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The Freedom Fighter
“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
14th of June, 2014, Donbass region, Eastern Ukraine
Judging by the sound, something big and heavy is coming at us from the northwest. Fuck, the bad thing about being a rebel fighting against the government army is that you don’t have “something big and heavy,” and they do.
A loud sound, like a lot of layers of some rough fabric being torn at once, drowns out the hum of the approaching armored vehicles. Then again, closer this time.
“It’s a KPVT!” Grim warns. “Everybody stay sharp, they are coming!”
I peer into the thicket so hard my eyes hurt. Adrenaline isn’t gushing from my ears yet, but my heart is pounding and my palms are sweaty (hooray for wearing gloves). The only thought inside my head is “Dear Santa, don’t let me screw up!» Another sound of «torn fabric» changes into a shattering crash when a KPVT’s heavy bullets rip through the pines 10 meters to our left.
“Sniper, you alive there?!” Grim shouts.
“Okay! Watch the thicket, they’ll try to come through there!”
The roar of the engines seemingly stops getting closer. Several more bursts of KPVT fire tear through the forest, but the armor is clearly shooting blind. Fuck, where are the infantrymen…?
“Bitch!!! Take this!!!” A mix of Grim’s swearing and PKM fire pours out from our right flank. In response to that, a few small arms bullets whistle out of the distance and hit the pines above our position. Damn, what am I supposed to do?? What if I’m needed there?? But what if I go there, and they attack here?? Finally, I decide to stay at my position until further orders.
“Sniper! Come fucking here!! Mosquito, to the left flank. Watch the thicket!”
I squeeze past Marine and Mosquito to get to the main position. No one peeks far out of the trench – the boss is carefully observing something on the opposite side of the road, and Handyman is simply sitting on the ground.
Grim briefly explains the situation: «They are coming from the north side! Keeping to the gullies so I can’t get them! There are more of them at 1 o’clock, in the thicket! You try to get them, and we will cover you!”
Meeeh… Well, an order is an order. After selecting a more or less comfortable position, I start to scan the 12-to-1 o’clock sector. The view is obscured by the forest, but the trees are far apart so I can see something. Damn, it’s torture to work as a sniper from a squad’s position. If I live through today, I’ll find myself a nice position in the forest, 200-300 meters from here. So… Nothing-nothing-nothing-BANG! My eye barely catches some movement through the scope, and my index finger immediately responds.
I wonder, how do they shoot semi-auto sniper rifles so rapidly in movies? I lose my target after a shot, so I need 2-3 seconds to find it again. Well, probably it’s a matter of habit.
“What?!” Grim shouts.
“Some movement in the thicket!”
“Did you get him?!”
“Hard to tell.” Realistically, there wasn’t a chance; I had jerked the trigger too sharply and spoiled the shot.
“Shit! All right, keep looking!”
I try to pop out a bit, and immediately the Ukes on the other side of the road open fire on our position. The bastards got within 50 meters of us, they’re right on the other side of the road. Because of the terrain – we are five meters above them and separated by two slopes, two ditches and an elevated road – there is no clear line of sight between us and them, and we can only trash the trees above each other. And that’s exactly what Grim joyously starts to do, sending half a belt of PKM rounds toward the enemy.
Assessing the low efficiency of his efforts, he grabs his AK and launches a couple of GP-25 grenades for good measure. The Ukes, seemingly impressed by our firepower, cease their attempts to suppress us by fire and switch to occasional “bothering shots”. That would be a good development, except that the engine noise starts getting closer again, and to meet the source of it properly we need to use the RPG – which means standing up from the trench, and that makes one an easy target for the enemy. Besides, the Ukes’ activity at 12 o’clock intensifies again, including the fucking KPVT with its 14.5mm bullets and occasional shots from God-knows-where, and all of that is whistling by unpleasantly close to us. One consolation was that the group of Ukes on the other side of the road apparently did not have UBGLs, otherwise they would have made our life much more “fun”. I wonder, what the heck is the rest of our company doing?
“Chief, tanks!” the sharp-sighted Handyman calls out.
The three of us intensely peer between the trees.
Grim reacts quickly: «It’s an APC! Kiddo – the “pipe” [slang for RPG-7]! Afrikaner – suppress the thicket! Both of you, stay clear of the backblast!»
Yeah, a great warning, sure. How the fuck can I “suppress” the thicket with a sniper rifle, while watching the back end of Grim’s RPG at the same time? Well, to hell with it. I peek out, studying the forest. Meanwhile, Grim stands up out of the trench and starts aiming the pipe. Handyman and I start dashing around to avoid the back end of the RPG, which makes our attempts to suppress the Ukes in the thicket rather sporadic. The enemy isn’t blind and, having noticed Grim’s courageous torso sticking out of the trench, begins shooting. After a few bullets whizz by a couple inches above his head, Grim ducks back into the trench and, using rich expressions, gives his feedback to me and Handyman about the quality of our covering fire. Being used to his manner, we do not pay too much attention to his well-deserved reproaches, and begin to shoot at the bushes on the opposite side of the road, and the forest behind them.
Simultaneously, an RPK starts hitting the same bushes from our rear – as it turned out later, it was Nomad who couldn’t take sitting in his trench and moved closer to us. Grim sends two GP-25 grenades in the same direction, and Ukes’ fire dies down, except that someone starts screaming hysterically, «A-ah-ah-ah!!!! I’m shot!! A-ah!!!! Help!!! Help me, guys, please!!!” Curiously, he was yelling in Russian, not in Ukrainian. Where the hell was his patriotism at that moment?
We send a few 40-mm painkillers from our UBGLs to alleviate the poor guy’s suffering (don’t know if it helped, but he shut up at least), and then we are distracted by the APC – which had crawled up to 200 meters from us and continued to approach slowly, firing short bursts at the roadblock to our rear. Grim grabs the RPG again, but sets it aside a few seconds later. “Only two cucumbers [slang for rockets], damn it!» he explains. «We have to save them in case they send tanks. Sniper, why the hell are you sitting on your ass? Go and watch the 10-to-2 sector!»
As you wish, my lord. I climb into the firing niche and begin to study the slope in the designated sector. Nobody, nobody…and what is that…the deafening roar of a PKM (the muzzle less than a meter from my head) hits my ears so hard that I instinctively duck to the bottom of the trench. Grim keeps sending short bursts of armor-piercing/incendiary bullets through the trees at the approaching APC.
«You fucking imbecile! Are you insane?!» I respectfully express my dissatisfaction with the commander’s actions. Grim simply keeps shooting, with the facial expression of a child who has received a long-awaited gift for Christmas. The belt spent, Grim throws the machine gun to Handyman for reloading, grabs his Kalash, fires a magazine and a UBGL round into the thicket, takes back the PKM and fires one more entire belt of APIBs at the APC. And then it stops. Stuck in place. I mean the APC, not our commander – though he looks inhuman sometimes, I wouldn’t call him “it” due to subordination. There is neither smoke nor too much damage to be seen, but the engine stalled, and it’s not moving or firing. 7.62x54R can penetrate an APC in the side, much harder to manage with angle and distance, but ~200 API rounds could definitely disable one… Or the crew could have panicked.
The U-infantry also fell silent for a couple minutes, probably wondering what the hell happened.
Grim is already thinking aloud about how we can flank around the stalled APC, cut it off from the rest of the government forces and take it as a trophy. Well, you never know, it could work. Alas, the calm does not last long – the second APC opens fire toward us from somewhere behind the first one, then U-infantry swarm the thicket ahead, just a couple hundred meters from where we are, and immediately open fire. Judging by the sound, at least two SVD snipers are among them, too.
I try to do something, firing at any movement in the thicket, looking for “colleagues”, but honestly, I doubt very much I hit anyone, except accidentally. Shooting at unmoving targets at a quiet, leisurely shooting range, and shooting during a battle at hazy figures briefly peering out through the trees – those are two very different things. Especially when those figures are firing back at you, and with mortar shells exploding all around. The need to re-tighten the loosening scope mount after every 3-5 shots also doesn’t inspire confidence in my accuracy. However, based on the fact that I am still alive, I can conclude that the opposite side has «experts» of similar caliber. The second APC, under the cover of infantry and mortars, moves to the first one. The mortar shelling intensifies. Judging by the timing and spread of the explosions, we are being shelled by light infantry mortars located right beyond a nearby hill. Quite accurately, too – the shells are landing just behind our trench. They’re probably afraid of hitting their own, that’s why there are no direct hits on our position. With a sense of relief, we take cover in the bunker. Handyman still manages to jump out between the barrages, to scan the area for some Ukes creeping closer during the shelling. As expected, they aren’t that crazy. Our Kiddo is a real imbecile sometimes. In a good sense. He reports that the Army is towing away the damaged APC using a second one. When some Nonas join the shelling from a few kilometers away, it becomes clear that the fun is over for today, the Ukes have admitted the failure of their attack and are pulling back to their camp at the T-shaped crossroads.
While all of us are relaxing after combat (even Grim grumbles something unintelligible, but apparently approving), the restless Handyman runs to the main crossroads. He returns, shouting: «It’s a fucking mess there! And two dead! It just flew into their dugout!»
Curiosity prevails over fatigue, so I go to see. So… “Fucking mess and two dead”, indeed. The checkpoint is completely destroyed (direct tank fire, no joke), and the surrounding area – well, not the lunar landscape, of course, but the forest was whittled down somewhat. I come closer to the blown-up bunker. Since some genius had built it with an entrance as wide as the bunker itself (in other words, there were only three walls), the two guys inside had no chance when the shell landed right by the entryway. Damn shame. One guy was literally torn to shreds, and the second was not much better. Apparently, they had died instantaneously.
While walking, my habit of analyzing things latches on to the impressions of my first real combat. I come to the conclusion that we – the entire company covering the crossroads – were just lucky that the man in charge of the outpost had turned out to be Grim. Otherwise the bad guys would’ve quickly reached the crossroads, after which, judging by the activity of the remaining platoons of our company, the fight would have been over.
After dinner we go to the other side of the road, finding boot prints, empty cartridges, bullet holes in the trees, and some bandages. And traces of blood, which is a satisfying thing to see.
At sunset, Grim looks at Handyman with cunning Italian eyes: «Son, I know you have it!» The mysterious “it” turns out to be a hidden bottle of homemade hooch, bought in a nearby village. The first shot is for the dead guys. The second one is for our squad, because we acted properly in our first fight, everybody survived, no one chickened out or fell into a stupor. After that, the drinking stops, so I go to the half-blown-up kitchen for water. War is war, but you’ve still got to brush your teeth and wash your feet, if you intend to keep going until victory.
“…More than two hundred pro-Russian separatists were killed or arrested by government forces in the Donetsk region during…”
A wave of revival runs through the barn-looking waiting hall packed with a waiting crowd of bored passengers on the Freetown-to-Casablanca flight. Its point of origin, of course, is not the TV, where strange people with unpronounceable names are killing each other in oddly named cities, but from the descent to the boat dock. Muscular representatives of the native population drag luggage onto boats; the careless handling of trunks eliciting gasps from the newcomers to these geo-proctologic lands. TIA, guys. T – I – A…
A cute newscaster in a neutral-positive manner tells a little more about the glorious victories of the Ukrainian law enforcement over the pro-Russian separatists, casually mentioning Ukrainian officials as a source of information and moves to the Near East (for some mysterious reason English-speaking people call it the Middle East). However, nobody is listening any longer. People hastily line into an assault column for boarding, ignoring the feeble attempts of black personnel to place everybody according to the numbers of their tickets. I don’t like crowds, so I am one of the last ones to attach myself to the end of the queue. I have been here for more than two years and never heard of a case when someone didn’t get on board because there wasn’t enough space on the boat, so there isn’t any need for crowding. I have bought a book in advance (I cannot do without one on the road), so some waiting doesn’t bother me.
The night air is cool; 79 F, no more. Sparse but really huge rain drops break against the pier with a thudding sound and make sharp clicks when landing on the plastic trash which covers the water of the gulf in a thick layer. It is the beginning of the rainy season; a few kilometers from the coast over the mountains, a thunderstorm rages soundlessly. Even after all the times that I have seen storms there, I am still surprised. In three cases out of four, thunder isn’t heard. At all. The explanation, as always, is the usual one. TIA…
I, as usual, am traveling with one backpack of carry-on size, so with callous curiosity I consider the mountain of luggage carefully (by local standards) dumped in a heap on the boat’s nose, which is about to experience for itself the salt water of the Atlantic in its coarse form. The philosophical concept of a piece of canvas, unfortunately, could not fully take root in the outlook of the local people. The boat is slowly moving away from the pier, then it turns its stern to the coast and with a sharp jerk gather speed. Half leaning out of the water, it sneaks right under the nose of an old and rusty container ship, which is bringing the peoples of Liberated Africa the Vietnamese rice, the Chinese manufactured goods, the European second-hand items and the American used cars.
Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, what we have here is not another case of collective insanity, and we’re not going to sail to Morocco on this boat. The explanation is simple: as is customary for the Black Continent’s alternative way of thinking, the glorious city of Freetown is situated in a small mountain range – the only one on the entire coast – so that it can enjoy the year-round lack of space and the curvature of the narrowness of the streets, along with mudslides during the rainy season. Lungi Airport, just as an added bonus, is located on the opposite bank of the wide, but shallow and muddy gulf (or estuary, hell knows). So getting there by boat takes 25-30 minutes, but by car about 3 hours, if you don’t get stuck in a traffic jam on the outskirts of the city. What exactly prevented the locals from building it on the plains on the other side of the mountain range, a few kilometers from the city, is a great mystery, known only to Cthulhu. Most likely, the same alternative way of thinking, because now the Chinese are going to build a new airport there. However, there are more idiotically-located airports; take Monrovia, for example. TIA…
Half an hour flies by, and the opposite coast is in front of us. The rain gradually increases. Mmm… Let’s hope they won’t cancel the flight. My mobile phone vibrates in my pocket. A look at the screen – it’s Amarina. With a sigh, I press the green button. “I love you, come back soon,” etc. She is a nice girl. In contrast with 99% of the local representatives of the opposite sex, not only does she have a neat figure but a beautiful soul as well. She is smart, kind, and does not treat me like a walking ATM. Although I am a racist, and always looked at interaction with local women from an ironical-pragmatic position – and indeed, I am not such an emotional person in terms of communication with others – but you cannot live with a girl for a year and not begin to experience some warm feelings, and not just see her as a piece of furniture to use for medical purposes. I didn’t tell her my destination, of course, just said that I have to go to Moscow on some business. I mumble something tenderly reassuring in response, once again say goodbye, hang up and turn off the phone. Otherwise, after ten minutes she will call again, and will begin to cry again, and I have an overwhelming desire to hang up even when a simple meaningful conversation (without any female tears) on the phone is over a duration of two minutes. I do not know why. I do not like talking on the phone, and that’s it. Anyway, I am not particularly talkative in general.
A short journey on a bus, and here it is, Lungi. By the way, this is a new building, in case somebody doesn’t know. Not even fully complete. Those who complain about it should’ve come here two years ago. Passport control, fingerprints – African countries love to roll all the fingers entering and departing, this Orwellian fashion spreads like gangrene – so, and why is he hesitating? A border officer looks at me with an expression of expectation, unconvincingly jabbing a finger into the keyboard. I blankly steer to the hallway behind his glass booth. Everything is so boring and predictable…
“There is a problem, sir…” (with distinctive for Krio «de» and «saar»)
I silently raise my eyebrows in a question.
“It’s a serious problem! The machine cannot scan your fingerprints. Something is wrong!”
“Do you understand me, sir? We have a serious problem here!”
Indifferently, I say, “I do not think it’s my problem.”
The little blackmailer behind the glass is thoughtfully thumbing through my passport, dotted with seals and visas, and making one last attempt.
“My good friend, I just want to help you. I do not know what you gonna give me…”
Annoyed, he throws the passport to me through the window and turns away defiantly. Smiling to myself, I pass customs. These guys are having fun and aren’t even trying to hide what they are interested in. «Russian? Goni babki! Goni babki!”
Damn, and who taught them that, I’d like to know. They don’t take failures as an offense, and are already asking the next passenger for money in Italian. Polyglots, you know…
There’s another two hours before departure, so I get a beer and sit back. The situation stimulates nostalgic memories. However ugly the place is, Sierra Leone adds two years to my geoproctologic experience, which wasn’t small in the first place. I immerse into myself and come back right in time for the boarding call.
A 3-hour flight by Royal Air Morocco and here it is, Casablanca. Before the flight to Istanbul I have a few hours, but don’t have any desire to go into the city. The name is the only beautiful thing that Casablanca has, I checked it in practice a couple of times. However, it’s a very convenient transfer hub for trips to West Africa. Beginners, by the way, are very much recommended to go to the city, it will help you a little to prepare yourself for «the white man’s grave», as they called the coast of the Gulf of Guinea two centuries before. Back then, the damned white colonizers were breaking into peaceful African villages, where locals peacefully ate each other, leaving only ruins and dead bodies houses, schools and roads. By the end of the first year, every second one of those tough guys had already gone to the Happy Hunting Grounds. Moreover, although today everything is much easier, cholera and typhoid fever are still here, as I have learned in my own experience. Malaria also is present, but that one I got a bit earlier, in Zambia.
A scary thing indeed, by the way. An acquaintance of mine, a representative of investors from Ukraine, flew into Sierra Leone for a week to check how everything was going. They went to look at their mining site, got drunk, went to the ocean, got drunk. The man returned to Kiev, and in a few days fell unconscious in the sauna. It took some time for the doctors to understand what was going on and do an analysis for malaria – before they could do anything, three days later he was gone. The Ukrainian investors were quite impressed by that, so for more than a year they oversaw the activities of the enterprise by correspondence and telephone. For which they paid the price – a team of geologists headed by a professor (the head of some kind of international geological association) embezzled more than a million of the investor’s dollars, and finally sold all the property, right down to the water canisters. A real professor, not some goof from a trailer park, he knows how to do things. They swept everything clean. I remember, during a joint booze session, that solid man of charismatic appearance told us about the morphology of alluvial deposits (no one understood anything, but it sounded convincing, and even caused sporadic desires to invest money). Then, in great secrecy, he showed us some exclusive photos taken specifically on his order by a special exploration satellite. Upon my naive question, «Why is there Google Maps written on the exclusive photos?” the professor gently moved the topic to a discussion of the relative merits of black women and white women. For some mysterious reason, I was not invited there anymore. Heh-heh…
I like to sit in the transit area of the airport and watch the passengers, trying to guess by their appearance and manner who they are and where they are coming from/going to. Very interesting character types can be found sometimes. That black, confident, smiling man in his forties, casually sporty style, rolling accent. My guess, an American who came to look at the asshole of the universe lost paradise where three hundred years ago, his ancestors were sold by a tribal leader to slavers for a bottle of whiskey. Lucky ancestors. Here is a group of Russians trying to cover up their insecurities with deliberately loud voices. They look like mining engineers. I listen to the conversation… yes, they are from Kharkov going to Ghana to work at mining. And there are several harsh Taliban-like guys – Gastarbeiter preachers from Pakistan, flying to infect poor blacks with “pure Islam” for Saudi grants. A seasoned kind of guy, just like me, boredly considering the Babel of the airport, obviously belongs to the same familiar type of «small universal businessmen» as your humble servant, trampling the red African soil since Stanley… Boarding call.
Italy and Greece float below, we are beginning to descend, and a spectacular view of the surrounding area of Istanbul is right in front of us. It’s a beautiful city. Even Islam cannot spoil it entirely. It looks like Kiev, but the climate is better, and there is a sea. I can wander around it for days, and that’s what I’m planning to do for the next three days.
In every normal country there are places that are a must-see, if you happen to pass through. Even some abnormal countries are equipped with such places. Not Sierra Leone, by the way. And in each normal city they are also present. Granted, they are often disappointing, but as they say, it is better to try and regret than to regret not trying. In short, in Istanbul, the most important of these places is the Hagia Sophia. But, to tell you the truth, it is quite disappointing, and there is no need to go there. Unless there is a need to stoke your dislike for Islam. But I personally don’t have any lack of it already. Don’t get me wrong, the cathedral, of course, is beautiful and majestic. No, sorry, it was. It was that way in 1452. Doesn’t look like it has been repaired since then. There are few remains of frescoes, and in the corridors, it stinks with urine. Idiotic chandeliers on ropes finally spoil any possible view. It is evident that the Turkish government does not pay much attention to the maintenance of the Cathedral, let alone any restoration. Ridiculous sticks of minarets and ugly round shields with Arabic inscriptions leave a very bad impression, even though I am an atheist, and Orthodoxy is usually not any concern of mine. It is clear that everybody will go anyway, but my conscience is clear: I warned you.
Oh, sorry, I forgot to explain what I’m doing in Istanbul. The fact is that I want to become a rebel. In a good sense of the word. That’s why I’m on my way to a small city with the symbolic name Slavyansk. Why the hell do I want to do it? Well, it’s a difficult question… A bit later I will try to explain in more detail, but for now I’ll just say that I want to do the right thing. And why am I in Istanbul? Firstly, I haven’t been in Russia for almost three years. The land of my fathers is certainly missed, but to cross the Russian-Ukrainian border doesn’t look like a good idea. The FSB ain’t sleeping and, contrary to popular Western beliefs, they consider us, the Russian conservative and right movement, as the biggest threat to Putin’s regime. And my healthy (?) paranoia tells me that all men of fighting age are to be documented on arrival to Rostov-on-Don, and more likely even when buying a ticket there. Right now the FSB isn’t daring to press us too hard, because volunteers for the Donbass war are very popular among the Russian people, and more than ¾ of all volunteers are right and conservative. However, I always consider the possibility of changes in the political climate, so I’ll try to avoid being arrested for attempted illegal border crossings. In any case, I do not relish at all the prospect of being in one of Department E’s little black books. Secondly, given the current balance of forces in the area of the Rebellion, I optimistically figure my chances of staying alive and healthy to be not more than 50%. Accordingly, before the war I wish to wander through a beautiful Mediterranean – I love the Mediterranean – city, and Istanbul is perfect in terms of logistics. Also, during my previous three visits here I have had only a few hours between connecting flights, and now I have plenty of interesting places to explore.
Anyway, my plan is to fly from Istanbul to Kiev, and from there move to Donetsk by train or by bus. That way I’ll drop out of sight of the servants of His Darkness. A preliminary study of reviews of the practices of Evil Empire nationals, males aged 16 to 60, (not) entering the territory of New Democratic Ukraine inspires some optimism. Again, the fact that I have lived for several years outside of Russia, in places damned by God and then forgotten by Him, is also, in my view, to play in my favor. At first I had the idea of a direct flight to Donetsk (this was before the epic fail of the militia on 26–27 May), but then I rejected it as too obvious. I did not buy a ticket in advance, because it was clear that the situation may change suddenly and dramatically. My first morning in Istanbul, I make a foray into the nearest office of Turkish Airlines.
I feel something wrong when the plump brunette behind the counter makes a gloomy face when looking at my Russian passport. In a mild and polite tone, it is explained to me that the airline is fucking tired of carrying smart-asses like me on return trips from Kiev on its own dime. Therefore, I can buy tickets only in the presence of a certified translation in Turkish – or, so be it, in English – of all the documents that the vigilant Ukrainian border guards require from the Evil Empire’s male citizens to skip the Front Line of Democracy. I could get the ticket online, but she advises me not to, because boarding without the full set of documents would still not be allowed. Perhaps I fall for the bluff, but I decide to save my time, money and nerve cells. A ticket to Moscow is in my pocket, and three days of leisurely walks through ancient Constantinople re-awaken the dream of a small house on the shores of the Mediterranean closer to old age. Not in Turkey, of course – I have not lost my mind – but Sicily or Sardinia… There are too many places on the globe where I want a house when getting old (Cape Town and Valparaiso are leading so far), but I must earn enough to buy an apartment in Moscow first. Well, at least an apartment somewhere.
I wake up early in the morning, then there is a taxi ride through the sleeping city, and then a steel bird takes me to the capital of terrible Mordor. The question now is, how not to be caught by the eye of Sauron…
Moscow… We’re used to criticizing it. Stuff like “This is wrong, and that’s not the way it has to be, and prices for everything are crazy, and annoying immigrants are coming in large numbers, and the environment is bad, and generally speaking, it’s impossible to live here.” Anybody saying «I like living in Moscow» is looked at like a madman. He is not trendy, you see… The funny thing is, the crowds of refugees from The Unrubber City won’t be seen no matter how hard you look for them. Apparently, they travel by tunnels under the ground. Oh, wait a minute, there is another possibility – there are no crowds of refugees from Moscow, because it’s a great city to live in. At least, for me, Moscow is one of the best cities on this planet (I’m talking about global cities). The only two things that it lacks are the sea and mountains. You can think of me as a pervert, but that’s my opinion.
After two years in Freetown, the capital of our country looks like some paradise on Earth. The metro trains, grazing herds of white girls, high-rise buildings popping out here and there like mushrooms after a rain, normal Russian food. Three days in Istanbul have not yet dulled the acute sense of satisfaction with the civilization around me. And it’s not in the financial or residential comfort aspects (nevertheless, the hospitality of Alex, my good friend and old comrade in African adventures, who sheltered me in his house in New Riga is very helpful indeed). If the city is «yours,» you will enjoy it even without money, and even spending the night at the train station will not spoil the impression. Well, as long as it doesn’t become a habit. I know from experience, since during my first visit to the beautiful city of Rome I was forced, by an incident, to spend three days on a budget of one hundred euros, prudently hidden away under the insole of my shoe at the beginning of the trip. 72 hours passed like a moment; I walked around the historic center almost around the clock. The only thing I was sorry about is that I could not enjoy the Italian cuisine, so I had to postpone it for some other time. On the other hand, I came to Dubai loaded with money, and still I spent the last two days in a hotel with a book. The city wasn’t “mine,” and that’s all.
So, in discussions on the diversity of the world and especially our perception of it, we get to the cottage village where Alex’s lair is located. Along the way, after the inevitable «Do you remember…» and «And those imbeciles got cheated again, they lost a million!» I tell the friend about my plans to become a man with a gun for a little bit. To put it mildly, it somewhat surprises him, because he knew me before from the point of view which was articulated by my LiveJournal friend, the good writer and bad logician Jan Valetov (LiveJournal-bither): «You are a cynic, there is as much romance in you as in the statue of the Commander – none the fuck at all. You always knew which side your bread was buttered on.» Alex, who knows me as a person of rather tortuous fate, entirely agrees with this (at that time still not pronounced) phrase.
“Well,” he tortures me while we are drinking beer after the delicious lunch prepared by his caring wife has already been eaten, “now, please, explain to me why?”
“Sometimes you just want to do something good and useful. I’m tired of talking about the unfairness of the universe…”
“No, well, I understand that, of course. But it’s war, you could get an additional hole in your forehead, you understand? You could also help in some other way – collect humanitarian aid, or fundraising, or something else…”
“And whom are you actually going to fight for?” his wife Olga tactfully inquires (she hasn’t met me in person before, but has some idea about my right-wing political views).
“For the good guys, of course.”
“For the militia!” I smiled.
“Is there a possibility to become Borodai’s assistant after half a year?” asks Alex, well knowing my cynical nature.
I soberly assess my chances. “Unlikely. For that I would’ve had to come in March. There’s never enough goodies for everyone. However, we’ll see…”
The conversation lasts until two o’clock in the morning. I love to talk with smart people, that’s my weakness.
Perhaps we should talk about my motives in details, before you take me for a youngster with burning eyes and vacuum inside the skull, who’s watched too many movies. Where shall I begin…? For starters, I am a person of far-right views. At least, by Russian standards. Here if you don’t believe that “the stronger the government the better it is for the people” it makes you a far-right extremist automatically. The same if you dare to be proud of being white and Russian. I am not one of those «neo-Nazi» clowns who wear that nice black uniform, make the “Sieg heil!” gesture and retweet the biographies of warriors of the Third Reich. They believe that all this will somehow help them to cling to the formidable fame of the dead great hope for the survival of the white race – I believe it’s just another cargo cult, like the Melanesian islanders making headphones from coconut halves and trying to bring back the glittering steel bird with rice and peanut butter… I am too rational for that. However, to me it’s obvious that seventy years ago they threw the baby out with the bathwater. In the USA I would’ve been called a fusionist, at least I think so. What does it have to do with Ukraine? Well, I’m not going there to fight fascism. Because, in my opinion, despite what leftists and liberals say, it’s not there. It is a combination of a usual ethnic war, between the Russians and the Ukrainians, and a people’s uprising against an oppressive government. It has a distinctive feature that distinguishes it from a long line of such conflicts – the presence of an undecided majority in a territory disputed by two nations. That is the majority of the so-called «Russian-speaking Ukrainians,» often responding to the question of their ethnicity «I’m a Slav,” and they are a major prize for both sides. The population, not the land (it will come with the people). But, anyway, it’s a good old fight of the people for their land and their freedom.
So for me, being a fusionist-racist and a Russian patriot, the choice of side is obvious. Frankly, if the choice was between the white race vs. Russians – for example, take this purely hypothetical situation: the EU is hit by riots of immigrants, and as a reaction, far-right governments come to power, and are subjected to harassment by the international community, and under external and internal pressure they are increasingly radicalized. A few months pass and the United White Provinces of Europe appear, conducting internal politics in the spirit of the Germany in the mid-1930s. The Russian Federation launches an offensive on the west in order to «destroy the revived hydra of Nazism.” Well, to tell you the truth, in that case I would be shooting at the sunrise, not the sunset. But the race question has nothing to do with the current Donbass war (except for the unfortunate damage to the gene pool of both white nations). In this connection, the enthusiastic support of some of my former fellow-thinkers in Ukraine under the pretext of the «struggle for the White Brotherhood» makes me fear for their mental health. Anyway, that’s enough rising into the ideological empyrean. Not that I am very obsessed with politics and the struggle for racial hygiene, but as a distant background of my life, they have their place. Riots in Russian regions that were caught up with the death of the Soviet Union under the occupation of different savages were quite predictable. However, I thought that the first would be northern Kazakhstan after the departure of its perpetual President Nazarbaev to the Happy Hunting Ground (or, more likely, to hell). Well, looks like I didn’t quite call that one. However, I am sure that a war there is still in the cards. Long live the Republic of South Siberia! Or whatever it will be called…
The second group of reasons can be summarized as a normal man’s desire to test himself. Not that my life is poor at the plot twists, but I haven’t been at war before. Do not consider me an adrenaline junkie, please. No, I love to lie on the couch with a good book or to write an article for Wikipedia, or just walk down the street, going somewhere and eating something delicious there. Yes, I like to travel, and more than once I have gone to various places of interest; some of them weren’t completely safe, but, again, I always try to minimize the level of risk to a reasonable limit. For example, I take pleasure in climbing a volcano (a sleeping one!), rafting on a mountain river, or diving in a shark cage. A bunch of positive emotions and almost no risk if engaging in all of the above in a sober condition. But mountain biking, parasailing, or diving with the same sharks without a cage (there are fans of that, if you can believe it) – those things I will do only under the threat of being shot on the spot otherwise. Well, going to war is likely in the second category. But, which of us didn’t play war games as a child, and thus did not imagine himself with a real machine gun, mowing down the ranks of his enemies? If you never had such fantasies as a child – well, it’s a thing to think through, let’s put it that way. And now I have a chance to do it for real. And not just to fight, but for a just cause. Concerning the danger, well, it’s war, of course, but it’s not something like Verdun, where for advancing 1,000 meters they paid with 10,000 lives; it’s a guerrilla war. Images of liberated cities, burning Ukrainian columns, and other fragments from the «Toyota-wars» in the South Russian landscape are flashing through my mind. I almost never watch TV, but still, presumably, the overall increase in mental debilitation of the noosphere has influenced me also.
I will not prevaricate; there are mercantile considerations. I’m not a young man anymore, over thirty, and not an idiot or a bum, but so far I do not have a house, or a big sum on my account, or family, or even a constant and measured life. And I do love rhythmic, cozy well-being. I can only wonder why my desire for it regularly brings me to places where a year of life can safely count for three. Well, I am not poverty-stricken, and I always have some money for a tasty meal and a ride on the globe at my pleasure (the latter not always, but more often than not), but that’s all. And now, if the Rebellion is successful, there is a prospect of a building a new country from scratch. A whole new government is needed. I’m realistic enough to not rely on the post of finance minister – only well-connected men can get appointed to such posts, that’s understandable – but in terms of the inevitable personnel shortage, something quite tempting could turn up. Especially because I have a quite decent amount of experience in organizing something from scratch. It’s not like I had high hopes, but you never know…
In the morning (hell, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to drink wine and cognac together), Alex gives me a ride to Moscow on his way to work. He drops me at Three Station Square. Because my healthy suspicion of the beloved state has not left me, I take a ticket not to Rostov-on-Don but to Voronezh instead. Another way to cover my tracks, let’s hope it’ll work.
From my somewhat ironic manner of narrative you might get the impression that I am completely harebrained and shooting from the hip, having no idea what is waiting for me to come, and how I will get to the coveted Slavyansk, and what I will be doing there. Well, that’s not true. I am a very methodical and organized person. After deciding in early May to go to Slavyansk, I devoured a bunch of literature on the wars in Yugoslavia, Chechnya and Transnistria. I refreshed my memory in performance characteristics and procedure for assembly/disassembly/shooting of the most common types of guns and grenade launchers, and skimmed everything that could be useful about heavy machinery (mainly how to fight it). I read carefully the reviews of those who had already arrived in Donbass and those who couldn’t make it for various reasons. In particular, I exchanged e-mails with Alexander Zhuchkovsky, who at that time was fighting in Slavyansk, and then talked with him on a burner bought for this particular purpose from illegals from Kyrgyzstan (or some other armpit of the Universe, nobody cares). Therefore, by the time I purchased the ticket, I already had the number that I should call on arrival in Rostov. It is obvious that there is a possibility that all of this is done under the surveillance of the FSB, but I don’t see another option.
From the train station I slowly walk to Red Square (who knows if I’ll happen to visit it again), and from there, on foot too, go to the Metropolis shopping mall, my favorite of its kind in Moscow since those distant days when I lived near it. Is it far? Well, it is. But I like walking.
In the evening we gather around the fireplace in Alex and Olga’s house. Wine, small talk, their gentle attempts to dissuade me from going. Then a good night’s sleep, and I’m on the road again.
I like trains. Especially if there is a dining car. You can sit comfortably, slowly sipping beer, eating pistachios, absently watching the views and reflecting on the futility of all things (just for example, can be something else). I usually spend most of the ride there, so I did not see the need to change the habit this time.
I sit down, order a beer and pistachios for right now, Olivier salad and solyanka ASAP, and plunge into a contemplative and thoughtful state of mind. Rather, I try to. The problem is a waitress of middling prettiness, persistently trying to force me to «buy a girl some beer.» Fuck, why is she bothering me? «How are you? Where are you from? I’m so bored here…»
Yeah… I do not need company; I just want to sit alone! Although, I’m the only customer, so there is nobody else she can stick to. Mindful of the fact that the soup and salad are not yet ready, and she can spit in there, I am smiling softly and playing for time. So, the food arrives, the danger is over, and with relief I offer my «girlfriend» to write off a couple of bottles of champagne from the bar on crushing during heavy braking and join me. Not a good idea? Well, okay, then I’ll stay in splendid isolation, if you do not mind. For a couple of minutes she is trying to joke and show me the bends of her figure, but seeing that I am focused on the absorption of the solyanka, she removes herself with a contemptuous snort as an indignant goodbye. Thank you, Lord…
No, there is nothing wrong with me, and I’m not interested in men. But, I find wildly annoying the manner of some people to use normal human feelings for the gratuitous receipt of material benefits and other advantages. It’s old and sad, like the world itself:
(Shyly) “Hi! Bored?”
(Coyly) “I’m so beautiful, so why don’t you spend some money on me? And I, so be it, will take your efforts for granted.”
(Surprised) “What phone number? No, of course I will not tell you. And I do not need yours. Anyway, I have a boyfriend.”
(Indignantly) “What do you mean by ‘Okay’?! And why are you turning away?! Or do you think that I owe you something now, that you can buy me?!”
Simplistic, but true. It’s not just about the girls, men too often try to enter paradise riding on somebody else’s shoulders, using the courtesy of others, their reluctance to get into a conflict, and their fear of being rude. Well, the stick has two ends. So, the place where you try to saddle will be the place you fall. Well, I’m always ready to save a neighbor’s kitty, but that’s as far as it goes. That’s the evil I am.
One more beer (landed angrily in front of me on the table) and it is time to go to bed. Tomorrow will be a busy day.
The Voronezh Bus Station. Big Brother is watching us, so I am not going to buy a ticket there. I don’t even go to the territory of the station. I’ve checked the schedule in advance while still in Moscow through the Internet, so all I have to do now is watch and learn which way the buses to the South are going. After completing the task, I just stand at the roadside two blocks from the station, together with a pair of obvious illegals from Central Asia, waiting for a bus to come. A slight wave of my hand stops the bus.
«Boss, how much to Rostov? 900 rubles? No problem, here it is.» And nobody’s interested in my passport data.
I’m not a fan of long-distance bus travels. However, 12 hours of Voronezh to Rostov-on-Don are much better than 32 hours of Cusco to Lima with one ten-minute stop, so I can bear it.
On arrival in Rostov I quickly leave the railway station and climb up Big Garden Street. The bus, unfortunately, arrived too late, so that one of the stages of my plan, namely, to buy in Rostov some camouflage, footwear and some equipment, is impossible to implement. For obvious reasons, I do not want to bring all those things from Moscow. For some time I am pondering the situation. On the one hand, I do not want to waste time. On the other hand, if I understand something about the economy (and I do), the prices in Donetsk for “partisan items” will be exorbitant. In the end, the desire to save time takes over the desire to save money. I insert sim card and battery into the burner and dial the number that was given me by Zhuchkovsky.
“Hello?” The voice clearly belongs to a man in his fifties.
“Hello! I know your number from Alexander, who is now in the Donetsk region. He said you could organize an excellent fishing trip.” I feel like Nicholas Brody talking to Abu Nazir on the phone. But what else could I tell him?
It takes a few seconds for my interlocutor to understand what I mean.
“Yes, I can. How many of you?”
“Do you know Rostov and the province around?”
“Just the city, not the area around.”
“Clear. I’ve got another ‘fisherman’ already sitting at my house. Now I’ll give up the phone, he’ll explain to you how to get there.”
There comes another voice, like 15-20 years younger, solid and confident.
“Hi! Where are you now?”
“Okay, I was there yesterday around the same time. Go to the bus station and get a ticket to Tarasovka. It is a town in the northern part of the province. The bus takes about three hours, so in the early morning you will be here. On arrival call again, we’ll explain how to find us.”
A few seconds of thinking.
“I came in street clothes. Is it really important for me to go now, with a fishing trip planned tomorrow? Or can I come tomorrow night?” Hopefully, he understood.
(After a few seconds) “It is better if you come ASAP. Yesterday I was late. The owner of the house says perhaps tomorrow we’ll go fishing. It’s not every day that it can be arranged. Call me after you buy a ticket.”
“Got it. I’ll call.”
Going back to the bus station, I walk up to the cashier. Surprise! The bus has been canceled, the next one will be in the morning. I call back, report a problem, and say that I’d come tomorrow afternoon. I am reluctant to take a taxi for both financial and security reasons. Taxi drivers certainly do perform their civic duty by snitching to the police and the FSB. Now I need to decide either to get a hotel room or spend the night at the station. The hotel is a paper trail. Even if I found a private room for an overnight stay, the people who rent it usually take a passport photo by phone, and then where these photos would go, especially today, only Cthulhu knows. It is quite possible they go right into the hands of our glorious law enforcement. I make up my mind: I’ll spend the night at the station. In the meantime, I can walk around the city and enjoy it for a while.
Walking around Rostov is nice. Firstly, it’s a very picturesque city. Secondly, the number of beautiful girls per square meter in the strip from Kharkov to Rostov-on-Don is much higher than the average both on Earth and on some other planets. In my heart I have a complex set of feelings and thoughts. There is a noisy, merry city around. Lights, fun, bustling people and machines. With the aforementioned beautiful girls walking with lads two times wider in the shoulders than me, drinking beer. On the one hand, a reluctant thought creeps into my head, «And what the hell are you guys doing here when 100 kilometers away the same Russians as you are fighting for their land and freedom?» Something tells me that there is not even a subconscious feeling of wrongness about what is happening in the lads’ muscular heads, and that in the morning they won’t go to buy humanitarian aid for Novorossiya, or to transfer some money for the purchase of equipment for Strelkov. At such moments, I understand why some normal white Christians and atheists join jihadist groups. People get tired of all this bestiality happening around, they do not know how to deal with it, and, due to lack of brain cells, they begin to take seriously the famous Arabian fiction poetry of VII century. On the other hand, looking at the boiling life, and mindful of the purpose of the trip, I really start to feel like one of the defenders of the Russian World, of my people. Soon, I recall «Farewell of Slavianka» and «The Sacred War,” and my mood lightens up. That, despite my rather ironic attitude to everything around, is a good feeling.
An unexpected (by the standards of Moscow) complexity appears to be changing dollars at seven o’clock in the evening. All the banks are closed, and no exchange bureaus at all, like I have fallen into the Middle Ages or the Land of the Soviets through some time hole. In the end, I go to the cops at the railway station and they quickly pull out their illegal pocket moneychanger from somewhere. The exchange rate, to be sure, is plunder. But now, at least, I am protected from a possible ID check, because I’ve become a business partner of those valiant keepers of law, order and public safety.
In the morning I get on the bus, and we launch toward Tarasovka. For a neighbor, alas, I have a terribly talkative old lady who is burning with desire to find out where and why I’m going. Fortunately, two thirds of the responses she immediately invents herself, without waiting for my reaction. So, to my surprise, it turns out that I am going to some kind of resort for a mud bath. Okay, why not. Although, the darkly humorous thought «At least I’ll get a taste of some mud» crosses my mind.
There is Tarasovka. The capital and main city, so to speak, of the Tarasovskiy district of the Rostov region, whose main advantage is that it (the district) borders on the Luhansk region of Ukraine. Or, rather, the Luhansk People’s Republic. Stepping out at the bus station, I look around. A couple of stores, a couple of taxis, a small café. At the opposite side of the road I see a store called Hunter or something like that. «Aha!» I make a mental note and go to the diner. I order some delicious borsht with garlic croutons for chump change, and then call the point of destination. Having instructions to take a taxi to the border farmstead of Ivanovka (let’s call it so), I finish the soup (having been extremely good, by the way), and go across the road to the hunting store. A middle-aged woman behind the counter looks at me without the slightest surprise.
«Going there?» she asks, making an uncertain, but intuitively clear gesture.
«There…» I sigh, feeling like the last idiot to show up.
«You guys have already bought almost everything,” I am told by this obvious genius of counterintelligence, “here is all that’s left.»
The choice really is not rich, to put it mildly. In the end, I buy myself a camouflage cloak. Strelkov at his famous address (which served as the last straw for my decision to go), said that there are some provisions on-site, so I’ll manage it somehow.
I struck a deal with a taxi driver for 800 rubles to Ivanovka and we start west. The taxi driver is talkative, and sees immediately who I am. He says that he carries volunteers to Ivanovka for Alexander (which, according to him, is the name of the master of the house where I am going) on a regular basis, 3-5 people per week. In his opinion, Alexander is an experienced man, he has plenty of relatives on both sides of the border, and no overlap with the transition has happened yet. At the same time, he instructs me what to say to the border guards if they stop us (that we are going on a fishing trip). Among the border guards, according to him, people are very different, including those seeking to stupidly enforce any letter of the law without thinking through the situation. They can draw up a report on a violation of the border zone, and return me to Tarasovka. However, we don’t catch anyone. Rather, we aren’t caught by anyone. He treats the Rebellion sympathetically, which, however, does not prevent him from asking 800 rubles for the trip, the maximum price of which is no more than 500.
He drops me off in front of a detached two-story house, in the yard of which a hefty shaggy dog sits silently, gazing disapprovingly at me through the chain-link fence. The wheelman smartly turns and disappears from my sight, wishing me a final good luck.
A few minutes of knocking at the gate and shouting «Is anybody here?» don’t bring any result. Somehow, I do not want to go inside by myself – first, the doggy isn’t looking friendly, and second, who knows what’s there. And who. Perhaps I should call back and tell the good news of my arrival. I pull the phone out of my pocket, dial… «There is not enough money on your account…» Wonderful. As always, just in time. I knock again. Zero response, but the dog barks a couple of times without much enthusiasm. Mmmm… Maybe the taxi driver dropped me at the wrong place? And what am I supposed to do? I walk around the fence to the left. There are some gardens. I return. Still no one. The doggy barks from time to time. Fuck. I hear a noise and look around. A young boy on a bicycle is coming to the gate.
«Hi!” I say as friendly as I can imitate. “You live here?»
«Hello!” The young generation replies politely. “I do. You’re here to see my Pa?”
I do confirm his bold assumption. The kid enters the yard and disappears behind the house. A few minutes later, a man in his fifties comes out, strong, with a rough but intelligent face.
«Good afternoon! I’m Alexander. How was your trip?»
I introduce myself and report that everything was okay. We pass behind the house; there is a large garden, almost half a hectare. Then I see another man, moving toward me with a cheerful smile and a hayfork in his hands. Looking around forty, about my height, but two times wider than me, with a bushy beard. Apparently, another ‘fisherman’. But what the hell does he need the hayfork for? Not for me, I hope. Yeah, good, he drops it. Dima, burly, bearded, charismatic, brutal appearance, father of five, a handyman, a former college professor and a staunch Russian conservative, came from one of the national autonomous republics on the Volga, where he has a small software company.
Dima and I quickly find some common topics for conversation, as we do with our hosts (Alexander, his wife Irina and three young children). The guys bring me up to date. The situation on «the Strip» is as follows: along the borderline stretch government strongholds, the Ukes are coming out with their mobile units patrolling the border and making ambushes at known routes, where people and supplies are crossing the Strip. The situation is made easier for them by the fact that the border passes, though just a little, the river Derkul. So, a couple of days ago, a few kilometers south a group of volunteers passing over the ford was fired at from the thicket as soon as they came ashore. The result was two wounded, but fortunately, everyone was able to get back. Also, the Ukes are still afraid to bombard the Russian territory. Armed groups of Novorossiyan militias operate at the border area more or less freely, because the Ukrainian Border Guards are scared of real fighting and try by all means not to notice the militias. If it is impossible not to notice, they come in force, asking the Ukrainian National Guard for armored vehicles to support them. In such cases, the militias disperse into the thicket, or pull back to the south, towards the city of Lugansk. The area to the west of the border for a few dozen kilometers is a zone unstably controlled by the militias. The settlements there are mainly pro-rebel, with small garrisons of a few people, dozens at best, that are local activists. In case of an approach of large government forces (and the Ukes don’t dare to go in small units), these garrisons are dispersed to the thicket and neighboring villages. The enemy comes into a town, raises a U-flag at the town hall, and then moves on. The militia returns, burns the bicolor, hangs the tricolor/Imperial/Mandylion/LNRka (depending on what is at hand), and everything returns to normal. At the same time both sides move almost freely on the roads, organizing checkpoints where they please. The farther to the north, the weaker the militia’s presence becomes, and the stronger the influence of Kiev is. A system of smuggling stays afloat through the dedicated work of volunteers from the local residents on both sides of the Strip, and it is quite organized. Preparation of troops and supplies for the Rebellion in the territory of the Russian Federation, scouting of the routes, transportation to Lugansk – the level which has been reached by the self-organization of common people is inspiring respect. Large groups of volunteers (20 or more people, mostly Cossack already with light weapons) just cross the border where they see fit, frightening the U-border guards and managing to escape to the territory controlled by the militia before the arrival of the National Guard with the heavy armor. On the Russian side of the Strip, the Russian Border Guard brings some difficulties. Though the cops are local, and almost without exception turn a blind eye to the perturbations in the border area, among the «green caps» is a lot of scum, trying to put the brakes on the Rebellion in any way possible. However, the majority of them are normal people.
The hamlet of Ivanovka stretches along the east bank of the Derkul. On the opposite side is the slightly larger village of Sosnovoe. Residents of both villages are related to one another; during Soviet times, this ‘agglomeration’ was generally regarded as a single entity. There is a small border post at Sosnovoe, and in the woods behind it camps a company of the National Guard with several tanks, IFVs and mortars. Plus, there are rumors that there is a small detachment of SSU special forces arranging outings to the woods (mainly the Ukes don’t take the risk of going there), but it isn’t known for sure. The bridge over the Derkul is wrapped with barbed wire and blocked with concrete blocks by the Ukes, without anybody passing through it, even locals. I wonder who tossed this idea to the Ukes. The man, of course, is deeply sympathetic to the Rebellion, because it is the best way to persuade the locals to support the militia. A favorite pastime of kids on the west bank is trolling the U-warriors with cries of «Allahu Akbar!» a phrase the Ukes are really afraid of. Apparently, they are imagining how the evil Chechens will cut their heads off.
Alexander says that in the evening another «fisherman» is coming, and then he will coordinate with the volunteers on the other side about the transition and delivery to Lugansk. After a hearty lunch, Dima and I help Alexander clean up the freshly cut grass, then splash in the Derkul, peering with some anxiety into the woods on the opposite bank. The SSU Special Forces manage to remain undetected.
Later in the afternoon the third «fisherman» comes, named Konstantin (or simply Kostya). His appearance causes Alexander some noticeable tension because the newcomer doesn’t look more than eighteen years old. However, Kostya, apparently already accustomed to such reactions from others, with a decisive gesture draws the proof from the pocket of a thick leg and presents it. His passport, I mean. Twenty-three years old. Nobody can believe it. He comes from Komi and have already served in the army (unlike Dima), and makes a living doing something in IT that I’d never heard of. Dima, after exchanging a few words with Kostya in their IT-speak, confirms that he understands the topic. Well, okay then.
Alexander tells us before going to bed that there won’t be anything at night, because, according to his relatives from the other side, the Ukes get some NVDs and we don’t have any.
“So,” he says, “you can rest easy until the morning!” and so we do. In the morning, barely having time to eliminate the eggs and sausage, we see a van driving into the yard, from which three bodies in camouflage cheerfully jump out.
«Don’t get nervous, they’re Cossacks,» the master of the house reassures us, noticing our stress. We come up to meet them. The guys turn out to be Kuban Cossacks, engaged in the organization of supplies and volunteers in Novorossiya. At that time they are bringing medicines and bandages, purchased from money collected in Krasnodar. There are also all sorts of homemade pickles, jams and smoked meat, sent by loving wives and mothers of those who are already fighting. The Kubans say that there is some Uke activity on their usual smuggling route, so they ask us to take their stuff with us to Lugansk. Of course, we agree.
After their departure there is nothing special to do, so we just sit in the room that was given to us by Alexander, and communicate on all sorts of topics. Fortunately, the guys are interesting and intelligent collocutors. Kostya’s political views are also nationalist and racist, perhaps even more radical and consistent than mine are. At least, it somehow never occurred to me to choose girls based on the correctness of the shape of their skulls. Well, everybody has a right to have his own opinion, and personal life is called personal because its personal, and everyone knows best himself how to build it.
In the midst of a fierce (but respectful) discussion of the impact of the Great Geographical Discoveries during the decline of the Ottoman Empire, with a schematic, but reasoned analysis of alternative development scenarios, Alexander enters the room, looking a little worried.
«So, guys, sit here for now, do not go out into the yard, do not peer through the windows. There are border guards arriving, someone snitched on us. I’ll take care of them, just sit quietly.»
Of course, we immediately and unanimously stare out the windows, trying not to rustle the curtains. Three cars enter the yard – the Cossacks’ minivan (already known to us), a local cop’s sedan and a Border Guard’s jeep, and the yard suddenly seems filled with people. The shaggy dog wisely decides not to aggravate the situation, and hides in its doghouse. The border guards, judging by their gestures, apparently are pressuring Alexander and the Cossacks, and they are shouting back. The cops’ whole appearance is broadcasting to the environment that they do not want to be here, so they stand on the sidelines, not participating in the general debate. The Cossacks call someone, then shove the phone to the guards (or, rather, to the eldest of them). He listens to the distant interlocutors, nods, spreads his hands in the universal gesture of «I understand everything, but duty is duty» and disconnects, and continues giving Alexander and the Kubans a hard time. In the end, Alexander, obviously extremely irritated, opens the door of the shed, where the Cossacks’ stuff is stacked, and, judging by the gestures, says to the guard’s chief something like «You want to take them away, then do so, but there will be consequences!» The guards looks into the barn, pulls out a pair of trunks, opens them and reviews the contents, then follows another five minutes of wrangling, but in a gradually easing manner. Finally, the Cossacks bring the trunks back to the barn, everybody piles into their cars and the column leaves Alexander’s yard.
We attack Alexander with questions immediately after he gets back. I haven’t heard such whole palette of the obscene profanity of the great and mighty Russian language before, but this time he uses it. He tells us that on the way back, the Cossacks have been caught by an outfit of border guards led by a captain, a known asshole who finds some kind of perverse pleasure in inserting sticks into the wheels of the volunteer movement. As a result, the Kubans called their comrades from the Don Cossacks, who called sympathizers that held good positions in the Rostov regional administration. They, in turn, made contact with the bosses of the fucking captain, and those bosses (since the captain himself stubbornly refused to hear the voice of reason and heed his conscience) ordered him to let the Cossacks be. The bastard promised the Kubans some troubles for violation of the border zone. And why did his mother produce such a creature instead of a normal human being?
After sunset, Alexander’s wife makes a huge supper, and soon comes a village priest (and, incidentally, one of the eldest sons of our gracious host) with his wife and a lot of beer and dried fish of great quality, so the evening is a pleasant one. During the evening, by the way, it turns out that Kostya does not drink alcohol. Well, anyway, he’s still a good guy.
In the morning our regiment arrives. The fourth volunteer comes, Leonid (Lenya) from Saint Petersburg. A very specific person, so to speak. In a good way. A very religious man, 25-28 years old, vegetarian, non-drinker/non-smoker (by the way, a curious detail – all four of us are non-smokers), in St. Petersburg he works as a freight forwarder. He has not served in the army, and is not particularly eager for battle, because has quite pacifist beliefs. Leonid is hoping to find an opportunity to benefit by any peaceful means. However, weapons are not categorically rejected – if there were no other way, then he would be ready to shoot. With his bright red hair and green shirt, he seems to me to be associated with the Emerald Isle, so I suggest that, if possible, he can claim to be a volunteer from Ireland, which is good for PR. He is willing to learn a few phrases in English but, after discussing the proposal, it is decided that it is much more rational to simply spout incoherent nonsense and pass it off as Irish; anyway nobody knows it, including the Irishmen themselves.
Meanwhile, in line with the historical practice of the past six thousand years, the idle troops begin “fermenting.” The next two days pass in anticipation of inactivity. On the state of affairs of the Strip the information is disappointing – the U-forces gradually increase their activity, and a safe window for our passage does not appear. We discuss for some time the idea of returning to Rostov and looking for other channels, but after some reflection, we give it up. I am rescued from boredom by reading Alexander’s books. And not in the sense of «books from the library of Alexander» but in the sense of «books written by Alexander.» Yes, our hospitable host (descended, by the way, from an old and respected Cossack family) turns out to be a writer, and a good one. I read with great interest his stories devoted mainly to the life of the Don Cossacks in the twentieth century. Dima also likes them. Remembering about two other guys, I try (not entirely unsuccessfully) to entertain them with a story from Africa. It is trivial by the standards of the Black Continent, but somebody unfamiliar with its realities could find it quite exotic.
This epic story began about three years ago in the Mecca of Geoproctology—the Republic of Sierra Leone. An investor from 1/6 of the globe, having clearly too much faith in the books he read in childhood, decided to make a quick buck by buying gold from the naive natives and then reselling it in the United Arab Emirates and other places worthy of a thermonuclear bomb. To this end, the company “Irresponsible, SL Ltd.” was founded, an office and housing were rented for the purchasing agents, a car was bought, all necessary licenses were obtained, and with the same or even less forethought, some more funds were spent (a total of about $100K). Then the Investor departed to his homeland, leaving two agents to perform their functional duties. The idea was that the guys had to get off their asses and go into the bush, to buy gold at reasonable prices from local prospectors. However, as you know (at least I do), in the bush there is no booze (or it goes for the price of helium-3), no food (suitable for white men), no women (who are not too scary to copulate with), no electricity—in short, there is nothing good there. But there is malaria, cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, Lassa fever, mosquitoes, snakes, all kinds of insects, cops dripping saliva when seeing a white man, and just guys who can kill you without any hesitation for 100 bucks, and not even remember it the next day. Our agents, that being not their first year in Africa, were both well aware of it. Therefore, by virtue of all the aforementioned, they made a resolute decision to sit in a comfortable air-conditioned office in Freetown (where there are women, booze and sometimes even electricity), waiting until the gold from the bush would reach them through a chain of at least five intermediaries. Of course, the whole thing then went from «possibly profitable» to «definitely unprofitable.» Well, that was the Investors problem, not theirs.
Alas, instead of naive natives, the asshole of the Universe turned out to be populated by devious negroеs who treacherously did not want to exchange golden nuggets for glass beads. After making a couple of deals and earning approximately minus 10% on the investment, the Investor still hadn’t given up the idea of making quick money. So, he went to a location further away from the top 10 of World Geoproctologic Rating, Uganda, where the gold was rumored to be one and a half times cheaper than in Sierra Leone. (Our agents, meanwhile, continued their imitation of meaningful activity in Freetown.) There is actually some gold in Uganda, but not enough. A lot less of it than is exported from there. The trick is that gold from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which is actually neither democratic nor a republic) goes out into the world through Uganda. The DRC is uniquely shitty, even by African standards (I highly recommend reading a little about its history). In particular, the glorious state institutions of the republic are so effective that people and natives equally prefer to smuggle natural resources on foot across several borders, simply to avoid any interaction with the DRC authorities. They smuggle them into Uganda too, where said items are bought by the Arabs/Jews/Armenians/Indians and carried back to their lairs. After scouting the area for contacts and information, our Investor came to the great city of Kampala and looked at the spots with cheap gold. There he met an Armenian (deeply rooted in the area), was treated kindly in every way, and paraded through the hordes of generals/colonels/high-ranking officials. So, in general, he liked Kampala much more than Freetown. Therefore, it was decided to start moving in the direction of Uganda, gradually shifting the focus of the business. For this reason “Irresponsible, UG Ltd.” was again founded, an office and housing were rented for the purchasing agents, a car was bought, all necessary licenses were obtained, and with the same or even less foresight, some more funds were spent. Déjà vu (only here, the investments amounted not to $100K but almost $250K). The Armenian became a partner in the company and was responsible for the resolution of all kinds of administrative/legal(criminal) problems.
Then a normal (by African standards, of course) business process started. The company had existed for a while, people were getting salaries, bribes were paid to solve different problems, and they were solved. There was only one problem that had not been solved—over six months, not a single gold purchase was made. The reasons were different each time—the shipment didn’t arrive, the sellers were afraid of something, some scammers tried to push their shit instead of gold, in the midst of the negotiations the police appeared (of course, the issue was solved, but the deal still went south), etc., etc… Another $50K went down the drain, and there wasn’t even a whiff of gold. Meanwhile, in Sierra Leone, there was gold and no problem buying it, except one—a steady loss on each deal. After thinking about the unfairness of life, the Investor made a willful decision—»You want something done right, do it yourself!»—and flew to Kampala.
After his arrival in the great city of Kampala, he lit a fire under his subordinates’ appropriate places, and appealed to the conscience and greed of the partners. The result was again an excellent pastime, seeing cheap gold (or rather people who likely have it), meetings with the generals/colonels/Deputy Ministers, and being duped in various other ways getting used to the situation. After some time, the root cause of all the difficulties was determined — the deliveries of democratic-republican-Congolese gold have been going via channels established years and decades ago, and nobody would share an already existing channel with a newcomer. Using their extensive experience in procuring illegal goods, honed over the years of battles for loot, our brave entrepreneurs quickly developed a recipe for the victory of communism successful business management—creating their own channel!
Well, it’s easier to say than to do. Of course, no one was going to wash gold in the Congolese jungle-covered mountains under sporadic machine gun fire of gangs of tailed thugs democratic opposition groups and crazy butchers representatives of the legitimate authorities. The idea of getting in direct contact with the serial suicides brave gold miners also looked quite utopian. However, “there are no fortresses which a donkey laden with cash can’t take”. To be specific, the Armenian found access to the Afro people who had been buying the precious metal directly in hell the Democratic Republic of Congo from the miners. When making contact, another couple dozen grand was spent on hospitality and encouragement of loyal government employees. After lengthy negotiations in good restaurants, the following plan of action was developed:
- The Afro people would undertake to bring back from the DRC 20kg of gold dust of a purity no less than 22 karats and sell it to “Irresponsible, UG Ltd.” for 300,000 bucks.
- For purchase and running costs, there would be an advance in the amount of $50K.
- As collateral for the advancce, a representative of the Congolese Afro people would remain in Kampala in captivity visiting “Irresponsible, UG Ltd.”
- In parallel with the delivery of gold from the DRC, the Armenian would prepare legal documents for further miraculous transformation of the Congolese gold into a money tree Ugandan product
So it went (to a point). The Investor, who had not yet lost his critical thinking been poisoned by the ups and downs of Russian business, suggested putting the guest in chains (or at least keeping him under lock and key at all times), but was subjected to comradely criticism from the standpoint of human rights, harsh historic parallels and political expediency.
So the Congolese Afro people got $50K in advance and departed for home. Since the supply of the Investor’s available cash had been largely exhausted, and the confidence in the ability of the Ugandan subordinates to commit any meaningful action undermined, the following organizational and financial solutions were made. From the funds of “Irresponsible, SL Ltd.” $300K was seized (which was approximately 100% of the capital of said company), and in addition, one (of the two) agents from Freetown was relocated to Kampala to provide methodological and practical assistance in the deal of the century.
The process went on as usual. Booze was drunk, food was eaten, Afro ladies were copulated with. And, for sure, money was spent. Gold, however, still didn’t want to be bought, despite the arrival of the agent from Sierra Leone, but nobody paid too much attention to that, pleasantly dreaming about the upcoming arrival of 20kg of gold from the DRC. The Armenian was preparing the miraculous transformation of smuggled Congolese gold to honestly-mined Ugandan one, and that process was also eating money. The Collateral, in the form of the Kampala representative of the Congolese Afro people, lived quietly in the house of the glorious firm “Irresponsible, UG Ltd.” and was even fed from time to time.
Then some news from the DRC came up. According to the Afro people, everything was well, except they needed $50K more. The reason was simple—there was more shooting in the Democratic (!!!) Republic (!!!) of Congo than usual, so to do what was planned they needed more money (for money triumphs over evil, even in Africa, although not always). The Investor, not being totally naive, took the Armenian by the nostrils politely asked the Armenian «What the fuck is going on?!» The Armenian (which, you recall, organized the whole glorious anabasis for gold in Inca Zululand the DRC) spent some time on calls to the DRC with the same urgent question («What the fuck is going on?!»). As it turned out after the talks, the Afro people from the preserve for alternative forms of intelligence organized by the King of Belgium DRC were ready to bring not 20kg of gold dust, but whole 50 kg. But to do so they wanted not $300K but $800K. The former terms of the transaction weren’t good enough for them anymore. They said it was too great a risk (the DRC was experiencing another mini-genocide), and so they would not put their lives at stake for $300K but only for $800K. And, of course, they could not return the $50K because it had already been spent. “We’ll return it someday if we have the money, sure. The Collateral? You can barbecue him, we don’t care.” The Investor scratched his head, consulted with his partners in the Motherland, and said that it was possible to get 50kg for $700K, but he wouldn’t give the money in advance any more, but only upon receipt of the gold. As a result of threats, promises, quarrels, reconciliations and calculations, the following plan was developed:
- Some of the Armenian’s tribesmen in the DRC would meet with the Afro people and verify that they have 50kg of gold dust.
- “Irresponsible, UG Ltd.” would send another $30K to the Afro people for their expenses smuggling 50kg of the above-mentioned gold dust by a complex route through three borders (the DRC/Rwanda, Rwanda/Tanzania and Tanzania/Uganda) to Kampala. The previous plan for simply crossing the Congolese-Ugandan border was dropped due to the fact that the Lord’s Resistance Army had been revived in the area. LRA troops, consisting of teens 12-14 years old, were busy catching strangers and sacrificing them for the sake of everything Good and Holy in various inhumane ways.
- The Armenian, meanwhile, would prepare the documents for the miraculous transformation of smuggled Congolese gold into honestly-mined Ugandan gold, adjusted for the increased volume.
- Upon arrival in Kampala, the Afro people, after inspection of the gold, would receive $750,000 USD. Excluding the $80,000, of course.
So it went (to a point). One of the Armenian’s tribesmen in the DRC met with the Afro people, confirmed that they had 50kg of gold dust, $30K traveled from a God-forsaken place into a God-cursed one, and the shipment went on its dangerous journey. Meanwhile, life in Kampala continued on its previous course—booze/Afro women/attempts to buy gold.
After a week or two, the Afro people got in touch again: “Everything is OK, there’s just one problem: the shipment is stuck in Rwandan customs, and the Rwandans are not people you want to fuck with. Again cursing, again the nerves, again «What the fuck is going on?!» Again, some of the Armenian’s tribesmen in Rwanda confirmed that the situation was difficult indeed. The Afro people were sending more and more panicked messages, due to the well-known national pastime of the Rwandans: to dig a ditch, fill it with old tires and set them on fire, and then bring a group of people to the edge and force them to push each other into the fire. The winner receives a prize—he is humanely hacked to death with machetes. However, given the amount of gold dust, it was possible that the happy Rwandans would show some humanity and all the Congolese would be mercifully chopped to bits. In short, 10 grand more solved the problem, and a festival of Rwandan national traditions did not take place.
In the meantime, while the cargo is traveling from Rwanda to Tanzania, let’s shift the focus of our attention to Kampala for the time being. The Investor, due to the exhausted cash reserves and the refusal or reluctance of his partners to replenish it, told the Armenian that there wouldn’t be any more money, but only the original $300K, minus what was already received by Afro people. The Armenian, of course, got very angry, and the Afro people, who were just crossing the Rwandan-Tanzanian border, and requesting the next $10,000 for the settlement with Tanzanian customs and other law enforcement of that not particularly remarkable country, got even more angry. Again cursing, again the nerves, again «What the fuck is going on?!» As a result of threats, promises, quarrels, reconciliations and calculations, the following plan was developed:
- 10 more grand would be sent to the Afro people to settle the customs formalities.
- On arrival in Kampala, after checking the gold, the Afro people would get $200K in their greedy hands. Then, under the guarantee of the Armenian that they wouldn’t be cheated, they would pass the 50kg of gold dust to “Irresponsible, UG Ltd.”
- Representatives of “Irresponsible, UG Ltd.” in a week’s time would take the gold to Dubai in the company of one representative of the Afro people.
- Upon the sale of the gold, the Afro people would receive the remaining amount.
So it went (to a point). The next $10K went to the country of Kilimanjaro, the tickets to Dubai were booked and documents for the export of the gold (after its miraculous conversion) were prepared. The Investor, although being very tired of Africa, took heart: if earlier the most likely candidate for being cheated had been him (and he understood this well), now the Armenian and Afro people should be feeling some fear. The gold was in reach, across the last of three borders…
The finale was approaching. 50kg of gold dust steadily plowed through the Tanzanian savanna, every day closer to the coveted border with Uganda. In the great city of Kampala, the fruitless attempts to buy at least something golden were finally discontinued, and even the Afro women, due to the general nervousness of the situation, got some respite. However, the rate of consumption of alcoholic beverages did not decrease, rather the contrary, also because of the nervousness of the actors involved.
So, during all of that, a message came from Tanzania. The Afro people had gotten into a conflict with the guys who privatized the Tanzanian-Ugandan border, which made the smuggling of the long-awaited gold impossible. However, claiming themselves to be honest people, the Congolese said they would keep their end of the deal. “Just come to Tanzania, pay the agreed $200K minus expenses and get your gold, and then everything else according to the plan.” Obviously, all of that did not cause much enthusiasm among the owners of “Irresponsible, UG Ltd.”, but rather stirred suspicions against the Afro people and each other. However, it was necessary to do something. The Armenian found access to Tanzanian and Ugandan customs officials, and for the next $10+$10K, an agreement was reached to cross the border with a box which nobody would inspect. The guarantors of “not looking inside” were some high-ranking mutual friends of the Armenian and the Ugandan-Tanzanian border guards. The documentation for the miraculous transformation of smuggled Congolese gold into honestly-mined Ugandan gold was already prepared, as well as documents for its export to the land of sheikhs and emirs.
In order to implement their plans, the Investor, the Armenian, the agent (the one from Freetown), the Collateral and a couple of hired local cops (for protection) went to a Ugandan town on the shores of Lake Victoria. There the Investor, the Armenian and the agent boarded the ferry and left for Tanzania with the money, while the others were waiting for their happy return with the loot. Also, the cops kept an eye on the Collateral to prevent him from escaping.
Upon arrival in Tanzania, some local guards were hired from a local security agency, and then, finally, there was a meeting with the Congolese Afro people and the presentation of the greatly-desired gold. To the surprise of our heroes, the Congolese presented not gold dust, but ready-made gold bars. They explained that «it was easier to transport it this way.» After a brief period of mutual recriminations, it was decided to test it, for what else they could do—grinding the bars back into dust did not seem rational. The agent performed some tests, and then issued a positive opinion, the Afro people received the coveted $200,000 (minus expenses) and disappeared in an unknown direction (it was agreed beforehand that the Collateral would serve as their representative in Dubai). The gold was stuck in a special box that, in turn, was sealed from every possible angle with special tape, and deposited with a security agency (the ferry was leaving the next morning).
Early the next morning all three of them drove to the security agency’s office, checked the integrity of the seals on the box, and signed for departing to the port. Tanzanian border guards and customs were negotiated without too much trouble, with the inevitable African “Give me something” not exceeding reasonable limits.
Proudly seated on the deck and looking at the lakeside expanse in search of crocodiles, one of them (probably the agent, but the information is contradictory) said, «Guys, let’s open the box, inside the car, so no one will see, and check if everything is OK there.» «Why not?» agreed the others, and so they did open the box, and saw the same golden bricks. Sighing with relief, the future millionaires got out a few bars, enjoying the soothing weight. «Hmmm …» the agent said, closely examining the ingot. «???” the Armenian and the Investor responded, trying to catch their hearts before they jump out. «Wait a moment…» the agent muttered, frantically pulling out his tools, and checked out a few bars. «?!?!?!» the rest weren’t able to keep calm. «Damn, it’s not gold!!!» the specialist confirmed.
This was followed by a scene of recriminations in scamming/duplicity/stupidity, promises to deal with the companions to the fullest extent of the law/imagination, figuring out who owes what to whom and whose fault everything what happened was, etc. I think you can imagine the passion.
Arriving in Uganda, the former partners met a new surprise—the Ugandan custom officials made poker faces and opened the box, making terrified eyes and whispering «We are under supervision!» at the mention of any prior agreement. However, the hypothetical supervision did not prevent the brave border guards from asking for $50K. «It’s not for us, it’s for the supervisors, otherwise they will confiscate everything!» After getting an offer from the enraged adventurers to shove the «gold» and the «supervisors» between their lower brain hemispheres, the jittery (like most of the locals) custom officers guessed that something had gone wrong. So they preferred not to aggravate the situation and let the box pass (probably realizing that there wasn’t a whiff of gold in it; they were quite experienced and could most likely determine that by eye and by touch).
Throwing the Collateral into a minibus and promising him a short but painful life, our heroes launched toward home to determine the guilty ones. However, at the gates of the house they were met by the local police, who told the former associates that the Collateral turned out to be a malicious criminal who was wanted in three countries, so they were arresting him. «Oh, what’s in that box, can we see? Well, the thing is, you’re in the same car with a known criminal, so who knows what might be there… We can’t, did you say? Well, then we are all going to the station, and there everything will be cleared up. No need to call Colonel X, he is aware of the situation. Well, so, we are taking the offender’s box with us? Wonderful! Have a nice day…» Two hours later the cops came back very angry, and with a search warrant for the house (the search, of course, turned up nothing). Rescued from being taken to the police station «to clarify the circumstances that contributed to…» by the help of Armenian’s friends in high places, the former companions began to decide what to do next. As expected, it was useless and they once again quarreled, and then went to bed.
The following day, the rats started fleeing the sinking ship—meaning, one of the staff of “Irresponsible, UG Ltd.”, born in USSR but long living in Africa, sensibly decided that “Bolivar cannot carry double,” withdrew the rest of the company’s money (which amounted to $20K) from the bank and disappeared.
The Investor was then taken for questioning by the police on a daily basis, answering what he knew about the smuggling of gold and why a famous criminal lived in his house. His passport was taken from him, to eliminate flight risk. After a couple of weeks, the Investor bought his passport back for $2K and left the inhospitable African soil forever.
The story seems to be enough to distract the team from overly bold ideas like «go by ourselves,» at least for some time. The news, unfortunately, once again is about the concentration of some sort of formidable teams of the Russian army along the border, and that our great and glorious asshole President Vladimir Putin won’t hesitate to use force to stop the Ukrainians from committing a genocide. Well, and some other nonsense from the arsenal of the servants of His Darkness. However, this dull propaganda has a certain effect, I’m forced to admit. The guys seriously begin to fear that while we sit here, the Russian Army will enter Ukraine in force, and we will miss all the fun. To my shame, I have to admit that it is contagious. Though in my mind I know that the likelihood of such a development is about zero, or maybe even less, but the heart, the heart … as one of the people most hated by me wrote, «One cannot live in society and be free of society.» But then, Alexander’s words «Get ready, twenty minutes to go,» are met with boisterous cheers (silent, of course, due to the secretiveness).
I quickly throw my things into a backpack. There is a residual moment’s hesitation: to take or not to take my passport with me (three days with this decision, in the end I decide to take). Loaded with ours and the Cossack’s stuff, we deepen into the forest along the river. The ford is about a kilometer to the south. Lenya, fucking bastard, is making so much noise it can be heard in the entire forest, including the opposite bank. I had kind of taken him under my wing, still not sure how that happened, so I have to remind him all the time that we’re not here on a walk. We undress to the waist and cross the river. Our eyes rummage through the forest on the west bank, the thought knocking inside our heads, «And what if there is an ambush, and now they will begin shooting?!?» Landfall, dressing. So far, everything is quiet. Maybe they’re waiting until we’re away from the river? Alexander gestures, “Follow me, don’t make any noise.” We go deep into the forest. Damn, why are you not looking under your feet?!?! With difficulty I overcome the desire to give Lenya a cuff. In a whisper I explain what an asshole he is. The undergrowth is thick and thorny, our bags are hindering us, sweat is trickling. Hell, no weapons, and if the Ukes come out now we can’t do anything. After entering some long-abandoned field, we go down the path among the tall weeds. I look back – a man about my age in hunting camouflage catches up with us in light, quick steps. When and whence he had come, none of us had noticed. There is a second of fear – but he has no weapons, only binoculars in his hand; hence, he isn’t a Uke. Quite the partisans we are, aren’t we? If any Uke with a gun had been in his place, all of us would’ve been dead already. A hail goes down the chain ahead to Alexander. He stops; the “hunter» comes up to him and hugs him. Whew, he’s one of our own. The «hunter» is leading the column now. Five more minutes, and we come to a shelter between the trees, with an old rusty «loaf» there. From it climbs the driver, a fat man in civvies, about 50. He introduces himself as Uncle Sasha. A wide – not fat, but wide – well-built man steps out from behind the trees, a little younger than the driver, in camouflage, holding a gun.
“Papá!» He shakes everyone’s hand, then eyes Kostya closer. «And how…» he begins.
«It’s okay, he is twenty-one, I already checked,» soothes Alexander. Our northerner looks on with a tired and condescending expression, as if saying silently «Why the hell are you annoying me about my age, can’t you envy me in silence?» A final hug with Alexander, loading into the «loaf,» and a short briefing from Papá: «If the shelling starts, drop to the floor; if the car stops, jump out, bend down, and run into the thicket.» The “hunter» jumps in after us, Papá sits shotgun, and we start off.
The “loaf» playfully rides on a bumpy forest road and then jumps on no less bumpy asphalt, so to call it. In general, moving forward a little, the roads in the former Luhansk and Donetsk regions are really something, even compared to the poor Russian regions, from which funds have been drained out for a long time to the profit of national autonomies. Our quartet, of course, peers with interest at the scenery flashing by. Nothing special military-wise is noticeable, except, perhaps, traces of caterpillars on the roads. However, after all, it could’ve been drunken tractor drivers racing. Some fields of varying degrees of abandonment, broken bus stops, painted flags of Russia/LPR and Ukraine in a 3:1 ratio, and, sometimes, civilian cars flash by. Papá, meanwhile, conducts a brief survey on the topic «Who, where, did you serve in the army and if so, what do you know?» Except Dima, nobody can boast any special skills except assembling/disassembling an AK in different modifications. Dima, in addition to many years of training in pistol shooting, has a theoretical understanding of the assembling of various devices that are so necessary on the uneasy path of freedom fighters. For, as I have already mentioned, he is a solid man, and took his time preparing for the trip. I decide not to go too deep into my sinuous biography, and call myself a Muscovite, because I used to live in Moscow for several years and know the city well.
That’s the first checkpoint, the village of Luganskoe. Several men in blend clothes, camouflage and civil, one with a Kalash, another one with an SKS, the other with some 19th century hunting rifles. Everybody looks sober, the mood is normal. The snake of concrete blocks on the road, the trenches at the sides. There is no anti-tank weapon, so it looks like the only thing they can do is to warn about the appearance of the enemy, and then hide fast, even if it’s just one Ukrainian APC. Papá obviously is well known here. We stop, people gather around. After learning that the “loaf” is carrying new volunteers, they say «It’s great, guys! Thank you for coming!» Frankly, it’s nice. Moving on. Another checkpoint at the entrance to Lugansk, about the same, and we ride through the city. All shops are open; the crowd is pasturing in the streets; the public transport is working. Papá confirm after our questions that the city is still quiet, several Ukrainian units had been disarmed with relatively small losses. In the Lugansk airport, however, there is rumored to be from a few hundred to a couple thousand Ukes with armored vehicles, and what keeps them from an attack on the city is unclear. The garrison of militia, according to Papá, consists of three or four hundred poorly armed people, of which two thirds are simply going home for the nights, or, even better, work a regular job, contriving to spend some time for militia between their families and earning their daily bread.
We drive to the checkpoint of some military unit. After a moment, the gate is opened by a young blond boy wearing camouflage and a Kalash. Our car drives in. It seems we have arrived. It just remains to understand where “here” is. Papá asks us to wait there and enters a building clearly identifiable as the headquarters. We look around. A parade ground and a parking lot on the left, on the right the headquarters and the barracks. There are also some ugly technical buildings further ahead. Judging by the posters, not long ago it was a battalion of Ukrainian Internal Troops. The place is surrounded by residential high-rises on all sides, and every square meter of its territory is perfectly visible from there. Everywhere are heaps of shells, traces of bullets on the walls, riddled cars in the parking lot (a couple burned ones). On a flowerbed near the parade ground is a burned-out APC. It seems that the fight was serious. However, there are no traces of blood, that’s strange. The blond guard of the gate meanwhile pulls closer. «Здорово, хлопці! Ви звідки будете? Москалiки?« Three faces of my comrades, who do not speak Ukrainian, slightly tighten. I used to live in Ukraine, and even went to school in Kiev, so the answer is self-evident «З Івано—Франківська, від москалів вас захищати приїхали!« Now the joker gets a little tense. However, everything is settled quickly. The blond boy with an obvious callsign (or a nickname, or nom de guerre, or whatever you prefer to call it), Khokhol, is from one of the Ukrainian-speaking (or rather, Surzhik-speaking) villages in the north of the Lugansk region. He communicates with the others mainly in Surzhik since it is easier for him. But when he sees that somebody does not understand, he changes to Russian. According to him, the Internal Troops regiment, where we now are, had been taken almost without a fight. Three dozen militiamen took up positions around the perimeter on the roofs of the high-rises and in the entrances of apartment buildings, four hundred valiant Ukrainian fighters wasted several days messing around and sluggishly firing intermittently into the air. This was followed by an unsuccessful Ukrainian attempt to unlock the siege, squeezing between the rebel’s positions after a small skirmish, several wounded on both sides. At the same time, a bunch of parents of the Ukrainian conscripts were storming the location every day, taking home dozens of their beloved children. The officers of the regiment, to their credit, did not put the conscripts under fire, but simply took all the weapons from those who, in their opinion, were unreliable, and kept them under guard so they wouldn’t run away. However, they did give the conscripts to their parents. From which I conclude that in fact they were not so much afraid of desertion as of transition of some conscripts to the side of the militia. In the end, the U-commander realized that the cavalry would not come over the hill. After that the Ukes shot in the air all available ammunition and burned what was not possible to shoot out, broke all the weapons and valiantly surrendered. Morals at that time were more patriarchal, so they were simply dismissed to their homes. If you ask me, it would have been much better to execute them on camera.
During our conversation a half-hour flies by and Papá emerges with a pair of men over forty, dressed in already familiar camouflage-civilian garb. He presents them as Borisych and Vasilich, local commanders, wishes us good luck, gets in the «loaf» and leaves. The commanders invite us to proceed to the barracks, where they hold the regular survey of «Who, where, how.» After a short briefing on the subject «no booze, no looting, and no shooting without a command,” they show us the barracks, and temporarily leave us alone. The room is in terrible chaos, as the Ukrainians before the surrender had smashed everything possible. Apparently, in contrast to the command structure, the grassroots sensibly appraised the prospects of a glorious victory now or a grand return in the future. So the next two hours are dedicated to restoring order. Kostya, whose memories of his Army days and spiteful sergeants are not yet been covered with moss, develops such feverish activity that we have to restrain him.
The feeding is organized as follows: in one room there is a leisure buffet available with bacon, bread, canned food, mayonnaise, packets of noodles and similar grub. Tea and biscuits in the range. All this abundance is replenished by sympathizers from among the local population; of course, everything happened spontaneously. So that the situation «now famine, now feast» is chronic. However, in terms of quantity of mouths there are no more than 20-30 people at a time, and at night even fewer remain, so, in general, the Great Famine is far away.
Later in the afternoon we are called into munitions, where everybody is solemnly handed a Kalash (5.45mm), pouches, and two full magazines. Then we are told the task for the night – split into two pairs and for half the night patrol the territory. I am somewhat surprised that the new people, who had not even shown their documents, are given weapons and sent at night to guard the camp. Well, apparently, that’s the way of guerrilla war. While it still isn’t dark, I go to the duty room, look at the layout, then walk around the place once, seeing what and where.
The idea that the Ukrainians know very well where we are, and at any moment a «present» can fly through the roof is a bit strained. Even a little more than a bit, to be frank. Much later, in Donetsk, the constant barrage is perceived as background noise, and here it is peaceful and quiet – but always you know that at any moment it can fly through. However, eventually I fall asleep.
At 10 minutes to 3 A.M. I wake up and, with Lenya, go on patrol. I do not have any combat experience, but know some things, plus common sense is present. Walk quietly, stay in the shade, no phones and lighters, do not flash in front of light objects, do not walk in a straight line, do not stand still, except in an ambush. Listen carefully to what is happening around you. The problem is, I need to put all this somehow into the head of Leonid, who listens to everything with grateful attention, but five minutes later forgets it. The lighting of the place is organized by some imbecile. Lamps and searchlights placed on high-rise buildings, the light goes inside the perimeter. I make a mental note to talk about it with the commanders tomorrow. Near the former kennel (interesting, by the way, where are all the dogs? I hope nothing wrong happened to them) suddenly we hear a rustle and crunch on the other side of the wall. Empty cartridges and broken glass are everywhere around, so to move silently is impossible. I gesture to Lenya “cover me” and in a wide arc come to the breach in the fence. The cartridge is already in the chamber, I silently click the safety into “automatic” (just in case – if the safety is very tight, that happens all the time, it can be folded with a knife or a screwdriver, and then you can easily switch it with your thumb, if we are talking about a Kalash). Lenya, of course, had not pulled back the bolt previously, and now does it with a loud noise. Fucking asshole. Okay, if there is someone, he probably is distracted by our «Irishman». Seizing the moment, I quickly come sideways to the breach. I look straight in the direction of the rustling – nobody. Although a sound is still audible. Maybe a dog running back to its home? Incomprehensible movement at ground level. I make a couple of steps – some low shadow runs across the track and disappears into the tunnel under the fence. Clearly not a man, but not a dog also. Hmmm… I turn to Leonid, and explain to him that if he does that again, I will break the machine gun over his head. He makes a guilty face, but I can see that he doesn’t get it. Well, we’ll see. Our patrol continues. We go to the checkpoint, there’s one man on duty, small talk with him a little bit, bungle some coffee, and then I again ruthlessly force poor Lenya into the cold night. Unfortunately, I have to go with him. Well, nobody promised war would be an easy thing. By the way, the on-duty man reveals the secret of the mysterious beast. There were not just dogs kept in the kennel, but huge bobak marmots also. The dogs were taken somewhere, and the giant ground squirrels (well, marmots or whoever they were) fled in confusion.
The time is 4:30, but it’s already light outside. Suddenly, Lenya and I hear a sound. So … where is it … like … searching with our eyes in the sky … «There, there!» – The sharp-eyed Leonid sees them first. Two fighter jets are at a decent height above the city. «Run to the barracks, wake up everybody!» – I send my partner to do something useful, and I myself quickly run off closer to the observation pit at the garage and continue to monitor the aircrafts. Looks like it won’t be us this time. Two Rooks fly away from us and start to leave. Then, one by one, they go into a dive over some target. «BOOM! BOOM!»..pause.. «BOOM! BOOM!» Deaf, long rumble of explosions, aircrafts climb back up and disappear. The sleepy militants begin popping up from the barracks. «What happened?! What planes!? Where?!?!» I explain everything and point to a cloud of smoke rising in the distance.
«Son of a bitch!” Borisych exhales sharply, “there is a checkpoint there!» He pulls out his phone and dials someone. A bunch of people gather around him, listening with interest. The conversation is short. «They got the checkpoint … thank God, just two wounded.» Light sighs all around. No one wants to go to sleep, so they move to the smoking place. Lenya, of course, tries to do the same. Damn, what an irresponsible creature is this guy…
“Where are you going, valiant warrior?”
“Mmm… It’s light now, and people are not sleeping…”
“And all of that is somehow liberating you from your duties as the Protector of the Realm?”
Lenya had seen “Game of Thrones” too.
“No, sorry. Let’s go.”
“I thought so. May be you’re not so hopeless after all.”
We walk around the perimeter a couple of times, and then it’s the end of our shift. I undress, wash my feet (I highly recommend doing this at every opportunity), and fall into a deep sleep.
I wake up at 11 o’clock. Washing, having breakfast, doing this and that. After a couple of hours, Vasilich calls for me.
“So and so, for safety reasons, please give back all your weapons into munitions, and if suddenly the war begins – you will get it back.”
«And what about the patrols?» I inquire.
«Why do you need machine guns for patrolling? We’ll give you rubber truncheons!»
To put it mildly, I can’t fucking believe this approach. For a few minutes I try to bring reasonable arguments. Well, as for me, the idea of 10 men with sticks guarding 20 machine guns trapped in the munitions is not the height of idiocy, but very close to that. But my efforts turn out to be useless. Well, they don’t want to do it in a good way, there is always another option.
«If weapons are taken from us, then we’re leaving. All of us.»
Fortunately, the desperate shortage of personnel in the militia is not a secret. Vasilich changes his tone from orders to persuasion.
“No one is going to take away your weapon. It will be simply stockpiled in an organized manner inside the munitions, for your own good.”
“Yeah, sure. Find yourself some other morons. We have the weapons with us or we are leaving.”
As a result of this conversation, Vasilich surrenders, stipulating, however, that he prohibits opening fire on anything without a direct command.
“And if there is a helicopter?”
“Especially on aircraft! What if it falls on civilian locals!?!”
I want to say what I think about it, but I cannot – there are limits to insubordination, even for guerrillas. We part extremely unhappy with each other. Well, the hell with them, we aren’t going to baptize children together anyway. I hate the principle of «being on the safe side» and its followers. They are the cause of ⅔ of the evil on this planet (and on some others as well).
The rest of the day passes in idleness. From time to time vehicles with militias come to refuel, some are refueled immediately, some after a lot of figuring out what kind of car and people it is and how it’s related to the militia. The brave U-warriors forgot to ignite the fuel storage (or maybe they were too afraid of an explosion). In the evening, two militiamen drive back a jeep that had been repaired somewhere, one of those that the Ukes could not shoot into trash at close range when preparing for an honorable surrender. Well, some maintenance is obviously carried out, and that is a good news. At night, again, four hours patrol with Lenya, everything is calm, except squirrels, cats and marmots running around on broken glass and empty cartridges, causing us to vigilantly stare into the darkness looking for Ukrainian Special Forces troops.
In the morning, I decide to do something useful. So, I walk around the outside perimeter, find four places where Ukrainian soldiers used to AWOL. Then I approach Borisych and report my findings. His answer is limited to a thoughtful shrug. Heh-heh… Well, so be it. I walk again and set up empty bottles so that they will fall down and crash if intruders try to get inside. With a sense of accomplishment, I ask for leave to go to the city for a few hours. Well received, I change into civilian clothes and step outside the gate.
I have not been in Lugansk before, so I stare around with interest. The city looks well enough. Some of the shops are closed, few people with guns on the streets here and there, a lot of flags of Russia, Novorossiya and the LPR, but no real trace of war. The talks in public transport and in cafes are mainly on the usual topics, no one seriously believes that a real war is coming into the city. Well, you can deny reality for some time, but eventually it will come and bite you. Looking at the peaceful town I begin to think again that there is nothing here for us to do. We have to go to Slavyansk, the fate of the Rebellion will be decided there, and volunteers are more needed there than in Lugansk. I take a walk on the streets, then have lunch in a cafe (prices ridiculously low, gorgeous food). More walking after that, then I go to an Internet cafe to check my e-mails, and also post a blog entry that I’m not in Kansas anymore in Novorossia now. An Internet addict I am, alas… More walking again, then coffee and cake at some street cafe, and back to the location of our glorious (well, potentially) rebel detachment.
I go through the checkpoint and see Khokhol passing me, with his hands full of something incomprehensible.
“Wow! Whom did you sell for it? Not yourself definitely, you wouldn’t cost that much. And what exactly is ‘it’, by the way?”
“Привіт! Та он пацани склад під другий казармою знайшли. Броники, каски, наколінники, піди сам подивись, поки все не розібрали.”
Just as told, I go to take a look. In the basement of a barracks is a room full of various stuff, two militiamen are swarming in heaps of gear, trying to find something useful. I pour myself into this activity. So… a stab vest, light anti-riot police version… does not protect from a bullet. Without hesitation I eviscerate another vest, pull out all plates, and thrust them into the first vest. Now I have a double set of plates. Still not perfect, but at least something. There are three types of helmets – a conventional army helmet, a police one with a strong-glass shield and a third kind – the heaviest, consisting of several plates, with a cover made of very durable fabric. The boys call this one «Sphere». Also, I think that «Sphere» is the one made of titanium with a bullet-proof glass visor. Or not? It does not matter, anyway. It is hard and strong, so I take it. An oiler… checking the oil… it’s there – take it. A case with accessories for a Kalash – definitely a necessary thing, take it. Knee/elbow pads are slightly worn, but I take them anyway. Well, it seems I have everything useful that is available, so it is time to drag the loot to our barracks. Lenya is snoring in his doss; Dima and Kostya are not visible. Leonid is mercilessly kicked out of the dream of his beautiful Ireland and asked where the hell the rest of us are.
“Went somewhere, said will be back in the evening? Hmm … well, okay. Look here, see what I brought? Now, go to the basement of the second barracks and bring three more sets of the same – for yourself and for the guys.”
Lenya purposefully disappears in the doorway.
“Though he is confused in terms of military and partisan life, he is an enthusiast and without too much cantankerousness, and it’s good,” I think, looking at the back of the receding Leonid.
Dima and Kostya appear only in the evening. Actually, they came to the same conclusion that I did – there is nothing for us here, we have to leave. Personnel are few, commanders are plenty, useful activities are not noticeable. A mess, to put it in a single word. Within the framework of the realization of the idea «it is time to get the hell out of here,» Dima met with Vasily (this is a nickname, in honor of Vasily Zaitsev), who is some kind of a sniper (at least, he claims so), recently arrived from Slavyansk for some business, who promises to help with the transportation of our warm company to the coveted town. Tomorrow he is going to drive here, so then will be an opportunity to talk. And so it is decided, and soon it’s time for Lenya and me to go on patrol.
Night. Silence. Well, not really quiet, the Irish volunteer is rustling and snorting nearby, but this background noise can be ignored. «Tink!» – Somewhere at the direction of the garages. Aha! There is a manhole, which I “mined” this morning. We cautiously approach. No one there, but the pallet (which I covered a hole in the wall with) is shifted, and a bottle standing on the pallet is broken. This clearly is not a squirrel or a hedgehog… The rest of the night passes quietly.
On the morning I report the incident to command and receive in response the expected shrug.
“It is necessary to make the lights that shine on us to illuminate the surrounding area. If it’s not possible we have to break it. And we have to put two men with a machine gun on the roof of one of the apartment high-rises.
“Are you insane?! What do you mean “to break”?! What will the people of the neighborhood say? Here is a peaceful life around! Did you come here to play war?!”
Silently I turn around and leave. That’s enough, we must get away from here, and the sooner the better. With these commanders we’re almost dead already.
After breakfast comes Vasily. An interesting guy. From Lugansk, managed to take part in the events in Slavyansk and in Donetsk. He feels the same undisguised irritation toward the placid mess in Lugansk as we do.
“No, man, there’s a real swamp here. People hate Ukraine, but they won’t really do anything tough to separate from it. They went to the referendum and voted for secession, but to take up weapons – 1% would do it, not more. At least, not until the Ukes start shelling the city not once a week, but on a daily basis.”
“Do you think it will come to that?”
“Definitely! The question is only when. There are Ukrainian troops around Lugansk ten times more than us, and they have everything – tanks, artillery, even jets and helicopters. Those who are sitting at the airport now, they could take Lugansk in 1-2 days. Then several days to clean up all armed resistance, a week tops. A month or two for mass arrests, ethnic cleansing and deportation of disloyal population, and they will have a perfect Ukrainian city here, more Ukrainian than Ivano-Frankovsk. Fucking hypocrites from the EU and the USA won’t say a thing, you will see.”
In general, mine and Vasily’s views on what is happening in Lugansk generally coincide. No wonder that Borisych and Vasilich dislike him. However, something alarms me. Vasily suddenly begins to woo Dima and me. Me in particular, just like an eighth-grader with a nice cheerleader. He sees this in me, and he sees that in me, and that’s the way I am, all so right and necessary, and «I understand, you can’t say, but I can see that you have real combat experience» and stuff like that. While in reality my combat experience is strictly zero, and I haven’t served in any tough forces, and my appearance, quite frankly, is not brutal at all. At first, relying on the experience of visiting different geoproctologic places, I believe that he wants to make some money on us. Well, it happens all over the world, let him try. Anyway, he couldn’t compete with African sellers of “beautiful parcel of diamonds, stuck at the customs in the neighboring country.” We go with him through a couple of overalls stores, buy army-style boots, tactical glasses, I also buy gloves with cut fingers. No attempts to dig into our pockets. Hmm… The «wooing», meanwhile, is continuing. Maybe he just genuinely cares about the Rebellion, wants more volunteers to come to Slavyansk? But we are already going there anyway, why all those sweet songs about how great we are? I know that just half that great. That looks really strange to me, and I still do not understand his behavior.
One more thing, while I still remember it. Before entering the war, I genuinely believed that «fingerless» gloves are for Hollywood. Well, I was wrong. It’s a very handy thing, I definitely recommend finding a good pair of those.
Vasily promises that tomorrow he will bring a car and take us to “the right place” where, sort of, people are preparing for going to Slavyansk. I tell Vasilich about our plans, and get in response a couple of horror stories about how bad the situation is there, and how nobody fucking needs us there, and how we will only get in the way of the real professionals of which there are crowds. But in the end, he gives up and wishes us good luck. He even allows us to keep all the loot, such as helmets, knee pads and vests. In fact, Vasilich is a good man, just in the wrong position. He would be a great Supply & Technical Support Unit officer under a normal combatant commander.
In the morning we see the same Uncle Sasha (that took us from the border). Again he asks something for gasoline. “The right place” turns out to be the long-abandoned recreation center (more like a complex, actually, built in wide Soviet style) somewhere outside the city. There lodges the Rapid Response Team of Lugansk, or just the RRT. The differences from our previous regiment are impressive. Posts on the perimeter, snipers, a normal dining room, hot water, showers and even a washing machine. And all this had been organized virtually from scratch in just a few days. After the obligatory point of the program (“who and where”) we are taken to the shooting range (where I do not embarrass myself), then pick one of the rooms in an abandoned hotel. Of course, again, we have to start with a general check-cleaning. The commander (aka Batman) today is not there, so we are not given the weapons before a conversation with him and official enrollment in the ranks. In addition to us, there are several other new recruits, so we get acquainted and chat, there is nothing else to do anyway. The spectrum of people is interesting: from a small-scale entrepreneur from Kirovograd to a student from Blagoveshchensk. Dima even meets a fellow countryman – a couple of weeks RRT volunteer Genghis comes from the same town, in fact, they live only a few minutes’ walk apart, and even have some common acquaintances.
The next morning Batman is still absent, so we (for not loafing) are sent on duty at the observation posts. I, in particular, get on the roof of some technical building, observing the air (well, and the surrounding area also, since in the air nothing particularly interesting is happening). At the post we have binoculars, portable radio, and are even promised an NVD for the night. Some less fortunate are sent to work (gathering garbage, digging trenches and dugouts, helping in the kitchen). The cook, by the way, is the wife of the commander, as I am told. Well, another score for Batman. The food is delicious.
Being an observer for three hours, I am replaced in time for lunch. After lunch, martial arts training is announced. I’m very far from the melee, and no athlete at all, but still go there with interest. The event is happening on a grassy football field. A strong but very intelligent-looking man with glasses is showing a few simple techniques used for a surprise attack. Surely, methodically, giving instructions like «…grab his cheek like this … and abruptly tug towards you … do not get confused – not to the side, but to yourself … and if everything is done correctly, the cheek will burst open from the ear to the nose … and your opponent will lose fighting ability for a long time…» The guy looks really strong, I think that even five people like me, even three people with knives against his bare hands would not have a chance. Then our instructor demonstrates the basics of knife fighting, mildly explaining «And this is when the knife comes here, it easily cuts through the tendon, and, no matter how strong your opponent is, his hands will not be able to hold anything.» After that we find sticks of suitable size, arrange in two rows and begin to practice exercises. Hands are working automatically, and in the meantime a thought knocks around in my head, «Well, that’s your desire fulfilled. Now you have become a rebel. In a good sense of the word.
In the evening, the commander finally appears. After dinner, all the rookies are gathered on the veranda (there is some kind of «leisure room») where Batman gives a short speech in the best traditions of American drill-sergeants.
“You’re not in Kansas anymore!”
“I do not need some fucking breakaways here with empty heads!” (At this point he looks at Kostya for some unknown reason, and our northerner gently blushes in response.)
“Whoever I find stealing, I will shoot through the knees!”
And so on, and so forth.
“Twenty-four hours to think it over, whoever’s not satisfied – the gate is over there!”
Apparently, he likes Hollywood blockbusters, and tries to live up to this image. Well, a person can be forgiven a little weakness, especially while being a good commander. However, there is a question to ask. And Dima does so:
“Actually, we were going to Slavyansk. Are you sending people there?”
“No, I have my unit and my tasks. If you want to, you can join us. If you want to go to Slavyansk, I’ll try to help with the transport, but I cannot promise anything.”
Hmm… We four step aside for a discussion. On the one hand, there is clearly a good unit. There is order, there is no unnecessary military stupidity, the commanders aren’t braindead, and they care for their personnel. Also, trainings are conducted, which is especially important, because none of us has been in combat before. On the other hand, it isn’t Slavyansk, where the real war is, and every person counts. If Slavyansk falls, the Ukes will sweep away this whole mess here in a week. In Donetsk, apparently, the situation is the same. As a result of our discussion, Dmitry and Kostya are for going to Slavyansk, but I am not sure. Lenya says he is with us either way.
Batman was killed on 1st of January, 2015 by Russian Special Forces because of his protest against Putin’s policy
I am on duty until two in the morning on the roof, looking out for flying Valkyries and gargoyles in the NVD. Alas Fortunately, there is none. Just as I climb down and wash myself, and is preparing for going to bed – ALARM! Intelligence (I didn’t even know we have any) reports that the Ukes are going to bomb us early in the morning. Apparently, some of Batman’s connections still work (he used to be a police captain before the Rebellion). We grab our belongings and pack into cars like sardines in a can. Of course, exactly at this moment two cars, which only yesterday were fine, break down. Finally, we leave the camp, ride about a kilometer and without lights spread across a wide forest belt. People pour out, someone is smoking, someone is talking, well, I crouch in the back seat and go to the Land of Morpheus.
I wake up when it is daylight, with all my body stiff and with a terrible pain in my neck. Well, at least I slept. The bombing did not take place, so we are coming back.
After breakfast comes the priest, and he makes a prayer (or whatever it’s properly called). I, with a couple of other atheists, stand on the sidelines. The priest mumbles and stutters, so I am not impressed anyway. Much more interesting is an afternoon briefing from Spark, the person in charge of the RRT’s EW unit. He has a separate radio room, where he carries out round-the-clock radio scanning, and also charges and repairs radios and other devices of such kind. Spark hands out envelopes of thick foil for phones, and announces that from dinner until breakfast all mobile phones must be hidden there. Then he gives an informative lecture, explaining why it’s not enough just to turn off the phone (the signal is still active) or to remove the battery and sim-card (time-consuming process, someone will definitely be lazy). At the same time, he graphically describes how the monitoring operator of cellular activity works, and how he sees different situations. In general, we feel an abundance of specific experience in him (another former cop, or SSU agent). It is interesting and informative. Alas, we aren’t given tin foil hats, to everybody’s great disappointment.
Meanwhile, all of us (rookies) are puzzled with inventing nicknames, and even more so, with proposing different options for our comrades. Kostya since the border is called Minor (not that he is delighted by this, but it stuck for the obvious reason). Dima, with his ruddy and bearded face, is offered Skipper, Boatswain, Pioneer, etc. In the end, his cold, inhuman intelligence of a programmer chooses Skipper. I want to call Lenya Irishman, but someone suggests Guinness (even though he does not drink beer), and it stuck. Myself I choose to be Afrikaner, since I’ve been called so before. Terek Cossack Alexander, with whom we became friends during those few days, chooses Mahmoud. By his face he is, I would say, an exaggeratedly typical Caucasian, so it goes well.
It’s better to choose a nickname yourself. Otherwise, you’ll be nicked by your brothers-in-arms, and it’s quite possible you won’t like it too much. Do not take any «heroic» nicknames like «Eagle», «Count», «King», etc. You will be treated with irony. And DO NOT choose for yourself something like «Fire» or «Attack» – firstly, you’ll be forced to change it, and secondly, everybody will treat you like a moron. Deservedly.
In the evening, we are summoned by Batman and asked what we decided. We reply politely that everything here is very nice, but we will go to Slavyansk.
“Well, as you wish. You can stay here for a couple of days until you find out how to get there. If I hear of any occasion here, I’ll let you know.”
The next morning, we decide not to overstay our welcome, and call all the same Uncle Sasha.
“Slavyansk? … (Explicit thoughtfulness in his voice)… I can take you to Lysychansk. There you will easily find a way to get into Slavyansk.”
We look at the map, think a little, and decide so be it. Then we tell Sheva (one of the Vice of Batman, who isn’t around again) that we are leaving today. After that we have a pilgrimage of all the people who more or less got to know us during these days. Everything goes according to the same scenario:
“Guys, I’ve heard you are going to Slavyansk, are you?”
“As a matter of fact, we are.”
“Why? What do you not like here?”
“Here everything is great, but our initial plan was to go to Slavyansk, so we decided to stick to it.”
“Yes, I understand. You know, I would have gone also, but I want to have some training first.”
“Yeah, good idea.”
“And soon it will be even hotter here than in Slavyansk!”
“Well, maybe. Take care then.”
“Maybe you’ll think it over one more time?”
“No, man. Thanks for your concern, but we’ve made up our minds.”
“Okay. Good luck!”
Something like this. Mahmoud becomes especially emotional. Minor and Skipper even get offended, and it comes to a light skirmish, so I have to step in and smooth out the corners (both sides are quite hot-tempered and do not suffer from an overabundance of tact). Mahmoud (unlike us, he has some combat experience) admonishes me:
“Vitaly, you’re the only sane person among those idiots. Well, where are you going? You will be shot like sitting ducks there and all of you will die without any benefit for the Rebellion.”
“Well, we (and you, by the way) could perish anywhere, this place included. Now people are most needed there. If Slavyansk falls, the Ukes will sweep all this clowning in Donetsk and Lugansk in a week.”
“But if you four go there, then what? You have never even been in combat before. I have, and still I feel rusty, I need a couple of weeks to get back to normal. You think I do not want to go to Slavyansk? I crave to! I just do not want to die without even taking a couple of bastards with me!”
Well, stuff like that. In the end, he gives up his efforts. We hug and he wishes us good luck and goes to the gym. Good guy. Much later I learned that he got killed, it seems, in the defense of Ilovaysk.
By the way, there is another important thing to do before departure. I find Guinness sadly sitting under a tree.
“Lenya, look. This is real life, not a Hollywood movie, so there is no need for clichés like ‘One for all and all for one.’ It’s for you to decide, of course, but if I were you, I wouldn’t go. You did not serve in the Army, you do not know a lot of things, you have none of the necessary experience. Stay here and practice until you are ready, and after that you can go.”
A bit uncertainly, Guinness agrees. Well, thank Cthulhu, one problem less. Just in time, Skipper and Minor fit in, so I inform them of the joyful (in my opinion) news that there are only three of us left. Damn, they look like they are really upset. Or cleverly pretend to be. Humans are strange creatures, sometimes I do not understand their habits.
Uncle Sasha rides in. We change clothes to civilian and get in the car. Sheva comes out to say goodbye. I shake his hand, and we are gone.
Before going outside of Lugansk we stop at the city market and buy Ukrainian phones and several sets of local sim-cards, just in case. On our way from downtown to the checkpoint on the road we give a ride to an elderly Chechen (the first I’ve seen there). He lives in Moscow for twenty years, came here on his own initiative. Honestly, I have a very negative attitude toward Chechens, no matter on which side they are fighting at the moment. They have no business on our land.
The road to Lysychansk is not remarkable in any way, except its terrible condition. Not a single checkpoint, neither ours nor Ukes’. The first one we see is at the entrance to Lysychansk. It should be a very convenient location, on a hill, the entrances to the city viewed from above for several kilometers. It needed a couple of tanks, and none the hell will pass. Alas, there are no tanks, just a jeep oddly painted in camouflage with a few bullet holes, a charming puppy named Separatist, and four dead-tired men from the local militia, which have not been changed for three days. All they have are few Kalashes and a twenty-year-old Fly. Eh-heh … we say goodbye to Uncle Sasha, climb into the jeep and launch to… hmm…. Well, launch somewhere. Not to Slavyansk, definitely. Lysychansk doesn’t have a lot of traces of war, except a few bullet marks on administrative buildings. The government forces fled after several light gunfights with local militia, so the city was liberated almost without bloodshed. Some of the gas stations and shops are closed, otherwise everything looks normal. Again, the range of flags everywhere, and the Ukrainian flag is not among them.
We reach the entrance of some plant. A couple of guys with Kalashes are on duty. Learning that the people who have arrived are volunteers, they brighten and firmly shake our hands. It’s nice when you are welcome … We pass inside. The plant is clearly used as a base by a big militia unit. The barracks and the headquarters are organized in an administration building. We go up to the first floor, and there we are asked to show the contents of our backpacks. No problem. Alas, we have nothing to hide. After waiting for ten minutes, we get invited into the office to meet the boss. The boss, quite a charismatic man, turns out to be already famous by that time: Aleksey Mozgovoy. We talk for a few minutes, he complains that the supply is very tight, almost everything remains in Lugansk and Donetsk. The fact that we came there on far-right, conservative considerations is taken by him normally (though he is known for claiming that this war is not between Russians and the Ukrainian government, but between good people of all nationalities and mercenaries of ZOG). Moreover, he asks whether there is a possibility to invite more like-minded people. I suggest to write a post in my blog with his message, and Skipper to take a picture with him and send it somewhere to his friends. A vaguely familiar (probably from the Internet) bearded man sits beside Mozgovoy, wearing GORKA camo. «Prapor» – Mozgovoy introduces him to us. “Gathering some provisions and volunteers for Slavyansk, so you can go there with him, just let us feed you first.”
We went out into the yard, Skipper takes a photo with Mozgovoy, I decide to avoid it (well, I’m a bit paranoid, I know). Somebody gives us a laptop with an Internet connection, so I post a call for volunteers to go to Lysychansk and to send some aid here. We quickly eat (a modest meal, but far from the delicacies of the Lugansk RRT’s camp), load into the «loaf» with three very young guys (“Flame’s” team, as it turns out, all brothers from some local village) and a bunch of stuff. I sit in front, next to the driver. Prapor and another militiaman get into an SUV, and the whole procession pops up from the Mozgovoy’s base. Our «loaf» is the first, the SUV keeps 50 meters behind us. «Hmm ….» I think, but say nothing. We drive for a long time, jumping between the roads by some cart-tracks, passing through villages and fields. In some places the driver asks to look more closely, and everybody begins to vigorously twist the upper extremity of the body (commonly referred to as a head), trying to spot an enemy. The sky is covered with low clouds, people and machines almost do not come across, even when we pass through a couple of villages. In my mind is a complex mixture of anxiety, excitement and curiosity. In general, the atmosphere is reminiscent of «Fallout» even more than Batman’s base.
Finally, a little roadblock appears. The SUV overtakes us and pulls ahead. Prapor is obviously well known there, he says something and we pass. We cross a fairly decent (by the standards of Donbass, it’s a land of steppes mostly) river by a bridge, a couple of minutes later we reach a junction. There is already a solid post, concrete blocks, a lot of people, in a pine forest on the sides of the road we see trenches and dugouts. We stop, Prapor comes by.
“Everybody step out, we’re here.”
“What about Slavyansk?”
“What the fuck are you going to do there, sit stupidly under the artillery fire in some stinky basement? Here you’ll see the real thing! The Ukes will try to take this junction soon, here you’ll see the whites of their eyes!”
Hmmm… Well, anyway, what can we do. Prapor doesn’t look like a man who enjoys long arguments and insubordination, so we get out. We just have enough time to go a few meters away from the road as we hear «boom-ssSSsss-BOOM!» The explosion happens somewhere behind the trees, but we still very energetically dive into a dugout. There already are two militiamen.
“Welcome to Yampol!”
“What the hell is this Yampol?”
“It’s a village, few hundred meters from here. Slavyansk is twentysomething kilometers from us.”
“The welcoming party is a bit too hot for my taste.”
“Yeah, the bitches spotted your cars, looks like. The spotter is sitting somewhere in the bushes.”
I do not know where the Ukrainian spotter is sitting, but he turns out to be not up to his task. A few more explosions a little closer, and everything calms down. We sit still for five minutes, then get out. The people pour out of the other bunkers. Prapor commands the newcomers to line up. Fucking militaries. Well, so be it, we form a line. Near Prapor stands a young (25-27-year-old) man with blond hair and a beard that looks exactly like some Syrian “freedom fighter”. «This is Nomad, your platoon commander.» Standard questions: «nickname, where from, what are you able to do?» My turn.
(Without great surprise) “Be specific.”
“Sierra Leone, mostly.”
“UN? Peacekeepers? Mercenaries?”
“No, just business.”
“It is a pity, we have a couple of guys who were peacekeepers there, good soldiers. Shoot well?”
“Okay then. So, you’ve been just watching the news about all that crap that’s happening here, and it inspired you to come?”
“Something like that.”
The survey reveals out that two Minors already exist in this company (of which, by the way, Prapor is the commander), and a third one would be too many, so Kostya is asked to change his nickname. Not frustrated at all, but rather the contrary, he, without hesitation, chooses to be North. Done with the survey, Prapor commands three of us to go at the disposal of Nomad, and himself takes the AGL-youngsters somewhere out of our sight. Led by Nomad, we walk through the forest along the road. In a couple of places there are traces of exploding shells. A hundred meters away from the junction is a short line of trenches and dugouts, with some militiamen hanging about there. Minor – sorry, North – and Skipper are ordered to drop their asses there, and I avert Nomad about 50 more meters further, to a lonely little trench, after which the path disappears. From the trench pops out a sleepy trio – a short man in his late forties, looking like an Arab fruit-seller from a market; blonde young lad, a bit of “street kid” style; and a phlegmatic man in his early forties without any distinguishing marks except a long nose and big strong hands.
«Here,» Nomad indicates, «this is the squad leader, Grim (old), Handyman (blonde youngster) and Mosquito (big hands). And here, to replenish you, guys, Afrikaner.”
Grim sharply and sarcastically snorts «Thank God, you didn’t bring us Zulus.»
«Well, you guys have fun and make yourselves comfortable,» continues Nomad,» later I’ll bring some weapon for Afrikaner.»
Hmmm… Interesting, and how can we make ourselves comfortable here? Trench 6 x 1 x 1 meters, 2/3 covered with two layers of thin rolling pine logs. Some pit is dug next to the trench, obviously being used as a storage for munitions. Sure, I would make myself much more comfortable “sitting stupidly in some stinky basement in Slavyansk.” The artillery fire is the same here anyway… But at least there they have running water, maybe even hot… Okay, time to talk with my future teammates. Hmmm… not my usual social circle, so to speak. Well, it’s not my usual surroundings neither, so I’ll manage. And then comes Nomad, holding in his hands … hell, what’s this for? An SVD. Also a pouch and five magazines. Damn, are they serious? Looks like they are. With enthusiasm on his face, Nomad shoves it into my hands. I try to talk my way out of it, saying that there I would make as good a sniper as a pig would a ballerina, but it doesn’t fly. Nomad says “Amigo, if we had a real sniper, that would be another matter, but we do not, so you will have to learn fast.” Fuck… nothing comes to my mind except some old good Russian mat. Sniper, blah… Well, maybe tomorrow will be a better day. Moreover, there is still a night to live through. And it does not seem so easy – Mosquito in his quiet, slightly nasal voice warns me:
«Bro, if I were you, I wouldn’t flash my head over the trench without a really good reason. It’s already evening, and they come after sunset.”
“Who the fuck are those ‘they’ you are talking about?”
“Your fucking colleagues from the other side, who else? Snipers. This is the front line, bro. In front of us are only the Ukes…”
Grim divides the night watch into two parts – Handyman and him from nine in the evening until two in the morning, Mosquito and me from two to seven in the morning. Accordingly, they go to the ends of the trench, and we settle down in the center, under the shed. Comfort is strongly below average – raw ragged mattress underneath, crumbling sandy walls on the sides, flocks of mosquitoes (including a big snoring one) everywhere and a piece of canvas as a blanket. I wrap my SVD in a piece of canvas, put a sock on the flush suppressor so the sand wouldn’t get inside, then lay on my back and put the rifle on top of myself along the body. Doesn’t feel like a 5-star hotel, but nothing else occurred. After some tossing I decide to put a stub vest under myself as protection against the unavoidable in such circumstances prostatitis, so that the bottom would be covered from the cold dampness below. The idea works, I feel so much better and quickly I fall asleep.
«UUUAAAAAAAA ……..» Damn, I hate to wake up too early. Yawning, I crawl past the awakening Mosquito to my end of the trench. I sit down on a wooden chock, pre-heated for me by Handyman’s lower cerebral hemispheres, and become as watchful as possible.
However, it is not entirely clear how can I be anyhow watchful in such conditions. Around our position is the night forest, though sparse, but quite dark. Through a glade I can see a slope about two hundred meters away, but it is densely overgrown with bushes and thicket, so what (or who) is there remains a great mystery. There is no NVD. Back before sunset, Grim has instructed me to look out for some «green and orange lights», which, as he said, are the signs of some Uke scouts peering at us using NVDs and TICs. Fuck me if I know was he serious or just horrifying the new recruit a bit. And if he was serious, are the «lights» real or just a figment of partisan folklore? Yet again, it was said, «Do not flash your head over the trench without a really good reason.» Well, a great suggestion, but how the hell should I watch around without doing exactly that? Alas, I’m not a crab and cannot pop out my eyes on stalks… In the end, I decide to rely mainly on hearing, sitting on the chock with my eyes just a couple of centimeters above the ground, and sometimes pop out my head and quickly examine the surroundings. While I figure all of this an hour passes by.
By the way, I, like many others, ceased to wear a wristwatch with the advent of mobile phones. But, during war a watch is needed. And take one with a phosphorescent clock face. Otherwise, looking at night on the phone for «How much is still left before the end of my shift,» you will: a) uncamouflage yourself b) extinguish your night vision for five to ten minutes. The result can be fatal.
Night. Forest. Silence (not counting the thunderous snoring of Grim). Occasional shots from time to time somewhere in the rear – either our guys imagine something in the bushes, or they are just trying to keep the sleep away. No lights are seen – neither green nor orange. While I look for them it turns out that at night I can see a lot better using the SVD’s scope than with the naked eye. Alas, the aiming reticle illumination is not on, so at night my SVD can be used either as monocular or as a club. By the way, the scope isn’t a native PSO-1 of Novosibirsk Optic Plant, and inspires some suspicions, so I will have to examine it more closely in the morning. If the illumination doesn’t work, I may find something shining, spread the sight, and then I’ll be able to shoot at night in the old way. Brrrrr, hell, it’s June, why is it so cold? So far, it becomes colder and colder, and steam rises out of my mouth. By four o’clock, when dawn comes, I feel like a penguin in Antarctica.
Despite the cold and lack of comfort, it is beautiful, of course. Tall pine trees in morning mist, the tops are painted pink by the rising sun. Dew on the grass. Some birds flying between the branches. Hunger…
Well, hunger isn’t so beautiful. So, we have to do something about it. Mosquito, who has spent the night at a different end of the trench, occasionally ducking under the shed for a smoke, climbs out of the trench. He checks a little pile of packages with supplies piled under the tree nearby, and draws out a gasoline burner. Five minutes of messing around, and we are the lucky owners of a pot of boiling water. Life is getting better! We brew two cups of coffee and see someone running towards us from the main position of our platoon (60 meters in our rear). «Lads, did you hear the hum!?! Tanks are coming!!!» A few seconds we listen in bewilderment… and then we turn our sights toward the burner. A burst of laughter frightens the birds. Indeed, the burner is buzzing, so that from a distance it’s possible to take it for a tank’s engine. We give our watchful brother in arms a sip of coffee and he goes back. The whole camp gradually starts wiggling, people wandering here and there, someone carrying something, someone digging something. We heat a can of stewed meat on the burner – that’s breakfast. Well, everything is not as bad as it looked in the evening. At seven o’clock, of course, both our sleeping beauties shamelessly continue to snore. Our eyes, meanwhile, significantly swell their weight and start to close themselves. So be it, I think, and fall asleep. At nine I open one eye exactly in time to see the yawning Grim, climbing out of the trench. Our valiant commander looks around the neighborhood, then looks down lovingly at Handyman (who continues to sleep). «Kiddo! What the hell are you doing there?! Get up, lazy bastard, I’ve been awake since six in the morning! Did you hear me?! I said GET UP!!!” The sleepy Handyman climbs up with the facial expression «What planet is this?» Grim, suddenly changing tone to «loving dad advises his unlucky son,» continues: «Son, enough sleep! Come on, make us something for breakfast. We still have to build the bunker today.» Contrary to his “uncombed” appearance Handyman turns out to be very handy indeed – quite a decent breakfast is made from some basic ingredients in fifteen minutes. After the end of the meal Grim begins giving tasks of building a dugout, but then Mosquito and I join our efforts and stand up for justice:
«We really slept just for three hours, and you for seven, so if you have any conscience at all, give us a couple of hours of sleep!»
After some grumbling about “War ain’t the right time for sleeping,” Grim reluctantly agrees. We climb into the trench and fall asleep almost instantly.
Oh, I forgot to tell you where I am, actually speaking. If you find a road map of the Lysychansk – Slavyansk area, then immediately after Zakotnoe village the road crosses the river Seversky Donets, and soon after the bridge you will see the intersection with the road Yampol – Rai-Aleksandrovka. The main task of our company is to protect the bridge and the junction. Therefore, they are so important because the main road to Slavyansk through Red Liman (don’t ask me why a small steppe town in the middle of nowhere is called “Liman”, hell if I know) is already cut by the Ukes. Actually, the Ukes already came much closer and made a big camp near the «T-like intersection» to the northwest of us. So, all supply to Slavyansk, military and civilian both, goes through us, turning south at the junction and then through Nikolaevka to Slavyansk. The main strength of our company is located in the southwestern sector of the junction, in the other sectors are one or two squads in each, plus a dining room and munitions in the southeastern sector. Our (potentially) heroic squad, led by Grim, is at the outpost, located some 250 meters west of the junction, and 30 meters south of the road. The road is separated from the wood on both sides by a wide and deep moat, the ground on our side is three meters above the road, and lower on the opposite side. Around us is an artificially planted pine forest, in some places interspersed by cuttings, fire roads and strips of green bushes.
I wake up around noon, get out of the trench and see an idyll. Warm breeze, sunlight, birds are singing. Grim and Handyman are asleep under the trees, Mosquito is sleeping in the trench. And we are sort of advanced outposts. Ever watchful, you know. Hopefully, the Ukes are in the same mess, otherwise, we are doomed.
Right near the trench I see a small, knee-deep pit about 3×3.5 meters. Looks like the process of building began, but then our tireless soldiers got tired. Seizing the moment, I decide to clean a rifle and examine it more closely. «FUCK!» I forgot the oiler back in Lugansk. It’s a shame. Here the guys don’t have gun oil, as I learned yesterday, so the weapon is oiled with engine oil, which is not good. Well, what can I do? I pull out of the backpack my rubber flip-flops (a very useful thing for a partisan, trust me), then remove the ankle boots. It is necessary to give your legs a rest from footwear at every opportunity, especially given the fact that we sleep in our boots. I take out rags (another useful thing that you should always have with you), open the canister with oil and spread out a piece of canvas on the ground tarp. Let’s begin…
I have never reassembled an SVD, yet it’s not the California Attorney’s Exam, so I manage somehow. In the end, it’s not too different from a Kalash. The rifle, by the way, is fifteen years older than me. It was obviously without good care for a very long time. Fortunately, the case with accessories and the folding ramrod are in the pouch. Damn, the scope is “Made in China”. Fixing screws look really shabby. I’ll be surprised if after a few shots I won’t have to fix the scope again, crying about the adjustment. The lock on the scope’s back cover is broken off, so it remains forever open. Great. I find the battery slot. The slot is here, but no battery. And, judging by the shape of the nest, it needs some quite specific battery, which would be very tricky to find, especially here. Yeah, lucky me. Well, that’s life…
I finish with the rifle and am just going to get some sleep, when our valiant commander deigns to wake up. Ten seconds later Mosquito and Handyman wake up also, not that they wanted to.
We have two shovels, so, working alternately, after a couple of hours (well, maybe a little more) we reach a depth of two meters. The soil is sandy, it gets dug easily. Then we connect the dugout to the trench. In the process of doing that the fifth member of our little collective joins us, his nickname is Marine. Tubby elderly man of sixty, was at the hospital for two days due to some health problem. Well, it is no wonder, taking into account his age and state of health. During the day, I study my squaddies and draw some conclusions. Of course, to form a whole opinion about them took more time, but I guess it makes sense to put more or less holistic portraits of them now, so I won’t have to come back to this.
Grim – Despite his not too impressive appearance and age of fifty, a real Man of War. With a capital letter. No, with two capital letters. Born and bred in one of the southern regions of Ukraine, is proud to be a descendant of Italian immigrants of the 18th century to Novorossiya. He has an Italian surname, and even some relatives somewhere in Italy, which he went to visit once. I can hardly imagine how shocked those poor guys were at such a guest. A man of strong conservative views, a sincere Christian (Orthodox), a Russian patriot. He went to Kiev to the Antimaydan there, in clashes with Maydan activists he lost two half-fingers (someone tried to cut off his arm with a circular saw). The only person in our squad with real serious combat experience (and one of the two in our company, the second one is Prapor).
Grim (on the right) at the Boeing crash site
He was fighting as a volunteer for Transnistria and for Serbs in Bosnia. Knows perfectly how to use a gun, a machine gun and a grenade launcher. When he is with a knife (or even without it) a lot of tough guys would be wise to avoid arguments with him as well. Before the war he was a brigadier of longshoremen. It’s not an easy task to have a conversation with him. Very emotional, doesn’t listen to you, stubbornly harping on his point of view on all issues, even those that he doesn’t have the slightest idea about. However, amenable to reassurance. Sometimes. Not often. My communication with him rather quickly became unimaginable without the «Monkey, crawl back to the tree!» Or «What, in Africa it’s customary…» (Then followed some stuff, to which, in his opinion, I was used to in Africa). I, however, without much hesitation spit out something like, «The opinion of the Arab community is very important to us,» or «It would’ve been much easier for you to understand if you hadn’t been wooden to the waist from both sides.» But this stuff is in a friendly manner, just a style of communication. Thrifty as a hamster, he can live for weeks on coffee and cigarettes. To summarize, he is grumbling and obnoxious, but can be tolerated and even sometimes causes good feelings. But I would not want to be an enemy of his for any price. I love living. Oh, and if anyone has seen footage of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site, where the militiaman is holding a toy – that is Grim. With this picture a lot of demotivators were made. Although really he was just showing to the Western correspondents “Look, they killed children here.” And then he put the doll in place and crossed himself. But the press didn’t think of anything better than to charge him with stealing the toy.
Handyman – Young blond lad from some small town near Donetsk. A slacker and a troublemaker which the world had never seen before, while unbelievably handy, economic and highly inventive (for which, in fact, he received the nickname). Before the war, he worked as a plumber. Despite his young age, he had twice visited certain government facilities, both times for joy-rides. Some “gang” behavior takes place, but not in excess of permissible limits. Can show examples of outstanding (I would even say, too outstanding) courage, but stubbornly sleeps on duty, despite regular cuffs from Grim.
If you send him to run for three hundred meters to the dining room for a can of stewed meat, he will return in three hours, but with a whole package of the delicious stuff. Being very strong physically, he easily lifted and carried these logs, which the three of us barely dragged. He considers himself a Russian, but the main motive for joining the militia – «In vain Kiev and Lvov have decided that we’ll kneel.» To put it short, he is quite a unique personality.
Mosquito – A coal miner from Makeyevka, almost forty years old. Quiet, tranquil, stubborn, resentful. Fond of friendly get-togethers over a beer. From the first days of the Rebellion was a party to all active events, including the capture of the Donetsk Regional State Administration. From the perspective of political views – a moderate left-conservative. His favorite phrase when something displeases him: «Bro, are you adequate?» Smokes like a steamboat. A terrible driver, but is very offended when somebody tells him so. He was constantly worried that his teenage son, whom they sent after the beginning of the war to some relatives in Russia, would return back to join the militia (that, in the end, happened). Basically the common man, on whom the land is held.
Mosquito in Donetsk (his wife gave him a hard time after seeing this photo)
With Marine I’ve not been familiar for too long. A retiree from Donbass, once served for three years in the Marine Corps, being enormously proud of that fact. Often tried to avoid heavy work under the pretext of his age (that was understandable, but, sometimes, annoying). What’s funny, he got really offended when someone else showed initiative like «Marine, do not lift that log, you’ll have a backache again.» In such cases it was principle for him to prove that he was still strong. Loved to cook, often went to the forest to pick mushrooms, despite frequent shelling.
Phew…. All excavations are finished for today. Tomorrow we will strengthen the walls with some clubs, and then do the roof. For dinner, I go to the dining room – it is 350 meters away, across the junction. What can I say… it’s edible, but that’s the only good thing I can say. On the way back I bring two plastic 1.5 liter bottles of water. One for brushing my teeth and washing my legs, and the second one for washing my socks, which I hung to dry on a branch after that. Hygiene is an important thing, especially in the field. It starts to get dark, so our squad leader announces the night schedule for shifts as follows: the first shift Marine/Handyman, the second one Afrikaner/Mosquito, and of his plans Grim expresses in terms «always with us», which means he will sleep through the night, sometimes waking up to smoke. Well, comes with the position, I think. Mosquito and I get into the narrow, crumbling trench and fall asleep. Why not in the pit from the dugout? Well, a mortar shell can fly in at any moment, and here we at least had the shed, so we’d better double up in the crush somehow…
At midnight I am woken up by a burst of PKM fire a couple of meters away (a hellishly loud thing) and Grim’s cry: «Got it, bitch?! Alarm!!! Take your positions!!!»
In a rush I pull on the vest and the helmet, then unwrap the SVD. Just one thought is in my head: «Fuck!!! Why at night, damn, I don’t have reticle illumination!!»
I crawl to the far (from the road) edge of the trench, where I am supposed to be on duty. Squeezing between the wall of the sand and Handyman, I carefully look out. Night, forest, the Moon. No hordes of enemies coming on us. Behind our position frequent single shots, apparently aimless. Grim at the other end of the trench has an urgent question: «Sniper! Do you see them?!» Who the hell are “they»? … Damn, my precious (I’m talking of the SVD, not of the One Ring) is quite long, so I cannot look through the scope while hiding in the trench. Okay, let’s lean out, responsibly scanning the forest as far as it possible in the dark. Nobody. So I ask Grim: «Where are they?»
«Further and to the right! I saw movement on the other side of the road!» Okay…the other side of the road… I pop out even more, trying not to think that now my head sticks out above the parapet as an easy target. Looking through the glade and studying the trees behind it… Fuck, don’t see anyone… Automatic fire! We can hear the bullets hitting trees over the trench, the shooter is somewhere right on the opposite side of the road from our position, this sector I cannot not see due to the parapet.
«Bitch! Come here, fucking fag!! I’ll…!!» The rest of the Grim’s phrase disappears in the din of the PKM. Having estimated that the activity on the road can be a distraction, while the main group will hit out of the woods, I step aside and carefully review the forest in my sector again. It seems no one there… I look back at Handyman – the sleepy bastard is sitting on the chock and clearly trying to ignore the situation. Fuck! Throwing him: «Stop sleeping, fucking idiot! Look at the thicket!” I make my way back to Grim, barely squeezing past the whale-like Marine. On this side of the trench (close to the road) there is more free space, and also two firing ports plus munitions. Grim and Mosquito are tensely peering into the darkness.
«Sniper, no one is there?» My presence is noticed by our heroic commander.
«None the fuck at all!» I reply, and then swear dirty.
«Check the road and the curb in front, up to 150-200 meters. Just do not pop out too much, they probably have devices.» Trying not to raise my head more than necessary, I look through the designated sector. The trees, the road, the shrubs, the trees … Due to the dimensions of the SVD it’s very uncomfortable to use in cramped spaces, so I silently curse myself for not buying a binocular. Ahaaa… and what do we have here…?
“Chief! Looks like green light in the bush! Not sure.”
“I can’t! There is no reticle illumination, I cannot aim!”
“Shoot anyway! They’ll hear the SVD, get afraid and leave. Or they’ll try to get you, then we’ll shoot at their flashes.”
So I shoot. The sound of the SVD is specific and loud, the kickback is sharp. After the shooting, I immediately pull back into the trench. Only then I do realize that all this time my head was beautifully visible from the thicket through the gap between the parapet and the shed. And with the background of the light sand on the inside of the parapet – a target better than you can imagine. Lucky me…
You should not concentrate on only one direction. You need to turn your head, constantly monitor what is happening on the sides and behind you. Maybe there is a very light (or, conversely, very dark) surface against which you are perfectly clear. Or there is an asshole your brother-in-arms with a grenade launcher ready to shoot, with the back end of his weapon aimed directly at you. Or some imbecile another brother-in-arms took up a position so that you are right in the middle of his fire sector. Tunnel vision = death.
The second thought – damn it, I forgot to take off the sock from the flash suppressor! Check it – torn to pieces. Well, to hell with it, I have a stock of socks.
The commander cautiously peeking out of the foxhole. Silence. I also get up, looking for any sights of the enemy. Nothi…
«boom! – sSs – BOOM! boom! – sSs – BOOM! boom! – sSs – BOOM!»
“Take cover!» Grim yells. We jump under the shed. A few series of explosions. Falling somewhere in the 100-150 meters to the south of us, in the woods. I ask Grim:
“Are they moving away or preparing for an attack, what do you think?”
“No, they are leaving. The shelling is to cover their retreat. A night attack could be a bloody mess. They heard the PKM, heard the SVD. They’re not aware that what we have here is a kindergarten. They think the forest is full of Chechens and GRU Spetsnaz. They are just Ukes; no way will they dare to attack.”
Experience, as they say, could not be washed away by drinks. Everything happens according to Grim’s words, and the rest of the night passes quietly. Why the hell the Ukes started all of that at night remains unclear. Well, yeah, they robbed us of a good night’s sleep, but they did the same for themselves. In the morning, we check the places where we shot. Empty cartridges, traces of army boots. No blood.
Then we designate ourselves to the building of the dugout. We adze stakes, then hammer them into the floor next to the walls, and then fortify the walls with boards. The whole bunch of boards was brought by locals from nearby villages and dropped at the junction. Then begins the complicated part – shelling-damaged pines are taken down, then sawed into four-meter logs; the logs are then transferred to the dugout. It sounds easy, but in reality it is very, very tiring. The logs are heavy, all smeared in rosin. Again, the accuracy of the Ukrainian gunners is leaving a lot of space for improvement, so sometimes we have to haul logs for 150 meters, and even 200 meters. The healthy trees are tabooed for cutting by the order of Nomad, for which he earns his portion of unappreciative epithets (in absentia). In general, by dinner time my legs are buzzing, my hands are bleeding, fucking rosin covers me from head to toe, so that the words of the messenger: «All snipers are to gather at the junction!» – I take as a deliverance.
At the junction there are six people (plus myself), mainly elderly, only one younger than me. We chat a bit. A pair of hunters, a pair of gamekeepers, one ex-con (for poaching). The young man turns out to be a driver-operator of an IFV, who with the beginning of the Rebellion sent the Ukrainian Army to hell and joined the militia to fight for Novorossiya. In short, the quantity of real snipers is zero. Today is supposed to be for zeroing weapons, well, and at the same time for checking how hopeless those who by chance became snipers are. The event is supposed to be carried out by Knuckle, whom we have heard a lot about already – the only real sniper in the whole company, who served at one time in Iraq when there was a Ukrainian detachment there (2003-2005). Alas, it turns out that Knuckle, being a man with army experience, is the commander of the company’s scout squad, so now left with his anarchic subordinates to check the T-like junction. Instead of him the event is organized by Machete – one of the three platoon commanders.
We all pile into the jihad-mobile on the basis of some SUV and drive to the bridge over the Seversky Donets River. On our shore south of the bridge lies a fairly extensive open space, with a few bushes and trees where zeroing is supposed to take place. Organization of the event, to put it mildly, leaves much to be desired. So to speak, everything is pulled out of our asshole. We are shooting lying in the grass at a thick weeping willow standing approximately 250 meters away, one mag (ten rounds), aiming at a piece of cardboard without any additional marks. Machete is staying 20 meters from the tree. After each shooting is done, he looks up at the cardboard and says on the radio something like «All in the milk» or «Three hits to the right half!» How he determines that if bullet holes are not marked in any way is a great mystery. I shoot well, eight hits, lower and right of center. Well, to have consistent patterning there is already good. The sight, as expected, gets loose, so I have to tighten it. In short, the usefulness of such «zeroing» is zero indeed, except one – I skip an afternoon of log-pulling. No, I’m lying – another benefit is that I agree with Vergil (a young IFV-man) about going into the forest tomorrow to wander around the neighborhood «just in case» and for general training and familiarizing ourselves with the terrain.
The night passes without an incident. We sleep in the dugout, which is much more comfortable than the trench. In the morning, we start improving the dugout, to be specific the second layer of logs on top. I HATE physical labor. Fortunately, after an hour Vergil comes by. Grim let me go without much resistance, even grumbled something of approval. We pull back to the junction, then go down the road to the southwest up to the turn to Dibrovka (a small village nearby). There is a small outpost of three militiamen. We exchange a few words with them, and go deeper into the forest, walking in the general direction of Dibrovka. Along the way, we practice different hypothetical situations and procedure movement. Eventually we settle on the following – the first takes a position behind cover (usually a tree or bushes) and looks around. The second at this time carefully moves forward 50-150 meters, depending on the terrain. Then he finds a convenient position, takes it and waits. The first, after waiting a few minutes, starts to move, passes the second and, in turn, goes forward the same 50-150 meters. Then the cycle is repeated. The disadvantage of this approach – in a dense forest, you can lose each other. But in this case, the forest is rows of artificially planted pines, with a few strips of bushes and thicket, lots of glades and fire ditches, so it isn’t too much of a problem. I do not know if our tactic is right or ridiculous. It is possible somewhere the woods near Yampol still spotted with the remains of numerous Ukrainian snipers, laughed themselves to death looking at our circus. But this tactic seems for us to be reasonable. Whatever it is, we get to the edge of Dibrovka, study it for some time out of the forest through the optics, see nothing particularly interesting, then wander in the woods and fields a few more hours and come back in the evening using more or less the same route. Over numerous fire ditches (on the sand surface of which our traces are perfectly visible) we pass backwards, for the sake of secrecy.
The next few days pass without any meaningful events. The Ukes gradually increase the frequency and intensity of the shelling, a couple of times they even use aviation. However, they still cannot compensate the amount of stupidity by the amount of fire, so we still don’t have any losses. The woods’ undergrowth burns in many places because of the use of firebombing by the U-mortars, but fortunately, the grass fires don’t turn into a wildfire. Vergil and I go into the forest several more times, gradually moving away farther from our company’s position. We never meet our Ukrainian colleagues, though we find a lot of tracks of army boots and wrappers from Snickers candy bars.
The morning of June 14th begins as usual. We get up, have some simple breakfast, do small household chores.
«Boom! – ssSSs – BOOM!»
Without any panic or delay, we take cover. Mortar shelling became quite usual by that time.
«Boom! – ssSSs – BOOM!»
«Boom! – ssSSs – BOOM!»
«Boom! – ssSSs – BOOM!»
Today, however, it is getting much longer than usual. Fortunately (for our squad), the majority of the shells are landing 100-200 meters away in the rear, at the junction. Somewhere in the distance we hear a strange hum.
«Boom – s – BOOM!»
So, what’s it now? All heads turn to Grim with an unpronounced question “Chief, what the hell is it?!”
«It sounds like a tank. Get your shit together, bros, it will be a tough day.»
Well, looks like we will see the promised «whites of U-eyes» after all.
«Boom! – ssSSs – BOOM!»
«Boom – s – BOOM!»
«Boom! – ssSSs – BOOM!»
“They are aiming at the check-point!” Grim shouts between the explosions. “Now the infantry will leak through the forest if they are not idiots. And then the armor goes. Fags!”
The tank blasts at the checkpoint three more times and goes silent. A few more shells and mortars also cease fire. The hum is approaching. Grim pops up from under the shed and starts rattling off instructions:
“Kiddo! (to Handyman) APIBs to the machine gun!
“Mosquito! Prepare the “pipe”. Screw the charges in, don’t pull off the caps!”
“Afrikaner! Go to the left flank, watch the thicket!”
“Marine! Sit inside, load the magazines and prepare the cucumbers!”
I pass to the left flank, starting to study the thicket. None yet. The hum is slowly growing. Yeah, it’s gonna be a busy day…
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 The KPVT is a 14.5×114mm version of the KPV heavy machine gun for armored vehicles. It has roughly twice the power of a .50 cal, and often uses high-explosive ammo. It’s more like an autocannon than a machinegun
 The PKM is a 7.62×54mmR modification of the PK general-purpose machine gun
 GP-25 Kostyor (meaning “Bonfire”) is an under-barrel grenade launcher (UBGL) for the AK series of assault rifle
 RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher
 Armored personnel carrier
 The RPK-74 is a 5.45×39mm light machine gun, a modification of the world-renowned AK-47
 The two main reasons for the Donbass rebellion were: 1) the decision of the Ukrainian government (after the coup d’état of February 2014) to ban the official usage of Russian in local government, mass media and high schools, and 2) oppressive economic policies (raising taxes, enormous administrative regulation, seizing of people’s lands for fracking projects, etc.). Basically, the only difference between the people of Donbass and farmers in Oregon is that the federal government isn’t trying to make the Oregonians speak Ebonics instead of English. Well, not so far, at least.
 Armor-piercing incendiary bullets
 The Dragunov sniper rifle, a semi-automatic sniper/designated marksman rifle chambered in 7.62×54mmR
 The 2S9 Nona is a self-propelled 120 mm mortar based on the aluminum hull of the BTR-D airborne multi-purpose tracked armored personnel carrier
 “Grim” is the old militiaman in the famous photo, where he’s holding a children’s toy from the MH17. The mass media slandered it as “looting”, of course, but he was merely saying “Look, they killed children!” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZBSGorpLNc
 Freetown is the capital and largest city of Sierra Leone (a small country in West Africa)
 Casablanca is the largest city of the Kingdom of Morocco (a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa), one of the main transport hubs in Africa
 TIA – “This is Africa,” a typical African expression for explaining something that doesn’t usually happen in normal places
 Cthulhu is a deity of the pantheon of the Cthulhu Mythos, the lord of the worlds, sleeping on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, but, nevertheless, capable of influencing the human mind. He was mentioned for the first time in the H.P. Lovecraft short story, «The Call of Cthulhu» (1928)
 Monrovia is the capital (and largest) city of the West African country of Liberia
 George Orwell (1903-1950) was a British novelist, journalist and critic. His world-famous dystopian novel “1984” shows a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation, where individualism and independent thinking are persecuted as «thought crime»
 Sierra Leonean Creole or Krio is the lingua franca and the de facto national language spoken throughout Sierra Leone. It is an offshoot of the local languages and variations of English
 Russian for “ante up”
 Kiev is the capital of Ukraine
 Kharkov is the second-largest city of Ukraine and its biggest industrial center, most of the citizens are ethnic Russians
 Ghana is a country in West Africa
 Foreign or migrant workers
 Sir Henry Morton Stanley was a Welsh journalist and explorer famous for his exploration of Central Africa
 The Hagia Sophia (built in 537 C.E.) is a former Christian patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey
 Orthodoxy or The Eastern Orthodox Church is the second largest Christian Church in the world, with an estimated 225–300 million adherents
 Slavyansk is a city in the north of Donetsk People’s Republic, currently under Ukrainian occupation. It was the main focal point in the early stages of the Rebellion (Russian Spring) in the Eastern Ukraine in 2014
 The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) is the principal security agency of Russia and the main successor agency to the USSR’s Committee for State Security (KGB)
 Rostov-on-Don is the largest city in Southern Russia, located near the Ukrainian border
 Department E or Center E is a common name for units in the FSB or Interior Ministry that “fight extremism.” In fact, they are mostly used for political repression
 One of many ironic nicknames for Vladimir Putin
 An unsuccessful attempt of the rebels to take the Donetsk airport under control. The operation was poorly organized, the Ukrainians used fighter jets and helicopters, which resulted in more than 50 killed rebels and a few civilian casualties
 An ironic nickname for Moscow, referring to the enormous quantities of immigrants coming into the city (meaning Moscow isn’t made from rubber and cannot stretch endlessly)
 An upper-middle class suburb of Moscow
A character from Tirso de Molina’s play “The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest” (1616)
 There were a dozen Russian far-right activists who fought for Ukraine, justifying this by saying that Putin’s regime is a bigger danger for the Russian nation than Ukraine. Putin’s propaganda, along with liberals and leftists, tried to use them to discredit all conservatives, white separatists and nationalists despite the fact that thousands of them took part in the Russian Spring against Ukraine
 Alexander Borodai was at that time the Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic
 Slavs are the largest ethno-linguistic group in Europe. They include Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Serbs, Czechs and some other nations
 Kazakhstan is a big but sparsely populated post-Soviet country in Central Asia
 The territory of today’s Kazakhstan was colonized by the Russians in the 18th and 19th centuries. Before that it was a Muslim analog of the Great Plains before the colonization by the Americans. By the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russians were about 2/3 of the population there. However, according to Soviet doctrine, most of the high posts in the government, the law enforcement, and the economy were occupied by Kazakhs. Taking advantage of this, immediately after its independence, the Kazakh authorities launched a campaign to suppress the Russian majority. As a result, to date, about half of the Russians were forced to flee from Kazakhstan and the rest turned into second-class citizens. There is a movement in the territories with a Russian majority for the creation of an independent Russian state (or for the accession of these territories to Russia, as in the example of Crimea)
 The Battle of Verdun (1916) was one of the biggest battles of the First World War on the Western Front between the German and French armies. Despite more than 300,000 deaths on both sides, the front line remained almost unchanged
 There are three ornate railroad stations situated at this square: Leningradsky, Yaroslavsky, and Kazansky
 Voronezh is a city about 570 kilometers northeast of Rostov-on-Don
 Transnistria is a partially recognized state that got its independence (from post-Soviet Moldavia) during a war in 1992. Due to its mixed Russian-Ukrainian population the Russian and Ukrainian militias were fighting together against the Moldavian Army and Romanian volunteers
 Donbass is a historical, cultural, and economic region in eastern Ukraine. It is a heavily industrialized territory and an important coal mining area since the late 19th century. Due to the strong Russian majority Donbass became a core territory of the Russian Spring in Ukraine in 2014
 Alexander Zhuchkovsky is one of the first and most famous Russian volunteers of the Donbass war
 Slang: an untraceable prepaid mobile phone
 Kyrgyzstan is a small and very poor post-Soviet country in the mountains of Central Asia. It’s famous for having three revolutions and two bloody ethnic conflicts since it got independence in 1991, and being democratic (as far as is possible in a poor Muslim country) despite all of that
 Solyanka is a thick, spicy and sour Russian soup
 The slogan «Big Brother is watching you» comes from George Orwell’s novel “1984”
 In Russia you can buy a bus or train ticket to another province only with your passport
 Around $26 US back then
 Characters from the American political thriller television series “Homeland”
 Novorossiya is a historical, cultural, and economic region (with Donbass being an eastern part of it) at the north coast of the Black Sea. The region was settled by Russian colonists in the middle of the 18th century, and by the end of 19th century it became most economically developed part of the Russian Empire. It was given to Soviet Ukraine by the Communists in order to weaken the anti-Soviet White movement and to gain the support of the Ukrainians. The main goal of the Russian Spring of 2014 was Novorossiya’s secession from Ukraine
 Russian patriotic songs
 Borscht is a beetroot soup of South Russian cuisine, usually made with beef
 Around $14 US back then
 A type of the federal subjects of the Russian Federation. Usually it represents areas of non-Russian ethnicity, although there are several republics with Russian majority. The indigenous ethnic group of a republic that gives it its name is referred to as the «titular nationality». The republics have some privileges comparing to the usual federal subjects, and inside it the «titular nationality» has some privileges comparing to the Russians.
 Volga is the main river of the Western part of Russia, some kind of “Russian Mississippi”
 Slang: the border of the country in war (comes from the time of the war in Afghanistan (1979-1989)
 An ethnic slur for Ukrainians
 Slang: the flag of Ukraine (blue and yellow)
 Slang: the flag of the Russian Federation (white, dark blue and red)
 Slang: the flag of the Russian Empire (black, yellow and white)
 An Orthodox symbol of Jesus Christ
 Slang: the flag of Luhansk People’s Republic (blue, dark blue and red)
 Slang: the border guards in post-Soviet countries
 Infantry fighting vehicle
 The Security Service of Ukraine is Ukraine’s main government security agency
 Due to their own propaganda, a lot of Ukrainian believed (and some of them still do) that the Donbass war is not against the locals, but against the hordes of barbaric pro-Russian Chechens, that came out of nowhere and started killing for no reason
 The Komi Republic is a federal subject of the Russian Federation. It’s a huge, but sparsely populated northern area
 Night vision device
 Kuban Cossacks are Cossacks who live in the Kuban region of South Russia
 Krasnodar is the main city of the Kuban region
 The Don Cossacks are a large Cossack community in Southern Russia and the Donbass region
 Saint Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia, located at the coast of the Baltic Sea (Northern-Western Russia)
 The poetic name for Ireland
 A nickname for the territory of the former Soviet Union
 The area that is now occupied by the DRC was originally in the personal possession of the Belgian King Leopold II. Perhaps the only example where white colonization of African countries did not benefit the local residents
 Mount Kilimanjaro, with its three volcanic cones, «Kibo,» «Mawenzi,» and «Shira,» is a dormant volcano in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa
 A phrase from O. Henry’s short story “Roads We Take”
 Vladimir Lenin was a communist revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as the first head of the Soviet government
 Slang: An UAZ-452 off-road van
 AK-47 (also known as the Kalashnikov, AK, or in Russian slang, Kalash) is a selective-fire (semi-automatic and automatic), gas-operated 7.62×39mm assault rifle, developed in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Kalashnikov. Even after six decades the model and its variants remain the most popular and widely used firearm in the world (about 20% of all firearms)
 SKS is a 7.62×39mm semi-automatic carbine
 Armored personnel carrier
 The Ukrainian Internal Troops was a paramilitary gendarmerie-like force, reorganized into the National Guard of Ukraine in 2014
 (Ukrainian) “Hello, guys! Where are you from? Are you the Moskals?” (“Moskals” is a dismissive nickname for Russians, such as «Spics» for Latinos)
 (Ukrainian) “We are from Ivano-Frankovsk! Came here to help you against the Moskals!” (Ivano-Frankovsk is a city in Western Ukraine, known for its Ukrainian nationalism)
 Khokhol is the stereotypical Ukrainian Cossack style of haircut that features a lock of hair sprouting from the top or the front of an otherwise closely shaven head. It’s also an ethnic slur for Ukrainians
 Surzhyk refers to a range of mixed (macaronic) sociolects of Ukrainian and Russian languages used in certain regions of Ukraine (like Spanglish at US-Mexico border area)
 The bobak marmot is a large analog of the North American prairie dog
 A Sukhoi Su-25 Grach (meaning “Rook”; NATO reporting name: «Frogfoot«) is a single-seat, twin-engine jet aircraft used for close air support for ground forces
 Absent without leave
 (Surzhyk) “Hi! The guys found a storage under the second barracks. Vests, helmets, knee pads. Go take a look for yourself while there is still something there!”
 (Ukrainian) “Thanks!”
 Vasily Zaitsev (1915 – 1991) was a Soviet sniper and a Hero of the Soviet Union during World War II. Between 10 November and 17 December 1942, during the Battle of Stalingrad, he killed 225 soldiers and officers of the Wehrmacht and other Axis armies, including 11 enemy snipers
 The referendum took place on 11th of May 2014. 96.2% voted for the secession of the LPR from Ukraine
 Kirovograd is an industrial city in central Ukraine
 Blagoveshchensk is a city in the Russian Far East, located at the Russian-Chinese border, opposite to the Chinese city of Heihe
 Morpheus is the Ancient Greek god of dreams
 Electronic warfare
 “Caucasian type” in Russia, unlike in the USA, means not “White” but rather “Middle Eastern”
 Lysychansk is a city in the north of the Lugansk People’s Republic, currently under Ukrainian occupation. It was one of the focal points in the early stages of the Rebellion (Russian Spring) in the Eastern Ukraine in 2014
 Battle of Ilovaysk (August 2014) was one of the key battles of the Donbass war. The militia defeated the advancing Ukrainian Army group, the Ukrainians lost more than 1,000 KIA against less than 200 on the rebels’ side
 The RPG-18 Mukha (meaning “Fly”) is a short-range, disposable light anti-tank rocket launcher
 Aleksey Mozgovoy (1975-2015) was one of the leaders of the Russian Spring in Lugansk region, and the commander of the rebels’ Ghost Brigade. He was killed on 23rd of May, 2015 by Russian special forces because of his protest against Putin’s policy
 GORKA is a Russian military & tourist mountain camo, it became one of the symbols of the Donbass war due to its popularity in the Donbass militia
 The AGS-17 Plamya (meaning “Flame”) is a 30mm automatic grenade launcher
 Thermal imaging camera
 Liman means “bay” or “estuary”
 A movement opposing the coup d’état (so called “Maydan”) in Ukraine in January-February of 2014. After the success of the Maydan, those Antimaydan activists who didn’t run to Crimea or Donbass were arrested, some of them killed
 Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a Boeing 777-200ER was shot down on 17th of July 2014 by a Soviet made Buk surface-to-air missile (SA-11), killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. Both sides blamed each other for the incident, so it’s important to know that only the Ukrainian Army had such a weapon at that time
 Lvov is the main city of Western Ukraine, a stronghold of Ukrainian nationalism
 A “blue-collar” suburb of Donetsk
 During the Donbass war, different groups of Chechen volunteers fought for both sides (depending on if they were pro-Russian or anti-Russian), but always avoided fighting against each other
 GRU Spetsnaz are the Russian elite military formations under the control of the military intelligence service GRU
 Slang: a civilian car, handicraft converted for military purposes
A few minutes of knocking at the gate and shouting «Is anybody here?» didn’t bring any result. Somehow, I did not want to go inside by myself—first, the doggy wasn’t looking friendly, and second, who knows what’s there. And who. Perhaps I should call back and tell the good news of my arrival. I pulled the phone out of my pocket, dialed… «There is not enough money on your account…» Wonderful. As always, just in time. I knocked again. Zero response, but the dog barked a couple of times without much enthusiasm. Mmmm… Maybe the taxi driver dropped me at the wrong place? And what am I supposed to do? I walked around the fence to the left. There were some gardens. I returned. Still no one. The doggy barked from time to time. Fuck. I heard a noise and looked around. A young boy on a bicycle was coming to the gate.
«Hi!” I said as friendly as I could imitate. “You live here?»
«Hello!” Politely replied the young generation. “I do. You’re here to see my Pa?”
Judging by the sound, something big and heavy was coming from the northwest. Fuck, a bad thing about being a rebel fighting against the army is that you don’t have “something big and heavy,” and they do.
Overlapping the hum of the approaching armored vehicles, somewhere ahead there was a loud sound, like a lot of layers of some rough fabric being torn at once. Then again, this time further ahead.
“It’s a KPVT!” Sullen warned. “Everybody pay attention, they are coming!”
I like trains. Especially if there is a dining car. You can sit comfortably, slowly sipping beer, eating pistachios, absently watching the views and reflecting on the futility of all things (just for example, can be something else). I usually spend most of the ride there, so I did not see the need to change the habit this time.
I sat down, ordered a beer and pistachios for right now, Olivier salad and solyanka ASAP, and plunged into a contemplative and thoughtful state of mind. Rather, I tried to. The problem was a waitress of middling prettiness, persistently trying to force me to «buy a girl some beer». Fuck, why is she bothering me? «How are you?», «Where are you from?», «I’m so bored here…»
Yeah… I do not need company, I just want to sit alone! Although, I’m the only customer, so there is nobody else she can stick to. Mindful of the fact that the soup and salad are not yet ready, and she could spit in there, I was smiling softly and playing for time. So, the food arrived, the danger was over, and with relief I offered my «girlfriend» to write off a couple of bottles of champagne from the bar on crushing during heavy braking and join me. Not a good idea? Well, okay, then I’ll stay in splendid isolation, if you do not mind. For a couple of minutes she was trying to joke and show me the bends of her figure, but seeing that I was focused on the absorption of the solyanka, she removed herself with a contemptuous snort as an indignant goodbye. Thank you, Lord… Читать далее
Moscow… We’re used to criticizing it. Stuff like “This is wrong, and that’s not the way it has to be, and prices for everything are crazy, and annoying immigrants are coming in large numbers, and the environment is bad, and generally speaking, it’s impossible to live here.” Anybody saying «I like living in Moscow» is looked at like a madman. He is not in the know, you see… The funny thing is, the crowds of refugees from The Unrubber City won’t be seen no matter how hard you look for them. Apparently, they travel by tunnels under the ground. Oh, wait a minute, there is another possibility—there are no crowds of refugees from Moscow, because it’s a great city to live in. At least, for me, Moscow is one of the best cities on this planet (I’m talking about global cities). The only two things that it lacks are the sea and mountains. You can think of me as a pervert, but that’s my opinion.
After two years in Freetown, the capital of our country looked like some paradise on Earth. The metro, grazing herds of white girls, high-rise buildings popping out here and there like mushrooms after a rain, normal Russian food. Three days in Istanbul have not yet dulled the acute sense of satisfaction with the civilization around me. And it’s not in the financial or residential comfort aspects (nevertheless, the hospitality of Alex, my good friend and old comrade in African adventures, who sheltered me in his house in New Riga was very much helpful indeed). If the city is «yours,» you will enjoy it even without money, and even spending the night at the train station will not spoil the impression. Well, as long as it doesn’t become a habit. I know from experience, since during my first visit to the beautiful city of Rome I was forced, by an incident, to spend three days on a budget of one hundred euros, prudently hidden away under the insole of my shoe at the beginning of the trip. 72 hours passed like a moment; I walked around the historic center almost around the clock. The only thing I was sorry about is that I could not enjoy the Italian cuisine, so I had to postpone it for some other time. On the other hand, I came to Dubai loaded with money, and still I spent the last two days in a hotel with a book. The city wasn’t “mine,” and that’s all. Читать далее