Many cities around the world have had massive celebrations commemorating the 70th anniversary of victory in Second World War and the Great Patriotic War. St. George ribbons, Victory parades, wartime songs – these are the things you would expect to see and hear in cities on 9 May. However, outside of this important day we forget about the living memory that we have – our veterans. RuBaltic.Ru talked to a war veteran from Estonia Josef Shvinder on how he remembers this harsh wartime period.
- Mr. Shvinder, where were you when the war broke out?
- At the time, I was studying in the Far East and just finished 10th class. The youth were incredibly patriotic, we were brought up very well. Lads, we weren’t even 18. But we were all dreaming of getting to the frontlines. They laughed at us back then, said that we would still get our chance.
In the beginning of 1942, I was drafted into the army and sent to Shkotovo Military and Command Training School near Vladivostok. I was there a little over a year and then, on Stalin’s order, all Far Eastern and Urals training schools were sent to the frontlines – to Stalingrad.
- Where did you fight?
- Me and my friends thought that we would be sent to Stalingrad. But, when we arrived, it was already over – the Germans were surrounded. We were sent to a distribution unit near Moscow. I got into the 75th Army Division, 212th Rifle Regiment, 2nd Battalion. I was in charge of setting up comms between the trenches and the battalion commander. It was a position with a lot of responsibility.
- Which battles have you been in?
- The biggest one was on the Belarussian Front. We were in the 1st Belarussian. We took Kiev back and then pushed to the West. Every day under bombs and shells we pushed the Germans back.
It was 1943. Our division was given a mission like an ultimatum: retake Kiev and push the Germans out of Ukraine by the day of the October Revolution (7 November).
You know, it is very difficult to talk about how I fought there.
- What was the most difficult during the war?
- When we came up to the left bank of the Dnepr, and the Germans dug in on the right bank. That was scary. We started the attack a day and a half early – the fascists didn’t see it coming.
When the battalion lined up, the division commander said: “The first one to go on recon will be nominated for the Hero of the Soviet Union award. Volunteers – three steps forward”. And no one did even half a step. Everyone knew that swimming across the river at night and through the heavy rain was sure death.
Then the battalion commander was ordered to organize recon groups. Men were picked out. They also needed a communication man, so they picked me. I was 19 at the moment, but I was completely unafraid, an order is an order.
We found a few boats, which we used to cross to the other side. We disembarked on the other side, and not a soul was there… I communicated that to the battalion commander, and they started crossing the Dnepr. Right in the middle of the plan, a German steamboat showed up, which was headed for Kiev.
We were ordered not to give out our position until the time was right, and when the steamboat lines up with us, to give an artillery strike and to be ready for guests from the steamboat, who will be running to the shore “to their own” – they still didn’t know that the Red Army already took the right bank. That is exactly how it worked out, after the shot, everyone from the steamboat ran to us.
However, the barrage also woke all of the Germans who were asleep on the right bank. And that is when the scariest part happened…The Germans were trying to push us out, but in the end, they failed to do so.
In this battle, the communications platoon commander was killed. The battalion commander called for me and told me: “Assume command of the platoon. And if we won’t have communication – I’ll have you shot as an enemy of the people.” And I am just a boy, without any experience.
We did it though, held that position for a month until all our forces made it to the other side. And that is when we went on to continue the offensive.
- Where and how did you hear the news of victory?
- When we liberated Kiev and pushed the Germans forward, along with the Banderist scum, who were worse than the fascists… Every day the Germans snarled back at us, answered our advance with bombs and shells. I was wounded during one of these battles. Almost three months I was recuperating, had lots of small shrapnel. After getting back to full health in the end of 1944, they transferred me to the 10th Reserve Army, stationed in Poland. After looking at my file, they saw that I never finished the training school, and sent me to the Moscow Military and Command Training School. And that is where I received news of 9 May. We were asleep and suddenly someone (the watchman?) told us that we won! Oh, the things that started after that! We all ran to the Red Square, civilians and servicemen alike. We all celebrated 9 May in Moscow. We were all preparing for the Victory Parade. The military training schools and academies were given one month to prepare. And on 24 June, we were part of the Victory Parade.
- How do you feel about many people distorting or doubting the facts of the Great Patriotic War?
- Can’t stand it. How could they? What are they even talking about? I was liberating Ukraine and know it first hand.
On behalf of our Tallinn organization, as I recall, I was sent to celebrate the 65th Victory anniversary in Kiev. And we were well met and helped everywhere…
Translated by: Pavel Shamshiev.