ArtOfWar. Творчество ветеранов последних войн. Сайт имени Владимира Григорьева

Прокудин Николай Николаевич
Do your best to survive. Romantic

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    3rd chapter.

  Chapter 3. First Raid
   The company made a noise, moving around the barrack like an uneasy beehive. Tomorrow we are having combat operations near Pagman. Excitement squeezed me, because I didn't know what should expect. I may be killed - 'one bullet has got you, one bullet has got you!' Could I do this or not? No idea.
   'Zampolit! Feel nervous?' the company commander asked.
   'Just a bit! What to take and put on?'
   'Never mind! Starshina and I will help you. You see, I'll give you pesochka, I've got one more, to put on in hot weather. This suit is made of canvas. Then I'll give you a breastbag. Have you got a sleeping-bag and sportshoes?'
   'Alexeev presented me the sleeping-bag, but I'll buy shoes.'
   'Okay, the rest things you can get in the store-room. Go there just now!'
   Starshina (Armenian in nationality) was glad of my attention to him, started handing me flasks, one rucksack, spoon, mess-tin.
   'Zampolit, don't be scared! Veronyan, that is I, will give you everything you need, send you off, and, for sure, wait for your coming back. No killed men! I promise!'
   I attached AKS-74 to my name, put four frags, two ammo packets into the breastbag, then four full magazines, a couple of flares. Moreover, I put two hundred ammoes into rucksack.
   The platoon commanders controlled how well soldiers prepared for the raid. Nobody could say anything about this noise finish.
   The soldiers filled BMPs with dry rations, brought ammunition, as well as water tanks, and many other things to take with. They hauled old mattresses and kettles from the store-rooms. A great amount of different things was going to have raid. First, the officers controlled equipment themselves, but after dinner the deputy staff chief in person ordered battalion to form up. His moustache, like in anger, were twitching, while he was inspecting companies. His crying, biting criticism addressed to the company commander, which were to eliminate defects some time later.
   In an hour the battalion was formed up again to be inspected by the commander.
   The battalion commander was lieutenant-colonel in rank. His last name was Tsyganok. He watched the companies not in a hurry, as if he wanted to demonstrate his disease, caused by getting tired. He looked like a person, who made a favour for his battalion. Then he left to report on finished work.
   Combat operations were in charge of the staff chief, major Podorozhnik. He was very cunning, because of his getting to the top in a month.
   One hour later the officers from the Regiment Office inspected first raid soldiers. The commanders made up mind to have forming up again, but they couldn't do it because of short time.
   The company commander showed me BMP to take my place, as other senior officers did.
   'Go to the gun-turret! This is the most suitable place for you. The soldiers know how to go. Bear in mind, you must be always ready to get signals.'
   I took my place at the edge of gun-port, while the soldiers were covering armor. In some minutes the regiment fighting vehicles and tanks started growing in one column.
   BMP-2 moved between wheels to defense rear units. Fighting vehicles left regiment deliberately, then went along the road. As the head tanks were passing by the sideroad to the army headquarters, some parking vehicles brought up the rear.
   I was sitting on the BMP turret, when senior lieutenant Artukhin (he served in the Regiment Office), the Young Communist League Secretary, landed by me.
   'Grigory, would you like to control me?'
   'No. The regiment zampolit ordered me to have combat operations like other battalion officers. While away the time is better together. Have you got a mattrass in landing compartment?'
   'Yeah! Soldiers did.'
   Grisha Artukhin served for the reconnaissance unit not long ago, in general, getting in Afghanistan for a year. This very confident person was four years older than me. He used to have morilizing tone. This fact irritated me. I got to know him on that very day of Alexeev's leaving. They were students in one military school. He gave Meleschenko and me some photoes to watch. I was shocked.
   This canyon on picture was covered by Soviet killed soldiers as well as Afghan soldiers. The enemies prevailed fortunately. They lay side by side in blood. Grigory said in details, that Panjishir Province was a camp for prisoners. The dookhs fired all of them, the reconnaissance unit found the camp. The Soviet soldiers took it by assault.
   Ahmad Shah's assistants did this work. I was horrified by the pictures.
   It was getting dark, when we moved to the Kabul center. A great number of different kungs rounded the headquarters building corner as well as logistics, which didn't let us go faster.
   Sun in August was severe, so as made armor scorching hot. The regiment vehicles stopped opposite the building of Afghan Defense Ministry. We couldn't go further. Soldiers were dozing, rested against each other; they kept guns in hands so to make butts comfortable by tank cover skirts.
   'Nick! I'll sleep tomorrow properly, but you needn't stay by me. Go to the landing compartment to have a break,' the senior lieutenant said to me.
   'What about signals?'
   'I'll care about it! Give me your helmet!' Grigory set my mind in rest.
   There was nobody in the left landing compartment. I put my gun byside, doing breastbag up, then I closed the hatch. But no sleep at all! I was lying nervous about possible frags into the tankside or maybe dynamite, or even attack. Stuffy room; uncomfortable and strange atmosphere.
   The logistics column could go slowly, just one-two hundred metres. Tank gave me shaking, which helped to fall asleep. I dreamed about something homelike.
  * * *
   Somebody opened the hatch I stayed, then kicked legs. In a moment gun in hands was the way to beat my offender.
   'Nick! Nick!' the young 'communist' tried to awake me. He started shaking me. One of the legs was going to be outside in a few minutes.
   I came to senses because of fresh air, got to the landing compartment. The sailor's vest was wet because of hot weather. I was free.
   The column stayed in the city centre. We didn't leave Kabul! Clear starry sky had no clouds. The night cool made me fresh. Everything was asleep except vehicles, which rattled angrily, making exhaust fumes. Barking was everywhere.
   I let Grigory to go to bed, taking his place on the gun-turret I sat there, my feet dangling, put helmet on my head, but rifle - on the hatch. One stare around gave me the following picture: soldiers were sleeping, however, no chance to do the same made mechanic smoke a lot. Gun-layer was snoring in the turret. Deputy platoon commander Nazimov, one of old files, lay between matches with both legs up. How could he keep balance?
   I threw up my head and stood still. Dark sky, covered by stars, was huge and endless. As my stare was roving up, it seemed to me, that sky was going down to take me away. It was very soothing. People in common never watch night sky, but if somebody once in life tried as I did, he could feel flying.
   The column continued moving very slowly. One cross-road had BTRs from the Commandant's office, near them 'tsarandoevtsy' warmed by fires.
   I still wanted to have dreams, while the transport was moving in no hurry. Night cool didn't help me to stay cheerful. The mechanic threw on me his pea-jacket, when we stopped. I could hear in ear-phones the staff chief's voice - he addressed bad language to somebody. On the whole radiostation gave some unclear sounds.
   In the early morning I buried my head in the hatch; this fact led me to have horrible dreams.
  * * *
   The sun came in sight quickly round the mountains, as if he wanted to pour out anger on strangers. Morning cool was brought by wind.
   I was trembling with excitement.
   Different kinds of transport went to the valley.
   Suddenly thunder came. 'Grads' and 'Uragans' started firing towards the mountains. Series of projectile tails came into view in the sky. I wish no one took place, where these projectiles would fall.
   The battalion officers and soldiers dispersed into company columns, held the line; tank-crews began constructing stone fortifications round the fighting vehicles.
   Infantry men, in damn words, formed companies and platoons near BMPs. Company commanders went to the regimental command post. While we were talking to the soldiers, Kavun returned.
   'Officers! Come to me! Praporschik as well,' he addressed the GPV commander in particular, because this old fox tried to lie down by the machine-gun. 'Every company fights separetely. Three tanks will lift us to this place,' the company commander pointed one thing on the map. 'We will hold a position in the mountains above the road to control kishlak, as well as sideroads. The dookhs may attack us on the mountain Kuruk or any other place. Nobody will help us. All tanks will leave us.'
   Vanya scratched his head, then wrinkled his nose in freckles. He moaned,
   'When will I get my replacement, I've been waiting for a long time?'
  * * *
   We have been moving on hands and knees in the mountains. This was the first climbing.
   'How are you, Nick?' the company commander asked me.
   'It's too hot for climbing!' my words didn't come easy. I had no wish to talk.
   'Never mind! It's just workout. The most hard things in the mountains are to have three thousand metres for climbing or thirty kilometres up and down. This will make you feel sorry for yourself. Now have training and get used to it,' giving this piece of advice, he slapped me on the back.
   Suddenly the dell had two figures. Kavun took field-glasses and asked himself.
   'Suck me sideways! What hell of these women here?'
   In a moment one figure was fired at. She dropped her things and fell to the ground.
   'Whose shot!?' Ivan cvried. 'Mother fuckers, who did this?'
   'I did!' one soldier answered lively. He backed his sniper-gun. 'Nobody knows who is there under paranja: a khanuma or a dookh.'
   Tarchuk said these words. He was one of two soldiers from special forces, which had joined our battalion for bringing up to full strength, before the raid took place.
   The company commander came right up to him, looking into his face, knocked the soldier down.
   'I'll show you true life! Bastards like you can't breathe without my order! If something, like this, takes place again, I'll kill you. This woman can bring troubles! The company is to be stationed here for a week. I say, if something, like this, takes place again, I'll pull your other nostril.' One of his nostrils was cut, the right cheek had fragment scars. 'Chaos is for special forces. I'm your everything.' The company commander kicked him gently, stepping over.
   Tarchuk said something hard to make clear. I bent down to pronounce,
  'Are you spitting curses at someone? Broken teeth? Would you like to have more?'
   The soldier didn't expect me to be so care about him. He got himself up, pouring blood, after being hit in the mouth, then muttered,
   'Company commander uses his hands as he wants, but zampolit doesn't respond to it.'
   'Everything is under my control. I can do the same. One squeak out of you and military justice will take place. Committing outrages for natives will be the main charge. Have your jaws close, wipe face and step further! Holy shit!'
   I followed the captain. I was sweaty, equipment didn't let me be in high speed, my legs felt like stopping, but I had to survive. Overcoming pain, I came to the company commander. He looked, as if he had no troubles.
   'Commander! I think you shouldn't have done it with soldier. If he reports on, we'll get problems.'
   'Stay cool! His nostril guarantees his silence. Don't you realize what a devil we have to deal with? Killer! We've got no idea how he joined our battalion. After hospital he didn't serve for special forces, but arrived here. Drug addict, for sure! Keep an eye on him. I don't want to have him in company. This fucking animal welcomed aboriginals as if it's in common use for shuravi.'
   In an hour we went to the flat ground in the mountains. The commander divided company into three parts. Platoon One and GPV were stationed above the ground; platoon Two and company executive officer went left of the top; platoon Three and all commanders followed by engineers, mortar gunners, and artillery spotter - in the right line of the top and in the centre.
   The soldiers started to build something, I saw first time in my life.
   'Ivan, what's this?'
   'This is SPS. You can sleep in. If we are attacked, they will help us to resist. Digging is impossible in the mountains.'
   'Okay! But I think, how will we hold the line?'
   Night was drawing near. The Soviet subunits were far away from here.
   How about guards? What it can be, if all soldiers and officers fall asleep? The dookhs will kill us, don't they? What does the company commander think of?
   He smiled,
   'Nick! The soldiers know what to do without my words. Now the platoon executive officer is giving time period and post for each soldier. All chiefs, that is you and platoon commanders, are to control them at night. No soldier can sleep and must guard me, because I'm waiting for my replacement. Ha-ha-ha!' He smiled again. 'Let's go to have dinner!'
   'But I've not made the dry rations.'
   'What a fellow! What do they teach you there? The soldiers have cooked. Give your food to the platoon executive officer for use of other guys. If they cook, they'll call us. Medic, how about tea?' Vanya cried.
   'Tea...', sergeant Tomilin grumbled. 'I'm not a cook, you know. I think, you can say this about the Uzbeks.'
   'Find out exactly! You don't want to make tea, do you? Why don't you care about my health? I'm going to get replacement soon. What are you displeased with, Bandera?'
  * * *
   'What am I displeased with?' Stepan mumbled. 'One idiot had a shot so as the company will be punished. I don't want to work as a medic, because I have to have got business with such suckers. Fuck him!'
   'Stepan, don't say a word. You are to make clear about tea, but not to discuss the suckers.'
   Tomilin, chuntering, went to the fire, which was made behind the heap of stones, to come back with two cups of tea.
   'Tea is served!' he pronounced these words, if he had been working as a waiter for many years in the restaurant 'Metropol'. 'In some minutes porridge is served.'
   'What about beefsteak? Fruits? Vitamines?' Kavun asked with assumed dismay.
   Ivan pretended to be annoyed,
   'Stepan, you won't go home, if you don't cherish me. I'm waiting to get replacement. My liver disease demands actions, you see. What will you do?'
   'Perhaps, condensed milk you've got, will help you?'
   'No, my condensed milk is out of the question! What about yours?'
   'I'll do it myself. It's high time to take care of health. I'll be a demobee soon!'
   'What? You are to serve in Afghanistan for one more year!'
   'Eight months exactly!'
   'If I were you, I would hang!'
   'Zampolit has got an unenviable position. He has got two years to serve,' the sergeant gave a maliscious remark.
   'Do it twice, lieutenant!' the captain laughed at me. 'Today, you don't realize, how much time is before leaving for the Soviet Union. But don't be sad! Take tea and take care of yourself! Relax!'
   Thoughts of two years to come didn't make me happy.
   'Somebody is approaching us. But how can he walk?' The platoon executive officer Dubino reported.
   'What are you talking about?' platoon commander asked.
   'See you!'
   Apart of hillsides, flock of sheep was coming to us, which was followed by a young one-legged boy on crutches. He climbed so well. In a minute, being close to the Soviet soldiers, he cried something.
   'He asks about non-fire at him,' the machine-gunner (Tadjik in nationality) interpreted.
   'Ziboev, tell him to come to us. We won't hurt him. All soldiers, go to the SPSs! Keep out of sight or he can count you! Ziboev, interpret for him!'
  * * *
   In a moment a boy came to us. He had no right leg. His dark skin resulted after sunburn or strong dirt. His white teeth sparkled at his quick talking.
   'The boy says, that he lives in the kishlak, the nearest from this place; he asks about non-fire,' the soldier interpreted.
   The commander made him sure to have no war, if the natives don't fire themselves.
   'Why did you kill khanuma?' Ziboev interpreted.
   The platoon executive officer was angry with sharp-shooter, but answered to the boy in open heart,
   'Tell him, we didn't know anything about khanuma, thought of dushman. If his natives don't believe, we'll kill them. Let him join us.'
   The boy sat on the ground without any help. The soldiers gave him tea, a piece of dried bread, some sugar.
   I gazed at the boy with interest, and absurd ideas surpressed my mind. He was a shephard, too young, probably eleven or twelve years old. But he could do everything himself. His appearance reminded me about war. He was innocent. The new reality came to me.
   'What's up with your leg? Are you a dushman? Shuravi hurt you?' the medic smiled. 'Would you like to have the leg? I'm a doctor! I can do this!'
   The boy laughed, going on to talk to the interpreter.
   'He stepped, but mine didn't let him move further three years ago. He has got accustomed. No new leg for him!' Ziboev said.
   In some minutes the guy got up, took his crutches, said goodbye to all people. He was in a hurry to see his sheep and other shephard, waiting for him.
   'Thuce envoy! He has counted everything we've got. If the dookhs are some place near, they'll realize the situation,' the commander resulted. 'Officers, come to me!'
   The meeting was the way to set a task,
   'Strengthen our defences! Officers, control posts at night! All shephards do reconnaisance. Why did you kill the woman? I'll fuck Tarchuk! You have to take mortar-bombs in each platoon to the mortar; machine-gun belts - to AGSs and 'Uteses'. Don't forget anything! Signallers, don't sleep, be on air, fix grenade wires, but no so close to our position or someone will be killed. Do this, while it's getting dark. Take care!
   I won't say a word about the killed khanuma. You, zampolit, do the same! I believe, the aboriginals will keep silence, because this territory belongs to the dookhs. I hope, everything will be okay.'
   Night was coming on. The sun went down the mountains. I felt uneasy. We killed an innocent woman. The boy, young shephard, without one leg, reminded me about our 'international help'. But dookhs themselves have not been in front of my eyes yet.
   After the light had failed, fresh air came to life; crickets were chirring in the grass.
   Kavun cried, lying under cover,
   'Nick! Why are you sitting? Bandera, this fat guy, will take all your place. Go down! Otherwise his radiostation won't give you a bit of bed!'
   'I'm not a fat guy, you know! This is the peculiarity of my constitution,' Tomilin came back with a joke.
   'Stepan! Why don't you say a word in answer, when somebody calls you Bandera?' I wondered.
   'I've got no reasons to be hurt. Bandera was a nice guy. Everybody still loves him.'
   I was surprised to hear it. This person, who came from the western part of the Ukraine, gave me an idea to think it over properly.
   'Tomilin! You're the member of the Young Communist League, but Bandera was a gangster.'
   The company commander laughed at Tomilin's words.
   'You've got the same situation as in the anecdote: the machine-gun blazed away without any ammoes. Ha-ha-ha! You see, zampolit! All Ukranians are different. Is it true, Stepan?'
   'I'm the Ukranian man!' Tomilin corrected him, demonstrating the strict accent.
   'As for me, I'm the Ukranian of another sort,' the commander made more accurate. 'I'll settle that place, which is the best for me.'
   'Hey!' I gave a nudge to him. 'What is the difference between two Ukranian men?'
   'You'd better ask the staff chief. He loves talking about this issue. But now let's take dreams.'
   I lay, watching the dark sky. I couldn't fall asleep. The kishlak, somewhere in the valley, some dookhs were not far away from the Soviet soldiers, - all these things made me nervous. I believe, the dookhs were of greater number, so they could kill us at any moment. It was actual, in particular, we didn't have strong guard.
   The wind, blowing on face, made me fresh after the hot day. Comfort shortage was caused by small stones, which took place under the sleeping-bag and clothes as well as the gun and magazines fixed my sides. It was an unusual situation. I tried to fall asleep, but my eyelids stood still opened. The sky was miraculous: stars were shining brightly so close to me, as if I was flying at that moment. We lay side by, I couldn't toss and turn. I unfastened zip, then left the cover in a quiet way.
   I put on my shoes, took the gun, intending to inspect the posts. All guards stood still. Some soldiers and the post sentries stayed awake.
   The lieutenant Sanya Kornilov was chattering with the artillery spotter.
   I joined them to take fragrant tea, we told some jokes. I was really scared. Alexander, like me, had the combat operations at first time in his life. He was very nervous. We discussed who would be the next to inspect the post sentries. I started my watches, because I wanted to get up at four o'clock. I came back to my bed. The medic was snoring. When I pushed him, he answered me,
   'Everything is under control. No sleep!'
   'Right you are. You mustn't sleep. Don't snore!'
   'I'm okay. You're misinformed.'
   'Closing eyes, you saw lard, which made you snore.'
   'No, most of all I love girls!'
   After having this short talk, I fall asleep.
  * * *
   When the clock alarmed me, I opened my eyes without any wish. I didn't want to leave the warm sleeping-bag. It was still dark, but the sun was going to show. All round me was wet because of dew, and the blowing wind, which had given me so much pleasure yesterday evening, made me shake with cold now.
   The signaller, hearing my words in his dreams, but still sleeping, answered me that the platoon commander inspected all the posts not long ago; everything was okay.
   Soldiers, controlling the posts, were shaking with cold, moreover, some of them had the first combat operations, so they were really scared.
   I tried to observe the valley, but I couldn't get a distinct view because of fog. I never smoked. I drank some water, ate one sweet and one biscuit. I didn't know what to do, so I counted all my days spent in Afghanistan. In general, I had not so many days about a month.
   After we had had a breakfast, the company commander had a talk with the officers,
   'Soldiers must do some work. They will build holes for shooting in a lying position and SPSs for all-round defence. Moreover, they will clean guns by turns.'
   I went to the platoons to have a talk with soldiers. Many of them were scared, because this strange situation made them think of the worst. Soldiers were tired of waiting for the unproductive instructions.
   The company executive officer Sergey Groshikov invited me to visit his place. Praporschik Golubev and Groshikov took the position higher in the mountains, which allowed them doing well. Playing the cards, they wanted someone to join them.
   'Nick! Would you like to play 'king'?' Sergey asked me. Two old shell-shocked soldiers enjoy boring life here; two fools want one clever guy to play with.'
   'How did you get shock?'
   'This is the old story. This happened in Panjshir last year. While we were climbing, some stone slipped out of my foot. I was falling head first. I squared shoulders and arms as Jesus Christ did. I tried to use heels and nails for slowing down, but thirty meters, or something like that, in the canyon were mine till the moment, when the head caught itself on some boulder. Then I remember nothing: neither my coming back to life nor cure. In half an hour, so I was taken away from the canyon. I got promedol as an anaesthetic. When I came to my senses, I started laughing as an idiot. Another zampolit, we had got that time, thought me to go mad. But I couldn't move my hands or feet, the worst thing about head. All the clothes were in blood. The helicopter took me to Kabul, then to Tashkent. The doctors said that I had concussion of the brain, skull crack of slight size, compressed backbone fracture without displacement. I've got the impenetrable head!' Sergey had rumbling laugh.
   'As for me, I got the duval on my body, after blast had taken place in kishlak. I was dusted with fragments. When I came to myself, I couldn't hear anything. The doctors don't allow me to drink vodka. I have been controlling myself for three months. But today this is not for me, because abstinent propaganda started in the Soviet Union. People usually say, it never rains but it pours.' Golubev was sad.
   Groshikov had rumbling laugh again.
   'You haven't made friends with Kolobkov. He was shell-shocked twice, that's why he's a crazy fucker,' Sergey summed up.
   I did know Kolobkov very well, as I thought that moment. When I joined the regiment, after the regular raid for the other soldiers, one day some guys knocked the room for the officers. We could see Sergey and Kolobkov at the doorstep, wearing sailor's vests and just pants. Each of them had one bottle of vodka in hands. They switched on the music in high volume and started dancing like savages. They caught to fence and cut the bed hoops, made of metal. When they got tired, they fell in bed. I was really shocked.
  * * *
   'Okay, let's play,' I said.
   One soldier, handing the radiostation, approached to us in a hurry,
   'Comrade senoir lieutenant! This is the company commander!'
   'This is 'Two'.'
   'In the valley we could find the spring, you may visit it. Just feed yourself!'
   'I see. I'm going to.'
   'Nick! Would you like to accompany me? Golubev will stay here, but we'll drink some water,' Sergey made a suggestion.
   'That's settled. Then I'll come back to the company command post.'
   Three soldiers took all the flasks, the platoon had got; then we said to the machine-gunner to watch everything around. Groshikov and I went to the spring.
   Soldiers filled the flasks by water and washed themselves. I did the same. Serega smiled, looking at me, and one moment he pronounced,
   'I hate zampolits. I'll kill you! Just now!'
   I understand his usual joke, so I echoed him,
   'Waste, fucker,' I said as more indifferent as it was possible.
   He detached the magazine and put it against me,
   'Are you impenetrable or not?'
   I couldn't take it easy.
   'Stop it, bastard!'
   Groshikov, grinning, pressed the trigger. Fire a shot.
   Serega's face turned grey, then became pale, his hands were trembling, he dropped the gun into the water.
   'Am I here?' I forced these words out.
   'Nick! Please, forgive me. I didn't know if only one ammo was there. I'm an idiot!' He hit himself in the face. 'Goddamn, man!'
   'Your jokes came from your fucked head. Thanks for my years to come.'
   'I fired in you, but fortunately above your shoulder. This is very good. I'm a cocksucker!' He was shocked as I did.
   'I knew stupid guys in my life, but you're the worst of them.'
   'Thanks God! Thanks God!'
   'What are you thinking of? You wanted to kill me, right? You're upset or regret?' I asked him; my hands and legs were trembling, as well as heart was hammering. I tried to look as if nothing peculiar had happened.
   Soldiers watched this performance, being rooted to the ground. The cemetry usually has got the same quiet atmosphere. Water babbling was close to us. New talking was delayed.
   'The company commander is on air,' the soldier pronounced and gave the earphone to Groshikov.
   Sergey took it and answered,
   'This is 'Two',' he company commander's words and said, 'We're okay, we'll come back in a minute!' He cried to me, 'We'll go now to the company command post.'
   The soldiers had a lot of flasks with water, which didn't let them climb quicker.
   'Nikofor, forgive me, please. My joke was stupid.' Serega embraced me. 'Forgive me. When we come back to the regiment, I'll entertain you to dinner. I'm standing treat.'
   'Leave me alone!'
   'Every day is not for shooting! It's quite an event! You've forgiven me?'
   Approaching to the post, we saw the company commander. His grinning but angry face, hands in pockets made us gloomy.
   'What happened?'
   'It was an accident. I didn't know anything about the ammo in the gun. I'm a stupid asshole!'
   'You understand what you tried to do? How about your brains? Are they okay?'
   'I say, this was the stupid idea.'
   'I see. Take a break! When we come back to the regiment, you'll be on guard duty every day, before we start a new raid. Get rid of this nonsense!'
   'Right you are. May I leave, comrade captain?'
  For sure. I don't want to be shot by you,' Kavun said, looking at him, in a derisive tone.
  The company commander looked me over and pronounced,
  'What are you doing, guys? Young boys, but not real officers do this way. Let's take a tea, fighter! How are you doing?'
  'I'll survive.'
  'If you might be killed now, everybody would say, you had got a sniper-shot. Tell me, how you did this.'
  'Stupid idea to kill me came to Groshikov's mind. This is my first raid and I could have been killed by the Soviet officer.'
  'By the way, recruits are usually killed during the first months they come here, also candidates for replacement. The same I can say about the officers and soldiers, who leave for a break or just after it. You and me are good targets for dookhs. The difference is time and experience; I know everything about this war, how to fall down, how to step, how to creep - everything, moreover, I have to stay in Afghanistan for a month or two, but you... nobody knows what will happen with you. When you'll get the same experience, as I do have, you'll become a veteran.'
  'What the most difficult have you ever experienced in Afghan war, Vanya?'
  'I remember the most difficult thing, when I became the company commander in the Battalion Three. We were moving to Jalalabad. We controlled the special forces from the Soviet Union. All soldiers got much drive, but no experience. The battalion went to canyon, but just one platoon stayed in the mountains. The dookhs fired the platoon to pieces in half an hour, then the front company. The command post, I stayed at, was so close to the dushmen. We got four BMPs to go to the canyon, but we failed because of roadshortage. When we approached the canyon, the fight was going on, so at last to have just four people alive. After that, the special forces came to us, we went to the canyon with good feed of soldiers as well as choppers. We moved in the canyon so slowly, but we got them just next day. We were pulling them out for three days, they all were dead or dying. Listen! If a person tries to survive, pulling the dead man out, while the killed boy lying on the ground by the other side, if ammos catch him around, he'll, for sure, remember mother and Lord's help. If I wanted to eat, I put my can on any dead body, it was comfortable. My first grey hair came to my head after this fight. There were a lot of dead guys to get them out. There was too much blood I saw, hope nothing the same ever.
  Groshikov is not a brave man in fighting. He has got no experience. He has been serving in Afghanistan for a year and a half, but nine months of them spent in hospitals and at home. He is not a reliable man. The platoon commanders were recruited just a month ago. The same is about you. Golubev is a good praporschik, but he is scared of fighting after shell-shock. That is the thing! I'll teach you everything. First survive!'
  'Ivan, you call us boys. What about you individually? How old are you?'
  'I'm twenty seven. I've been serving here for two years, that is each year means three years in the Soviet Union. Clear?'
  * * *
  I began to feel better. After having some tea and canned meat I felt much better. The shock made me eat with great relish.
  'Go to bed. I'll control all the posts myself,' Ivan said.
  We guard for one more week.
  The Afghan natives took the killed woman away to bury her. The shephards didn't approach us. Combat vehicles were moving along the road on high speed.
  Near that place, taking position, we could see vehicles and BTRs had been burnt, which witnessed the rebel ambush.
  The seventh day became the last to us there. The officers and soldiers got an order to leave the place, but make a picket of ten men. Groshikov and Golubev had to stay, disposing AGS, a machine-gun, and mortar. The rest of company had to leave at 3 a.m.
  Kavun talked to officers,
  'Guys, we've got all twenty eight men here, we can share eight soldiers. You mustn't take everything unnecessary with you like dry rations or water flasks. Also leave ammos, 'mukhas', that is you must take just a half of all you've got. We do this as soon as possible. At 4 a.m. at the outskirts of kishlak, I believe, the armor will be present. If mujahideens attack, the rest will have to fight for thirty-forty minutes.
  In an hour you'll have to stay at the company command post. The picket will take this position, where I am standing now. Serega, fix wires in perimeter, because nobody knows how much time you'll have to stay here.'
  At 3 a.m., while leaving the post, Serega told me parting words,
  'I hope, my failure will give good luck. Ha-ha-ha!'
  We were walking quicker and quicker. First the guard, fifty metres far away of others, then the main corpus. Everybody was quiet and silent. All things didn't make noise, because we packed them properly the day before.
  At the outskirts we heard a single shot, the bullet, hitting the asphalt, vanished in the dark. There was a machine-gun fire. The soldiers were lying along the road to take cover from it. Some mujahideen's cry reached us.
  * * *
   The captain whispered to the other officers,
   'No shooting! Watch out!'
   'No shooting! ... No shooting!'
   'No shooting! ...' the officers and soldiers pronounced like one man.
   'We don't know, how many dookhs are here. Can we say, they are tsarandoevtsy? Yes, we can. Let's do very well without shooting,' Ivan whispered.
   Snaking the ground, we moved to the outskirts. We wondered about the dookhs near us. Starting fire was out of the question. The company moved further.
   The highroad met us by the noise of fighting vehicles. At last, headlights escaped from dark, BMPs braked, guns turned to the houses. We put all things into, in a couple of minutes the cars left. As if nobody ever could see us.
  * * *
   One week later, the Soviet tank units left this territory, but the expeditionary forces came. Kabul wasn't fired by RSes any more.
   While we were combing the road, the Company Three faced the dookhs, and two soldiers were killed. The tankmen fired about ten mujahideens at point-blank range, which tried to escape.
   We were lucky! No shooting! Meleschenko survived. He approached, receiving me with open arms. He had an idiotic sun-hat, which made him look like a bee-keeper (the nickname Mikola Bee-keeper was given to him).
   'Nikifor! You don't know what happened! While you were coming here, we had a real fight.'
   Kavun, passing by us, laughed at Meleschenko, because of his frightened face,
   'You are a real fighter! Is everything okay with your pants?'
   'Don't mock me! I have run into trouble! I hoped Kabul was a quiet place...'
   Ivan and I laughed at Meleschenko again. He wasn't lucky! The division was going to leave. Fuss about fighting stopped, then columns, filled with soldiers and officers, went along the road. The battalion was divided into some companies to guard rear units. It was too hot! Dust covered us, lodging in eyes, noses, months.
   The Afghan soldiers, standing along the road, looked at the battalion staff chief, the major Podorozhnik, in delight. He was sitting on the armor. His moustache stuck out, looking as if one banana of medium size.
   One Afghan officer was dumbfounded. He also had moustache. He stood without any motion, whispering something. He was so surpressed! He stuck his thumb out to approve Podorozhnik. The Afghan soldiers rounded the BMP and welcomed the major. Vasiliy Ivanovich made his moustache smooth and said,
   'Bacha! If you have the moustache like I do, you can fight well! Interpreter, tell him!'
   The sergeant (Tadjik in nationality) interpreted, our allies smiled.
   'Okay, commander,' the Afghan man said. He waved his hand to us and went away.
   The staff chief was proud of this. He looked at the vehicles, then commanded to move further.
   The cars and BMPs went to Kabul. The asphalted road helped the column to go quicker. No ammos, no food, no fuel - easy to leave.
   I was examining the country with great interest. I'll have to survive in this wild Afghanistan for two years.
   There were a lot of cultivated land around the houses, made of clay. The duvals enclosed the gardens, which were not taken care of; vineyards took place near kishlaks. We were passing by the broken houses and duvals, along the road anybody could see KamAZes, GAZes, ZiLes, BTRs, which had been burnt. All this suggested an unpleasant idea of lives to stop forever...
  * * *
   In the evening the fighting vehicles were parked, guns were given back to the store-room. We took a shower. Starshina Goga Veronyan called me,
   'Nikifor! Come here, we are waiting for you!'
  I could find the company commander in the store-room. One bottle of cognac 'Ararat' and some food were down on the table.
  'Let's drink a bit, because everything is okay in company. You were born with silver spoon in mouth. Groshikov wanted to kill you. Motherfucker!'
  'Starshina, you know, I've just recovered from hepatitis, that is I won't drink so much, I'll take fifty gramms of cognac. But Nikifor will drink a full glass.'
  Starshina gave us cognac.
  'For your first time under fire. Let it be forever! Do your best to survive!' Ivan raised his glass to Nikofor.
  Starshina gave next glass, but not for himself.
  'Let's drink to be replaced as soon as possible!' Vanya drank.
  Starshina agreed. I smiled,
  'What about your replacement?'
  'I think, I'll do it in February, at the worst, in April.'
  'Are you scared of something?'
  The company commander gave a short of laugh,
  'In the store-room nothing can happen. Maybe all the mattresses will cover starshina.'
  Goga Veronyan started becoming angry,
  'Vanya! What are you talking about, man? I've always made my raids. No other starshina does it. I've got a lot of hands to do. I can't write off obsolete things. The captain Beda had unfinished work, but soon you'll have to leave the company.'
  'Okay, stop it! The main thing for me is to have no problems with replacement. I'll survive. It's difficult to work with all of you. The platoon commanders are newcomers, the same about zampolit, the mechanic is crazy about drinking, the executive officer is shell-shocked. Nikifor must take care of me, before I get replacement. My wife and daughter are expecting me. I'd like always to have such quiet raids.'
  'One bullet has got you, one bullet has got you!' - one song line used in a film 'Two Comrades were serving' (a 1968 Soviet film is about the Russian civil war, in particular, the battle for the Crimean peninsula)
  pesochka - jumpsuit of sand colour
  Ahmad Shah Massoud (1953-2001) - played a leading role in driving the Soviet army out of Afghanistan. Following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet - backed government there, Massoud became Defense Minister of Afghanistan in 1992
  kung - green wagon
  'tsarandoetsy' - the Afghan soldiers
  GPV - the grenade-throwing-machine-gun platoon
  Kuruk - mountain northwards of Kabul
  khanuma - the Afghan woman
  aboriginals - native inhabitants in Afghanistan
  shuravi - the Soviet soldiers
  Bandera - Stepan Andreevich Bandera (1909-1959) was the Ukranian nationalist leader who headed the Organization of Ukranian Nationalists. This name is often used in Russia to stress the idea of nationalist priorities of someone who talks
  'Metropol' - Moscow central restaurant, famous for its deliscious dishes and service
  dushman - name of the Afghan soldiers, given by the Soviet people
  'king' - sort of card-play
  duval- fence made of clay
  bacha - man
  KamAZ - (Kamsky Avtomobilny Zavod) a Russian truck manufacturer located in Naberezhnye Chelny, Tatarstan, Russian Federation, founded in 1969
  GAZ - (Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod) started in 1929, a cooperation between 'Ford' and Soviet Union
  ZiL - (Zavod imeni Likhacheva) a major Russian truck and heavy equipment manufacturer, which also produced armored cars for most Soviet leaders, as well as buses, armored fighting vehicles, and aerosans. The factory was founded in 1916
  cognac 'Ararat' - an Armenian brandy that has been produced by the Yerevan Brandy Company since 1887. It is made from Armenian white grapes and spring water, according to a traditional method

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