(First part of the story – about “just walking” into LPR and joining the militia – is here)
About a month [after going to war], I returned to St. Pete to recuperate for a few
days. Meeting friends and acquaintances was inevitable, of course…
And talking was just as inevitable.
And always, always I felt the most important question in these conversations, the whole point. Which no one dared to voice.
– Why do you need this war?! –
In the end, nobody asked. But it was still necessary to answer.
And I tried. As much as I could. But it all turned out messy and unconvincing.
I waited for you, my daughter.
Knowing that you would understand. Should understand.
You came on the last night of the three days that I gave myself to recover.
First time in five years.
And your first question was:
– Dad. Why do you need all that? –
Blunt, as always. Eyes to eyes. Very characteristic candor.
I mumbled something then, stunned. Muttered incoherently …
Well, I could not find words back then. Convincing. Undeniable. Simple and clear. The kind I probably won’t find even now.
So I’ll just tell you about the real war.
Or rather, the part of real war where there is no blood and gunshots,
gasps of the dying and fierce courage of those still alive … That’s
all for men.
You are a woman. Mother. Wife. Daughter.
You will understand the other face of the war…
IZVARINO CHECKPOINT. Second half of July, 2014.
For two days now, fighting rages somewhere over the horizon. Or rather,
beyond the constantly burning dry steppe grass. At night the endless
ribbons of fire are visible particularly clearly.
But there is almost no fighting right here. We have trouble sleeping in
this uncomfortable quiet. The brain lacks the usual work of dissecting
the sounds of nighttime artillery explosions, and can not bring the
tired body to complete rest.
Our reflexes have been conditioned to perceive silence only as a pause
between volleys. And this lengthy pause is alarming, inadvertently
causing our muscles to wind up, in preparation for an instant dash
toward the safety of our foxholes.
Still no volleys… Still no sleep.
The Krasnodon-Lugansk highway has already been cleared. And already a
flood of refugees flows to Russia. Endless, as the steppe, and just as
limitless in its grief.
And Izvarino is flooded with SADNESS.
Overwhelming human suffering …
Our platoon was tasked with checking passports, inspecting vehicles, keeping order in the queue and forming the queue as such.
So, we fixed up the gate, repaired the entrance booth, organized into pairs. Started to work.
Two-hour shifts only. No one could work for more than that. No way.
We could not stand it for any longer.
We stopped joking and laughing. We were ashamed to look each other in the eyes. Some went on severe benders.
No one blamed them. They were just taken off the schedule.
Some days, the queue stretched up to seven kilometers. Russia only let
people in during the day, so those refugees who were not lucky enough to
get in during one shift had to prolong the agony for another day. Or
Maybe at the far end of that line, there were some raging passions. The
emotions of people who managed to escape the hell that was Lugansk in July.
Probably. We did not see it.
By the time people got to our gate, they were already a funeral
procession. Cavalcade of the living dead. Only the eyes were moving. But
dead, as well.
What can I tell you about the eyes of a mother who spent over a month in
the basement of a house in Lugansk, wincing at each nearby explosion?
After each of those, mechanically dusting off the head of her child from
dust, pieces of plaster, cobwebs and other filth falling off the
basement ceiling. And mechanically rocking her four year old, wearily
clutching him to her tired body.
That was all she could do.
She was tired of praying and hoping. Looking forlorn and passive, she
listened to her neighbors, sharing the same crypt, who poked up to the
deserted surface for a moment, to bring familiar news – there will be no
water today, either. None.
Because the substation, methodically targeted by government arty, is impossible to fix yet. Same deal with electricity.
They long tried not to think about food and medicine…
And now, she finally broke out of the besieged city.
She no longer cares about trifles such as not having any relatives in
Russia or not knowing anyone there. She knows – it simply can not get
In her arms, an emaciated, sick child. Who has no strength to even cry.
She took off her small golden cross to hire a car to Izvarino with some
A car of their own relatives.
And the hope that they will help her little daughter in the Russian
Emergency Ministry camp across the border gives her, for the umpteenth
time, the fierce desire to live.
And their car, like everyone else’s, gets stuck in this endless queue,
right at the entrance to the village. And this woman walks all the way
to us, militiamen at the gate, to explain that she can not wait any
And we hide our eyes and murmur that we only allow the wounded, pregnant
women, and families with children less than three years old to cut in
That was our common decision. The correct decision.
But it is one thing to decide and another to implement. We refuse her.
Because we are under dozens of other female eyes, also filled with
unspeakable grief. Those who have stood their turn on this scorching
All day. Or two. Depends.
And she, quieting down, hopelessly tries to catch the gaze of at least
one of us. And, having caught it, rises up in mad hope. And then she
goes limp and walks hunched back to the car, her curved back sloping to
A hunched elderly woman, twenty-three years old…
And we squeeze our eyes shut for a moment and dream of melee combat.
Barrel to barrel, face to face. To rip, tear their throats with our
teeth. Slash with knives, into pieces. So that their grandsons would
stutter when thinking about us. To burn with red-hot iron into the
brains of those who make it back: VENGEANCE IS MINE, AND I WILL REPAY!
At this stage there were practically no new cars with air conditioning.
The owners of such cars, having turned their assets into cash, have fled
long before it turned bad.
And opening the door of yet another stifling van, your restless gaze
meets the eyes of a child sprawled on unwashed diapers in the back seat.
He was lucky. And the old man, who was barely able to get out from
behind the wheel, was lucky too. The baby was no more than a year old.
So – no queue.
His eyes are impossible to describe.
I can only say that God will not forgive anyone.
Not one of us.
Not those who turned his family home into a pile of rubble, depriving the child of his mother, father and grandmother.
And not us. Because we failed to protect them. We failed.
And those who remain indifferent – too.
I fervently believe in that.
In the evening, Kolya “Duskwalker”, a fun guy, born scout and explosives
expert, veteran of both Chechen wars, was grabbing our hands and
shouting that he’s done. He can’t take it. And if we do not go to the
frontlines, he would go by himself. Anywhere. Just to stop seeing it
We were trying to figure out how to quickly get relieved and where can
we go to next. Which front. But we only managed to leave three days
later. When relief came. To Lugansk. Four Russians and one Moldovan.
But that’s another story.
I told you about the eyes of only one woman and one child.
Just because it was my gaze that she caught, she was trying to appeal to
me. And because the story of this child was told to me by his grandpa,
barely walking on arthritic legs.
But there were hundreds of those eyes.
That’s a part of this war, too, my daughter…
Tell me, princess, when we meet again, will you ask me –
– Dad. Why do you need all of that? –
Source: Victor Pleshakov. Translated by Tatzhit