Home > Uncategorized > One Soldier’s War: Babchenko

One Soldier’s War: Babchenko

from One Soldier's War, published this month by Grove Press. Babchenko is a Russian soldier who fought in Chechnya during the 1990s. Translated from the Russian by Nick Allen.

Ourtask was to hold the bridge across the Argun River. We had no water with us, so we took it from the river. It stank of rotten eggs and had the color of concrete, but we drank it anyway, telling ourselves that hydrogen sulfide was good for the kidneys.

The river was to us what a desert spring is to the Bedouin. We washed and drank there and used its water to cook with. There were no rebels in this region, and our lives assumed a calm, quiet rhythm.

In the mornings, we would head down to the river like tourists, stripped to the waist, with flowery plundered towels thrown over our shoulders. We washed and splashed around like kids and then sat on the rocks and sunbathed, our white bellies turned to the bright winter sunshine.

One day, several corpses floated down the Argun toward us. Farther upstream, two Niva jeeps carrying retreating rebels had fallen into the ravine. The first body to float into sight was a captured Russian paratrooper, his black-and-white camouflage smock a stark contrast with the murky water.

We fished him out, and then some officers came to collect him and drove off with him on the back of their truck. But the river couldn't wash them all away, and a few Chechens were stuck in the twisted jeeps. The weather was warm, and they would soon start to decompose. We wanted to get them out because they were ruining our water, but the ravine was too steep, so we stopped trying.

The next morning, I went to the water barrel they brought to the kitchen each day. Usually it got emptied quickly, but this time it was full. Ladling out a mug, I took the first sip, then realized why no one was drinking it. I spat it out and put the mug down. Arkasha the sniper looked at me, took the mug, filled it with water, drank, and gave it to me. "Come on, what's wrong with you? Drink!" So we kept drinking it, this dead, sulfuric water, but we no longer ''I T said it was good for our kidneys.


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