Men and Missiles or the Common Life in the State of Permanent Combat Readiness

Men and Missiles or the Common Life in the State of Permanent Combat Readiness

Status: In Progress

Genre: War and Military

Houses:

Details

Status: In Progress

Genre: War and Military

Houses:

Summary

The events that are described in this story happened in beautiful seventies, the years of my youth. Later this time was announced as a stagnation period that had been transferred in middle eighties into Perestroika and finished with the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. What were those years? How did we live? Who were those Soviet soldiers and officers who aimed nuclear missiles to US’s military bases and peaceful cities? How did they look these inhabitants of the Empire of the Evil? What were they thinking about being on the combat duties? How did they spend their leisure time? Did they believe in communist dogmas? Did living under the iron curtain and permanent exposure to alternative reality of communist ideology deafen and deaden them? Let’s take a glance at that time through the perception prism of one particular actor, me, a former citizen of that disappeared country and a participant of the events presented below. Maybe you will find at least a hint to answers for these questions.
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Summary

The events that are described in this story happened in beautiful seventies, the years of my youth. Later this time was announced as a stagnation period that had been transferred in middle eighties into Perestroika and finished with the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. What were those years? How did we live? Who were those Soviet soldiers and officers who aimed nuclear missiles to US’s military bases and peaceful cities? How did they look these inhabitants of the Empire of the Evil? What were they thinking about being on the combat duties? How did they spend their leisure time? Did they believe in communist dogmas? Did living under the iron curtain and permanent exposure to alternative reality of communist ideology deafen and deaden them? Let’s take a glance at that time through the perception prism of one particular actor, me, a former citizen of that disappeared country and a participant of the events presented below. Maybe you will find at least a hint to answers for these questions.

Content

Submitted: April 05, 2017

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Content

Submitted: April 05, 2017

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Men and Missiles

or the Common Life in the State of Permanent Combat Readiness

by Slava Zarubin

Contents

Introduction. 

1. Beer in honor of return from military camp. 

2. Last session and summer vacation. 

3. Graduation. 

4. Road to the unit.

5. Admission for the combat duties.

6. Workday routines and holidays fun. 

7. Visit to Poltava.

8. Training, parades, firing fields and recreation time.

9. Demobilization 76.

10. Conclusion. 

 

Introduction

The events that are described in this story happened in beautiful seventies, the years of my youth.  Later this time was announced as a stagnation period that had been transferred in middle eighties into Perestroika and finished with the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. What were those years? How did we live? Who were those Soviet soldiers and officers who aimed nuclear missiles to US’s military bases and peaceful cities? How did they look these inhabitants of the Empire of the Evil? What were they thinking about being on the combat duties? How did they spend their leisure time? Did they believe in communist dogmas? Did living under the iron curtain and permanent exposure to alternative reality of communist ideology deafen and deaden them? Let’s take a glance at that time through the perception prism of one particular actor, me, a former citizen of that disappeared country and a participant of the events presented below. Maybe you will find at least a hint to answers for these questions.

 

1. Beer in honor of return from military camp

In this chapter you will know a little bit about common life of the soviet university students, their military training, ways of having fun, drinking habits, even “culture” of moderate drinking, and, maybe, get a first hint to the answer on the question why the democracy in Russia is still problematic and what is a role of beer in this problem.

In the morning of June 15 on my way to the university I dropped off in the room # 503 at the dorm #3, where my friends, Yurka Kopytin and Vovka Utkin resided. Room’s dwellers were ready for actions, washed and combed. This is because Valerka Tsiganov, our starosta, honors student, informal leader and, last month, additionally to mentioned above, Senior Sergeant, and, if say in short, absolute commander, waked up all guys of group #158 for instruction related to beer party: Selikov and Kotlyarov have to find three 12-liter plastic jerrycans; Mishkin was responsible for money collection, announcement for all other participants, girls particularly, and place preparation; Tolik Sarankin and Yurka Kopylov were directed to the nearest market for stockfish; Petlyakov, Utkin, Valerka himself and I were sent on the official journey trip to get a beer.

It has to be noted that the tenth semester in Kuibyshev (Samara now) Aviation Intstitute (KuAI) is crowned with the military training in Ostrov city. In May all male students of the fifth year of study are transported by troop train to Pskovskaya oblast, where in military camp they are finishing their skills in the 8K63 medium range strategic missile maintenance, take the oath on the enlistment and get their military rank, which is the Lieutenant-Engineer of Strategic Missile Force. Namely successful completion of this military training was a reason for the party initiated by starosta and commander. And, of course, it would be a good chance to tell our stories to the best part of the group #158, girls, who, on incomprehensible now reasons, were deprived from the possibility to get military education. This obvious disparity was absolutely normal from male and female viewpoints in those times, because, you know, feminism was absent in the Soviet Union and nobody had a doubt that military service is a male only privilege.

The Soviet Union was well known for the shortage practically of all goods, food and drinks. Even buying beer was not a simple task. There were six beer outlets in KuAI area. People called them “barrels”. “Ghigulevskoe” and “Ear of Barley” beer on tap can be found there. “Barrel” is a plywood booth with several beer tanks inside that were filled from special tank-trucks of venomously yellow color. Each of such booths had a small fenced yard, where trucks were pulled into for uploading, and small window on f front wall for trade purposes and clients satisfaction. Our “barrels” were situated on the circle route and couple of them even had names: “Baobab” stayed under huge black poplar on the Panova and Podshipnikovaya intersection, “Playground” was near flee market in Revolutionists Ravine, two more were on the Soviet Army street, one on Moscow highway in the place, where city central bus terminal operates now. Men (it was rare opportunity to see woman in beer queue) with cans, jars and plastic jerrycans were moving clockwise and against clockwise on this circle searching beer what was very convenient for last beer availability or absence news updating. We were lucky that time, as they had beer in “Baobab”, the nearest to KuAI “barrel”. But there were many of those, who wished to buy this beer too and crowd of twenty plus people covered booth’s embrasure in 3-4 layers. It was time to put forward our cavalry tactics. Petlyakov clambered piggyback on Utkin and they attacked crowd by penetrating into it. Petlykov stooped a little and managed to be on the stretched hand distance from desired tap. Everything was simple after this: our jerrycans were transferred inside booth first, money then. In five minuets thirty six liters of frothed product were in our hands. There were no excesses. Our team looked imposing and crowd respectably reacted to what was happened. Power is in a respect in such places everywhere.

I never liked our operations in breaking crowd through at beer outlets. And it was impossible often.  Crowd could be self organized sometime. In such cases we took organizers side and kept order in the line. Now I understand that this way, without police regulation, without state reformation, the foundation of democracy was laid. Today, when you can buy beer on every street corner in Samara, it looks like democracy is finished forever. There is no need for democracy at all.

Gulping tasty cool beverage down in turn just straight from the heavy jerrycans we came back to the hostel, to the room #503 where all major forces were drawn up. Lena and Luda were making sandwiches of rye bread, sausage and cheese. The table was covered with newspaper’s tablecloth and set with mugs. Plastic bag with dried fish lay in the center. The scythe’s sounds of Pesnyary’s “Ian mowed down horse sorrel” flowed from the record-player: “Vgheeck, …, vgheeck”.

There were fourteen of us. The decision was made do not wait others with the hope that they will be brought up later. Valerka stood up, made solemn face, raised his mug and pronounced the first toast:

“Welcome home! For united group! For friendship!”

“Do not wait hurray yelling” – Kotlyarevsky spitefully commented.

Each made a big mouthful and silence came if everybody lost in thoughts. The pause was filled with sounds of smacking lips and friendly chat started soon.

Of course there were no well-composed stories at beer party. But some of exiting episodes and military service impressions were revealed, for example, about our train journey.

Troop train consisted of plats-card cars. Each of such cars contains nine compartments with six berths. But there were nine of us in every compartment. As a result my sleeping place was situated on the baggage shelf under the roof. There were no mattresses and pillows. But this is not a sleep problem at all for young guy when he wants to. And we were tired and drunk. Alcohol was not allowed, of course. And, of course, bottles of vodka, wine, beer were in every compartment. To drink during railway trip is Russian tradition. It is a must. From the very beginning of the journey joy voices, burst of laughter resounded in the train from the cabins where anecdotes were told. And there were quiet compartments with heart-to-heart talks too. Our bosses-commanders, military ranks of whom were in Major – Colonel diapason, were rode in separate more comfortable cabin car. Their major task in this journey was to deliver us to Ostrov and then return back to Kuibyshev alive and in good health condition. And they resolved the task effectively. We felt their care and attention permanently. At least two officers made their rounds through railway cars permanently. One of them had soldier’s aluminum mug. Patrol reached every high spirited student and asked him: “Breath out!” The mug at this moment was placed in front of the student’s face. The vessel was sniffed around after this and verdict pronounced: “Do not pour out more for this drunk”, or “okay, you can continue, but not too loud”. It looks strangely now, but the “do not pour out” order was fulfilled strictly. It happened because some kind of sense of mutual aid and responsibility for your schoolmate existed.  This is the way how the “culture” of moderate drinking was cultivated.  This is the way how young lads who professed idea of vodka durability were finally caught by alcohol and became addicts. Many of us felt this at early stage and gave up. But there were those who continued and went to the other world with high acceleration.

There were two stops in Moscow in this trip: one on the way to the camp and another on the way back home. Both stops we were on our own in this city for 8 hours. Somebody went to the Central Exhibition of National Achievements (huge park area with tenths of exhibition buildings, restaurants and cafes), somebody to the Central Park of Culture and Rest named after Maxim Gorky, many to downtown (Red Square and Gorky street); new Kalinin prospect was attractive too. All returned to the railway station in time. Somebody extremely tired of alcohol consumption were carried on the hands of their friends.

It seems to me that just in the beginning of seventies the idea of special type of collective drinking started to be cultivated in the Soviet society. Under the slogan of social links and comradeship strengthening the party bosses supported and even motivated the idea to celebrate different holidays and birthday events at working places. Vodka was drunk in big amount at such job place parties. And it was a matter of valor to outdrink your colleagues, to be in time in the office next morning without big hangover, drink the morning against hangover dose and laugh on the friends that were not so strong and fell down under the table in direct meaning of these words at yesterday party. This strange sense of friendship is still alive. It is interesting that “fallen” in Moscow stop, those who were carried to the railway station by friends, were not blamed or marked some way by our officers-educators. More over, those who brought these “fallen” to the train were thanked officially. What happened with them in 10 years, in 20 years? This is a separate story. But at that time, in May 1973, in Moscow these strong guys that easily could take inside up to one liter of vodka were evident heroes. I do not know what others think, but in my opinion just such miserable understanding of social links, social support and manhood led initially in the mid-eighties to realization of the national alcoholization threat, to Gorbachev’s “prohibition” law, and finally to August 1991 putsch organized, by the way, by “right Soviet way of drinking” people. I think that antialcohol politics was a reason for the August 1991 putsch. Organized alcoholics like communist party putschists can venture for much. Not much they can do, have to be said. Therefore, after all that August drunk days, drunken fights and drunk festivities the state power was taken by absolutely right from drunks view point person, Boris Eltsin. But this is again a subject for another plot.

There was no one consistent story about our month in the camp. We were speaking and interrupting each other, and everybody tried to tell the most interesting episodes from our life and training there. All of us felt sorry for the local quarter-master-sergeant, to whom we returning our military uniform in exchange for our civil clothes. It was happening in his small depot. This usually joyful lad, with whom we lived in same barrack thirty days, who taught us by such military services peculiarities like, for example, absence without leave, was very upset and couldn’t keep in tears. Those whom he trained all this month, who became his friends, who were same like him are free now. They are changing for civil and going home, but he will stay here in same barrack, in same military overalls for many months ahead.

Yurka Selikov told us about strongest stress he went through before parting with his military uniform. As there was a long line to the depot, he decided to go outside for smoking and, maybe, for sandwich in the officer buffet that was situated in front of the headquarter building. Just on his approach to the buffet he finished his cigarette and flicked the butt into the center of the square. Suddenly stentorian voice shocked him: “Pr-rrrr-ivate! Attention!” Yurka stocked still, turn his head and see general, regiment commander, looking at him from the window on the second floor. “About face! Come here!” – continue general: “Fifteen days of arrest!” It has to be mentioned that Monya, Yurka’s nickname, was not a weak and cowardly guy. He was weight-lifter and swimmer. In beginning of May he could swim across the Volga River in Samara in cold water. Therefore instead of “coming here” he made spurt to the barrack, pushed apart the line and exchanged his uniform for T-short and jeans in ten second. Usually his complexion is red. It is violet when he is doing his physical exercises. But now his face was not simply pale, it was white like flour. He kept silence and only in an hour after boarding the bus, when he believed that arrest will not happen, the reason of his behavior was revealed.

We took the Oath of Enlistment on the division parade-ground. I still keep the photo of four persons in spectacles (Kotlyarevsky, Kopytin, Pevalov and me) wearing Second World War uniform, having AK-47 on the chests and holding booklets with oath text in hands. Major Gryaznov, officer that accepted our oath, is on the picture too. I tried to remember the text of this oath in the time of the USSR collapsing. It looks like we, men under this oath (approximately all male population of the Soviet Union), liable for call-up, had to prevent fall of this country. But somehow it didn’t happen when the USSR collapsed. Moreover, most of the military men took new oaths to new independent countries soon after this collapse. In nineties I had several mails from Samara Military Registration and Enlistment Office with request to visit them. What was the subject? I still do not know, because I ignored these invitations. Some of my colleagues visited and got orders for short military training where they re-swore for new Russian Federation. I never did this and only in 2006, living in Canada, I affirmed that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.

The most pleasant reminiscence of our camp training, as all of us confirmed this, was excursion to the “Pushkinskie Gory (Pushkin’s Hills)” preserve. This is a really great place, which is dearly to every Russian. Trigorskoe, Mikhailovskoe, Svyatogorsky Monastery, nanny’s house, Onegin’s bench, Kern’s alley, Poet’s grave. Forest, lake, dirt roads, meadows, hills – all this looks like nothing special, but it is just the native, that doesn’t exist in other countries.  Traveling the world you can catch yourself on the thought like “look, birch tree grove is same like ours.” But come up and you will see that the grass is different and bark is not so white. In our beer party conversations and discussions we realized that even air in “Pushkin’s Hills” is sort of elixir of our nature, our country.

Beer was drinking with pleasure. Dried fish, mostly breams, were eaten in big amount. Everybody in our team could consume six mugs during two hours of free and easy chat. Today all was going usual way. Conversation was jumping from one subject to another. Somebody confessed that only during these summer drills he understood the system of range control that is based on the heavy gyroscopes and electrolytic integrators. Somebody liked to operate with missile mounter. On “Bereza” positions we made the whole cycle of the 8K63 missile preparation from permanent state to launch one, so called complex drill, which includes wheel out the missile from storehouse, attach trolley to the launch pad table, take off the missile covers, put rocket on the table, aim, fill it up with components of rocket fuel, adjust systems, charge integrators, and press “START” button finally. The girls, knowing word of the camp song on the “Slav farewell” tune, with the words about “electrical eye of the SPD, which looks out from the bushes”, asked what this means. It had to explain them about Start-Pneumo-Dashboard, which just is the SPD from the song. Nice name, it suits to the song. This was a reason for the toast for this green box with valves, reducers, indicators, pipes and hoses. Then we were drinking for PHS, which is Pneumo-Hydro- Scheme, for 8T115, which is special missile railway car, and for other hardware and systems of the 8K63 complex. The girls of the 158 group had heard many new words and terms that day. I tried to change the subject of our conversation:

“Do you remember our march to Bereza? Eight kilometers we were walking by picturesque forest road!”

“And what kind of marching song did Lesha Tenenbaum start to sing?” – Vovka Utkin asked.

“Come on! Sing the melody! Major stopped it and told that this is a fascist march!” – Sarankin said.

Vovka began:

“Tam-tam-ta-ta-ta, tam-tam-ta-ta-ta, …”

“But this is the seventh symphony of Shostakovich, invasion subject” – Ludmila made comment: “What a fool told you that this is fascist march?”

We started laughing. All of us know that the seventh symphony was written by Shostakovich in blockaded Leningrad and it was performed for the first time in our city, Kuibyshev, in the severe 1942. And only now I begin to think about the reason why it happened that the symphony, its author, place where it was written and first time performed was known to everybody, the major knew this for sure. But the melody, which is known to everybody too, is ascribed as Germans? Maybe it is related to news-reels of war time where this melody was accompanied the screen scene with German invasion? And all of us were watching lots of such news-reels in our childhood. In that time it seemed to us that we knew everything about this war.

“Who’ve been to Japanese car exhibition in Sokolniky Park?” -  I asked.

Silence in reply. Nobody from our team was there. But Gena Schekov lured away us, Kuzya (nickname of Valerka Kuznetsov) and me, to this place during our stop in Moscow on the way back. The beginning of seventies was, in addition to all, the time of Détente. Yes, we had Razryadka (Russian translation of Détente) much earlier than Perestroika, but it was not so popular and successful as the last. Now nobody remember the Détente. Just there was some thaw or unfreezing in relations between two Great Powers: more exchanges in art and science areas, more different exhibitions, more trips and informal meetings, internships and so on. In those years I understood that English is not simply foreign language, but the mean of communication for mankind in our planet. And Gena was studying Japanese in that time. This was the real reason, not cars, of his desire to visit Sokolniky. He would like to speak in Japanese with real Japs.

“Gena Schekov practiced there his Japanese” – continued I.

“Successfully?” – heard I in reply.

“You would have to see the face of that Japanese girl, whom he addressed. First she frozen, then her narrow long eyes became transforming into round ones, then she opened her mouth, and, keeping broken through laugh, breathed out in pure Russian: “Are you studying Japanese by yourself?” After such incident Gena was confused, but tried to continue conversation in Japanese. Young Asian lady tried to support him. But she was so risible that Gena can’t sustain this and retreated without farewell. Felt hurt seems to me” - told I.

“Beer is finished” – Vovka Petlyakov announced. But folks started to disperse before this news.  The first exam of our last session was in a week. And this is the exam of the “aircraft structural design” discipline. It was time to start preparation. There were four exams that summer. The diploma practice started in coming fall and it will be passed into diploma project. The project defense would be in February of the next year. All of us would have one month vacation in March. And in April most of our male graduates would start their military serviced in the Soviet Army. Were we ready? Technically and theoretically – yes, we were prepared well. But what about our experience to communicate with soldiers, to motivate personnel, to be a leader? No, there was no such experience. And even command voice was not trained as it has to be. Maybe not for everybody, but for me this was true for sure.
 

2. Last session and summer vacation

This chapter will introduce you to the idea of what does it mean to be a Volga native, how summer life cocktail is mixed, tell a little about communist ideology guinea pigs, surprise with info about exams cribbing (is this a reason do not trust Russians?), and show surrealistic picture of red letters in night sky seen from a wilderness.

Summer is a wonderful time. Volga, beaches, meadows, islands, channels, sand spits, Ghiguly and Falcon mountains give a chance to Kuibyshev habitants for having pleasure of this short summer season, which is warm and even hot sometime here. Just in the beginning of the seventies Volga became more than a river for me. It happened that I finished my sport cyclist career (went to the saddle again only thirty yeas later), started sail racing, underwater hunting, master myself in yawl (military six row boat), and made friends with such great people, like Kostya and Irina Cedrikovs, brothers Rusanov, Valerka Kovalev, Yurka Konovalkin and many others. It is difficult to count all of them now. And the main thing, it looks that I became a Volga native. What does this mean? Do not know how explain this feeling. I have no definition of the Volga native. Maybe it will be cleared during this story telling?

Exams were never problematic for me, and for most of students in that time, particularly after the third course, when we started to study simple and clear disciplines linked to aircraft design and manufacturing. If discipline is interesting for you, if you are accurate and attentive in studying during the semester, attend all lectures, fulfill all laboratory works, and finish all semester projects in time, then you feel yourself confident before final test, well prepared for this and five days that are scheduled for repetition and preparation for exam are your time reserve, which you can use the way you want. And we used it effectively. Rusanov brothers and me had a contract with OSVOD (Obschestvo Spaseniya na VODakh translated as Society of Rescue in Aquatics), organization, which regulated, provided and fulfilled functions of water lifeguard and inspections. We were hired for beaches underwater overhaul and cleaning of dangerous objects to make them ready for summer seasonal use.

OSVOD delegated us responsibility to overhaul, clean and finally sign permission to use the beaches of tourist bases on the right bank of the Volga River from Zolnoe to Shelekhmet. There is prohibition for small motorboat sailing in this area in June due to spawning time. But local authority gave us license and green OSVOD flag. The flag was installed on the bow of our motorboat, which was Kazanka of the first edition designed by Lev Petrovich Zimakov. Lev Petrovich was my teacher and consultant for fiber-plastic structures analysis and design. Light aluminum alloy Kazanka with powerful enough Vikhr-30 engine was gliding on the water surface fast, seemed more flying than sliding. The daytime in June is very long. We started with the dawn and during the day, before sunset, overhauls of several beaches were completed usually.

The purpose of the overhaul was underwater inspection of the beach bottom and moving off dangerous articles like snags and drawn logs. We made depth survey and checked bottom’s smoothness, safety of the relief, absence of pits particularly. We used Sadko dry suits and ABM aqualungs. The works were done with high quality. And it was so pleasant to speed on the Volga by light and fast boat! June was speeding ahead same way, mixing works and exams into great summer life cocktail.

It has to be said that there was one exam which is worth to be mentioned here. This is “Theoretical Communism Basics”. I have to confess honestly that remember nothing now, but got “four”, what is equal approximately to American “B”. I do not remember even how I seated for this examination. But I remember well the teacher, Tamara Nikolaevna Sosnina. And there is a reason why. We had a cinema club in the third KuAI building where every month new movie was demonstrated before its issue to the commercial cinemas. Political workers, responsible for communist ideology, were checking mass reactions of soviet public here. Especially they were very attentive to student audience, who played role of guinea-pigs, for some, not simple and so called problematic, movies. Every time demonstration was accomplished by discussion of the movie. Our team with Kostya in head visited the club often.

Every time during this show we had fun, drinking beer using hose dipped into plastic jerrycan, commenting events on the screen. Ones it was Averbah’s Monolog. I liked Neelova, in that time she was, as my grandson would said now, sexy. Unfortunately her hero was not. Neelova played a role of extravagant granddaughter of university professor. And she crushed on old docent, doing everything to become his mistress. All movies events were happening in Leningrad, the city where there were so many opportunities to be indulged into real interesting things, sailing sport, for example. I mentioned sailing because docent was sailing on the Dragon boat in this movie. Actors were wonderful: Gluzsky, Lubshin, Terekhova – such a bouquet! Female onlookers, who were majority in the club, sobbed. And this is not an exaggeration. Even Irina, Kostya’s wife, weeped. Averbakh spitted further than Indian and Arabic cinema masters, whose movies inundated screens of the USSR in seventies. Such a tears squeezing out! Talent, no doubts.  

The most interesting happened during discussion. Comrade Rabkina, oblast communist party committee worker. She told us that the movie we had seen is a very through one, and the major author’s idea is to show links between generations. Then Dr. Sosnina took the stage and explained us how deep philosophical roots of the movie are. Public had a chance to express their impressions after this. I used the chance and told everything I thought about this movie. First of all I showed that Sosnina and Rabkina are trying to make social realism polishing to the thing which doesn’t suit social realism at all. I asked them where they saw such youths, stressing that they are speaking about Soviet youths. I asked them to make it clear what kind of generation and generation links they have in mind. If Neelova’s hero is a typical representative of my generation, then who am I? And finally I mentioned heights which this movie takes from the view point of Indian cinematography. As a result I was hissed off and expelled from the stage. But Irina, who was editor of Polet newspaper, asked me when I returned from the stage back to our group:

“Slava, could you pleas write your comments and I will publish them?”

“Okay, I will bring them to you tomorrow” – promised I.

My comments were published, and in the newspaper issues next after this, there was another comment on my comment, where I was stamped as a hooligan and politically green. By this last comment Irina finished discussion and didn’t give me a chance to reply. Even my meeting with the author of the second comment never happened. I had no time. Our small team moved on the other side of Volga to live there during summer time.

There were only two residents in our camp on the other side of the Volga River: Sashka Rusakov and I. But the camp was big enough: three tents for four persons each plus state-room on the Burevestnik’s landing-stage with four berths more. The tents were placed opposite to Polevaya Street, just downstream of Burevestink base and a little bit upstream of Poleghaev steamer, close to wooden frame of pre-Revolutionary barge that was cast ashore here someday. It was very cozy place, surrounded by willow bushes. Pretty big fleet was in our possession: Kazanka motor boat with OSVOD flag; yawl with full sailing rigs, six oars and a motor; yacht, lake centerboarder of M-class. Motorboat and yawl were properties of Diving Club headed by Kostya Cedrov, and yacht was owned by Burevestic Sport Society, but it was registered to my name and belonged to me de-facto.

There were many guests in our camp everyday. To go visit somebody without bottle of hard liquor is impossible for natives of the Volga Region. Therefore drinking was a permanent state of our camp life. And it was hard drinking, mostly of brandy. Soon Sashka took OSVOD’s placards with “Fight against drinking on the aquatics” subjects and hanged them on the tents and poles everywhere in the camp. It looks like these posters motivated even harder drinking. Empty bottles were arranged on the ribs of the barge frame. In three weeks there was no one free rib. Bottles after Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian and Moldavian brandy decorated the barge’s remains. This is one of peculiarities of that time: hard drinking without being drunk. I do not know how to explain this.

Kostya stayed in the camp for night often. I picked Kostya at the Lieutenant Schmidt Landing with my sailing boat at night and next morning Sashka dropped him off back by Kazanka. I used opportunity of crossing Volga every time, took two three-liter jars and went to place a little bit earlier to buy beer at Mopravskaya stand. Then I met Kostya, crossed fairway, made it slowly for beer drinking and conversation. It was a chance for Kostya to become cool after hard summer day at construction site. Ones, when we dragged out boat on the trailer, jars were turned over and beer flowed out into the cockpit. The boat was kept in ideal cleanness; therefore on the bank I opened sea cock valves and poured beer back to jars. This beer was consumed same night without problems.

Entertaining guests we were entertained ourselves. This is a list of our activities: water skiing, crayfish catching, underwater hunting, fishing with dragnet in the backwaters and on the spits, sailing on the yacht, sailing on the yawl (without steering surface sometime, balancing boat via changing sail center of pressure and center of boat gravity by pulling sheets and changing crew positions), sailing races with helmsmen changes, sailing on Dragon boat (Gena Kozin, its owner, gave it to us often), walking in the meadows and on the islands, and many other good things like night beer drinking and singing near campfire, night swimming, and other great nature life things you can imagine.

Underwater hunting only became popular in Russia. The water in many Volga bays and creeks was clean and transparent enough with visibility no less than three meters. The pikes weren’t afraid of divers, especially when staying in underwater snags and fallen trees. And there were many such places around, for example, bay in cross of KATEK (factory named after Tarasov) with sand bottom, not much water-plants, deep up to five meters, and with snags attractive for predators – excellent place. We liked to hunt and catch crayfishes there. Long and narrow creek connects this bay with main stream. It was possible to navigate our yawl through this creek to bay.

Once on a sunny July day Vovka Petlyakov, Sergey Burlakov, Mishka and Larisa Mishkins arrived to our camp. Sashka and I just finished breakfast, boiled buckwheat with tinned stew and fresh cucumbers. We were sitting near old barge, drinking tea with treacle-cakes when our friends landed from the ferry moored to “Green Grove” landing-stage.

“Hi! How it’s going?” – hailed arrived.

“Ready for hunting?” – asked Mishka.

“Always ready” – answered I: “Bombed successfully?”

“For sure” – replied Mishka.

My question is related to yesterday’s exam on the Theoretical Communism Basis discipline. I do not remember why, but the word “bomb” in such contents had a meaning of crib, and “to bomb” means to pass exam by crib. Mishka was excellent student and experienced bomber. His “as always” means that everything went smoothly, and he in particular got A.

Strangely, there was tolerable relation to cribs in Soviet society. Crib’s usage wasn’t criminal or serious cheating. Most of teachers even didn’t punish student who was caught cribbing. Usually teacher took off cribs and changed examination questions for such student. But in all other world cribbing is a fraud and student, who was caught cribbing, is expelled from the university with a stamp of dishonest person. Terrible, we would not believe in this if somebody told us in those days.

After short discussion about hunting place we decided to go to “Clear Sands”, small island lying opposite to City Park named after Maxim Gorky. Yawl was taken as a mean of transportation. It was quiet windless day and oars were used as a propulsive agent and pleasant paddling on calm waters. Hunting was not bad. Mishka and Sergey shot middle sized pike each; I made holes in three perches; we collected two buckets of crayfishes. Hunting usually is emotional activity, but the strongest stress Vovka got. We were diving not far from each other and I could watch all events happened, staying on the shallow sandy bottom, cleaning harpoon off the water-plants and by side vision looking at water surface in the area of Vovka’s hunting. He was diving and suddenly popped out very sharply, turned on his back, started hard propelling with his fins heading to the land and with high speed just flew away on the bank. He looked scared and kept his eyes on the water surface where he was hunting just second ago.

“What happened?” – shouted I.

“There is somebody there” – was the answer.

“Big fish?”

“No, somebody drowned. I’ve seen a hand, white one, inflated. It’s in a snag. What will do?”

I had some experience of extracting drowned bodies and ask Vovka:

“Why are you so scared? Did this drown grab you with his inflated hand?”

Then: “Show me the place. I will check it”.

“Over there, near that snag” – Vovka waved.

Of course it was not pleasant, but I have to dive and look at, because I am OSVOD’s worker and lifeguard. Submerge and slowly swim underwater to snag direction. At the depth of two meters I see white spot that resembles five fingers palm. I approach closer and at the distance of one meter understand that this is not a hand but a white cotton glove, one of those that workers used in Progress plant during rocket details manufacturing and assembling. The glove is stuffed with something tightly. Finally I start to understand that this is a fish lure. Dive out. Call Vovka. He shakes his head negatively.

“This is a glove with porridge inside” – shout I – “Swim here!”

Vovka waves with his hand, takes fins off and goes along water edge through high reed to yawl direction.

In the evening we were back to the camp. Lariska cooked very tasty perch soup and fried pikes. Sashka and I used Kazanka for the quick trip to Ulyanovsk slope, to the Dno (Bottom, the name of the landing place near Samara Brewery), where, as usually, three jerrycans of beer were refilled. The night was warm. We were sitting near campfire, having a chat.

In that night, stepped away from the camp’s lights, I was looking at the opposite side of the Volga, to the city’s skyline, and the first time in my life paid attention to very big and bright sing “COMMUNISM IS OUR GOAL” shining in red above the massive building on Samarskaya Square. Who would know that in twenty years INKOMBANK will occupy this building and goal will be changed for the opposite. There were other catchwords around. We didn’t pay attention to their meanings. Some of them sounded funny, like “Lenin is with us every time”. Good logo for the triple bed. We got used to such things and overlook them usually. But now, such a night, calm, stars, and … strange slogan on the horizon; it was a surrealistic picture.

Next morning I had to meet Lev Petrovich Zimakov in the KuAI, return shaped plane borrowed from him, and visit dean’s office for stamping my record book student ID with “Transferred to the sixth course” seal. As I told before, Lev Petrovich was a well-known aircraft and speed boat designer. The first Kazanka and Progress motorboats, very popular in the Soviet Union, are his design. He worked as a teacher in KuAI at KiPLA (Aircraft Structures and Structural Design) Chair. And he was a scientific consultant for my semester project. The wing of light general aviation aircraft was a subject of this project. I started to be interested in composite structures in those years; therefore my wing was manufactured of fiber-glass plastic. It was very important for me to implement the result of my research work fulfilled in parallel under supervision of Nikolay Vasilievich Vlasov. In this research I invented algorithm with three enclosed loops for structural mass minimization of sandwich type panels. In the inner loop the strength criteria were satisfied and the thicknesses of sandwich faces were defined. In the second loop enclosed into outside one the local buckling conditions were analyzed and sandwich core parameters defined. The third loop, external one, was used for general buckling analysis and the core thickness calculation.

Algorithm, written as a diagram, was converted into program, which was execution code for PROMIN computer. The coding was a process of inserting the command pins in accordance with the diagram into program field physically sub-assembling the code into computer’s hardware. Initial data were inputted then with the help of simple keyboard. There was even some kind of paper output. Yes, it sounds very strange today. But PROMIN, invention of Glushkov Institute, was a very good prototype for personal computer, as people say, but it was born prematurely, in thirty years earlier, and was not developed.

In short, after definition of the wing load in accordance with the Aviation Authority Regulations I defined structural frame, sized structural elements like skin, spar, ribs, etc. and finally transform all these ideas into drawings. I brought my sketches on the squared paper and Lev Petrovich never asked me to transfer all this stuff to whatman paper as other teachers required. He believed that engineering and drafting are different activities. That summer Lev Petrovich was building his new motorboat of trimaran type with spacious cabin for six passengers. We discussed his structure often. All these meetings took place in the backyard of Romanenko’s house, where Zimakov’s workshop was situated. I remember well his comments to general layout of my plane:

“Okay, this hatch has to be elevated higher than waterline.”

And in a second:

“Sorry, higher than structural horizontal of the fuselage.”

There are many Progress boats on Volga and other rivers in Russia and Former Soviet Union countries. Look at the rear panel in the cockpit and you will see the bronze plate with inscription: “Boat Designer: L.P. Zimakov”.

Session was finished and vacation started: the time to visit homes for many of non-Kuibyshev resident students. I had a short trip to my parents in Poltava too, and returned back to the place where a summer diving job of the pipeline underwater overhaul, yawl and Volga were waiting.

One night Kuzya told me that his friend, Tolya Aleksandrov, former actor of Kuibyshev Drama Theater and director of Lundstrem jazz orchestra now, arrives. It could be an interesting meeting and we decided to arrange simple outing by yawl sailing. Our boat was moored at its usual place not far from ferry terminal under Schmidt Slope. Next morning we met there and while I was taking off yawls cover and making trip preparation, Kuzya and Tolya bought four liters of beer pouring it into blackened mess-tin, which was kept on the yawl. 

Wind was very weak and not stable this day. We pushed off using oars going upstream to Gorky park direction. I set sails and gave foresail sheets to Kuzya. Light rain started, but we continued to cross Volga in half wind. The river current fetched us down and opposite bank was reached near “Clear Sand” moorage. I shoaled yawl, jumped out from the boat and strolled across this narrow island, made a short run on the back-water beach and stop near bushes of tansy, the flowers of which are bright yellow in this time of the year. Smelt it. This smell still connects me to my Volga islands and creeks.  

Initially we planned to go upstream up to Frunze Field, visit Mud Lake and check, how crayfish are doing there. But absence of good wind changed our plans. Taking against weak breath and drifting with current we, like Tolya said, were “sailing from bank to bank and hooting”. These were words of one of his theater hero, as he explained us. Beer was finished. The weather was warm and we were protected from rain with yawl tarpaulin cover, but sailing became senseless, especially as we had no hoot. The decision was made to go to banya, what is Russian sauna.

I fixed yawl on two moorage anchors and covered it. We went up to Novo-Sadovaya Street. Here on the crossroad a teenager boy addressed us:

“Hey! What time is it?”

Tolya didn’t give me a chance to have a look at my watches. I even started from his stern voice:

“Whom are you addressing? What is your school? Do you know that you have to address to adults with respect?”

“But I nothing, I simply would like to know … what time… sorry, could you please,...” – mumbled the boy.

“Cannot endure boorishness” – Tolya told, addressing to us.

I, being taken aback, looked at Alexandrov. What a man of principles!

Baths on Eroshevsky Street was not look like it is today. There were no individual steam rooms, only two big sections, one for men and another for women. Made payment of 15 kopeks for tickets, 20 for towel sheets and 50 for switch of green birch twigs we entered change room. Bath-house attendant told us that steam is good and there are not much public inside. We, put off closes, went into the steam room to warm ourselves. This banya near Civil Engineering Research Institute was not the best in Kuibyshev. For example, the sauna on Smaraskaya Street with powerful furnace was much more effective. But in that rainy day wet steam from the pipe, birch twigs and good company compensated some shortage of comfort. The end of the day was even better. We visited Tolya’s home and ate excellent borsch cooked by his mother.

 

3. Graduation 

In this chapter you will know how much fun can be had during aircraft pre-graduation diploma practice, graduate research and thesis writing; why daiquiri wasn’t available in Kuibyshev sometime, and where crayfish are sleeping.

We started pre-graduation practice in September 1973. As most of students from our group I was appointed to the Plant Number 18, or simply “the eighteenth” like people called KuAZ, Kuibyshev Aviation Zavod (what means Plant) by its old military identification. This plant was evacuated from Voronezh in 1941. And there was “the first” plant, today’s Progress, which was evacuated from Moscow. It is interesting that population of Bezymyanka, Samara’s industrial area, still call many of apartment complexes as Voronezh’s houses or Moscow’s ones. This is linked to that time when these buildings were owned by factories moved from corresponded cities.

The Shop #54 was the place of my training. Workers under master’s supervision were assembling fuselage sections there. I got not much new knowledge at this particular place as it was described and discussed in theoretical courses. Shop master was busy and had no time for trainees to reveal some kind of problems or special techniques used. As technology was known for us there were no difficulties to describ all processes in my practice log in all details. But lectures delivered by KuAZ’s engineers and excursions to other shops were really interesting and gave a chance to understand integrated process of aircraft manufacturing and arrange all these fragments into one complicated picture. It seems that even now I myself could guide a group of students through the chain of shops and tell them about all the processes of passenger liner creation. Templet shop is the place to start such excursion. Or, no, it is better to begin with museum, where the history of Voronezh’s plant is described with many examples including Stalin’s telegram related to the Il-2, legendary ground attack airplane of the WWII. The telegram was addressed to plant’s workers and told that “the front needs Il-2 like the air for breath.”  And after this we could go to templet shop to see how airplane shape, drawings of different parts and their interfaces are transformed into rigs and tools which make possible for these details to be produced and assembled.

The punching and half-finished product shop is the second one on the way. Here you can see how metal sheets, plates and bars are obtaining shape of the aircraft details. The units’ shops are the following: wing, empennage, fuselage, flaps, slats, landing gear, electrical and control systems allow you to see and hear how it happens. Riveting sound accompanies the process of half-finished product transformation into aggregates and units. The metal gets airplane shape here now, but only the 7th shop, the shop of the final assembly, is the place were all these details became a machine for comfortable passenger transportation by air. The shop occupies huge premises with sliding gates, the exit to the airfield. The place attracted us as a magnet. It was so interesting to see final operations of aircraft assembling, when wing and empennage are attaching to fuselage, all equipment is installing, cables laid, engines and landing gear fixed. Just in this place you see the result of creation process and understand its complexity.  The complexity and beauty of final product bewitches, do not let go, push you to try to understand, how all this happened. And, what was very exciting, Tu-95s, strategic bombers, often were in this shop for repair. Of course they attracted our attention very much.

Assembled aircrafts were going into flight-test station then. After test program finishing they were painted into corresponded airline liveries, Aeroflot in most cases, and pilots from these companies took them away. Repaired Tu-95s were tested here too. Being in the flight-test station we had a chance to climb into bomber’s cockpit. I liked to sit in the navigator place with excellent view in all directions. And I still remember specific smell of strategic bomber cockpit, smell of expensive leather and electronic equipment.

Practice took only the first part of the day. Once, in the beginning of October, I met Kuzya in plant’s canteen. During the lunch time, supping pea soup by aluminum spoons from aluminum plates, we decided that it would be nice to have quick hike along Samarka River, look how things are there, maybe cross the river and walk to Chernovka direction and check, if crayfish are still there in the lakes and backwaters. The weather motivated us for this, being sunny and warm.

”Let’s walk” – I proposed.

“No way, the tram is better and faster” – returned Kuzya.

After canteen’s smell the cool fall air seemed especially fresh and bracing. Nice looking plant’s central alley of fir trees led us to the entrance-exit check-point. We returned our passes to nicely smiling security female and dashed out at large. We run by Yungorodok, residential area inhabited by plant workers, which was built on in the fifties by houses of Stalin’s architecture, massive mansion of very imposing constrictions.  Dry and sunny weather was staying for several days, usual for fall season mud dried off and in several minutes we were on Kirovckaya Street, jumping into car of the tram #10.

“Do we have to buy the tickets?” – asked Kuzya.

Some change chinked in my pocket. Got it out, it was two coins of 3 kopecks each, just what we needed. I dropped them into cash box and tore off two tickets.

In five minutes we were on the last stop, BTEC, what means Bezymyanka’s Heat and Electrical Center, the power station that smoked the sky with its high chimneys. We walked further by Kirovskaya and soon were on the river. In those times here, on the beach, there were boats and boatmen that were eager to help you to cross the river, unofficial ferry business. For ten kopecks only you could reach other Samarka’s bank, where the trail leading into water-meadows starts.

Big wooden flat boat for 10-12 passengers was used as a ferry. There were 8 fishermen on the board. The boat’s nose was on a sand bank. Kuzya boarded and went to stern.

“Let’s push off?” – rather proposed than asked I.

“Okay” – replied ferryman.

I pushed boat to the water and sat on the bow. L-6, old one-cylinder motor of six horsepower, was beating briskly, turned screw and propelled boat to the opposite bank.

Trail, leading to the meadows and lakes, had its beginning on the beach of the opposite bank where we shoaled soon. One particular lake was interesting for me and we quickly strode that way. I catch crayfish here in late fall, usually at the end of October, beginning of November. The lake is shallow and has thick layer of silt on the bottom. Before freezing-over the water becomes ideally transparent and silt is covered with glossy crust. The swimming is like gliding above the bottom. The goal is to find a lusterless spot on the glossy surface. This spot means that crayfish is here. You have to poke a hand into slit and catch the crayfish. The big ones were hidden here for the winter stay. And once, instead of a crayfish I caught a sleeping tench. It was very unexpectedly. But pimpled glove on my dry “Sadko” suit helped me to hold the fish, which even didn’t flutter being frightened. A yellow-greenish tench was good enough, and was cooked in fish soup. In that sunny day water was covered by thin ice in some places what made the catching process even more remarkable.

And that day the sun shined again. Approaching the lake I saw that silt is like a mirror on the bottom reflecting sun beams.

“Next Sunday will go here for crayfish” – I announced.

“It will be cold for beer, let’s make mulled wine” – proposed Kuzya.

Bulgarian Cabernet was available in liquor stores in Kuibyshev and other Russian cities in seventies everywhere. This wine was not very popular due to its low alcohol contents and, like many said, sour taste. But strong vermouths and ports never stayed on the shelves long. And the price of these wines, ports and vermouths were approximately same, one ruble with some changes for a bottle. Interesting, that in same time shop windows were packed with bottles of light Cuban rum Club-99. Very nice and cost-effective drink as the price was same as for vodka. But vodka was more popular, because local population believed that vodka is better for real Volga style drinking, and next morning headache after standard portion of vodka is much lower than after same portion of rum. The standard was half-liter bottle per person per night. But we, Kuzya, Rusanovs and our friends, drank this rum in cocktails, daiquiri in particular. The recipe was taken from Hemingway, one of our favorite writers in that time. But lemons were deficit product. Therefore, if somebody brought these fruits from Moscow, we made frozen daiquiri and drank quite big portion in one gulp.

“Maybe will take rum?” – asked I.

“But we have no lemons.” – replied Kuzya.

“Okay, let’s take three bottles of Cabernet. And I have sugar, pepper, cinnamon, cloves and laurel leaves.”

Reconnaissance was finished and we were back to the ferry.

“Do you have money?” – asked Kuzya, when we were in the boat.

“Ten-ruble note.”

“And I have five. Let’s go to Snowflake.”

“Let’s go.”

“Snowflake” café was situated on Kuibysheva Street, just opposite to “Ghiguly” hotel. We liked the place: simple and not expensive. Waitresses knew that we are students and behave without restaurant stiffness, do not awaiting big tips from us, and didn’t cheat us in counting, what was common practice in that time. Live music, many young people, easy way to make new acquaintance – very nice place. The food was without extravagances, drink too. However, for some time we drank gin of Hungarian production there. But once I made comment that juniper smack resembles me a taste of Taiga toothpaste. After this we returned to vodka “Siberian”, which was the best in this place.

Practice passed rapidly and in November we started graduate diploma project. Gena Reznichenko, young Assistant Professor from Aircraft Structural Design chair, was my diploma supervisor. We discussed possible variants and decided that fiberglass agricultural airplane is an interesting subject where I can use my algorithms for sandwich panel optimization, develop it further and implement for the wing, fuselage and empennage panels design for this airplane.

The diploma project had three big parts: general design of the airplane, aggregate design, research part. There was something not very important, related to economics and business processes, as I remember too. General design was based on the statistical analysis of the prototypes for airplane aerodynamic scheme, take off weight and other fundamental aircraft parameters definition.  So called “equation of existence” was used for this purpose. General design consisted of aerodynamic analysis, selection of the engine and equipment, structural load path layout, selection of the major structural materials, general aircraft layout. It is interesting, that in attempt to satisfy on of the most important requirements for agricultural aircraft, which is good vision of the ground, I “invented” a new scheme, where pilot’s cockpit was placed above engine in the aircraft nose. No one of the prototypes had same. And I really never seen airplane with such layout, or even heard about them. Only several years later, working in the Design Bureau named after Sergey Vladimirovich Ilyushin, I found out that similar airplane existed. It was the Il-20, ground attack airplane, designed in 1948. Just same requirements, good ground view, led Ilyushin’s designers to the scheme, which I ”invented” as new in 1973.

My unique algorithm with three nested loops (strength, general stability, local stability) was effective and fast. “Promin-M” computer was situated in the Room #420 on the fourth flow of the third building. Many hours I spent there debugging the program and making its runs. Even now it seems as a surprise that this program found design variables, thicknesses and sizes, which look very proportionally and could be manufactured.

The project work was going smoothly. When engineering was finished I started drafting, the process, which I never liked. But it was done without big problems too. My right hand was good trained. And I didn’t use plastic cures even for aerodynamic shapes drawing. Small circles were drawn without compasses, by hand too. Preliminary commission in the beginning of February estimated percentage of readiness and assigned February 18 as a day of my defense.

The SEC (State Examination Committee) sited in the KuAI’s assembly hall in the Third Building. A1 format whatman-paper drawings were fixed by magnets to special steel rigs installed on the stage. Committee members took places in the first two rows of audience chairs. Other public, friends and fans sited behind. Events were dynamic: 10 minutes for the report, 15 minutes for discussion, 5 minutes for comments and decoration changes for new drawings. Up to ten defenses were happened during the day. The day results were announced after last defense and all successfully processed were awarded with the official academic badge in the form of rhomb with the USSR coat of arms on the sky-blue background, silver wings and the KuAI inscription. Badges were fixed on coat’s lapels of fresh baked aerospace engineers to excite envy in those who hadn’t defended yet. But this was not the only difference between them. Free and light-hearted fresh engineers were a problem for the university and campus authority, because they started to celebrate the event with huge enthusiasm.

But in my case it happened that I was the first who defended in our team, and, as a result of this, I had no chance to celebrate this alone. Instead of celebration I got additional work and responsibility to help my delayed friends. Particularly they delegated general layout drawing of the ambulance variant for the military-transport turboprop that was designed by Pasha Pivovarov. I tried to do my best and used compasses even. But Pasha criticized my drawings, took offence and thought that I am not accurate enough working on his project.

”Why this cross section of the board rib is not exact? Why lightening holes are not circular?” – asked he.

“Pasha, they are circles! Do you see these axes of symmetry? They are even more circular than in my airplane” – I tried to make my excuse.

“Of course, you got the A, and for me you are doing anyhow, for C only” – continued Pasha.

Yes, my diploma project got excellent mark. It seems that Pasha envied a little. He didn’t see my project drawings, but was confident that A can be got only for good looking carefully issued plots. I, just on my first year of aerospace university studies, understood well that drafting is a separate profession, that design drafting and engineering need their own skills.

All defenses were finished at the end of February. Soviet Army officers of new conscription got their direction to the place of service. Kuzya, Gena Schekov and I were directed to the headquarter of the 43rd Rocket Army of the Strategic Missiles Forces situated in Vinnitsa, Western Ukraine.  The graduation party happened in the student canteen of the Third Building on the third of March. This event is worth to be specially described someday. Next morning I left Kuibyshev for Poltava for my vacation. We agreed with Gena and Valerka meet together in Kiev’s Borispol airport on our way to the Army’s headquarte.


4. Road to the unit

In this chapter you will know some unusual details of public transportation in the USSR and, hopefully, get the idea of why many Russians still believe that Ukrainians are Russians except their Western tribes, who belong, on Russian opinion again, to Galician. One question of the chapter, “What happened with the Young Communist letter to the future generation?” is not answered yet.

 

Poltava vacation flew by rapidly. I met my classmates and even visited my school #10, which is named after Korolenko, famous Russian-Ukrainian short story writer, and is situated on the cross of Kotlyarevskiy and Pushkin Streets. The school building consists of two parts: old one is a nineteenth century mansion where Korolenko lived; new one was constructed in 1960. There is one interesting detail that could be seen on the wall of mansion, type of decoration installed there in 1970. In that year of Vladimir Iliych Lenin one hundred anniversary Young Communist Leaguers and Pioneers of the school wrote a message to the future generation. The paper with this message was placed in special copper capsule and bricked up into school building wall. It was very ceremonial procedure orchestrated by Poltava Oblast Communist Party Committee. The place in the wall is marked with special marble memorial board provided information that the message will be taken out by future leaguers and pioneers in 2020. It this letter still there? I hope to visit Poltava one day and check what happened with this letter.

 

Sashka Ivanov, my best school friend, graduated from Kremenchug Aviation College and worked as maintenance technician in the airport of Poltava city. In parallel to his work he started night classes in Poltava Civil Engineering Institute and, just in the time of my visit, had a problem with the project on the Details of Machines discipline.  Sashka told me about these with some hope that I can help him. As a result I was designing gear box during whole week.
 

Gear box was designed as needed and thankful Sashka organized good fishing trip to Vorskla River delta. We reached the place by hitchhiking, using passing cars. Many breams and roaches were caught. Sashka solted this fish and dried skillfully. At the end of my vacation I had five kilograms of stock fish which is the best snacks for beer.

There are many ways from Poltava to Kiev by different type of transportation. My choice, of course, was aviation one. Three hundred kilometers were covered by An-2 in two hours. This biplane designed in 1948 had 12 passenger sits and flew with cruise speed of 180 kilometers per hour at altitude of several hundred meters.

 

Approximately in thirty minutes before appointed time of my meeting with Gena and Kuzya in Kiev I landed in the airport of this city. Getting out from the An-2 cabin I discovered with surprise that this is not Borispol airport, but Ghulyany one, the airfield used by small airplanes of local airlines that serviced for small towns and villages around. I went through airport building to bus and taxi stop. One old and shabby Ghiguly (known as Lada in the Western world) of the first model was in the parking lot. Driver had appropriate appearance, shaggy, wearing torn sweater and jeans. Our conversation was short:

 

“Could you drop me to Borispol?” – was my simple question.

 

“How much will you pay?” – I heard in reply.

 

“How much do you want?”

 

“Tree.”

 

“Can you do this for two?”

 

“Set off.” – driver finished negotiations in Gagarin’s style.

 

A “kopeck”, 2101 series car of Togliatti production was an Italian born masterpiece of Soviet automotive industry, which was on production line more than thirty years. Even in the beginning of 21st century huge amount of Ghigulies occupied roads in Russia, FSU (Former Soviet Union) states, Eastern Europe, China, and several countries in Asia and South America. Next five series of Ghiguly have not much difference with the “kopeck”. They are classic rear wheel drive car with carburetor engine and were in production in Russia till 2005. Ghigulys were really popular as family car used for trips to dachas, fishing, to forest for berries and mushrooms picking. Car was simple in maintenance. Russian people had good knowledge and accumulated big experience of repair and their own modification of these cars. These experience and knowledge were widely dispersed between drivers and owners. Only one thing spoiled the use of these cars in that time. This was spare parts shortage. Often, to get what you need, can be obtained only via chain of friends, by connections, very common practice for distribution of consumption goods in the USSR.
 

Driver, when he knew that I am from Kuibyshev, which is situated very close to Tolgiatty and the plant, where Ghiguly are manufactured, started conversation about washers and rubber tips, which he needs urgently. He was confident that Kuibyshev residents have unrestricted access to spare parts produced in Tolgiatty.

 

I arrived to Borispol with small delay. Valerka and Gena were waiting me on the stairs that led to airport building. We exchanged by greetings. Gena announced:

 

“We have to mark the event of our meeting.”

 

“Agree. Let’s go to restaurant.” – I supported him.

 

Restaurant was on the second floor, in a big hall with big windows opened to the airfield. Besides main runway there was another one used by Air Force regiment. MiG-21s by flights were taking off, making circle and landing to make take off again and again. It looks like graduates of air force school, novice pilots, had their training. 

 

We ordered meat salads, “Kiev style” cutlets, one bottle of vodka and coffee. There were at least two toasts: one for our meeting and another for aviation. It was nice dinner. Cutlets were rich and tasty. They make them proper way in Kiev. That was our conclusion. Of course, there was conversation and we discussed some events that happened at graduation banquet.  

 

“Somebody told me that Frolking beat Trikunov a little?” – I asked Valerka and Gena.

 

“Trashed a little.” – commented Gena.

 

“Exactly a little. He could beat him unmercifully.” – added Kuzya.

 

Trikunov was five years older than all of us, had some life experience, was Communist Party member and had “correct”, coincided with the party line vision, worked for dean office and had proper, from official viewpoint, life orientation. Just for this orientation he was beaten.

 

Then we remembered Pasha’s new girlfriend. We met her the first time at banquet and were very surprised of Pasha’s light-mindedness. Somebody even asked him where she hooked him. But this was not interesting subject and I switched our conversation to my successful fishing. Lads stopped gossiping and asked me to show the catch.

 

“Good stuff! We need beer now!” – exclaimed Kuzya.

“No way! We have to go now.” – was my reply.

 

Dinner was finished. It’s time to start our movement to Army Headquarter direction. Aeroflot flight from Kiev to Vinnitsa was only tomorrow. Night faelt. We decided to take train and have a chance to rest and sleep a little in a railcar. Public transportation bus delivered us to the railway station. There were lots of people in ticket hall with many ticket booths inside. Six guys stayed in the line to the booth for military men. The information board showed that the nearest train to Vinnitsa will be at 2 am, in deep night. Gena started negotiations with the cashier and as a result of three minute conversation and smiling got three tickets for Kiev-Chop passenger train that was on the sixth railway track now and ready to start to our direction in thirty minutes.

 

“But this train is not indicated in the information board.” – I told to my friends.

 

“It’s additional, for Hungarian tourists.” – Gena explained.

 

“Let’s go. It’s time for boarding.” – I demanded.

 

We went to the third platform and saw passenger train on the sixth track. The cars had a plates “Kiev-Chop” on the sides. There were no passengers on the platform except us. All doors in train’s cars were closed. The windows were mostly dark. Tickets tell that our car has number four. We knock into the door of this car. Female conductor opened it.


”What’s up?” – she greeted us.

 

“We’d like to go to Vinnitsa” – answered we in chorus.

 

“We do not take passengers.”

 

“But we have tickets.” – Gena told her and stretched out the papers to conductor.

 

She examined them in surprise but very attentively and returned back. Then she invited us to enter the railcar.

 

“We are going to Chop for Czechoslovakian and Hungarian tourists. No passengers are planned on the way to Chop. And, as I remember, there is no stop in Vinnitsa even. How did you manage to get these tickets?” – conductor continued to wander.

Kuzya and I pointed to Gena. Smiling Gena climbed the stairs to railcar first. Our cabin was the second. All beds were made. We ordered the tea and asked the conductor to wake us up ten minutes before train’s arrival to Vinnitsa.

 

Drinking tea we continued our tittle-tattle then went to beds. Bedclothes were new, starched, stiff a little and crunched. But this didn’t prevent our fast falling asleep.

 

Conductor, as promised, waked us up at 5 am. After washing and shaving we ordered coffee. Three packages of instant coffee were delivered. Glasses and special railway type glass-holders were available on the table. Hot boiled water was in the car boiler. Coffee was dissolved in the glasses. We were staying in the car corridor near window, enjoying hot drink. Vinnitsa suburbs were passing by. I like western Ukrainian towns and villages. They are very different in comparison with Russians by their cleanness, whiteness of the cottages of daub and wattle, plenty of thatched roofs, pyramidal poplars, gardens and flowerbeds. 

 

City blocks started to flash behind the window. Train entered terminal railway tracks without any hint of braking. Station building showed up. We are reading by chorus:

 

“Vin-ni-tsa…?”
 
With big surprise we looked at each other. Then Kuzya and I looked at Gena. We were doing this significantly. Gena took tickets from the pocket and showed them to us:

 

“Read! Kiev – Vinnitsa. What’s wrong? What can I do?” – he tries to justify himself.

 

“Pull emergency brake lever!” – I demanded.

 

But the conductor was here:

 

“Do not do such folly. We are very fast. Train can be out of track easily”.

 

“And what we have to do?” – I asked her.

 

“We will stop in Ghmerinka in an hour. You will alight there. Local train goes from Ghmerinka to Vinnitsa this time. You’ll be back here at 8 am” – she explained.

 

Train really stopped in Ghmerinka. On the neighbor track we’ve seen the promised local commuter and moved into it. Soon we started back to Vinnitsa. Initially empty car was filled by local common people that were directing to the oblast center. Melodious Ukrainian language, which was heard from all sides, strokes me. It was not very often when you can here conversation in Ukrainian in Poltava in that time. Common people, native Ukrainians, prefer to use Russian language in public places. Ukrainian language, strong Ukrainian accent were a sign of country bumpkin. Native Ukrainian parents send their children into Russian schools. There were not many Ukrainian schools in Eastern Ukraine. But here, in this train, I heard so rich Ukrainian speach. And I was surprised that do not understand everything. We moved to Poltava from Siberia when I was a school student of the seventh grade. And even without studying Ukrainian I could read books, newspapers, understand conversation of the vendors at local agricultural market and thought that Ukrainian  is not very good modification of Russian. But here it was like a real foreign language, even incomprehensible a little, but just a little.

 

Sitting on the hard benches, listening conversations and trying to understand familiar words of our fellow-travelers, watching West Ukrainian landscape behind the window and nodding we were back to Vinnitsa. The strategic missile army headquarter was found without problems. They checked our IDs at the entrance check-point and allowed to come in. The Major met us, had a look at our direction papers and ordered to go to the headquarters of the 43rd Guards Rocket Division situated in Romny, Sumy Oblast. He explained that there is no direct train or bus connection to Romny and we have to go there through Bakhmach, making change of train there.

 

We returned back to the railway station and learned that the train to Bakhmach will be at night only. The whole day in Vinnitsa was ours. The time to untie the bag with dried fish came and I did this in the first pub we found in downtown. Beer wasn’t in shortage in Vinnitsa. Therefore during city sightseeing we walked from one place to another visiting not only museums but the pubs and testing local beers. Squirrels in parks surprised me. They jumped around and begged nuts. There were no such human-friendly animals in Kuibyshev in that time yet. Finally we revealed that beer was not very good. The reason to do such conclusion was simple: Gena puked in the park not far from central shopping mall. Or did he overeat the fish in stock? Now it’s difficult to define the reason of his indisposition clearly.

 

The day was killed this way and in the evening we embarked the passenger train going from Vinnitsa to Konotop, nice name for the city indicating the place where the horses drowned. Cars were not very clean and comfort. After restless sleep, in the five at the morning we were out of it on the Bakhmach’s platform. The morning was breaking but the sun wasn’t on the sky yet. It was fresh and very nice outside after stuffy railcar. Leaving Gena with our baggage Kuzya and I came into railway station to look at the time-table. It showed that the train to Romny will be in the afternoon only. We were back to Gena disappointed a little bit.

 

“I feel better! The atmosphere is more congenial for me here” – Gena said – “When do we have our train?”

 

“Again at night only” – I answered.

 

“Let’s go and check why people are crowded there” – Gena continued and showed to the end of the platform where several people were staying not far from the section car.

 

“What you didn’t see there” – Kuzya waved away – “Let’s go to the village better”.

 

“Go, Gena, have a look. There is nothing to do in the village at such an early hour” – I supported Gena.

 

He went there and came back soon:

 

“Take the baggage and follow me.”

 

“Why?” – I asked him.

 

“We will take the section car and go to Romny this way. I made arrangement. It will cost us only fifty kopeks per person” – Gena explains.

 

I was trying to say something back reminding him his special railway tickets to Vinnitsa:

 

“Will we miss the station again? Are they really going to Romny?”

 

“Really, really” – Gena answered my questions without any hesitation.  

 

Kuzya took his suitcase and directed his steps to the section car without hesitations. Gena and I followed him. Closing by we understood that this machine is used for morning newspapers and mails delivery to the stations on this railway branch. Mechanic-driver proposed us to take places on the mail bags. We arranged our sits in the nose part of this section car which resembles a ferry boat of PS series that we used in Kuibyshev for crossing Volga River: similar size of the deck, same KhTZ diesel engine in front of the small driver booth installed in the middle of the deck. There were several more passengers that had intention to reach Romny by this unusual way. Conversation started. Mechanic-driver with big satisfaction told us that yesterday he run over two dogs. He tried to tell this story in all details, but we ignored him going to doze off.

 

The ferry-car rushed by the railway. There were not many stops. Sometime driver break our sleep by dragging necessary mail bag from-under us. Close to 10 am last bag was dropped off at a small halt.

 

“I will not go to Romny” – Driver said loudly.

 

Kuzya looked at Gena very expressive way.

 

“I will drop you off at the approaches.” – railroader continued.

 

“Okay, make it closer to the terminal.” – Gena asked.

 

“It will be something like one kilometer that you have to walk.”

 

In ten minute we entered typical industrial city suburb area. Railway tracks started to increase in numbers. Driver stopped the car close to the next railway switch and told us:

 

“Finished. I can’t go further. Get off.”

 

We jumped over car boards, say our thanks to the driver for good trip and wish luck. Our way was going further along the railway to city’s terminal. Soon, after gentle turn left the view of the railway station was opened. We really were in Romny.

 

It was not a problem to find the division headquarters. Lieutenant Colonel, the head of human resource department, asked us being a bit surprised:

 

“How you get here so early? Possibly you took section car?”

 

”Exactly” – Kuzya replied.

 

“You are braves! For your promptness I give you a chance to select a regiment.”

 

“What do we have for selection?” – I asked him.

 

“Glukhov, Lebedin, Akhtyrka” – Lieutenant Colonel answered.

 

Geographical name Lebedin (Swan City) sounded very attractive. I liked it.

 

“How far is Lebedin from Poltava?” – I continued to ask officer.

 

“Two hundred kilometers approximately. And why is this question?”

 

“Nothing special. Just, I know that Poltava is an interesting historic city. And why Lebedin is Lebedin? Maybe there are many swans there?” – I avoided direct answer and switched conversation to another topic.

 

“Yes, they have swan lake there and Psel River is not far from the city too” – Lieutenant Colonel explained.

 

These are the details that defined our choice.

 

“Lebedin.” – I tell on behalf of our team. Kuzya and Gena nodded assent.

 

“Good again.” – Officer smiled – “You selected the best regiment in the division. Okay, let it be. You will go to live on the swan lake bank.”

 

Local rural bus was a transportation mean that has to deliver us to Lebedin. Before getting on it we met Vovka Mochalov in the Romny bus terminal, who arrived to this town yesterday. There were several more guys, our colleagues from other cities with him: Vovka Shorokhov from Moscow, and Slavik Potudin, Vovka Ivanov and Petr Brosov – all from Sevastopol. Mochalov told us that Valerka Tsigankov was here yesterday and chose Glukhov as a place for his service and departed there early morning today.


Our places in the bus were in the end of the salon. I sat near a window. It was a long way. The bus often went down from the highway and by rural unpaved roads made its way to nearest villages. One peasant lady sitting close to me had a piglet in a sack. The piglet grunted uneasily often. She stroked the sack trying to make it quiet. In one of the villages an old woman took calf into the bus. Our driver tried to prevent this. But granny explained him how dear this heifer is for her, and how important it is to deliver them both home at time. Passengers supported her. Driver surrendered. Calf was staying close to Gena. He scratched it behind the ear with pleasure. Idyll.

 

Lebedin’s bus terminal is situated in the downtown. I liked the central square from the first view. It was surrounded by ancient market place, orthodox church, big building of cultural center cinema type, park area and Chevchenko monument. We took city bus here. In fifteen minutes our team was near so called military township. Stand of entering checkpoint was empty, but passerby explained us where we can find the regiment headquarters inside this settlement. The brown-reddish brick massive two stores headquarters building was found without difficulties soon.
 

Officer on duty met us, gave telephone call to somewhere and showed us direction to officer hostel not far from headquarters, on the Gastello Street. Hostel commandant, merry Ukrainian lady, showed us our rooms, gave us bed stuff and wished good night. Next morning they were awaiting us in the headquarters first for the instructions and for the dressing up at the stock of military uniform then. Our military service started.

 

 

5. Admission to the combat duties

In this chapter you will know of how many things officer uniform consisted of, what thoughts were induced by the map on the wall in the colonel office, why representative of the USA interests instructed Soviet rocketeers, what were dreams of the KGB Captain, how intercity telephone of the Soviet era and corruption in modern Russia are related, and could you have fun during preparation for the combat duty readiness exam.

 

Officer hostel was situated by itself in plywood barrack on Gastello Street just on the way from the military cantonment to Lebedin’s downtown. Entering hostel through center door you step into small antechamber, where porter’s post is situated. Aunt Galya, merry Ukrainian lady, which met us our first day, ruled this hostel. She was commandant, porter, chambermaid and cleaner. Long central corridor divided the building for two parts. Doors from dwellers rooms were opening to this corridor on both sides. Kitchen was at one building end, bathrooms were placed at another one. Aunt Galya showed us our rooms and soon Kuzya, Gena and I unpacked our suitcases, stretched out clothes, washed and changed. Beds were made too. There was no desire to sleep even the trip was long and tiresome. The time to make first acquaintance with the city came.

 

We went to the cantonment, knowing that buffet is working there late and there is a possibility to eat something. And it was good idea to know where we can find some meal for tomorrow breakfast. Military township or cantonment looked solid. Big gray four stores apartment buildings constructed in the thirties created stern architectural ensemble of Stalin’s epoch. The ruins of the former Palace of Culture blasted during WWII were impressive too. Central street of the cantonment leads to this ruins. The palace was bombed by Germans and never rebuilt. Carthage, this is a name as local residents call this place. The buffet building was close to this palace.  We were surprised that at 9 pm it was still opened. Local public spent their night time inside. Vodka, wine, beer were available. Some kind of simple food, like boiled sausages with buckwheat porridge as a garnish was presented too. Pretty enough for hungry lads. We ate couple of sausages with buckwheat garnish and drank bottle of beer each. Beer was Ghigulevskoe from Sumy’s brewery, a little bit sour and not so tasty as authentic Ghigulevskoe from Dno. Finishing with supper we went further to investigate the neighborhood.

 

It became totally dark. There were no lights on the streets. We went approximately five hundred meters along Gastello into town center direction and stopped not far from the huge poplar tree, the crown of which covered the whole street and nearby houses. The reason to stop was not a tree itself but huge flock of crows that occupied it converting coma of branches into black stirred alive hat. There were so many of them and they were shouting with their scary worrying voices so loudly. Specific smell of dung saturated the air. I had an experience of interaction with similar colonies of these birds before and understood well that it’s impossible to go behind the tree without being covered by the digestive waste of these creatures. I shared my concern with my friends. Gena and Valerka initially didn’t believe me, but approaching tree they saw that the road was covering by the high quality fertilizer steadily.

 

“Maybe we will run and cross it this way?” – more proposed than ask Kuzya.

 

“Try it” – Gena replied.

 

“Okay, leave the idea. You will not wash off the shirt in cold water after this. Let’s go home. It’s dark and I want to sleep” – I told to them.

 

“Let’s go our new home” – Gena agreed and Kuzya nodded in accordance. 
 

Next morning after breakfast in known for us buffet at 8 am we were in the room of the regiment officer on duty. He took us into spacious study of regiment commander, Colonel Nesterovich, and ordered to take sits along the wall just in front of commander’s desk. The opposite wall behind the desk was occupied by huge detailed map of the Western Mediterranean, including Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Morocco and Algeria. 

 

“Why this map is here?” – I started to think, reading geographical names: Malaga, Seville, Grenada, Tangier – “Is it possible that they keep it from Spanish Civil War time?”

 

The Colonel entered study. We got up. The popular revolution civil war song about an apple and Grenada that just started to sound in my head was switched off. Commander greeted us with simple words, saying that he is glad to see healthy young reinforcement in his officer’s staff. He told us that we will serve as operators of ground strategic missile complexes equipped with the 8K65 rockets. And, what was surprisingly unexpected by me, at the end of his speech he advised us to drink milk instead of vodka. Very serious advice, the meaning of which I recognized a little bit later. But an advice is not an order, and he sounded not very convincingly, just something like, “I know you, you will not follow this advice and will drink this muck and be folly.” Then he started to make personal acquaintance with us. He called the name, corresponded lieutenant stood up, commander had a look at him and announced the number of battalion, the number of battery and the crew position.  

 

I think that it was a lucky day for us, Samara guys, that spring morning of the April 1974. Gena, Valerka and I were appointed to electro-technical squads in different batteries, and Vovka Mochalov got position in electro-technical squad too, but in the maintenance station. Colonel told us that even we are mechanics by education, however he needs electrics now, and he knows for sure that we will be excellent electrics. Why it was a luck I understood in quarter of century later, when many of my military comrades, served as refuelers, started to die due to blood cancer.  The 8K65 was a heptyl missile. Heptyl or unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine was used as a fuel. This liquid is terribly poisonous. Its fractions have possibility to be accumulating by liver with fatal disease in time period of twenty years and even more, when you started to forget about your military service.

 

From the headquarters building we went to the depot where spent two hours by selecting and fitting our new military uniform. We got the following: three service peaked caps (daily, field and parade), fur-cap, two greatcoats (daily and parade), summer topcoat, two pairs of high boots (tarpaulin and boxcalf), high shoes, daily military jacket and trousers, combatant riding-breeches, field uniform, parade uniform in two variants (noncombatant and combatant), belts and shoulder-belt, shirts, ties, underclothing, should-straps, stars, scarves,  gloves, socks and other things, I do not remember all details. Taking all this stuff we went to the hostel for change into daily uniform and be back to headquarters in the afternoon.

 

After sticking stars into should-straps we attached these military attributes to our shirts, jackets and topcoats, to the dresses that had to be used for our afternoon visit to headquarters. Then we went out and made photos on the background of vacant lot not far from our hostel. From this moment we started to get used to very strange motion of our right hands into head direction, what the saluting military honor looks like. We saluted several times on our way to the buffet for lunch, and then from the buffet to headquarter. Thus we started to be accustomed to wave our right hands so strange way every time when we meet somebody in military uniform.

 

In the headquarter they showed us a documentary film about ground variant of the 8K65 preparation to launch starting from permanent readiness state. When the film was finished a gentleman in fop civilian suit with colorful tie entered the hall.

 

“Captain Isaev” – He introduced himself and took the sit by very imposing way with one lag on the other settling back as much as the shaky chair allowed him. He looked at us staying still in front of him and continued with unconcealed pleasure:

 

“Your task is to launch rocket at any conditions, but my task is to prevent you to do this” – and, after keeping pause, having fun looking at our surprised faces, proposed:

 

“Sit down, please. I will explain everything now”.

 

This officer, as we learned later, had a good education and was a representative of security service, not KGB, but the service that was protecting non sanctioned launch of strategic missiles. This service was established in the end of sixties.

 

The Captain in civilian suit contained his story:

 

“The experience of exploitation even of the first strategic missile complexes in the USSR revealed that there is a need to protect nuclear weapon against random factor influence that can lead to non sanctioned implementation. There is a need to guard missile complexes that are equipped with nuclear warheads against premeditated actions of specially trained criminal that has a goal to launch the rocket; against the mistaken and accidental actions of the personnel; against equipment fault and failings in apparatus elements that can lead to false command forming, which can cause launch order formation; against interferences in the battle control canals, which can be transformed by mistake and finally transmits the information, which has a form of order for missile launch. And so on”.

.
It started to be dull until Captain wasn’t switched for details. He told us that in the ground circuit, which is used for launch command preparation, they placed CDD, Code Blocking Device. The 8 digit code is needed for the launch command to go through the CDD. The code has to be set up on the CDD keyboard. There are two Start buttons in apparatus room where launch command is physically realized. The first button is situated on the start control panel under battery commander operation, the second one is on the CDD, and senior operator of the third squad presses it.

 

The code became known simultaneously with the order for launch, which can be issued by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, Leonid Ilyich Breghnev or by the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Nikolay Victorovich Podgorny. It has to be mentioned, that beginning of the seventies was known by some tension release in the USSR – USA contradiction and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, SALT-1, was accepted by governments of both countries. The SALT-1 is a complex of several documents signed in 1972. Even mutual inspections started to have place, not in missile complexes itself, but for the systems of accidental launch prevention. Russian guys demonstrated this CDD at meetings with their US counterparts and Captain Isaev took part in one of such presentations. It looks like negotiations with Americans were very impressive for his psyche. At least some of his expressions still look very strange for me:
 

“I represent interests of the American Government here in Lebedin!” – he announced with delight – “I do not report to anybody! Neither in Romny nor in Vinnitsa! Only to Moscow! You see, I do not wear uniform!”

 

Captain took long pause and used it for show off again.

 

“Are there philatelists between you?” – he jumped to another subject suddenly.

 

In those days stamp collection was one of not many techniques to make extra money legally additionally to your official salary. And this business was developed in Lebedin. It was kind of pyramid and not all of the participants of this business really made money. Most of them at low levels were only in the process of preparation for this, creating their own collections. But Captain Isaev was very successful in it, he occupied the top of the pyramid by having access to rare stamps, bought them cheap and sent pyramid down with very good profit initially for himself and then proportionally to all pyramid layers except the bottom. By the way, the process of buying with purpose to resell was criminal activity in the Soviet Union. Criminal code identified it as profiteering and the punishment can be from 3 to 5 years of imprisonment. But this was applied only to such goods as cloths, TV sets, appliances, etc. Philatelists, numismatists and other collectors had a chance to make money, having links and access to articles that could be collected. The really created their own market and their own clients.


”I have small collection” – Gena Schekov replied.

 

“Wonderful! Come to our meeting in buffet on Saturday night. We are gathering there at 7 pm usually” – and, after deep breath: “That’s it. Our conversation is finished. I will see you again during complex training with launch imitation. Dismiss for break!”

 

The last number in our program of acquaintance with the regiment for today was meeting with the KGB representative, Captain Gena Kuzin. Gena had an appearance of the village hooligan. He started without any introduction of preparation:

 

“I am responsible for state security and protection against espionage” – he begins in very dynamic manner – “You are in Sumy Oblast, which is well known for collaboration of local population with fascist occupants. They met Wehrmacht with bread and salt here. Many of not killed betrayers and former German police members are still here masking as honest Soviet citizens.”

 

In short, Gena was confident that Lebedin is full of spies, and it is only matter of time for him to catch at least one of them. Or, in any case, he could disclose couple of former German policemen. This was what he believed is one of his major tasks here in Lebedin. Then he told us several stories:

 

“For example, last fall, in the third battalion, two babushkas were caught inside secured territory walking between barbed wires to the check point. Mushroom they were picking! And how did they penetrate inside? How did they squeeze through three lines of barriers?! They were lucky that voltage on the safety net was only 220, for overhaul purpose in that day, not usual 1000! Or we would see their burned out remnants in other case!...” – he stopped, looking at us as we could answer his questions, and continued then:

 

“I still try to understand, how did they penetrate there?”

 

After the story about grandmas and mushrooms Gena switched to his countryside childhood, making note:

 

“I was a hooligan in my village school. Couple of year ago I visited my place and saw my school teacher. She was so surprised seeing me in the uniform of the KGB Captain!”

 

I do not know why, but it was not surprise for me that his teacher was surprised. Then Captain told us that his office is situated in a standalone small log hut not far from headquarters. He told us that it will be his pleasure to see us visiting him one day for intimate conversations individually. And, of course, if we saw or heard something suspicious, we must immediately report about this directly to him.

 

Our first service day was finished at 5 pm and we were free for the evening. The time to make real acquaintance with the city came. We went to hostel, changed uniform for civilian cloths, went back to the bus stop near check point at Gastello Street, took the bus #2 and headed to the downtown.

 

LiAZ, the bus manufactured by Lvov automotive factory, delivered us to the central square. The town looks very nice. We were by transit here yesterday. I led the guys to the old, even ancient looking, market place. As it revealed later the market rows were built in the sixteenth century. The central plaza included Shevchenko monument, flower bed and City Palace of Culture in front of them, the bath-house stays next by the street. On the other side several simple shops the kind of shopping mall were situated. Intercity bus station and Orthodox Church were here too. The Lenin Street crossed the square. The following interesting for us objects were situated on this street: restaurant, post office, regional communication center, book shop, canteen and buffet.

 

Automatic long distance telephone lines existed in that time and special telephones booths were installed at so called intercity telephone stations. You could go there and give a call to many of cities in the Soviet Union.

 

“Let’s go and make calls” – Gena proposed, pointing left to the glass door of the intercity telephone station.

 

“No, let’s go to the restaurant and celebrate the first day in real uniform” – Kuzya tried to turn right and go to Lebedin Restaurant door.

 

I had a casting vote:

 

“Lets go right first and celebrate cloths changing, then go left and report about this to our relatives and friends.”

 

The spacious restaurant hall was empty. Only two tables in far corner were occupied. We took place near the window not far from the entrance. The waitress, aged Ukrainian girl, came to us immediately. She looked at us attentively and greeted:

 

“Good evening. You look like new in this town?” – She pronounced this with strong Easter Ukrainian accent giving only one menu card she had in hands to Kuzya.

 

“How do you know?”

 

“Just I know everybody here” – and, taking notebook from her apron pocket – “What will you drink?”

 

“We are here not for drinking, we would like to eat something” – I started explanation. But Kuzya interrupted me:

 

“Okay, I see Riesling here. Give us a bottle, please”

 

Gena took away the menu and tried to read the names of the courses that were bad printed by wreathed ink in the shabby card. Seeing these difficulties I asked before him:

 

“Tell us better, what can we eat here?”

 

“Grilled pork with mush potato” – waitress advises without any hesitation. It sounded like this was the only dish they had there that night.

 

And we ordered it. Wine was poured out into the tall glasses. Gena proposed the simple toast:

 

“For the successful start!”

 

Food and wine were consumed fast, we finished our dinner and went across to give intercity calls. There were only three telephone booths inside the telephone station. Several of those telephone station clients who wished to give intercity calls were staying in the line. Fresh two-year service officers from Sevastopol were in the line too. Volodya Borzov shared the secrets of automated intercity telephone connection mechanics with us and Slava Potudin:

 

“You have to put the wedge” – Borzov told us.

 

“How can we do this?” – Slava asked.

 

“Put the five-kopeck coin into the slot, then push and rapidly release the “coin return” button. The coin has to stock inside the telephone box. Then you have to put two coins more. Dial the number after this and have conversation as long as you want, hours if you need” – Volodya shared with us all secret details.

 

Now it was his turn. He took the cabin but didn’t close the door specially to show us the process of wedge installation. It happened successfully. He dialed and made connection. Door was closed and he started conversation.

 

In five minutes the booth’s door was opened and Volodya appeared with smile on his face:

 

“The wedge is there. You can continue. The last of you has to push “coin return” button. Leave these three coins with you for the next time. And I will go for a drink. They are waiting for me” – he finished in winning manner and headed to the restaurant.

 

Telephone slot-machine meticulously connected us by our numbers. When it was a time for machine to swallow next coin, it made the attempt, clicked, but the wedge was in place and box, taking coin in the wedge as a next one, continued to work.

 

Strange. Five kopecks for two minute conversation was cheap for us. We would afford the bigger amount without any financial problems. But, if there was a chance to give call for free, khalyava, like they say in Russia now, there were no reasons not to do this. Nobody would understood us if we were paying for what can be done without payment. And this was not fraud, we do not swindle somebody. Our cheating doesn’t influence telephone station income or servicemen salary. Everything was state owned. And, as the Communists proclaimed, the state is us. What kind of mutual settlements can be between state and people in the state of people? “Everything around is collective, everything is mine” – the wordings of popular Soviet song stated. Therefore not to pay for ticket in public bus, take small things home from you working place, make something for your houshold during your working time and using company’s equipment and materials, for example, manufacture titanium spade for your kitchen garden – all these were so small things in our reach country, nobody paid attention to this. And nobody had an idea how bad it can be for the society in general. Even now they still can’t overcome the psychological basis of the Soviet society. And it looks that due to unprecedented level of corruption existing now in the new society of the, like Putin formulate it, Russian Sovereign Democracy, they started to develop such attitude at much higher levels than small things for home stuff.

 

Okay, modern Russian corruption is not a subject of this story. Let’s speak about this in other place and at more appropriate conditions. But in the time of my story, now in Lebedin of 1974, if somebody told us that the Soviet Union will collapse in 25 years by peaceful way, we would suggest that this somebody is crazy. The empire looked immortal.

 

Next morning we went to the places of our service. The regiment headquarters and some of auxiliary departments were situated in the central cantonment and residential area. But the major forces, twelve of missile batteries, were dispersed through three battalions that were scattered in nearby pine forests. Gena’s place was in the first battalion, Kuzya and I were headed to the third one.  Now, starting from today, every morning we have to embark PAZik, small stinky bus, together with other officers and warrant officers. Sits were occupied in accordance with the ranks. Majors took sits in the forward rows, captains in the middle, lieutenants and warrant offices in the poop. 


Battalion commander, Major Skripka, from the fist sight understood that we are his new draft:

 

“Come in, go to the rear part, take sits there.”

 

“Yes, sir!” – Kuzya showed off dashingly.

 

“Newcomers?” – asked big rosy-cheeked warrant officer.

 

“Yes, we are” – we answered together as one man and flopped on the sits along rear bus wall.

 

Our battalion was situated in the distance of approximately twenty kilometers from the central cantonment. The road lied through the downtown. Near central bus station we took the highway that led to Sumy, where in twenty minutes after passing the monument to Soviet warriors killed in the WWII in this place we turned right on the T-type intersection to the narrow road protected by the “brick”, “DO NOT ENTER”, sign. Then “RESTRICTED AREA” sing appeared on the right. In one kilometer further we were stopped near checkpoint: bared wire fence, gate and small building with the door and window. Soldier opened the gate and we entered battalion territory.

 

Major Usenko, battalion headquarters commander, received us in his study:

 

“Okay, you are from Kuibyshev, as I know?” – he started acquaintance – “ Just after graduation from the aviation institute! Nice! Tell me, please, what did happen with the Tu-144 in La Burge? How was it possible that they crashed the airplane?”

 

We were taken aback a little.

 

“Well, there was overload higher than ultimate” – I started to tell the story of our pre-serial airplane tragic loss at famous air show, in the sight of many thousands of spectators in 1973.

 

“Pilot decided to repeat Concord’s stance with runway touch and taking off for the next circle” – Kuzya continued – “put stirring levers a little bit off, near stalled, machine dived, ground is very close, he pulled it out the way that spars collapsed.”

 

Major tried to ask us more details. But we avoided his questions, because we do not know the details ourselves. Official version of the crash reason was a pilot’s mistake. But irreversible busters were mentioned in many unofficial conversations. It looks like the system was not designed proper way and could lead to stall. Well balanced airplane was not in spin but in dive as a result of this. The system didn’t allow pulling out from the dive immediately, but after some delay, declined stirring surfaces to big angles, what led to overload and wing structure collapsing.

 

“Let’s meet one day and continue this conversation.” – Major Usenko proposed.

 

“Okay.” – what else could we reply.

 

Then we were introduced to our batteries commanders: Kuzya to Major Pavlov, head of the ninth one, and I to Major Novichenok, head of the eleventh. My commander made good impression to me: imposing red head broad face man, with big mouth, kind smile and Volga region accent. He readdressed me to the sector’s commander, Captain Leonov, who, in his turn, sent me to Lieutenant Vitaly Zaborny. Vitaly was Ukrainian guy from Kharkov city, and, like me, two-year enlisted officer.

 

Battery consisted of four sections. The first was mechanical one, provided missile installation on the launch table and aiming. The second, engine one, were responsible for preparation of engine and compressed gases systems. Mine, the third section, was electrical. Our systems were electrical and control, starting with the reserve power generators and up to system of flight stabilization. The fourth one, refuelers, operated with both of dangerous components: nitride acid and nonsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine liquids, their tanks and pumps, spill neutralization systems included. Warheads were maintained by special department, separated from us.

 

After short information exchange of the “where are you from” type, Vitaly told me what is needed to be prepared for exam and authorization for the combat duties.

 

“You will be the 302 number and responsible for control system” – he announced – “But I will continue to work as 303 and operate refuel system and thermo-cover.”

 

There were three officer positions in the third section: the section head and two chief operators. Every position had its number. Vitaly, as first came, made his choice first and took what he liked more, number 303. For me he left 302, responsibility to input so called scheme of launch readiness, the most complicated (as it was believed) portion of operators activity where you have to think, at least a little. The responsibilities of the 303 were refueling process control and service of mouse-traps. Yes, mouse-traps installation and charging and baiting them with cheese, not only in our apparatus rooms, but in the missile storage, were the responsibility on the 303 numbers. There was a story that once upon a time mice ate rocket from inside. It looks like truth, because they told in the story that mice ate not metal parts but wire insulations only. And this was enough to spoil rocket. From those times our section was responsible for struggle with these small natural terrorists.

 

Kuzya and I joined our efforts in preparation to the exam. There were no other duties for us during these days. Every morning we visited classified library, took special suitcase with secret books and albums and went to some quiet place inside division. We preferred to stay out of door. The best place was a round lake in the middle of the forest behind the compressor station. The nature looked untouched and some kind of fish, minnow I think, were found in the lake. We spent most of the time that was given us for studying rocket and equipment in this picturesque place.

 

Cross checks were arranged often.

 

“Tell me the sequence of missile preparation for launch from permanent readiness state.” – Kuzya started.

 

“Refuelers attach missile trolley to the neutralization truck and, together with other free numbers from different departments, transport missile to the launch pad and uncover it. I, in this time, run to the command center, take launch key and run, even faster, to control rooms, check how diesel-generators are working, switch on motor-generators, uncover control posts in my room” – I replied.

 

“And what is happening then?” – asked Kuzya.

 

“While they aim the rocket and refuel it, I train integrators. Then time to give electricity aboard comes. By this command I install launch key into the hole that is in the middle on the main post.”

 

“And what are you doing then?”

 

“I attach major electrical buses to the ground power line, switch relay of the valve for the compressed air goes to the gyroscopes suspension, wait while gyroscopes rotate and free  gyroscope platform from the fixation rods, get data for integrators, put timer, start the clocks and the process of integrators charging. Then time to break pyro-membranes comes. I press the button and wait while fuel components fill pumps. What else? Control system is ready for launch.”

 

“And?” – Kuzya continued to ask.

 

“And then, foamy battery commander runs into my room crying: “Give me the key! Dial code on the blocking box!” Well, I pull out my key from the hole. Check, if everything is okay on my board, and give the key to commander. He puts the key into his small post, waits while I finish dialing the code, gives call to the command center, tells them: “The eleventh battery is ready!” They reply: “Start!” He shouts it out loud: “Start!””

 

“And what?”

 

“I press the START button on my box and look into the window very attentively, just do not miss moment when the missile flies away” – I finished.

 

“And do you remember like last fall we were sailing our yowl is storm weather?” – Kuzya changed the subject cardinally.

 

We began to discuss the details of this dangerous voyage. It was my only time in the life when I put yawl hydroplaning. It was close to 9 in Beaufort Wind Rate table. Therefore I took Rozhdestvenskaya Vologka, narrow and quiet pass parallel to Volga, initially. But in Polyana Frunze area we had to go out and cross the river in quarter wind. It happened that a meter plus waves elevated boat and when the boat was suspended with fore above the water I started to come into the wind. Yawl sets up on the redans that were formed by its board planks and started gliding, accelerating ahead.

 

It was very dangerous turn on the opposite side higher than Polyana Frunze mooring barge near Studeny Gully. It’s so good that main sail has no boom. I free all sheets, but the hit of the opening sail was very strong even with this measure. We laded out water a little. But it was okay, because in worse situation we could break the mast even. Such things happened before. Finally, we reached wind shadow area of Falcon Mountains and found quiet bay at the Greenish Island for mooring and night staying.

 

Two weeks of our preparation flew away very fast. The exam was simple. All of us demonstrated abilities to work with the equipment during launch preparation processes. The exam jury decided that we are ready to start our services. And in two days we got an official order from Army Headquarters that we are approved for battle duties.

 

 

6. Workday routines and holidays fun

In this chapter you will get some ideas of how Soviet statutory holidays looked like, what does it mean to be on duty in permanent combat readiness, what thoughts could visit your head while looking at nuclear warhead from the hill of control room bunker, what we drank and ate at the party in the honor of the war simulation end, and many more, such as dreams about own car or how communist propaganda was rubbed in, or even how Caribbean Crisis changed demography of Lebedin town.

 

We went through adaptation to the town and regiment fast, found new friends and getting acquainted with the neighbors. First of all we became close to the dwellers of officer hostel.

 

Approximately seventy percent of hostel inhabitants were two-year military servants, the officers that were conscripted for the compulsory military service after graduation from civil universities but obtained not only civil education and degree but military education and rank too. Most of Soviet universities had military chairs and students got military training during the years of their study with final graduation exams on military disciplines, training in military camp and oath taking.

 

Our new friends were guys from Khahrkov: Vitaly Zaborny (my first Lebedin instructor), Tolya Ostapenko, Volodya Nikolenko; from Moscow: Volodya Shorokhov; from Sevastopol: Slava Potudin, Volodya Glebov. And many more, not mentioned now, but maybe will be met later, in next episode, for example.

 

The circle of our new acquaintances was expanding permanently. Once I washed my green military socks in the water-stand in hostel’s washing room. I had a big piece of household soap brought from Poltava and rubbed cotton stuff with it. 

 

“Are you poor?” – I heard unknown for me voice behind.

 

I turned my head and saw that the question belongs to the lad in sport-suite that exited from the toilet booth pulling up his pants.

 

“Why?” – I wondered.

 

“Can’t you afford yourself to buy new one?” – he continued.

 

“What new?” – I did not understand.

 

“Socks! Just socks! Why do you wash them? You can buy new one!”

 

Finally, I understood what he was talking.

 

“Yes, I can. This is matter of habit. And they are new; it’s a pity to through them away.”

 

He stretched out hand:

 

“My name is Sergey. I am the head of geodesic service. And you are newcomer?”

 

“Yes, I am two-year servants” – I explained, understanding that he is a regular battle officer.

 

In general we, two-year servants with civil engineering degrees, were not different from graduates of military schools. We had same officer authorities and responsibilities. But regular 25-year servants even had some envy related to our short term staying in army environment without any career rush and to our freedom and independence as a result of this. Therefore my “two-year servant” sounded as some kind of privilege I have above him, who has to wear shoulder-belt during 25 years at least.

 

“Where are you from?” – next question was in the air.

 

“From Kuibyshev, I am Samarian.”

 

“And I am from St. Petersburg” – he replied with dignity.


Conversation started. I learned lots of new information about Earth coordinate system and links of our launch pad to the state geodetic net. Sergey even told a little about positioning with the help of stars and sun. After this we jumped to navigation and sailing issues. I proposed to continue our discussion in the buffet. 

We drank practically every day. At dinner in military township buffet or in Lebedin restaurant two bottles of beer were a usual doze of alcohol. Very often 100 milliliters of vodka (standard drink) were part of our dinner ration. And this didn’t attract somebody’s attention as dangerous behavior because everybody behaves this way. This was a universal norm established in the society. We didn’t know yet what alcohol addiction is and in the morning we went to our places of service had no desire to take a drink “the morning-after” even after hard drinking the day before.

Good, so called “flight norm”, breakfast awaited us in the officer canteen on the positions. The meal was really good: meat, fish, cheese, butter, vegetables and fruits were well balanced in our breakfasts, lunches and dinner during our battle duties. And refuelers had even afternoon snacks to support their resistance against dangerous environment they were working in.

 

The working day started with battalion falling in on the central plaza in living area. It was not time consuming procedure. Necessary announcement were usually done and sub-units marched to the places of their training in accordance with the schedule.

 

The battalion territory consisted of battle zone with launch pads and warhead depot, and living zone, where headquarters, officer’s hostel, barracks, two canteens, club, library, gym, electrical power station, garage and auxiliary farm were situated. Old long hut, type of casern, with classes for electrical and engine specialists training was situated here too. There were new training facilities in the battle zone with classes for all specialties, but commander of my department, Captain Leonov, chose this hut as a quite place far from boss’s eyes. At least he explained me it this way later when we made more close acquaintance.

 

“Okay, if you are willing to be a “302”, please, take care of this stand” – he told me and showed to the spacious hall in the end of the hut, with wall covered by electrical schemes of missile control system and ground equipment.

 

 “Yes, comrade Captain! I will take care on this stand!” – I replied with not peculiar for me enthusiasm. In general, military style in communication was not common for two year service officers. Captain even winced, looked at me as I was an idiot and moved to the neighbor cubical where the group of soldiers studied gyroscopes. Starting from this moment I conversed with him by normal civil language, far from military format.

 

The stand simulated all operations of the missile control system preparation for launch. Real equipment taken from rocket instrument bay was installed on special platform. The platform, as a missile itself, had contacts and connections to the ground equipment. Outside the hut, in small booth, motor-generator was placed. Electrical current on the missile board was 400 hertz. Control panels, consoles were placed near platform. All equipment, cables and contacts were covered with half centimeter of dense dust. It was obvious that during several years the stand wasn’t used in practice.


I begun to make it clear, what is connected to what and how power and signals are transferring. It was understood soon that the stand was created by amateurs, who were big enthusiasts of rocket arms. The main idea was to give possibility to make all operations for missile launch preparation and see electrical scheme functioning “alive” on the hut’s walls. The guys really were not professionals and put some peaces of equipment simply on the wooden floor, or on the school desks. Wiring was not arranged in casings and all contacts were insulated by blue plastic glue bands. 

 

“Well…” – I thought – “It will take me two years exactly.”
 
During lunch time, coming out from the canteen, Kuzya and I stopped near flower bed looking at tulips in blossom.

 

“Enjoying the life? Of course you are newcomers.”

 

We turned back and see Captain Kulick, the head of the administration office, who addressed to us. He was small, dark-haired, round, with strong Ukrainian accent, very resembling one of the famous Odessa humorists.

 

“You are not married yet?” – He continued – “And do not marry.”

 

“Why?” – Kuzya and I asked him simultaneously.

 

Enjoy the life while you are young” – Kulik, who was in his late thirties, replied – “I would never married, if there was no war. Yes, …, many in Lebedin would not marry, if not this fucking Caribbean crisis.”

 

 We understood nothing and looked at him with curiosity. He liked the effect of his speech.

 

“Have you ever heard something about Anadyr operation?” – He started his story – “Yes, it was. All of us, lieutenants, were young and clever, like you now, scheme of missile control knew by heart, walked in Lebedin parks by nights when not on service. Girls were very good in that time, real Ukrainians girls. They were friendly to us. And, one day, commander announced that we have to go, to fight Americans! Only three days were given to prepare the equipment for transportation. What to do? We have only one life. And all of us decided to use a chance and marry while we are alive yet. It was the last chance to have your own wedding party. What a festive these three days were! Only in Odessa during embarkation we came to life. Sailing, American fighters are diving to the ship, American submarines and battle ships prowl around. But we are on the deck, all in civil hats, smoking, tune ourselves for the war. Finally, Cuba is in view! And suddenly Captain got an order to return home. Sailing back. Odessa again, loading to train. Two days by railway and we see Lebedin’s platform and our wives waiving by their handkerchiefs. This is like our matrimonial life started. And we still live with this. No. Do not marry”.

 

“Okay, we will not” – Kuzya promised – “But people say that our complexes were installed in Cuba?”

 

“Yes, the 8K63s were sent earlier and installed there. Our neighbors from Akhtyrka several months stayed in Cuba. Nice time. Colonel Stroy was their commander. It wasn’t easy life there and he swore often: What for you arrived here! To fuck Cuban girls or support cubical revolution?!”

 

There were twenty people in the electrical department: chief in captain rank, two lieutenants in senior operator positions, warrant officer, four sergeants and twelve privates. Sergeants and soldiers were conscripted from different Soviet Republics. We had representatives from Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan (one per republic), two persons from West Ukraine, three ones from Eastern Ukraine, others from different cities of Russian Federation. Yes, from cities, not from the rural areas, because schools in cities are better and complicated machinery of strategic missile regiments required good educated graduates from urban high schools.

 

In the afternoon I came into control system classroom accompanying by two soldiers from my department. I had an intention to make some order in what I’d seen in the morning.

 

We started to clean equipment, vacuum dust, check cables and contacts. In thirty minutes everything was ready for the first test. I put on the external power knife-switch, took on motor-generators. All lights on the stand and on the wall-schemes showed that everything is OK. I put start-key into the hole and pushed it inside. This connects missile board equipment to ground power supply line. And again I saw that everything works in accordance with the manual and reflected on the wall-scheme proper way. Only several burned out lamps have to be replaced. I continued operations for launch preparation. Switching K1 key gives air and electrical power for gyroscopes and their motors. Again, all was perfect. Step by step I got to the end of operations and finished with pyro-membranes tearing, then took the key out of the hole and looked attentively at the stand’s lights. Yes, simulator showed missile readiness for launch. Everything worked correct way! Amazing! What a reliable equipment we have. Several years all these stuff was abandoned, not worked, and not serviced. But golden contacts do not oxidize. Hurray! We have simulator working!

 

May Day holidays happened suddenly. There was an invitation for all of us, newcomers, to take part in so called “little blue light” party, local staging of the popular Soviet TV show, arranged in the regiment club. Four of us, Slava Potudin, Gena, Kuzya and me paid ten rubles each and ordered a table in club’s restaurant. The decision was made to wear parade uniform. Couple of hours were spent for putting stars and attaching shoulder-straps, ironing white shirts. Azure military jackets were decorated by KuAI academic badges and Guards signs. We chose combatant variant of parade uniform, what means riding-breeches, shiny black high boots and shoulder-belts. White shirts, black ties, blue peaked caps, golden shoulder straps and belts, azure jackets and breeches, shiny boxcalf high boots, what a show it was!

 

Tables in the club were already served when we arrived. There was standard set of drinks and dishes: one bottle of Soviet Champagne, one bottle of Stolichnaya Vodka, one bottle of Crimea Port, meat salad, vegetable salad, cold cuts, lemonade and mineral water. Main course, beefsteak and mush potato planned to be brought later.

 

We were the only lieutenants in the hall. Most of the publics were majors, captains and their wives and girlfriends. Average age was around thirty. People didn’t waste their time, bottles were opened and general spirit was high enough by our arrival. In thirty minutes amateur military musician band took the stage and popular Soviet songs hit our ears.


Chief Engineer of our regiment, Major Dubinin, was in a very good and high mood. He took off his jacket and climbed the stage. The piece of white shirt protruded off from the fly of his trousers. Nobody could stop him and even didn’t try to do this. I felt myself not very comfortable. It was shameful a little for this Major and his white shirt looking through the fly. Major took the mike from the singer in Sergeant Rank:

 

“Let us Thrushes!”  - Major ordered and started – “Have you heard like thrushes sing...”


Major had good ear. He sang loud and very confidently. Musicians tuned to him without problem.

 

“These thrushes, magicians thrushes, lovely forest singers…” continued Major.

 

Dance started. Not only I felt myself uncomfortable. We didn’t know what to do. Soon, Kuzya proposed to finish with the food and change the place for something better with normal music. Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Wings, Webber with his Jesus Christ Superstar – this was a kind of music we were listening in that time. Records of Vysotcky, Okudghava were in our tape-recorders too. And we liked to listen Vertinsky sometime.

 

After finishing vodka and salads we exited club. May evening smelled sweet. Town sank in lilac bushes, which started to blossom. We changed the uniform for civil clothes in our hostel and went to the lake, taking tape-recorder with us. But the evening was nice enough with its silence and we didn’t switch on our portable sound-box. Good walk and interesting conversation on different subjects ventilated our brains from alcohol evaporations fast.


On Monday morning Major Novichenok announced to all battery officers that tomorrow we will make war. This means that the full scale complex drill will take place. The combat readiness for the battery will be changed and we still will be the permanent readiness, but with delayed schedule as training rocket used occupying launch pad facilities. It takes time to clean it away before installation of real one.

 

As it was anticipated on Tuesday morning, just several minutes after breakfast, the battle alarm signal was sounded for out battery only. Vitalik Zaborny and I ran to the launch position from officer hostel. I took the start key from division command post and went to my place in apparatus room. There I put on rubber-lead overalls, rubber boots, gloves. Then I visited diesel station, checked how Sergeant Makarevich started engine. I switched on motor-generators myself, returned back to my room and took off covers from all stands. The command to change permanent readiness into advanced one was heard via loudspeakers. In this state of readiness the rocket is still horizontal on the trailer, but warhead is attached. Guys from the first department together with warhead team made this fast and we stayed in this position approximately three hours. Master Sergeant Moroz delivered the lunch. We ate it in two shifts. Nothing was happening and it became dull and sleepy. But the command to change readiness from advanced to the full or complete one sounded. It took us something like two hours to put rocket on the launch table, fill it up and aim. The power was not delivered on the board in this state of readiness. We could stay this way up to month. Therefore, to keep nuclear charge in proper temperature condition, special thermo-cover was used. Our department Vitaly Zaborny’s team was responsible for this.

 

But my place was in apparatus room on the big leather sofa in the corner. The book of pocket format was with me. That time I read Voenizdat (Military Publishing Company) almanac in English. “Fall out for laugh” was the title. The humoristic stories collected from different American papers and magazines were assembled in this book. For me some of the stories looked not funny at all. For example, during aero-show the pilot’s wife got a question: “Are you worried for your husband doing stances?” And got the answer: “Yes, a little bit, he has bad habit to keep change in his pockets.” Our military humor makes more laughs, something like “The boots have to be shined in the evening to be put on the fresh head next morning.”

 

“German”, warhead operator in the captain rank, ran into the room. The warhead specialists had name “Germans” since the time when they were artificially isolated from other personnel and no communication with other regiment officers was allowed for them. The regulation of their life was very strict, but compensation was much better and salaries higher too. During Detante time some changes happened and the regulation softened. Now authority allowed them to speak with other common people freely.

 

In accordance with instruction I uncovered not only my stands but his narrow post too. Warhead device had the three position switch and one button.

 

I proposed him a chair, moving it closer to his post:

 

“Try to be accurate, do not miss” – I told him with obvious sarcasm pointing my finger to the switch.

 

“This is you who have to be accurate. Finished aiming?” – he supported my joke.

 

Captains gave call to division command post and got the task. He put switch into middle position and pressed the button. Then he looked at post’s lights and reported that warhead is ready for the mission. I still do not know what he was doing. Maybe he prescribed type of explosion, something like air, ground or underground? Or something else?

 

Captain was in his early forties. He stayed in the apparatus room too. Of course he was so many years in this service, he knew and saw everything and he looked like an old man for me.

 

“I’ll have a nap a little. This will last all night. Wake me up, please, when they whistle” – he asked me and laid lay on the sofa in all this rubber overalls.

 

“Okay” – I replied.

 

In full readiness position the 302 number, senior operator of electrical department, has to be in the apparatus room permanently. Vitaly Zaborny changed me in this place. I was going outside for the fresh air. The picture of my walk is still clear in my memory. The path from the underground shelter led to the launch pad. The cutting was made in the pine forest just from embrasure to the start table what allows watching the situation on the pad from apparatus room. But I made detour, went to birch tree grove and approached launch pad from opposite side.

 

The missile, like a beauty, was staying on the launch table. The warhead covered by silver thermo-protection dress shined in the sun beams. Mounter track was driven off into its shelter. The lid of pneumo-stand was opened and the Sergeant on duty ready to start delivering of compressed gases into the rocket. Not far from this place the warhead thermo-cover dissent cable was tied to the pine tree trunk. Control rope that is used for lock release was tied to the neighbor tree. Private Simonyan from my department was on duty here. By the command Simonyan will pull the control rope and thermo-cover with specific sound would slide down.

 

From this place I turn to electrical department dug-out where thermo-cover was kept in permanent position and prepared to be installed. Sergeants and privates had rest, sitting on the floor. Captain Leonov stretched the fishing net between two young pines not far from the entrance to this dug-out. The shuttle and thread skein were in his hands. He is inveterate fisherman. It looked like he uses the opportunity and current situation is very appropriate time for some repair of his fishing equipment.

I continued my walk. Refueler’s shelters were next. On the handmade table that was installed between oxygen and fuel depots the domino match was happening. The players were the heads of the first, the second and the fourth departments together with batteries deputy chief. Senior operators were staying by, watching the game and waiting their time to replace the lost pair.

 

“Fish” – I hear from the place – “Let’s count.”

 

I returned to my shelter, but didn’t enter it. Instead I climbed up by its grassy slope to the top. Very nice view to the rocket, all launch pad and forest around was opened. I lied down on my back in the grass and looked in the sky first, then to the pine tree’s apexes that were waiving in a light wind.
 

The sun was going to the horizon. Thin clouds were running above. May. Idyll. I started to think what kind of feelings I would have if real missile with real warhead was installed on the launch table now. This crazy thought started to bother me seriously. One and have megaton of nuke, what is this? What will be with Gibraltar if this warhead blasts there? The sequence of impacts: electromagnetic emanation, light flash, neutron radiation, explosive wave, radioactive contamination were coming to the surface of my memory. No, all these things can’t be real. And, if similar warhead would fly here? Okay, enough! I was turning on the side and looked at the launch pad again. All these military equipment were like toys. And my relation to this stuff was not real, like to toys, not to deadly things. Nobody here realized how fatal this weapon is. I turned these thoughts out and switched my memory to Samara. The friends are now somewhere on Volga not far from hydropower station dam, maybe in Sun Glade, on the island. Usually in these days we were finishing our “round-the-world” trip, popular circle route trip in Samara bend which Volga makes around Ghiguly Mountains.

 

In the evening several commands were transferred to us from the battalion command center. The aim was changed and we re-aimed rocket. The distance was changed too, a little bit longer, and we refueled rocket as a result. The “Start” command arrived in the very early morning, sometime around 3 am. It took me only twenty minutes to prepare control system for launch. Battery’s commander came to my apparatus room in advance. I gave him start key and dialed code on the blocking devise.

 

“Start!” – loud voice of commander came to my ears.

 

“Yes, Sir!” – I replied and we simultaneously pressed the start buttons on our panels. The major job was done.

 

Now it’s time for operations to return battery into permanent readiness position. It means that training missile has to be dismantled and transported to its spot, all pipes and cables disassembled and stocked at their storage places, stands covered and so on. The soldiers under control of the officers on duty, two of them usually, were doing this. Other officers, free of rubber protective coveralls, gathered in the battery’s command center. There was room for everybody. The commander opened safe and took out big ten liter bottle filled in half by pure spirits. Master Sergeant Moroz brought several mugs, kettle with cold boiled water, big tray filled with salted pork fat cuts (famous Ukrainian salo), green onion and garlic. Lots of bread still left after supper and white and brown loaf were kept in big pot placed on the table.


Major Novichenok poured out mugs himself. Mugs were taken in accordance with the ranks: battery’s commander in deputy together with department’s chiefs were the first, lieutenants and warrant officers had the second chance. Everybody diluted the spirit with water himself. The kettle was passing from hands to hands. Only Kolya Vaskovets, the warrant officer from engine department, refused to do this:

 

“No, I prefer to drink it without water. No need to spoil good stuff. It would be great if you add a little bit more spirit in my mug instead of water, comrade Major” – He is addressing to Novichenok.

 

Kolya was big rosy-cheeked cheerful Ukrainian boy. Novichenok liked him and added some spirit into his mug, saying lazy way:

 

“Completed shooting for today. Let us, do not delay.”


I drank this slightly warm liquid that had strong vodka smell and ugly taste. Took a bite of bread with salo and onion. This is a classic! Internal warm started to glide from my stomach into chest and, by veins into arms, lags, and head. Novichenok poured out the second portions and hided the bottle into the safe back. There was no one common subject for discussion. Idle talk. At 4 am the bus picked us from the battalion. Something like at five I went to bed. Next day we had to go for a work only after lunch.
 
On Friday I was going on watch to my first combat duty. In 4 pm all personnel of the battalion were assuming formation on the parade ground. The rostrum platform stays in the center. The platform was decorated by the USSR coat of arms. The Soviet flag fluttered on the flagstaff. The battalion commander and commanders of both duty shifts (old and new one) were on the rostrum. Major Skripka, battalion commander, was reading the order and finished it with the words: “Go to take combat duty!” Four batteries and company of electrical fences and mining are marching by rostrum and go out from battle zone into dwelling one. Most of the officers took buses and headed home, but those that went on combat duty, were staying in territory for a week now: two of them for every battery. The battery personnel, soldiers and sergeants were divided in two parts and only one part was officially on the combat duty and had no chance to leave the territory of the batalion.

 

This time I was on duty together with the deputy battery commander, Captain Klimov, very calm and pleasant person. He instructed me, absolutely civilian person, without any pressure, advising how to behave in army conditions, which were very specific and even alien to me yet.  

 

“Do not take Skripka’s swearing and yell so close” – he told me, having in mind the incident happened three days ago, when during our battery marching by Skripka in solute I didn’t pull the toe. Skripka established by guilt, stopped battery and started to yell:

 

“Lieutenant! Why you do not pull the toe?!”

 

“But I am not in high boots. I thought that in ordinary shoes …”

 

“What is the difference?! Where the hell they trained you marching!”

 

Frankly speaking I forgot about this incident, and Skripka’s escapade. But Captain remembered.

 

“Okay” – I replied – “Will try”.

 

After dinner soldiers had a free time what gave me a chance to leave barrack and go to my room in the hostel not far from the officer canteen. There I spent some time writing letters to my friends in Kuibyshev. After this I went out on the sport playground, took the ball and started to through it into the basket. In other corner the guy in boxer gloves punched the pear-shaped bag. In couple of minutes he stopped, came to me and started conversation by introducing himself:

 

“Valera Antamonov, the head of provision supply department.”

 

“Slava, two-year officer in draft from Kuibyshev.” – I replied.

 

Valera was interesting guy. As I learned later, he was from Kuibyshev, even from Bezymyanka, its industrial area, too. Valera graduated from the military school of rear in Volks and had a very purposeful character. He had a dream to buy a car, Moskvich-2140 particularly. Therefore after arriving to the place of his service Valera started to save money and, for doing this effectively, he decided to live in battalion hostel. If we paid 5 rubles per month for our room in Lebedin hostel, Valera paid nothing. And additionally to this, all his meal was free for him too, because both canteen (officer’s and soldier’s) were under his supervision. The sport suit was the only civilian cloth he had. It means that he didn’t spend money for his cloths too. Furniture in the hostel was free. And no need for transportation. Even weekends he spent in the battalion, behind the fence of barbed wire. I think that he could collect needed amount of money for Moskvich during two or three years. And the second Valera’s dream, after possession of Moskvich, was related to the first one. He  dreamed about car trip to Crimea by this vehicle. But not simply drive there. Initially he planned to go to Kharkov and, as he told me, hook the girl for the trip. Valera had very strong belief that with Moskvich he will have no problems with girls. During his conversation about this he often repeated:

 

“I, myself, in Moskvich! Nobody will refuse to go with me to Crimea for couple of weeks!”

 

This was strange and unexplainable for me. I even didn’t dream about my own car. There were many reasons why.  The main of them was the reason that a car never was an absolutely necessary thing for life in the USSR. No one of my friends and relatives had a car. And I never thought about car as something what I really need, to attract gears particularly. Our relations with the opposite sex were based on common interests in studying and active ways of entertainments, sailing for example.

 

“Are you acquainted at least with one of these future student girl-travelers?”

 

“Not yet. First I buy the car and then go to Kharkov for them” – Valera answered my question with high lever of confidence.

 

I didn’t ask him about details, how he plans to do this.

 

During the duty I had a chance to make more close acquaintance with sergeants and soldiers of my department. Vitya Motorin from Kurgan told me about his city with many interesting details. I was born in Kurgan and spent my childhood in Ikovka, which is situated in Kurgan oblast. Vitya visited Ikovka many times, what gave us a subject for discussions. Staff Sergeant, Gena Stepanov, was ready to finish his military service coming fall. He sheared his plans to enter Volgograd Polytechnic Institute and asked me about student life in Kuibyshev Aviation Institute. All guys were opened and spoke about their homes, families and plans for near future civil life easily.

 

Every night this week I took part in evening roll-call. After consuming regular piece of Soviet propaganda by watching mandatory for the staff TV-program “Vremya”, all batteries assumed formations on the parade ground and master-sergeants checked the staff in accordance with the lists. The official evening twenty minute walk took place after this. The walk was in formation and was accompanied with the marching songs. This is how in spring May  night I was marching together with the battery and tried to support their out of tune singing with my voice:

 

“Color is waiving. Commanders are ahead.

Soldiers! Go, go! And for you, my dear, we have a field post.

Adieu! Trumpet is calling! Soldiers! Go! Go!”

 

In the morning I was in the barrack before reveille, took part in morning exercises with my battery staff. After this soldiers went for breakfast to their canteen and officers on duty to another one. Buses with other officers arrived during breakfast time. After meal all of us assumed formation for morning mounting, getting orders and starting new working day.

 

The week passed rapidly. I didn’t understand or feel some kind of proud that I am in the trenches of the cold war against world imperialism. The main difference with other days was my day and night presence in the battalion territory, in the distance of maximum twenty minutes walk to the launch pad. The idea of permanent battle duty was simple: in case of real order for launch the personnel on duty have to be in place and start to work in twenty minutes after signal. Other people have to arrive later if possible and support duty forces.

 

On Friday afternoon, at 4:30 pm I finished my duty, changed my uniform for civil clothes: jeans, running shoes, t-shirt and light coat. Not waiting the bus I went through check-point and headed to the Lebedin-Sumy road through the forest. Two days off belonged to me and I planned to spend them in Poltava.

 

 

7. Visit to Poltava

In this chapter you will know a little bit more about Russian and Ukrainian common people relations and, maybe, get a hint of why they are more complicated today; interesting facts of the Soviet school educative process of Gulag’s technique will be revealed; and the scene of playing soccer with elephant in Crimea just is here too.

 

When I came out of the forest on the road the first thing I had seen was a cloud of dust on the Milkhailovka hill slope. Shabby truck, ZiL-130, created this cloud, was approaching my place very fast taking between pits on the regional road. I put on my hand and stepped a little bit on the road to attract driver’s attention. He braked the truck and without questions invited me:

 

“Climb in.”

 

“Will you give me a lift to Lebedin for fifty-kopeck piece? – I asked him.

 

“I have no need in your fifty-kopeck. Let’s have a talk better.” – Not very sober driver replied.

 

“What about?” – I started our conversation, climbing into truck cab.

 

“What are you doing in the forest?”

 

“Fight with Americans. Shoot them.” – I was trying to surprise him with my reply – “Not very serious way, yet. Mostly training.”

 

“Rocketeer. Okay. No purpose for this. We have enough scum here. It would be good to catch and kill them first.” – driver continued.

 

We were passing by the burial place with wooden monument to the falling Soviet military and partisans that were killed during the Great Patriotic War (the way we called the WWII in the Soviet Union).

 

“Look!” – driver nodded his head in monument direction – “Do you know that betrayers are still alive, former fascists policemen are still fattening in our region?”

 

“Yes, I heard about this.” – I supported the subject trying to find some kind of explanation – “Rural population subjected to Stalin's collectivization, offended by local communists in thirties, just only several years before the war.”

 

“Yes, kulaks, rich peasant proprietors, exploiting laborers. I hate them.” – continued driver.

 

In this way, discussing sneaky-treacherous behavior of local population, which driver, Nickolay, who arrived here from Voronegh, didn’t like at all, we arrived to the city and pulled up at café near bus terminal.

 

“Let’s go and drink. I am buying.” – Nickolay proposed.

 

“Let’s go. But I will pay myself for my drink.” – I warned him.

 

Nikolay ordered 100 milligram of vodka, one pint of local beer and belyash, Russian meat pie. Such combination of vodka and beer was popular and had a name “drink with trailer”.

 

I was examining the bottles of dry grape wines that they had on shelve: Rkatsetelly, Aligote, Fetyaska, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling. The salesgirl was surprised by my indecision in selection. The most popular wine in this shop was “White Strong”, what is “Bilo Mitsne” in Ukrainian, or “Biomitsin” as locals called it.

 

“Is this all you have?” – I continued to surprise her – “Do you have something else?”

 

“Yes, we have” – she replied with pleasure and started to put out from under the counter bottles with Crimean port, Sherry and Madera bottling in Massandra, famous Crimea winery.

 

“May be you have Red Muscat too?” – I started to jeer a little.

 

“No, not yet. But we can order it” – the salesgirl kept the mark of her shop.

 

“Okay, one glass of Riesling, perhaps.” – I made conclusion – “And one chocolate candy, please.”

 

My bus “Lebedin-Gadyach” is leaving terminal in 15 minutes only. There is some time to continue our conversation and discuss national relations of khokhols (offensive Russian nickname of Ukrainians) and katsaps (similar Ukrainian nickname for Russians), the problem, which I never experienced personally and never understood. Frankly speaking, there were no big difference between Russians and Ukrainians for me at all, at list for those Ukrainians whom I knew in Poltava. Yes, the language is a little bit different, but not much, some kind of Southern dialect. The problem existed, if it really existed in that time at all, only in the Western part of Ukraine, on the former lands of Poland and Austro-Hungarian Empire, like in Lvov and Transcarpathia that were occupied by Soviets in 1939. And I didn’t like this discussion and finished it sharply:

 

“Okay, it’s time to go. Be careful behind the wheel.” – I said goodbye to Nickolay.

 

“Will be. Have a good trip.” – he wished me.

 

Half empty PAZ bus is running along uneven road. Budylka village was stinking with fermenting potato in local spirit distillery. The alcohol manufacturing is going well. We drove dodging by country sandy tracks and reached Gadyach-Poltava highway in approximately one hour. The distance from this place to Gadyach is something like ten kilometers, and I asked driver to drop me off here, knowing that Gadyach-Poltava bus started now from Gadyach terminal.

 

I was waiting this bus staying on the side of the road. The GAZ-51 truck from the nearest collective farm went by. I was not trying to stop it, knowing that it is commuting locally. Calm and quiet. Friday night.  Nobody was in a hurry. I saw LAZ bus from afar, put my bright yellow travel bag on the road side and started to wave my arms in advance. Driver stopped the bus, opened forward door.

 

“Where are you heading?” – was the question.

 

“Poltava.”

 

“Come in.” – driver proposed with pleasure.

 

I gave him three ruble bill.

 

“Do you need a ticket?”

 

“No.”

 

My negative answer added joy to driver’s mood. All traffic controllers are his friends. He will shear this three rubles giving one to them and leaving two for himself. Couple of such passengers like I am, and a bottle of good vodka is secured for the driver’s weekend.

 

I passed into the bus salon. There was an empty sit above rear wheel. I liked this particular place, which was considered like not very comfortable as you have to place your foot above the floor on the wheel fairing. But you were sitting higher than others and had a good look not only in the nearest window on the side but to all other windows including windshield.

 

The LAZ was running fast on the good asphalt road, which goes between fields and gardens. White cottages of daub and wattle could be seen sometime on the right, sometime on the left. Ponds, willows above the water, rows of pyramidal poplars that divide fields, these were the pictures that still sit in my memory.

 

We turned from the highway to Oposhnya. The streets of this small country township were decorated by cherries and plums in blossom. Drupes are peculiarity of this region. The best plums around are Oposhnya’s ones. We reached bus terminal. The twenty minutes stop was announced. I entered terminal yard that was surrounded by apricots. The blossom gone and the trees had fresh leaves and small ovary. I like these unripe green sour berries with white core which will be the stone soon; get couple of them. The taste of my first spring in Poltava many years ago after arriving there from Siberia filled my mouth.


Dikanka, small green Ukrainian town, was the next stop. Not very steep rise is near the turn from highway. I know this place very good due to my school-time cycling training. Going further to Poltava you could see on the left in the low place the straw roofs, palings with earthen pots on the pickets and white walls of the farm huts. It looked like this is the place where the known events happened in the “Evenings in the Khutor near Dikanka” described by famous Nikolai Gogol. For many years I have a desire to visit this place and check the idea. But there was no appropriate time yet.
 

Then we approached Yakovtsy. The big stone cross that is installed on the grave of Sweden warriors killed in Poltava battle in 1709 is seen from far away. The battle field is around. The redoubts have clearly shaped ramparts. Stella monuments are installed in the middle of every redoubt square yards.


Railway crossing, Octyabrskaya Street, Kievsky terminal – the trip was finished. But not, now I had to use city public transportation. I took trolleybus #1, put 4 kopeks into slot, teared off the ticket, and sat down. Huge chestnut trees, spinning-weaving factory club, Leningradskaya Street were on the way. The circle road around central park and this is my stop, Artillery School. Night Poltava stuns me. Park alleys were lit by lights. Chestnut leaves were big and flower candles were ready to open their blossom soon. Friday, and military students are on the leave. May be this was a reason why so many well-dressed and pretty girls wandered around. Laughs, sounds of music were coming from café opened doors. The smell of heated by day sun city and fresh greenery create peculiar for spring Poltava air mix, which was pleasant and common for many southern Russian cities, nice respirable cocktail.

 

I go by Glory Monument column, which was installed in the park center in 1809 to celebrate 100 anniversary win in Poltava Battle where Sweden were beaten by Russians (this is the way how they explain this monument in Poltava). The golden eagle on the top was brightening by projectors. All buildings around the park were designed by St. Petersburg architects and constructed in the beginning of the nineteenth century. My home is in 200 meter distance from this column. The concrete five store apartment building of Khrushev era was erected by military constructors in the beginning of the sixties of the twentieth century. I go upstairs to the third floor, see my door and press ring button.

 
Mom opens the door. And I heard dad’s voice:

 

“Who is there?”

 

“This is Slavik” – Mom explained with some surprise.

 

“Hi! It’s so good here in Poltava!” – I started to shear my impression – “And it’s so grey and dolefully in Lebedin.”

 

“If you want to take shower, do this now, while we have running water.” – dad interrupted me – “Let’s have a chat later or you will have no chance to refresh yourself.”

 

The running water lower pressure was a general problem in Poltava. The higher floors had water only in the night time, when the pressure increased a little. We were on the third floor and water was available now. I did it quick, soaped myself and managed to wash it off with weak stream from shower.

 

“Okay, let’s tell us how your trip was.” – dad begins conversation.

 

“Wait, Sasha, he has to eat first” – mother interrupted him – “What would you like? We eat cottage cheese and kefir usually at this time. It’s in the fridge.”

 

“Yes, I’d like it. And, please, give me the jam too”.

 

I crumbled rye bread into plate, mixed it with the cottage cheese and currants jam, flooded it with kefir and start to eat this tyurya using big spoon.

 

The pleasant chat with parents and sister had no special subject. Dad asked me about my relations with my commanders. Mother worried about life conditions. Natalia, my sister, would like to know about my friends from Kuibyshev, whom she knew.

 

Next morning I went for a walk. My feet brought me to my school #10 on the cross of Kotlyrevsky and Pushkin streets automatically.

 

“Hi!” – I heard from behind, turned around and saw Vitka Voloshin with whom we were in one class in the middle school.

 

“Hi! How are you doing?”

 

“Great! And you?”

 

“Thank you, I am okay too.”

 

And we started to shear information about our common acquaintances.

 

“Have you seen Igor Zlotoyabko?” – was my first question.

 

“No! And I do not want to see him. Do you remember how he betrayed me?”

 

“It was when you cut wires?” – I specified the subject.

 

“Yes!”

 

 “But you know that Paraska tortured all of us. He was the weakest and told her what happened.”

 

This is a story. Ones, in winter time, when it becomes dark very soon in the afternoon, Vitka cut wires in our classroom lighting system with the purpose to vent lessons. He made this using special crooked scissors. School electrician couldn’t find the cut. Class heading teacher, Praskovia Petrovna, was a person of Stalin era training and practiced Gulag methods of upbringing. On the first night, when at 5 pm it became absolutely dark, all the students were dismissed and went home. But on the second day, when electrical system still wasn’t repaired, she started interrogations. The deputy director study was used for the purpose. The chair was installed in the middle of the dark room and light of the table lamp was directed to the face of the suspect. The examination was a type of the psychological execution.

 

“You know, who did this!” – she made her statement – “All your friends confessed already. If you do not confess we will kick you out of Komsomol! You will never enter any university! Tell me now! Who did make this?!”

 

“I do not know. True, I do not know…” – we babbled in reply.

 

“I know that you know! You are fibber! You are coward! I will write to the Army Political Department! Your dad will have problems! They will fire him from the Army Service!” – that is what she used to scare me and open my mouth.


And so on. The first five examined, including me, managed to survive this pressure and didn’t blub. The sixth yielded. This was Igor. The same evening Vitka’s dad came to school and repaired the wires. He was the Chief Engineer of the locomotive repair plant, big enough boss in Poltava scale. Finally, the conflict between Voloshin and school was resolved some way. Vitka wasn’t punished even.


School education, of course, made impact in our lives, in our psychology in particular. Soviet school had clearly felt smell of concentration camp. Threats, denunciations were a norm. Private opinion was not allowed. I had some problems with this, for example, on the literature lessons. I didn’t show admiration of Leo Tolstoy’s Natasha Rostova in my essays, but, in accordance with the school program, I had to. My literature teacher explained me this and stressed that if I want to have a good mark and enter university without special problem, then following the ideological rules is compulsory for me.

 

“Please, do not deviate from the official literature textbook line, Slava” – was here advice.

 

I finished my conversation with Voloshin and went into known me backyard of the big apartment building where Igor Polukarov lives. The row of sheds where dwellers of this building could keep unnecessary junk was in the backyard too. I saw opened door in well-known me Polukarov;s shed from afar. Igor is busy with his scooter.

 

“Need a hand?” – I asked him.

 

“Yes, of course. What you can?” – Igor replied without hesitation and turned back – “Hi! How you managed to be here?”

 

Igor attracted me always. It was him who acquainted me with Beetles in 1963 when we were in the sixth grade. In the eighth grade due to him I threy the handball training and started cycle racing in the sport school. Sometime in those years we took his farther motorbike and drove it in meadows near Vorskla river, in Shportivka or Kopyly. Igor often went around with me during lessons of Ukrainian language or literature. These lessons were not compulsory for me and Igor believed that they are not important for him too.

 

The attitude to Ukrainian language and literature was not very serious in Poltava schools in those days. Even Ukrainian parents prefered to send their kids to Russian schools. It was common believe that this will help them to enter the better universities after school. Ukrainian accent in person conversation was ridiculous. Many thought that study of Ukrainian language spoils Russian literacy due to proximity of both languages. The rules of Ukrainian language really contradict to the Russians what confused students. There were very small amount of Ukrainian schools in Poltava. In Russian schools pupils start study Ukrainian language in the second grade. But parents could rid their kids of these lessons by signing special application form. Children from families of military men were free from these lessons automatically due to often movement of their families from one national republic of the USSR to another. Igor studied Ukrainian and was fluent in it, but his attitude to this language was very disdainful as most of Easter Ukraine population had in those years.

 

We decided to go to new restaurant near White Arbor. This is a very beautiful place in Poltava from where you can see Podol, Vorskla River, Red Road and monastery. Altanka, such they pronounce the arbor in Ukrainian, attracted people. Our way to the place was by our sport school located in the building of the old church.

 

“Do you remember our sport camp in Sudak?” – I asked Igor reminding the time of spring training in Crimea. It happened three times for me in 8, 9 and 10 grades.

 

“Yes, it was great time! And to play soccer with the elephant was the most impressive.” – Igor catched up the subject.

 

Yes, this was real. Every March Sudak hotels were occupied by soccer players, cyclists and circus artists. The circus elephant was in one of the hotels yard. Every morning it came to the soccer field for exercises. Playing soccer was its favorite drill. It feinted with the ball by showing up that has intention to hit it with its first foot, but instead during running letting ball go between the first lags and making strong hit by one of its back limbs. Nobody could predict the ball direction after such hit. Soccer players teased him making passes from one to another forcing elephant running for the ball. In such situation after catch elephant placed the ball into its mouth, starting to tease players instead.


Such in pleasant chat we reached Altanka. The Lilia restaurant was close to this place. We headed there. Cozy beer bar was situated in the basement. We took couple of Ghigulevskoe beer and went upstairs to the opened terrace. It was so nice to sip slowly the drink and watch picturesque landscape. Really nice.  
 

I promised to be back at home before 1 pm. We planned to have family friend, whom we knew from our period of life in Ikovka military garrison, for the lunch. I remembered Zigmund Grigorievich well and would like to speak with him too, to ask several questions about his children Grisha and Vanda. They moved to Kiev from Ikovka seven years ago and Zigmund Grigorievich was in Poltava on some kind of business occasion.
 

Mother cooked very nice lunch: salad, meatball soup and stewed duck with mashed potatoes. Compote was available too. And the coffee with White Stork, Moldavian brandy and chocolate candy were for dessert. 

 

“How is your military service?” – Zigmund Grigorievich asked me.

 

“It’s okay. Fighting.”

 

“No problem with ignition fuel?”

 

This question tells me that Zigmund Grigirievich has some knowledge about Soviet missiles. Of course. He was the Chief Engineer of the military base where tactical missiles were stored and maintained. Therefore my reply to his question was in the form of explanation. The ignition fuel was used only in the missiles with kerosene fuel. But 8K65 had heptyl type of engine. The asymmetrical dimethylhydrazine instead of kerosene and nitric acid as oxidant were used. But mother returned our conversation into civil channel. She started to ask him about his wife, Marysya Stanislavna, and their life in Kiev.

 

At night I came to Tolik Sevidov home where met Sashka Ivanov. We had preliminary agreement to play card that night, drink beer and discuss last news. The game took all night. Instead of beer we drank Crimea port. In the morning Tolik started to close one on his eyes with the hand:

 

“I see double.” – he explained the reason of doing this.

 

It was time to go home. Only several hours left for short sleep and then, in the noon, the bus to Lebedin awaited me.

 

 

8. Training, parades, firing fields and recreation time

In this chapter you will know a little bit more about continuous training in the state of permanent combat readiness, peculiarities of political study and get a question about Carl Marx private life; why captains of the Soviet Strategic Missile Forces in seventies had nothing but their chains will be explained; the technique to deal with the foreigners watching our warheads from Mikhailovsky hill, how to meet Brezhnev and what can be brought from Kapustin Yar firing field will be discussed too; and, as usually, peculiarities of hard drinking will be addressed again.

 

The main idea of service in strategic missile regiment is the continuous training on the background of being on duty in permanent combat readiness. This means that while battle missiles were kept in the shalters without warheads, which were stored separately, we had to train our skills in preparation for launch, by studying all details of this process to be ready even in shortened amount of personnel during two plus hours attach head to rocket, put in on the launch table, aim, refill and send it to the address. Punishable sword of the megaton nuke must smite unknown for us enemy. The map in regiment commander study fed me with the thoughts that the aim was somewhere in South-West Europe. And it would be great if the goal is an aircraft carrier somewhere in Mediterranean, but not peaceful Madrid or Paris.

 

Two missiles were kept in the storage shelter of every battery. After launch of the first rocket we had to prepare and launch the second one. It has to be a little bit longer process, but still in the frame of three hours. And very often during my army service I was thinking and tried to find the answer for a simple question: “What then?” And I do not know the answer for this question even now. Let’s imaging, that we sent both missiles, and then what? There was some rumors that strategic missile regiment will be reformed into infantry one. But we had no training for that. It looks that nobody believed that the war is possible and there were no answer for this question.

 

The most repulsive thing in my army days were political lessons, which we had every Thursday since 10 am till noon. These lessons were compulsory for all military personnel of the Soviet Army except those who were on mission in Thursday morning. The soldiers and sergeants were educated by the commanders of their departments. Warrant officers were politically trained by political deputy commanders. All senior operators and battery deputy commanders had Major Skripka, battalion commander, in the role of the political teacher.

 

Our classes had a form of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy seminars and took place in battalion library. And every Thursday morning it started same way.

 

“Captain Vaskov, go to the map!” – Skripka commanded.

 

“Yes, Sir!” – big, mustached, very good-natured officer stood up and came to the front of the classroom close to the political map of the Europe that was hanged on the wall.

 

“Show me countries of the Warsaw Treaty” – Skripka required.

 

“Poland, Hungary, Romania” – captain starts listing correct way and continues – “Czechoslovakia, German Democratic Republic, Austria.”

 

“Are you crazy?” – Skripka interrupted him – “How fuck this Austria is in your list?”

 

“Why?” – Vaskos started to justify himself – “My uncle served there and provided maintenance for MiG-15. Austria was our country …”

 

Skripka yelled:

 

“Austria is a capitalist country! Our enemy! You, rocketeer, has to know with whom you are in a battle every day! Sit down!”

 

The subjects of discussions could be one of Lenin’s article or materials of one of the Communist Party Congresses. Every seminar participant had to have synopsis. Skripka took our writing-books for checking. This was very important as many inspections from regiment and army levels happened often. And they paid attention to the synopsis in the first place. It was very good if the writing-book cover had a Lenin’s portrait. Portraits of Marx and Engels were good too.
 
By the way, there were interesting, even humoristic, events sometime, like this, related to Karl Marx portrait that was hanging on the library wall. Once, Captain Vaskov during seminar break came to it very close and stood still looking very attentively to the face of the world proletariat leader.

 

”What you are staring at?” – Skripka asked him being still very angry for Vaskov’s geographical stupidity.

 

“Simply thinking, how he managed to wash his face?”

 

Skripka opened his mouth and couldn’t say something. He was just choked by his angry. We, who heard this conversation, started to laugh. In general there was no serious attitude to political study. We even didn’t think about the reason why we learn all this stuff. It was everywhere: in schools, universities, fabrics, collective farms, army, air force and navy. Similar happens in religious sects: you have to study tenets. And not everybody, even in sects, is fanatic of these tenets and believes in them without any hesitations. Marxism-Leninism was a huge state tenet and most of Soviet population was lying at these political seminars that they believe in this dogma. Such huge state-scale lie created ground for future social shocks due to mistrust to governmental and political structures.
 

Technical disciplines were much more interesting for me. I studied control system and engine with pleasure, trying to understand all details and peculiarities of the processes that happened in rocket during its start and flight. And it was not difficult at all because educational materials were excellent, and, additionally to manuals, good experts – officers that graduated from the best Soviet military schools, were available and supportive. All of them were ready to help us, two year conscripted officers, in understanding the machinery and technology we maintained and control. The commander of my department had seen my zeal and decided to delegate the responsibility for sergeants training to me. The guys were intellectual enough and got training with interest too. Sergeant Matorin was the best. He mastered officer specialty without any problems and was taking responsibility to function as a senior operator when battery makes start preparation in shorten staff.  
 
Once, during very important drill, when army inspectors checked our readiness, Matorin worked as the 302. After switching of power aboard he reported:

 

“Power on! Instruments are not in norm! Gyroscopic platform is not fixed!”

 

The battery commander reported about this to battalion control center. The high rank officers were not ready for such way of things going. After some discussions the decision was made to use movable tower, open hatch of instrument bay and fix the platform manually. 

The problem was discussed behind Matorin’s back. He was listening to all these conversations and decided to interrupt them by addressing to the generals, one from army inspection group that was checking his work:

 

“Let me to do this from my control panel, Comrade General”

 

“How?” – General was surprised – “Can you show this on the scheme?”

 

Matorin took the album with control system schemes and explained how it can be done by activating main bus first, placing operational key into fixed position then and switching on fixation actuator by pressing correspondent button.

 

“Okay” – general approved his proposal.

 

“The First! I am the Three Zero Second. Ready to fix the platform from my control panel!” – Matorin reported to the battery command center.

 

“Shut up!” – The reply was strong enough – “How can you do this!”

 

“I order to allow” – General took control over the situation.

 

It took only ten seconds for Matorin to fix the situation. Platform was placed in its initial position with pins inside fixation mechanism.

 

Same day after drill completed the General announced that Sergeant Matorins got new rank, the Senior Sergeant, and is awarded for two week vacation to visit his home place. 

 

The complex drills, the major exercises for permanent combat readiness keeping, were executed usually in two of four battalion batteries. Ones, when the tenth and eleventh batteries were in the “war” state, Kuzya and I wer sunbathing near battalion club building. The headquarter head, Major Usenko, saw us and waived his hand, attracting our attention to him:

 

“I know that you have civilian clothing in the hostel” – he started the conversation.

 

We nod our heads even being surprised a little.

 

“Change, take handguns, cartridges and go for patrol to Mikhailovsky hill.”

 

We stared at the Major looking stunned. He understood that we didn’t catch the idea and started to explain:

 

“These guys will be in the state of full readiness at least two hours. The heads in thermo-covers will jut out and shine above the forest. Do not allow anybody to make photos from Mikhalovsky hill. Take away films. And arrest foreigners, if you see them.”

 

There was no more need to persuade us:

 

“Yes, Sir! We will arrest all foreigners!” – was the reply and we ran to the hostel.

 

“Let’s do not take these fucking pistols.” – I am making the proposal, thinking that it will be easier and calmly to bathe in the river and swim without worrying about our “makarovs” on the beach.

 

“Okay” – Kuzya agreed.

 

After clothing change we were heading to the entrance check-point missing headquarter building where our handguns are kept. Outside in hundred meters by the road I turned from the tarmac into the forest.

 

“Where are you heading?” – asks Kuzya.

 

“To the village. Look, this is the path. My soldiers told me about this shortcut. They use it sometime being in absence without leave to buy moonshine.” – I explained him.

 

“Good, let’s go” – Kuzya commented with satisfaction.

 

The August pine forest poured us with the smell of conifer. The ground was covered by the gold of fallen needles. Very high flowers, bluebells, were seen around. In twenty minutes of quiet walk we found ourselves on the beach of the Psel River, in vicinity of the bridge that leads to Mikhailovka. The beach was very nice with sandy ground. We put off the clothing and jumped in the water, which was warm and had light smell of milk fresh from the cow. Or maybe it was the smell of cow manure? Not a big difference and even this couldn’t reduce the pleasure of bathing. After good swimming we dried on the beach, put clothing on, crossed the bridge and came into café that was situated in shabby building of barrack type. Sumy brewed beer on the tap was the first. Then we mixed it in our stomachs with Akhtyrka bottle one. The life became even better. At 5 pm we were back in our battalion, changed the clothes and took the place in the bus that delivered us to Lebedin after another hard day of service defending our motherland from external enemies.

 In the bus Captain Kulik looked at us slyly and made a comment:

 

“It seems to me that you had a good swimming. Soon I will retire and have a chance to go there for fishing and beer drinking often.”

 

We nodded our heads approving his saying. More than sixty percent of the officers in Strategic Missile Force of the 70s had a Captain Rank. The standard career development steps were like this: senior operator, battery department chief, deputy battery commander, battery commander, deputy battalion commander, battalion commander, deputy regiment commander, regiment commander - what gave a chance to be in the Major Rank only after fifteen years of military service and the Colonel Rank only after twenty five years after graduation from a military school in Lieutenant Rank. Theoretically, following this scheme, it was impossible to reach the Colonel Rank, because adding military school years (four or five) you get 29 or even 30 years of military service at the age of fifty. But in accordance with the Soviet legislation officers had to be retired at the age of 45 after 25 years of military service. It looked like the shortage of senior officers had a place in the Strategic Missile Forces and somewhere inside Defense Ministry the decision was made to accelerate career development of young officers. Therefore in the middle of the 70’s military school graduates were placed at once to positions of deputy battery commander and, if they managed to fulfill the duties with good quality, in two years they became battery commander, what is the Major Rank. In this case they had a chance to become Generals in their forties. But the captains with ten – fifteen years of service understood clearly that they have no chance now at all and will finish army employment in the Captain Rank. Such kind of human resource policy led to the situation when Captains started to feel themselves as marginals who have nothing to loose “except their chains” and no future career. I think that this was major reason of the hard drinking, very common between these military guys.

This is a real sketch from one of the regiment officer meeting on the disciplinary issues, which was organized by Lieutenant General, division commander.

 

“Captain, a … forgot his last name, who always drink, stand up!” – General addressed to the all regiment officers in regiment meeting hall.

 

I was in this hall too and saw like every second officer started, because every second was in the Captain Rank and all of them, practically without exception, had a habit of hard drinking.

In the same meeting same General had an idea to publicly punish Sergey Tsyplakov, two year officer from Sevastopol, tough guy who liked to drink and fight. And General would like to punish him for the fight with locals that Sergey arranged in the Lebedin Cultural Center, in billiard room, where finally he was caught by Lebedin’s militia and transferred to military commandant.

 

“Come and stay here!” – General commanded Segey to climb the officer club stage – “Tell us, how you managed to live this life, with whom you were fighting there being drunk, why militia arrested you? Do you know that it’s very stupid idea to fight with locals? Do you know that last year locals beaten our division box champion? They tied him to the fence after this and left for the night there. And who are you, drunk!”

 

Sergey started to justify himself:

 

“I weren’t’t drunk. They started first. And I know nothing about our boxing champion.”

 

“Let’s me think about the decision” – General proposes – “Do I have to expel him from the Soviet Army or send him to the lock-up for fifteen days?”

 

“I have a question. Let me ask him” – the Captain Rostovtsev, the head of the regiment sport department, attracted General’s attention.

 

“Okay” – General allowed.

 

“Tell me, what was the reason of this fight?” – Captain addressed his question to Sergey.

 

“I do not know, they started bully me. I pushed off one of them, punched other, and they jumped on me with knifes.”

 

“And how in happened that you beaten all of them?”

 

“I used cue, broke couple of their arms as they said. I climbed the billiard table and defended myself from there, while militia arrived.”

 

“Who did win?” – Captain asked the key question.

 

“I, of course” – Sergey answered with broad smile.

 

“Okay, last time they won, this time we. The score is one to one. Maybe ten days in lock-up will be enough?” – Captain addressed to General now.

 

“Okay, ten days will be enough” – General agreed – “But you have to give up drinking and avoid militia arrests in the future.”


Different accidences happened with Sergey often. He sheared a hostel room with Gena Schekov. One day in the morning I met Gena in the washing room. Gena made his eyes round as usually when he had something very exiting to shear with you:
 
”Hi! Do you know what an oddly thing Serega made this night?”

 

“Of course not! What’s up?”

 

Gena told me the story with pleasure. It happened that Serega got drunk in the restaurant together with his Sevastopol friends last night. Approximately at 11 pm he came to the hostel and got into his bed there. In an hour he felt sick with his stomach, started to groan, waked up Gena, got up and went to the washroom. The sound of his puking there was heard well in the room. Then this stopped and silence returned back to the sleeping hostel. But through short period of time Gena heard Serega’s loud swearing and the noise if somebody shook the metal bed with spring grid. The opponent voice was heard too. This stopped soon too but Serega didn’t show up home. Gena was worried about this. He got up and went for the search. The washroom was empty. The hostel has a long central corridor with the washroom at its end. All dwelling rooms had similar doors and were equipped with the same kind of furniture. The sound of familiar snoring came from neighbor room and Gena opened the door there. He had seen Serega on one of the beds scattering above the blanket. Unknown man was sleeping on the other bed. Gena waked up Serega:

 

“Get up! Let’s go home!”
 

Serega recognized Gena and started to apology and complain:

 

“Sorry that I took your bed. Fucked somebody lies in my place. I can’t make him away! Let’s punch him in his muzzle!”

 

“Quiet! Quiet” – Gena tried to calm Serega – “Get up. I will show you your place”.

 

Somehow Gena managed to take Serega to his room.

 

But the most interesting thing happened this day later. When we arrived to our battalion it was announced that new regiment political commander in deputy took his job and while his house was not ready yet he would be dwelling in our hostel. Luckily this guy was not scandalous, I can say, even understanding one. This last night story had no consequences.

 

Hard drinking was usual and wide spread phenomenon in the life of the Soviet officers. However many of us, two year conscripts, avoided this and spent two years for self education and preparation for the future career. Volodya Nikolenko, for example, studied COBOL programming language. In those times it was not interesting for me. But just in several years I started to learn more complex PL/1. However this is another story. During these two years I studied English. I had very nice textbook with exercises that helped to expand my vocabulary and improve technical texts understanding. Several interesting Soviet issued books with original texts from American military magazines were available too. All this helped me later in my future civil life and career.

One day in September 1974 Kuzya addressed me:

 

“Let’s go to Moscow? It’s becoming dull here.”

 

“Are you going to take part in the parade?” – I asked him back.

 

Our regiment was a parade regiment and two times on every year, once on the First of May, the day of workers solidarity, and another one on the Seventh of November, the day of the Great October Revolution, representative of our military unit took part in the parade on the Red Square in Moscow.

 

“Yes! Why not? It will be a good rest and fun.”

 

“No, no fun! I will not survive all these drills.” – was my negative reply.

 

But Kuzya managed to survive all these drills and three times visited Moscow on the parade occasion. He told us the stories about exercises on the Central Airfield, where parade was trained, and very good free time spending in nearest to this place café Lira on Leningradsky Prospect.

 

“Have you seen Brezhnev” - I asked trying to tease him one day after his return from this trip.

 

“Yes, of course! And even drank his health same moment when my truck passed the Mausoleum tribune. I got my flask with cognac and made couple of swallows.” – was serious reply.

 

Same fall Gena and his battery carried out the real missile launch in Kapustin Yar situated in the desert north end of the Astrakhan region. I envied him because not all of us had the chance to push the Start button for real rocket launch. They traveled there by echelon taking the missile from their stock and all battery equipment including launch table.

 

“What do you want me to bring for you back?” – asked Gena before this trip.

 

“Big spider.” – I was joking.

 

“Okay.” – Gena promised firmly.

 

 And he kept his promise bringing back big spider, phalanx, in 3-liter glass container. It lived in the hostel with us all the winter. Cockroaches were his major food and we had no problem to catch these insects in battalion canteen. Sometime his menu was diversified by flies occasionally caught in our places of work and dwelling. One sunny day in spring we allowed our spider to walk outside his container in the empty lot not far from our hostel. The hens from the neighbor’s backyards were wandering here too digging the dust ground. One of them paid attention to our pet and started to sneaking up moving sideway and looking at us slyly.

 

“Take spider back!” – I told Gena – “It gobbles him!”

 

“It’s not known who will gobble whom!” – Gena put a good face on.

 

Everything happened so fast that we had no chance to prevent the sad event. The hen using wing mad powerful acceleration from its place and with one jump-flight attacked spider from the air. It swallowed it in two motions.

 

The time of our service was flying in training, war simulation and simple entertainments. The service itself started to be a dull routine and the thoughts about future peaceful life visited us increasingly.

 

 

9. Demobilization 76

In this chapter special technique of pure alcohol drinking is presented, you will know a little bit about important technology of missile maintenance. But major subject is devoted to future civil career plans, and, maybe you will see, how helpful it was to have relatives in the USA for your plans do not be broken.

 

Yes, time was flying fast and soon we obtained the “old-men” status. It was not real status like private soldiers have after one and half year of compulsory service. In general “old-man” term related to abusive behavior of “veterans” against dogface was not applicable to two-year officers even this military service was compulsory for us too. The “old-man” phenomenon that has place in modern Russian army was absent in Strategic Missile Forces in the middle of seventies. And from where it could reveal if two officers of every battery were together with battery soldiers on the permanent combat readiness duty staying day and night in the battalion territory, watching all details of soldiers’ life.

 

But permanent readiness was not permanent all days. Every year we were in so called maintenance week when heavy duty services were doing on the battery equipment. In our department the most important task of such maintenance was contact washing with pure alcohol. There were so many contacts that several liters of spirits had been ordered for this. Ordered doesn’t mean used technologically. Only small amount of spirit was really going for the purpose. Half of this valuable liquid had been taken by battery commander; other was divided between officers of the department. 

 

“Have you brought the flask” – the department commander asked me on our way to the start area.

 

“No, I do not need spirit” – I answered, understanding what is question about.

 

“Really?!” – Captain was surprised – “I think you do not know how to drink it. Okay, today I will teach you.”

 

On 3 pm he called me to my quiet apparatus room where I was studying English, doing writing drills.

 

“Return keys and let’s go” – he ordered.

 

Throwing the key to battalion command shelter we took direction to the entrance check-point and after walking through electrical fence and mining company gate made turn to the small grove on the road side.

 

“I do not want to go through the battalion entrance check-point. The soldier will report about us” – Captain explained.

 

“And how?”

 

“Will see soon.”

 

We reached the first line of barbed wires. He steped on the third from the bottom line and pulled up the forth one.

 

“Squeeze through and make same for me.”

 

I get through and repeated my boss actions. In a second he penetrated the fence too. We continued same way with other fences.

 

“Do you see these yellow thin wires? Be careful here. This is the “Crystal”, warning system. Do not tie it much.”

 

Soon we overcame four fences and found ourselves outside the military zone in the normal forest.

 

“We will not go by the road. Let’s take this path and come out to the Sumy highway further  its intersection with the road to battalion”.

 

“Yes, of course” – I replid understanding well that we are not willing to meet somebody from regiment headquarters in their way to our battalion.

 

We stopped the first bus commuting by the Sumy-Lebedin highway and in twenty minutes were in the buffet of bus terminal in downtown center.

 

“Bottle of Mirgorod mineral water” – Captain asked bartender.

 

“Maybe take something to get bite?” – I assumed.

 

“Are you hungry?”
 

“No, but…”

 

“Then repeat after me.”

 

Captain filled the glass with approximately thirty milliliter of spirits, took deep breath, brought the glass to his lips and with one gulp directed liquid inside. After five seconds of pause he started to exhale slowly pouring the glass with mineral water, made two mouthfuls, finished exhaling. Five seconds pause again during which Captain was listening what is happening inside and how process is going, the condition of gullet and esophagus. Only after this he made the first breath, very carefully, protecting his bronchi and lungs from burn.

 

“Understood?” – He asks me and repeats the process in wording – “Breathe in, gulp, exhale starts, water, finish exhaling, pause, and breathe in.”

 

I repeated his actions in accordance with proposed algorithm. Really, nothing terrible happened. Spirits was inside and pleasant warms started to penetrate from gullet and stomach, filling the whole body.

 

“You told me that autogiro can take off vertically” – the commander continued discussion of the subject we started on our way in the forest – “How it can be? As I know, the propeller is used as a wing and required airflow for lift creation?”

 

“By special clutch the propeller can be attached to marching engine and has to be rotated to maximum turns before taking off. They do it with blade angle of attack equal to zero, vehicle is braked, and power throttle is on the maximum. Then they change the angle of attack to maximum rapidly and jump like a grasshopper” – I explain – “Everything is very simple.”

 

“Yes, it’s interesting. Can you make the sketches?”

 

“Yes”

 

“Okay. I have note-book and pencil. But let’s drink more first.”

 

“Okay.”

 

I will never know how the day was finished. Next morning I found myself in my bed in the hostel with big yellow-green apple on the side. Where did I take it? But it was to the point and very juicy, tasty and sour helping me to cure terrible headache and bad taste in the mouth.

 

Our compulsory military service was going to its finish. The time to think about civil career stated. Many of two-year officers used a chance to become a member of the Communist Party, being in the rows of the Soviet Army. In that time the career success depended on the fact of your party membership. It was not easy to enter Communist Party being engineer: even lines of those who would like to be a member existed. But every officer had to be a communist, and, as a result, the entrance line problem didn’t exist in the Soviet Army.

 

“Have you written application?” – Kuzya asked me in one of those days.

 

“Why? Where? To whom?” – I did not understand him.

 

“To the party.”

 

“No. For what?”

 

“Are you fooling? There will be no such chance else.”

 

“You are fooling. Application to the shit. I am crazy about all these political training here. Hope to survive without all this stuff in the future.”

 

“Will see.” – Kuzya sounded with some treat.

 

We never had conversation with Valerka on the subject after this. He started to behave a strange way, cut links with our team and didn’t discuss his plans for the near civil future. As it became clear later in that time he linked his life to the KGB and started to build his own career as the knight of cloak and dagger. I didn’t understand why his mother, very clever lady, professor, head of the university chair, supported him in this decision. After return to Kuibyshev, Kuzya worked in her university as a Chair of the Young Communist League Committee for several months before going to Minsk into KGB school.

 

I made my decision too. It was a Junior Researcher position in the Aircraft Design Department at Kuibyshev Aviation Institute. I didn’t know all details of my future work yet but it was obvious that it will be interesting for me.

 

We continue our military life in Lebedin waiting demobilization order. There were many friends between local population, girls included. One of them, Zoika Kolughnaya, was very helpful. She worked on the local telephone station and had possibility to connect me to telephone numbers everywhere in the Soviet Union. It was possible to have telephone conversations with my friends in other cities being inside battalion. Once Zoika connected me with Vovka Utking who served in the 8K64 complex at Drovyanay, in Siberia.

 

“How you managed to find me here?” – Vovka was very surprised.

 

“I can. How are you doing?”

 

“Bad. What we have here is the pebble hills, wind, frost and Nerchinsk vodka, and this vodka is worse than hydrolyze alcohol. The frost is below forty but no snow on the hills because wind blues it away.”

 

Vovka told me that he plans to work in Moscow and added, joking, that wants to marry general’s daughter. It’s strange but all his plans became reality and in several years he moved to Moscow downtown and married Natalia, general’s daughter.

 

There were other people that take care on the problems of our future jobs. Once during quiet evening in the hostel Gena Schekov sipping tea from a cup asked me:

 

“Has Gena Kuzin badgered you?”

 

“Which way?”

 

“Recruiting. Kuzya is caught”.

 

“Really? This is a reason of his pensiveness.”

 

“Yes, this is true. It was difficult for me to refuse. I explained that my health is not perfect and I have some problems with my heart. May be after medical treatment.”

 

In couple of days KGB Captain Kuzin invited me to his hut for conversation.

 

“You showed good yourself during army service. And you have good marks from your university” – Gena started with opened cards – “We need such people in KGB rows.”

 

I was prepared for this conversation.

 

“It’s my pleasure” – was my first reply – “but I do not fit your organization.”

 

“Why?” – Gena’s voice is raising – “I told you that that you fit!”

 

“I have relatives abroad. In enemy camp. In the USA.”

 

“A-a-a… Uh-h-h…” – Gena had no words – “Where?! Where?! In the United States?! You hided this?! Why I do not know this?!”

 

“It happened last fall. My sister married guy who has aunt in the USA.”

 

“Okay…” – Gena changed the tone – “I have to know her name, address, date and place of birth and her occupation. You have to write the report to my name on these subjects.”

 

“Yes, comrade Captain!” – I promised.

 

I’ve never seen Gena after this. His interest to my person disappeared. Thanks to Galina Antonovna, the citizen of the USA and resident of Monterey, California.

 

Demobilization was approaching inevitably. We started to pack our suitcases in the end of February 1976. And same time other guy started agitating me. This was battalion deputy of political affairs. It looked like they were motivated some way to do this.

 

“Where do you plan to work after army service?” – he asked me.

 

“In the university.”

 

“How much they will pay you?”

 

“One hundred and ten rubles per month”.

 

“We will pay you two hundred fifty plus twenty rationed. The clothes is for free. We feed you in the battalion. Every year your family vacation travel fairs are paid even to Kamchatka. Do you see the difference?”

 

“Yes, I see.”

 

“Do they arrange apartment for you in the university?”

 

“No. May be in several years.”

 

“Here you will get new one same moment when sign a contract. Stay with us.”

 

Strange. Now his reasons look very convincing. But in that time the youth idealism, freedoms and civil friends were much more important in comparison with material values. Not many of two-year officers left for professional 25 year service. Even those, married, with their families were not bought by all these military life temptations.
 

Finally, in the beginning of March all of us were commissioned from the Soviet Army and started our new civil lives.
 

 

10. Conclusion

 

Much water has flown under the bridge since the time of these stories. By the grace of providence, I have long been a Canadian citizen and live in one of the best places in the world, Vancouver. Not much links left that connect me to modern Russia, maybe news, and sometime it sounds like Vertinsky’s song, “occasional common talk brought these dear but useless words”:

  • all Il-96s are grounded for the brake system defect revealed;
  • the central airfield in Moscow is transformed into park and residential area;
  • manufacturing of the Tu-154 is stopped in Samara.

 

The word “useless” has direct meaning what makes these sentences even sadder and the following pictures pop up in my memory:

  • October 1973. Diploma practice at Kuibyshev Aviation Plant. I am studying the Tu-154 F-4 fuselage section assembling rig.
  • May 1976. I got a job offer after finishing my military service in the Soviet Strategic Missile Forces. My new chief told me that my tasks will be related to design of the new intercontinental passenger jet Il-86-300. The Il-86-300 was renamed soon into Il-96.
  • July 1997. My dream is realized. After several hours delay due to problem in the PS-90 engines I am flying from San-Francisco to Moscow by the Il-96. I had a chance to visit cockpit during this flight and enjoy the northern lights above Szpicbergen.
  • January 2002. Staying in Aerostar hotel I am going to the Khodynka, central airfield. Mercedes cars from near dealership are speeding on the runway. I exchanged several words with Valery Chkalov’s son who works as security at aviation museum here. Then I had a look through the fence to the Ilyushin design bureau experimental plant. No one was inside. Dust and spider webs are on the office windows.
  • October 2003. I park my car at Spanish Banks, take laptop, start writing. Then I make a pause and look around. Beautiful view: strait, mountains, cargo ships on the roadstead, downtown’s skyscrapers line. The 727 takes off from Sea Island. It looks exactly like Tu-154. But I know what it is…

 

Ilyushin, Tupolev are not only names of the famous aircraft designers and their planes but the design bureaus, plants, engineering schools and people, who call themselves Ilyushinets and Tupolevets. There is no place for them in new post-communist reality. The state has the PIPELINE and needs nothing else. Mercedes is a car for Russian president and the 787 will be a plane.

 

The life in Vancouver is relaxing. But such news brings light melancholy related to the past. And the question arises sometime. Why they in Russia can’t live quietly and with comfort like people in other industrialized countries?

 

May be my stories help to find the answer? Or they give the direction to find the reasons? Just in the seventies and eighties of the last century the people who rule the country today were formed.

 

I have doubts that somebody can explain me what is happening. But in my narration I made attempts to motivate readers to think that way and pose same questions to myself. Who are we? What is our world vision? How was it formed? What are our life values and priorities? Can civil society be created by the people that were brought up under Communist Party rule? How much time and social troubles will be on the way to overcome all this political and economical infantilism?


Who knows? Maybe I have to go and drink a glass of vodka? Is it a way to have enlightenment and find the answers? No. I finished with drinking more than twenty years ago. Therefore I will not go and will not drink but maybe will start to think if it is a good idea to continue my story about winding life road from socialistic Kuibyshev to post-communistic Samara and finally to capitalistic Vancouver. Why not? The stories can be grounded on my experience and career in the field of aviation, structural analysis and optimization in particular. Will see.


 


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