I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995
"I Witnessed this War. Chechnya 1995" by V.N. Mironov
English translation by R.N. Belousov, translated & published with permission.
Draft July 8 2011
I am running. My lungs are bursting. The wheeze is killing me. I have to run in zig-zags, or as we call it in our brigade "do the corkscrew".
Help me god...help me. Help me endure this mad race. This is it - if I make it, I'm quitting smoking. Clang, snap. Please not a sniper. I fall and crawl, crawl out of harm's way.
I'm laying low. It seems I'm OK after all - it wasn't a sniper, simply a stray.
I catch my breath a little and reorientate myself, then launch forward - in search of the commanding post of the first battalion of my brigade. Just a few hours ago they reported that they have captured a sniper. From that report is was clear that he is Russian and from his own words even from Novosibirsk. A fucking Siberian! I and some reconnaissance troops departed to fetch the "tongue" on a pair of BMP's. My partner remained at the brigade headquarters.
On approaching the railway terminal we started encountering burned-out, mutilated vehicles and a lot of corpses. Our corpses, brothers-Slavs. That was all that remained of the Maikop Brigade, the same one that was shot up and burned by the Chechens on New Year's night 1994-95. God help us break out...
It was said that when the first battalion expelled those fuckers from the terminal building and there was lull in the fighting, one of the soldiers, took a careful look over his surroundings and howled like a wolf. From then on the others avoided him - like he was rabid. He would blunder forward a man possessed and nothing scared him. And there are plenty of these rabid ones in our formation and in that of the enemy. What are you doing to you sons, mother Russia?! They wanted to have him hospitalised, but no, they said "we can't even get the wounded out and this one is still fighting, even though he's cracked it. Back `on the continent' he'll lose it completely".
After only a few blocks we encountered heavy fire. The hurricane of ammunition came from above, maybe twenty barrels, but it lacked precision. We had to leave the personnel carriers behind and continue towards friendly positions on foot with a pair of soldiers. Luckily, the guys had some experience under fire and were used to it. At first though, you'd howl, like that soldier. A green soldier--you'd have to extract out of the trenches and armoured vehicles with the aid of mat and the boot. Behind me is Baku and Kutaisi `90, Tskhinvali `91, Transnistria `92 and now Chechnya `95. We'll sort it out, if only we can escape this hell. If only in one piece. I keep an RGD-5 grenade in my pocket in case I am crippled. It will be enough. I don't care how the crippled heroes of previous wars live in the world. Those heroes that executed their Motherland's orders, the orders of their party or government and fuck knows who else during the "period of restoration of constitutional order" in the former Soviet territories. Just like we are now pounding our own Russian land according to yet another secret decree.
All this passed by in my head in just a few seconds. I looked around. My guys have taken cover near-by and are looking around also. Their mugs black with soot, only the eyes and teeth are glistening. I probably look no better. I indicate to one with my hand and the other with my head - forward, forward, zig-zag, corkscrew and roll. These acrobatics are awkward in field uniform. The sweat pours into your eyes, steam rises from the fabric, a taste of blood in the mouth and pounding in the temples. Our bloodstreams full of adrenaline. Short dashes over minced brick, concrete and glass. Carefully avoiding open spaces. Still alive, thank God.
Swish, swish! Your mother, is it really a sniper after all? We dive into the nearest basement, grenades at the ready, hell knows who's waiting for us there. A pair of bodies. Judging by the uniform they are ours. With a nod I indicate to one fighter to keep watch through the window, whilst taking position near the door. The second fighter leans over one of the fallen and undoes his uniform. He retrieves his papers and tears off the string with the dog-tag. He does the same with the other. The lads won't care any more, but their families should surely be notified. Otherwise the smart guys from government won't pay them pensions and motivate it say by the fact that the soldiers are missing in action, possibly even deserted or have crossed over to the enemy.
-So, did you get the documents? - I asked.
-Got them, - answered private Semyonov aka "Semyon". - What's our next move?
-We'll go through the basement to the neighbouring street and the first battalion is right there. Are you able to radio them? - I enquired from the radio man, private Kharlamov, aka "Glue". His huge, long hands with disproportionately developed wrists, stick-like stuck out of his sleeves - no uniform fit him. When you first see him, you imagine that these hands off were torn of a gorilla and sawn onto a man. Meanwhile, nobody now remembered why he was nick-named "Glue".
These are our soldiers, compatriots, Siberians. And collectively, we are "makhra", from the word "makhorka". Only in books and in movies about the Great Patriotic War do they praise infantry with the epithet "Queen of the Fields". In real life, we are "makhra", whilst singularly an infantryman is a "makhor". And that's how it is.
-And radio the "boxes", - that would be our BMP, that remained behind, on the approaches to the train terminal, - find out how they are faring.
Glue left his post at the window and started mumbling into the radio, summoning the Commanding Post of the first battalion, then our BMP.
-All good, comrade Captain, - reported the radioman. - "Sopka" is expecting us, the "boxes" were shot at, so they rolled back down one block.
-Allright, let's go before we cark it, - I rasped, coughing. Finally I caught my breath and spat out yellow-green phlegm - the consequences of a years-long smoking habit. - Mamma always told me: "Learn English".
-My mamma always told me, "Don't go climbing in wells, sonny", continued Semyon.
Having glanced through the window on the opposite side of the house and detected no traces of the enemy's presence, we ran, bent over almost quadruple, towards the rail terminal. The aviation is hovering over the city, dropping bombs and strafing someone's positions from an untouchable altitude. There is no single frontline here, the fighting is patchy and the result is a layered cake of our forces and that of the Chechens, our forces again and so forth. In other words - an idiot-house. No coordination of almost any kind. It is especially hard to work with the internal forces. Mainly this is their operation and we are "makhra" - doing all their work for them. Oftentimes we would storm the same target without realising. Sometimes we'd call in artillery or air support against their positions, whilst they do the same to ours. We take each-other prisoner and exchange fire in the dark.
Just now, we're headed for the rail terminal, where almost the entire Maikop brigade parted with their lives. They disappeared into the night, with no proper reconnaissance of the approaches or the positions and numbers of the enemy. Without artillery preparation. When the Maikopians relaxed after the assault and began to dose off - it's no joke to run on only vodka and adrenaline for more than a week, the Chechens approached and shot them up at point-blank. Just like with Chapaev, who didn't put up patrols. Here the patrols either fell asleep or were knifed out quietly. Everything that could burn and could not burn--burned. The ground, the asphalt, the walls of buildings burned from the spilled fuel. The people dashed about in this fiery hell: some shot back, some helped the wounded, some shot themselves, just to avoid falling into Chechen hands, others ran and those cannot be blamed for it. How would you, the reader, carry yourself in this inferno? You wouldn't know. There you have it and don't you dare judge them.
Nobody will know how they died. The commander, with shot-up legs, commanded to the end, whilest he could have left for the rear. He remained. God, keep their souls and our lives...
When our brigade, after heavy fighting broke through to the Maikopians, the tanks had to roll over the piled-up bodies of our brother-Slavs...And when you remember how the tracks of the tanks and the personnel carriers break and crush the flesh, the guts of those just like you winding up on their rollers, how the head bursts open under the caterpillar and with a crackling sound everything around it is spattered with a red-grey mass of brains--the brains of perhaps a future genius, a poet, a scientist or maybe just a good guy, son, friend, who didn't cowardly run, who instead went to this shitty Chechnya and who did not perhaps fully understand what happened; when your boots slide through a bloody mess--it is then that is most important is to think of nothing but the one thing: forward and survive, forward and survive, protect your people, because the fighters you loose will be in your dreams. And you will have to write obituaries and acts of identification of corpses.
I would not wish this work upon my worst enemy. It would be better to bulge your eyes and spray right and left out of your trusty AKS, than to sit in a dugout and write out these terrible papers. What are these wars for? Although, honestly, still, none of us understood completely what is and was happening here. There is only one goal - to survive and to fulfil the objective, retaining a maximum of your people. If you do not fulfil it, they'll send others, who perhaps and due to your unprofessionalism, cowardice, the desire to return home will lie under assault-machine gun fire, be torn apart by grenades, mines, would endure capture. Would you feel uneasy bearing such responsibility? So do I.
Glue spotted a stirring in the window of a five-floor block, that stood adjacent to the square next to the terminal. He managed a yell of "Chechens!" and rolled back. I and Simyon also hid behind a pile of concrete. Glue started to feverishly soak the window out of his gun, whilst we prepared the grenade launchers.
Oh what a wonderful thing it is this grenade-launcher, that is lovingly called the "underbarreler" with all the diminutiveness the Russian language can offer, although it weighs in a bit at about 500 grams. It is attached to the underside of the assault rifle's barrel. It can fire directly or via a ballistic trajectory. Imagine yourself a small length of pipe with a trigger and a safety bracket. The sight is included, but we got so good-dogged at it in the first days of war that we are now doing without it. Using the under-barrel launcher GP-25, one can lob a grenade into any window and if need be throw it over any building. In a straight line, it shoots to about four hundred meters. The radius of fragment dispersion--fourteen meters. A sheer fairytale. This thing saved countless lives in Grozny. How does one smoke out snipers from the upper floors in a rapid combat environment? One does not. As you wait for the artillery, the aviation, whilst you roll back and summon your "boxes", that can easily get torched by RPG troops...Meanwhile every fighter has his own underbarreller, so he smokes the bastards out himself. Also the grenade ammunition has one major advantage: it explodes on impact. When fighting at close quarters, say in a stairwell of an apartment building, where the enemy is located on the upper floors--imagine, you throw a hand grenade and it has a 3-4 second delay after the pin is removed. So count--you tear off the pin, lob it upstairs, but the cunt bounces off something and is flying back down to you. Only later, approximately January 15-17, they supplied us with "highland" or as we called them "Afghan" grenades, that exploded only when they hit something hard. In the meantime, someone from the local Kulibinskites thought of a method, where you knock the grenade against the heel of your boot, which arms it and then you throw the dear thing as far away from you as you can, where it explodes upon first contact with an obstacle and mows down everything living in the confined space.
So, me and Simyon started lobbing out of our underbarrelers into the window, where Glue spotted some sort of movement. Semyon got it first go, I--the second. My first hit the wall, exploded sending down a substantial slice of veneer and raising a cloud of dust.
We exploited this diversion and traversed the open space before us, sometimes running sometimes crawling and after two more buildings finally reached friendly positions.
Those idiots nearly shot us, thinking we were Chechens.
They escorted us to the commanding post, where we located the battalion's commander.
The combat was a character. Not too tall, but he made up for it as a commander and as a person. As it was our brigade had good fortune as far as the quality of its commanders was concerned. I won't get into the nitty-gritty of their flaws and virtues, suffice to say they were real men. Those who served and fought will understand what that means.
First battalion's command post was quartered in the basement of a railway terminal. When we entered, the combat was vigorously employing the mat at somebody on the other end of the field telephone.
-You fucking scarecrow, where are you going! They are trying to lure, you simpleton ass out and you and your kindergarten are playing right into it! Execute a mop-up and defend everything around you! Not a single Chechen in your zone of responsibility! - bellowed the combat into the handset. - Drag the boxes back, let the makhra do the work! You sit in that observation post and keep your head in!
Throwing down the receiver, he saw me.
-Good health, - he smiled.
-God's help, - said I, extending my hand.
-What's new at the headquarters? Lets have dinner, - he offered, looking me over, pleased. To see a familiar face in war is a happy occasion. It means that fortune is not only on your side, but also that of your comrades.
Having not yet recovered from all the running and gunfire, I knew: that if I was to not drink something now and calm down, I would start shaking rapidly and nervously. Or maybe instead I'd enter a semi-hysterical state where I want to babble on an on. So I gladly accepted this invitation to table.
We seated ourselves upon empty shell crates and the combat quietly called out: "Ivan, we have guests, come have dinner". Captain Iliin, chief of staff of the first battalion emerged from the adjacent basement room. Thin, if not to say wiry, the first in the brigade on the subject of a volleyball contests, but pedantic and neat in his work. In peace, always well-ironed, buttoned up and sparkling, but now he little stood out from the rest. Same as all, he was covered in soot, unshaven and sleepless.
-Hello, Slava, - he said and his eyes glittered slightly. We were almost the same age, but I - an officer of the brigade staff, whilst he, chief of the battalion staff. And we were both in the rank of captain. We have been friends for a long time now, our wives and children - also.
I did not conceal emotion and we embraced. Quietly, the nerves were kicking in, hysterics were lapping at my composure after that short excursion through death.
I wasn't worried about my fighters--they were amongst their own kind and will be warm and fed.
-Did you come for the sniper, Slava?, asked the combat.
-Yes, who else would I be after?, - I answered. - How did you take that bitch?
-Yeah, for three days that bastard didn't let us have any peace, - complained Ivan. - holed up next to the terminal, across the square and sprayed us from there. He laid down three fighters and he wounded the first company commander in the leg. Meanwhile we can't evacuate. We summoned the medics here and they operated on the spot.
-Oh yeah, how is he? - I asked. - I heard the story from the medics, great work, those guys, but how's the company commander - will he live and walk?
-He will, he will, - the combat confirmed happily, - only I had to relieve him, and as you know company commanders are in deficit, so the two-shitters are in charge now (this pejorative term was applied to tertiary graduates conscripted for two years with an officer's rank) But, this lad seems to be allright. Hot in the head, like Chapaev on his horse, wants to liberate all Chechnya on his own.
-What did the sniper have on him? - I asked. - Since it could well be that it's some crazy local, there's a lot of them wandering about the city now.
Combat and COS looked offended. Ivan leapt up, ran to his quarters and brought back our own Russian-made SKS rifle. Only the optical sight was imported, mounted on a non-standard bracket. I spotted it straight away having seen it before--most likely Japanese. Nice toy.
While we examine the carabin, Pal Palych, - the combat - tells us that in the sniper's pockets they found two packets of bullets whilst in his "lair", meaning in spot where he set up the ambush - a carton of beer and two cartons of cigarettes. Whilst he was telling us this, Palych was setting the table: he cut the bread, opened the condensed milk, spam, mysterious salads, pickled tomatoes and cucumbers. Finally upon this improvised table, he placed a bottle of vodka.
Meanwhile I counted the notches on the stock. 32 interrupted lives. We all knew how snipers worked from direct experience. When we entered the city using old, almost pre-war maps, they were there to greet us. Whilst we were racing down the highway splitting heads and cracking teeth inside the BMPs, cursing all and everything, the snipers managed to shoot off our radio antennas that were swaying to and fro--and this was in the dark and obscured by clouds of dust. When that resulted in communications disruptions and the commanders would send the fighters to investigate what the hell is going on, the snipers shot them. Also the Chechen shooters have this ploy: they hit the legs, so the fighter can't crawl away, then they wait. The wounded cry out and those coming to them to help are shot up like chickens. In this manner, the brigade lost about thirty. As a result we have a special grudge with these people. It's surprising that the fighters took this bastard alive.
The other day the second battalion came upon a lair with all signs of a woman occupant. The common elements are: a couch or an armchair, non-alcoholic drinks, in contrast to the men-snipers and some sort of a soft toy. The rifle is hidden nearby. A whole day the fighters laid in wait, not going to the toilet, not even smoking. Then she came. What happened there - no-one knows, but the Checheness flew out like a bird from the roof of the nine-storey house and a grenade blast tore her to shreds on the way down. The fighters insisted that when she caught a whiff of their unwashed bodies, the sniper sprinted up to the top and jumped out with a live grenade. Naturally everyone nodded with mock regret that they had no chance to assist her in her flight. No-one really believed that this last journey with a live grenade was voluntary. As far as I remember the Chechens did not commit suicide. This is our native trait - a fear of capture, dishonour, torture. After this incident the combat said something, that became our division's motto: "Siberians do not surrender, nor do they take prisoners".
Meanwhile, the com-batt poured the vodka, and I and Ivan sat down. If somebody tells you that we were drunk when fighting this war - spit in their face. In war, men drink as a means of disinfection. They can't always boil water or wash their hands properly. "Red eyes don't go yellow" was the motto of our field medics. Water for cooking, drinking and washing had to be drawn from Sunzha - a small river that runs through all of Chechnya, including Grozny. There were so many corpses of men and animals floating in it that hygiene was not to be thought of. No, nobody would get pissed in war--it's certain death. Besides, your comrades would not let you - who knows what's on the mind of a drunk and armed man?
We raised our plastic cups of which we obtained a large number at the airport "Severny" and brought them together. The resulting sound was not a clink, but a rustling, "so that the political officer doesn't hear", jested the officers.
-To good fortune, men, - pronounced the combat and having breathed the air out of his lungs sunk the half-glass of vodka.
-To her, the cursed, - I picked up and also drank. Immediately I felt the heat in my throat and a warm wave rolled inwards and stopped in my stomach.
Languor spread through the body. Everyone started shovelling in the food - who knows when we can eat in peace again. The bread, the spam, pickles, all flew down into my stomach. Now it was Ivan, who poured the vodka and we drank silently, having rustled the cups together. I retrieved my cigarettes "Tu-134", that I brought from home, but noticed that the combat and Ivan have Marlboros, I put them back.
-Yeah, answered the combat.
-How's the second battalion? - asked Ivan, dragging deeply.
-They are taking the hotel "Kavkaz", and to their aid we're sending the third battalion with the tanks. The Chechens are dug in hard and holding on. Ulianovites and the marines are storming the Minutka Square and Dudaev's palace, but for now are just loosing lives with little result.
-That means that we'll be sent to their aid soon, interdicted the combat. - This, unlike smashing bottles over heads requires thinking - how to save lives and how to achieve the objective. I never understood the paratroopers, imagine to leap out of the plane in a sober state of mind--hm? - joked Palych, merrily.
-As for me, I never understood the border guards, picked up Ivan, - four years in the academy, where they are taught to look into the binoculars and walk next to a dog. I feel it in my heart, we'll be gnawing the asphalt on this fucking square.
In the back of my mind, I have already decided, that I won't deliver this sniper to the brigade staff. The bitch will die from a stray bullet or during an "attempted escape". Same shit, he has already told us everything he could have said.
Only in movies do they convince the "tongue" on ideological grounds to cough up the military secrets known to him. In real life, everything is simpler. It all depends on imagination, anger and time. If time and desire are present, one can take the enamel off the prisoner's teeth using a chisel and convince them with the aid of the "field telephone". This is a certain brown box with a crank on the side. You connect a pair of wires to the interlocutor and spin the crank, having first asked a number of questions. But this is done in comfortable conditions and if the subject is to be handed over to the attorney's aides. No traces remain. It is recommended to douse the subject in water and so that the screams are muffled to run big engines nearbly. But that is purely aesthetics.
In the field, everything is much simpler. The toes are shot off, one by one. There is no man that can endure this. You would tell all you know and all you remember. Does this make the reader ill? You were celebrating new year, visited friends, went down ice-hills with your kiddies, half drunk, instead of protesting in public squares demanding to save our fighters. You did not collect warm clothes or gave money to those Russians that fled Chechnya and did not donate any part of the money that you pissed up the wall towards cigarettes for the soldiers. So don't turn away and listen to the truth of what war is like.
Allright, lets go for the third and come see your shooter, I said, pouring the remnants of vodka into the glasses.
We stood up, took the glasses, kept a few seconds' silence and drank without clinking. The third toast is the most important for us soldiers. Whilst this toast for civilians is usually for "love", for the students is for something else, for soldiers it is "for the fallen". It is drunk upright, silently and without touching the glasses, with all partaking letting the images of those they have lost pass before their inner sight. Its a terrible toast, but from another perspective, you know that if you were to perish, in five and in twenty-five years some snotty lieutenant in some far-east garrison forgotten by God, or some portly colonel in the staff of a prestigious base would raise the third toast and drink to you.
We drank and I threw down a chunk of spam and a piece of "officer's lemon" - an onion. There are no vitamins on the front, the body needs them, and so the onion was nicknamed the officer's lemon. It is eaten in war everywhere and always, the smell is indeed terrible, but you get used to it, especially as it, at least a little, covers up the omnipresent, vomit inducing and inside-out-turning smell of decaying human flesh. Having consumed the chaser and washed it down with condensed milk, straight from the can, I took a cigarette from the com-batt's pack that was on the table and headed straight for the exit.
Com-batt and Ivan Iliin followed. About thirty meters from the entrance to the basement, a tight circle of fighters surrounded a tank. They were debating something loudly. I noticed the barrel of the tank's gun somehow unnaturally pointed upwards. When we came closer, we noticed the rope hanging down from the gun-barrel.
Having seen us, the fighters parted. The picture before us was colourful, but at the same time frightening: at the end of this rope hung a man. His face was swollen from beatings, his eyes semi-closed, the tongue stuck out of his mouth, his hands were tied behind him. I have seen plenty of corpses in the past, but I do not like them, I do not like them.
The com-batt started shouting at the fighters:
-Who did this?! Which bitches, guts uncut? (I won't quote the other epithets used, just ask any army man who served ten years or more to swear a bit, you'll enrich your lexicon with new and exciting turns of speech).
The combat continued to rage and demand explanations, however looking at the sly expression on his mug, I knew that he was not mad at all. Of course he regretted not having the opportunity to string the sniper up himself, but appearances have to be kept up in front of an officer of the staff. And everyone present understood this completely. Also it was understood that nobody will report this incident to the military tribunal. All of this crossed my mind as I was smoking the com-batt's Marlboro. To think of it; that just a few short hours ago, these cigarettes belonged to this man, whose feet are dangling in the air in front of my face, then they passed onto the com-batt, who is now busy shouting and finally I am smoking them as I watch this spectacle.
This circus started to bore me, so I asked the soldiers surrounding me, amongst whom I also spotted Semyon and Glue:
- What did he say before kicking the bucket?
The soldiers burst out, interrupting one another that "that bitch" (which is the kindest epithet they used) shouted that he regretted felling only thirty of "your men".
The fighters emphasised the word "your" and I could see that they were telling the truth. Had he not said this, he might have lived a while longer.
At this point, one of the soldiers said something that amused everyone:
-Comrade Captain, he hung himself.
-He tied the noose on a raised barrel with bound hands and then leapt from the armour? - I asked, holding back laughter.
I then turned to the com-batt:
-Oh well, take your corpse down and we'll report that he suicided, having not being able to live with a guilty conscience, - I spat out the butt and crushed it with my heel, - And I'll take his rifle with me.
-Nikolaich, - he addressed me for the first time in the patronymic, - Leave the rifle with me, my guts churn when I see it.
Having looked into his eyes, his expression begging, I knew that I could not take the gun with me.
-You will owe me, and you, - I directed to Ivan, - will be the witness.
-Thank you, Nikolaich, - Palych vigorously shook my hand.
-Because of this idiot, I had to leg it here, under fire and now go back the same way.
-So take him with you, and say that he died during an exchange of fire, Ivan joked.
-Go to hell, - I replied, un-maliciously. You can grab and cart this stiff yourself. And if in the future, you'll allow yourself the misjudgement of taking someone prisoner, either you bring him to the brigade staff yourself or finish him quietly and on the spot. Make sure to somehow commend the fighters that took him. That's all, we're leaving. Issue the order to have us escorted for a few blocks.
We shook hands and the com-batt, snorting, reached into his inner pocket and produced a sealed Marlboro pack. I thanked him and called out to my fighters:
-Semyon, Glue, we're leaving.
They approached, adjusting their guns.
-Ready? Did you at least get fed?
-They fed us and poured us a hundred grams, - answered Semyon. - They also replenished our ammo and provisions.
-OK men, let's go, we have to reach our positions while it's still light, - I muttered, buttoning up as I walked and attaching a new magazine.
I had a superb magazine, taken from the RPK. Their capacity is fifteen rounds greater than the standard assault rifle magazines, - each one holds 45 rounds. I laid them together like "The Jack" and taped them up with isolation tape. So I always have 90 rounds at my disposal. Unfortunately the calibre is only 5.45 instead of the old 7.62. The 5.45 has a large ricochet and the bullet "wonders", whilst 7.62 once you lay it down, you lay it down. There is a story around, that during the Vietnam war, the Americans complained to their gun-makers that the M-16 wounds more than it kills (same as with the AK-47 and the AKM by the way). So the gun-makers went to visit their troops in the field. They looked about a bit and began experimenting on the spot--they drilled a hole in the top of the bullet and welded in a needle. This operation resulted in a shift in the centre of gravity, the bullet began to ricochet more and upon contact wound up almost all of the man's guts onto itself. The enemy experienced a decrease in woundings and an increase in lethal outcomes.
Our guys thought of nothing more original than to follow the American example and in Afghanistan replaced the 7.62-caliber Kalashnikovs with the forty fives. Maybe some like it, but not me.
Having buttoned up and taken up our guns, we hopped up and down a bit and looked each-other over.
-Lord's help, - I pronounced and having turned around saw the five fighters that were preparing in the same manner, to escort us.
One more time I glanced over at the hanged sniper. The tank's gun returned to its normal angle and the rope with the dead man was gone.
-That's it, let's go, - I commanded and with a nod indicated that the first battalion fighters go first.
Being more familiar with their surroundings, they, unlike we, who got here over the topside, dove into a basement and lead us through pile-ups and fissures. In one spot we descended into the sewer, somewhere else we emerged again on top. I completely lost my sense of direction and could only determine the route using the hand compass. It indicated that we were going the right way. After about thirty minutes, the sergeant that led us, stopped and started searching for his cigarettes. We all lit up. Then he said: -That's it - there are about five to seven blocks remaining to your boxes, no more than that. But you'll have to continue on your own over the top-side.
Having finished my smoke, I extended my arm to the sergeant and farewelled each of the escorting soldiers. And I said:
-Good luck! We all need good luck.
-Why don't you go ahead and we'll remain here and listen for ten minutes or so.
-This way, - I directed to Semyon and Glue indicating the direction with my hand. I leapt out first, fell down and tolled and looked around, pointing with my gun. Having noticed nothing suspicious, I waved tot he others. Semyon emerged first, then Glue with the radio.
In this manner we continued for another forty minutes until we came up our "boxes". As soon as we set off, we came under a hurricane of fire from the top levels.
The leading vehicle, which I was riding, veered to the left, then hit a corner. Its speed dropped and then it stopped completely. We were sitting on the armour and swore as we opened fire.
-Mechanic! You're fucked over the head, what are you doing, your mother, quickly get out of here! I hummed into the hatch. Then addressing the fighters sitting next to me:
-Deploy a smoke screen!
-The caterpillar is torn off! - shouted the mechanic, getting out of the BMP.
-Your mother, everyone off the armour. Four of you stretch the caterpillar back on, the rest of you take up defence. Ready two underbarrelers - the rest use the assault rifles, the second vehicle - use the gun. That's it lads, lets roll!
The heat of battle seized me once again. Fear-- is the first thing one feels, but you know that when fear is defeated, you'll taste a hint of blood in your mouth, you feel calm and powerful, your senses are sharpened. You notice all, your brain like a good computer instantaneously delivers the correct solutions and a heap of combinations. Immediately having rolled off the armour, rolled on the ground and I'm behind a fragment of concrete wall. I feverishly search for the target, but cannot yet see whence from they are shooting us up. Hold. A breath in and out, in and slowly out, that's it I'm ready, let's roll Slavs, well stretch their eyes over their black ass. Adrenaline is once again raging in my veins and a feel a merry draw of the battle boiling up inside of me.
The fighters did not have to be ordered twice. They quickly and precisely pulled out the rings from the smoke generator boxes and our vehicle disappeared in multi-coloured plumes of smoke. The Russian soldier is thrifty and consequently takes everything that isn't nailed down, just in case. So, when we took the airport "Severny" the lads picked up a bunch of smoke sticks. The second vehicle having seen us, released their own smokescreen. This was fortunate timing as the Chechens realised they won't be able to pick the infantry off the armour and started firing out of an RPG.
What is an RPG? An ordinary grenade launcher, he also has a little sister, called "the fly". It looks like a pipe, the first modifications folded out telescopically. Both are designed for destruction of armoured vehicles and infantry. As the grenade encounters an obstacle, (this would often be an armoured plate), it releases a stream of fire the thickness of a needle that burns through the metal and inside the target creates a high level of pressure and a happy temperature of say three thousand degrees, or so. The shells and ammo begin to explode. This terrible explosion can tear off a many-ton turret and propel it thirty meters, shred the crew and the riders on top. How many infantry perished, when the lads were sitting thusly inside metal death-traps? However, there were instances when the mechanic or the gunner had their hatches open, in which case the explosion simply propelled them outward, slightly broken and concussed, but alive and not crippled.
So these sons of bitches started to peck us with an RPG and on top of that from "bumblebees", and neither could the enemy see us, nor could we see them. It should be noted that we looked quite funny. Enveloped in heavy standard-issue black smoke from which coloured aviation smokes - blue, red, yellow, issued like geysers, weaving together and then separating, distracting the adversary.
The second BMP's gun started reporting, shooting randomly into the general direction of the grenade launchers. And then there was an explosion over there. Either we hit something, or the RPG trooper slipped up in the heat of battle. Both "fly" and "bumblebee" are after all a pipe. For the complete idiot only, there is a label "direction of fire". Who knows what happened there, but the Lord was on our side today it seems. Hearing that the shooting from the Chechen side died down, our fighters started shouting merrily, mainly in mat and monosyllables that are understood no doubt by all warriors of the globe.
-No stuffing around! - I barked. - Continue stretching on the caterpillar, second vehicle, take up defence.
I stood up and began stretching my stiff legs and back, not relaxing for even a second, peering though the clearing smoke at the building from which the shooting came from.
Judging by the angle of fire, it was probably the third floor. In the confusion and because of the smoke, I didn't properly determine where we were being shot at from. And only now did I see a gaping hole on the third level, torn open by the blast, belching smoke.
Semyon, who during the whole fight was beside me, pointed at the hole in the wall:
-The bitches cooked! Vyacheslav Nikolayevich, let's go check maybe?
In his eyes was such a begging expression, one would think that his bride was waiting for him there.
-In a moment, wait, - I said and addressing the mechanics working near the vehicle: - How long are you going to screw around with that track?
-Almost done, Comrade Captain, another five minutes, rasped one of the fighters, as he assisted in affixing the caterpillar onto the leading sprocket.
-Semyon, Glue, Mauser, American, Picasso - you're with me. The rest continue the repairs and cover us. If we do not return in half an hour, roll back two blocks and then wait for another half an hour. If we don't return then, go back to headquarters. That's all.
And to the fighters that were to come with me:
-Let's go, you devil spawn. Picasso--lead, rearguard--Glue, Semyon--on the right side, Mauser--left side. Prepare the grenades.
-What about me? - piped up the weedy, but outwardly charming fighter, who possessed a first grade in rock climbing and nicknamed "American" because he turned up to be conscripted wearing shorts with the American flag design.
-And you will walk next to us and won't snap with your soup-hole, - I answered un-maliciously. Let's go mop up the Chechens.
-Everyone understood what it meant to "mop up", namely, no prisoners. "A good Indian is a dead Indian" - the conquistadors' motto was very fitting in our situation. What can a live Chechen offer us, especially some infantryman? Well - nothing, no maps, no stores, no communications systems - not-a-thing. And if the bitch is wounded, you have to stuff around with him - set out a guard. Meanwhile he could pull some trick - sabotage for example. Neither can we exchange him. We'll finish him and that the end of story. It's even better for him - at least we won't torture him.
Carefully, we ascended to the third floor. There were fire points set up in two adjacent apartments. In one laid the RPG trooper, in the other, two gunners equipped with Kalashnikov machine guns. The most amazing thing was that they were kids 13-15 years of age. One of the gunners was still alive, unconscious, and was moaning softly. Judging by the profusely bleeding stump, in place of a leg, he was not going to survive. The shell hit the RPG gunner's room and by the looks of it destroyed his stores. I glanced around once more and the good mood evaporated. Of course these were Chechens and they shot at us, thirsting for our death, but... But they were kids. Shit. I spat off to the side and ordered the fighters standing beside me: "Finish him off and then comb the entire stairwell, in case somebody else crawled off". Though, somehow I doubted it.
The three assault rifle reported - this was Semyon, Glue and Picasso releasing a short burst each into the mangled body. The kid bulked, the bullets tore up his chest, somebody hit the head, which cracked open marring the floor...I calmly watched this murder. I then turned away from the corpse, I hate corpses, maybe this is a normal response from a healthy individual? Who knows. I took out the sniper's Marlboro and treated the fighters.
-I thought I said it in plain Russian - comb the stairwell. Is that understood? I said dragging on the cigarette. - The fighters mumbled something and went off to carry out the order. Meanwhile, I went through the pockets of the deceased, holding back bouts of vomit and covering myself in puffs of cigarette smoke.
Oo! This wouldn't be the military ID card? Here, let's see: Semyonov Aleksei Pavlovich, born 1975. Semyonov, Semyonov, Semyonov. Something stirred in my memory. Wasn't there a Semyonov in the sapper engineers, that went missing in action during the storming of the "Severny" airport? He was sent to bring the fuse chord for de-mining and the kid disappeared. I hope he wasn't shooting at us. I carefully examined the Chechen's faces, comparing it to the bad photo on the ID card. I looked through a hole in the wall at the guy with the grenade launcher. Thank God, it wasn't any of them. I leafed through the ID a bit more. Fuck! Our detachment, our Semyonov. You fuckers are lucky, otherwise your death would have been terrible. I would have questioned you personally, I know how to loosen tongues virtue of being through many wars in the former Soviet territories, and I know how to keep them alive long and sane.
The feeling of regret over the dead kids passed immediately and only hatred remained, hatred so strong that my teeth clenched spasmodically. If I have to, I will crush with my own hands not sparing my own life. If only I can bring the moron back, alive and unharmed.
At this point, my fighters called out from stairwell.
-Comrade Captain, Comrade Captain, we found somebody, up there, on the roof! Gasping shouted the American.
I sprinted up the stairs like an arrow, and didn't wheeze. Our fighter was on the roof, nailed down, like Jesus, on a cross. His severed penis was inserted into his mouth. And despite the layer of mud encrusting his face, I recognised him from the photograph: it was him--Semyonov. And even though I have seen him only about ten times and didn't interact with him, I felt a lump in my throat, tears welling up in my eyes and a tickling in my nose. I regretted having not spoken to him earlier. I think he was commandeered to our brigade out of Abakan immediately before departure for Chechnya.
-They nailed him to the cross and placed him on the roof. It looks like he was toppled over by the blast, which is why we didn't notice him, Picasso began. He seemed to be ashamed that we didn't spot the lad earlier.
This is our soldier, - I laboured through the lump in my throat and holding back shouting and expletives, Semyonov, a sapper, disappeared at "Severny" during de-mining. I found his ID on one of the shooters.
The fighters were as if struck by electricity, they started bustling around Semyonov, carefully removing from the cross, trying all the while not to damage him as though he was still alive. They whispered as if not to wake him, tears dripping and dripping from their eyes, making it harder to work. I turned away and retrieved the cigarette pack, light up, drawing greedily, trying to chase down the lump in my throat. I glanced sideways to check on the progress. When Semyonov was taken off the cross, a makeshift stretcher was constructed from the planks and rags lying nearbly and the martyr was placed upon it, I said:
-Glue, talk to the boxes, tell them to drive up closer and that we are carrying "Cargo 200". Our "Cargo 200".
I went first, checking the route, while the fighters carefully as if handling a wounded man, carried Semyonov on the stretcher. Glue concluded our procession weighed down with the radio and whatever remaining weaponry we found on the Chechens.
Having emerged from the stairwell, we loaded the body into the crew compartment and set off. I thought to myself, woe to any Chechen that tried to show his nose in our way. For confirmation, I looked around and saw the fighters with the same frightening, empty eyes as mine. Only the fire of vengeance blazes inside and not a thing more, just emptiness. Blood, blood, blood, to pour out my rage, that a scull crack under my gun-stock and ribs crunch under my boot. To punch through with my knuckles and tear arteries and to look in their eyes and ask them: "Why did you, carrion, shoot at Russians?"
Hold on bitches, there will be no mercy, not to the elderly or the children, nor to the women - nobody. Stalin and Yermolov were right - these people cannot be re-educated, only destroyed.