Memoirs of women-veterans from the book of Svetlana Alekievich
“We travelled for many days… Got off on some station with a bucket with the girls to get some water. Turned around and gasped: one by one came train cars, and there – only girls. Singing and waving their kerchiefs, some with the caps. It became clear: the men are in short supply, all left laid in the damp soil. Or captive. Now we are in their place… Mother wrote me a prayer. I put it in my medallion. It may have helped me – I got back home. I kissed it every time before the battle.
“One night a whole squadron led a scouting battle in our zone. By the sunrise, they left and I heard a groan from a neutral line. A wounded was left behind. “Don’t go there, you’ll get killed!” – fellow soldiers wouldn’t let me go – “See, it’s already getting lighter!”. I didn’t listen to them and started crawling. Found the wounded, and pulled him for eight hours having tied his arm to my belt. Dragged him alive. The commander found out and, in a fit of temper, ordered five days detention in guardshouse for AWOL. The deputy commander’s reaction was different: “She deserves a medal”. 19 years old, I had a medal “For Courage”. 19 years old, I turned grey. 19 years old, in the last combat both of my lungs were shot, the second bullet went through two of my vertebrae. My legs were paralysed… I was thought dead… 19 years old. My grand-daughter is now 19. I am looking at her and can’t believe my eyes… She’s still a kid.
I had a night duty…. Went into the deadly wounded chamber. There laid a captain… The doctors warned me before the duty that he would die that night… Wouldn’t last till the morning… I asked him: “How are you? How can I help?” Will never forget… He suddenly smiled, such a bright smile on his exhausted face: “Open your robe… Show me your breasts… I haven’t seen my wife for ages…” I felt ashamed, I responded to him with something. Left and got back in an hour. He was dead. And that smile on his face…”
“When he appeared the third time, almost in the same instance, - appears, then disappears again – I decided to shoot. Decided and then a thought flashed through my mind: this is a human being, although he is an enemy, he’s still a human. My hands started shaking, all my body shivered… Some kind of fear… At times when I am asleep I get the same feeling even now… After plywood targets, shooting a human being was hard. I can see him through my optics, I can see him well.. As if he’s very close to me… But inside me something is resisting. Something doesn’t let me do it, I can’t do it. But then I gathered myself, pulled the trigger… It didn’t work from the first time. It’s not a woman’s thing – to hate and to kill. Not ours… We had to convince ourselves… Talk ourselves into this…”
“All girls rushed to the front voluntarily. A coward wouldn’t go to war. These were brave, these were incredible girls. There was statistics: the losses from the front medics were second highest after the losses in the infantry battalions. What does it take, for example, to get a wounded out of the battlefield? Let me tell you… We would charge into attack and would be decimated by gunfire. There would be no battalion. All laid. There were not all dead, there were many wounded. The Germans kept the fire. All of a sudden, one girls goes out from the trench, then another, then the third one… They began to bandage and drag the wounded… Even the Germans were taken aback for some time. By 10pm all of the girls had been severely wounded and each saved two-three soldiers. The awards were miserly. In the beginning of the war, the awards were really rare. One had to get the wounded out with all his personal ammunition. The first question in the medical battalion would be: “Where is the gun?”. There was not enough guns and armour at the beginning of war. A rifle, a machine gun – we had to drag it all back. In 1941 an order No. 281 was issued on giving awards for saving soldiers’ lives: for 15 severely wounded saved from the battlefield with all their armour – a medal “For service on the battlefield”, for saving 25 – a medal of “Red Star”, for 40 – a medal of “Red Standard”, for 80 – an medal of “Lenin”. What I have described was what it meant to save just one solider… under the gunfire....”
What went on in our souls?! I don’t think that people, like we were back then, will ever exist. Never! So naïve and so sincere. With so much faith! When our regiment commander got the banner and ordered: “Regiment, under the banner! Kneel”, all of us felt so happy. Standing there and crying, each and every girl. You wouldn’t believe it now, but from that shock all of my body strained. My illness, I was sick with night-blindness because of malnutrition and nervous exhaustion, my night-blindness went away. Do you understand? The next day, I had no more sickness, through this nervous shock.
I was thrown back to the brick wall by a hurricane blast. I was unconscious… When I recovered, the night was drawing. I lifted my head, tried to squeeze my fingers – they seemed to move, barely opened my left eye and came to the medical department, all covered in blood. IN the corridor I met our senior medic, she didn’t recognize me and asked: “Who are you? Where from?”. Then she came closer, gasped and said: “Where the hell have you been, Ksenia?! The wounded are starving and you’re not around!”. My head was bandaged quickly with the bandage around my left elbow and off I went. Darkness clouded my vision, I was sweating buckets. Started distributing the dinner, collapsed. I was brought back to my senses to only hear: “Hurry! Rush!” and then again: “Hurry! Rush!”. Few days later I was donating blood for the severely wounded”.
“We were very young going to the front. Just girls. During the war I gained in height. My mom measured me back home… I was ten centimetres taller.”
They organised training for medical nurses and our father took my sister and me there. I was 15, my sister 14. He said: “This is all I can give towards victory. My girls…” There was no way to think otherwise back then. A year later I was on the front line.
Our mother didn’t have sons… When Stalingrad got sieged, we volunteered for the front line. All of us together: mother and five daughters, our father had already been fighting by that time”
I was mobilised, I was a doctor. I went there with a sense of duty. And my father was happy that his daughter went to war. To defend the Motherland. My father walked to the military commission early in the morning. He went there to pick up my papers and went early in the morning so that everyone in the village saw that his daughter was going to the front line…”
I remember I was released for a couple of days rest. Before visiting my aunt, I dropped by a shop. Before the war, I was such a sweet tooth. I asked: “Can I get some candies, please”. The saleswoman looked at me as if I was crazy. I didn’t understand the card system, what it was like to be in a sieged city. All the people in the queue turned and looked at me. There was I with a rifle bigger than me. When I was given the rifle out I wondered: “When will I get big enough for this rifle??. And all of a sudden everyone started begging, all the queue: “Please give her some candies. Take our cards” And I got candy.
“It happened to me for the first time in my life… Our things… Women’s things.. I saw the blood and started screaming: “I got wounded”. In the reconnaissance, we had a paramedic, an old man. He said: “Where were you shot?” I said: “I don’t know where…. But there is blood…” He explained me everything, like a father… I was still on the reconnaissance missions for 15 years after the war. Every night. In my dreams, either my machine gun broke down or we were surrounded. When you’re awake – your teeth are grinding and you are trying to remember where you are, here or back there.
I was leaving for war materialistic, atheist, as a good Soviet school girl. And there… I started praying…. I always prayed before the battle, prayed with my own words. Simple words, my words.. The meaning was the same – wishing to get back safely to my mom and dad… I didn’t know real prayers, I’d never read the Bible. Noone saw me praying.. I did it secretly. Because… We were different back then… Do you understand?
There was never enough clothing for us: always in blood. My first wounded – senior lieutenant Belov, my last wounded – Sergey Petrovich Trofimov, sergeant of the trench mortar troops. In the 70s he visited me and I showed my daughters his wounded head with a scar. Altogether, I carried out 481 wounded under the gunfire. One of the journalists counted – it’s a full infantry battalion… We carried men two-three times heavier than us. And wounded they are even heavier. You drag him and his guns, then his overcoat and boots. Load up 80 kilos and drag it. Then drop and fetch another one and again 70-80 kilos… And so it goes, five-six times in one strike. And you are yourself are only 48 kilos – a ballerina’s weight…. Now it seems impossible.
Then I became a commander of squad. It all consisted of young boys. We were all on the boat the whole day. The boat was small, without any lavatories. The guys could just do it overboard, that’s it… And what about me? A couple of times I could no longer help myself and jumped overboard myself. They shouted: “The sergeant’s overboard!” They’d drag me out. Such a petty thing… But was it petty? I had to go to doctors afterwards.
I came back from war grey-haired. 21 years old and all white. I was injured severely and couldn’t hear with one side. My mother welcomed me with words: “I had faith that you’d be back. I prayed for you day and night” My brother was killed in the war. She cried: “It makes no difference any more whether you’re born a girl or a boy”
I will say something different… The worst nightmare during the war was wearing men’s underwear. That was scary. To me it was… I can’t explain it… First of all, very ugly…You’re at war, going to die for the Motherland and wearing men’s underwear. In other words, you look ridiculous. Absurd. The men’s underwear back in the day was long. Wide. Made of satin. Ten girls in our redoubt and all in men’s underwear. Oh, my God! Summer and winter. For four years… We crossed the Soviet border… To kill, as our political officer said, the animal in its own den. Near the first Polish village we got a change of new clothing. And! And! And! For the first time, they got us female underwear and lingerie. For the first time during the whole war. Ha-ha…. Well, you understand. We saw the normal women’s underwear… Why are you not laughing? Crying… Why?
In my 18, at the Battle of Kursk, I was awarded a medal “For service in battle” and a medal of “Red Star”. In my 19 – a medal of the “Great Patriotic War” of 2nd order. When new recruits arrived, all the guys were very young, of course, they were surprised. They were 18-19 years old and sneering they would ask: “For what did you get your medals?” or “Have you ever been in battle?”. They would tease me: “Can the bullets go through the armour of a tank?” One of such boys I then bandaged on the battlefield, under the gunfire, and I remember his last name. His leg was fractured. I’m putting a medical bus and he’s asking for my forgiveness: “Sister, sorry for making fun of you back then…”
“We hid ourselves. Sitting. Waiting for the night to try a breakthrough. A lieutenant Misha, the battalion commander was wounded and he was next in command, he was around 20 years old, started to reminisce how he liked to dance, play the guitar. Then he asked:
- Have you ever tried?
- Tried what? (I was very hungry)
- What, what? Whom… A “Lady”
(and before the war, we had pastries with that name)
- Well, I haven’t tried either. One will die without even knowing what love is… We’ll get killed tonight….
- Oh, sod off, you foul! (I finally understood what he was going on about)
We died for life without even knowing what life was. We only knew it from the books. I love movies about love…
She shielded her loved one from the debris of a land mine. The debris were flying for mere split seconds… How did she manage to do this in such short time? She saved the lieutenant Petya Bochevskiy, she loved him. And he was left to live. Thirty years later Petya came from Krasnodar and found me at a reunion and told me the story. We went together with him to Borisov and found the field where Tonya died. He took the soil from her grave… Carried and kissed it… There were five of us, girls from Konakovo… I was the only one to get back to my mom…
A special squad of smoke disguise was formed under the command of the former commander of the torpedo launch division, captain-lieutenant Alexander Bogdanov. It consisted primarily of girls with technical college-level education or after first years of the university. Our goal – save the ships, masking them with smoke. If the gunning begins, the sailors are waiting: “Wish the girls covered us with smoke sooner. It feels safer with it”. We drove cars with a special mix and everyone else was hiding in the bomb shelters in the meantime. Whereas we were taking the fire on us. Because the Germans were gunning the smoke screen.
Dressing the wound of a tank trooper… The battle is under way, rumbling noise. He’s asking me: “What’s your name, girl?” Even some compliment. It felt so strange to pronounce my name amidst all of this growl and horror: “Olya”.
And now I am the commander of the cannon. That means I am assigned to the 1357 anti-aircraft regiment. At the beginning, I was bleeding nose and ears and had a complete stomach upset… My throat dried till vomit... It was not as scary during the night, but during the day it was very scary. It seemed that the plane was heading towards you, specifically towards your cannon. Ramming you! One more instance… and it would turn you into nothing. That’s it – this is the end!
By the time they found me, my legs had been severely bitten by frost. I must have been covered by snow, but I breathed and it created a hole in the snow… I was found by the medical dogs. They dug out the snow and brought my winter hat back. In that hat, I had a death passport. Everyone had such a passport: who are your next of kin, who to notify. I was dug out, put on a cape, my coat was full of blood… But no one paid attention to my legs… For six months, I was in the hospital. The wanted to amputate my leg, amputate it above the knee because of the gangrene. And then I chickened out, I didn’t want to live on as a cripple. Why would I want to live on? Who would need me? No mother, no father. A burden. Who needs a stump! I should hang myself…!
In that same place, we received a tank. Both of us were the driver-mechanics and there should only be one driver-mechanic in a tank. The command decided to appoint me as a commander of the tank IS-122, and my husband – the senior driver-mechanic. And so we reached Germany. Both wounded. Have medals. There were quite a few girls driving medium tanks, but a heavy tank – I was the only one.
We were told to get dressed in all military and I was only 1 meter and a half. Got into the trousers and the girls wrapped them around me at the top.
Till he hears you… Until the very last moment you tell him that no, no, how can he die? You kiss and hug him: “What are you going on about?” He’s already dead, eyes looking at the ceiling and I am still there whispering…. Calming him down… All the last names are now gone from my memory, but the faces remain…”
Our medical nurse was caught captive… In a day, when we fought back that village, there were dead horses, motorcycles and armoured troop-carriers everywhere. We found her: her eyes poked out, breasts cut away… She was impaled… Frost and she, white as snow, with hair all white. She was only 19 years old. In her backpack, we found letters from home and a rubber green duck. A kid’s toy.
Under Sevsk, the Germans attacked us 7-8 times a day. And that day, I was still carrying out the wounded with their guns. Crawled to the last one, his hand all fractured. Hanging on the bits… On veins… All covered in blood… He needs his hand cut off immediately and dressed. There is no other way. I don’t have any knife or scissors. My bag was dangling around and they have fallen out. What could I do? I gnawed this flesh with my teeth. Gnawed it away and dressed… As I am dressing it he goes in fever: “Sister, please hurry! I will go back in the battle”
All war I worried about crippling my legs. I had beautiful legs. There’s no problem for a man even if he loses his legs. All the same – a hero! A groom! If a woman gets crippled, then her destiny is decided. Such is woman’s fate…
The men would build a fire and shake the lice away, dry up. And what about us? We would run for some hidden place and undress there. I had a knitted sweater, well, the lice were on every single millimetre of it, in every single stitch. It was revolting if you looked at it. There are different types of lice: head, body, pubic… I had them all…
Under Makeevsk, in the Donbass region, I got wounded in my hip. A fraction, stone-sized, sitting in me. I could feel the blood, put the dressing around it and continued running around helping others. I was ashamed to show it to anyone – a girl wounded in a buttock. At 16 years old, it was a shame to show it to anyone. So, uncomfortable to confess. So I ran bandaging others until I lost conscience from extensive blood loss… I had boots full of it.
A doctor came, took a cardio reading and asked me:
- When did you suffer the heart attack?
- What heart attack?
- Your heart is all covered in scars
These scares must be from war. You’re flying over the target all shaking. Your body is covered with shiver because down under there is fire: the fighter jets are firing, the artillery is firing… We flew primarily during the night. At some point they tried to send us on the tasks during the day, but then they abandoned this idea. Our PO-2s were easily shot down with a machine gun… We made up to twelve flights a night. I saw the famous ace-fighter Porkyshkin when he returned from a fight flight. He was a strong man, not twenty or twenty three years like we were. As his plane got refuelled, the technician managed to take his shirt of and press the water out of it. It was pouring out as if he was under a thunderstorm. You can imagine what happened to us. You arrive and can’t even get out of the cabin. We were dragged out. We couldn’t even carry our bag, we dragged it on the earth.
We aspired… We didn’t want others to say: “Oh, these women!” We tried even harder than men, we had to show that we were not worse than them. But for a long time we experienced arrogant and condescending attitude: “Oh, these women will do some good at war…”
Three times wounded and three times injured. People dreamt about different things at war: someone wanted to get back home, someone to reach Berlin, I only wanted one thing – live till my birthday, till my 18 years birthday. For some reason, I was afraid to die earlier, before I turned 18. I was wearing trousers and a cap, always torn because you keep crawling on your knees plus with the weight of the wounded. I couldn’t believe that I would someday be able to get up and walk on ground rather than crawl. I had this dream. Once a division commander came and asked: “Who is this teenager of yours? Why do you keep him? He should be sent back to school.”
We were happy when we managed to get a cauldron of water to wash our hair. If we walked for long time, we would seek out soft grass. Tore it and washed our legs with it… Well, you understand…. Girls, we had our own specific needs… The army didn’t think about these needs… Our legs were all green… It was great if the sergeant was an old man who understood and didn’t take away additional clothing from the backpack. If it was a young one, he would most definitely throw the excess away. But what excess is it for a girl who needs to change twice a day sometimes? We would tear away sleeves from the pyjamas, but there were only two of these. That is only four sleeves…”
“Here we go… About 200 girls and behind use about 200 men. It’s hot. A very hot summer. We are marching for 30 kilometres. It’s scorching hot! And behind us there are red spots on the sand… Red tracks… Well, it’s women’s business.. How can one hide it? The soldiers are following behind and pretending that nothing’s happening… Not looking down… Our trousers would dry up on us and become like glass. They would cut. We had wounds there and one could always sense the smell of blood. We weren’t given a thing… We would wait until the soldiers would hang their shirts out and steal a couple… They would guess it eventually and laugh: “Sergeant, give us another clothing… The girls took ours…” There was not enough bandage or cotton for the wounded. Not to mention women… We had women’s underwear maybe two years later. We wore men’s underwear till then. Well, so we march. To the crossing. Reached the crossing and there we got under shelling. A horrible shelling… The men started hiding and calling us… But we didn’t hear the bombing, all we cared for was the river. To water.. Water! Water! So we sat there soaking… Under the shelling.. So it was... We feared shame more than death.. So a few girls died in the water.
At last we got our assignments. I was taken to my troop… The soldiers are watching: someone with a smirk, someone even with hate, someone would shake their shoulders so that it’s all clear. When the battalion commander introduced me as the new troop commander, everyone howled: “Ooo-ooo-oooh….” One even spitted. In a year, when I was given the medal of “Red Star”, the same guys, those who survived, carried me to my redoubt on hands. They were proud of me.
You are asking about love? I am not afraid to tell you the truth… I was a CFW, it stands for a crusade-field-wife. The wife at war. The second. Illegal. The first battalion commander… I didn’t love him. He was a good person, but I didn’t love him. I went to his redoubt after a few months. Where could I go? There were only men around, it was better to live with one than to be afraid of all. It was not as scary in the battle as it was after, especially when we would retract for rest. Under the gunfire, they call you “Sister, sister”, but after the battle every single one is ambushing you. You can’t leave the redoubt in the night… Have other girls told you about it or they haven’t confessed? I think they may have been too ashamed… They kept silent. Proud them! But it all happened… But everyone keeps silent about it… It’s not accepted… No… For example, I was the only woman in the battalion, I lived in the common redoubt. Together with the men. They gave me a separate spot, but how could it be separate when the whole redoubt is only six meters. I would wake up in the middle of the night because I would be flap my hands, slapping one in the face, then another on the hands... I got wounded, found myself in a hospital and even there I would flap my hands. My nurse would wake me up in the night asking what’s wrong, but who could I tell..
We were burying him… He was laying on the cape, he had just been killed. The Germans were covering us with fire. We needed to bury him quickly… Immediately. .. We found old birch trees, chose the one that was standing further way from an oak. The biggest one. Near it… I tried to remember everything to come back to that place: “Here ends the village, here is the fork”… But how could one remember? How could one remember if one of the birches was already set on fire… How? We started to say good-bye… They told me: “You – first!” My heart jumped, I understood… What… Well, turned out everyone knew about my love. Everyone… The thought striked me: “Maybe he knew too? Here…Now he’ll be lowered into the ground… Burried.. Covered with sand…” But I was very glad from that thought that he might have known too. It could be that he liked me too? As if he was alive and would answer me now.. I remembered how he gave me a German chocolate for New Year. I didn’t eat it for months, carried it in my pocket. I don’t understand it now… I remember this all my life… That moment… The bombs are flying.. He… laying there on the cape… That moment… And I am glad… standing there and smiling inside… Crazy… I am glad that perhaps he knew about my love… I approached and kissed him. I’d never kissed a man before… He was the first one….
How did the Motherland meet us? I can’t say without crying...Forty years have gone, but my cheeks are still blushing.. The men kept silent, and the women… They cried at us: “We know what you were doing there luring with your young v….nas our men. Frontier wh.res.. Military bitches.” We were insulted in many ways. The Russian vocabulary is truly rich… A guy would accompany me after the dancing and I would all of a sudden feel very, very nauseous, my heart would rattle. Walk, walk and then land in a snow bank. “What’s wrong?” – “Nothing, danced too much.” But this are my to wounds… This is – war… But you need to learn how to be tender.. Be tender and fragile, but your feet have become bigger because of those army boots – size forty. It feels uncomfortable that someone hugs you. I got used to be take care of myself. Expected tender words but didn’t understand them. They were like child talk. At war, among the men – the sturdy Russian swear words. I got used to theses. My friend would teach me, she worked in the library: “Read the poems! Read some of the Yesenin”.
The legs are gone…. The legs are cut off…. I was saved in that same place, in the forest.. The surgery was done in the most primitive conditions. I was placed on the table, but there was no even iodine, they cut with a plain saw, both legs… Placed on the table and without iodine. They sent for iodine to another partisan group within six kilometres and I am laying there without narcosis. Without… Instead of it – a bottle of hooch. There was nothing but a plain saw… Joiner’s saw… We had a surgeon, also without legs, and he said about me, from the words of other doctors: “I bow to hear. I have operated on so many men, but haven’t seen anything like this. Not a cry”… I hung on.. I was used to be strong in front of others.
Having reached the car, I opened the door and began my report:
- Comrade General, at your order…
I heard back
I froze in “attention”. The general didn’t even turn my way and continued peering through the window on the road. Nervously peeking at his watch. I am standing there. He addresses his orderly:
- Where could that sappers commander be?
I am trying to report once again:
- Comrade General
Finally he turns to me annoyed:
- What the hell are you doing here?!
I understood everything and nearly burst out laughing. Then his orderly was the first one to guess:
- Comrade General, maybe she is the sappers’ commander?
The general stared at me:
- Who are you?
- Commander of the sappers, Comrade General
- You? Commander of the sappers? - He boiled
- Yes, Comrade General!
- Are those your sappers are twork?
- Yes, Comrade General!
- Stop harping on the same thing….
He got out of his car, made a couple of steps forward, came back to me.. Stared for a comple of moments and then said to his orderly:
- Hm, have you seen this?
My husband was the senior machinist, I was a machinist. Four years we spent in the loco and our son with us. He didn’t even see a cat during the war. When he caught one near Kiev, our train was under a horrible shelling from five bombers, and he hugged it: “Kitty, sweetey, how glad am I to see you.. I don’t see a soul. Please stay with me. Let me kiss you”… A child… A child must have everything childish… He slept with the words: “Mommy, we have a cat. Now our house is real”.
Anya Kaburova lies on the grass… Our communications girl. She’s dying – the bullet in her heart. At this moment a flock of cranes is flying by. Everyone raised their heads to the skies and she opened her eyes. Looked: “What a pity girls”. Then she kept silent and smiled: “Girls, am I really going to die?” At this time our postman, our Klava, runs shouting: “Don’t die! Don’t’ die! You have a letter from home…” Anya is not closing her eyes, she’s waiting… Our Klava sits down next to her, opens the envelope. The letter from mom: “My dear love, my little daughter…”. Next to me stands a doctor saying: “This is a miracle! A Miracle! She’s living despite all of the laws of medicine…” We finished reading the letter… and only then Anya closed her eyes.
I stayed with him one day, then another and decide: “Go to the headquarters and report. I am staying here with you”. Off he went, and I am not breathing: “What if they say that I should be gone within the next 24 hours? This is the front line!” Then I see – the chiefs are coming to the redoubt: the major and the lieutenant colonel. All shaking hands. Afterwards, of course, we sat down, drank a little, everyone said their words, that the wife found her husband in the trench, that she is a real wife, with documents. What a woman she is! Let us see that woman” They all said these words, they all cried. I remember that evening all my life.. What else have I got left? I was appointed a medical nurse. I went together with him on scouting missions… The trench-mortar strikes and I see him fall, thinking: “Dead or wounded?” Run there, and the mortar-trench strikes and the commander shouts: “Where the hell are you going, woman?!” I crawl to him and he is alive. Alive!!!
Two years ago a head of the headquarters Ivan Grinko stayed at mine. He’s long retired now. I baked him some pies. They are talking with my husband, reminiscing… Started talking about our girls… I started whaling: “Honour, you say, respect. At the same time all the girls are single, unmarried, living in shared apartments. Who has taken care of them, defended? Where did you all disappear after the war? Traitors!” In one word, I have spoiled their festive mood… The headquarters chief was sitting exactly where you are. “Show me – stomping his fist on the table – show me who hurt you. Just you show me!” Then begged forgiveness: “Valya, I can’t say anything to you, only tears”
I reached Berlin with the army… Came back to my village with two medals of “Glory” and others. Lived there for three days and on the fourth my mother raised me from the bed and says: “My daughter, I gathered your stuff… Please leave, leave… You have two younger sisters. Who will marry them? Everyone knows that you were on the front line for four years with men..” Don’t touch my soul. Write like the others about my medals.
At Stalingrad… Carrying two wounded… Carry one – leave him, then another. And so it goes in turns, because the severely wounded, you can’t leave them both.. How can I explain it.. The legs are damaged high above the knees and both are bleeding heavily. Each minute counts, each minute. Then suddenly, as I crawled away from the battle, the smoke dissipated, suddenly I find out that I am carrying one our tank trooper and one German… I was horrified: our guys are dying out there and here I am saving a German. I was in panic… There, in smoke, I didn’t see. They were the same.. I saw a man, dying, shouting… A-a-a.. Both are burnt, black. Similar. And now I see: enemy’s medallion, enemy’s watch, everything. This damn uniform.. And now what? Drag our wounded thinking: “Should I go back after the German or not?” I understood that if I left him he’d die soon. From blood loss… And I crawled after him. I continued to drag them both… This is Stalingrad… The scariest battles. The most.. My dear… You can’t have one heart for hatred and another for love. A man has only one.
The war was over and they found themselves very vulnerable. Take my wife. She is a smart woman but even she despises them. She thinks that they went to war for grooms and that all of them had affairs. The truth is, if we are having a sincere conversation, most of the time these were honest girls. Innocent. But after the war… After the dirt, the lice, the deaths… Everyone wanted something beautiful. Bright. Beautiful women… I have a friend, he was loved by a great, as I now understand, girl during the war. She was a nurse. But he didn’t marry her, after the war he found another, better looking. And he is unhappy with his wife. Now all he does is recollects that girl, his military love, she was his friend. But after the war, he didn’t want to marry her because for four years he only saw her in men’s boots and cloth. We tried our best to forget the war. And we forgot our girls too…
My friend… I won’t name her, who knows if she gets offended… A military paramedic. Three times wounded. After the war, she got into a medical university. Couldn’t find any of her relatives, all died. She was very impoverished, she had to clean the building entrances to earn her living. However, she never revealed to anyone that she’s a disabled war veteran and is entitled to benefits. She tore all the documents. I ask her: “Why did you tear them all?” She cries: “And who would marry me?” “Well – I say – you did the right thing”. She cries even louder: “I could have made use of those papers now.. I am really sick”… Can you imagine? Crying…
We went to Kineshma, this is Ivanov region, to his parents. I went as a hero. I never thought that a girl from frontline could be met like this. We have gone through so much, saved so many children for the mothers and husbands for wives. And then.. I knew what an insult was, I heard hurtful words. Before that all I heard was “Sister”, “Sister, dear”. We sat down for tea at night, his mom took him aside and cried: “Who have you married? A front line one?... You have two younger sisters! Who will marry them now?” When I now recall this, I want to cry. Can you imagine. I brought a record which I really loved. It had these words: “And you have all the rights to wear the most fashionable shoes”… It was about the frontline girls. I put the record, his elder sister came and broker the record right in front of me saying that we didn’t have those rights. They destroyed all of my war photos… All of us, war girls, we had our share…Even after the war, after the war we had another war. Also a scary one. Somehow the men abandoned us. They didn’t stand for us. It was different during the war.
It was only after that they started to honour us… Perhaps, 30 years later. Started to invite us…At the beginning we would hide, not even show our medals. The men would, but not the women. The men – the victorious, the heroes, the grooms, they had their war whereas we were looked at with the different eyes. Absolutely different… I can tell you, we were deprived of our victory… Noone shared the victory with us.. And it was hurtful.. Incomprehensible.
The first medal “For Courage”… The battle began. The gunfire everywhere. The soldiers are down. The command is “Charge”, but they are still down. Another command, and still they are down. I took my hat off so that they could see – the girl had risen…. And then they all rose and we charged ahead.