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     © Copyright Valery Gorban
     WWW: http://zhurnal.lib.ru/g/gorbanx_w_w/
     WWW: http://www.artofwar.ru/gor/index_tale_gor.html
     Date: 25 Feb 2004

     I would like to express my gratitude to Elena Tchirkova and Lawrence G.
Kelley for their assistance in translating my stories

     Oh war, war...
     Up ahead a crowd is droning. The square is congested, and groups on its
approaches are casting burning, rancorous glances at us as well.
     Another protest meeting.
     Well, they can go to  Allah. Only a fool would run that gauntlet - they
would either put a  bullet into you on the sly or climb onto the vehicle and
try to cause some sort of trouble.  Of course, they  might  be  apprehensive
about OMON troops. Our  guys are  a desperate bunch, and if it  comes  to  a
fight, they'll clear the way  with grenades. But  why assume  that liability
for no good reason - there are women everywhere.
     Normal heroes  always avoid trouble.  Too bad, of course, that the side
streets are unfamiliar.  True,  we  have less  chance of  stumbling  into an
ambush here,  since  the Chechen  fighters generally  wait  for  us  on  our
permanent patrol routes. But  then, we might  encounter all  kinds of other,
unanticipated situations.  There are  even districts where Chechen  fighters
wander around in the open, with impunity.
     Actually,  we  would  like  to get  back  to home  base  as  quickly as
possible. A melon - a huge,  long one - is  lying on the commander's seat in
the cab of our Ural. We made a special trip to the market to buy it. In heat
like  this, you just can't look at such  a marvelous  piece of fruit without
craving it.
     "Don't worry, melon, we'll get to you shortly. Right, Winnie?"
     The driver, a good-natured, strapping  type  who could easily pass  for
Winnie-the-Pooh's brother,  nods  his head  in agreement  and  involuntarily
swallows  his saliva. He has spent the entire  day  behind  the wheel,  even
missing his midday  meal.  While the  others were  eating in  the GUOSh mess
hall, Winnie was off somewhere loading up supplies for the detachment.

     "Serpent, look!"
     I put on my "sphere", open the door partway, and  take cover behind it.
My body armor is hanging on the door; it had better not fall out when Winnie
     Pooh is just  great - it  seems as if he never takes his eyes  off  the
road,  yet he immediately detected that muddled  commotion on  our route  up
     On  the left,  at the  edge of  a large vacant  lot, is a small market.
Stalls and  simple counters  - some  laden  with  spare  parts,  others with
vegetables and various kinds of canned  goods - stand on  the narrow square.
But the people  are not trading or milling around the counters. Rather, they
are  squatting  down  behind the stalls  and hiding  beneath  the  counters.
Several are lying on the ground - some motionless, with their hands covering
their heads,  while  others  try  to crawl  on  their sides behind mounds of
rubbish. Things are  even more  interesting to  the  right, where a Uazik is
standing, and behind it - two men in camouflage with automatic weapons. They
have spotted us but are in no hurry to disappear. In fact, just the opposite
is  the  case - they are waving their hands to stop us.  One of them is even
pointing towards the market-place as if to say, "Take a look over there!"
     Well, friend, rest assured that we'll look everywhere. Failure to do so
here can  mean death. What's  more, this is  an adverse location -  it's too
open. There are only some toppled concrete panels lying on the right, and to
the  front  - a narrow track with private homes.  But we still need to reach
them - that is, unless someone begins shooting from there.
     "Prepare to engage - left and right!"
     My boys are wide-awake  - they are already in position  along the sides
of  the truck  and immediately drop down onto one knee with their weapons at
the  ready. The  vehicle has  iron  sides and  wooden  benches  -  not great
protection  but at  least it will shield you from shrapnel. Our  helmets and
body armor are not exactly made of paperboard, either. But beyond that, it's
everyone to his own fate.
     For my part, I am the commander.
     Without fully knowing the  situation, I  need to make a decision on how
to react within a precious few seconds. It could be that all this is  just a
show,  a diversion to lure us  into an ambush. If so, we need to move out to
the rear ASAP,  before  it's too late, covering  our retreat  with  fire. It
could even be  that friendlies have gotten  into trouble and  need our help.
But the price of an error is a "load 200", or maybe more than one...
     There's the answer!
     Flashes come from the roof of a burnt-out  building on the left, beyond
the vacant lot, and from the dark recesses that once were its windows.
     Rat-ta-ta-ta-ta - rounds impact like beads against  the steel frame  of
our Ural.
     The chatter of automatic weapons fire reaches us only later.
     "Dismount! Take cover by the vehicle!"
     What's wrong with you studs, couldn't you hear  me above the  noise? Or
did your brains disconnect at the sound of a standard order?
     "Jump, for crying out fucking loud!"
     And  another  thing!  Babadya,  who weighs a hundred kilograms in  full
battle  dress  (including  twenty-five  kilos   of   metal)  and  carries  a
machine-gun with two boxes of cartridges, soars like a bird over the side of
the truck and hits the ground with a force of five on the Richter scale.  At
least he didn't break his leg! The rest of the troops also flash through the
air like  spotted  ghosts and  melt away at the same spot.  It takes  only a
second or  two, and no one is left onboard. Only wary barrels peer out  from
behind  the  concrete panels  by the curb, pointing toward that  treacherous
building. But  not all  of  them: Two of my automatic  riflemen  train their
weapons on the  unidentified  individuals in  camouflage, who  have hunkered
down behind their Uazik and placed their automatic weapons on the ground.
     "We're friendlies, and one of us is wounded!"
     The moment my guys dismount, Winnie steps on the gas and moves our Ural
into cover by a private home. The Ural hugs the wall, awaiting my orders.
     Sergeant  Chavycha, a combat  sniper by specialty  and an individual of
rare composure, glues himself to the sight of his rifle.
     "Range - three hundred, Commander."
     "Student" is also on the alert, though he is young soldier on his first
tour of duty here.
     "On the five-story building, at the rear!"
     There he is! A hunched, black figure flashes along the edge of the roof
and takes cover behind its rim.
     Good job, Student!
     "Target:  The  roof of  an  industrial building, range - three  hundred
meters! Grenade launchers - fire! Fifth  story, third window on the left, an
automatic rifleman,  Chavycha  -  zap him!  At  the rear, on the roof of the
right-hand five-story building. Babadya - take him out!"
     The accuracy of the first volley from the grenade launchers varies. One
round falls short,  but  two burst  right on target. No  one can explain how
each  individual  determines his own  hit with volley fire, yet splashes  of
black smoke from the second volley envelop the entire roof.
     Chavycha's  sniper  rifle  cracks  twice,  and  the  roar of  Babadya's
machine-gun follows it. Then there  is silence. My troops  sit behind cover,
and all of them comb the sector to the  front with their  cold, professional
eyes. Gone are the days when, out of fear or passion, they would lash out at
the  whole area in response  to a single shot, exhausting  their ammunition.
The Chechen fighters  also keep quiet. Evidently,  they understand whom they
are dealing with. Maybe they have withdrawn, but maybe they are just waiting
for us to let our guard down and cluster in a group by the vehicle...
     While  there is a break in the action, we need to inform the detachment
that we have run into trouble.
     "Base, this is Serpent."
     "Base is up."
     "We are taking fire in the area near the car market, on...some street."
     Who the  fuck  knows what street!  There is a private  housing  area in
front of  us, but I  can't make out the street  signs behind the  trees. And
severely damaged, blackened five-story buildings.
     "I can't determine my exact position. About a kilometer from you in the
direction  of  the  former Blockpost  20. When you approach, we'll mark  our
position with signal flares."
     "Hold on, brothers! We'll be right there!"
     OK, now we'll attend to our voluntary prisoners.
     Those two  have their  identification documents in order, but we  don't
trust paper here. Something  else is more important - the left side of their
Uazik is  riddled  with  bullet-holes.  And two more individuals are in  the
vehicle. One has a  bandaged  chest, and the scarlet blot on his dressing is
expanding  before our eyes. The other is supporting him and  ripping  open a
new  bandage pack with his teeth. This is  no charade  -  clearly, they  are
friendlies. When  everyone  around  speaks  fluent  Russian,  you  learn  to
identify  each other "by scent." There  are  thousands  of nuances to use in
doing so, not all of which are explainable. But you can tell that these guys
are novices from a mile away.
     To  judge from  the results, the Chechen  fighters'  sense of  smell is
working  properly too. These guys  got off easily; it could have been worse.
Now we need to evacuate them on the double.
     "Did you administer promedol? He won't go into shock, will he?"
     "We've done all that! Now he needs to get to the hospital, and fast!"
     "Get behind the wheel! We'll cover you!"
     "Pooh, this is Serpent!"
     "I'm up. Go ahead!"
     "Back up  and shield the Uazik with the side of your vehicle! Chavycha,
keep your eyes peeled, Winnie will be a sitting duck!"
     The Ural  begins  to roar in  the tense  silence, lurches  out from its
cover, and slams  on its brakes directly to the left of the UAZ. Well,  what
are  you  waiting for! The Uazik  joins up,  and together they dash off.  As
Winnie drives, he literally shields these Chechens - now his brothers - with
his own body, since he is sitting on the left. His body armor hanging on the
door will protect his side, but where can he  stick his head  - beneath  the
dashboard? He still has  to watch the road,  and his eyes are mounted in his
head, not on channels that he can raise like a periscope. The helmet on  his
head? Well, it  will deflect  the  small stuff, like shrapnel  fragments and
ricochets. But if a  sniper should pull the trigger right now, in a fraction
of a second his helmet will fly off like a pot full of holes -  a pot filled
with  red and yellow porridge. And  the  "spirits" have RPGs too, which they
employ  masterfully. God help Winnie,  if we see a "star with a tail" flying
out to meet him...
     OK, now they have passed us and reached the cover of the houses!
     The  Uazik keeps its  speed  up and  races further.  Best  of luck,  my
friend! Have a good life!

     Now Winnie will return to extract our guys.
     "Listen up, we are going to withdraw under cover of the Ural."
     Again, this huge iron beast accelerates in reverse, as if performing in
a motor show. For  an instant, Winnie's eyes flash in the right-hand mirror.
He doesn't look to the left, where death is hovering, but at the troops - so
as not to hit anyone rushing toward the vehicle.
     There, they've  materialized!  Everyone grabs  onto  of the side of the
Ural with his left hand and holds  his weapon in his right, as he  has  been
taught. The Ural  starts off,  covering our people with its side. The troops
move out smartly, scarcely touching the ground. In this maneuver, the  truck
sets the speed, and it's  your  job to move your legs, stay in step, and not
fall under your buddy.
     Finally,  we exit this  shooting gallery. Now -  into  the  vehicle and
     Winnie tosses off his helmet; streams of  perspiration are running down
his face. You could work up a sweat doing this job!
     I leap onto the running board and take a  final  look into the rear  of
the truck. Head count - all here? Move out!
     But then a plaintive cry comes from behind.
     What's  that?  Why have  they  all  begun  waving? Two individuals  are
kneeling and  gesturing for to us to come over  - and they are right in  the
"center ring!" If this  whole square were a  shooting range,  their location
would be the bull's-eye on the  center target! Yeah, right! If  you  need us
that badly, make your way over here yourselves.
     "Help, we have a wounded man here!"
     True,  a third man is lying behind them. His pose had bothered  me from
the  beginning  of  this  whole mess, and now I see why.  One of his legs is
broken  at  the shin and sticking out at an unbelievable angle, so that  his
heel is almost touching his knee. And a dark puddle of blood is creeping out
from beneath his leg. This guy has taken a serious hit, and if we don't help
him,  he'll die within five  minutes from pain-induced shock and blood loss.
But how to help him?
     "Bring him over here!"
     "We can't - his leg will rip off!"
     What  a bloody  story! Well, fuck him, why stick out  our necks for his
sake!  Get out  of the vehicle, and you'll take  a bullet  instantly! If the
Chechen fighters are still  there, they are hawking this guy, waiting for us
to take the bait. Yet how can we  leave  him? He's a human being  and  still
alive - at least, for now.
     Oh, Mom and all my guardian angels, see me through this one!
     "Cover me!"
     I take a deep breath and make the icy plunge...
     Now I  know what  a surgeon sees and how  he  feels during  a high-risk
operation. My procedures are not as complex, but in this predicament... Some
Chechens crawl over to help, while others fire a burst over my head, but too
high. Why, to scare off their own?
     Our Sniper Rifle  responds, and a Kalashnikov  adds  a  short repartee.
That is McDuck's work - he has an automatic rifle with an optical sight.
     The wounded man whispers, "Just go away and leave me here."
     "Shut up and breathe evenly."
     A Chechen near me loses his temper and springs to  his feet, waving his
fist and shouting something in his own language. The air is quiet, his voice
is loud, and it can probably be heard a long way off.
     Well, I won't be distracted now. The whole world has  contracted into a
small spot, as if illuminated by a searchlight beam at night. I keep the leg
of  the poor devil before my eyes -  the leg with the broken shin held on by
twisted, torn muscles and stretched skin. Pink bone is jutting out some five
centimeters beyond the flesh, and clotted marrow is hanging  down. I'll need
to straighten everything out and put things together. That means one hell of
a lot of pain...
     First  step - apply a tourniquet below the knee. Blood gushes  from the
wound as if it were a syringe. It's a  good thing that my sleeves are rolled
up; washing them would be pure torture.
     Now  -  promedol. Twist  in the cap on  the syringe and  perforate  the
membrane. Then right through his pants and into  the muscle. Damn, I botched
it! His thigh is  in spasm; it's as hard as a rock. I inject half a tube  of
the drug, and the needle breaks.
     "Give me more promedol!"
     A hand with a small white tube appears at my side. A second injection.
     A second tourniquet surfaces before my eyes. It goes above the knee.
     "Now, hold on!"
     Straighten out  the  leg,  put  the bone into flesh,  and set the  ends
together. No, you can't use an ordinary bandage to hold it.
     "I could use a splint!"
     I hear a crack next to me,  and strips of wood from a case of beer come
into view  by my hand. Great! Now,  apply  sterile bandages to both sides  -
it's a lacerated wound that  extends all the way  through. The splints go on
top, then more bandages. Yes, we have them!
     The  heel of his other leg is shattered. The tendons  are sticking out,
and  the bone  is growing pink. Once more - only this time without promedol!
The drug has taken effect, and this guy is limp.
     But brawny!  He looks  to  be 40-45 and as hard  as  nails. Anyone else
would either have passed  out or screamed  his head off as he faded, yet his
guy is only gritting his teeth and stammering:
     "Why have they maimed me? I'm not fighting in this war - I just came to
buy a carburetor, and they opened up on me with an automatic weapon!"
     As we work, one of my assistants recounts  the story  to me: "The Uazik
came under fire from  a house. They didn't understand, just jumped out, then
someone shouted:  `Drop!' So everyone did, but Umar took too  long, and they
shot him  in the legs. He hadn't  done a thing! They  just shot him from the
     It was a familiar story, and you can't blame those guys. It takes a lot
of crawling around under fire before you learn not to lash  out  like a fool
in response to every shot, but to work a specific target.  Still,  sometimes
even the most experienced  professionals  suffer a  breakdown. They  are  on
edge. Here  in Chechnya, if you want to live,  you had  better shoot first -
you can see the  results later. And  all sorts of  things  happen. There are
times when, amidst the confusion,  you even fire  on your own troops. Nearly
everyone here has experienced it. This is  a place where you take fire  from
everywhere -  from "green areas," houses, and ruins. And gunmen concealed in
a  market crowd have shot and killed  more than one federal trooper. In this
case too, someone just gave the signal  to  the ambush and aimed in  on  the
Uazik...   Yet  our  rulers  and  purist  legislators,  having  initiated  a
full-scale war, didn't even declared a state of emergency! They could hardly
care  less. They're  making  money, while we here wreck our nerves and spill
our blood - ours  and  that  of the other  side. So, my  friend, don't blame
those  who  pull  the trigger.  Rather,  condemn  those  who unleashed  this
     Done. His second leg is wrapped. Now I can take a deep breath and raise
my eyes. I have long felt that  someone  was covering me on  the left, where
the bullets were whizzing, but there was no time to look.
     What I see now touches and warms my heart.
     My brothers!
     No, you  won't  hear words of  affection  or  gratitude  from  me,  the
venomous Serpent, perpetually dissatisfied with everything.  Waxing  lyrical
is not something  that we  do  in OMON.  But  I'll  remember your condemned,
concentrated faces as long as I live. You deployed on that dusty square and,
with weapons bristling, shielded your commander and the wounded Chechen like
a living fence  in  body armor. How much anguish did  you  have to endure in
those minutes?
     Winnie is  back  again. Having covered  our backs  from  the five-story
buildings with his Ural, he  is  sitting in  a wheel well, holding  my  body
armor ready for me.
     Now it really is all over.
     The local police  pull  up.  The  crowd  grows  bold,  stands  up,  and
surrounds us, babbling in Russian and Chechen. The wounded man gets put into
the patrol car. A young Chechen shakes my hand, hiding his eyes:
     "Thank you."
     "Don't  mention  it. And  don't  forget  to tell  the doctors about the
promedol,  that we  administered  a tube and  a half.  And the time when  we
applied the  tourniquet. That's very  important: a tube and a half  and  the
     "I understand, I won't forget...."
     Umar also raises his head:
     "Thank you."
     "Don't mention it. Good luck and a have a good life. Forgive us, if you

     A column from  the commandant's office races  out to  meet us  with its
weapons  bristling. The trucks brake to a stop,  and our troops spill out of
them, followed by  our Siberian brethren  and soldiers from  the Urals. They
slap us on the back and inundate us with questions. Their commander Dushman,
a tough, bearded character, grumbles:
     "Real fine! You call for help, but where should we  go - to the  `trash
heap by the road intersection!'"
     Don't gripe, my friend, I can see right though  you. I see how glad you
are that your friends managed by themselves. And how proud you are that, all
as one, your young studs rushed to their aid.
     And again, I experience this heart-warming feeling.
     Listen to me, people: There are still real men  in Russia. Not all have
sold out for greenbacks, nor have they corrupted their souls.
     Listen to me, Russia: You do still have someone to defend you!

     Both my  arms are bloodstained up to elbows,  my skin is covered with a
scab-like crimson crust, and everything itches beneath it. But the  washroom
is as dry as the Sahara - no water at all.
     Oh, will I ever give it to that orderly!
     And there he is, gawking at the melon and salivating.
     "Commander, when can we line up for it?"
     "Once  I wash my hands. But your entire detail  can count on  pulling a
second  24-hour period of  duty!  You  guys managed to spot the melon  right
away, but the fact that  the wash stands  are empty - that you don't fucking
     "But  the water just ran out, Serpent! The patrols  have  been going to
chow, and the tank is empty."
     "Well,  pretty  boy, you've found  a real fine  excuse! Now,  take  the
neighbors' bucket and  tell  the first sergeant that you two will be running
at full  steam as a bucket brigade until you haul enough water here  for the
whole detachment! Got it? Now, make like a fly!"
     The  orderly dashes off, and the commandant  hurriedly  bounds down the
stairs in the opposite direction. He's not coming for us, is he?
     "Serpent, the  neighbors  have problems at  their blockpost! Allegedly,
some  civilians have been shot and killed. The city commandant has issued an
order  to take  about twenty men  and  sort  things out on  the scene before
personnel from the prosecutor's office and the local police arrive."
     "What, with a whole battalion the neighbors  can't respond themselves?!
It's  their  blockpost,  let them  handle  it.  Besides,  they  have all the
     "We've  been  ordered  to  send   police  to  handle  it  -  to  ensure
objectivity. And to guard  the  scene of the incident until the prosecutor's
personnel arrive."
     "Oh, how I hate getting involved in this shit...  Can't someone else be
sent? You can count  all of the people I  have on base on the fingers of one
     "Equipment and  personnel are available. Take  a  BTR, and our neighbor
will  provide  a second one. I want you  and  your men to go, and  you  take
charge  of  this  composite  group!  The  prosecutor's  `inquisition'  is  a
secondary matter. First, you need to  rescue those guys at  the blockpost. A
crowd has shown up from who-knows-where. Now go, get a move on!"
     Well, screw it! The pleasure has vanished anyway.
     "Cat, take the  melon to  officers' spaces. But warn anyone who returns
before me that if he eats it, I'll cut him to pieces rather than the melon!"
     There,  I frightened them! Naturally, they'll leave  a slice for  their
commander. But for Winnie and the other men who did back flips together with
me today? If not, those guys will be angry.
     I  see the same  doubt  reflected  in  the eyes of Pioneer, the platoon
     "Serpent, let's finish off the melon while the group loads up."
     And in fact, who the hell knows how this  mission will  turn out?  This
could be the last melon we'll ever get  to enjoy  in this life. And there it
is, glistening like amber. Its cool smell makes your mouth water.
     "Come and get it, guys!" Someone sticks a knife into its side.
     Someone passes  the  top half up to those  seated on the  BTR, and  the
bottom half gets slashed to pieces immediately.
     The troops from  the reserve group  bound  out of their doors. Each one
grabs a  slice on the move - the way he does  his automatic weapon during an
alert - and clambers onto the BTR. As for the automatic weapons  themselves,
the troops have  long been clutching them. They even sleep in the embrace of
their Kalashnikovs.
     "It's a great melon, Serpent!"
     "You  had  better  hurry and  chow down  - when we dismount,  you'll be
eating dust!"
     It  really is a good one, soft and  aromatic. The sweet juice runs down
my arms, washing pink stripes in the bloody crust. Damn it, we bounce over a
pothole,  and the  piece  of  melon  in  my hand  knocks  against  my other,
bloodstained arm. The edge of the fruit turns watermelon red.  But you can't
let it go to waste, can you - I just hope my Chechen "blood brother" doesn't
have AIDS.
     The melon has a salty aftertaste...
     Hey, Serpent, do you remember that incident?
     Yes,  way  back  then,  in  the  yard. How old were  you  - thirteen or
     Do  you  remember  how, for no  reason at all, that  tall, lanky  moron
nicknamed Fascist  whacked a passing cat  with a  stone, then grabbed her by
the  rear paws and  smashed her  head against a tree? Do  you  remember  how
repulsive it was that a sticky drop of cat's blood hit your cheek and spread
out in a caustic swath! And how, after scrubbing all the skin off your cheek
in a vain attempt to wash away that nauseating blot, you retched for days on
end, just recalling what had happened...
     Oh, war, war!

     I just wonder what's happening out there at Blockpost 9.

     OMON - elite special purpose forces within the Russian police
     Ural-4320  -  a five-ton  truck  widely used by  Russian  military  and
paramilitary forces
     GUOSh - the Main Directorate of the Operational Staff
     A round titanium helmet worn by Russian special purpose forces
     UAZ-469 - a Russian jeep
     Russian codename for a KIA (killed in action)
     The  GP-25  "Kostyor"  (Campfire) 40-mm  underbarrel  grenade  launcher
attaches  to  the  underside of  Kalashnikov automatic  rifles and  can fire
fragmentation rounds (grenades) out to a range of 400 meters.
     A narcotic  antishock  medication  that Russian forces  carry in  their
individual first-aid pouches
     "Spirits" - one of  various Russian nicknames for the Chechen fighters.
A holdover from the Soviet  intervention in Afghanistan,  the term initially
referred to the mujahideen guerrillas in that conflict.
     RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenades, multipurpose weapons extensively  used
in  Chechnya (and earlier,  in  Afghanistan) against a  variety  of targets,
including vehicles, structures, personnel, and even helicopters.
     In 1995-1996, during the first  Chechen campaign, no state of emergency
was  declared in Chechnya. Thus,  personnel in  the  group of federal forces
were formally required to operate as if they were performing routine patrols
in Moscow, Ryazan' or other's peaceful city's. Author's note.
     15 Dushman - Russian military slang for a mujahideen.
     The Russian term actually used here, razborki, is  criminal slang for a
showdown  between  gangs, indicating the animosity  that exists  between the
prosecutor's office and the federal forces in Chechnya.

Last-modified: Fri, 27 Feb 2004 21:31:59 GMT
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