May 7, 2022
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Gray Ukrainian peasant on the Great Patriotic

When it comes to the Great Patriotic War, they usually remember the heroes. Much less often – about traitors, war criminals. And very little – about the subjects of gray, unremarkable. Those who did not particularly differ in heroism, but did not stain themselves with betrayal. Meanwhile, it is these latter who make up the majority in any war. And not only in war.

“And not a friend, and not an enemy, but so …”, Vladimir Vysotsky once sang about such people. They become gray for various reasons. As a rule, according to their personal qualities. Sometimes due to circumstances. And it happens, and as a result of a conscious choice.

Ukrainian writer Anatoly Dimarov was exactly gray in the war. He joined the army in 1940 of his own free will. Not that he was drawn to military service. Rather, the opposite. After school, Dimarov was going to enter the university. Military conscription did not threaten him for health reasons – Anatoly was deaf in one ear (a consequence of an illness suffered in childhood) and had poor eyesight.

An unfortunate accident changed everything. In his graduation year, he somehow went for a walk in the park in a new coat, bought at the expense of his college time (for a low-income Dimarov family, such a new thing was a serious acquisition). Ignoring the warning notice, I leaned against the freshly painted booth. And then he sat down (again, without noticing the announcement) on a painted bench. The coat was hopelessly damaged…

Judging that he now had nothing to go to college, Anatoly decided to enlist in the army (at least they give out uniforms there). Of course, he did not imagine that soon he would have to not only serve, but also fight.

In order to deceive the upcoming medical examination, Dimarov stole a table from the school first-aid post, according to which they check their eyesight, and memorized it by heart. The deception succeeded. And it turned out to be even easier to deceive the doctor who checked the hearing – who looked closely at how carefully the conscript clamps his second ear with his hand if they check the first? They were looking for those who wanted to hang out from the service, and not vice versa.

In short, he was recognized as fit for combat.

… When the Nazi invasion began, the military unit in which Anatoly served was moved to the west, closer to the combat zone. But they were in no hurry to send them to the front line – apparently, they felt sorry for the youngsters who had not yet been shot.

The front approached them by itself. This happened a month after the start of the war …

Actually, the first fight for Dimarov was not a fight. He never fired a shot. At dawn, their positions were suddenly covered by artillery fire. In a panic, Anatoly and several other fighters with the commander huddled in the dugout. There was no thought of any resistance. The Germans in their area simply stepped over the line of trenches and moved on, along the way throwing a grenade into the dugout and firing automatic bursts.

Dimarov’s turn and hurt. He was wounded in the right hand. But he escaped death and captivity. Managed to get to his. You can say lucky.

Further – a hospital in Stalingrad, then far from the front. Treatment. Extract. Here Anatoly was lucky again. Upon recovery, he was offered to study at a three-month course for divers-saboteurs. In case of refusal, they would be sent immediately to the front line. But, Dimarov, of course, did not refuse …

The training was not easy. Unable to withstand classes in cold water, Anatoly falls ill. Again the hospital, after which he was given a month’s leave for a full recovery. Moreover, they were allowed to choose a venue for it.

He chose Tajikistan – it’s warm there, fruit and away from the front…

At the end of his vacation, Dimarov, who had previously studied diving courses, was assigned to the Black Sea. It was already 1942…

Anatoly got to the military unit safely. And there – at the very first training firing, he never hit a target. It is difficult to say whether he deliberately demonstrated his poor eyesight? In any case, he did not hide it. He only said that this was a consequence of a wound received in battle.

The doctor wondered for a long time how a wound in the arm could affect vision? But Dimarov dispelled his doubts, “remembering” that then he was not only wounded, but also shell-shocked by a grenade explosion. The doctor was satisfied with this explanation. Well, Anatoly was discharged from the army – what kind of warrior is he with such vision?

Now he could go home to the village. The eastern regions of Ukraine at that time were not yet occupied and, as it seemed, they were not threatened with occupation …

At home, Dimarov enjoyed the position of a hero wounded in the war. He told local teenagers with pleasure about his “exploits”, and from the question “How many Germans he killed?” He dismissively brushed aside: “I killed, I did not count!”

They were admired. He was envied…

But the German offensive resumed …

Anatoly’s mother and his aunt (the mother’s sister who lived with them), as teachers, were ordered to go to the rear. Dimarov went with them…

This evacuation was painful. Women, children, old people, interspersed with soldiers who had fallen behind their units, some in a wagon, and some on foot, dejectedly moved in an easterly direction. To what limit should one go, where is the front, where is the enemy? Nobody knew about it. Once in the column there was a cry: “Germans!”.

There were no Germans nearby, but panic seized the people. Anatolia included. Grabbing a duffel bag and leaving his mother and aunt to the mercy of fate, he took to his heels.

Ran without looking back. When he calmed down and took a breath, he did not find any of his acquaintances nearby. He joined a group of retreating soldiers (he himself was also dressed in military uniform). With them, he continued to move.

It soon became clear that the front overtook the retreating. Now they wandered through the territory occupied by the enemy. Everyone tried to save themselves as best they could. The group melted every day. And one morning Dimarov woke up alone…

He asked to go to the nearest house. The hostess took pity on the soldier. fed. She said that the Germans were in their village and went further east. She advised me to return home. She gave me to change into civilian clothes (the things of her son – he fought somewhere, his mother had no news about him and hoped that maybe someone would help him in this way). Gave me some groceries for the trip. And Anatoly set off on his way back.

This time, too, there were adventures. Dimarov was intercepted by Romanian soldiers – allies of the Germans. Robbed (confiscated food), but released. Most importantly, he got home safe and sound.

Fortunately for him, his mother and aunt were already there. They, too, were lucky, they survived.

Life began in the occupation …

In a difficult time, Anatoly worked hard in the fields for two months. By his own admission, he helped prepare food for the German army.

This was not a deliberate betrayal. The locals had no other choice. Those who refused to work for the occupier voluntarily were forced to do so. The disobedient were destroyed.

… When the harvest was over, Dimarov was able to take a breath. He spent his free time playing cards with 16-17-year-old teenagers (Anatoly himself was already twenty). Probably, I would have spent the whole occupation behind the cards, but the teenagers decided to create a partisan detachment. There were no questions about who to make the commander. Who else, if not a person with combat experience, who killed enemies without counting, a hero wounded at the front?

Dimarov could not refuse, his reputation did not allow. And he ended up “at the head of a partisan detachment.” However, “squad” is too strong a word. Together with Anatoly, there were four people.

There were no problems with weapons. It lay in abundance on the fields of recent battles. They even found a machine gun, which was removed from the wrecked tank and transferred to a dugout dug in the forest.

The difficulty lay elsewhere. Teenagers did not know what to do, how to fight? Their “combat commander” also did not know (although the young partisans themselves did not know about this). And there were no Germans in the village, only policemen.

It was decided to hold an “action” against the policemen. At night, teenagers went to smear their gates with tar. A few managed to smear. Then they were frightened off, and fleeing, the one who had a bucket of tar stumbled, pouring precious “ammunition” on the ground. That was the end of the whole outing.

True, Dimarov did not take a direct part in the daubing of the gate. I preferred to “stand on the lookout.”

Otherwise, all “partisan activity” was limited to conversations and dreams. The guys argued that it would be good to undermine such and such a bridge when German troops move along it. Or derail the German train. They just talked without doing anything.

They undertook a truly combat action once – in November 1942. In the village, a detachment of policemen stopped for the night, setting off with a punitive purpose to the places of activity of real partisans. In the evening, the commanders of the detachment gathered to drink in the house of a local moonshiner. It was this house that the teenagers fired at night with a machine gun (fortunately, the moonshiner lived on the edge of the village).

No one was killed, but the punishers were alarmed. Deciding that they were attacked by a large partisan formation, they opened indiscriminate firing in different directions. By that time, the attackers had disappeared.

Although this time Anatoly did not take a direct part in the shooting. I just sat next to the machine gunner.

Then it was back to daydreaming and talking, interspersed with playing cards. Thus ended 1942 and began 1943…

(Ending to follow)

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