjust BMP-3s. There  was enough work to go
around for everybody.

     When all arrangements were made and all questions answered, only the HQ
officers were  left in the room. Now  the head of the Operational Department
initiated  the meeting.  We now were discussing our options for the  Minutka
Square  complex  assault. At first  we  said everything we had on  our minds
about  the Allied Command  and Moscow smart asses, but  gradually we  cooled
down and the meeting went along a calm path.

     All of  us came to the conclusion, that a head-on assault of the square
would  be  a sure suicide. But first,  we had  to take  the bridge over  the
Sunzha  River overlooking the  square.  There,  marching  our men  under the
deadly close range fire, we could  lose them all.  This bridge was  right in
our path and could not  possibly be avoided, unless  we  took a detour  over
half of the city.

     Suddenly, chief of the guards barged into the room.

     - Comrade Lieutenant Colonel, - he started  anxiously,  addressing  our
Chief of Staff, - the Moscow rep just left.
     - What? - San Sanych couldn't grasp it at first.
     - Got on to his BRDM, said that he was called in and left.
     - When?
     - About fifteen minutes ago. I called him on the radio, he says that he
must be at the "North" before the sunrise.
     - What a moron? He'll die himself  and lose his men.  He should've been
riding with the convoy tomorrow morning. Idiot,  nutcase, -  the head of the
operational department, major Ozerov was furious.

     We  all  knew too well what that  meant  -  riding alone,  in the dark,
through a  besieged  town on a light  armoured APC. The end result is almost
always same  - be captured by the rag-heads or catch a bullet from your own.
Every  soldier knew that, not mentioning the officers. It can't be that this
screwed in the head even considered that his rank would save him!

     Martial law in Grozny was in full swing, which meant that sometimes  we
couldn't even medivac  our  worst wounded to the better-equipped hospital at
the "North".

     And now this bonehead, this pimple on  our asses, endangering the lives
of the grunts escorting him, just vanished into the night.

     Immediately  we  called  on  the  "North"  and told  them  about  their
knucklehead. It's likely he did it on impulse,  trying to get to the Command
HQ before any news from here could  reach them, and report that we dared  to
openly  debate orders of our superiors. He actually had the  poor Semeonov's
body with him too. There is just no peace for him. Forgive us, private.

     In the "North" they all went nuts. I can only imagine -  an officer has
gone  missing. An officer, who knew about, maybe only parts of,  but  still,
plans  of the General Command. Moreover, the allied  HQ staff member.  Looks
like Karpov actually knew quite a bit, because a search party  was organised
to look for him in the  middle of the night. The radio  traffic was red hot.
All detachments were reporting that the BRDM with the rep has not yet passed
through  their roadblocks. Down here,  we were prepared to face the music of
future  allegations that we deliberately sent him  away in the middle of the
night. Thus, instead of catching at least a tiny bit of  sleep, we were busy
making  up reports  that we were  never here and there or never did this and
that, and all  that  bullshit. God forbid for you to  be accused of sabotage
towards your superiors. You can make a wooden souvenir out of your opponent,
but don't you dare giving looks to your COs. Well, there are many morons for
us to face in this life.  Although, we do, feel  petty for the bastard. He's
our blood, Russian. So could the grunts in his escort, get hurt for nothing.
For some reason  everyone  was convinced that, if the units  along his route
keep silent, he is a goner. Probably a captive now, in the rag-heads' hands.
God,  let him be captured dead, otherwise, a lot of our plans would have  to
be changed.

     Sometime about  eight in  the morning  we received information that the
BRDM with Karpov drove into one of the OMON roadblocks that was set up right
before the dusk. As we have predicted he tried  to wave  his rank into their
faces. The  OMON  lads, of  coarse, didn't  give  a shit  about some General
Command HQ together  with their  major Karpov. At first, they really mistook
him  for  a spy. For the rest of the night they kept kicking the crap out of
him and the grunts. Before the sunrise they put him before  the firing squad
a few times, hoping he makes a confession. A couple of times they even fired
a few shots over his  head. In the morning everything became clear. Airborne
fellows  arrived, threw a  few punches around for their  grunts,  picked  up
knocked  out Karpov  and  the  remains  of Semeonov's body and left  for the
"North". Karpov went back to Mozdok with the first available flight and from
there probably to Moscow. It's likely he'll be awarded a  medal of some sort
and later would be, on TV or  in his memoirs, recounting how he, alone, rode
through half of the whole Chechnya, or something like that.  Well, good luck
to him.

     At  8.00 in the morning  we began  loading  our  wounded onto cars  and
lining up the  convoy.  Earlier, clashing along  the  way, armoured vehicles
from the first and second battalions broke through to us with their dead and
wounded. Since there was not enough  room in the yard for everyone, only the
worst ones were loaded up there. The rest,  who were relatively OK: in clear
mind, were  squashed into armoured trucks  using  stretchers,  crutches  and
whatever else could be utilised. All who could  fire weapons  rode on top of
APCs.  Everyone  knew  well,  that  those  inside  armoured  carriers  would
inevitably die  in case of a direct grenade  hit or a  mine explosion. Thus,
responsibility for them rested heavily on  shoulders of those riding atop of
the "armour". The convoy turned out bigger than expected. In  all:
fifteen APCs.  Wheeled trucks were  dropped  in favour of the  armoured APCs
since even a rifle  bullet could easily penetrate their cabs, not mentioning
cumulative grenades and mines.
     Luckily (or may be  not), a heavy fog came down on the city. The winter
here sucks.  It's cold but there is  no  snow;  the mud is not even mud, but
rather a thick layer of muck that just swallows your boots. To free them you
have to apply loads of pressure and they come out with huge pieces of filthy
sludge on them. Vehicles had the same problem. What will it be  like here in
spring?  During the night, surface has  been covered  with a little crust of
ice and thus, we  thought we  could try and slip away  quietly  and quickly,
using the  fog  and frozen  soil. Comms  operators  radioed every one of our
neighbours and the "North" that our convoy is about to leave.
     One paradox  was that all army units, regardless of the kind, have been
using the same radio frequencies and call signs that they did when they came
into  Grozny.  All of which meant that if you try to scan the  radio traffic
within  the range of 3 to 30 MHz, during the day,  you could easily find out
where each unit is located  and what exactly it is doing there. Moreover you
would  know the names of the unit's leader, radio operator and all sorts  of
other  useful and  not so useful information. By the way, our opponents were
not much  smarter, keeping their  frequencies  and call signs  unchanged for
weeks at a  time. Well, we kind of, matched  each other over there. Services
of the radio traffic interception  and disinformation  of both sides were on
top at  all times. However, chechens had one unquestionable advantage - they
could speak Russian  and therefore deceive us;  we, on the other hand, could
not speak Chechen and thus were helpless trying to fool them.
     More  often  than  not, during clashes  as well  as during  the  breaks
between them, aborigines, having  set up radio contact with our units, tried
to  make propaganda  conversations and  of coarse threats. Since  the  first
clashes they started  calling us "dogs". Another  example would be
the  Train   Station  assault.  Back  then,  "spooks"  fooled  our
neighbouring artillery regiment, and  the lads, thinking they  had spoken to
us, for about 30 minutes,  were thoroughly  shelling us. Unfortunately these
cases were not unique. With time, through the system of codes and passwords,
we slowly stopped  walking into chechen  traps. After many of  our  men have
already been killed or  injured. And no matter what, our brigade, and  those
units that worked  together with  us, kept  using old frequencies  and  call
signs, right to the very  time of our withdrawal.  Army  stupidity. What can
you  do? Unfortunately it  was  everywhere. Any  suggestions  from the lower
levels of the power pyramid were met with resentment.
     Considering all this, we knew for sure, that our convoy's departure was
not only known  to the General  Command  in the  "North", but also
wasn't a secret to half of  the rebels in town. Nevertheless, even if it was
a  probable suicide,  we stood  by our decision. Without the  proper medical
attention, men  could  simply  die  out  here; moreover, they tied everybody
else's hands  with  their presence. They have  become a  burden and an extra
target. Besides, considering our next  objective, we had to free up room for
future casualties. Thus, after a short hesitation, we turned our faiths over
to the good fortune and started our journey. Our path lied along the streets
of  a  demolished  city  that,  with  its  ruins,  rather depicted  the  old
chronicles  of Stalingrad  half a century ago.  Death  watched us from every
basement and every  window.  A sniper  could be hiding  in  there  or an RPG
launcher.  He could've gone to  the  same military college as us. Or  may be
fought with  us  side-by-side  in Afghanistan, Angola or here  in one of our
country's hot spots.
     According  to  the  well-developed  tactics,  the  first  and the  last
vehicles in the convoy are destroyed first. Then, the rest of the column  is
methodically eliminated. Reliable tactics. Very few ever escape.
     - Let's move!  - The instruction came from our Com-brig. He rode on the
second APC.
     Recon  guys were riding on their two carriers in  front of  the convoy.
For ten minutes everything was fine. In a couple of days after we arrived in
Grozny,  our General  Command ordered us to clearly  mark  our vehicles. For
example, our cars had letter "S" painted  on their  sides, meaning
Sebirian Military District.
     A bitter  taste  suddenly appeared  in my mouth, although, there was no
nervous rush as  yet. That will come later. I  knew that, all of us  did. We
all experienced  the same  feelings all  over again. Suddenly a popular song
motive  played  in  my  mind:  "I  want  so  much  to  crash  into this
town!" Yep, that's right, I really do  want that.  Or better crash into
Mozdok,  where  our  General  Command  is, which in  turn,  was heading  our
directional command.  Nobody  really knew why the hell we needed them in the
first place. They always wanted to control separate detachments,  over their
COs'  heads, which always ended up badly for the latter.The most interesting
part was that they, in  Mozdok, enjoyed  the same allowances as we  had over
here. There weren't  many of them, but still, at  least we earned  them. For
instance, one day here counted as three and  we'd get  paid double time when
we came  home;  that's pretty much it.  And  you, my reader, thought that we
would be enjoying all the privileges of soldiers in a war zone. Yeah, right!
There  is  no  war  in Chechnya.  All  this is  the fruit of your  TV's rich
     Although occupied by these thoughts, I didn't forget to constantly look
around. So  much  we've  destroyed here  and  we'll  destroy  yet even more.
Demolishing is not the  same as building. I carefully looked  at  my grunts'
faces. All covered in dust, burnt  by local winds, parched  by the gunpowder
from frequent shooting and grenade explosions. I noticed a grunt, sitting at
the back, in  his  burnt through  tank crew uniform and  patched up  head. I
looked at him again more carefully this time. Wow, this guy is one hell of a
lucky bustard. He was a driver-mechanic with the surname of German or Jewish
origin - Goldstein.
     We had  people of  all sorts  of nationalities in our brigade including
even uzbeks  and  tadzhiks. This  tanker  was driving his  tank  through the
Grozny entrance and the infantry were taking cover  behind it. Back then, no
one of the grunts knew that you must walk <i>in front</i> of the
tank and only then it will save  you. Now they know. It was a very expensive
learning curve.  Since they  were entering the town at night,  this  guy was
driving  in the position "on  manoeuvre", sticking his head out of
the hatchway.God knows why some sniper didn't snatch him. Others they picked
on the fly, this one was just plain lucky. He was lucky  again when a rocket
slammed into his tank's  right side. Goldstein was propelled out of the tank
like a  cork,  about fifteen  meters  up high and landed on a tree branch. I
thought he  was gone. But  he's  alive,  only  patched up a  little  meaning
everything else is intact. Probably had a bad concussion.  I wouldn't worry:
They'll fix him  up quickly in his historical homeland. I can  remember when
the  conscripts arrived six  months ago,  he was begging not to be  assigned
anywhere to do with secrets*. If it  weren't for the  Army, he'd be with his
relatives by now. His parents have left already, but he was still  finishing
up his graduate university  diploma and didn't complete it in  time. In  any
case he'll be discharged  now and would be  treated  like  a human being for
     * AD. Until recently, Jews in Russia (or anybody else) could be refused
travelling visa  to leave  the country if they served in the  military units
that looked after classified technology. It  was of particular importance to
Jews, rather that to  any  other  nationality, as this was the time of their
mass migration  to Israel.  In this case, the  man was drafted  in the Army,
while his parents have already immigrated. Serving in the strategic  forces,
for example, could've held him back in Russia for three or more  years after
his discharge. End of comment. AD
     That artist, who was stuck with the second battalion, is also here with
us,  riding  on  the fifth carrier.  He came over  with the wounded Chief of
Staff and their three injured  grunts.  Some  snappy fellow he turned out to
be.  Everyone  expected him  to be untouchable  and  star-like,  but  he  is
actually  an  easygoing  chap, having been  stuck in the basement for  three
days, under constant fire and counterattacks, according to the witnesses, he
didn't hide at all. He acted like a real man, even attending to the wounded.
They didn't give  him a weapon though - he's pretty shortsighted, God forbid
for him to get hurt. Other than that, first class fellow. When the rag-heads
offered the battalion to surrender, the grunts told them  that  Shevchuk was
with them. The "spooks" didn't believe it at first. The grunts let
them  listen to him on the radio and chechens offered  to let him out,  even
guaranteed his  safe passage. He refused though. He also promised  (and soon
we found out that he actually kept his  promise) to send wounded grunts to a
hospital in  Germany. Not only  from our brigade but  others too, paying for
that from his own pocket  and his friends'.  He  was purchasing  them  wheel
chairs and artificial  limbs without the usual hype. There was no  reporters
or news conferences. He organised everything nicely and quietly, like a man.
     The  recon guys radioed that they were fired upon and are now full time
engaged  in a skirmish.  Estimated opponents'  force - about 20 guns. Nobody
used "Shmels" so far, only personal launchers and rifles.
     We made our decision -  press forward.  Because of the  fog we couldn't
see  our  enemy, they too can't  see us for  sure,  thus firing pretty  much
blindly. The Com-brig ordered  to put up the smoke covers and we added black
smoke to the fog, just like crude oil in a milk container.
     Coming close, our trucks fired their cannons at the reported positions.
Then BMP-3s opened up from their machineguns. Finally,  we  too,  like  in a
well-schooled  orchestra, lined  up  with  our  rifles  and grenades.  Great
panorama,  I'd tell  you.  From  the  thick black  cloud  of smoke, about  a
kilometre wide, the spirts of tracers were gushing everywhere, grenades were
flying, leaving smoking tails behind them. A  scene, that could be worthy of
an artist's effort. Emotions were running hight too. We couldn't know if our
path was clear - may be a wall along the way collapsed by itself or somebody
helped it. Or may be an antitank mine  is  hidden somewhere in the piles  of
trash. But there was  no fear, in my  mind or in the eyes of the grunts that
surrounded me here. We all knew that if we fail, our wounded comrades  would
die. Our decision was to go to the end: to the death or victory.
     So  far  we  were definitely  lucky, the  engines roared  on high revs,
adding their semi-processed fuel exhausts to the thick smoke cover. Although
the  convoy stretched along a wide area, Com-brig decided  not to  break  it
down into small mobile units but still carry on as one column.
     Going past this  neighbourhood, we  kept our speed as high  as we could
squeeze out of our darling APCs. Finally we cleared it, surprisingly enough,
without any  friendly fire accidents. Maybe  the rag-heads retreated or  for
some other reason, but nobody was shooting at us any more or chasing us. But
all of  us knew that it was still too early to relax. We  had to  keep going
and survive.
     Recognisance party ahead  of us, radioed  in that they reached first of
our neighbouring roadblocks. That's better. Now the airborne units will walk
us  through their territory. They are OK soldiers, but not persistent enough
and too cocky. They  can't tenaciously assault  the  same  target for a long
time.  They push furiously at first, but gradually, run out  of  steam. They
act well as a supporting force, but on their own, of not much use. They have
been trained to storm a structure, destroy it and get out of there. They are
not  prepared for  these long and backbreaking battles. But our mahra  is  a
different thing all together. In excruciating heat, rain or snowstorm, we'll
carry on  anywhere: in the arctic, deserts or swamps. We'll die but complete
the objective.
     On  the  roadblock, airborne  guys were waving us and  smiled,  showing
their teeth  on the same parched faces as ours. It was a delight to see that
we are not alone here in this hostile land.
     Their com-bat promised to send  a party to sweep the area where we were
     In case they'd find spooks there, he'll register them as his kills, we,
in turn, would write them down as ours, indicating the approximate number of
the  enemy  infantry  destroyed.  Some  funny guy at  the  "North"
managed  to calculate how  many  of the  enemy we have  knocked down here in
Chechnya. Turned out that during the 10 days  of fighting we have  wiped out
the entire Chechen population twice around.  It's strange, it's only been 10
days, but seems like not less than six months. If you believe reports of the
Red  Army commanders during the  Second World  War, the army of the Wermacht
was  destroyed about 100 times. As  for  us,  we don't  have to free half of
Europe this time, but according to  the  reports  we  are ahead of any army.
Thus, my reader,  listening  to the news  bulletins, multiply our losses  by
three  and divide enemy losses by two, then, you'd have a more or less clear
picture of what is going on.
     The  airborne lads tried to offload their wounded onto us, but we could
hardly squeeze our own asses  on the "armour". Inside the vehicles
our own  wounded were piled up like logs. If they wanted to come with us, no
problem,  but they'd have to  use their own trucks and  their own escort. We
won't  be waiting for them either as every  second is counting. What are you
saying? We're bustards? Fine, we're bustards, but you still medivac your own
men.  We have neither the  time nor desire to argue with you.  We understand
you  perfectly.  If we  start arguing  now,  you  might even convince  us or
prepare your own cars. You  should've thought  about it beforehand. You  had
all night for that. Cheers men, good-bye. No, don't bother trying. Where did
you send us? OK, stand still, we'll be coming back, talk to you then.
     We watched our Com-brig talking to their com-bat. Of coarse we couldn't
hear anything,  but we could  observe the gestures  they were using in their
conversation, thus reading  who  sent  who and  where.  When they were  done
myself  and  the grunts  cackled simultaneously. But  no one  dared  to yell
anything  upsetting  or make  a  gesture of  that  kind. We  understood what
position they were in, but  your  wounded you medivac yourself. We're all  a
bit foxy,  like  the Jews, enjoy solving our  problems  with somebody else's
help, but not the problems of this magnitude.
     We cleared the airborne zone of responsibility and now entered the area
where for about ten blocks we would be moving along the  zone for  which the
spooks  were  responsible. And  they  were  obviously  controlling  it.  OK,
mutherfuckers,  we'll  medivac  our  wounded and  take care  of  you.  Let's
concentrate  on the medivac  for  now. I raise my hand and the grunts  start
carefully watching  surrounding us rubble. Talking, screaming or instructing
makes  no point - the roar, fumes and dust from the carriers in front  of us
are  making any attempt bound  for  failure. If you open your mouth  trying,
it'll be crammed with turd. Another beauty  of riding atop of APC is that it
is shaking violently as it moves and if you relax your jaws for a second you
can lose your teeth or bite your own tongue  off. There was  a gag that some
dumb  ass, not from our  garrison  of  coarse, bit his tongue's tip off like
that,  but the corpsemen sewed it back. He was  discharged afterwards.  I've
heard so many of  these  gags during my  commission that I can  write a book
now.  Especially I like that fact that nothing ever happens in our garrison,
but our  neighbours - are a constant  mess.  But they  are of the exact same
opinion about us.
     The grunt next to me shouted  something, pointing his finger at the top
floor  of  a building near  by and firing  his  rifle in  that direction. My
reflexes  kicked  in  at  once. My  rifle  let off a  few  bursts  before  I
consciously stopped and actually looked there. A pair of binoculars that lay
on the window  frame was  blasted to pieces. If  you want to live, you shoot
first  and then think and look. Everyone finds out  this formula  after  his
first gunfight. I'm  yelling out and waving to stop  the shooting. Gradually
it  fades  out.  I'm  not angry at the grunt.  In our line of business  it's
better to overcook than undercook.
     The  carriers are  speeding forward  without slowing down.  Recon party
radios  in  to report  they  are  again taking  fire. This  time from  three
directions  simultaneously. Now, they are  waiting for our approach, as they
can't handle  the clash on  their  own. Com-brig  called  the neighbours for
assistance to try  and hammer the  rag-heads in the rear, meanwhile  we  are
speeding ahead to help out our scouts.
     The last APCs in line have retarded a bit  so that in case of an ambush
we don't become completely trapped. As  we approached the  intersection, the
avenue, where our recon  party took their turn, was  barricaded with bricks,
two neighbouring streets were also blocked,  and thus we are either to break
through or to  retreat. If  we  do decide to retreat, there  is no insurance
that we  wouldn't walk into another trap. Com-brig has  made  his  decision:
break through. Ryzhov and myself both completely upheld his choice.
     Those who  could fire weapons  leapt off the "armour" and the
carriers rolled back covering us. First, we wanted to push the spooks inside
the  block and  then,  under fire,  try  and dismantle the barricade. Hiding
behind the piles of trash we shot back. Both sides exchanged fire furiously.
Suddenly  a  grenade exploded  somewhere  close to me - pieces of a  blasted
grunt flipped into the air and landed 5 meters away from me with dull sound.
In a couple of seconds another soldier died the same terrible  death. In the
heat of the gunfight I had no time to look  who that was. Next to the second
body, three  other grunts were whirling on the asphalt, screaming with  pain
and  pressing  fingers against  their  wounds. Their  coats were  soaking in
blood. We  thought at  first that  somebody was  using a launcher,  but then
another grunt shifted a brick and noticed an F-1 grenade, lying under a pile
of rubbish without its safety pin. Now everything was clear.
     Smart sons  of bitches the spooks turned out to be. They cleverly chose
the  spot for their ambush and also considered  that we  would  dismount and
confront  them. Our  future  positions, imposed by them, they  booby-trapped
with hand-grenades.  In a gunfight  you have  to move  around a lot: tumble,
spin and hide behind  the rubble. That's where they placed these nice toys -
F-1  grenades  without safety  pins. You  shift the brick on top  of it, its
guard  lever flies off  and here you  go, in  6 seconds it  bursts. Shrapnel
cover an area of about 200 meters. No one mine will have the same effect.
     Now  we  had  to  solve this  dilemma  -either  pull back  or  try  and
counterattack to bust  the rag-heads out  of the  apartment block.  Not much
choice.  Neighbours  radioed that they are on their  way and called  for air
support.  That is exactly what we don't want. A soldier has many enemies  at
war, but  one of the biggest  is  his own air force. Doubtfully they'll ever
get the  rag-heads, but to drop a few bombs on their own positions is a done
deal.  That's  why  we  asked  our rushing  reinforcements to  call off  the
"sky raiders". They'll stuff it up anyway.  Instructions  to storm
the building were passed along the chain. We also told the "boxes"
to open up from  everything  they have, keep going like that  for 10 minutes
and then cease fire and wait for further instructions.
     Every grunt and officer  has his personal first aid kit, which contains
an ordinary  set of  medications, like painkillers, anti-radiation pills and
the  likes. There  are also drinking water tablets that  can be used  in any
water except the seawater. Drop it into a puddle if you like, it'll roil for
a second or  two and  you can  drink it now  without  fear of  catching some
disease. It'd have a chlorine stench though.
     Every detachment  has  so called  anti-fear tablets. When soldiers  are
dog-tired and can't move their feet any more, not mentioning  attacks, their
will is paralysed. Then their CO gives the order to hand  out these tablets.
The grunts eat them, rest for a while and spring to their feet. No one knows
where the strength comes from and where the fear goes.
     Now we didn't have those tablets as well  as the need for them. After a
few  gunfights, where the spooks were  prevailing in every aspect  and every
little thing  we gained  was paid for dearly in efforts and losses, now  men
were  experienced and  confident and  the rag-heads were  getting  a  decent
response for once. They no longer  bullied  carelessly,  doped and squalling
something about their Allah. First time it's actually  quite scary, charging
like spellbound, unafraid of bullets.
     At last  our carriers opened up.  Cracking salvos  of their cannons and
machineguns,  at  first,  muffled short  barking  bursts of BMP-3s, but they
caught up quickly with the old well-proven two-s. We also didn't fall behind
with our rifles and launchers.
     APCs hit  hard for ten minutes and then stopped as was agreed. The high
pitched ding  from the shooting was  still in  our  ears,  but now we had to
attack. Our opponents had a lot more problems with their sense of dimension.
Our shells were bursting in their tight nests, causing them to go crazy with
terror. They were also still in awe from the air strikes. Now  was the right
time for the final move.
     This time nobody raised the grunts off the ground with his own example,
like it used to be  here during the first days. Every one of them  sprung up
by himself, some with the ancient "hoorah" other just  yelling out
from fear and excess of adrenalin, all were running ahead like one. When you
plunge into attack  like this,  something medieval  wakes up  inside you. It
seems you are watching yourself from aside, observing the gunfight, noticing
every  little  thing. May be the common grudge and fear at this moment  bear
this collective ability?
     While we were clearing the  open space of about 100 meters, we were met
with  rare  and disorganised  gunfire. No one of our  men was hit,  but  the
grunts,  on the run and from the waist, were  discharging long bursts at the
broken windows where the deadly gush of lead was coming from.
     At  last we crash into the doorway of this once apartment block, others
are storming the remaining four entrances of the "khruschevka".
     Human  reflexes  are  such  that  you  always  notice  what's  on  your
right-hand side first and then  move to the  left. Spooks made a good use of
this fact and when we  barged  into a block they always stood to the left of
the entrance. While we were  automatically checking  out  everything  on the
right-hand side, they had a few  seconds to shoot us in the  back. Some time
has passed before we learnt to toss a hand-grenade before walking inside and
looked first to the left of the doorway.
     The  sunlight started  to  break through the fog  but  here inside  the
building it was still dark from the shooting. Dust, mixed with gunpowder and
some other chemicals hung in the air, abstracting the view.
     Together with some fifteen grunts we  ran into the block.  I glanced at
the  grunts  with my  side-vision. Looks like  there are no  cowards amongst
them. All experienced. Two flats on the first floor, meaning that we  should
expect  the  same  structure  further up.  Three  grunts took  guard on  the
staircase between  the first  and second  floors, covering us  from possible
attacks   from  above.  The  rest  are  fetching  safety   pins  from  their
hand-grenades. "Ready".  Nocking down  the  door,  it's  not  even
locked but  blasted by explosions, barely hanging  off the frame. Our  boots
ram it down completely this time. I yell out: "Let's go!!!"
     We move  out from the  doorways, hiding behind the  concrete  walls. In
three flats, grenades detonated almost simultaneously, probably about  eight
of them. My head feels like a  church bell, smoke and dust is coming  out of
the blasted  doorways.  Move, move and  don't stop  now.  Checking left, now
right. Tonnes of dust in the  air,  can't see shit. Squeezing off  two  long
bursts  from the  waist.  We don't need no  prisoners,  not enough food  for
ourselves. Move! Move! Kitchen: nobody there; bathroom: the door is slightly
open, screw  it, another two bursts from the waist,  the bathtub  could be a
nice hide from  the  shrapnel. I node to the grunt next  to  me, covering my
rear. He jerks the door open and I pull the trigger slowly moving my rifle's
barrel sidewards. It is  convulsing in  my arms  like a living organism  and
flushing the bathtub with a deadly flow. The smashed off pieces from the tub
are flipping in the air. Meanwhile other grunts  are firing into  next rooms
dark with dust and smoke. Built-in  wardrobes and  shelves are also  checked
thoroughly. That's  all  with  this two bedroom  flat. Let's move on  to the
upper floors.
     The grunts guarding the staircase, indicate that they have just spotted
some movement  in one of the second floor apartments. Other grunts come  out
of their flats and join us. Those who guarded the staircase move up one more
floor. I don't have to give out any instructions here, every grunt knows his
manoeuvre too well. No need to yell at anybody. All of us work together like
a well-tuned mechanism. Everyone covers everybody else's back.
     We repeat the same  process on the second floor. We barge into the room
tripping  on a dead body ripped  apart from a grenade explosion. That  one's
cooked. Moving along. There's nobody  here. Three more levels to go, rooftop
and the basement. Move! Move!
     Grunts report they discovered two more stiffs in the neighbouring flat.
Screw them.  Moving along. I  look at  my watch: it took us seven minutes to
check two floors, we have to speed this whole thing up.
     On the third floor, when  we knock the doors down,  somebody inside the
flat yells out without accent: "Don't shoot, don't shoot!" I raise
my fist. Grunts hold back. I shout: "Come out slowly, hands behind your
     Wauling, a filthy chap is coming out, bristling with  hand-grenades and
a  chechen  knife  (dagger  welded together with stiletto),  looks  Russian.
Smearing dirty tears on his face and weeping he's squalling that he was just
drafted, he's just an ordinary con and nothing else, never  killed anyone of
ours. I notice some five personal dog-tags hanging around his neck. Earlier,
they were only given  out to  officers, now,  since we arrived  in Chechnya,
everyone gets a set.  It looks  like  a little metal plate shaped like oval,
about five santimeters in length and three  wide. Along its length the plate
is  broken  in two parts, upper part  has "VS SSSR" stamped on it,
the lower one has a letter and a six-digit code. Every  soldier has  his own
code. The plate is cast from a stainless  alloy.  First  they  started using
these plates after an experimental rocket  fell down onto some committee and
burnt it completely.  At war every  soldier wears it, jut like American GIs,
except they also have their names and blood type printed there.
     I noticed that this "ordinary con" wore these dog-tags around
his  neck. There were a lot of scumbags bumming around Chechnya,  which were
surely due for  jail  time in  Russia. Here  they were like  brothers to the
local  bandits. As locals told  us,  to  prove  their loyalty they  tortured
soldiers  even worse  than the chechens  themselves. I grabbed  him  by  the
dog-tag  chains,  coiled them  onto my fist  and twitched  the  shaking  con
towards me. Grunts knew well what was going to follow. Some spooks collected
personal numbers of soldiers they have killed.
     - What is this, asshole? - I asked him and kept pulling the chains.
     - I found them, I swear. I didn't kill nobody.  They forced me to, - he
squalled weeping.
     I shoved my rifle in  his chest and pulled  the trigger. Bullets ripped
it open smearing my pants with his  blood.  The  body jerked  backwards, the
neck snapped  but it was still hanging by the dog-tag chains. It seemed  the
souls of the dead soldiers wouldn't let their murderer go free. Barrel still
stuck in the con's chest I asked the grunt next to me:
     - Cut the chains, will you.
     He stripped the knife from the dead con and sliced the  chains with one
quick move. The no longer hanging body  dropped to  the ground with  a thud.
Grunt  reached  his hand out with the  dagger offering it to me.  I shook my
head and he stashed it  in his boot. I rose, put the dog-tags into one of my
pockets and gave an order:
     - Get your hand-grenades ready and let's move.
     Again  explosions roared  and  we barged inside  other  flats. There we
found five more dead bodies. Without  any  further ado we squeezed off a few
bursts into each one of  them just in case. One of the  "deceased"
suddenly  came alive and tried to draw his rifle -  cross  fire coming  from
three directions simultaneously nearly chopped him to pieces.
     All of a  sudden we  heard a  grenade  explosion  and a rifle burst. We
quickly finished off checking the apartment and popped outside. The gunfight
there was in full swing.  Rag-heads from the upper floors were attempting to
break through  to downstairs. Three grunts were keeping them  up there;  two
more  soldiers, covering the basement entrance, hustled  up to help them. We
too quickly got into the skirmish. Here on the narrow staircases we were too
crowded.  To  add to the  confusion,  spooks started  throwing hand-grenades
down. Huddled down here together  we couldn't possibly hide from them. Thank
God, the morons threw them at the very  moment they were pulling safety pins
out, thus giving us time to push them away onto the lower floors.
     We also returned  fire  as best  as  we could. Two of  the grunts  were
blasting off grenades from their under-barrels, the other  four spraying the
spooks from their rifles, keeping  them at bay. Meanwhile something blew  up
there with a terrible boom. Ceiling collapsed in one of the  kitchens on the
third floor. Five grunts quickly dived into the  breach and now the gunfight
shifted  to  the  fourth level.  Coming up,  from  the point blank range, we
wasted the rag-heads in the back. We were afraid of  coarse to waist our own
grunts, but this time we were lucky. After the clean up, twelve more  bodies
were  left  up  on the  fourth floor. Not bad  at all,  if according  to the
Regulation the ratio  should be one defender to three or four members of the
assaulting team. On the fifth  floor  nobody greeted  us except for two dead
bodies.  With caution with  we  came up the roof. There is nobody there too,
meaning that we are the first  ones up here and have to help out other storm
groups in the neighbouring blocks. I split my men, myself choosing the block
Ryzhov  went into. Walking  on the roof we  could  here the gunfire in every
     Carefully  we are  opening  the hatchway. Judging from  the noise,  the
shootout is in  between the  first and  second  floors. We are  starting the
clean up from  the fifth  floor down. Voices and gunfire are coming from the
two-bedroom  flat,  apparently  the  shooting  comes  from  the  inside. OK,
assholes, let's roll. Hand-grenades at stand-by,  at the nod of my head, the
door is  smashed open, we throw the grenades in and take cover. Burst; move,
move; one of the  grunts stays  here guarding  the staircase, I  turn  left:
burst into  an  empty  corner and burst  dead  ahead. The grunt  on my right
already  checked the  right  hand  side discharging a  burst into  the right
corner. We finish  off two wounded by the window. Next to them lies an RPG-7
rocket grenade  launcher, fine  toy.  We  take the  launcher  and the  seven
remaining rounds for it with us.
     Downstairs,  the spooks  apparently realised  what happened and doubled
their efforts attempting to  fight their way  out of the trap. Our grunts on
the other side also figured that  the help is near and  pressed with renewed
energy. We came down to the forth  floor. Shooting off the doors and tossing
in grenades.  In two flats we discover a few  more of the rag-heads' stiffs.
No idea whose job that was, someone else's  or ours, but what does it matter
anyway. Move, move, downstairs, tempo, tempo. Hold on fellows, we're close.
     The spooks disparately tried to  move upstairs and blow us off. No way,
I'm yelling out:
     - Yurka, stay down, I'll meet them up here.
     We  hear  the treading  and fire  from  the RPG and the  under-barrels,
ducking  behind the  concrete to  cover from  shrapnel.  One of  the  grunts
screams with  pain. A shrapnel  piece  ricocheted in his arm. Two men stayed
behind to give  him first aid. The remaining grunts and myself fire into the
dense blur of smoke and dust after the explosion. No one is shooting back.
     - Slava, don't shoot, we're coming up.
     - Let's move,  boys, slowly. May be some son of a bitch is still there,
- I yell to my grunts.
     We're slowly  moving downstairs, ready  to open up at even a  slightest
suspicion of  movement. On  the  staircase between the forth and  the  third
floors we  stumble on the torn apart bodies of our  resent foe. The BDUs  on
some are  still  burning. Nostrils are tingling from the stench  of  parched
human flesh, cotton and  something else, terribly stinky.  I'm labouring not
to vomit. Suddenly,  from  the  dark, grunts'  faces  are  emerging from the
downstairs. We're all happy and hugging.
     - Still  alive,  demon?  - We  couldn't get enough  of each other, like
lovers after a long break-up.
     - How did we bust the shitheads, ha? Hammered the  crap  out of them! -
Yurka was wound up. Despite the cold, everybody was steaming hot.
     - I grabbed some scumbag back in there. Squalled he was just a con, but
had dog-tags dangling round  his neck.  Here they are, - I pulled a bunch of
dog-tags out of my pocket, - I sent him off to meet his victims.
     - You did the right  thing. They  dug  in well in here. With machinegun
and all. Not even one approach. But thanks to you
     - OK, let's go. You owe me a drink. - I fetched a packet of cigarettes,
my home ones, "TU-134", the sniper's smokes were long gone. It's a
petty, they were really nice, - have some, the NATO threat.
     Happily chatting this way, though still in the heat of the gunfight, we
walked out on the street. Following us, grunts helped my wounded lad out. He
walks by himself though, his arm patched tightly, meaning that he'll live.
     Out  here, the  clash was also over. Apparently, the  spooks  retreated
from  their  other positions, realising that  we would've taken care of them
too if they hadn't.  The  barricade was  also  nearly  dismantled. From that
direction our neighbours were coming up.
     - Slava, look. What the hell is that? - The approaching grunts had some
tanks,  they  wore  like backpacks,  carrying  metal  pipes in  their  hands
attached to the tanks by rubber hoses.
     -  I think  it's  flame-throwers. I've never seen them live, but  heard
that some units  got  them off the emergency reserves and dragged them  over
here. Probably a marvellous tool.
     Meanwhile all  our  grunts  left  the  building and  the  newly arrived
soldiers, with  jokes,  approached the basement windows and having tossed  a
pair  of  hand-grenades  in  there  first,   started   pouring  from   their
backpack-type flamethrowers, which these devices  did turn out to be. Bravo.
Streams of flame, human hand sized  and about 10  meters in length, widening
as they left the pipes were flowing into the  basements. At once we felt the
stench of burnt kerosene and something else of the kind.
     - First class gadget. I wish we had more of them. We'd smoke the snakes
out for sure.  We should throw the idea at our commander to ask for them  in
the  "North".  Since  they  are  sending  us  to  storm  "The
Minutka",  might  as  well  give  us these,  -  I  said, watching  with
admiration as grunts having finished  off our building  are preparing to fry
some other structure.
     -  I've heard,  in Afghan, there was  a flame-throwing tank, but turned
out useless in the mountains and  was taken off the production line,  - Yura
said climbing our APC.
     - Such morons,  ha? They could've figured that  we'd have to take towns
at  some stage instead of clashing in the mountains or in the  open all  the
time. Bloody Moskovites; what can you possibly get from them, except a urine
sample, and  that one  will  be hopeless too, - I spewed and tried to settle
comfortably on top of the "armour".
     -  Attention! All ready?- Then  the order came through, - Move!  On the
     As we set  off, APC underneath me jerked sharply trying to shake us off
the "armour", but  clinging to  each  other and to every extending
part  on  the APC's surface, we  held  on. Internal forces are lucky in that
respect: they have the BTR-80s. Very  smooth piece of machinery, moving fast
and soft. We, on the other hand, have bulldozers.
     As we approached  the flame-throwers' roadblock, we again  greeted each
other shouting.
     The  rest of the  journey  was  pretty  uneventful,  although  we  were
prepared  for  any  surprise.  Now  first  outposts  and  roadblocks  of the
"North"  airport  were  coming  into  view  along  the way.  Whole
regiment  guarded  the  airport.  When rumours  came that  spooks planned to
assault it, another airborne battalion was fetched to help the defences.
     - One battle is over and another one  begins, the longer and harder one
and more important too, - I said to Yura.
     The  mood was  changing from  the merry, since we  came back all OK, to
more grim and  serious. We had to attend the briefing with the High  Command
representatives. The latter were itching to send us to our deaths.

     -  Regardless  of  the  briefing's  outcome  I'll drink  myself  stupid
tonight, -  my good mood  was totally gone by now and  I was grimly watching
the  airport sentry. They have already  managed  to  wash up  and some  even
changed into brand spanking new BDUs.
     I looked at my blood-splattered pants, my filthy coat, burnt  and  even
twice shot  through by shrapnel. In peace life,  a first police patrol would
pick me up for sure dressed like this. A total tramp.
     - I agree Slavian, we should get wasted today. Moreover, I owe you one,
- Yurka, on the contrary, was in a fabulous mood.
     - Where are you planning to get the liqueur? From  under the bench? - I
and Ryzhov, before the Grozny campaign, chipped in and bought three boxes of
Vodka  as  well  as seven  litres of  pure  ethanol  that  I  swapped  for a
camouflage  set  from  the  comms  operators  in  commemoration  of our  old
friendship. Thus, I would be very surprised if he found alcohol in any other
     - Where else? Spooks closed their stashes  and our Voentorg never comes
out beyond the "North"
     - Listen,  near the field hospital, there is a Voentorg  trading  spot.
Let's try to get some beer down there (fallen off the truck of coarse). What
do you think? -  Beer  was a  terrible temptation.  Right now, right here, I
even imagined  its  tight, bubbly,  cool  flow streaming down my  throat and
heavily bumping against my stomach walls on its way down. And  I would drink
it right from the bottle, no glasses, hate them. May be it's my unfit family
upbringing, but I just like it like that and there is nothing I can do about
     - Good idea. We've got  about twenty minutes, while they are offloading
the  wounded. The problem is  if  they actually  have beer and if  we've got
enough dough? - He said, dumping everything  from his pockets, including the
useless here money and counted it.
     -  I've got some more, - said I, pulling out some crumpled paper nodes,
- get cigarettes too, preferably something nice.
     - Like a rich life, don't you? - Ryzhov sneered.
     -  Yeah, rich life,  sure. When right before your eyes people live like
moguls, - I looked at "the royal court" regiment's HQ with a sigh.
     - Wait until we walk into the hospital with all  its women, - Yurka was
clearly tormenting me.
     - I'd either rape ten of them at once or put a bullet in my head.
     The  hospital  was  situated  in  the   airport's  left  wing,  in  the
ex-restaurant building.  Rumours had it that this restaurant  used to belong
to some relative of Dudaev's. Along the way we met some doctors and actually
female nurses. At  war, any woman  is a goddess.It's not  just about  sexual
deprivation. Looking or simply talking to them you don't harden  up as fast.
That thin wire that connects you back to the "normal" life doesn't
break as quickly. We have no women in our brigade, maybe that's probably why
we are  so drawn to them. But first desire, of coarse, is purely sexual. Why
don't  we  have mobile  brothels with us? In the  past wars were gradual and
rigidly positioned.  People  had respect for  their opponent. They  had fine
moving canteens,  mobile brothels,  champagne and  whites.  How  times  have
changed?  Not for the better, if you  ask  me, although,  medical science is
definitely on top. So far none of the incoming wounded here has died.
     - We're home! - Com-brig first leapt off his carrier.
     Everybody  else followed  him, warming  up their  numb  legs and  bums.
Surgeons and nurses ran  over and started offloading  our wounded  and dead.
The latter are to be placed in wooden and then in zinc coffins, soldered in,
meshed, to make it more comfortable to carry, and sent home to their parents
as "Cargo-200". With the coffins, parents will also  receive death
notifications  and  thanking  notes  for their sons'  wonderful  upbringing.
That's about  it. After the  funerals they'll have commemorative salvo fired
into  the air in their  honour,  with  dummy  rounds,  by  military  college
students or young soldiers. Both types are potential candidates for the same
"elegant" burial in the nearest future. The God of War demands new
sacrifices and opposing sides supply them in full.
     Then  parents or wife of the dead soldier will be paid ten-year salary:
the  whole  five  million  rubles. During  the  next six-month they'll  have
visitors and after that, as it is customary, they'll be left  to themselves.
When  mother or  wife comes  to the  authorities for help  (no matter which,
military or civilian), first, they'll nicely talk to her  and then  tell her
that  there is no  money or prospects for help  at this stage.  And  if  she
persists, they'd  state the following: we, personally, did not send your son
(or husband) to this war. Go ask for help those  who  did and please do  not
come  here  again because  people who  sent your son  to  his  death must've
forgotten to allocate money for  your pension, your licking roof,  telephone
and so  on. You can, my reader, complain all you want; there will be nothing
done.  The power hungry would say about you:  "This is that  woman  who
lost her son (or  husband) in that war". That will be said jokingly, so
that you weep, my reader, and run away never  to  come back here again. Even
if they throw something at you  for  the New Years Eve  or The Army Day. Now
think if it's worth sending your son into that butchery because of some sick
old Head Commander. Think well. By the way, during  the Chechen campaign, he
had a grandson of the  drafting age, but for  some reason, I have never seen
him there, even on civilian visits.
     Meanwhile  our  wounded  were  being  offloaded  and  carried  into the
hospital rooms. We followed them.  Nobody was  paying any attention  to  us.
Ryzhov  and I  were staring  at the women. No point in flirting anyway, they
have already been shared and allocated long ago. Our appearances also didn't
help.  We were  searching for the semi-legal  Voentorg  trading spot or  any
local crook that  can  sell us liqueur and  cigarettes.  History of  the war
shows that  there have  always been some niggling criminals  who make  money
reselling small wanted goods. Nothing really law-breaking, on  the contrary,
they  are doing more good supplying men  with those  little things from  the
"normal" life that they are deprived of. The problem is money. For
some it's war, for others it's their darling mother. May  be that is what it
should be? No, I don't think  so;  my  upbringing and  poor  life experience
wouldn't let me do this.
     We  were hanging around the hospital asking grunts where  we  could get
some beer and cigarettes. But since this was  a medivac hospital, as a rule,
soldiers never stayed here for longer than a day and thus knew  nothing. But
suddenly  we noticed  a  corporal, with a  mug,  wider than two of  ours put
together.  He wore new camouflage fatigues and  standing  next to the window
was   leisurely   puffing   a   ciggi.  That  mug   expressed   vanity   and
self-indulgence. It seemed  nothing around  concerned  him.  He did not look
wounded at all.
     I  pushed Yurka in the  ribs when  he  was flat out  staring at a nurse
rushing  to  attend  to  some matter and  fortunate  enough to walk past us.
Judging by the hungry expression on his face, he's already  raped her  about
ten times and kept going.
     - OK, that's enough. We are here with a peacekeeping mission. Remember?
You  better  look at that panorama, - I showed him  the mighty  worrier, - I
think his body can be used to plug ten machinegun nests at the same time. It
seems he  represents the  whole might of  Russia's armed forces. What do you
think Yura?
     I  deliberately  talked in  loud voice for the grunt to  hear us. Yurka
read my plot and kept going.
     - Yeah man. You're right. We lack lads like this one in the recon unit.
They  need  some  kind of human  shield.  Or better yet in the storm  group,
pulling wounded out of the killing zone.
     The  soldier slowly moved  his  eyes onto us without  even turning  his
head. We didn't  wear any insignia, like many other  officers. Snipers  have
this bad habit of picking  officers first. Some kind of sad hatred they have
for us. Well, everyone has  his own thing and for them it's professional and
even well paid.
     - Sonny, - politely and smoothly started Yura, - what would you  say if
we invited you down  for a visit, so that you, prick, could see  the war for
yourself?  Otherwise, you'll just  come home  with a  metal  thingy  on your
chest, having actually never seen it.
     All of this Yurka was  telling  quietly,  thus passing surgeons  didn't
even pay attention to us. Some fellow soldiers are  standing here,  chatting
peacefully, no trouble.
     -  Get stuffed,  - the grunt  mumbled  leisurely without his head  even
moving.  There  was  so  much  scorn  in  his  voice  that it made  me sick.
Momentarily the grudge inside me was alive. I know that in moments like this
I exercise very little  control and  can do a lot  of stupid things, but the
thoughts come to me later.
     -  Turn around,  scum, when a  line  officer  is  talking to  you,  and
apologise  immediately,  - I too  tried to keep my voice down, but the words
were boiling inside. No one soldier ever dared  to insult me, no matter what
state  they were in.  In my being a  green  lieutenant  I had to calm down a
drunken sentry once. And here,  this supply sergeant piece of shit dared  to
offend two of us.

     The  fat  skunk turned  his head and jokingly stared at  us in silence,
with  his appearance obviously laughing at us. Both of us figured that words
here were useless  and  we  had  to act. There was  a niche near  by,  where
hospital personnel kept their cleaning gear. From  two sides simultaneously,
we fast  picked up the young man under his arms and shoved him into the dark
and humid  closet.  At  once I grabbed him by  the throat to  keep him  from
screaming and Yurka thrust his rifle in the  guy's belly and pressed it real
hard. Even  in this meagre lighting we could see that the lad went pale. His
eyes were popping out and screams were bursting out of his throat, but I was
holding them tight in there, squeezing his throat stiffer, only allowing him
to breath. I leaned over to his ear and whispered:
     - I will now let go my hand a little, if  you, scumbag, promise to be a
good  boy and  give us your apologies quietly. Beer and  cigarettes too, I'm
sure you've  got some. If you agree, blink  once, if not, I'll just strangle
you right  here and my  friend will shoot  your balls  off. I'm sure no  one
would care,  we'll write you off as a battle  loss. And if you try to move a
muscle, we'll keep our  promise with the neck and balls. Or we can  load you
up on  the  truck and exchange  with the rag-heads for beer  and cigarettes.
Besides, you  freak, we are offering  you  the same  deal  anyway.  Get  it,
asshole? - I  squeezed his  throat harder and Yurka pushed  his AK  a little
more in.
     The grunt's eyelashes were flipping like butterflies near a light bulb:
     - I'm sorry, please forgive me,  sirs my mistake I promise won't happen
again, I'm giving you my word, - tears were falling down his face but I kept
my grip on his fat throat.
     - What about the second part? - Asked  Yurka, hinting at  the  beer and
     -  No  problem, right away, -  The soldier hustled up  and reached  his
hands   somewhere   behind   his   head   and   produced   a   six-pack   of
"Holsten" and  a  pack  of "LM"  or  as  we called it  -
"Cop's love".
     At last, we let the punk  breath freely. I slapped him leniently on his
cheek, pulled crumpled five thousand rubles from my pocket and shoved  it in
the weeping grunt's hand:
     - Do not  ever be rude, young  men, and maybe you'll even  live through
all this. There is the money for your goods, so that  you don't tell anybody
that we are thugs. By the way, lend us  a  few  bags for the groceries, will
     The grunt  turned around  and again in  the  dark started searching for
something in the buckets. Nice hide  he's got here. Something  banged inside
buckets,  something metal, like a pistol. Is he really planning  a  trick? I
drew  my rifle  and  pressed it hard against the junction of his  scull  and
backbone. There is pain spot there  and if you hit it, a person can collapse
unconscious.  In  a  moment  Yurka  too thrust  his rifle  against the man's
     -  Sonny, stop  this, - I  again spoke  in  a  smooth voice, - or  you,
scumbag, decided to die like a hero. If that's the case, then go ahead, try.
     With  my  left  hand I fetched my  narrow  stiletto  and set  it on his
throat.  Cold   blade,  for  some  reason  produced  more   result  than  my
Kalashnikov.  Something metal banged in  there again, he  must've dropped it
back  in  the bucket.  Removing  the stiletto I jerked  him  towards me  and
pressed the barrel under his chin. The grunt put his  hands up, and his left
one he  was holding  a bag off some  equipment. With my left hand I searched
behind his  head  and found  a pistol. Wow! Makarov with a silencer!  Bravo!
Probably swiped it from  some  wounded  scout  or  a Special  Forces  guy. I
punched  him in the nose with the  pistol  grip.  He fell on the  floor in a
rumpled heap. We left him there, picked up our bags and walked away.
     Out on the street, the unloading was  almost over  and the Com-brig was
gathering up our officers to go to the briefing. We stashed the  bags inside
our APC and told the driver that if  we come back and they're gone  he'll be
castrated  and left  out  here to  die.  The  grunt nodded  and  carried  on
undressing  passing women with  his  eyes.  Walking behind our  CO, we  were
slowly  puffing good  cigarettes  and discussing  our  arguments against the
head-on frontal assault of the bloody square.
     - Let's  do this: first - airforce, then artillery, tanks, rockets  and
after they're all  done, mahra  goes in, what do you reckon?  - Asked Yurka,
enjoying his cigarette and  observing all  the almost  peaceful  life around
     - And better yet: napalm bombs, so that everything would burn alive and
loud disco music for the spooks to sacrifice their lives to Allah with happy
thoughts, - I was experiencing  peace of mind and almost sexual satisfaction
from the surrounding atmosphere  and my cigarette. How little do we actually
need? Good smoke, tranquillity and women walking past.
     Suddenly, we saw an officer whose face we instantly recognised. We were
taking the airport together. His regiment was then  left  here to guard  it.
Lucky bustards.
     - Yura,  Slava, you're alive!  What a  delight! We've heard about  your
deeds here and about Karpov too. We thought you guys wasted him, but all was
then cleared. He's surely an idiot. He is to receive The Order of Fortitude.
     - So, you thought we killed the mother?
     - No, not really, but here everybody knows he is a rat.
     Yurka and I cackled loudly:
     -  Sasha, we saw  him  for the  first time  and  gave him  exactly that
nickname.  Rat is rat.  You  better  tell what the  HQ has in store  for the
Minutka Square and us.
     -  Fellows, listen to this: marines and some  airborne  units  tried to
take it on the fly, then lost about thirty men and backed  off. Now  is your
     - Get out of here!
     -  Yeah, that  freaking peacemaker is there too.  Radios to us all  the
time with  statements. Listen to  the joke: he's up there, inside one of the
Dudaev's  bunkers  with  his  delegation committee  and  everybody  has just
forgotten about them. No food, no  water, no  nothing. They  start to wander
what  to do.  Suddenly he  makes a  suggestion: "Let's  all  convert to
Islam".  His  friends ask him:  "Would  it  help?"  He  says:
"Not really, but we could make a soup  out of the shreds!" -Sashka
cracked up.
     We grinned at his joke and the news.
     - Guys, I  work here in supplies now, come on  over  at some stage. Now
I've got to  run;  somebody  beat the shit out  one  of  the  grunts in  the
     With our jaws dropped  from surprise about Sashka's new appointment, we
picked up our pace to catch up with the rest of  our group. We cared not for
the hospital grunt's health. I  bet his skull is fine. Nosebleed is nothing,
probably  tripped over something in  the dark. Could anybody  possibly punch
such  a  wonderful young lad?  I don't  think so. As for  the  officers:  he
must've dreamt them while splayed out dazed. With his excess weight and high
blood pressure it all could've been much worse. He must go on a strict diet,
dear  doctors. Or better yet, give him to us for a week. You won't recognise
the fellow then.
     Some officer came out and said that General Rolin is busy at this stage
and will be free to meet with us in about ten to twenty minutes. They are on
the telephone with  the Defence  Minister. Fine, let them  talk. I'm  pretty
sure,  nothing  good  will  come out  of  that  conversation.  Meanwhile our
Com-brig left to radio the brigade's HQ to see how they are hanging.
     We saw Sashka returning and called him:
     - How is the busted up grunt, Sasha?
     - He's telling some bullshit that two officers  beat him up. He wet his
pants while  unconscious. His description, - he stared at us with suspicion,
- sounds like you two.
     - Sashok, you don't seriously  think that we could bust up the soldier.
Personally, I only squeeze throats, - I started.
     - And  I usually shoot nuts  off. You know  us too well, - supported me
     We  gazed at him upset, as to demand that all accusations be dropped at
     - I sure do. Mad cranks. I've seen a lot of you two. You wouldn't care,
for yourselves or for anybody else. So, did you bust him?
     - Sasha, -  I again spoke in the smooth voice, half-hugging him,  -  my
dear  man. Please explain to us, as you have put it, "mad cranks",
what  for  did you  run  back to  the  hospital?  We never noticed  anything
merciful  about  you.  Even  when  we  brought  over  our  casualties,  you,
apparently, were so busy, that  had totally forgotten to come and greet your
     - Which, by the  way, came to your rescue when the ragheads  pinned you
down badly at the edge  of the airfield, - continued Yurka, - and (somehow I
don't feel comfortable reminding you this) you  swore by all saints that you
will never forget about your saviours.
     -  And  now, my dear  friend, you are  about to sell off your  guarding
angels like bad meat at a discount price. - I picked up from Yura. - We,  on
the  contrary,  never  even mentioned  the  fact that  your lad was dropping
liqueur at sky-high prices, and, son of  a  bitch, even tried to threaten us
with  a pistol. So,  Alexander? I reckon your guy  just hit his  mug against
something, a?
     - What did you do him for?
     - He told me bluntly to get stuffed, and didn't apologise. Get that.
     - I'll teach the bustard manners.
     - Sasha, since we have  found  common  ground, I could now make you  an
offer to get us some of that humanitarian aid.
     - But you've snapped it already.
     - Shameless lies,  false allegations  and groundless attacks,  -  Yurka
stated with style, -  we never stole anything, we bought it for five  bucks.
Or five thousand rubles. It was dark in there, rubles or dollars, all in the
same pocket. Is that true Slava?
     - It's the truth. I've paid him off myself. I reckon that your sidekick
is trying to hide some of that illegally made  profit from you.  By the way,
we only bought  one piddling six-pack of itsy-bitsy beer cans, you know, and
a pack of  cigarettes,  and  you,  after  all  this, refuse  to  gear  us up
     - Just imagine, - Yura was unstoppable, - if we  were  killed in action
(God forbid of course) you would naturally be sad. Because you never gave us
three  sticks  of  good  salami,   Vodka  of  the  well-known  Moscow  brand
"Crystal", a few bottles of good cognac, surely some cheese for it
and a  few  more bits and  pieces.  And we will  visit  you in  your  dreams
reaching  our  hands  out to  you and  yell, - we  started grabbing him like
vampires, - "you, cheap bastard!"
     - Yeah,  Sasha, -  I interrupted, - I might survive  without  a pair of
beer packs and good cigarettes, but it would be nice of you to throw in some
dry fish for the beer and
     - That's  enough. Please give me some water, ma'am, cause I'm so hungry
and have no roof for  tonight,  - Sasha  copycatted us.  - If you two hadn't
saved my life, you would've been eating free food in the brick by now.
     - That's why, during that gunfight I said to  Slava: "Hey, look at
that officer dying  there for  nothing.  Let's save him  and he, when highly
appointed, will be  feeding us for the rest of the war." Slava, confirm
     - God,  strike me by lightning if  it's  not true.  Hey, that  would be
cool,  for  a week or two, to rest up in the brick. Food  three times a day,
clean  sheets, steam-room. -  I closed my eyes stargazing. - Nirvana! Sasha,
could you send  us to that prison of yours and  your scumbag will change his
confession in exactly  two weeks  from now.  Let's  say  he  mistook  us for
somebody else and they'll  let us free. By then  the war could too  be over.
Think about it Sasha. I'll buy you a drink for that.
     -  You're naturally delirious. Spooks  don't call you  "dogs"
for nothing. You are obviously mad and dangerous.
     - We are about to go and see our Commander in Chief now, listen  to him
trying to talk us into the Minutka assault. So, I'm thinking to suggest that
he takes  his own  regiment  off  the airport guard duty and throw it at the
Square. Meanwhile we would pull security here. Then, after you guys take the
Square, we might move on. How about that, Sash?  By the way, have you tasted
all the girls around here?
     - No, they are all taken. No chance.
     - Don't be stingy and give us one. We'll return her, don't you worry!
     - You are mad, mad I tell you!
     A deputy assistant emerged from the HQ and called us in.
     -  Sasha, we'll be there for about forty minutes, so, don't forget that
humanitarian aid, we talked about or we'll come to you in your dreams.  Tell
your lad that if he's  ever rude to us again, he  won't get off this easily.
Wait for  us  and we'll be  back, you'll  see,  --  I  cited  a  line off  a
well-known poem. - And dear, don't forget the beer, the rest is a must.
     Yura even blew him a kiss.
     - We'll meet again, darling!
     Sashka,  spewed aside,  clearly showing his attitude towards our  giddy
behaviour. Passing grunts were watching this whole scene with surprise.
     We  walked  into the airport tailing  the  rest of the group, hurriedly
finishing off our cigarettes and  chucking off the butts.  At war we usually
smoke,  concealing cigarette in the  fist. That way sniper  wouldn't see the
flash. This  habit worked  around the  clock, night and day. It  makes cense
like this. If  your habits are different  throughout the  day, it is easy to
make that one fatal mistake.
     All  of us  walked into the  boardroom  where  we met the Commander  in
Chief, General Rolin and our general Zaharin. In the past his surname was of
Armenian origin,  but  after  the fall of  the Union it was suggested to him
that he  change it. That's how he turned from Avakian to Zaharin (his wife's
     Sandbags plugged all windows in the meeting room. The poor light didn't
reach the  corners where  all  people  looked like shadows:  Comms officers,
deputies  and the rest of the General's aid as  well as a  few  of those who
couldn't miss the opportunity to kiss his ass.
     - Please be seated, gentlemen, - Rolin rose and shook Bahel's hand then
simply nodded to the rest of us.
     -  I  have  just spoken to the  Defence  Minister Grachin.  At the high
level, - Rolin emphasised the words "high level", - we came to the
decision to  assault the Minutka  Square structure. I was appointed  head of
the operation and you would be carrying out this complex and demanding task.
     At the end  of the speech his voice turned exultant. I wonder if he and
Karpov had the same teacher in the academy, although, he's not from  Moscow.
Hell knows "who is who" in their HQ.
     -  Our  operative group,  together with  the General  Headquarters, has
devised  a plan, which was successfully signed off by the  Defence Minister.
General Zaharin  has just familiarised himself with it. I'm also asking  you
to listen carefully here.  Correct completion of this  task will allow us to
eliminate  the rebel forces, led by Dudaev, in the  shortest possible  time.
They are all now  concentrated  in the Government  Bank Building and  in the
so-called Dudaev's Palace,  -  he  pointed his finger at the map laid out on
the table. (Judging from the expression on Zaharin's face, he was not overly
impressed by this plan), - The rest of  the buildings, around  the assaulted
area, are not important and of not particular interest to us.
     It  was amazing that a military  officer, planning such a  blood  bath,
treated  structures  surrounding  the   assault   area  with  such  neglect.
Obviously,  the rebels would  defend those  houses not  mentioning  the  two
bridges, which are for sure fortified and densely mined.
     In the Army, we've got three objectives: immediate, next  and major. We
always  start at the immediate one, then, come  to the  next and after  that
arrive  at  the main.  If  people  start with  the  main  target,  moreover,
mentioning names such as Dudaev's, that is politics. Politics means death to
soldiers.  Because  these   morons  never   think   of  people's  lives  and
consequences,  all they're  interested in  is the  result and the timeframe,
regardless of the cost. Jesuitical axiom.
     We all stared hard at  the  map. It turns out that we had to cross both
bridges  in almost parade  style. What  if  we didn't make  it over? Or only
parts of the assaulting force  would cross. The spooks will for sure blow up
the  bridges. What's  then? Then, those who did  make it across, the quicker
ones, ragheads  will slaughter like sheep before our own eyes. No one of  us
liked this adventure.  We are professional  soldiers and learnt  to risk our
own lives and lives of our men back in college. But to perish foolishly like
this  - please,  let  me  out of here.  All  faces in the room turned  grim.
Everyone  understood that if we don't stand up for ourselves now, gloomy end
of the Micop Brigade would soon seem like an innocent walk in the park. This
was not even the Central  Train Station. This was  their President's Palace,
symbol of their national pride. The only solution seemed a nuclear bomb drop
or a long and laborious air assault.
     From  inside the shadows, emerged  the so-called Chief of Staff of  the
allied HQ,  Colonel Sedov. No one knew much of  him, but wars often  promote
great  men  as  well  as  losers  to the  top  of the  military  ladder.  I,
personally, couldn't  hold  anything  against  Sedov, but if it was he,  who
devised this  plan in the  first  place,  he wasn't a loser then,  he  was a
criminal  in ranks. Sedov  began to speak. His conduct was well schooled. He
didn't seem threatened by Rolin at all and it probably wasn't his first time
in a company like this.  Judging from his parched face and military posture,
I figured he was a line officer. OK, let's see what he's got to say.
     - General and gentlemen,  - started Sedov, - our  opponent concentrated
his chief forces in the Minutka Square area.
     "Tell me something new" - I thought to myself.
     - That's why to finally break his resistance,  demoralise him and flush
out of town, you are to carry out plan,  signed off by  the Defence Minister
and approved by the  Commander  in  Chief, -  now  it seemed like Sedov  was
admiring   himself   in   the   mirror.  His  was   irrupting  with   pride,
self-importance and the fact that this plan  was his  idea  - now all doubts
about the authorship were gone - he did it.
     - You are to  quickly capture the bridges over the Sunzha  River on the
run and dash through the  square, then,  capture and  destroy enemy infantry
inside the Bank building and Dudaev's residence, so-called  Palace,  - Sedov
continued to sing.
     "Hello  my baby, how  are you  today?" -  breezed  through my
     - To carry out this assault, several airborne elements, marines and the
Leningrad  regiment  will  complement  your  brigade.  You  will  also  have
artillery and air back up.
     The most interesting part was that no one indicated unit numbers of the
supporting force  and  the  amount of  back  up we would supposedly receive.
Would that  be  one air-wing or  an artillery division? Altogether, the plan
seemed raw and superficial. In case of failure, we  would obviously take the
full blame. Nice future!
     - The  time for the  assault  was designated two days  from now. During
these  two  days  you  are to promptly  take hotel "Kavkaz",  then
reassign it (to whom!?)  and move out to the Square, - Sedov, it seemed, had
it  all figured out  nicely and naturally  we should've  too, thus right now
scooting out of here and capture the Square. Absolute foolishness!
     - General,  gentlemen,  I'm finished.  Any questions  please? - Judging
from his tone, he must've thought that only degenerates and morons could ask
questions - what can you possibly expect from siberian mahra?
     - What are  the estimates of  the  enemy  force at the Minutka complex?
Their  armament,  mine fields around the square  and bridges? - Quietly  but
sharply asked our Com-brig, emerging from the shadows.
     -  The amount of the rebel force does not exceed three to four thousand
men  (I  like  the precision.  Who  cares? One  less  thousand  or one  more
thousand). Their armament consists of standard issue small arms plus GP-25s,
RPG-7 grenade launchers and light company mortars. (How about darting around
a flat square under the shower of mortars?)
     - What about the bridges?
     -  We do not have any precise information whether the bridges are mined
or not.  All  approaches are heavily defended  with nests and blocks without
any  possibility for  proper reconnaissance at this stage. However,  we  are
constantly working on it. Also our local supporters constantly inform us.
     We all smiled at this  statement.  A chechen would  rarely sell another
chechen, but to bust a non-believer is always a delight.
     - You are  all laughing vainly,  - Sedov turned  nervous, - recently in
Moscow a question was raised from the local opposition's initiative, whether
this invasion and  senselessly violent actions have caused this  republic an
irreparable economic damage and set its people against us. Partisan movement
is  growing  stronger by  the  day  (really?). Because of  that, there  is a
notion,  that we under no circumstance kill the rebels but  only disarm them
and let go  home. In their majority  they  are only frightened peasants. The
spring  is  coming  so  is their crop season. Otherwise they'll  all die  of
     - So the hell with them! - I let it out in the mortal silence. Everyone
instantly burst laughing and I attracted attention of both  Rolin and Sedov.
Yurka nudged me, but it was too late by then.
     - You must've missed the point, comrade  - Sedov looked at my  shoulder
flashes and  seeing no stars continued, - By the way, why aren't you wearing
your proper insignia?
     - Scared of snipers,  comrade  colonel, - I replied modestly,  although
was close to making a huge scene.
     - It's all horseshit. Do you  think that snipers are interested in your
stars? I don't  think so. How would you lead your men if you don't have your
     I  was  just about to burst into a  long and unflattering  speech about
shoulder stars and my opinion  about his  lousy  plan. I am no hero, but  at
war,  you figure out quickly that there  is  no deeper shit than this, well,
may be only if you're wounded. Other than that - screw them all. You want to
fire me - be my guests!
     But Bahel outpaced me; he must've guessed what is  going to  follow and
thus quickly spoke:
     -  Comrade  general, we'll  work out later why  captain  Mironov is not
wearing his stars. That was me who allowed my  officers to take them  off. I
am for now more worried  about the forthcoming operation. The timeframes you
have set for us would not allow our brigade, which has been engaged in heavy
fighting  for  weeks, to rapidly,  without proper preparation,  redeploy and
carry out  your assignment  (Bahel emphasised the word  "your"). I
recommend  you  immediately give  the  order to commence  sustained  air and
artillery strikes at  the square network. That  must  continue  on until the
time  comes for us to move into  the area.  Two  hours  before  the assault,
airborne reconnaissance units must capture the bridges and keep all attempts
to blow them up at bay. By the way, could you tell us exactly which airborne
units would act  as our  aid? In my opinion, frontal assault of  the Minutka
Square  is  a  senseless suicide.  I  will not  follow orders,  which  would
literally mean running my men past a firing squad.
     - Do you understand what you are saying, colonel?  - Rolin was furious.
- I  will make a phone call to  Grachin and have you court-martialed! I will
have you arrested on the spot! You'll  be on the  first plane to Moscow! You
know how many men would want to take up your spot?
     - If it would save my men from slaughter I volunteer to write my letter
of resignation  immediately!  - Now Bahel was  enraged. -You are  afraid  to
blast the shit out of this f...ing square from the air, but at the same time
you are  OK to drown in  blood a few thousand soldiers! You  better think of
that first before you think of your public image
     - Shut you mouth, traitor!  - Rolin  erupted. - You are out of your god
damned mind, colonel. You're  a coward. I'll grind you  into powder in  five
seconds. And you What are you all looking at? Get the hell out of here!
     No way, general, we'll  tear up anybody  for  our commander if he  only
tells us to.
     - We  uphold our CO's opinion that this is a sheer suicide to storm the
square without preparatory air and artillery runs, - somebody from our group
summarised the situation.
     - Does everyone  think  like that? - Rolin  squinted  and looked around
heavily. -  Out! Get out!  Guards! Get them all  out  of  here! Disarm them!
Convoy the traitors to the brick!
     We only huddled  closer in response. Silence set about the room. Mortal
Silence The  door  opened and two privates and an officer entered,  ready to
carry out any order their commander gives them.  All of us  prepared for the
worst possible outcome. General  Zaharin suddenly interrupted  the silence -
what a brave man.
     - Let's all not make any rush decisions. We  will let  the officers  go
breath  some  fresh  air  for  now  and ourselves stay in  here and  discuss
possible solutions to fix this situation. Let's  keep our cool and  not make
any  sudden moves.  We  all  understand that  a  frontal  assault  would  be
dangerous,  but together  we must  find  the ultimate  solution, -  and  now
addressing us, - go gentlemen, wait outside, nothing is going to happen; I'm
giving you my word.
     - Go, - The Com-brig told us dryly.
     We left  the room. All of us  were quivering. The guards were following
us closely. Someone grabbed their chief and whispered:
     -  If you  bitch,  even think about arresting our commander, I'll  kill
you. Get it?
     - What about my  orders? - He asked in scare. His grunts  kept  away by
the walls.
     - You want to live?
     - Yes!
     - If you  are given the  order to  arrest him, we'll ambush you. During
the ambush you'd give him up quietly. Understood? This way we'll let you and
your grunts live. Did you understand everything I just said?
     - Yes!
     - We'll now move our vehicles up a little closer. Don't panic. When our
CO  comes out with your general,  we'll get in  the cars and leave. We don't
want your blood,  but if you stand in the way,  we'll kill  you. Understand?
You know who we are?
     - I do, you are "the dogs". I understood.
     - You don't know anything. We're no dogs we  are mahra.  We'll tear you
up if our  commander is  in danger.  That's all.Now go. And if you or any of
your grunts make a peep, you'll all die. You like that?
     - No I don't.
     - That's right.  We are here  to fight  chechens,  not each other. They
want us to storm Minutka head-on. Basically  they want us dead. But we don't
want to die. That's why Rolin is angry. Go and don't make any trouble.
     - OK, I've got  it. I've heard you guys are real madmen; but to jump at
Rolin like that, is beyond everyone's expectations. You guys are total nuts!
- Chief of the guards has already  recovered from his shock and was  walking
with us towards the exit. His face expressed both admiration and distrust at
the same time.
     All of us  came  out steaming hot. Everyone  lit  up  and was  inhaling
hungrily,  digesting  the  newly received  information.  Since  he  was  the
youngest  one of all, our  recon  unit leader  was  sent to move  the armour
closer  to the  airport.  Chief of the guards was told to give the  order to
allow that.
     - Are you nuts, men? I'll go down for this! This is crazy!
     - Do we have to tie you up or what?
     - Tie me up, kill me, do  what you want. I can't give that  order. Full
     -  OK, chill out.  We won't  move  the cars beyond your posts.  Are you
happy with that?
     - Fine by me. But if you move in, I'll have to open up.
     - OK, fine.
     We  all  knew perfectly well what  disobeying  an  order could lead to.
Especially in a war-zone, it could result in anything up to the firing squad
without court-martial  or even  an  investigation. The  Military  Law states
clearly: "An  order  must be carried out undisputedly, entirely and  in
time. After the order has been carried  out it can then be challenged."
Who can  then  challenge  that  order  after  our  entire  brigade  will  be
slaughtered on this  fing Square? Whoever lives  through, we'll be permanent
mental home clients.
     Yep, this looked like an armed rebellion. What else our open refusal to
carry out an order could be called?
     -   Slava,   what    do    think   about   leaving,   ah?    Like   the
battleship"Poteomkin". Yurka asked, inhaling hungrily. - How about
     -  With our APC, via the Black Sea bottom. I'd say not such a bad idea.
Don't be silly. We haven't done anything  illegal as yet. There is a statute
in  the Military Law  that if you consider  that a given order  violates The
Constitution Laws,  you have the right not to follow it*.  To lead  your men
out there now  means death. Take  Chekhoslovakia for instance. Maybe  just a
bit bigger then Chechnya  but back then preparations took  six  months. Over
here, it was  thrown together ad  hoc. Because  over there it was considered
overseas, here, on the other hand, inside the boarders, the bustards can put
down a million soldiers on both sides, no one would notice. I chucked off my
cigarette and pulled out another one. Unaccustomed to the  weaker tobacco  I
just couldn't get enough. - Look, Sashka is coming over with help!
     Next  to the  walking,  with  important look  on his face, Sashka,  was
dragging his feet under a weight of two heavy boxes, our  old acquaintance -
corporal from the hospital with a patch across his nose and two black eyes.
     - We told you to watch your manners, sonny! - Yurka and I were smiling.
- You brought it on yourself.
     - Don't  be  so ill  mannered,  young men,  or you'll die  before  your
discharge. - I added. - If had punched you a little higher, could've crushed
your skull. You are a lucky lad, my  friend, we  could've  held on until you
make your move with a pistol and cut  you open right there without a hint of
     Sashka came just in  time. For  once, his appearance distracted us from
our  bitter thoughts. I  had no  desire  to  become a criminal while  I am a
patriot in  my heart.  Nor did I want to lose all my men  at the  square and
then shoot myself. I don't think, as an officer, I could live on with such a
heavy weight on my shoulders. What I did want was  to get totally shitfaced.
Those two boxes  contained liqueur that would, at  least for a  short while,
let me  avoid making this horrible  choice. However, we can't do it here and
right now. Or they  for sure would accuse  us of  drinking on the  job.  All
present knew it well.
     - Did  you guys just declare a  rebellion?  - Sashka was alarmed. - You
stirred up some havoc. People are talking about your capture.
     - No, we just said that you  have expressed desire to lead your company
ahead of  us  at machineguns on the  square, but he  turned  stubborn.  Just
wouldn't let you go full stop. He says that he would never allow his beloved
captain to die like this. But you bastards,  says he to us, I don't  give  a
shit about. Go, perish, the whole brigade of yours with Colonel and General.
I'll  throw a medal in every one  of your coffins,  - I was again filling up
with rage. I knew that neither  Sashka nor the grunt had anything to do with
it. I just needed to take it on somebody.
     - Or Sasha, you could donate  this scumbag  to  us.  We'd write  up the
request for transfer  and he'd sign it at the gunpoint of his own pistol. In
fact I think he'd sign anything. Nobody would notice the gunshot. As for the
body,  we'll stash  it somewhere  far in the debris.  What do you scum think
about that?
     I was waiting for anyone of  them to reply, at least with  a gesture of
some kind. But  they were both speechless. My mood was gloomy and ferocious.
All my  feelings and thoughts were now  motionless, bound into  a  tightened
spring,  ready  to pop open  with a gigantic charge of energy. But they were
still speechless.
     - Sasha, did  you load up everything we talked about? - I was gradually
getting the  grip  on  myself.  But the spring was  tightening  stiffer  and
stiffer, sharpening all my senses already sharp as it is. - Let's go load it
     We wondered off to our APC. I walked ahead, then corporal and Sashka at
the  tail of the  procession. Thick mud  was everywhere and the  sun already
started to  set.  I  opened the infantry hatch  and the grunt  began to load
Sashka's gifts  inside the compartment. Sashka finally  came over.  I booted
the grunt's ass, he disappeared inside the vehicle's belly and I slammed the
hatch behind  him. Then I grabbed Sashka  by his  vest, pressed him  against
APC's wall  and  drew my pistol.  He face turned white  and eyes widened. He
looked at me then at the gun.
     - Now tell me who gave the order to encircle  us. Hurry  up,  you  know
we'll either die now or later anyway.Hurry up, bitch, tell me all.
     Yurka came up behind me.
     - The ring is getting tighter. It'd be pretty difficult now to make our
way into the building. They've  dragged  in there about a company of men, no
fewer than  that.RPG gunners are  in there too. The range is damned close. -
Yurka was absolutely deadpan and ready for action.
     He said to Sashka:
     - Come on, man, tell us who said what and what's the order?
     -  Sedov came out  after you  left and ordered not  to let  out of  the
airport area. The passwords are already changed. The building  has also been
secured.  If  you  make  an attempt  to  fight  your  way  out or inside the
building, we are  to open fire without warning. He  said you're  planning to
change  sides. I was  given the order of  distracting  you, get you drunk or
something. That's all. Let go me. Still,  you're madmen. What  are you going
to do with the grunt? - Sashka was rubbing his neck.
     - Take him. He must've shitted his pants by now. What's the password?
     - I  don't know. They only told me to get you drunk and get out  quick.
What do I tell Sedov?
     -  The  truth. The grunt will confirm. So,  they'll start the onslaught
soon since you've been told to promptly get out. OK Sasha, go. Good bye.
     -  Slava,  Yura,  everything's going  to  be  fine. They'll come  to an
agreement,  you'll  see. I'll approach Sedov and Rolin and ask them to leave
you alone. Let's come with me and when it's  all over I'll let you out. Come
on guys.
     He said "whet it's all over". It could only be over after the
firing squad is done shooting.  Because I knew  now, that I would not return
fire. They  are like us, how could I  shoot back? In their eyes, however, we
are traitors.
     - Thank you Sasha, but no. Just  tell them we're not traitors, OK? Even
if we die here today, we're still not. Good bye.
     I opened the hatch and the grunt hopped back.
     - It's OK. Get out. You've heard everything?
     - Yes.
     - When asked, tell the truth, - when they wondered off, I couldn't help
myself and yelled out: - Don't be rude to strangers!
     The grunt cramped like from a punch.
     - So, Slava, let us go?
     All the way back we  walked in silence. There was  emptiness in my mind
and talking  seemed  pointless. Absolutely nothing  was up to us anymore. We
knew what to do. All that was left was to await the slaughter, like sheep.
     All our officers herded together and talked about something. The grunts
were all atop of APCs. Engines were  all started and many  guns were wheeled
towards the airport building. We  came closer to the crowd  of  officers. It
seemed  that every  one of them was talking at the same time, but no one was
listening to anybody:
     - They're really going to shoot?
     - What would you do?
     - We fought together  before,  how could they? Sons of bitches, freaks,
     - Sold mother Russia and now trying to screw us!
     - Hey, who'd go to Moscow now?
     - My father was right, your worst enemy is in Moscow. He wants you dead
first. Then comes your Air Force and only then the Germans!
     -  Yura,  Slava,  what  did  you decide?  - The  discussion  halted and
everyone was staring at us now.
     -  I, personally,  -  I emphasised "personally", -  will  not
shoot at  my own people.  Supplies  captain said Sedov ordered not to let us
out of the area and inside  the  building. The  password  has  been changed.
There is about a  company-sized element inside the  building. Now maybe even
more. I'd say, we're in deep shit.
     - So, you  say we just stand there  and  let them  shoot us like ducks?
Nice attitude, man!
     - If I wanted to  leave, I would've left by  now.  It's  only a hundred
meters to the gates. Sedov told them we want to change sides and thus refuse
to assault Minutka.
     Everyone went nuts. It would be  impossible to  describe the monologues
since  I could only leave  dots and comas. If you, my reader, can  replicate
the mood like that, you can yourself make up a speech or two. I can only say
that politicians from the past as well as the ones presently in charge, ours
as  well  as foreign, were all mentioned,  so were their  parents  and other
close and distant relatives.
     Officers of  the security  regiment were all standing on  the airport's
porch, also  herded  together. So to say: our "likely  opponents",
who were, not so long ago,  our comrades in arms. Our lives now depended  on
them.  If  they believe Sedov's  lies, we're doomed. Whatever they decide to
do, I will not fire back at you  guys. I felt sad;  if they could only shoot
me dead instantly. Or maybe I'll just shoot myself now? No, not yet, not all
has been  done; that I can do any time - it's never too late to put a bullet
in my head.

     Meanwhile, behind those closed doors our fates were being decided. Much
depends on the final decision. The  fates of Russia and Chechnya are  now in
the hands of four men, who are  now trying madly to  prove each other wrong.
Or maybe our CO is already under arrest with the general. It would be pretty
foolish  to  just  waist a  military  commander  and  a  general  without  a
court-martial. We, on the contrary, can easily be all hosed from a  pair  of
machineguns now. Investigations can be done later. Yep, if you  want  to  go
home at some stage, you shoot first and ask  questions  later.  I keep along
that  route  myself  when  meet  with  the  ragheads  and   now  feel  quite
uncomfortable  acting as target.  Occupied  by these  thoughts I didn't even
notice that I only had left one  cigarette. The taste in my mouth was bitter
from tabacco and the stupid situation  we  were in. I pulled the  last smoke
from  the  packet  and a  thought stung through my  mind:  is  this  my last
cigarette? I started puffing it slowly, striving to enjoy every bit of smoke
I breathed in. Allright, boys, I'm ready for anything now. With every breath
came calm and confidence. I'm no sheep, waiting to be throttled; I am a man,
having consciously made up his mind. I watched a small group of officers who
probably felt just as uneasy. Perhaps, they were trying to make some sort of
decision, to fire on us or not to fire at all: to kill or not to kill.

 © Copyright 2001 translation by Alex Dokin (adokin@today.com.au)

     Anybody  needs help?  -  Doctor, captain of the  medical squad,  Zhenya
Ivanov, came  up to the  grunts.  A very bright fellow, smart,  intelligent,
toll and  skinny, with  his  head shaved,  bushy moustache  and  glasses  he
reminded me of a very popular bard Rosenboum. The grunts flipped  away  from
     -  No, nobody needs nothing!  -  Pliers tried to get away, but the doc,
like any other corpseman, quickly grabbed him and pulled over:
     -  Stand still, patient, and don't  make  any  sudden movements or I'll
break you  something by mistake. OK, your bones are fine and the rest  seems
in  place. You'll  live for now. After  your untimely death  an autopsy will
reveal the reason why such a young and pretty creature passed away.
     - Let's go, shell we? - Asked Zubastik surrounding him officers.
     - Yep.
     I  gave  the order  and pointed my finger at  Pliers,  Badalov  and the
     -  You go ahead, we'll cover  your  rear. And make it snappy,  will ya.
Don't worry if you see lots of mines, we only need one go at it, move in and
quickly back out. Is our medical team ready?
     - Yes chief! - Doc Zhenya answered for all.
     We set off one by one, glinting around and covering each other's backs,
ready to  scatter off and take security around perimeter at any moment. From
where  we  left  our carriers we  could hear nothing  besides  their running
     - Zhenya,  - I caught up with the doc,  - Yurka asked  for some tablets
against booze.
     - There is one very radical thing against booze. You know which one?
     - Not to drink?
     - Bingo! You knew, didn't you?
     - No, just a lucky guess.
     - Amazing. Usually people buy it. You couldn't have guessed, could you?
     - You see, Zhenya, being just as cynical as you are, I am trying not to
take things the hard  way. Because if I  did I'd go nuts. The rest is all up
to the Man.
     - It's a mystery how you can still maintain your sense of humour.
     -  It's simple,  really.  Turks have this wonderful expression "kysmet"
which means "destiny", that's what I use  to stay afloat.  If your fate were
to live  this long and die from  a grenade burst at such particular  moment,
you would,  trust me. Regardless of how cool you are and how many bodyguards
you have, your guts  will be dangling off a  tree eventually. Same goes  for
the rest in life.
     - You seriously believe in all this?
     -  Yes  Zhenya, I do. For example. In  your medical practise,  have you
ever  had cases  when your patient,  according  to  all signs,  must've been
already dead by now, but he's still hanging there, against all odds? You can
reject  all  laws, but he's still  here, according to the  law of fate. Have
you? Don't try telling me that  his  immune system turned out much  stronger
than  you  previously  thought. You  have  to  agree that there is something
mysterious in many medical cases.
     - I  agree, especially  there  are  lots  of cases like that  here,  in
extreme circumstances, so to say.
     - That's  right. What about when men drop all around but one soldier is
like spellbound, like bullets bounce off the guy.
     - Yeah, I've seen  something like that. Remember platoon from the first
battalion got lost and walked straight into an ambush?
     - I sure remember that one. They were all wasted from close range.
     - Three  of  them did  survive though. Two  wounded  and  one without a
scratch on him. Everyone thought the guy was hiding behind the others' backs
and nearly killed him in the  rush. But the wounded confirmed that they only
lived because of him. He  pulled the  burning track from under fire and only
having made  sure  that all others  were dead  picked up the  casualties and
drove  off. Thus,  I  think  you might be right. What about  you? Aren't you
afraid of death?
     - Of coarse I am,  Zhenya.  But maybe, I'm just prepared for  this, you
know. But  more than  the  death herself I'm  scared  of becoming  crippled.
Promise me Zhenya, that if I  ever  get onto your operating table without  a
limb or  some other crippling wound, you would serve me the  chance to leave
this world  peacefully.  I understand you can't  do it  yourself, but please
give me that chance.
     - OK, slow down. First, I think you  are heading straight for a nervous
breakdown and all this is  just  shock  talking. I've  heard, you know, what
happened at the  "North". I also know that you guys were first to refuse  to
return fire. It was your buddy the  airport chief,  who straightened it  all
out  with  our  ex-allies and  practically  forced  them come  to  the  same
decision. Therefore, take my  advice, have a drink, or  come to me  and I'll
give you some tablets. By the way, that's what we are  here for. Only do not
take  too many of  them. As for the death, everyone  is free to  do with his
life whatever he wants. There are no "no choice" situations. There is always
a choice and a  way. Maybe, it's not  the choice we would prefer,  but it is
still a choice. People create problems and people solve them.
     - You just don't get it, do you? - I wearily waved my hand, - I'm not a
schoolgirl, hysterical over her boyfriend, and it's  no breakdown. It's much
worse for those  guys at the frontline. I  am just scared of being crippled,
that's  all. I  have  a huge  respect  for  people like  that Meresjev  guy,
clutching for every  little thing in life, even when  disabled, despite  all
the  obstacles  and  shit they  are  faced with, but I don't  think I've the
character. I'd  rather use the "toy" and let my guts fly free than live like
that. OK, let's just drop it, shell we? Or we might bring the bad luck.
     -  Look Slava, the sappers are  signalling, they  must've finished over
there. Let's go, shell we.  We'll continue our little  talk some other time,
accompanied by a bottle of good cognac and cards.
     - Fine,  let's move. However, you,  bastard, still  haven't promised me
anything. For now just think about it, would you?
     - OK. I'll think about  it if  you buzz off. I can consider  it,  but I
don't have to do it. Understood?
     - Understood. Let's go.
     - Found anything? - I asked the sappers, coming over.
     -  Not  much, comrade Captain.  A booby-trapped grenade at the entrance
and  that's about it, -  they reported merrily, happy at the fact that there
wasn't much to do for them out there.
     -  OK, go check around the territory. When done, come back and  help us
load up.
     As  the grunts  heard about  the loading  up business,  they were  gone
before I could finish  my speech. Now, try to find  an idiot to carry  heavy
boxes, even for a good reason like this one.
     I looked around. Republican medical warehouses were made  up of several
big hangars and two administrative single-storey buildings. I turned  to our
     - Well,  gentlemen, where do you think we should start from? It's a lot
of buildings out there. I suggest we split up in small groups and search the
docks. If you find anything of use, we carry it outside  and then  load onto
trucks. Any questions, doubts or proposals I shell accept in written form in
no less than three printed copies.
     Some sneers came back instead and we all walked off.
     - Zhenya, - I asked Ivanov, - do you even know what you're looking for?
     - I sure do, - he pulled out a piece of paper with a decent list on it.
I took  a glance but couldn't work out any of it since it was all written in
Latin, - Don't bother, you couldn't read any of it.
     -  What about  you,  can  you  understand  this? It's  not really  your
     - I'll  work it  out.  We have to  look for  tranquillisers, anti-shock
stuff, anti-burns, breath relief, cardio medications, things like that.
     We  came to the gates of  the  nearest hangar. They were locked up so I
nodded to the private:
     - Go for it! Just watch for the ricochet, allright?
     Everyone  moved behind the  soldier  and  he smashed both  locks with a
short burst. We walked  into the  semi-dark dock. Long shelves with packages
were stretching for as far as we could see.
     - Hey  doc, watch for the expiry dates.  You  might  have to feed  this
stuff to us.
     - It is as darks as in  a nigger's ass in there, put some light  on it,
will ya.
     - It's  good to  know you've been places, doc,  - I noted sarcastically
and everybody cackled.
     - Zhenya,  is it really that gloomy  in there? - A  voice came from the
dark and again everyone gaggled.
     - As soon as  I catch one I'll shove you bastards one by one up his ass
and you'll see it for yourselves, - The doctor came back swiftly.
     - What if  we catch a  female one? Could we do an  extensive checkup on
     - Mulatto girls are much prettier.
     - They say Korean women are nice too.
     - Even a girl from Rjasan' would do it for me these days.
     - Fellows, women of Europe are all horrible. No one is better than  our
     Gabbing  this way about  this and that, we moved along the endless rows
of shelves.
     - Help me up,  will ya, - Zhenya climbed up a shelf. Up there he opened
up a package and helping  himself with a torch, started digging into a bunch
of little boxes. - OK, take them down. Watch it, they ampoules.
     - Found something useful?
     - Yes, cerebrolisin.
     - What kind of disease is that?
     -  It's not a  disease,  you  moron,  it's a  medication, helps against
     - Which means it's  only any good for the young soldiers. We, officers,
don't need that because we have no brains no more.  What  we have is one big
strong bone instead. - I was in the mood for lyrics. After  the shakedown at
the "North" and preceding it briefing I just wished I could relax a little.
     - Sometime during my third year in college, - I continued, - we had one
funny little incident. Those days we already lived in the student hostel and
rules were not as tough as they used to be during the first years. So it was
in April,  we get up in the morning, going  to  the toilet but sergeants are
kicking us  out for  the morning  jog.  It's  bloody cold outside though. We
rarely  did  any  jogging  as it  is, but  now, God knows why, they  started
kicking us out  in the cold. May  be an inspection of  some  sort arrived or
something  else happened,  I can't  remember. Anyway, one  of the  students,
named Popov, decided to bugger it. He said stuff it, I  won't go and  that's
that. Our unit  leader was not all too happy with such attitude, so he grabs
Popov and starts yelling at the guy. Popov, though, tells the unit leader to
go  screw himself.  As the one who gave an order, the unit commander, as the
law states, must see that the order is carried out and otherwise enforce  it
by any practical means  so  he punches Popov in the face. Popov, by the way,
was returning from a trip to the bathroom and had a big carafe with water in
his hand. Remember those huge, thick glass  carafes in the army  back  then?
Anyway, Popov turns around  and  hits his unit leader with that carafe right
on the head. The carafe breaks into thousand little pieces, blood mixed with
water is running down  the leader's face. He tumbles like a sack of shit, we
think that's it,  the guy's  dead.  Popov,  scared shitless, drops  carafe's
neck,  which he was still clutching, and splits off via the corridor. All of
us  kneel near the  leader, assuming the worst,  but he pushes everyone off,
jumps up and, like cougar, sprints  after Popov. Then he catches up with him
and starts kicking the living  shit  out of the fellow. We barely managed to
tear  him off the guy. We thought the leader  was in shock or something  and
that's why he couldn't feel the pain. The blood was still streaming out from
his most probably broken skull. Finally we called  for a nurse. She gave the
guy a checkup and a  x-ray. After all  this his skull was absolutely intact,
without a single crack. She couldn't even find any signs of  concussion. And
now tell me if you think he had brains. A civilian would've been most likely
dead, a first year  student seriously hurt, but a  military college graduate
was absolutely fine.
     - Yep, that's right, servicemen' skulls are tough.
     - Doc, you've seen a lot of skulls. Which ones are tougher?
     - Airborne, for sure. They hit their heads constantly against  the edge
of  the plane's  hatch and land  on  their heads sometimes too, - the hangar
shook  with  the thunderous  laugh this time,  - I'm kidding,  I'm  kidding,
everyone's skull is different. Unfortunately,  they don't  get any  stronger
with  careers.  Imagine if  that was true, how thick colonels' and generals'
skulls would be.
     -  Yeah, that's  funny,  imagine, fellows,  how  thick  must be Rolin's
skull! I say it could take a direct hit from a tank cannon.
     - He probably wouldn't even need a helmet.
     - Hey, help me  up  over here. There's more here of interest,  - Zhenya
again started to climb  another rack. - Yeah, exactly what we need! Take  it
     We took down a box from him with cardiamin and some other stuff.
     -  It's  for  treating heart failure,  - he explained, leaping down and
dusting himself off.
     He climbed up a few more racks in this fashion, selected more boxes and
passed them down to us.  We, in turn, stockpiled them outside and  left them
all there in guards' possession.
     After  that we visited a few more hangars, smaller  than the first one,
where we  picked  up all  sorts of  stuff.  Everyone's pockets were full  of
vitamin  tablets and soldiers were  carrying  huge cans with them. All of us
were   already  crunching  on  the   tablets  and  some  were  even  chewing
anti-nicotine  chewing gum, hoping to quit smoking right about now. I loaded
up  on  vitamins too  as well as nicotine patches, zhen-shen balsam, tablets
for Yura and some other stuff.
     Everyone was in fabulous mood.  I looked at my watch and thought that I
might even make it  to the briefing.  At the thought of the briefing I  knew
that relaxation time was nearly over. We must go back.
     - Let's move it boys! The sun is setting.
     It's true, the noon was almost over.
     -  Hurry up, will ya. Get the boxes. I'm not  in  the mood to spend the
night out here.
     Suddenly,  the  noise of sporadic gunfire came over  from where we left
our armour.
     - What  the  hell!? I  thought,  for once we could do something without
interruption. Go, go, fellows! - I sprinted forward, carrying a package with
heavy drugs, given to me by Zhenya.
     To get everything out we had  to  bust a little armoured door. For some
strange reason no one has yet managed to snatch the drugs or may be we  were
just lucky. We've  got the rare medicines and I had a feeling we'd soon need
     The  gunfire  soon died  away  which was very strange to say the least.
Perhaps our drivers got it mixed up or maybe, they were not the winners.
     - Come on! Move it fellows.
     - Go! Go!
     - Hold on, guys!
     - We'll fry the motherfuckers!
     - Let's just hope the carriers are fine!
     Kicking and screaming like that we scooted ahead via the school rubble.
The  school's  upper floors  at the  rear have all collapsed, having made  a
virtual  hill with its debris, all  the way down to the  warehouses.  Coming
down was easy  enough, but  running uphill, stumbling on chips of bricks and
concrete, was no  fun at all. A funny kids rhyme suddenly popped in my mind:
"...what  a  hard  work  that would  be, to  pull  a hippo from a swamp...".
Breathing heavily, falling down and  getting back up again, tearing skin off
our  hands  and  faces and  busting ampoules with medicine,  we  ran  up the
school's  second floor and dashed  down the  opposite hill. Since  I had the
smallest  box,  I  overtook  everyone  and was  the  first to  see that  our
mechanics were peacefully chatting with  some other unfamiliar soldiers next
to  the armoured tracks. I stood still in the shadow and carefully looked at
the panorama.
     Everything seemed calm. Nobody seemed to be  hiding or  slinking about.
Haven it was. I  caught my  breath and  spewed  with green  and yellow slime
again. Damn it. I've got to quit  smoking. Others came  up. All  of us, with
rifles braced, started to come down slowly. Those guys could be deserters or
may be again, escaped cons. OK, we'll see when we get there.
     Coming closer, we saw that  the  guests  were like us, "the  saviours",
"members  of  the southern adventure force". Having noticed  our arrival, my
mechanic leapfrogged  over  to me and  jerked his hand up to  his helmet  in
salute and reported:
     -  Comrade Captain,  during your absence  nothing  particular happened,
with the exception... we mistook our neighbours for ragheads and opened fire
at them...
     - And the number of casualties is...
     - None, we quickly worked it out.
     - That's good. Imagine, if you were better shooters you might've killed
each other.
     -  Comrade  Captain,  I  am a  platoon  leader of  the 125st  artillery
regiment, lieutenant Krikov!  -Junior  officer, barely  any older  than  his
subordinates, came up to me and saluted.
     "Krikov - Kryukov", it rhymed inside my  head.  Strangely enough, I was
thinking of Kryukov this morning and now see Krikov. It's all too funny.
     - When did you graduate? - Someone asked from the back.
     - This year, - proudly answered lieutenant.
     - Right, - I whistled, - Lucky  you  didn't kill each  other.  What the
hell are you doing out here anyway?
     -  We were getting some water  for  the division. When we  walked down,
there were no one here,  but  returning we stumbled  upon your backup. We've
not enough people and too many heavy water tanks. We had no choice but to do
the run without reconnaissance since every one was carrying water.
     Lieutenant was saying "us", like the decisions he was making were based
on his and his men "chinese parliament", which was most probably true. He is
very "green". I had the urge to give him a lecture, but held it in. He won't
learn anything anyway until  he  steps into his own shit.  That shit  though
could be his last. Thinking of this I spewed  again. What a moron, ha? He'll
die and his men would perish too. I could hold it in no more:
     -  Next  time,  lieutenant,  take  either more  men  or  fewer  flasks.
Otherwise, an ambush is out there waiting  for you. Get  it? - I told him in
low voice.
     The man cringed  under my look and  most probably  would say  something
daring in response  but  in the end changed his mind. So very "green" he was
that all his thoughts could easily be read  on his face.  He thought it over
for a while and then asked:
     - Comrade Captain, could you  give us  a  ride for a few blocks  to the
regiment, I wouldn't  want  to tab all  the  way back.  Spooks are  always a
problem too, wouldn't want to meet them either.
     - Sure, get in. Where do you get your water? - Stupid question, really,
in this situation. Where else but Sunzha?
     -  From Sunzha,  of course. Twice someone shot at  us. - Lieutenant was
     - If they wanted you dead, they would've left one good sniper there and
we wouldn't be having this conversation right now. Where abouts?  - I rolled
out the map while we walked back to the carriers.
     - Here, - Krikov pointed at the spot, five blocks away from the school.
- And here is the nest the shots came from.
     - OK,  I wouldn't venture for water out here anymore, tomorrow  they'll
be waiting for us up there for sure. Did you at least shoot back?
     - Of course.
     - Fine, get in the trucks.
     We  loaded up  on  the armour and set off.  In  a few blocks lieutenant
asked to pull over.
     I gave the order to stop and APCs halted. Lieutenant and  his men leapt
off, waved us good by and walked off to the regiment quarters, crooked under
the heavy weight of their tanks and flasks. Another half an hour and we were
back at our base. Instantly Corpsemen hurried off to their tents to sort out
the spoils. I was off to my cab too where Pashka was feeding firewood to our
     - Tell me news, - I asked him taking off my gear.
     - No news. Everyone is at the briefing. Is that true we'll have a go at
Minutka soon?
     - Yeah. - I said dryly, - long briefing?
     - It's  been going on for about hour and  a half. They've  been calling
for you a few times.
     - No shit, - I walked out and lit up on the way to briefing room.
     Making my way through the mud, I came over to the HQ. Crowd of officers
and men near the entrance were having a  lively discussion. I neither wanted
to put off  my sweet cigarette  or get in  there and continue  on discussing
those suicidal plans. The question now  was how many hundreds of us will die
out there. The "enemy" at the  "North" and Moscow has  finally rejected  our
appeal for air  and artillery support and tightened the time frames. What we
now had to discuss was which battalion was to go in first. Officers tried to
tell  me  something but  I wasn't  listening to anybody. In  my  head, I was
struggling to come up with the right arguments in favour of my plan, which I
haven't even finished composing yet, but some details were already beginning
to build up. There was,  it seemed, a small chance  to reduce the  number of
casualties. Having read my  state of mind, the  officers  left  me alone.  I
nodded to  them in appreciation and tossed off my cigarette, which fell into
the mud in an arc-like trajectory. Just like the life itself,  isn't  it? As
soon  as gets atop, it slams right back down. I  was thinking how many lives
would tomorrow fall without even reaching the top. Old men invented the war.
They are already infertile  but  still lack wisdom and  surely  have  enough
ambitions for all the  young ones  put  together. Their Power lets them push
the  youth  to  die for their old ideals and, after having  satisfied  their
thirst  for  blood,  they'd  be  stealing  again  left,  right  and  forward
whatever's  left  there. We, officers, the witnesses  to their  madness, are
pretty much done too. They'll do to us what they  did to the veterans of the
afghan campaign. They'll  portray us as  idols, and  then would demote us to
the  status  of  drunks and  drug  junkies. Those  vets are  now  officially
murderers that had gashed off peaceful afghan population unable to take on a
decent force.  Now they're shut out, blamed  for everything.  Their official
diagnosis - the "afghan syndrome". Jesus, how many more of those "syndromes"
they've forgotten to mention. Every hotspot is another "syndrome". Too many,
if ask me, even for such large state like Russia.
     I  was just "winding up" myself. It is better to walk in already pissed
off and "wound up" than do it in there. Everybody's already tired of endless
useless  arguments  and constant  dead-end conversations and you are barging
in, aggressive, ready to tear to  pieces every one in your way. Your opinion
at this stage is a breath of fresh air.
     My ideas  have already begun to take shape of a final plan. We depended
heavily  though on our captured men not  being in that palace, because I was
afraid we could knock them out too.
     There is a device that sappers use for pushing mines out. It would work
for us beautifully. The thing consists of  a rocket with three  jet engines,
one  for the  flight and  two  initial boosters. When it takes off  it drags
behind it a thick hose stuffed with C4  and  only  flies  in  one particular
direction. When that hose (or gut) unwinds  all  the way,  the rocket slumps
and in  a  few seconds the gut's  C4  detonates,  making  a ditch about four
meters wide.  This  "dragon" is  employed to make  ways for  infantry inside
minefields.  Those  mines that do  not explode,  after the  detonation would
surely be pushed out on the  surface anyway. Depending on a type of terrain,
the width of the ditch could vary from one meter to four.
     Therefore,  if we got close to that fricking palace, we could  launch a
few of these  "dragons"  toward it. After that  not  much of that whorehouse
will be left standing. The most important task would be to destroy the lower
floors.  The rest would fall  soon  after, burying  them  all in there.  But
again, it  only worked well in  case only the spooks  were inside. Anyway, I
walked up to the entrance,  moved my AK behind my back,  and pushed the door
     - May I come in, comrade Colonel?  - I interrupted Bahel in the  middle
of his explanation.
     All battalion commanders, their chiefs,  com-brig's  XOs and  other  HQ
officers were  looking at  the map.  A few more  men were  smoking near  the
window breach barricaded with sandbags.
     - Come in, Mironov. How was the trip?
     - Very well, comrade Colonel.
     - Please take a seat and do not interrupt us. Whatever  you have missed
you can find out later.
     He turned to the map  again and  moved  his pen across it,  using it as
pointer. Judging from  the  spot he was  at, we were now  storming the State
Bank. Which in turn meant that we have  already taken over  (on the map that
is) the bridges and successfully moved across the open space  under the hail
of  gunfire. I should probably ask them afterwards  how they did it. For now
I'll just seat  here quietly and listen. The time will come  for me to stand
up  and  express my  point of view, like any other present here.  First, the
lowest ranking officers will speak, then, all the way up the pyramid. It  is
done deliberately, so that the opinion of the higher-ranking officers wasn't
weighing on their shoulders. At the end, com-brig  will do the  summing  up.
He, the brigade's commander, is the  one responsible for every single thing,
he is to  oversee  the state of affairs, make decisions, give out orders and
control the way they are carried out. His chief of staff could sometimes get
a piece of the pie,  but mostly it is up to him to do all those things. Same
order is in the trenches. Battalion, company or platoon  commander is always
responsible for his  unit. He is the  one who would get all the blame if his
men didn't achieve the objective. Tribunal would be swift, it won't drag on,
I'd vouch for that. Best case scenario, he'll lose his ranks, get kicked out
of the army and go back to farming. Worst case: court martial, dishonourable
discharge, his medals taken away and then jail.
     In our country, the most fearful prefix to  your status  is  "ex-".  If
they could have a go at the ex-president, an ex-military commander's rank is
no cover for sure. If they found out you were at war, hold on to your pants,
my friend, you are as good as dead. You're now a  war criminal. The blood of
innocent  civilians  is most  definitely  on  your  hands.  We,  law-abiding
citizens  killed no  one. If any of  our  countrymen are  being  slaughtered
somewhere  in the south, so be  it. What else would you  like, Mr President,
maybe  send more of our children to the next  bloodbath? No problem, sir! We
voted for you so how can you possibly  be wrong or lie to us? Not  a chance!
Did you, my reader, think like that? Or maybe still thinking?
     Chehov once said that one must squeeze a slave out of oneself, drop  by
drop. It must be added that our rulers  should be daily squeezing big bosses
     Just look at the  map. How can possibly  a republic, so small that it's
marked on the map as dot, be threatening Russia's  sovereignty?  Unless, you
feed and support this motley general,  encouraging his fiery  speeches. Come
on,  he's nothing  but  a  little Fuhrer with the chechen accent. When  they
needed Lev Trozhki dead, he was slain like  a street dog, in Mexico, with an
ice picker and without any guided missiles. I refuse to believe that this ex
soviet pilot was so smart as to get away.
     For  a  reward, they'll  serve you his  head on  a plate with salad and
mayonnaise.  Every one is worth money. If you can't buy  a guy, put a hit on
him. That's tricky though, because he might know the key combination to your
bank account in Zurich, or maybe some other dirt on you.
     We, like all fine-bred sheep, would  again go to  the voting tables and
vote for  those  who'd  send us to another  bloody  "hood wrangle", send our
children to  slaughter and force veterans  of  the Great Patriotic War fetch
empty cans from the rubbish bins.
     It's  not about communists,  democrats, socialists and other masters of
jabbering. These  guys are  only after our bread and butter. The purpose  of
war is to redirect our attention from that stealfest.
     Meanwhile the briefing went on, the plan was drafted and presented. The
time has come for us to speak up. Suddenly, San Sanych was  called by an RTO
to take  an important  phone call. All of us kept  silent, may be the  whole
thing was called off. He came back to the table horrified and  sat down with
a helpless look on his face. Com-brig could no longer hold it:
     - Just tell us, will you.
     - We are receiving intelligence  reports,  confirmed by the opposition,
that all our captured wounded are being  brought  up into the palace. We are
to be extremely careful  during  the assault.  Air support  was refused,  no
"Grads" or "Uhragans"  would be provided either and we are to use  only  our
own artillery.
     Complete silence now hung in the room. The  only ones to break  it were
the sounds of  heavy  breathing, moving chairs and  a  sudden loud crunch of
com-brig's pencil.  It seemed he didn't even notice that he broke it. He was
still holding the pieces and staring at the wall. Everyone went into stupor.
     - We can't go in without artillery or air support, full  stop. -  Broke
the silence commander of the first battalion.
     -  We  can't use  them  either. The hostages will  die. But  they'd die
regardless whether we have support or  not - Continued commander of the tank
     - Either the spooks will finish them  off or we'd stop their sufferings
with an accidental  burst,  grenade or  mortar  shrapnel. Same difference. I
wouldn't want to be  their  murderer  in a  million  years. It's a  dead-end
situation.  - Third  battalion's commander  was thinking and talking  at the
same time.
     -  We  don't  stand  a  chance in a  world  to even  try  and save  the
prisoners. But attempting to  do  so we could lose a  lot more of  our  men.
Neither  can  we ignore  the  possibility  of  counterattacks.  -  Continued
Com-brig's artillery XO.
     Before the  pause got  too  long, Com-brig tossed  away  pieces of  his
     -  Take a ten-minute break. Your men  are to be told nothing! After the
break everyone has three minutes to express his opinion on the subject.
     All of us poured outside  to breathe in some fresh air, take a leak and
have a smoke.  While at it, we  talked  about  all the previously  mentioned
without the commander.
     - We're totally screwed!
     - What the hell are they thinking?
     - Now,  for sure,  we'd have  to climb those  walls like  pirates  with
     -  OK,  we've got  to think men.  - It seemed  that the tank  battalion
commander was not at all concerned with all  this  hype. He spoke to the art
battalion  commanders and the com-brig's XO.  Would you be able to  get your
howitzers a little closer to the palace?
     -  I  don't  think  so.   The   bridges   won't  handle  the  load.  My
self-propelled cannons are too heavy, too slow and the  on-board  ammunition
stocks are too small. They'd have  to be resupplied constantly. We'd have to
be somewhere close, but not  too close,  dug in  position. Then, we'd  shell
over your heads and houses right where you'd want us.
     But the  tankers'  com-batt wasn't listening  to  him  anymore. He  was
mumbling something to himself:
     - Small stocks...  too slow... Revolver! We should pull a "revolver", a
carousel that is.  First, infantry goes in, then, our tanks open up. No APCs
though, their calibre's too small.
     He called for his chief of staff and  they began to draw something. The
time was  up and we all went back to the briefing. When everyone was back in
their chairs, com-brig said:
     -  Gentlemen,  all  of us  understand the  present situation. We cannot
attack like this but we cannot also not to attack. I've made  calls to Rolin
and our support units. They are giving us the carte blanche. We are to  take
the palace at any cost. Please say what you have to say:
     Silence hung about the room. The "chief tanker" took the opportunity:
     - As I understand it, we cannot use air  force and  artillery since our
POWs are in the building. Is my notion correct?
     - Yes, it is, - confirmed Com-brig.
     - How very observant, - Someone giggled at the back.
     - Our  APCs on the other hand have too smaller calibre weapons  and not
enough armour protection, thus are unable to effectively support us from the
required distance. Correct?
     -  Yes,  -  Com-brig  again  confirmed, still however  puzzled  by  the
com-bat's speech.
     - Our tanks, although properly armoured and have  large enough  calibre
weapons, lack ammunition stocks, thus would still be ineffective  since they
would run out of ammo relatively  quickly. So, as  you can see, the  problem
here is how  to restock them  rapidly.  Reloading tanks under enemy  fire is
surely a  suicide; therefore I  propose that the tanks do  it  themselves. I
also suggest a "tank roundabout" to maintain constant bombardment.
     - What roundabout?
     - Hey, he's got something there!
     - Great idea, man!
     Almost everyone grasped the general  intent proposed  by the tanker. He
walked up to the map and began to tell about his plan:
     - First, over here,  two tanks roll out across the bridge. One  of them
maintains rapid  fire; the other  backs the first one  with  rare salvos but
mostly is keeping quiet. The third one stands by in the middle of the bridge
and  is waiting for his turn.  Meanwhile,  on our side of the river, at  the
bridge's entrance, the forth tank is  awaiting action and finally, the fifth
one is reloading back up here. While, having spent all its  ammo,  the first
tank is returning  to our bank of the river to be reloaded, the one on stand
by, on the middle of the bridge, moves in position and opens up. At the same
time the third  one, that was at the bridge's entrance moves forward to  the
middle. During all these moves, the tank that was stationary and kept silent
now  opens  fire  to  keep the pressure on the  enemy and  prevent them from
destroying the  retreating empty tanks.  This way  we are  able  to maintain
constant the required density  and precision of bombardment and, at the same
time support  our infantry. We'd be acting as artillery, so to say. Although
they usually aim at plazas, we, on  the  other hand, could aim at windows, -
He finished off his speech on this funny note.
     - This is bloody great!
     - Thank you, - Com-brig shook his hand.
     - I also have an idea, - Third battalion's commander stepped forward. -
I suggest we use sewage network to get into the palace.
     - Not a bad idea.
     - That way we could save our men and maybe even free the hostages.
     - What if they set up an ambush? We'd all be dead before we knew it.
     - Not bad, but too risky.
     - It's  a pretty good  idea, but we don't  really  know where the pipes
could lead us. This and  the fact that  chechens  are already actively using
them  as the means  of  approach  and  retreat while  setting  up  ambushes.
Therefore, there  is a  good  chance that if we do decide to use  the  sewer
network we could walk into  a trap. Thanks for  the idea though.  I think we
have  to blow them up anyway so that the spooks wouldn't pop up at our rear.
     - Agreed. - Com-bat said with a sigh of disappointment and settled back
into his chair.
     - Any more suggestions, anyone?
     More people spoke but no one  could propose  anything more radical than
the tankers' "roundabout". Storming hotel "Kavkaz" today  was already out of
the question and it was agreed with the "North" that  we  would transfer the
task to the marines. We also came to the  decision to pull our men closer to
the  HQ  and let them  rest as much as possible for now. Equipment had to be
readied  too.  In conclusion,  our  HR  officer,  lieutenant  colonel Sergey
Nikolaevich Kazarzhev took the opportunity to speak to us.
     He was a short fellow (about a  meter and sixty-five centimetres tall),
not  skinny though but rather muscular.  He took part in the Afghan campaign
some years ago back. He wasn't like  the rest  of  the ex Political Officers
brotherhood.  He  wasn't  nasty to  other people,  nor  was he  bugging  his
superiors with  ludicrous stuff, he  was just doing his  job. He made  every
effort to  find common ground with men and was widely respected not just for
his Afghan past but also for his people skills.
     - Gentlemen,  I have just  received a phone call  from the "North". Two
Moscow commercial  banks are about to  celebrate  their  anniversaries.  The
money  that they saved  up for  the festivities,  they decided  to  spend on
supplies aid for the military personnel in Chechnya. So, tomorrow we have to
send  a truck to the "North" for the packages. Every one  of them contains a
track suite, snickers, toiletries, pack of  cigarettes, two cans of beer for
offices, two cans of cola for men and some other stuff.
     - Not bad!
     - Beer...
     - Freebee!
     - Lucky for those who'll be distributing that aid.
     - Take more, for wounded and KIAs too!
     - Yeah, get more.
     - Need a hand?
     - Which banks?
     - "Menatep"  and  "In-com",  -  shouting  through  the  noise  answered
     - "Menatep", hmmm, sounds like NATO.
     - Cigarettes!
     - Hey, who is non-smoker? I'll buy them off you.
     - Hold on. May be they're "Astra" or "Bum in the mountains".
     - Right, they can swap the good ones in the "North".
     - Yeah, those guys can swipe anything.
     - No, they wouldn't, dare.
     - Why  would  they care?  They'd  rather  start  distributing after the
assault; more would be left for themselves.
     - Quite! - Com-brig barked through the roar.
     The noise suddenly abated.
     - Quite! - Repeated Com-brig.  - We've  all got lots to do.  Let's  not
waste time, shall we. Questions?
     Everyone had many questions, but most of them were rhetorical. Knowing,
that answers most probably  would  be to "get  stuffed" and "go away" no one
ventured to ask any. Everybody walked away discussing the freebees.
     Yurka and I came up to Kazanzhev:
     -  Serega,  you  won't  forget  about us  when  you'll be  dealing  the
packages, won't you? The most important thing is the cigarettes. May be some
people don't smoke, you know.
     - Guys, you're not the  first  and you're not the last to  ask me that.
Give me a break, will you, have conscience.
     - Yura, what's he talking about?
     - Conscience.
     - What's that?
     -  No idea. I know kidney,  stomach, liver,  but  what  conscience is I
don't know. How about you?
     - Never heard of it.
     - Serge, we have an almost absolute monopoly on alcohol around here and
we are, by  the way, your neighbours. You can't just tell us off  and that's
it. It's not neighbourly.
     - Imagine how in good neighbourly  spirit we'll  be urinating  on  your
car's tyres and dumping on your porch. Get the picture?
     - For the whole duration of this war.
     - And  we'll keep going like that  after the war too. We'll be shitting
on your porch constantly.
     - Just imagine, Serge, you're  coming out  to go to work in the morning
and  tumble having slipped on our deifications. All  dressed up in sparkling
whites and covered in crap. Wouldn't that be a bummer?
     - And all of this because of some pissy cigarettes.
     - Idiots.
     - Slava, I thing we've heard that one before.
     -  By the  way, while  you're at the North,  find their  airport chief,
Sashka, and tell him we said "hi". Also remind him to put more cigarettes in
and something nice. Let him surprise us.
     - I don't think he even remembers you.
     - Oh, yes he does.
     - So, what's it gonna be?
     - About what?
     -  OK, so you choose to  skate on shit till you retire. Or may be you'd
just  give  us more  cigarettes and  we'll  leave  you alone. We don't fight
elderly, you know.
     - Get stuffed...
     - Yura, he has chosen the shit path.
     -  Obviously.  We're starting  tonight,  immediately.  Pashka  will  be
crapping too.
     - I wonder  if  it was the blind chance that  brought the three of  you
together from the whole SibVO and stuck you in one cab?
     - Why?  Not just  SibVO, but also UZN and Yurka, for  example,  is from
SKVO. It's  fate  you  see. Therefore, you, Srgei Nikolayevich, cannot avert
your destiny too.
     - Slipping on crap, every day of the week. But  all that could've  been
     - If you had only agreed to give us more cigarettes.
     - And if you did, we'd always be happy to see you.
     - And we'd tell our kids how wonderful you are. But if you didn't, we'd
also tell them... what an asshole you turned out to be.
     - Idiots.
     - He's obviously not ready to commit yet.
     - Don't worry, he'll fall a few times, he'll commit.
     - So?
     - OK, we'll talk tomorrow.
     - Oh, you should've said so straight away.
     - Wonderful! Good night, Serge.
     While walking over to the cab I suddenly  realised how tired  I was. At
"home" Pashka was all smiles at the dinner table. Having pilled off mud from
our boots (it made them look like ski boots), we barged into the cab.
     -  And what  are you so happy about? Won a  prize or  something? - Yura
asked  him.  I  was silent though,  some thoughts,  pretty  important, as it
turned out, were circling in my head.
     - I heard what you did at the "North"...
     - Shut up. Shut up and never tell  anybody. Got it? Nothing happened up
there.  You understand?  - I  dryly  interrupted him.  I had  the desire  to
neither  recall nor discuss  the events. - Put  out what we've  got in  your
little stash. We'll go wash our hands.
     We left the rifles in the cab and popped out with  a pot of warm water.
Hosing  ourselves,  we  washed up thoroughly  until  the skin could  finally
breathe  again. We sat down on the  porch  to light  up, letting  the  night
breeze caress our faces. I had  the desire to just sit like this forever and
think  of  nothing. Just  sit  and  smoke with  the  heat from my  cigarette
stinging my fingers. Serenity it was. Yurka interrupted my jolly mood:
     - What was that about?
     -  So  that  he doesn't  go  around  blabbering  everybody  everything.
Whatever happened is now in the past.  No  use now to jump about, especially
for  a grunt.  Imagine if  we told him what happened, he'd be running around
telling everyone  at  the HQ. Just let him  be sad but  silent. I think when
it's all over (God help us to get through), we'll yet stand before a jury of
some kind. You'll see. What is it you sons of bitches were thinking about? A
revolt? So I suggest you shut up too.
     - Am I supposed to be scared? Cause I'm not.
     - We are not, my young friend, taking  part in the Great Patriotic War.
This fight  is  for somebody else's property. So the owner might one day ask
us if we didn't try to turn his own weapons, people and equipment, entrusted
to us for a while, against himself.  Yura, we are participants in such cheap
show that we could just laugh outloud  if it wasn't so scary. Do you, by any
chance, know why all THIS is?
     - Drop it, Slava. You'll go nuts.
     - Too late. If I'm asking these questions, I'm already nuts. - I fished
another cigarette out of the packet,  lit it from the butt and tossed it off
into the mud.
     - We shall be tossed out just like that butt when the time comes and it
will come, trust me, may be even earlier than we all think. They'll wipe the
floor with us and toss  out. And just like  you spit after you smoke they'll
spit  on us. Don't you  forget it. If  we could now show  our  teeth to  the
general, we could do it again, could we? And may  be even jump at his throat
some day.  We're too used to blood and death by now. I, for  example, cannot
sleep in silence anymore. But if you fired up  artillery or air bombardment,
I'll be asleep in a second.
     - Yeah, me too. - Quietly noted Yura.
     - Just answer me this simple dumb question. What is nationality?
     - What do you mean? - Yura  couldn't catch my drift. - You're born with
it. God has given it to you, if you will.
     - But if, for example, a chechen infant were brought to France. All his
life his parents would hide the fact that he's  chechen from him. They would
give him their surname,  good education, first in a good school and later in
a university. All cultured up in their little French surroundings. So who is
he?  OK, if it's easier  for you,  imagine it was  a Russian child. (Pity it
wasn't me). So Yura, what do think, WHO is he?
     - French, I guess, - Yura wasn't particularly confident.
     -  So, you see - nationality is not biological, it  is a rather  social
concept. Evidently, people invented this problem, this national criterion so
that they can tell other people apart and now they are using  it to  bump us
against each other. Remember the romans:  "divide and conquer"? Do you  also
remember the soviet times,  when they proclaimed  everyone equal?  They also
sent Russians to serve their term  in  the military at the outskirts  of the
empire, whereas Muslims would always get to  do  theirs in one of the Baltic
republics and Baltic people  always went to Ukraine  and  Moldova?  That was
done for a purpose, so that if a revolt breaks out they wouldn't hesitate to
shoot at strangers. And political officers would keep  that  fire burning at
all times.
     - What about patriotism? Loyalty to your motherland?
     - Motherland?
     - Yes, motherland, -  Yurka was jubilant.  The question  was in fact  a
tough one.
     - What is motherland, Yura? - I calmly asked him. -  I'm not a Jew or a
gipsy, or some nomad. Explain to me what motherland is. What do YOU mean  by
that?  Once  before,  our  soldiers called  out:  "for  God,  Tsar  and  the
country!", then "for Motherland and  Stalin!" and now what,  "for Motherland
and President!" or "Motherland and Grachin!". - I spewed.  - May be in about
twenty years from now they'll make a movie  how grunts march  at  machinegun
nests  with that idiotic cry. As Grachin once said: "the boys died smiling".
I'd like to pump a 7.62  in his belly  and see how he would smile to me. So,
what is it,  motherland? Is it the president, who fucked it al up  and  then
dipped us into this burning  shit? I don't even have a word in my file about
this. Would  motherland  that  loves  her  sons send  them to  their deaths?
Couldn't  they kill the bustards  from a distance?  You know? Of course they
could. And all of us, with the whole world,  would applaud at the  precision
of that surgical operation. They could do  anything but this. Unless  you're
on the same team with Dudaev. Patriotism? Hah.  Oscar  Wild once  said  that
patriotism  is  the bastard's last sanctuary.  The paradox is that  I really
love Russia. I  love the country but I hate the  government. So this paradox
bears  hatred for  the whole meaning of the word "motherland". It's tough to
live in a country that you hate.
     - So why do you fight? And, I think, you're pretty good at it too.
     - Stop kissing my ass,  will  you. I don't know. Maybe I'm defending my
motherland. God knows why. It's  paradox or a mental case. You see it's just
too easy here, like black and white. Like  Indians and confederate soldiers.
We're defending our homeland that they  are  trying to  tear apart. I  don't
know, I think I'm going nuts. You know  this joke when a general arrives  at
the  barracks to inspect them. He's walking around, checking things out  and
stuff. Then suddenly  he  says to the barracks'  commander: "It's too gloomy
around here, could you paint the fence in all colours of the  spectrum?" The
commander: "Yes sir!" So they walk further. General goes again: "And arrange
the beds in a chess order, I think it's kinda happier looking that way." The
commander again: "yes sir,  general sir!" So the general's finally saying to
him:  "Do  you have  your  own opinion on anything  at  all? To every single
bullshit I  propose  all  you can  say  is yes sir." But commander  suddenly
answers: "I  do have my own opinion  but  I don't have  enough years  in the
service, otherwise I would've told you to shove your orders up your ass, sir
general sir!" The story of my life, Yura. Not enough years in the service to
happily retire. Otherwise I wouldn't have had this split personality.
     - Maybe you have to go see a shrink or something?
     - Yeah, and  he's going to  explain  to me what the  word  "motherland"
means and why exactly  I'm here. And  while he's  at it, he can also try and
explain to  me  why we cannot blow the shit  out of the  oil  refinery.  But
hands,  my hands, Yura, are shaking with desire. Just in spite. To pull some
pretty ugly joke on  someone. The problem  is that I  don't think they'll be
restoring  it  out of their own  pockets. Most  probably out  of the state's
budget. By the  way, Yura, are you  aware  of the  fact  that our air force,
first and foremost, bombed the shit out of the local finance ministry?
     - I am aware of that. So what?
     -  I  can  bet you that at this very  moment  they are bombing  not the
palace, not the  spooks'  barracks, not their  ammo depots, but the  Chechen
state bank.
     - Very unlikely. - Yura wasn't sure,  - However, they could, you  know.
First the ministry and then bank.  Logically, they are letting the reg-heads
know about the assault. Bastards!
     - That's exactly what I'm talking about. So, Yura, what is motherland?
     - Get  stuffed. You  bloody  sophist. You should've  become a political
     -  My  dad  was an  ex-serviceman. Therefore  I  have  this  unshakable
antipathy  for political officers.  But  sometimes,  you know, there  can be
descent people amongst them. Rarely though.
     - OK, let's go eat. Shall we get pissed tonight?
     -  I'd be happy  to, but I don't think I can. Moreover, it  was a crazy
day. Remember we had about 500 grams of liqueur each, with only some chicken
to chase it with, and it had no effect on any of us.
     - Yep, - Yurka grimly spewed. - What a life, hah? You want to get drunk
but you  can't.  When I  come home, I'll  get  totally  shitfaced  and  dive
facedown in salad.
     - Yep, salad it is. Up to your ears. Just watch the air supply.
     So we laughed. When you ask yourself questions that you cannot possibly
answer, all  you can do  is relax, go with flow and hold on to your partner.
As we made our way inside the cab, Pashka has  already set up the table  and
placed an open bottle of vodka in the middle.
     - Any more cognac left?
     - Yes.
     - So put it out, will ya. Cheer up, man.
     Yurka looked at me reproachfully.  It was pretty clear - no  one  could
tell if we ever  get another  chance to  drink it  later, but  his look  was
articulate  enough to blame me  for  having  a go at  the fellow for  my own
rotten thoughts.
     Pashka  left the Vodka where it was and pulled out the cognac. I opened
the bottle and poured it out into almost full glasses. I had a raging desire
to get drunk.
     - Let's go! - I lifted my plastic cup.
     Others  followed my example  and  bumped  their  "cups" together.  They
rustled and the dark liquid inside them waved when we cheered. I capsized my
glass and  heavy  syrupy liquid streamed down my stomach and spread  out  in
there with worm sensation. I closed my eyes for a moment. The next moment we
started eating. This meal was a silent  one. There was nothing we  could say
or do. Everything was already decided and signed off. So what's the point? I
could probably draw a  request for discharge but the thought  of that  never
even occurred to me at that stage.
     We were chewing quickly and  when the warmth inside my stomach began to
disappear I poured out  whatever  was  left of cognac. Yurka quickly grabbed
his cup:
     - Are we  just  having a drunken orgy or we actually have a reason? Any
toasts anyone?
     - No, we are just having a meal, but if you feel like saying something,
be my guest. But please make  it  short, I don't  usually  like  to  have my
cognac warm or vodka for that matter.
     - I would like to make a toast,  -  began Yura, - to  God. He's been on
our side so  far and I think I'm  speaking for everyone at this table when I
say  that I hope he won't leave us now and that we somehow  make  it  out of
this shithole...
     - So  that in a few years we could  get ourselves into a new one... - I
barged in the middle of his toast and continued for him.
     - May be we will,  but  we're here now and  maybe tomorrow will have to
storm Minutka, so I  ask God to  give us strength and bring us luck. To good
     - Yura, do you realise that you're in the army now?
     - Yeah, so?
     - So, so. In the army we have this thing called subordination. But you,
over your commander's head, are speaking directly  to God. That might  go on
your permanent record.
     - Get stuffed  idiot! - Yurka exhaled air from his lungs and  pumped in
the cognac.
     Both,  Pashka and myself did the same. Something moved  inside my head.
Am I really  getting pissed?! What a wonderful feeling. I was afraid I could
spook this delicate state away and  was thus just sitting there  motionless.
The alcohol was actually having effect on me and it was growing too.
     - Slava, are you alright?
     - Yeah,  yeah,  I'm fine - I  opened my eyes,  - Bastard, you scared it
     My head was back to normal by now:
     - Shit, man!
     - Scared what off? - My partner asked me stupefied.
     - The grogginess, you moron. I'm sitting there, enjoying myself and now
you've destroyed it.
     - I just  saw you  with that thousand  mile look in your eyes, I though
you  choked or  something. Sorry, man, won't  happen again. You might  still
catch it, you know.
     - Yeah, you try to catch it, - I was really annoyed, - But I can surely
try again.
     I picked up  the  bottle  of  vodka that Pashka left  on the  table and
poured it out in cups. Yurka and I weren't chasing it with food anymore. May
be now, mixing the two, I could get a little pissed. I stood up holding  the
cup in front of me.
     - The third one.
     - The third one, - said Yurka.
     - The third, - echoed us Pashka.
     Having stood  like this  for a while we drunk the  vodka in silence and
almost simultaneously sat back in our chairs and started slowly getting back
into the meal.
     -  Is that true we'll have to take Minutka head-on? - Pashka asked with
his mouth full.
     - Yes, sonny boy, it is, - I answered. I knew he couldn't stand when we
called him "sonny". And sure enough it enraged him this time:
     - I'm not your sonny boy! I'm about to have my own sonny.
     Then he added:
     - Or maybe daughter. So please don't call me "sonny boy".
     -  You  don't have to have a genius IQ  to make  one, Pasha, it's a ten
minute job, but a  lifetime of heavy labour afterwards.  Look  at  you,  for
example, we tried really  hard to make a person out of you, but yet achieved
     - Why is it nothing? - Pashka was getting furious.
     - You drink too much; respect for elders is a bit of a problem too. And
we treat you like  family,  you know. I think we should try and  be stricter
from now on. What do you think Slava?
     - Yep, I  guess we should use something more radical this time. Why did
you  get  the sentry all  drunk  back on the train? A pissed  guard with  an
assault rifle is a criminal. Which makes you, my friend, an accessary.
     - Accessary to what?
     - To a criminal act, dummy. Back in 1937 you would've been charged with
sabotage and next step would've  been  the firing squad. All nice and quick,
according to the martial law.  ...A lead stamp in the back of the head, 9 mm
in diameter. -  I touched his occiput,  which executioners usually aimed  at
and Pashka twitched.
     - That is a really dumb joke, Vechaslav Nikolaevich.
     I lit up. Yurka and Pashka followed my example.
     - Right, Pasha, - I started, - while we're absent...
     - And where would you go? - Interrupted me Pavel.
     - Down the basement, to hide, -  I came back at him. - Don't  interrupt
senior citizens, would you. We'll most probably go with the battalions. You,
son of  a  bitch, are responsible for the cab and everything inside  it. You
guard it with you life. If anything happens, you... - I stopped him, already
opening  his  mouth, with  a gesture,  -  You will return all  of it to  our
families. You've got  it? As for the cab,  if  anything happens to it,  I'll
screw  your head off and make it look like you were born like this. Did  you
understand everything I just said?
     - Yeah, yeah. It's a hundredth time you're  telling me all this. By the
way, there isn't much to guard in there besides your dirty socks.
     - By the way you might want to wash them then.
     - Yeah, right, - Pashka snorted.
     -  You  will, I'm  telling you. You'll be washing them and crying while
doing it.
     - Even if  I  do cry, it  will  be  because the  stench  from  them  is
     - Pasha, - Yura  interrupted his  speech,  - we  now have this  ritual:
whenever we've got to go about our dangerous  business, we  tell you what to
do with our dirty stuff. But since you're not so keen on  taking on the task
of washing it, you might as well be busily praying  God so that he guides us
through successfully, so that you, in turn, wouldn't have to wash  the stuff
in case something happens.  By the  way, have you forgotten what  they smell
like, our socks?
     - Yeah, like  I  ever  knew! When  I  was  "green", I'd never wash  the
"vet's" socks. I'm not about to start now. - Pashka was boiling.
     His anger only encouraged us.
     - Pasha, you know when a person is dying; his last will is the law. You
might've heard about it.
     - Yeah, so?
     - So, - my tone turned declamatory. - Our last will, when we  die,  you
must wash our socks, press them and return  to our  families. One pair  from
each of us you may  keep for yourself. As a memory.  You  might want to hang
them on the wall above you bed.
     - But you're not dying yet.
     - But what if...
     - I'm not going to wash nothing! - Pashka turned grim.
     -  OK, OK,  we're  joking, man. Don't be sad. Better yet pour  out  the
remains, will ya.
     He thoroughly poured out last of the  vodka equally amongst three cups.
We patiently waited until last drops  fell into  his glass. We were actually
counting them.
     - Twenty-two, - said Yura, breaking the silence.
     - I've heard somewhere that it is possible  to squeeze out thirty-three
drops from any bottle. - I added to the conversation.
     We picked up our plastic cups.
     - Welcome to the brand new day. What's it going to be? - Asked us Yura.
     - Fuck knows. - Pashka answered for everyone.
     -  Whatever  happens let it be. And let's drink to that, shall  we.  To
good fortune and her majesty fate! - I said the toast.
     - That's right! - Yura supported me, - To fate and fortune.
     Then he added, almost to himself, but we all heard him clearly:
     - We must be  prepared for death.  Although, let us hope to avoid it, -
and drank his share.
     - What you just said is right. We must be prepared so that the death is
not fully unexpected. We must finish the deeds we have started and not  make
any big debts so that our families don't end up  having to pay them off. Let
us hope to avoid all this, - I repeated his words and finished off my cup.
     Pashka  drank  his  too and  we ate some more out of  the almost  empty
plates  and cans in silence. Then we  lit up again but now  in  a definitely
better mood than before. The coming day did not seem so dark anymore.
     - What was it you  were talking about, the  deeds and  stuff? -  Pashka
asked me, taking a deep puff out of his cigarette.
     - Jesus said it right before his death,  talking to his father. He knew
he was about to die  and he  was scared. So just in case he asked him not to
do it. - I explained to him. - When you've got time, read The  Bible, Pasha.
You'll find a lot of interesting stuff in there.
     - Ah, a book... - stretched Pashka.
     -  Read,  Pasha, read.  Wisdom of centuries of generations is in  books
like that. You see, you can't just live according  to your own  experiences.
What would you teach your son? Which life examples are you going to tell him
about? Whose  life? Yours? But you haven't seen much  besides  the  constant
booze.  Is that what you'd teach him? How to drink? Or  how to get a  sentry
pissed? - Yurka obviously had a philosophical twirl up his ass.
     - Yura, don't twist his brain, - I interrupted  his lecture. - At least
he won't become a schizophrenic.
     - Why is that?
     - Back in the military college I had a girlfriend, she was majoring  in
medicine. So she told me once that on a psychology lecture she heard that if
a person does not read books, it is very unlikely  that he or she would ever
suffer from schizophrenia. Because when you read a  book you do in your mind
everything  the characters do. You  suffer,  love, hate, and fight like they
do. This way his or her personality is replicated onto yourself and then you
have got your personality also deviated. Then something else happens which I
can't remember because it was all medical terms.
     - Hmmm, you're right, you know. Pashka is certainly  unlikely to suffer
from  schizophrenia. But alcohol  poisoning  is definitely a possibility.  -
Yura signed off on his resume.
     -  If, while we're absent, they'll be  dispensing the  aid, you come to
the brigade's political officer,  lieutenant colonel Kazartsev and tell  him
we  sent you. Then you pick up the aid for  yourself and us. If we come back
and you, bastard, drank our beer, you'd better hang yourself.  You know  our
sizes, don't you? I'll write  them down once again,  just in case. The  most
important thing is  the cigarettes, he  should give you more of those. If he
forgets, remind him that he promised them to us. Understood?
     - Yep. How much more cigarettes?
     - I don't know, but we hope a  lot. Don't worry, you'd be smoking  them
too. Have we ever deprived you of anything?
     - Nope, never.
     - You see. We're struggling to feed you  and you,  bastardo, don't even
want to wash our socks! - Yura started the "socks" talk again.
     - I'm not going to wash your socks! - Pashka exploded.
     - Don't  you yell  at  officers or I might  want to mess up that pretty
little face of yours. - Said Yura to his  rage. - We'll pop out for a  leak.
You clean up in here, will ya, and think about the socks. Air out the cab so
that we could get some sleep, I can't see the palm of my hand.
     - I'm not going to wash your  socks! - Not as loud as before, but still
as angry, Pashka said through his teeth.
     - Why are you winding him up? - I asked Yura, lighting up  and standing
next to him.
     - Bored, - simply said Yura.
     - No, it seems something is eating you on the inside.
     - Nothing is  eating  me on the inside. I just can't get that speech of
yours about the motherland out of my head. What's motherland?
     - Oh, so you've got it now too. So what is motherland?
     - As I said before, get stuffed!
     - No, no, no. Don't tell me to get stuffed. You answer the question.
     - You should've asked about the meaning of life.
     - No Yura. Nobody knows that for sure, but  you should  know about  the
     - You're right about  one thing  though.  Motherland and government are
two totally different things.
     - No, motherland and state.
     - Yeah, it's OK when your country is  of only one culture, like Israel,
for example.
     - But what about the States. It's  like a bloody  Babylon in  there and
they're  all  fine, all understand  each  other. No one  wants  to create an
independent state on the  territory of, say, Texas. Why?  Because  they have
work over there. If you're not a bum, you live like a human being.
     - That's right. By comparison, we're like walking backwards.
     - OK, let's just drop this subject shall we. No use would come  out  of
it anyway and Pashka's already gone bananas.
     -  Yeah,  that's  for  sure. Let's shoot?  - Yura pulled a  few  signal
rockets out of his pocket.
     - Let's do it! - I took a couple from him.
     Having split up, we  walked some distance away  from each  other,  then
lifted the  rockets  and  fired  them,  jerking the  trigger  cords.  Almost
simultaneously  two claps  boomed in the  air and  the hissing rockets raced
into the  night skies. Once at the end of  their  journeys  they popped open
with lights and slowly started their descend back down  to earth. The guards
also periodically launched  these  rockets,  thus everything around here was
illuminated by  this dead  artificial  light. All things had unusual,  funny
looking  sharp shadows. When you fire those rockets it  seems like Christmas
back home. Every time,  on the New  Year's eve, I brought home some of these
rockets from  the garrison and  after the  midnight we all  came  out of the
house and launched them. We  were so happy,  me and my son. The same feeling
of happiness for  some  reason  overwhelmed me right now.  I chucked off the
empty  shell and picked up  another rocket. Without waiting for Yura I fired
it into  skies again. Heavy smell of  the  burnt  gunpowder hung in the air.
Yura was catching up fast.
     - Let's go get some sleep? - I asked Yura after the last rockets faded.
     - Let's have the last cigarette and that's  it for today. - My  partner
said back to me.
     We lit up and just sat there in silence.
     - You think they'll send us together? - Yura broke the silence.
     - I don't know. Maybe. Who knows.
     -  They might  stick  us  into  the second battalion until  they find a
replacement for their chief of operations.
     -  Nah,  they've got plenty of  good company commanders there.  Really,
there is no shortage of people  in our brigade, who  would like to become  a
chief of Ops.
     - Not really, but not many of them have enough experience to be one.
     - You think they'll let you command the Ops?
     - Maybe. It  won't be you, that's  for  sure. You are  the  interaction
     - Yep, we'll see.
     - Imagine the  guys in battalions are now  busting their balls, getting
equipment and people ready. Verifying the details of the  operation,  people
and ammunition. Isn't it wonderful we  no longer have to do  this? The worst
position in  the army is  a company commander. They are running  around like
crazy dogs.
     - That's  right.  There is  a good joke about it.  Only it's about  the
Navy, but still pretty relevant.  They summon this old  submarine captain to
the HQ of submarine operations and tell him: "We would like to introduce new
privileges to  the sub  crew  members.  What  do you  think about that?" The
captain, old sea dog, says "Fine, I think it's about time".  So the HQ chief
again says "we would like to increase you wages, housing quota, holidays and
family leave. We are thinking when the shore-based servicemen find out about
it,  they'll die of jealousy.  What do  you think?" The captain says: "Yeah,
that's right, but still,  when the first  one of them dies, could you put me
in his spot."  Same goes for us, whatever privileges they promise company or
platoon leaders, we must stay away from these posts.
     - OK, let's go. Tomorrow is going to be a hard day.
     - Yeah, who knows when we'd be able to catch a descent sleep. You know,
Slava, you're such a bastard.
     - Why is that?
     - With your dumb motherland questions. My head is spinning.
     -  But I've let it all out  and feel  much  better  now. Let the others
suffer. You, for example.
     - That's what I said, bastard.
     - Don't worry about it  too much. Take  it easy and forget  for now. If
we'll live through, we'll talk afterwards. In the nearest future, I think we
might have to lay off such conversations. Let the reflexes work for now.
     - True, let the  nerve system labour. I feel for  the boys though. Lots
of them will probably stay here forever.
     - "Nineteen year olds forever", like Baklanov wrote.
     - OK. Let's go or you'll start it again.
     We  came  up to the cab, tossed  the butts out and  walked in. While we
were out, Pashka cleaned up and was already in bed.
     - You're not on the guard duty tonight?
     - No. I'm on tomorrow during the day.
     - Wow, what a fluke? Who's going to guard my sleep tonight?
     - It's your sleep, so you guard it.
     - You're being an asshole again, Pasha. I guess we  should make you dig
a foxhole... for your horse and you together.
     - Together?
     - Yep, that's right. You let your tongue run free too often these days.
     - How big would the horse's hole be?
     - Three meters high.
     - Three meters? There are no such horses.
     -  Sure there are.  Have you  been to Moscow? There is  statue of Yuriy
Dolgorukiy  there.  His horse  is about  that  big.  So  you'll be digging a
foxhole for  his  horse  and  himself if you  don't  keep your  mouth  shut.
     - Yeah,  sure. - Grumbled Pashka, turning away.  He  knew we could make
him do it if he got to us.
     All we took off was our  boots and socks. The rest we  kept on and only
loosened  our belts a little. My AK was on the floor, next to  my bed, Yurka
hung his on  the  wall above his  head. A  few hand-grenades went  under  my
pillow. I chambered a round in  my captured  suppressed Makarov, put it back
on "safety" and stashed  it under the matrass on the same level as my waist.
Now we  can try  and  catch  some sleep. Pity, I didn't get  pissed tonight.
Yurka,  bastard,  got in the  way,  but  I'll get back  at him  tomorrow.  I
unscrewed the light bulb above my head and everything sank into darkness. To
sum it all up for today I declared:
     - At ease, boys.
     So  one more long day of this war was  over. God and fate allowed me to
stay alive this one more day.  Let's  hope they  won't  change  their  minds
later. All my life in the past didn't mean much any more because tomorrow we
would have to go and try that suicidal assault  at the Minutka. God,  please
give me guidance! After this appeal to God I finally fell asleep.

© Copyright 2001 translation by Marta Malinovskaya and Konstantin S.Leskov

     We  split a bottle of vodka among all the officers including companies'
commanders, gobbled some  ice-frozen canned  beef. Meanwhile, our  artillery
finished pounding Chechen positions. The roar of bombers ceased  two minutes
later. Silence fell  interrupted only  by an  occasional riffle cracking and
machine gun fire.
     "Comrade  lieutenant-colonel!"  A soldier  emerged  from  the battalion
commander's  APC. "Order  from  the  "twenty  second"  (it  was  the brigade
commander's code): five-five-five".
     "Tell him:  understood!"  Battalion  commander ran  to  his vehicle. We
followed him. Tank crews and officers of the second battalion also rushed to
their  armored vehicles. A block  before  Minutka square our  reconnaissance
unit soldiers stopped us and told that they succeeded in pushing the "dukhs"
from the bridge on our side, but the Chechens consolidated their position in
the  middle of  the bridge and on the other bank. It seemed like the  bridge
was not  mined, but I would not bet on it. Infantry jumped from the APCs and
waited  for  a command  hiding  behind  the  vehicles  and  ruins. Tanks had
arrived. It was agreed that infantry  would  go ahead  with tanks  following
fifty meters behind.
     The Battalion Commander was in the head of his advancing unit, breaking
all instructions to stay behind  during the  attack. My buddy Yura and I had
no choice  but to follow him. Sneaking through destroyed buildings, covering
short distances in  each run,  we reached the bridge. Our scouts were barely
holding  the violent  push  of  the "dukhs".  A fortified  stockade  made of
concrete blocks had been erected  in the middle of the  bridge. "Dukhs" were
pouring our bank heavily  with  lead from behind  of  it not allowing us  to
raise a head. Chechen mortars started covering us with shells. At first they
fired  randomly, shells  went  into water,  but after  some corrections they
started to explode  closer and closer and  hit our bank. In addition "dukhs"
began shooting at  us from grenade launchers.  Reverberation was unbearable.
The bellow of mortar  shells increased. Bullets were constantly  knocking at
concrete blocks, which served us as a cover.
     There  were first casualties.  In  the  first company, where Yura and I
were, a shell  exploded very close to us, and  a large fragment of it tore a
half  of soldier's head off.  The  body was lying belly down,  a half of the
neck  was absent and another half bent to the right under the weight of what
was  left of the head. Blood was gushing from the devastated artery staining
the wall red. Another  soldier crawled to the dead, not to help, but to take
off  a chain  with  his  personal number  from  the  torn neck  and to  pull
documents  from  the inner pocket  of the uniform. When this guy  turned the
dead  on his back, corpse's hands trembled grasping his assault rifle  as if
he did not want to part with it.
     I  switched  my  attention  back to "dukhs". Chechens  accumulated more
force  on their  side. An APC arrived to support them. We heard clanging and
engine roar from the back. It  was ours tanks. They could have come earlier.
The front tank spat out a shell without good aiming. The projectile flew far
above  "dukh's" heads and exploded somewhere behind  them. Second shot  came
closer. It  scattered a crowd of "dukhs". Several bodies  remained  still on
the ground. Few  more  were screaming and squirming in pain. Mortar shelling
ceased,  as  well  as  automatic rifle  fire. Battalion  commander  ordered:
"Second  company!  Podstwolniks  ready!  Fire!  First  and  third  companies
forward!" He jumped out of his hiding place and,  ushering other people, ran
ahead being bent almost to the ground. We followed him screaming and cursing
on top of our lungs. Yurka  and  I blended  with this rushing wave. Grenades
from the podstwolniks  rustled  over our  heads. Shrapnel from  the exploded
grenades clicked  and banged on the  bridge  and  on the  other bank  of the
river. Tank  cannons thundered  behind  us. Their  shells  dispersed Chechen
infantry. "Dukhs" backed up from  the  bridge and hid behind a burned  tank.
Mortar shelling resumed. The howl of  flying  missiles drove  me crazy  even
more then the noise from explosions. It I felt the air vibrating, hitting my
eardrums, already  callous from explosions.  My will was paralyzed. The howl
of falling shells made me feel that I knew which one was sent to hound me. I
could almost imagine it falling  down on  me and tearing me into hundreds of
pieces and scattering them around. I forced myself back to reality.
     The  second  company pulled closer to  us. Radio told us that the first
and the third  battalions arrived and were  ready  to  support us with  fire
during  the  bridge  takeover.  A  minute later, the  cannons  of BMPs which
belonged  to   two   fresh  battalions  joined   the  chorus  of  tanks  and
Kalashnikovs.  Rifle's  voices of the first  battalion  sounded  like  dogs'
barking, accompanied by more substantial large caliber shots of the third.
     "Dukhs"  almost stopped responding.  The opposite bank was  cloaked  in
dust from shell and grenade explosions.  It seamed as if we could feel  this
thick air with our hands.  Teeth were grinding dust. My throat was sore from
the gas from burned explosives and some other crap in the  air. My eyes were
watered. But horror of the first minutes of the battle started to pass away.
Blood was pounding in my  temples, sweat was dropping from under the helmet.
I unbuttoned  my coat and  weakened the  buckle of  the armored vest. Then I
rolled over to my back, fished out a pack of cigarettes, matches and lit the
cigarette. Yurka, who was next to  me,  reached  out his hand  asking for  a
smoke.  I shared my  cigarette with him.  Talking  in this hellish roar  was
absolutely impossible. I inhaled cigarette smoke and did not feel its taste;
just bitterness mixed with gunpowder gases and nicotine. My experience  told
me that in five-ten minutes  this  cacophony would  end and we would have to
attack running, crawling on that bridge. I don't want to! I want to lie down
and stare at the sky. A fragment of a prayer came up to my mind. I could not
remember it all. The most important - go  onward and  survive. Following our
Battalion  Commander's  order,  the  fire  shifted  deeper into the "dukh's"
defensive  line.  BMPs  calmed  down to  avoid hitting  us.  Chief  shouted,
"Forward! Hurraaah!" People sprinted forward from their hiding places. I ran
too. "dukhs"  opened fire.  Someone  screamed  on  my right. Ahead  of me  a
soldier stumbled  on invisible  obstacle and  was thrown  back with his arms
wide spread. His Kalashnikov fell under my feet,  I stepped on it and almost
slipped. Passing I  glanced on the body.  The groin was  torn. Pants swelled
from blood, open eyes were looking  at the  sky without blinking.  "Gone", a
thought  flew in my brain. I felt terror again. A taste of blood in my mouth
returned. Dreadful, very dreadful. My legs felt as if were made of cotton. I
screamed something  unintelligible. Yelled, screamed  from horror. Lord God,
help! Help me to survive!
     We were  not  too far from  the  bridge.  Here  it  is,  littered  with
fragments of concrete,  bricks, wrapped in barbed wire. Thirty men  ahead of
us got out on the bridge. The other side opened heavy fire. First ten people
fell down, two  of them were still moving,  trying to crawl  back. The  rest
backed up and hid behind the ruins of the former "dukh's" stockade.
     I flopped down too and crept behind  a piece of concrete, stuck  out my
automatic and gave  a short  burst in the  direction  of "dukh's" bank, then
looked  back.  All  other officers  were slightly  behind. That meant that I
would be in charge here. Trying to over cry thunder of  the battle, I yelled
that someone should drag the wounded back from the bridge. Soldiers ahead of
me nodded showing that they understood.  Two of them crawled forward and the
rest opened fire to cover them. Seeing that the help is coming, the  wounded
tried to crawl in our direction, but seemingly, were not able to move well.
     Battalion commander appeared from behind and wheezed in my ear,
     "You are a good runner, Slava."
     "I would run back even faster", I answered.
     "Isn't it creepier than it was at the airport of Severny here?"
     "Exactly. I only wish not to let them blow up the bridge."
     "For that,  Slavyan,  we need to take over it as soon as possible," and
he shouted again. "Forward! Forward, guys!"
     Soldiers  started  getting out of their hiding holes despite the danger
of  being killed by  bombs.  Battalion commander  jumped from  behind  of  a
concrete slab and ran forward. I followed him. The advance guard got  on the
bridge  again.  Those who  were retrieving  the wounded rose and joined  the
others. I got on  the  bridge, it was whistling and roaring  around. "Dukhs"
shifted the  mortar fire. Strong thunder came. I fell then sat  up examining
myself. Everything was fine, except I couldn't  hear a thing. I  flapped  at
one ear with open palm as if  knocking the water  out.  It didn't help. Deaf
curtain separated me from the world. It had to be a concussion. A strong air
wave  whipped my  eardrums and popped them outside  in, nothing terrible. It
would pass over. I looked where the shell exploded. I remembered four people
running ahead of me. Where were they? Right there. Devastated bodies of four
soldiers were  lying on the bridge. Apparently,  they had taken all shrapnel
as if they guarded  me from it, at least so far. I felt sick and  through up
partially from the concussion, partially from the view  of mutilated bodies.
My fear contributed to it. I spat some bail out.
     Surprisingly,  deafness  passed  over  with vomit.  I started  to  hear
sounds. People ran by me.  Some fell and moved no more. I was sitting like a
fool by  the puddle of  my  own  puke feeling good. I was alive! I had nasty
bitter taste in my mouth and was thirsty. I found my flask and took a sip. I
spat  it out immediately because me friend Pashka had filled it with brandy.
I exhaled and made another sip. Head slowly  cleared.  All  right, let's get
out of here. I  could not leave the battle field with concussion, that would
be  dishonest.  I  looked again  at the remains of the soldiers, who took my
     Forward!  Forward!  Thoughts  were  mixed up  still.  I  got up  as  if
breaching through a thick cotton pad . It was difficult to keep upright. But
I kept  telling myself that  everything was  fine. It would pass  over in an
hour. It was  not  my first  concussion.  You  cure it with shameless  vodka
drinking.  Everything would be all right. Forward! I stubbornly made several
steps then stopped and looked around. Soldiers  were lying down ahead of me,
in  the middle of the bridge. Like a  scarecrow,  I was standing behind them
and shaking. It  was my luck  that I still had not been shot. I found a spot
where I could stand upright without problem. Then on half-bent, still infirm
legs,  I  ran toward my comrades. Forward. Forward... About ten meters short
from  them  I  flopped down  and  started  to  crawl.  After  reaching  ours
positions,  I leaned against  a concrete fragment.  Soldiers, who  were just
ahead  of me,  looked  back and shouted something, but  my brain  refused to
comprehend.  Judging by their  approving and  encouraging  gestures, it  was
something good.  They figured that my hearing was impaired  and lifted their
thumbs up. I nodded and yelled back:
     "It's just a concussion"
     Tanks began to shoot  above  our heads. Hostile  fire faded and we went
forward  again. Now  I was dragging myself somewhere  in the  middle  of the
attack  group.  I was afraid  of firing  because I could shoot our own guys.
Soldiers  of  the first battalion had already  taken over the bridge. It was
ours  at last.  From  now on, the  main task was to  keep it. I looked back.
"Dukhs" employed strong  mortar fire to  force  the first battalion to  move
back. There were only soldiers from our battalion on the enemy's  bank.  The
bridge was covered with corpses, I  counted  about  fifty .  Fifty died  for
hundred and fifty meters of bridge. It was a horrible math. Companies of the
first battalion took the wounded with them.
     "Dukhs" continued pounding bridge with  shells  and, at the  same time,
started to shoot at  us.  They released a  smoke-screen, which was a sign of
their coming  attack. There was enough smoke even  without it. Chief's order
was spread: "Get  podstwolniks  ready. Fire!" We  started  to  shoot  at the
swelling  black  cloud  with  grenades. Some  soldiers,  who  did  not  have
podstwolniks,  sprayed the  smoke with long  bursts from their semiautomatic
weapons. I heard screaming of  wounded coming from the cloud as well as from
the our side.  They  were followed  by clanging of tracks  from  behind  the
smoke-screen.  It  was  either a  tank  or  a BMP. It  began  to  pound  our
positions. Random  rocks and  concrete fragments  provided  bad  cover  from
shells. Roar came from the above. Those were our planes. It looked as if the
sky opened and poured  down bombs. Have you ever been under bombing? No? God
blessed  you. Bombs,  five hundred kilos  of metal and explosives  each, are
approaching the ground with  debilitating howl. The roar of mortar shells is
a  sweet  serenade in comparison with it.  Aviation bomb  howl paralyzes the
body with horror,  makes every cell of your body resonate.  Thoughts go away
and  you  are lying  just  like  a  piece of  meat, trembling  from fear and
awaiting  your  death.  Everything  human leaves  your  body,  you become  a
trembling beast. People  said that  many of our soldiers  had been killed by
our own aviation, but I myself had not been under friendly  fire yet.  First
bomb  exploded  far  ahead.  Apparently,  it  induced panic  among Chechens,
because their fire from behind  the smoke-screen stopped. A  shook wave came
from the explosion. It engulfed us with  horrible thunder  and  hot  air. It
felt as if this roaring atmosphere was going to rip off my uniform, break my
ribcage, tear  my  mouth and  cheeks. Eardrums  would  collapse.  Blood  was
already dripping  out of  my  ears. A hail of small stones descended  on us.
Someone was  yelling.  I looked there. A  soldier was rolling on the ground,
holding  hands  on  his eye.  Blood  was  streaming  between the fingers.  A
paramedic was  crawling  toward him. Soldiers  who were next to  the wounded
grabbed  the unfortunate and pressed  strongly against the  ground. One gave
him  a water bottle, another  ripped his uniform to bare a forearm.  Then he
took a tube with painkiller from a medical kit and made an injection. I  did
not watch the rest. Judging by the noise, pilots were about to make a second
barrage.  That terrible,  paralyzing howl  started again. It was increasing.
Following  my  instincts,  I  squeezed  myself into  earth and listened  the
silence that followed. Everybody was waiting where, whose chance would be to
meet with Madam Death.
     An explosion  happened unexpectedly  close, on the left  flank  of  our
battalion. A hail of stones showered us again. It was strange, but after all
these blasts, my hearing restored. The world of sounds rushed into my brain.
A buzz in my  head had not passed  yet, but I tried not to pay any attention
to it. I looked in  the direction of the explosion. There was a huge crater,
about ten  meters  in  diameter. Around it... Scattered around it were  body
parts of  our soldiers who happened  to be  close  to  epicenter.  Smoke was
rising  from the crater. There was an acrid  smell, a mixture of explosives,
charred  meat and burned wool. It made me sick  again. Like a  wave,  nausea
came and rolled back. I  tried to  remember how  many people  were there. It
turned out that at  least a platoon  and a  half. About fifty people. Oh, my
God! We had lost hundred people already and still had  not strengthened  our
grip on this  bank! I heard Battalion Commander shouting obscenities  into a
radio  set. He was not  using any  code names, screw  the discipline! He was
simply yelling  into the microphone:  "Recall  those  plains!  Recall  those
Goddamn plains, you whore! These faggots killed half of my battalion! Recall
immediately!  I cannot  hold it with my people! Why? Ask those  bastards who
don't give a shit where  they drop  their  bombs!  Thank them for me! Recall
those perverts! I need support! I'm starting to dig in. Dukhs will attack in
a moment. Did  you recall the plains?  Good job! I'm not sure, but I think I
have more than a hundred "two-hundredths" and about sixty "hundredths". What
am  I to do with them? Get  me some help! I  need paramedics and evacuators.
Some of my wounded are non-transportable. If no help comes, I'm out of here.
Get me some  support  and not like this one from the air, you jerk. The real
support!  They  promised vaunted paratroopers and marines! Where  are  those
scoundrels? Ask Severny where they are! Ask Khankala. I'm done talking. Fuck
off! Come here and you'll see why I've got no time to waist on you!"
     "Dukhs"  opened massive dense  fire  at us  and  at the opposite  bank.
Mortars and  BMP cannons  hit us again. Their podstwolniks, Kalashnikovs and
machine guns  did  not  idle either.  With infuriating  noise,  bullets  and
shrapnel  plunged continuously  into asphalt  in  front of our weak  shelter
grinding bricks and concrete fragments. Squeaking of ricocheting bullets was
exasperatingly  loud. The air became hot from the amount  of metal bodies in
it. I heard again the shouts and moaning of freshly wounded.
     Mechanic clanging came from behind. We looked back. Two our tanks drove
on the bridge and  started  shooting. "Dukhs" cut their zeal and transferred
all fire  on them. Now  it was our  turn  to attack.  Chief  ordered  again:
"Forward!"  We left our wounded waiting for assistance and rushed ahead.  It
was  so smoky that we  could not see a thing on that square.  We spread in a
chain, shooting  randomly from  hips  into the smoke. Eyes  were watery from
gunpowder  gases.  Forward!  Only  forward!  I  was screaming  together with
others. Some were  shouting  "Hurrah!"  some  cursing, "Sons of the bitches!
Death to  sons of  the bitches!" I simply screamed with  my mouth wide  open
"Aaaaah!" It helped to stay cool. Adrenaline  was raging in  blood.  I could
have head  the world record  in  running beaten. Suddenly an  automatic fire
came from the behind of the smoke screen. Chechens  shot the same way  as we
were  doing, long bursts from hips. Apparently, they  had allowed us to come
closer  deliberately. We dropped  down. It was suicidal to lie on  the  open
square. I rolled over, then  again. Aha, here was  a  chunk of  some wall. I
flattened myself against it bruising my shoulder. Then I began firing back.
     The distance between us and the enemy was no  more than fifteen meters,
but they had  unquestionable advantage. They  were hidden  behind the  walls
whereas we were with butts up in the middle of the square. My assault  rifle
clicked and shut up, it was out  of ammunition at a wrong time as usual. The
attached clips were empty too. I raised the barrel of my Kalashnikov and put
a grenade into the launcher. It would be better to shoot from the knee,  but
I had no choice. I pressed the trigger  with  my left hand finger. Detonator
exploded and grenade flew toward the enemy. It went too far. I corrected the
aiming. Another grenade  went into the launcher and the trigger was  pulled.
While the grenade was flying, I  swiftly detached the empty clip and  pushed
the paired new one  in. Thunder came  from the behind. I looked back.  Fuck!
"Dukhs" hit  both our tanks.  They were engulfed  in flames. Cartridges were
cracking.  Soon  shells  would  explode.  Yes,  a  moment  later,  deafening
explosion thundered, followed by another one. Tanks' towers flew off. Almost
synchronously, they slowly, very slowly went up in the air and, turning over
and over, flew in  the opposite directions.  The first tower fell  into  the
water with  a loud splash, the second dropped on our side of the river. What
was left of tanks continued  to burn. The body of  the first one split right
in the middle. Cartridges were still bursting in flames.
     Rabid  from their victory, "dukhs" switched their attention and fire to
us. Mortar shells started to gather their crop again. Soldiers had to dig in
under this hurricane fire. The luckiest ones appeared to be those  who found
themselves spots with asphalt destroyed by tanks' or BMP's tracks. There was
mud there,  in which a  soldier  would dig in up to his ears. Our ranks were
dwindling with every second.  Many were wounded. Sun could not break through
the dense smoke. I was hoping  to  hear shooting  from the other side of the
square where, according to  commanders' plan, paratroopers and marines  were
supposed to attack. But there was nothing going on there. So it was just us,
a pity handful, no more than  a hundred  and fifty people, battling  on  the
open space  with well-fortified  enemy. Shouts and bursts  of automatic fire
came  from behind  again. I turned  back and saw  first  battalion trying to
cross  the  bridge.  With  doubled  efforts, we  began  to  pour bullets and
grenades on "dukhs". But the guys did not succeed in their attack and rolled
back once more. Our ranks shivered. The feeling of emptiness and futility of
our efforts enveloped us and crushed our will. Fear, dark fear smashed under
its  immense  weight  everything  human  in  our  souls.  The   instinct  of
self-preservation worked.  Without any  order,  we began to retreat.  Not to
run, but to retreat, snapping back with bursts of automatic  fire and sparse
shots from the launchers,  carrying  our wounded, leaving our dead.  Leaving
them, however we  knew that if we  did  not pick them up by tonight, "dukhs"
would come  and mutilate their bodies, would  dismember them. They would cut
off noses, ears, and private  parts and would throw them,  together with the
body remains into the Sunzha River to feed fish. Please, forgive us, guys!
     We retreated to our former positions, where our own aviation bombed us.
Suddenly we heard a  shout: "Daddy is  wounded!"  Everybody  turned and  saw
Battalion Commander to a shelter, his left arm hanging like a piece of rope.
His left foot stampeded, he fell on his side. Soldiers ran to him and pulled
him  out from  under  the  fire  into  a  temporary shelter. Officers of the
battalion  began to show up,  crawling and rolling on the ground. I  hurried
too. I saw  my  buddy Yura among them.  Alive! I  had lost him from my sight
since the beginning of the fight.  Major Ivan Genrihovich Kugel, a battalion
commander deputy came as well.
     A paramedic  was trying to stop Chief's hemorrhaging  using rubber band
and  sterile  bandage.  Battalion commander  was  intermittently  losing and
gaining consciousness. He breathed hard. Something was croaking in his chest
impeding  ventilation.  He  was pale,  big  drops of  sweat were  constantly
rolling down his face leaving gray traces on his dusty skin.
     "Why did you drag your butts up here?" he asked after opening his eyes.
"Go, work. Don't leave people. Fuck off. While I'm here, my deputy is Kugel.
Get out!  Work, you shitheads,  work!" He closed  his eyes again and  passed
out. We turned to the paramedic.
     "How's he? Will he make it out?"
     "Leg  arteries are  punctured. Large  blood loss is dangerous. I  don't
know, I need to get him to the hospital."
     "Save him! Listen you! Save the Chief or I'll make holes in you!" Vanya
Kugel yelled at the guy.
     "Don't swear at him, Ivan! Let's carry him out," Commander of the first
company said.
     "Take him and try to break through! We'll  cover you up!"  Ivan said. "
Try! Carry Daddy out!" And  then loudly to cover  the roar of fight, "Listen
to  my  order! I'm in  command while Battalion  Commander  is incapacitated!
First  company  has  to break  through and carry him out.  We all will cover
them!  Dig in and fight until  the last one! Radio operator,  where the hell
are you?"
     "There's no operator, the guy's killed, " one of the soldiers shouted.
     "Tune companies'  transmitters  on brigade's frequency and tell that in
five minutes we'll try  to carry  our Chief out. Tell them  to  meet us  and
cover with fire. Is it clear? Forward! Forward!"
     First company  went back under terrible fire, directed  at the  exposed
bridge. They  were  carrying  Battalion Commander, who  was unconscious  and
three  other  wounded.  They  could  not  take  any  more  with  them.  Only
thirty-three men were left of the company, slightly  more than a platoon. We
were shooting, shooting, changing clips and shooting again. I looked over my
shoulder.  Five men  from the first company lay  still  on the bridge adding
their  bodies to already so  many fallen. The luckier  ones had  reached the
middle. Just a  little bit more, guys! Press forward! "Dukhs" were furiously
shooting at  us and at the first company. I hoped we had enough munitions to
respond. Don't  worry, sons of the bitches,  we'll talk to  you  in a little
while, you damn bastards!
     Suddenly my soul calmed down in peace. It happens when the decision has
been made and you understand that this it is the final one. There is only an
end of the story ahead  and, unfortunately, you have no influence to  change
it. All you have to do is to sell your body and soul as high as  possible. I
did not  want  to die,  but  I had no fear of death  any more, just absolute
calmness. My  head was clear. Thoughts were  precise.  Reflexes were  sharp.
Some kind of invigorating sense came, similar to that of gambling. Who would
win?  We were the  good guys and they were the bad. Everything was simple. I
remembered our boot camp song:

     We have everything we need,
     Frozen vodka goes with meet.
     Our girlfriends are the best,
     So is my AKMS!

     Let's make war, bastards!

 © Copyright 2001 translation by Konstantin S. Leskov

     Everybody around me  was slowly  digging in. That's right. An  infantry
soldier will bite asphalt,  but hold the position. I did not have a sapper's
spade. A dead man was  lying three meters from me. A spade in a slipcase was
attached to his belt. I rolled to him and tried to unfasten the case. It did
not work out. Bullet whistled  close to me. Instinctively, I ducked. However
it  is  known  that the bullet, which you  can hear, is  not yours,  I  duck
anyway. With a jerk, I turned  the  body over, unbuckled and pulled off  the
belt. Rolled  back to my place. As soon  as I found cover,  a bullet pierced
the dead body and made it shiver.  They  could have hit  me,  fucking souls.
Explored my  site. Asphalt was crashed in several places. I started to scoop
its pieces out with a spade and put them in front of me. Here is earth mixed
with  stones.  Not  paying  attention to my  ground to blood  fingers, I was
continuing digging and building a parapet. Soil was cold. My chest and belly
had already been in a small trench. Head and legs were still on the surface.
I was completely  dirty, ripped off the skullcap from under the helmet. Head
was steaming. Hot, very hot.
     Heard clanging and roar from behind again. Looked back. Tanks had roped
their burnt  colleagues  with wire hawsers  and tried  to  pull them  aside.
"dukhs" began to shot  at them with mortars and grenade launchers  over  our
heads.  We  stopped digging and opened  fire at the Chechen  fortifications.
With  dread I  heard dry click of my Kalashnikov. Shit,  no ammo whatsoever.
Only seven grenades were left for the launcher.  Kaput! A water bottle and a
clip bag were hanging from the dead soldier's belt. I weighted the bag. Oho!
Heavy. We'll live for a while  then. I pulled out  three  clips and examined
them. Full.  Three clips thirty shots each - ninety. Not too much, but  it's
the best we have. When there is  no fish, even a dick is meat.  I loaded the
automatic, took an  aim, and gave a short burst at barely visible shadow. It
disappeared.  Might be  hit, might be not. Switched to  single shots just in
case. Started to dig in again.
     Suddenly, piercing screams of "dukhs" came from ahead. They cannot talk
quietly even in  normal life, on  the  war  they scream  so  that  ears  get
blocked. I heard a familiar clang.  A tank and a BMP rolled  out. Very nice.
Retreating was  impossible  because of risk being  shot  in  the back and  a
success of advance was also futile. It is  very uncomfortable wrestle with a
tank on the  open square. Different weight  categories. Ivan  Kugel  shouted
something, but, because of distance and shooting, I could not hear anything.
I only heard the  result: popping of our launchers. It's  hard to get a tank
with  a  small launcher grenade,  especially when  it  is coated in "active"
armor. It's a good thing  for tanks, the "active" armor. A  number of square
boxes  are   lain   next  to   each  other   on   the  hull.   There  is   a
high-temperature-activated explosive inside each of them. When  a cumulative
shell or a "Mukha" grenade hits a tank, it produces a narrow stream of heat,
which normally  penetrates  steel shields.  When  "active"  armor  is  used,
explosive blasts and breaks  the direction of the stream. The  tank  remains
     The enemy tank, which was moving in  our direction,  was decorated with
those boxes like a Christmas  tree. The bastards came prepared to meet us. A
grenade  launcher shot  popped  on  the  left flank. Judging by  the  sound,
someone  used "Mukha". Cumulative grenade precisely hit the junction between
hull and tower.  Explosion  thundered. Smoke  went  up  from  the tank. Then
flame. Deafening blast came next. Tower was ripped off and thrown  back.  It
fell on "dukh's" positions. A wall  collapsed in a cloud of dust.  We  heard
yells. Flame  was raging in the  tank. Ammunition  was cracking inside  it's
     We  ourselves  exploded  with  joyful  exclamations  and  shouts.  Aha,
bitches, you have seen! What a  shot! What a great shooter! I wouldn't spare
a Star of Hero for such a shot! Great job!
     "Dukh's" BMP rolled back and began shelling us. Projectiles  blasted in
front of us,  then behind our backs. Shrapnel  hit several soldiers, but did
not kill them, just wounded. To our  luck, their  crew was bad at aiming. An
anti-aircraft  cannon, installed  on  the BMP  might have  tear  our  humble
fortifications into pieces.
     Two our  tanks stopped at the beginning  of  the  bridge  ready to open
fire. The third one  was moving to our, or "dukh's", bank shooting randomly.
Infantrymen  were  hiding  behind  it. They were launching grenades into the
enemy over the tank and  our  heads.  Great! "Dukh's" BMP retreated far back
and  disappeared  from  the  view.  Our tank  came  closer, stopped and shot
"dukh's"  positions at almost point-blank.  Infantry ran from  behind it. It
was our first company, which returned,  and a part of the  first  battalion.
More  infantry was running  on  the  bridge.  Those  were  first  and  third
battalions.  They told that Combat died. Unconscious, he  kept shouting  out
orders,  was  restless, then calmed down  and passed  away. All soldiers and
officers were shaken by the news. Alexander Petrovich had been an embodiment
of courage, a  colossus, something  eternal and  unshakable.  He had been an
axle  of the battalion,  and he  was  not  with us anymore. It was  hard  to
believe it had happened. We had used to losing close friends on the war, but
him...  No  I  could  not believe it. I did not  want  to believe. Everybody
around looked devastated.  Petrovich was not only a  commander, but  for his
soldiers  and officers  he was a teacher, big brother, "Batya", "Papa". Sad,
too sad.
     The  arrived brought more  ammo. It was quickly  distributed and loaded
into  empty  clips, grenade  bags,  leaving  the "novices"  the pleasure  of
shooting at the "dukhs" and digging  trenches for  themselves. Shelling  the
enemy  positions,  tank  backed  up without turning  the tower. Another  one
started from  "our" bank its cannon firing  as it was  moving toward us. Its
place  was  immediately  occupied  by the  third  one. Tank  "carousel"  was
working. The fun was about to begin.  Adrenalin raged in blood again.  Steam
was rising  from  skin. Excitement of  battle  came  back.  I looked at  the
nearest soldiers. The  same effect. Only half an hour ago all of thought how
to sell our lives as dear as possible, now everybody seemed to have the same
hunter's heat.  Cornered rabbits, we  turned  into  mature  wolves.  No! Not
wolves. Chechens are wolves. They have a wolf  under the Moon on their flag.
They call us dogs. We  ARE rabid dogs. Hold on, dirty wolves, we are coming!
Tear  you apart, bitches! Rip  your guts off for  everybody! For Combat! For
those kids, who left on the bridge  and  for  those  who lay on this  shitty
square. For our horror and for the bombing. For everything!
     The commander of the first battalion was in charge. He was talking on a
radio for long time and then started to loudly give away orders. The roar of
the battle did not allow  to hear him,  soldiers conveyed  his  commands  by
chain. The order was that  after two tanks finish shooting,  we would  break
through. The object of attack is the building of the State Bank. He had also
said  that  on  the  other  side  of the square  Marines,  Paratroopers  and
motorized infantry from  St. Petersburg were ready  to attack. Let's make  a
stalingrad to "dukhs"! Everybody felt good. It is much better to fight as  a
mob,  especially when  somebody  else will hit  the  enemy in the  back.  We
increased  small arm  fire. "Dukhs" snapped back.  They understood  that our
attack was imminent. Their  tank had  been burnt,  BMP was a toy against our
tanks. Now they were shaking in terror. It was their turn to sweat!
     One tank finished, another rolled in. We saw a fresh inscription on its
cannon, "Catch!" People laughed  over the  crew's joke. Nobody knew how many
shells the tank had, everybody was counting.
     "Ready!" command  came. We put ourselves together,  took weapons in the
ready. Pockets were full with loaded clips, heavy launcher's grenade bag was
bouncing  against the leg. The order "Onward!  Storm!"  sounded like a song.
With the  last  shot of tank  we charged  from our trenches and ran forward.
Thunder  roared  behind. Bridge was invisible behind a  dense cloud of shots
and exhaust gases. Our tanks and BMPs were driving across to our side of the
river.  That  meant that stuff  was also  pulling  close to its  battalions,
which,  bunched together without knowing who where, were charging toward the
enemy's positions with shouts and bellowing.
     We were not  met with flowers. Long automatic  bursts  streamed  on us.
Mortar shelling resumed. However, their  aiming was wrong, or may be we were
running too fast, and the  shells were falling far behind without inflicting
any damage. From the covered behind a wall BMP, a machine gun opened fire at
us. Soldiers fell.  Front ranks backed up. The rear ones pressed from behind
pushing  them under the bullets. We reached our first goal -  a barricade of
blocks, concrete slabs and bricks. It was five meters high  and fifty meters
long. It  must have taken  a lot of time to bring all this construction junk
here. It  was solid. Direct hit of a tank shell would not destroy it. But we
were  infantrymen! We climbed  those slabs, encircled the structure from the
flanks. The fire contact was so dense that we and "dukhs" were shooting each
other point blank in  long bursts, which  interrupted  only when a clip  was
empty or when the owner of the gun was killed.
     I ran, sweat was pouring down. Right in front of  me,  in an improvised
gun port, a  dushman popped up, his face distorted from  fear and  rage.  He
fired from his automatic at us.  Still running, I raised my  Kalashnikov and
gave short burst  in his direction. He  noticed new danger  and  transferred
fire on me. I ducked. A momentum of running body pushed me on my right side.
From   this  hellishly  uncomfortable  position,  I  shot  at  the   "dukh".
Apparently, I got him, since he disappeared and did not show up any more. It
is a very rare situation in such a fight when  you see the face of your foe.
I could not look closer.  Shot  means dead, fuck off. The most important was
to survive and take this fucking square.
     "Dukhs" intensified their fire from  behind the barricade. The pace  of
attack slowed down. Mortar shells and grenades began to explode among us. By
radio we demanded tank's support. They  hit  "dukh's" structure  with direct
shots and  "dukh's" rear with plunging fire using  high-explosive shells. In
contrast to the  conventional shells, these fougasse projectiles explode not
at  the moment when  they hit the ground, but a  short  time after. When  it
happens,  shrapnel  consists not only  of  the  metallic parts  of the shell
itself, but also of stones and other sediment particles, which penetrate the
body and kill just  like  the  metal  fragments. These  shells are  good  to
destroy  enemy's  fortifications mowing down  everything inside.  We  rolled
back. Shrapnel and brick fragments  were  flying on us, gathering their part
of death crop to the  God of War. Medics carried the wounded and killed from
the  square. Those  beside  them  helped to evacuate their comrades. "Mukha"
grenades flew  in our direction from behind the barricade.  Feeling that  we
had stampeded,  "dukhs" tried to  counter attack. Under  the cover of  their
grenade  launchers, they  charged  from their  shelters,  squeezed  out from
narrow slots, made by our tanks' shells. With screams
     "Allah  akbar!" they  rushed on  us.  Many  had  green bands  on  their
foreheads. I  had been told that those were suicide fighters or something. I
had  not asked  "dukhs"  themselves  about  it.  If  I  catch  one, I  would
definitely ask, if I would have enough time, of course...
     With these  thoughts  I rolled  to the  left  and climbed  into a small
crater  left from a tank  cannon shell.  Ground  was still slightly warm and
unbearably smell with acid - burnt explosives. I rose a bit and gave a short
burst at the "dukhs". To check myself, so to say. Quickly looked around. The
others were also in haste looking for shelters to get ready for the oncoming
fight. Looked at the advancing "dukhs". About two hundred showed up and were
trying to attack. About two companies. Not too many, guys. With you, whores,
we  finish up  soon.  Screaming from horror  and frenzy,  "dukhs" ran on us,
desperately shooting  from  Kalashnikovs. Some  were  throwing grenades. Not
allowing  them  to come  closer,  we  met their wave with automatic  fire. A
machine gun started "talking" on the right. Another one a second later, then
one more, then a couple. Trying to muffle their  fear, soldiers were yelling
too. In  most cases they were shouting  obscenities, not virtuous, but short
like an automatic shots. Someone on the left flank was giving a short  burst
at  the enemy  after each  yell.  Apparently,  he was remembering his killed
     "For Fyodor!" - burst.
     "For Vaska!" - burst.
     "For Pashka!" - burst.
     "For Senya!" - burst.
     He  had had a  special  account  with  the  "dukhs".  Inadvertently,  I
adjusted to his curses. When he was giving short, two-three  bullets, burst,
I was  giving  it too.  When he was  quiet, my automatic also  was silent. I
waited until he shouted the next name and whispered it too. Burst.
     "For Mishka!" - burst.
     Chose a  dark silhouette of  a "dukh", who was hurrying  to  his death.
Pulled  the  trigger. "Dukh"  fell as if he  had  been  cut down.  I checked
whether he was moving. No. Finished. Burnt out. A voice again, "For Sashka!"
Repeated  the name  silently.  Chose the  next "dukh". A  green band  on the
forehead. He was  shooting with Kalashnikov, taking aim carefully.  Bitch! A
soldier screamed on the left.
     Inhale,  exhale,  on the half-exhale,  stopped breathing and  placed an
aiming slot, a  foresight and  a dark spot of the "dukh" on the  same  line.
Beast! He was not standing in one place. Wounded soldier moaned on the left.
Just a  moment, just a moment, brother,  I'll  knock down this pederast  and
help you.  Wait a little bit! Aha! Here is this bastard! Not taking  any aim
gave  a short  burst.  "Dukh" fell and  screamed. Wounded. No  problem. I'll
finish him later.
     I rolled to the left. To suppress fear,  made a couple of short bursts.
Here was  the soldier.  His  face  was pale,  large  droplets of sweat  were
pouring  down from under  his dirty cap. Left shoulder was  devastated. Coat
swelled from  blood around the wound. Using his right hand,  he had tried to
tighten a rubber band to stop  bleeding. It  did not work.  I unbuttoned his
coat to expose the wound. The  soldier creased from pain and yelled right in
my ear. Unwillingly, I started back.
     "Don't  yell,  brother!" I tried to take the coat off him. He grimaced.
Painful, very  painful. He  reached his  breast pocket with his  right hand,
pulled out  an  individual medical kit and gave  it to me. I  opened  it.  A
syringe  tube  with anaesthetic was in place.  It was good. I put  it aside.
Unsheathed a trophy stiletto and carefully cut his coat on the shoulder. Wet
from blood, fabric  and cotton insulation was not yielding easily. Fountains
of dust rose around  us.  I heard abhorrent screaming sounds of  ricocheting
bullets. Bastards! Don't  you see  that I am tending a  wounded? I left  the
soldier, rose on  my knee and poured the approaching "dukhs" with lead. They
fell  and shot back.  I shouted to our  soldiers nearby, "Hey, men, cover me
up! I'll deal with wounded. Then help me to evacuate him."
     "All right, we'll do!"
     "Let's bury them!"
     Shooting  rose around. I looked at the "dukhs". They tried to snap back
at  first, but then did not even dare to raise their heads. You earned that,
bastards! I lay on my side by the wounded and continued  to saw  his  bloody
outfit. Whenever I  pressed  it, blood poured  out, rolled  down  the knife,
fingers and flowed into my sleeve. It looked as if I was cutting not fabric,
but  a living being and it was  heavily  bleeding. Too much blood. I had  to
hurry. I did not want to lose this guy. He was bravely endured all pushes. I
cut off a  collar, a  sleeve  and a  piece of coat on the wounded  shoulder.
Then, working together, not rising from the ground, we took off  the rest. I
made  a  long cut  on the right sleeve of  his shirt exposing  skin. Took an
anaesthetic  syringe  from  the  kit.  Twisted off  a  cap,  punctured small
plastics bag and punched the needle into soldier's arm.
     "Hold on, man! I hate injections  my  self. It'll  be  better  now."  I
plunged. The  liquid came out  from the  tube. I  pulled the  needle out and
massaged his arm.
     "What's your name?"
     "Sasha", the soldier pushed the word out of him.
     "Everything will be all  right, Sasha! I'll take  care of your arm." He
nodded agreeably. He must  have felt  too bad  if it were painful for him to
     "Hold on, brother,  I'll be  done soon." I examined the  wound. Smashed
bones  were  seen.  "Make a  deep  inhale, I'll  tighten the band."  Wounded
soldier  obediently inhaled  and held the breath. I swiftly threw the rubber
band around the arm near the base of the  neck, pulled it under the shoulder
and tightened it on  the chest. Guy's irises dilated from pain,  but he only
moaned silently, afraid of letting air out. I patted his cheek.
     "That's  all, son. Now breath. Inhale often and deep, but make sure not
to get dizzy, understood?"
     "Yes," he whispered.
     "Don't speak, man. Save your energy. Everything will  be fine. Now I'll
bandage you  and then we'll carry  you to the medics. They'll patch you  up.
Don't  be afraid. We'll break through!"  I yelled all this into his face and
winked encouragingly. My grimace might have terrified a normal person. Dirty
face smeared  with  blood. But the  soldier understood  me right  and smiled
weakly in response. Meanwhile, I took his Kalashnikov, took a bandaging  bag
from  the foldable butt, and tore its rubber package and  yellow paper. Took
out a pin and cotton  tampons and, trying  not to touch  their inside parts,
applied them to  the wound. One tampon to the  inlet  hole, another  on  the
outlet. Then, clumsy, lying on one side bandaged the  shoulder. From time to
time, I looked  in soldier's face whether he was alive. Alive.  With healthy
hand,  he  began too  search for  something in his pockets. Wanted  to shoot
     "What are you doing?" I asked alarmed.
     "Want to  smoke, cannot find. Do you  have  some?"  he  half-whispered,
     "You could not find better time to smoke!" I was glad I had been wrong.
"If you want to smoke, you'll live!"
     I took out cigarettes, inserted one into his  lips,  stroke a match and
lightened up.
     Don't inhale the smoke too deeply or you'll get dizzy!" I warned him. I
finished bandaging him. It did  not look  nice,  but  it  covered  the wound
completely. I was steaming.
     "Hey, men! I've done, carry the wounded away, I'll cover!" I lay on the
back, took  a cigarette and smoked looking at the  sky. My soul felt good. I
had not made too many good deeds in my life. Now  I had probably saved man's
life. Good! Great! I turned and saw three soldiers  rolling  toward us. Then
looked at "my" wounded. I was almost in love with him. I had saved his life.
He would  live.  It was  great! I felt myself such a good man, that I became
proud of  myself.  Good job, Slava! I turned to my  belly, grabbed automatic
and looked around still holding a cigarette between my teeth.
     While I was saving the soldier, "dukhs"  attack  was stopped. They  lay
down and were shooting at us. No problem. We'll break through! I  joined the
cacophony of the fight with three short  bursts at the  places where "dukhs"
were crawled about.
     Soldiers came, took  the  wounded, dragged, carried  him to the bridge.
Good luck to you, Sashka!
     I gave a long burst. Rifle's lock clicked dryly. Pulled  Sashka's  belt
with a  foot. It  had a clip bag, bayonet, a spade and a  water bottle. Took
one clip, inserted  into  my automatic,  put  the rest  into the pockets and
opened  fire  again. "Dukhs" became agitated and  started to  retreat.  Aha,
wetted your pants! We rose and charged forward.
     Onward!  Bear's  roar  came  out from my chest.  Lion's  roar.  Onward,
hounds! Let's corner the wolves!  Tear them apart like a flock of dogs kills
a wolf.  Hurrah!  Kill the bastards! You are  not wolves! Puppies!  I rushed
forward together with the rest. There was no command to storm. Everybody was
running in  the same heat. Nobody needed to  be hurried. Nobody needed to be
sworn at or kicked  pulled by collar  to  be risen from the ground. Shut the
bastards down! Hurrah! Aaaah!
     Blood was pounding again.  Mind left me,  only instincts remained.  Let
them work. There was a task, an extreme wish to survive. Mind would be of no
help here.  Only forward! Zigzagging,  twisting, rolling, you  name it,  but
only forward! Stop meant death! Forward! Hurrah! Kalashnikov at my shoulder,
I made few  shots. Threw myself  to the left, rolled,  shot at the barricade
standing on one knee. Rolled to the right, one more roll. Burst while lying.
Jumped, made ten steps  forward with  another  burst.  While approaching the
"dukh's"  stockade,  our bursts became longer. We shot  randomly.  Shot at a
sound, a shadow, and a flash. Shot without thinking.
     Mind,  get out!  Blood is storming. A taste  of  blood in  my  mouth. I
wanted to smell "dukh's" blood with my nostrils, to see how it was streaming
out of wounds, to feel how warmness left his body. Go away, mind! You cannot
endure  all  this.  Let  a  Neanderthal  possess  the  body  and  the  brain
completely. Let him  command. Only  then, mind, you and  I will  survive and
come back  in one  piece. Let  the Neanderthal take us out of  this! Hurrah!
Aaaah! And the mind left me.
     Power came instead. Arteries, veins swelled. Mouth was open wide, there
was  not enough oxygen. I felt as if I was  observing everything from aside.
Soldiers and  officers ran  to the barricade like  a single  organism.  Some
climbed it,  throwing down wounded and  dead  "dukhs". Some squeezed through
slots and holes  in the wall. The enemy ran. Get them! Take!  Strangle! Tear
them into pieces!
     The  clip  emptied. Right hand detached it, threw aside and started  to
pull out  the next one from the pocket. A "dukh" rose suddenly from behind a
pile of trash, bristled up and raised an  assault rifle to the hip level. It
was too late to insert new  clip and cock the lock. "No time," flashed in my
mind. A Neanderthal talked again. I made a long launch forward with my right
foot. The barrel of my Kalashnikov thrust into soft "dukh's" belly. My mouth
was open. I bellowed with inhuman voice. It was a  roar  of victory.  My own
eardrums  barely survived it.  "Dukh" tried  to make a shot  from  his  gun.
Ha-ha-ha!  Won't work!  I grabbed and  easily snatched the weapon from  him.
Threw it far away. His pupils became dilated from terror and pain.  I pulled
the  barrel out. "Dukh" fell  and  clutched  his devastated  belly with left
hand. His right hand was searching for something on his belt. I did not know
why, but I knew exactly that he was looking  for a grenade. He knew he would
not survive and was  determined to  take me with  him. Poor bastard! Bestial
smile bared my teeth. I jumped as high as I could and landed on the chest of
lying "dukh". I  directed  all weight  of my body on  the heels of my  heavy
boots. I clearly heard, felt how  enemy's ribcage crackled. I  jumped  again
and fell  on my  knees.  I heard the ribs shattering again. Not  rising from
broken flesh,  I  looked into  enemy's eyes.  Blood was fountaining from his
mouth and streaming from  ears. His body jerked, bent and stilled. Open eyes
stared at the sky. Pupils reflected icy, slow winter clouds.
     Are you  sick of my story, dear reader? Unfortunately, it is  not  show
off. It happened with me in real life. I am neither a  superman, no  a crazy
maniac.  Simply, if you want to come  back  alive and in one piece, you must
become an animal in its worst. The monster of war gives birth to monsters in
the brains of its participants. Those  monsters will come out on the streets
and take what, in their opinion, belongs to them. Belongs by the law of war.
We do not know any other law.
     Forward!  Forward! See, mind, there is nothing to do  for you. You will
not be able to endure this. You will escape the reality, you will flee and I
will  lose you. Hurrraaa! Tear them apart! Chew them down!  What for? For my
friend's and my own lives!
     We  did not notice  how we appeared on the other side  of  barricade. A
building  of  the  State  Bank  of  Republic of Ichkeria,  pox  on  it,  was
blackening fifty meters ahead. With wild yells and howls, we  rushed  toward
it.  Hidden by a  cloud of exhaust gases,  tanks and BMPs flowed  around the
stockade  and  took  a  position  behind  us. "Dukhs" hit  us from the  Bank
building.  They were  shooting from  small  arms. Although  the distance was
large and  nothing could be seen because of smoke,  their  bursts  were long
like  in close combat.  It indicated that the "wolf puppies" were panicking.
Long bursts  decrease the precision of fire. I wanted blood.  Only blood and
nothing else. I liked the experience of "dukh's" abdominal cavity dissection
without anesthesia. I  was drunk with fight.  Drunk  without  wine.  Onward,
Neanderthal!  Blood and  life!  Aaaaaaa!  Nevertheless, the first ranks  lay
down. Somebody had stopped moving already. Somebody, howling,  squeezing his
wound,  was  rolling  on  asphalt  covered  with  construction trash.  Their
comrades,  fellows  were hurrying  to help them. We'll  kill for  every "one
hundredth" and "two hundredth".
     Whatever genes were roaring in me, I decided not  to make a hero out of
myself and fell on the dirty asphalt like all the others. Dusk had fallen on
us  already. Those fools, our Mister  Constitution Guarantee and his Defense
Minister, started the war in winter. It would be much easier in summer. Warm
and  dry.  Long  day. No need in carrying heavy sweaty  coat and in worrying
about  firewood. There  would be no problem in sleeping right on the ground.
Now was different. Winter  darkness came down. Cold penetrated my body. Wind
drove  sparse clouds away. The full Moon illuminated us like bright lamps in
a theatre lighten the scene. Thank you, Comrade Rolin, for your support from
the air and from the other side  of the square. If  they  did not engage the
enemy during the daylight, they would certainly abandon us like dogs  to die
in this crappy place. Why? Who knows. It's warm now  in  the Kremlin, in the
Government House,  in  the State Duma,  in the Federal Council  and  Defense
Ministry.  I was thinking that bankers,  for whom we were  earning big money
while breaking our necks, were not shivering from cold.  If  we  did not  go
forward  within  two  hours,  we would  start dying from  hypothermia.  Many
soldiers' hearts  would  not  withstand abrupt  temperature  drop.  Alcohol,
brandy,  vodka, hot  food and hot tea  were in immediate need. Otherwise, we
would not see any luck. All Siberians, we understood well that unless we had
hot  food, we would not be  able  to take Dudaev's Palace that  night. I had
some brandy, but others... By  the way, I indeed had brandy! It would not be
enough, of course,  for  the  whole brigade,  but  I  could  share  it  with
two-three soldiers. No problem.
     Fire never interrupted.  Two soldiers ahead of  me next to  each  other
jerked and lay motionless. Arms and legs were bent in unnatural  ways, heads
thrown back. Wounded  do not lie like that. One  of the men next to me tried
to crawl to them, but was caught by other soldiers.
     "Idiot?  Where're  you  going? They'll shoot you not asking  your  last
name. Lie still."
     "You son of a bitch, you want to leave them like that?"
     "They are done. Sniper killed them."
     "Get off me, you cowards! There's a fellow from the same town as I am.
     We're from  the same apartment  building.  I  don't believe you! Let me
go!" The soldier was shouting trying to break loose from his friends. One of
those holding him lost patience and released the guy. Using the moment,  the
soldier tried to run to the dead, but the same  man who had let him  go  hit
his nose strongly with elbow. The soldier passed out. Two others grabbed him
under arms and gently carried the guy to the rear. Voices followed them.
     "Why did you punch him like that?"
     "He was in a hurry to get under a sniper, I just calmed him down. Don't
worry, he'll be all right, even thank me for that."
     "Exactly. He'll be very grateful!"
     "He'll be in  the  Med  Company  soon. It's  warm over  there.  They'll
bandage his nose. He'll spend a couple of days there. Not too bad!"
     "Come over, I'll smash your mug and then tow to the medics. Come on!"
     "Get off."
     "Hey men, I would not refuse half a bottle of vodka, uh?"
     "Shut up, motherfucker!"
     "If no alcohol, we'll have to attack."
     "Right, see the Moon is coming up."
     ""We've got  to  either roll back and gobble alcohol  or forward. It'll
lighten everything in a minute like a train station."
     "What're we gonna do?"
     "Who knows. There are commanders. Let them have a headache."
     "Oh, a shish-kebab would be just right, " someone said dreamy in the
     Darkness and  snapped at "dukh's" direction with automatic fire.  Tanks
began shooting behind us. After several correcting  shots, shells started to
hit the target more or  less precisely. We met every good shot with cheering
yells. It became too cold to lie  on the ground. I pulled out my bottle with
brandy, untwisted  the cap and made a large gulp. Immediately, I felt warmer
and  cozier. At this moment, the  mind of a  twentieth century man got along
well with a gloomy ancestor  from cold caves, who was ready to take over and
fight enemy with his  claws  and  teeth.  Apparently,  they  both liked  the
brandy. I made one more gulp.
     Hot air waves from explosions were rolling over our bodies raffling our
clothing. Good! It slightly warmed us  up.  The State  Bank  building caught
fire.  We cheered. Snow had melted  under us and  we all were lying in muddy
puddles. An order  was spread by chain, "Get ready for assault!" Based on my
previous combat experience, I had a big doubt in the necessity,  rationality
and effectiveness  of this kind of night assaults, but I  should have argued
about  it on the  command  point. Here, on  the square, I had to  follow the
order. In two minutes the order for assault came. Tanks were still shooting.
Shells flew right above our heads. After a ten meter run under friendly fire
our  pace slowed down, because  we  were afraid of  getting hit  by  our own
     Mind left me again. I did not comprehend what was happening to me. Here
was  the  building. Dark  craters from aviation  bombs punctured  the square
around it.  The building stand  solid. It was old. At that time they used to
build well. "Dukhs"  were intensively pouring lead on us.  Apparently,  they
also had snipers hidden somewhere.
     Our first ranks... About twenty people were killed or wounded. Men from
the second  row tried to drag their  comrades our of fire range.  Many  fell
too. Some were just  writhing, others,  squeezing their wounds, were rolling
with  terrible  scream and  howl  on muddy  and  bloody asphalt.  Some  made
attempts to escape on their own. But many... Many men lay motionless.
     The  whole  scenery  was  illuminated by  the  fire  of  burning  Bank,
permanently hanging in the air torch rockets and  by  the  Moon,  which  was
indifferent to everything. Descended night was pierced by bursts of tracking
bullets from the tank-mounted  machine guns. The thunder of battle, howl  of
shrapnel and ricocheting bullets, their  disgusting whacks whenever they hit
dead  bodies created  a  nightmarish  acoustic picture, which  paralyzed  my
brain.  Not thinking  was  the  most  important.  Otherwise,  psychosis  was
guaranteed. Work, work! Forward, only  forward! Ten more  minutes of sitting
in one place and we  are  finished. Dear parents, sweet wife, here is a zinc
box  with  the body of your beloved warrior-liberator, the  re-installer  of
Constitutional Order. Don't forget to sign here, here and here. Please don't
vilify us.  We  did not  send your beloved there.  Who knows  who  sent him.
That's all. Please accept  our sincere condolences. Good bye! No. We can not
stay here. We have three more "parcels" of this kind  to deliver. Go to  the
military commissariat and  social security office after funeral, fill out an
application  for aid and  pension. Don't forget  to bring twenty  five memos
with you. Make sure  they  are all  originals,  otherwise we won't  give you
anything. Have a nice life.
     F...  you!  You won't  bring me back in this shitty box, unless I  kill
myself after a wound. Forward! Come on, infantry, move your asses!  Move you
stomachs! May be,  there are still  money in the Bank. Huraah! Dengi, money,
babki,  cabbage! Since this is the  State Bank, there may be even dollars in
it. May be there are, but they won't wait for you! Forward! Move! Don't push
me with your Kalashnikov, idiot, it can shoot.
     The  dirty-gray mass  of  our brigade came to life again. We  ran, ran,
ran. Tanks stopped firing to  let us in.  The Bank was so close. But what is
     From the darkness  of our flanks we  heard roar and clanging of tracks.
Is it help coming? Hurrah! Push! We'll bury "dukhs" in a moment!
     Tanks indeed drove out from darkness. They were T-64s. Ours were T-72s.
These old  tanks began to shoot us point blank.  Infantry was hiding  behind
them. Not our infantry.  "Dukhs"  had used the  moment when  in the rush  of
battle we started our assault. They hit  our rear from both  flanks.  Nobody
figured how  many  enemy tanks had been there. They  hatched into our ranks,
their  tracks  grinding  and threshing  our soldiers'  bodies.  Arms,  legs,
intestines,  clothes were being wound  on the wheels and gears. At  the same
time, they shoot at the tanks at our rear. Again, at our tanks.  Those could
not fight  back, because of the danger of  killing our  infantry.  They were
sitting ducks. "Dukh's" tanks were shooting them like targets on a  training
ground. We were  herded on a  small patch in front of the Bank where "dukhs"
were shooting us at point  blank range  from three  sides, leaving us not  a
slight chance to escape the ambush. Our tanks could not help us and we could
not get out  to  give them a chance. We were rushing about like a frightened
herd of sheep.
     Someone succeeded in putting  out one "dukh's" tank.  It  caught flame.
While its ammo cache was exploding, we made an attempt to break out. By that
time,  our tanks were  all burning bringing additional light to the blinding
picture of the square.  I did not feel  anything but  horror.  It ousted all
other  emotions from me. Neither Capitain, no citizen Mironov had existed by
then.  Instead, a  shivering clot  of shit wanted only one thing  - survive.
That was all. Simply, survive. No long forgotten prayers came to  my mind, I
was just running into darkness.  Stumbled, flew  down, did not feel any pain
from  bruises  and cuts. Nothing,  except freezing terror. Flocks of bullets
followed us. Yells of rage and pain, screams of wounded men. No way of going
back to help them. Panic and horror smeared  me on the asphalt, forced me to
run in straight line like a rabid dog.  Despite the speed, I felt that I was
staying in place. I  was running on the square, which I had been taking just
several hours ago fighting for every centimeter. The place is littered  with
bodies of our  soldiers, as well as "dukhs".  I stampeded  on  one  of them,
fell, jumped up and ran forward. Corpses of my friends had not provoked  any
emotions  already. There was no passion for revenge. I only  felt irritation
that they were obstacles for my run. What the hell are they doing on  my way
when I do not have any strength left? I slowed my pace down. Many our people
were running around me. Bulged inhuman eyes, mouths  open wide  in soundless
screams, same  as mine. Nobody yelled. Nobody shouted obscenities. Everybody
was saving power for  the run. "Dukhs" were reluctant  to come closer to us.
Apparently,  they were afraid of  us striking  back. Do not corner mouse, it
becomes more vicious and aggressive than a cat.
     We lost our  direction in the dark. Now we  were  already  running  not
toward the bridge, but to  Dudaev's  Palace. Flares  rose up in  the sky and
illuminated running herd.  Those  were we. There  was nothing  human  in our
faces, eyes, breath and stares.  Kalashnikovs and machine guns  fired. First
row was mowed down. The rest tried to turn  back still running. Those in the
rear pressed them, shoved on the ground, fell themselves, rose and ran again
into darkness. I saw sparkles from fatigue in my eyes. Nobody helped nobody.
Wounded were  shooting  themselves. Some were making attempts  to crawl into
obscurity, farther from the  light of the  flare  rockets. Moon the traitor,
bitch,  f...  thing  was  lighting  stronger than  those flares  through the
curtain of smoke.  I had almost had  no strength  left.  Lord  God! Not  the
captivity! Better death than that! Help me, Lord! Save me!
     I  switched  to trot. I was  out of  breath.  I wanted to  rip  off the
armored vest  and the coat, to fall on the bloodied asphalt with  open chest
and lie. Lie still,  hyperventilating,  restoring breath. No!  "Dukhs" would
come  over  and then  - captivity. I tried to run again. Blood was  pounding
inside my skull like a Siberian river on the falls.  It felt like  the skull
might  explode  from  extensive pressure.  I  could  not hear  anything from
exhaustion,  except  for  blood pounding in my ears. I slowed  down my pace.
Hanged the  Kalashnikov on my neck and put my arms on it. It  was  hard  not
only to run but also simply to move the feet. A soldier came from the right.
Without saying a word, he grabbed me and dragged along. After several meters
I understood, that  I only impeded  his own run. A barely heard  voice broke
through my torn bronchi and nicotine plugs.
     "Go. Go. I'm not of a help to you."
     "What about you?" yelled the soldier into my ear.
     "Go. I'm on my own..." It was hard to talk.
     "I won't leave you!" Desperation was heard in his voice.
     "Get  off  me!  Save  yourself, I'll  follow  you."  Gathering my  last
strength,  I pushed the  soldier  with  both  hands.  We  flew  in  opposite
directions. He disappeared.  That last push  consumed what  was  left  of my
energy. I  sat on the ground breathing hard. Spat  out viscous saliva. Heart
was pounding fast. From my studies in the military college I  knew  that  it
was bad to sit right after run. Heart  valves might close and not open back.
When dancing sparkles in the eyes went away, I looked around, my stare heavy
and bleak. My gun was still hanging from my neck. No energy was left to take
it off or to simply move a hand. Not far from me, silhouettes of people were
sitting and lying. Most of them  were officers. It was understandable. Their
age and physical shape were far  from the best. Civilians sometimes complain
that the military retire earlier. If there had been anybody older than forty
five among us, they would have not been found alive later. Some were sitting
on the dead bodies. May be it was comfortable, but I had  not come into that
state yet when I would not be able to perceive nothing.  People were sitting
and looking in the direction of the enemy. Somebody was about to  resume the
run, but  many, including myself, were ready to accept the last battle. Mind
awoke,  horror subsided. Rage began to  speak up  and  it was  good. Healthy
anger meant that I had  not yet become an animal. It  was time to figure out
how  to get out of there and save my skin. Soul was  the last thing to think
about. I remembered God as a powerful benefactor, whom I used to rely on.
     I coughed. A clog of nicotine mucus was painfully and slowly making its
way out of my bronchi.  Need to quit smoking or cigarettes won't allow me to
reach the sanctuary of a stone, a bump or a hole. Spat out a wet shniblet of
mucus. Felt a taste of my own blood. A piece of bronchi came out too. I took
a  deep breath. Chest  pain knifed me again. Another suffocating  seizure of
cough. The only desire was to tear  my chest apart  and let fresh air in.  I
was too  tired to run  long distances.  I  would rather do something simple,
short and quiet. "Learn English!" my Mommy always told me.

 © Copyright 2001 translation by Oleg Petrov (siberiaforever@hotmail.com)
 Editor: Dan Ray

     "Hey, easy, you sadistic moron! That hurts!"
     "Sure, and that's the good news."
     "Easy, you bastard, you can tear it off!"
     "Not to worry, I will sew it back."
     He checked each of my  ears twice with a metal pipe, and then inspected
the insides of my mouth and nose. Now what, Papa Doc?
     "The eardrums are OK, just some inflammation."
     "Say it again in Russian, and louder, please."
     "You will survive."
     "What about hearing?"
     "That will recover later. I'll give you some  eardrops. Stay  away from
cold. And-take care of yourself."
     "They keep you really busy here, don't they?"
     "You bet! It  has been slow for a while,  but all through the night and
morning  we  were getting  so  many  wounded  we almost  panicked.  A lot of
shrapnel wounds, broken bones, stomach wounds...Many died right in the hands
of paramedics, some on their way here. Overall, thirty men did not make it."
     "Oh, shit!"
     "Yeah, this sucks."
     "Do you have enough supplies?"
     "Well,  we got enough  for now, but my colleagues from  other units are
completely out  of medications. The  Ministry  of Emergencies  has some, but
they won't share their stock with  us or Interior Ministry  troops. They say
their supplies are for the local civilians."
     "What a bunch of dickheads! They would rather let their own kin die!"
     "Sorry, Slava,  but I got work  to do.  Come see  me,  if you  have any
     "I'd rather have you visiting me."
     "I'm too busy, and if I get a break, I just drop dead asleep. I have no
time even to take a shot  of  vodka, only  the cigarettes keep me going. The
dukhi  will keep us busy tonight for  sure, so I need to get ready for that.
What about you? A couple of days rest in the hospital won't hurt you."
     "Forget it. Remember our talk?"
     "You mean, the life and death stuff?"
     "Yes. If it comes to that, you will help me."
     "You're such a bloody fool, Slava."
     "Look, I feel really  dumb right now because I'm deaf, but I guess that
won't last for too long, and I'll get back in shape soon. But...if some  day
you find me passed out here, will you please  make sure that  I won't regain
my consciousness back, OK?"
     "No way and  I  don't even want to  talk about that." Zhenya rubbed his
eyes that were  -- red from fatigue  and constant lack of sleep.  "I will go
now. I  really have too much  work to do. And you  need some rest. You  guys
won't take that shithouse tonight anyway.  I am also tired of shouting  into
your ear at the top of my lungs. Take a good nap. Good luck to you, and here
are your eardrops."
     He took a plastic batch of some  tablets out of his pocket and held  it
out to me.
     "What's that?"
     "This  will  take  care of  fatigue  and  stimulate your cardiovascular
system. It's sort of  like doping.  They used to give this to athletes, like
marathon runners.  This will  keep you awake and you will stay cool when the
shit  hits the fan. I even take this stuff myself sometimes. But do not take
too  many  of them at once. Hey, take these  vitamins  too. Some vitamin  C,
don't forget to take it."
     "Thanks, Zhenya."
     "Good luck!"
     "Good luck to you too!"
     When he left, I felt how tired I was. The fatigue hit  me hard. Part of
the hard, dangerous job was done, but there was too much to be done yet, and
the  end was  nowhere to be seen. Only in the movies is everyone bright-eyed
and  bushy-tailed in between the  fighting, where  they take every chance to
start dancing.
     Well, maybe that's what it used to be, but now it looks very different.
Everyone is just dead tired. It gets you when you keep fighting non-stop for
too long. Your emotions, senses, even  instincts are silenced, your reaction
gets too slow. And that is bad for you. When your instincts become numb, you
are dead.  You will stick  your  head  out in  the wrong moment,  or  become
negligent with  your weapons. So, you better forget  your feelings.  On  one
hand, your numbed emotions won't let you  go crazy, on the other  hand,  you
need  to keep  your reaction fast and your  senses sharp. For that you  need
some  relaxation  and rest.  Vodka  can relax you,  and slumber is  the best
possible  rest.  Killing  a  couple  of dukhi is  also an  excellent way  of
relaxing, and  will relieve  your  stress  completely.  Those who  have hand
grenades or other explosives  at  hand, but no  dukhi around, can use a loud
explosion for the recovery. I used to do that too, it helps. But a couple of
dukhi would  work much better. The  chopper pilots, as I've been  told, have
dropped   some   dukhi  down   over  enemy's  territory,  with  an   awesome
psychological effect. The dukhi  got  their will paralyzed,  and the chopper
pilots got  some stress relief in turn. I won't bet that this  was for real,
but I  liked  the idea.  I heard this tale  even  before the troops  entered
Grozny;  of how 2-3 dukhi were taken up into the skies in a chopper.  One of
them knew some important stuff,  but,  being  an idiot or just a  tough SOB,
won't  talk. And for some obscure reason  torture was  out  of question. So,
they put some psychological pressure on him, by throwing  his friends out of
the chopper. He saw that, and when they kicked him to  the door,  he started
talking. Here, everything goes.
     That is why I felt so tired, not depressed, just tired. I took a couple
of vitamin tablets and put  the unknown  stimulant into my pocket. I got the
whole night ahead of me  to experiment  with  those.  I  took a good look at
myself: I was as dirty,  as a pig. My overcoat  and pants were  covered with
mud, clay, and blood, and got torn and holed in several spots. My boots were
also  covered with  mud. I sighed. Luckily, major Zemtzov, my mentor  in the
Academy, could not see me in such poor condition!  When it came to uniforms,
he was a  perfectionist, and tried  to bring  us up the same way.  Any given
moment might look as the most brutal time of your  life  ever, but  when you
look back later, things that you took for hardship earlier can only make you
laugh. It would  actually be fun to recall your high school problems  later,
when you become a college student or an Academy cadet. Likewise, it would be
fun to tell  your kids of your hardships at the exams in the  Academy. Also,
you will  laugh with  your  friends  at a party at how being in charge  of a
platoon for the first time was really a big deal for you. After you had lost
some hair and your face got  all wrinkled, you would recall just how shy you
used  to be when it came to dating girls; how excited  you were when getting
ready for your first date, and romantic stuff like that. Yeah, if only  that
young cadet Slava Mironov had my experience! Now, when I meet a girl younger
than myself,  I do not  get as  excited as  I  used to.  I am getting old, I
guess, my blood is getting colder. This idea made me grin. Some dating right
now sure would be fun. Hey, how about Christmas,  did  it already pass? What
date is it today, anyway? Maybe, I should go and ask someone. Oh  well, just
forget  about it.  Who cares? Let's forget that my birthday is  coming up in
January, thinking of it won't do me any good. All I need to do is to fulfill
my duty and survive. That's it. The rest,  including those  who  remained on
the Big Land,  can  go to hell.  Me and my boys, we don't give a  shit about
you, just like you don't give a shit about us. But we will be back!
     I looked around.  Everyone seemed  tired and  moved slowly, their faces
dull, with sharp, pointed features; their deep-fallen eyes turned  into red,
like those of albinos. All signs of corpulence  in  these folks were gone by
now. That's a great diet, I thought. If anyone is interested in loosing some
weight, just come here and success is guaranteed.
     Previously, anticipation of a  fight would have caused some excitement;
now  everyone was just plain tired.  If we must fight, so be it and to  hell
with all that. Your nerves must have learned the trick  of self-preservation
by avoiding  unnecessary  waste  of  any emotional  energy  before the event
itself comes. But when it comes, the adrenalin will start rushing and I will
get my reaction back. The human organism is a pretty smart device...
     Yuri showed up, looking jumpy.
     "So, what's new?
     "Have you seen the Doc?"
     "Cut the crap, will you? I have asked you a question."
     "Well,  I've been  to the  HQ.  No  good  news. They are under  lots of
pressure  from Hankala. Our neighbors shat their pants,  so we will bear the
brunt. That's it."
     "That will be our last and decisive battle, right?"
     "Sure. You don't seem to be interested, are you?"
     "That's not the right word, Yuri. I don't give a fuck. Whatever."
     "You are just depressed."
     "I am  calm. I am so absolutely calm. I did not feel that  peaceful for
God knows how long. I'm totally cool, and nothing  else  matters anymore. No
regrets, no remorse. No  fear, nor vigilance, no other  feelings. Everything
looks parallel."
     "You look as if you  made some kind  of decision.  You  don't  have any
suicidal ideas, I hope? Like, assaulting  a machine-gun nest with  your  own
     "No, I am just  mortally tired  of this  madness.  So, let them  decide
anything they want. I will go anywhere, except for the hospital. I will just
stay here, the way I am, just doing my job."
     "Hey, you did not lose your appetite for life, did you?"
     "Don't worry about  that.  I'm fine. When  do  they plan  to attack, at
     "No, they changed the plan, as usual. We are to begin in two hours. The
neighbors will start, and we will join them in 20 minutes."
     "I wish there were 2 hours instead.
     "Oh, sure. Unlike the elite troops, Siberian makhra never complain.  We
just keep on fighting till we die, as usual."
     "Stop talking like  that. We are  just fine,  your highness! You better
help me."
     "Like what?"
     "I need a first aid kit  and body armor, if you can  find  any. If not,
that's OK too."
     "I'll see what I can do. Take it easy!"
     "I'm fine. I repeat: I am just cool, you moron. That's all."
     He  left  and  came back in about 20 minutes,  carrying brand  new body
     "Where did you get that?"
     "They just  got some in  Battalion  3,  and that's  their  gift. Zhenya
Ivanov asked  me to give you the eardrops. He said  that's  his  last batch.
Take it, and here is the first aid kit, too."
     "Thanks, Yuri. What am I going to do without you?"
     "Nothing.  You would just  spend  the night with no body  armor, that's
     "Right. Can you help me adjusting it? Careful, my ear hurts."
     "What's the big deal? You are deaf anyway, right?"
     "Doesn't matter, it still hurts."
     "Patience, I'm loosening the belts."
     "This shit is so heavy. I've spent a half day without body armor, and I
felt like flying."
     "Get down to Earth. San Sanytch wants you to stay  at the HQ during the
     "Are you kidding me?"
     "Yeah, he knows about your ears."
     "Was it you who told him?"
     "No. The whole brigade already knows  that  you brought a  dead soldier
back. The same thing  happened in Battalion 1, and  their platoon leader had
just gone mad. That's why San Sanytch and Sergei Kazartsev are worried about
your mental health.  You better  stay, Slava. One just can't  go  into night
fighting in a state of mind like yours."
     "Back off, I'm fine. I'm just cool. I feel really good. Never felt this
good before. Well, maybe that's my reaction to the night before. But  I want
to go and I will go into this night fighting. And to hell with the orders, I
don't need any sympathy. So, guys, I do  respect you and I love you, but you
can go and screw yourselves."
     And even saying that, I  was calm as a python. No emotion, just a sober
     We spent the rest of the  break shooting alcohol, trying to stay low on
snacks. Yuri was tired of shouting  into my ears, so he did not  talk  much.
And I did not want to  turn the evening into a  one-actor performance. I had
no intention of pushing the fragile piece of my  soul off balance by talking
too much.
     So,  time passed in  silence. I was neither  thinking,  nor dreaming or
recollecting, I just kept my eye on what was going on around me. I picked up
some ammo, filled my canteen with water, and off I went.
     This time we went  along  with  the  remains  of  the  1[st]
Battalion.  Sergei Kazartzev was walking next to us. The  neighbors attacked
first and engaged with the enemy, but the  dukhi were not dumb and they were
waiting  for us. Ten minutes  after the  fighting  started  we  had received
Budalov's order to attack.
     The dukhi  opened up with tremendous fire. Some of the 2[nd]
Battalion troops could not hold on and turned back, searching for cover near
the State Bank building. For a moment, it seemed the whole Brigade was going
to retreat.  But something stopped  folks  from turning their  backs on  the
enemy. The troops hesitated, but they did not run back this time.
     Running made me sweat, but I stayed calm and collected. I tried to stay
away  from  corpses and to avoid  the  point where  I had  stayed the  night
before. My body armor  remained there, as was the corpse of that private who
rushed to help me out. It still lay  there in the same  pose. I  just caught
this picture with  the  corner  of my  eye, but I had  no intention of going
through all that again. I could not resurrect him, but  I  will remember him
until I die.
     The Brigade charged  ahead  like  an  avalanche.  The  dukhi were under
attack from all sides. Ahead, charge ahead! Soon we were  under the walls of
the Palace. The dukhi  blew up the  entrance into the Palace, so it  was not
easy to get inside. They were shooting  at us from above. Our tanks,  hiding
behind the Gosbank building, began  firing at their nests in the Palace. The
dukhi returned the fire, shooting back at the Gosbank area. A large piece of
the  Gosbank wall  collapsed, and some  soldiers,  who could  not  hold  the
enemy's  fire and have turned back in the first minutes of the battle,  were
now  crouching  behind  the  fallen  wall,  terrified.  They  were  shooting
chaotically at the Palace,  and that attracted more and more  of the dukhi's
fire. At that moment, Sergei Kazartzev did what later had became the subject
of  many discussions in  the Brigade. He  rushed toward them and, with kicks
and curses, he  managed to rise them up and lead them toward the  Palace. It
was sheer madness.
     We were just stunned by his courage, and tried  to cover him with fire.
But for  the dukhi this was just like sports hunting. They  were shooting at
him first, then at his group when they charged forward. My heart sank when I
watched this mad  racing. I  did not breath, all my feelings were with these
guys. Even when  I was  not  looking  their way and  was shooting  up at the
dukhi, I could sense with the back of my head where they were at the moment.
I tried to  distract  the enemy's attention by  keeping  up firing, and only
when I  changed  the mag  I  glanced at the running men.  They  seemed close
enough, but still had a  lot of space to  cover. I could not shoot a bomb up
into the dukhi's nest because it was way too steep. So we just kept shooting
long bursts at them,  trying to  distract their attention or  draw them away
from the windows. And the dukhi  also began shooting wildly with long bursts
at the square. Run faster, guys!  Faster! Just fucking run!  I  know you can
make it! Come on, Sergei!
     The Gods must have been on  our side that night. The  guys had  made it
safely  through  the  wall of bullets  and joined us successfully. They just
could not believe their luck and looked around themselves in dizziness. They
shouted  something  and we patted them on their shoulders, saying some words
of encouragement. But Sergei, of course, was the  real hero. From now on, we
would respect  him  in a new way. He  was rather short and skinny, and I was
always  skeptical  of  the abilities of political officers, but occasionally
you could come across a  worthy officer even among  their big crowd. He  was
sweating, his warm  breath clouding, and he drank the whole canteen of water
that somebody gave him. Everyone was trying to greet him. Earlier, in Soviet
times, he  would get a Star of  a Hero for that, but now only the  soldier's
mothers  could appreciate his courage. He would never hear them, though. So,
pray,  you mothers,  for  Sergei Kazartzev, a man with a big soul. Wish  him
good health.
     Meanwhile, the dukhi started putting pressure on us, dropping down some
hand grenades. That did not cause us any damage and we managed to shoot down
a  couple of dukhi. One went down with a scream. Others,  already dead, fell
down  silently. The grunts did not  bother to search their dead bodies. Step
by step, we moved on, shooting up  at the dukhi above. My neck and shoulders
became stiff from looking up and  the gun smoke was getting into my eyes and
lungs. It would be  great to stop, bend down and cough this  crap out. So, I
had to breath slowly, through my nose. OK, we had reached the walls  of  the
     The first group climbed the wall and got inside. I screamed to overcome
my fear, as I  tried to jump up  the wall. A  window nearby was blocked with
sandbags.  The  bags  were made of heavy-duty glossy  paper and  were packed
densely with sand and soil. My fingers slid on those sandbags, unable to cut
through the surface. My body  armor  and  the  AK were pulling  me down with
their weight. So I stuck to those sandbags, like snot on a mirror, listening
to the battle raging inside. I felt I could not hold on. In a second I would
have fallen down, but anger at my own clumsiness gave me some extra strength
and I managed to  climb up a little. I  found an  opening  between the bags,
with some dirt and some traces of recent  shooting.  This  must  have been a
good machine gun nest over here.
     When I felt I could  hold  on, I shifted my AK  forward to my chest and
peered inside. I was lucky to spot a small group of  the  enemy from behind.
Four  of the dukhi  with their backs  turned toward me were shooting  at the
grunts that were inside the building.
     Almost without aiming, I  gave a long burst at their backs. Two of them
fell down, howling; the other two ran  away. I saw some grunts bursting into
the room and cried  for  help.  They dragged me in and we ran. No words were
said between us.
     The   hall  at  the  first  floor  was  rather  typical  for  a   large
administrative  building.  The  ceiling  was  high and numerous  columns and
niches  provided the defenders with many opportunities to hide, to set up an
ambush or booby-trap the place. Darkness did not help us either. The air was
dense with smoke and dust. I  felt how the gunk that accumulated in my lungs
was trying to get out of there.
     Surprisingly enough, I was still calm, despite the adrenaline rush that
I just had. My mind was clear and worked like a calculator.
     The dukhi were fighting for every inch of the hall, and we kept pushing
them out. We kept shooting,  aiming  at muzzle flairs, at  noises, or simply
intuitively.  Some  furious  gunfire  erupted  to  my  left, followed  by  a
tremendous explosion.  Just  as it happened before, my hearing had  somewhat
improved after the concussion. It was great to hear all the sounds of battle
again. I felt  rage and a wild desire  to  live. My tranquility and numbness
were gone. Charge ahead and kill them all!
     The blast had opened a breach in  the wall and in rushed our neighbors,
who were also makhra, judging by their uniforms. They were eager to join us.
Some of the dukhi, who  made it to the upper floor, were now trying to throw
down hand grenades, but most of the enemy were cut off  and  cornered in the
end of the hall. They  were fighting vigorously, but we were too strong  for
them. We kept firing our grenade launchers, and the small fragments from the
bombs killed everything in the closed space.
     More  troops  came  in.  Siberian  makhra,  Volga  area  makhra,   some
paratroopers,  and even some Interior Ministry  troops  were  all mixed now.
Naturally, there  was  no one in command and  no plan.  There  was  just  an
overwhelming desire to destroy  the  enemy,  to dump these jackals down from
the Palace's roof. Charge ahead!
     I was out of  breath again. Nobody listened to anyone anymore. Shooting
at the  enemy,  everyone was shouting something of their  own, like names of
those  friends who were  killed in  action, pressing the trigger  with every
name. We were right in  the enemy's den! We lost too many of our comrades on
the damned Square. We cried  when we saw our comrades hanged  in the windows
of this building. Though now, at the turn of the century, there is a general
cry for kindness and  forgiveness  in our  world, there will be no mercy for
you, dukhi!  For  using  our boys as  human shields, death  to  you all! The
Judgment Day has come!
     I kept  shooting, excited by the battle again. I put  a long burst into
the  shadow  that  jerked ahead of me.  I was shouting something, too,  like
everybody else,  but I  don't  remember, what. So that is our  Reichstag, at
last! We  have finally done it! I will remember this moment  for the rest of
my life.
     Somebody pat me on the shoulder. Whoa,  this is it's Yuri! He  was also
very  excited, his  eyes  shining with joy. We smile  to each other: we  are
alive, and  if we had  survived all that,  we  will live forever. I tried to
tell him,  that I got my hearing back, but  the noise was just too terrible.
We moved on together.
     Part  of our ragtag force  went down into  the  basement.  There was no
shooting down there, so the basement must have been clean. In our direction,
it was  also clear, and all the surviving dukhi were pushed  upstairs. I had
no  intention of  going upstairs  at the moment. It  was getting really dark
now. The grunts were throwing some bloodied rags out through the windows. We
did not want to spend  the night  here with whatever was left of  the  first
floor defenders.
     There was  some excitement at  the basement entrance, and I saw a group
of makhra with burning torches carrying out corpses of our soldiers from the
basement. Some were carried on improvised stretchers, some were just carried
on hands. Some bodies  were still  dressed in uniforms, and some were naked.
Many  bodies were mutilated and clearly  had signs of torture. Many  corpses
had their throats slashed,  which was a  typical style of  execution by  the
dukhi.  Some had eyes poked out,  fingers  crashed into the bloody mess, and
two corpses had their feet cut off. We screamed in anger. From now on, there
will be no mercy for the enemy!
     In that same  basement, where the world-known blabber Korolev had spent
some time with his team, our soldiers were tortured to  death. They were his
countrymen,  his kin. So, what right did he have to talk about our "cruelty"
and "  civilian  abuse"? He  is the  same kind  of  pervert  as everyone who
defended this building!
     We kept watching, in silence  now. Those who had their helmets or  wool
caps  on, took them off, and watched in  great sorrow. Dear friends, forgive
us, for we were too late and failed to rescue you.
     They kept carrying the bodies out. No one kept count, but there were no
less than 50. When  the  sad line stretched outside the building,  the dukhi
opened fire. Someone screamed, as only a wounded can scream.
     We were suddenly overwhelmed with a thirst  for  revenge. Forward,  and
     Nobody gave an  order,  but we  rushed  toward the two stairways to the
second floor.  The dukhi  tried to  stop us with  a hail  of bullets, but we
overpowered them with our grenade launchers. This time we fought in silence.
There were  no victorious shouts and that  sheer  delight of battle  we felt
earlier was gone.  Only one feeling  was left, Revenge! They cannot be  left
     Step by step,  we moved  upstairs.  Dead militants  were lying  on  the
steps. We walked right over them. These were not human beings any more, just
some stuff under  the feet. All attention was concentrated on aiming. I step
on something soft; it's a militant's corpse. My foot sinks  in some soft and
disgusting stuff. Without looking down, I  kick it  away. The visibility  is
very poor, only the wind blows through the shattered windows. It is too dark
to  see the  enemy.  Now  the game of  who's going to lose his  nerve  first
begins. Whoever makes the first  shot will reveal his position and die. None
of us  smoked or talked,  we  just kept walking  very carefully. One  of the
grunts picked up an empty can  and threw it ahead. At once, three bursts  of
automatic fire  erupted from different sites.  We  locked onto those  muzzle
flashes and fired back.  Those of us who used  the other stairway  opened up
too.  There were more flashes  in front  of us.  We  just kept  spraying the
second  floor with long bursts of fire. Bullets ricocheted  from the columns
with  terrible noise.  It was too dangerous  to  stay  where  we were, so we
     I shot from kneeling a position, then dodged forward, rolled  over  and
shot again, then rushed ahead. It was hard to breathe; I was sweating like a
pig  again.  My feet slipped on broken  glass and  spent  cases. But to stop
meant to die, so we kept moving on. I could hear  the  steps of the soldiers
behind my  back. The open area of the first floor was  easier  to take. Here
there  were  plenty  of  offices,  there  were pillars and  doorways  in the
corridor. Inch by inch, cutting the dukhi  away from  the exits and elevator
shafts we  kept moving inside. We reached the office  area and began mopping
up cleaning it: one or two hand grenades were thrown inside, then a spray of
gunfire. Most of the doors were gone, so we did not have to kick through the
doors down. Someone screamed to the left of me and cursed loudly in Russian.
I figured, the guy  was wounded by the fragments of his own  hand grenade. I
could tell from the noise that he  was taken downstairs. The dukhi were also
throwing  grenades and  shooting  bombs.  More  and  more  often the  fallen
soldiers were carried away.  Some would become "Cargo  200",  and some would
become "Cargo 300"...
     But that was not on my mind then: ahead, charge ahead! Again, I had the
salty taste of blood in my mouth; again, adrenaline rushed in my veins. Fear
and excitement  are the feelings that motivate men in the battle. When these
two  feelings mix, an  explosive is formed that can blast with  a tremendous
amount of energy.
     We got  to another office. A couple of hand grenades were thrown in and
we took cover  behind the  pillars.  As  two explosions thunder  inside  the
office, we heard more explosions echoing in  the far end of the corridor. We
jumped  through  the doorway  and sprayed the  inside  of  the  office  with
bullets. Looks like no one was inside. We turn our backs and at once a burst
of fire comes from the inside. Luckily, no one gets hurt. We throw  grenades
again, shoot bombs and the AK's. Altogether, about six bombs explode inside,
one by one. We keep shooting the automatics and move inside slowly, stumping
on  a  corpse  of  a militant, badly torn by explosions.  It's too  dark  to
inspect the body  and  we just check  his  pockets. When  we get out  of the
office  again, we  find that the rest of  our group had gone  far ahead. The
corridor  is  dark; only  some muzzle  flashes  and  grenade explosions,  so
deafening when inside the  building, light  the darkness. Slowly, everything
quiets down. The second floor is taken!
     I can feel my sympathy for the militants vanishing with every action. I
felt some remorse initially, that we had come here as conquerors, and I  was
tortured by guilt of being an occupant, maybe even a murderer. Now, I do not
give a shit. This is all just about revenge, and nothing else. Everything is
just black  and white.  We  are  the  good  guys,  they  are the  bad  guys.
Gradually, the delight  of the battle  is fading away, and  I felt tired and
drowsy. The  soldiers around me  were  chatting  in excitement, interrupting
each other, telling the most remembered moments  of  the fight. Two soldiers
came from the first floor. I figured, one of them had a shoulder wound.  The
medics kept operating heavily wounded in the basement.
     The  soldiers  pulled some  cotton out  from their padded coats to make
improvised  torches.  A  sympathetic crowd  gathered at  once.  The  wounded
soldier took  his coat off, and  we saw  that  his  shoulder was messed  up.
Someone gave him a canteen with  vodka, or maybe alcohol, and he took a good
drink of  it. Then  they began  cleaning his  wound. The wounded  clutched a
leather belt between his teeth.  And  just  bit it  harder with every touch,
that made  his body shiver.  He wiped sweat and drops of saliva rolling down
his chin with the back of his hand.  Others kept talking, trying to distract
him from pain. Someone offered him a shot of painkiller, but he refused.
     His friend  was working with his bayonet, and a stiletto,  widening the
wound, trying to get to the fragment. When he finally cleared his way to the
piece  of  metal,  he attached  the sheath  to  the bayonet, the  way  it is
normally done to turn the bayonet into scissors to cut the barbed wire. Only
this  time the device would be  used  as forceps. We already knew  that  the
fragment  must  be  pulled  out  quickly,  or  the  patient could  lose  his
conciousness, or even die from pain shock. The war had turned us into fairly
good  medics. Such  skills  are  always valuable here. The  helpers held him
tight now. He stiffened, shut his  eyes and bit the belt harder, waiting for
the  shock to  come.  His friend carefully  reached the fragment  inside the
wound with his improvised  forceps,  and then pulled  it  out abruptly.  The
wounded soldier groaned, jerked backward, then  forward. Blood streamed  out
of the wound. The soldiers  nearby opened the packs of bandages and tried to
stop  the  bleeding, but  it  did not  work.  The blood  quickly  soaked all
bandages and streamed down his back. Either an artery was cut, or this guy's
blood  did not clot fast  enough.  We realized he could eventually die  from
bleeding. Someone took  the mag  off his assault rifle and quickly took  out
several catridges. There was no other way to stop bleeding,  but to use this
barbaric approach. We often dusted small scratches with cigarette ashes, and
more serious wounds were treated with gunpowder.
     A soldier came forward with two  opened cases in his hand. The bandages
were removed at once and he quickly poured the gunpowder from the cases into
the wound. One of  the guys touched  it with his torch and the powder burned
with  a flash that blinded us for a second. The  wounded  soldier jumped up,
but we saw that the bleeding had stopped. Cries of relief roared through the
group. The shoulder was finally bandaged; the fragment was washed with vodka
and given  to the wounded as a  souvenir.  Then  he drank whatever vodka was
left  in the canteen. The operation  was over. We were facing another  long,
cold winter night in Chechnya.
     My partner took something out of his pocket and showed it to me. It was
too  dark to see  the  object, so I bent down and in the dim red light of my
cigarette I saw that he was holding a hand  grenade, and a fuse. So, he also
kept one in his pocket! Our time has not come yet.
     "I see, you did not use it."
     "Not yet. Where have you been? I was going to stay with you, but I lost
you somewhere."
     "Fuck knows where.  I  just ran with the  pack. I was hoping they  were
after some beer, but they had led me here instead."
     "There would be a line to get beer. So, how are you doing?"
     "Fine. Even my ears can hear something. Just fine."
     "Well, just fine?" His voice was skeptical.
     "Aren't  we  both  alive? Yes!  Unhurt? More or less so. We are on  the
second floor of their Reichstag. What else do you need?"
     "A shot of vodka and some chow."
     "Why don't you go upstairs and ask?"
     "Yeah, right. They  will give  me  some. How are we  going to spend the
     "I have no idea, Yuri. Let us figure out something. We can't go down to
the  basement,  cause  the medics  work down there. How can  they operate, I
can't even imagine."
     "Well, they got some torches, just like us here."
     "Shit! This is the end of the Twentieth Century, and they still operate
in torchlight. It's good  to know that the wounds are not treated with snake
oil and witchcraft."
     "When you fight  with your own people, you end up treating  wounds with
witchcraft. What did you expect?"
     "Nothing. Can we sneak out of the building?"
     "No way! No  one could break through, either here or back.  That is it,
we are sealed up!"
     "Not us. Dukhi, of course!"
     "Stop that. If you need some action, there are more stories above  you.
They will wear us down. We won't hold for long without food, water, ammo and
evacuation of the wounded. So, we have no choice but move up."
     "Just wait till  they  surprise us by blowing up a ceiling right  above
our heads, the way they did it in Gosbank. That will be really funny!"
     "They won't do that."
     "Why not?"
     "Cause the upper floors could collapse."
     "Big  deal.  When  Muslims  fight with  unbelievers, they can sacrifice
their lives."
     "Everybody wants to live."
     "True,  but there can always be  a  couple of  fanatics among them, who
don't give  a shit. And  these could light  the fuse. There are enough fools
     "I like  your optimism.  When  one needs to hear some encouragement, we
can always bet on you, Slava. You are always there to boost our morale!"
     "I am just being realistic.  Let's  go  and find  some place to take  a
     "We will need to build a fire. Maybe the dukhi left us some firewood."
     We slowly walked along the corridor, searching for some firewood in the
offices. We picked up whatever we could find:  pieces  of  broken furniture,
doors and window frames. We  carried all that into one of the offices, where
we built  a  fire  with the help of  some office paper we found  there.  The
office furniture was  not as good as firewood.  It  burned  slowly, with the
remnants of polish bubbling and blackening. We sat shoulder to shoulder, our
backs  to  the wall,  watching  the flames  in silence.  Soon,  our thoughts
drifted far away from reality and from everything that happened today.
     The  warmth  of the fire made us drowsy, and despite hunger and thirst,
we fell asleep. One more day in my life had ended; one more day of war...
     We did not sleep comfortably. The limbs became numb every now and then,
and I even got cramps in my leg. Then the fire almost died and I felt really
cold, so I  had to  stay half awake, keeping an eye on the  fire. We woke up
before the dawn and threw  the remaining firewood into the fire, then warmed
up doing some squats, jumping jacks and push-ups. We  finally warmed up, but
without hot meals and  vodka we would not hold out for long. The dukhi would
not let  us out, and  they will keep the reinforcements away.  But  we  also
would not let them out, no way!
     Meanwhile,  some  shooting began on  the square.  Carefully,  we looked
outside. A  large  formation  the size  of a regiment, was  trying to  break
through  into the palace. Judging by  their uniforms, they  were  a  mix  of
marines and internal ministry troops.
     The  dukhi  were  shooting from the  upper  floors.  Only  then  we had
realized the brutality  of what we had managed to fulfill by breaking across
the square earlier. Even in the morning  dusk  the whole  square was clearly
seen  from the palace. And the soldiers down there, who were trying to  find
cover behind  the broken armor and in ditches, were just perfect targets for
shooting practice.
     I heard  some explosions and small arms  fire back  in the corridor. We
rushed  out of the  office. On the second  stairway the soldiers were slowly
retreating  under the  attack of the militants  from above. So, the bastards
are trying to break out! Forget about it, you won't!
     There  was also shooting  on the  first  stairway now.  The dukhi  were
desperately trying to break  out from the  trap. Next to me, Yuri launched a
grenade. I knew that he was  good in that -- a lot better than I am.  I just
lack imagination needed to  predict the trajectory of the round. And on many
occasions I was stunned by his ability  to  shoot a grenade from  some kinky
position.  It  would fly by  some unbelievable arc and  inevitably  hit  the
target. And he would always hit it with the very first shot. So now he  kept
shooting grenades, staying cool. But I knew  that his stony face concealed a
lot of excitement.
     The enemy also switched  to launching bombs and throwing hand grenades,
and that kept both sides well apart from each other. That  grenade duel went
on for a while.
     For a second, I thought it would be great if  we evacuated the building
and  just blew it up  with all the dukhi inside, but  the  brass, of course,
would not go for such radical solution. They need victorious press releases,
with snapshots  of the captured  Palace  on the cover of  some hot magazine.
Maybe, with a banner on top, the way it was on the Reichstag building in May
of 1945. They will rush more troops across the square now, and maybe a third
would not make it. They'd gather no less than a division  inside the Palace,
and most of them would die there.


     dukhi a nickname for the Chechen rebels

     makhra a nickname for the Russian infantry

Last-modified: Sun, 04 Nov 2001 21:21:45 GMT
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