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Vyachslav Mironov. Assault on Grozny Downtown

--------------------------------------------------------------- © Copyright 1996-1999 Vyachslav Mironov © Copyright 2001 translation by Konstantin S. Leskov © Copyright 2001 translation by Marta Malinovskaya Date: 9 Feb 2001 --------------------------------------------------------------- Перевод фрагмента из романа В.Н.Миронова "Я был на этой войне" (Грозный-1995) Translation includes parts 8-th and 9-th of novel.
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© 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 shrapnel. 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 intact. 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 belly. 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 friends. "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 talk. "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 himself? "What are you doing?" I asked alarmed. "Want to smoke, cannot find. Do you have some?" he half-whispered, half-rustled. "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 shrapnel. 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 it? 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 1996-1999 Vyachslav Mironov © Copyright 2001 translation by Konstantin S. Leskov © Copyright 2001 translation by Marta Malinovskaya

Last-modified: Fri, 09 Feb 2001 20:48:30 GMT
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