(From Poslantsy Kyrgyzstana na frontakh Velikoi Otechestvennoi Voiny, ed. O. Sagynbaev, "Ilim", 1995, 500 copies.)
PETR YAKOVLEVICH ARTSYBASHEV
It was characteristic of a boy in the 1920's to wonder what he will become. Some imagined becoming aviators, others - artists. In his dreams Petr Artsybashev saw himself as a frontier guard. In September, 1939, he indeed got his wish. He voluntarily left to join the army even though it was a whole six months before his draft call-up.
Now he was on the Japanese-Manchurian border, in the Far East. 130th Border Guards Regiment. The promised soft cap with the green band. Here he began the hazardous duty of guarding the country's borders. On 21 December, Stalin's birthday, the Japanese decided to spoil the holiday which the unit command had prepared. A platoon-sized force violated the border. A fight ensued, fierce and sharp. The violators were cut off, surrounded, and taken prisoner. Later they were exchanged for a coastguard cutter and its crew which had accidentally entered Japanese waters.
In this battle, 18-year old Petr was slightly wounded. He spent a month in hospital in Voroshilov (now Ussuriisk). From there he went straight to a school for junior commanders, which he finished with excellent ratings. Then there were courses in preparing junior political cadres. He was promoted to political leader (politruk) in a regimental mortar battery.
Then came 22 June, 1941. The news of the outbreak of war was received in the middle of night exercises. Combat alarm. And again - the border. Duty both day and night. Digging anti-tank ditches. Here the soldiers and officers received sad news. In the battles in front of legendary Borodino the former commander of the regiment, Colonel Polosukhin, loved by all as one's own father, had been killed. The regiment's headquarters received requests to be sent to the front, and Petr turned in his own petition. But it was only at the end of January, 1942, that circumstances permitted sending volunteers to the west.
His first battle was at the village of Mezhetchino in Kaluga Province, as a gun commander in the 120mm mortar double-battery of the 125th Separate Cadet Rifle Brigade.
He had much to go through during his half-year on the front lines. He experienced the deaths of comrades, saw burning villages, gallows left by the fascists, the bodies of executed peaceful villagers and partisans. His hatred for the enemy boiled. Everyone burned with the desire to wipe out the enemy. Petr was decorated with the medal "For Combat Service" for his part in his first battle, during which he, together with Senior Lieutenant Tkachenko, diverted upon themselves for forty minutes the fire from six German batteries. There were few pleasant episodes during life at the front, but even so there are some that remain in one's memory forever. There were several such episodes at the front in store for Petr Yakovlevich, and whose fascinating subject could form an entire book. But Petr Yakovlevich decided to limit himself to describing only the most important:
"At the end of May, 1942, five of us - Senior Lieutenant Tkachenko, Deputy Political Leader Malyshenko (there was still such a rank at that time), Sergeant Syropyatov (a radio operator), Junior Sergeant Krasnoshtanov (who had been my driver), and myself (at that time also a Deputy Political Leader) - were suddenly called to the headquarters of our 125th Cadet Brigade, and from there sent to the headquarters of the 16th Army. For twelve days at the reconnaissance section of the 5th Corps they trained us for insertion into the enemy's rear. We were not highly qualified reconnaissance scouts, but by that time we had already taken part in patrols into enemy positions and had two 'tongues' (prisoners) and two saboteurs to our credit.
"The mission was complicated. We were to make our way on foot through the enemy's rear to the city of Orel. On the way we had to fix everything in memory and as far as possible radio it to the 'Big Country'. Once in Orel the intent was to make contact with the underground regional party committee, take delivery of what they had to send out, and have a partisan group return us.
"We were perplexed: why were we going 'on foot'? It would really be simpler to jump out of an airplane with parachutes. The way it was looked to be almost certain death. Did they think it was easy to make one's way almost 200 kilometers from Sukhinichaya to Orel through territory crawling with fascist troops? Yeah, right... But orders are orders. The high command had better foresight than us. In actuality, as we later learned, big battles were coming up. The enemy was aiming at Stalingrad. The intelligence which we would gather on the way to Orel might make it possible for the high command to ascertain the amount of enemy troop movement towards Stalingrad.
"Getting through the enemy lines without being noticed was out of the question. Therefore the people at the reconnaissance section had already worked up several possibilities.
We were provided with documents for local inhabitants and the corresponding clothing, and with blank documents for German officers and soldiers. We crossed the front line in the following manner: Malyshenko in German uniform as an SS major, since he spoke German perfectly; Tkachenko was dressed as a captain; I was an Oberleutnant decorated with the Iron Cross; and Syropyatov and Krasnoshatanov were soldier-orderlies.
"We had still another variant as a backup - the uniform for a "captured" Soviet general, and Malyshenko had a courier packet for the Fuhrer's staff representative in Orel.
"We were sent off. By the time we had crossed the forward front lines on the first night and made our way 18 kilometers into the rear, it started to get light. To go any further would be dangerous. We stopped for the day in a deep ravine overgrown with bushes. We had not been able to settle down yet when the lookouts reported that a light automobile was heading our way without any escort. We decided to take it. A group of three - Malyshenko, Tkachenko, and I came out on the side of the road while Syropyatov and Krasnoshtanov were a little way off 'lighting' a small campfire. It was a simple calculation. The nearness of the front line would make the fascists exclude the possibility of partisans, and all the more so for Soviet troops. Everything looked peaceful. The 'SS major' stopped the car. There were four Germans in it, headed by a captain from a combat unit. Malyshenko, moving forward to check papers, shot the captain. At almost the same time Tkachenko and I cut down the others. The car was ours. Krasnoshtanov jumped behind the wheel after shoving the driver deeper into the vehicle and sped into the woods. We threw out the bodies, cleaned off the blood, and studied the fascists' documents. In the car we found German sub-machineguns, grenades, the captain's suitcases, and in his pockets - his orders to report to the commander of the Second Panzer Army at Bolkhovo...
"We couldn't delay. Bypassing military units, by lunchtime we had reached Bolkhovo. Troops were moving southwards, mainly infantry and artillery. At Bolkhovo we turned right into a little woods. Any futher and the former captain's papers were no longer valid. What to do? We decided to use our last variant: Tkachenko in the general's uniform and handcuffs; Malyshenko with the courier's packet. Onward to Orel.
"Krasnoshtanov came out on the Bolokhov-Orel highway and stepped on the gas. Forward! Into the unknown! We were surprised that not only did they let us through without delay, the troops even moved off the road for us. We were not even held up at checkpoints. By then we understood - there was a little swastika flag on the left fender of the Opel. Obviously, it was the symbol for an important person. Only once were we stopped at a checkpoint - at some larger town with a fascist garrison, but the gendarme lieutenant just checked Malyshenko's document, looked at the 'Soviet' general, touched the peak of his hat and ordered the barrier swung up. The whole time we were sitting we were ready at any moment to let loose with grenades and sub-machineguns.
"The sun was starting to go down and Orel was still some twenty kilometers away when... the motor coughed once or twice and quit. It was out of gas. Two cans bolted to the back proved to be empty... What to do? Behind us about 300 meters away were the woods, in front - fields. On the road - nothing. Malyshenko suggested we wait. Only now did it occur to us that we had not eaten anything the whole day. We decided to regain our strength, and thanks to the car's former owners there were many good things to eat. We had not yet managed to each eat piece of smoked sausage when dust appeared on the road ahead of us. Three trucks came toward us, packed full of Rumanian soldiers. Malyshenko went out onto the road. We remained where we were, prepared for the worst. The vehicles stopped and covered us in a cloud of dust. A German commander got out of the cab, came to attention in front of the 'major', and reported that the trucks had come to make a sweep through the woods, pointing to the trees behind us. Malyshenko made a surprised face and said that we had gone through and noticed nothing, except that then we had the misfortune to run out of gas and couldn't get to Orel. The officer gave an order and a driver brought us a fuel can. Krasnoshtanov poured the gas in our car, and with a barked 'Heil Hitler!', the officer commanded his trucks to start up again.
"We quickly got into our car and continued on. We went through a thickly wooded upland over which hung a dismal silence. From the map we knew that at the exit from the forest was the village of Mikhailovka. But who was there? Germans? Rumanians? It would be best if no one was there at all. After deliberation we decided to ride on in the car. It was already getting dark, and it would be dangerous to remain in the forest. Our rendezvous was in Mikhailovka, and it was necessary to hurry. We drove into the village and with the headlights on steered up to the village's office building. There was only one commissar-policeman on duty. Malyshenko ordered him to summon the village's elder headman. In ten minutes a peasant fellow some fifty years of age came running up to the car, well dressed and inviting the "gentlemen officers" into his house... There we met our first members of the underground. It was still twelve kilometers to Orel. The elder, Kuz'ma Dement'evich, was very surprised to hear the password.
" 'They told me,' he said, 'that I was to expect guests. But so soon? How did you do it?'
"We promised to tell him the story later, but for now the 'major' ordered him to give us shelter for the night.
"It was through this same Kuz'ma Dement'evich that we made contact with the regional committee. We would be able to return home with a partisan detachment, but the situation had become complicated, and our help was needed on the spot. "Center" approved this, and so we took on tasks from the regional committee and the commanders for the partisan movement in Orel. We had to perform many missions which needed persons whom the local inhabitants did not know. Only after 28 days were we able to run off to the partisan detachment, and from there we got an airplane to Moscow. We carried to Voroshilov, who was coordinating the partisan movement at that time, the items that the regional committee had given us, and they had ten days leave in Moscow. Here we also received medals, with Malyshenko getting the star of Hero of the Soviet Union. We returned to our unit which by now was near Zhizdra."
Petr Yakovlevich continued fighting for a full six months after his daring penetration of the enemy's rear, commanding a platoon of reconnaissance scouts. In December of 1942, Petr Yakovlevich was recommended for an award for capturing a "tongue" with this unit. But he received the Order of Glory 3rd Class only in 1945, when for Petr Yakovlevich the war was already over. This came about on 1 March, 1943. In the fighting around the town of Zhizdra his leg was cut off by a large piece of shrapnel, and his hand was maimed. Petr Yakovlevich spent seven months in the hospital and underwent five operations, and then was designated a Class-2 invalid and demobilized.
After returning home, Petr Yakovlevich worked as a bookkeeper and instructor in the regional party committee, and headed a section of the Troitsk regional executive committee in Orenburg Province. In 1949, at the urging of the doctors, he moved to Kirgizstan. Here he worked in the regional executive committee as the editor of the regional newspaper. From 1957 he was a correspondent for "Soviet Kirgizia". He graduated with a degree in journalism from the Moscow Central House for Journalists, and then joined the law faculty of the university. From 1966 he was an aide to the rector, and then senior lecturer in the chair of legal rights and processes. Currently, Petr Yakovlevich is at the Kirgiz National State University, holding a chair in government and legal rights and working at the center for prepairing, retraining, and placing worker cadres.
Along with his educational activities, Petr Yakovlevich conducts research in the field of criminal law. He has published over thirty lengthy scholarly works and over a hundred papers. He works methodically and on a large scale, for which he has many times been recognized with awards and tokens of appreciation. As a "Distinguished Worker for Popular Development in the Kirgiz Republic", Petr Yakovlevich gives all of his knowledge and experience to the job of preparing workers with great educational deficiencies for the republic's private economy.
Translated by Mark Conrad, 1996.