August 30, 2015
Translated by Kristina Rus
Peter Astashenkov: “Kurchatov”
Published by “Molodaya Gvardiya”, 1968
Kurchatov family settled on the outskirts of Simferopol. Almost all of their spare time Igor and Boris spent in walks and long hikes.
Every summer Vasily went on land surveying jobs in different parts of Crimea. They coincided with summer holidays, and Vasily invariably took his sons with him, who helped him in everything.
On one such trip Igor and Boris first saw a steam thresher. Wealthy German colonists installed them on the outskirts. Uniform noise of many machines, steam hissing, smoking pipes – all of that attracted the attention of young boys. They swirled around the machines from morning till evening, dreaming to test them out. One day they were entrusted to operate the steamer, and the boys with special pleasure threw the straw into the furnace, pumped water into the pot, observed the steam pressure, the number of turns of the flywheel. Igor remembered the smell of smoke and hot oil, the fluctuation of the soil in tact with the machine for a long time.
The first time seeing the [Black] sea left Igor and Boris with a lasting impression. In 1912, when they drove with his father to Alushta, the sea suddenly opened to their eyes in the morning rays of the June sun.
The majority of the time the boys spent near the water. Swam and played, watched the fragile boats of fishermen with admiration, who fearlessly went out to sea in any weather.
– They are the men! – enthusiastically said Igor. – Know that it’s dangerous, but still go…
He tried to temper his will, swam in any weather. The father not only did not protest this, but even taught him to dive under the wave, when it, foaming and rustling, crashes on the beach.
These days the boys were fascinated by a game of their own invention: seeing a ship in the distance for as long as possible they watched it, creating the story of its voyages, imagining encounters with pirates. They themselves went only on the Volga steam boats, when the family traveled from Simbirsk to the dacha [a summer cottage with a vegetable garden in the country]. To board a seagoing vessel became a fascinating dream. Later this dream called Kurchatov-student to the shipbuilding school, and when he became a prominent physicist – to work for the Navy.
By late summer, strong, tanned Igor and Boris returned to the city for school and work.
Igor learned fast, helped many comrades. After classes, he often stayed in the gymnasium [school] at the rehearsals of the orchestra, where he played a mandolin.
The family’s financial situation was difficult, and with the beginning of world war [WWI] became very difficult. Igor, while still a student, was trying to earn money to help the family. Tried to do tutoring, but the town was small, and he could not find any students. He went to a cigarette shop. Pieces of a cherry tree, pear, apple, rose hips in the master’s hands turned into refined cigarette holders. Igor soon mastered the secrets of production. According to his brother, Igor could literally with a few strokes of a file give a piece of wood the most expressive form.
Igor decided to learn plumbing. Found a shop, made a deal with the owner and began learning. Came home even later, dirty, initially with broken fingers, with callouses…
Igor consciously prepared himself for an engineering career. In the rare free moments after the studies and working at the shop, he studied analytic geometry, solved problems. Math teacher predicted a great future for him. However, the literature teacher saw Igor as a budding writer. He directed his reading, supplied books, which Kurchatov family could not afford to buy.
Igor bought only one book to always have it on his person: “Advances in modern technology” by the Italian professor Corbino…