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Inside the Mind of a Red Army Soldier on the Eastern Front

February 24, 2011

Today “at work” I was reading through a number of letters sent from wartime Ukraine to Red Army soldiers at the front (presumably after the Germans left, otherwise I’m sure how they would have arrived).

I found one, in particular, heart-wrenching and also insightful. A man, Luka Tikhonovich G.-, from a village named Mikhailovka in Voroshilovgradskaia oblast’ (now Luhansk), Ukraine, wrote to his son about the German occupation. He described in great detail an anti-partisan reprisal against his village in which the Germans burned down the village and murdered hundreds in one afternoon. Luka somehow managed to escape and hide before the reprisal began and  when he returned he saw his neighbors and four children murdered with bullet holes in their heads. “I returned to my village of 4000 people after the reprisal and only found 15 people alive,” he wrote. He shared the following with his son:

Misha. You know me. I’m just an old miner – a hardened man who has chipped away at coal for 25 years. I have never cried once in my entire life. But standing there in front of our burned down village, seeing the corpses of those children, I wept like a baby. The only consolation I could find was knowing that thousands of these rabid fascist dogs will be dragged along the roads [and out of our homeland].

He also told his son, Misha, that his mother and daugther had been sold into slavery to Germany. These are the kinds of letters Red Army soldiers read as they fought their way back through Eastern Europe to Germany. And soon enough they’d see the destruction for themselves. I, of course, would never justify or think to justify the “terrible revenge” enacted by the Russians and others on their aggressors, but little snippets like that of a private correspondence between a father and son can give us some insight into the provenance of that violence and anger.

Another testimony from Kyiv resident I read this week said, “We waited for the Germans to arrive, expecting to meet a cultured and educated people.” This does not appear to have happened.

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