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Disabled Veterans of the Chechen Wars - Conversations (3)

Interview with Sergei, 35 years-old, - conscript soldier injured during the storm of Grozny (Winter 1994) -, conducted in Moscow, 14 July, 2010

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski

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Russia, Chechnya
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Dedication

Pipss.org is grateful to Rebecca Gordan who translated this interview into English. A French version of this interview was formely published on the blog http://russiaviolence.hypotheses.org.

Full text

1PIPSS.ORG - How old are you?

2Sergei: All of thirty five.

3PIPSS.ORG - What is your marital status?

4Sergei: Married.

5PIPSS.ORG - Do you have children?

6Sergei: I have two children. But the first son ... I am twice married. That's how things turned out. My second daughter was born not long ago. She's a sweetie. She's one year and eight months old. My wife is 12 years younger than I am.

7PIPSS.ORG - Does your wife work?

8Sergei: For now she's on maternity leave, watching the baby.

9PIPSS.ORG - And what was she doing before?

10Sergei: She was the head accountant at a small construction company.

11PIPSS.ORG - Where were you born?

12Sergei: I was born in Kemerovsk Oblast, in the city of Novokuznetsk.

Called up on active service in Chechnya during the first war

13PIPSS.ORG - How did you end up in the war?

14Sergei: Oh, it is such a story... I was called up, like everyone, probably. And then, I wasn't even called up; these were the intrepid 1990s. They had already started to ignore all the summonses, the call ups. It's just that at some point teenagers stop understanding their parents. I wasn't getting along with my father. And later I really blamed myself for that. I was, of course, in the wrong with respect to him and more generally. And I decided that in order to smooth things over, to get past the bad feelings and misunderstandings, I would go to the army and serve. They called me up on January 6, 1994 and I left for the army. At first I wound up in Kovrov for basic training. Then I found myself in Maikop. The Maikop 131st Brigade [A brigade of the Ministry of Defense]. That's where the polygon is. While [I was being transferred] here and there the summer passed quickly and autumn began. In the fall was when the talk about the conflict began.

  • 1 Self-propelled anti air weapons.

15[…] They had already started to talk about the Dudaev regime. He was a Colonel, then he was deployed in the Caucasus, it seemed like they wanted to make him into a figurehead, but they played their cards wrong. Whatever, I won't get into politics. Eventually they made a decision. First, they started to gather the infantry. I was in the Maikop 131st Brigade we were ground to air defense, anti-aircraft defense forces. After the shooting successfully was carried out, we returned. Then they seemed to gather the infantry, but then, somehow, in an instant – if they had been given something like a month to outfit themselves, equip, get everything they needed, we had literally two days, in a week we had to gather ourselves, load all the military vehicles – tunguski1 and other batteries – the whole rear.

Prepared for war within a week

16PIPSS.ORG - And the preparation?

17Sergei: There was a week of preparation. Literally, in a week we were supposed to do it all. Well, the preparation was: in basic training we threw grenades a few times and there was shooting practice, we each got maybe three cones of bullets. But, since I am Siberian, my father and I frequently spent time in the Taiga and I was able to shoot, because of that I already knew. We got ready and soon we arrived there. In Vladikavkaz we unloaded. No. We unloaded in Mazdok. Then we marched to the Chechen border. We crossed the border, through the Terek Pass and we rested in the Terek Pass. We crossed half of Chechnya and in the Terek mountain range we got up and encamped. There were difficult negotiations, in all likelihood, with Dudaev. Dudaev didn't want to listen to anyone. He was like, "When I was talking, you didn't want to listen to me. Now I don't want to listen." This is how it is, word for word, they were arguing like friends. But a soldier doesn't need a lot. And in the end the order comes.

“Welcome to hell”

18PIPSS.ORG - How old were you then?

19Sergei: I was 19 then. That was it: the assault started. We entered the city. We went down. The first two hours we were walking through a completely empty city. You know there was the sense that the city was deserted. Everything is more or less in place, and the lights are shining everywhere, and even the shashlik is cooking, so to speak, but no one is there. One sign struck me when we entered. Here you see a sign that says, let's say, "Welcome to Moscow -- the city of heroes” or “to Grozny” or “to Ivanovo”. There the sign – it was made, I don't know, with some kind of marker or something, or paint – it was “Welcome to hell”. And the paint was red. It was like the joke of jokes; you have the regular army coming to introduce, so called constitutional order. When we came, our task was to stand by the railroad station building. We set up, made a headquarters, set up the equipment. We were standing some time, there wasn't anything happening at all, no kind of movement. The commander in charge of the radio transmitter was talking with some generals who were sitting in the rear: “How are things? How is the situation?” – “Yes, everything seems normal. It's time to go back.” That didn't continue for very long. The Chechen field commander got on the line with us, I don't remember how he introduced himself, and he started a dialogue like: “Why did you come? Get your things together, leave, this is our land.”[…] This fellow Savin was our colonel of the guards. He said, “I am not high up enough to give orders like that.” The Chechen insisted on having things his way, allegedly he said: “Pity the mothers and the men. Let's spare each other, this is war. We have weapons and what's more serious small arms and heavy artillery.”

20PIPSS.ORG - Was that all he said? He warned you?

21Sergei: Yes, he warned us. “We have well organized fighters.” And truly, many Chechens were military men in what was then our Soviet homeland. They studied, they were staff commanders, they commanded companies and divisions. This general – no colonel – he wanted to be a general – Dudaev... “There is an order and I will carry it out regardless,” the commander responded. “Okay. It's decided. Let's do it.” Literally, twenty minutes afterward it all started. What's more it started so seriously that oy oy oy. Everything was flying, amount of shooting, it was totally crazy. We came in there and every soldier we had had about a box of bullets, seriously. It probably was something like 1000 bullets for every soldier. And tanks and equipment. But the equipment was burned up quickly; they set it on fire from the houses, the neighboring buildings, from the windows. It's elementary: in wartime conditions, the undeployed equipment, you can't bring it into the city, it's very vulnerable. Well, the volume of fire was serious. We had about 300-350 people going in there, including officers. They took us out of there wounded... They were all killed. About 25-30 people left there alive. Maximum. It was a real meatgrinder. It all happened in just 60 hours, two and a half days. At the end we didn't have left bullets, people, or the ability to protect ourselves. Even the station building in which we'd put the headquarters, thankfully it was built in the Stalin era so the walls held up. The fighters had a lot of weapons. There were other people fleeing people the grenade launchers, which is to say that they didn't spare ammunition or bullets. So war...

22« [The medical assistant said :] ‘You're not going to live until morning anyway...’ »

23PIPSS.ORG - Were you wounded?

24Sergei: Yes, I was wounded. We had a detachment, the 602 Tungusk Sappers. Tungusk is a self-propelled anti air weapon, it was outfitted with four high caliber 30 millimeter machine guns that could bring down flying targets and six rockets, maybe even eight. This was blown up. The lieutenant was wounded. We are running there. We ran through this street to the neighboring house. The house was across the way, 50 meters. They were shooting at us from this house. We ran there, pulled out the lieutenant -- he was injured. They shot him up with parmidol, which is an anesthetic. They wanted to take him out, but the line was right on the asphalt. And there were these, you know, these Soviet ice cream freezers, which opened from the top and dispensed ice cream, these metal things... And we crammed ourselves under this somehow. There was a sergeant, on contract, Nizyaev. He was short, 5.25 feet maximum. I told him, “Don't move”. The line was right on the asphalt and the guy is hit right in the leg. He starts backing up. I said to him, “Get out. That's all. And tell them to cover us. We'll pull him out. There is a sniper. When it's quiet, they will cover us and we'll get out of here.” But something wasn't right with him, he began to turn back to the line again. And I am feeling, through my quilted jacket, a burning down the side of my legs. I say, “Nizyaev, what's with you? I've been hit because of you!” He turns his head and on his neck... and we were lying different ways, my head was going this way and his head was by my knee... he got confused somehow and turned back and his neck was shot through. And that's it, he was already so... already he's making jerking movements... the guy is dying. I grab one guy and I say, “Let's go”. We grab Nizyaev and we start to run across the street. And this sniper, first he got me in the leg, then I feel a bullet fly directly in my side and inside there is such a burning pain, you feel the violation. I first fell on my knees, then I got up, not looking at my side where the bullet went in, I pulled the trigger of my machine gun, I ran to the end, I started running. I had literally just some five meters to run to my battery. I got there. The guys were taking the last case of bullets out of the vehicle. I run up, saying: “Guys, that's it, I'm dead meat”. And I'm falling. They say: “Where did they get you?” And I say, “In the stomach.” They took off my pea coat, took off my bulletproof vest, and they had a look: “Yup. You got it bad.” The bullet entered my left side and went out through my liver and solar plexus. It was a really serious injury. They took me and carried me into the station building. We held out until night and under the cover of night we started to get out of the encirclement. The Chechens took the right tactic – they let us in and then the trap snapped shut. They made an inner and outer ring. With the outer ring they didn't let anyone in to rescue us. And within the inner ring they just buried us, killed us. That was the story... For these sixty hours... probably a lifetime isn't enough to live through it, there was so much emotion there. But you know, I think that anyway you can't understand fully in those situations what is happening. There were these moments that overload you, that press on you, “What is happening?” But you are rushing on because you need to work, you need to save first off your life, you need to save the guys, you need to get out of the situation. It's wrong to sit idle. Thanks to my father... since childhood he took me out, taught me to shoot, I knew how to shoot, to handle a weapon.

25PIPSS.ORG - When did they evacuate you?

26Sergei: Oh, that wasn't immediate. The night between the first and second day we ran from the station. We got to our people. This was the night from the first to the second of January 1995. The paratroopers were standing there, I don't remember, maybe the Pskov division, or the people from Volgagrad... I don't remember. They took me into the building, into the hall. It was the hall of an institute, they took me in there, a medical assistant gave me stitches, a contract sergeant. They took me out of there and put me in a “kunk”, it was a sort of vehicle of the infirmary on stretchers. It was meant for four people. The anesthesia wore off and I didn't have anything, not even parmidol... Everything hurts. It was really-really painful. I started to knock – there were these jerks – I start to knock on the medic's door and I say: “Give me some parmidol, it's unbearable.” There was this really interesting answer: “You're not going to live until morning anyway...” So that's the kind of pieces of trash they were. Two of the four who were lying on the kunk really did die. And two remained alive, including me. And when the guys took me out of there and I was alive and that medical assistant was standing there and he even was taken aback. And I say: “And you, you piece of crap, I would shoot you personally!” I wasn't shy with the phasing though, and I said it to his face.

27PIPSS.ORG - What happened then?

28Sergei: Then they put me in the battery, and the the internal troops took me again to the Terek range beyond the edge of Grozny. There was a field hospital, adapted to meet field conditions. They put me on the operating table. I was really thirsty, but they didn't let me drink of course, because of the stomach wound. They'd already shaved me, they wanted to cut me open. Then the helicopter flew in. The doctor told me: “Listen, will you make it to Vladikavkaz? There the hospital is a bit better and the conditions as well. Let's put you on the heli.” And I say: “Okay, let's.” They take me off the table, put me into the heli and off to Vladikavkaz. We get to Vladikavkaz and it's already evening. While we were enroute, in the vehicle it's shaking, it's painful, you're pleading for the driver to drive slower, each bump feels like being beaten with a sledgehammer. The officer says on the other hand: “Let's go faster, every second counts.” You're showering them with every curse in the book. But they got me there. It was already the middle of the night between the second and the third day. They operated on me. Which is to say I was injured and not operated on for days. They operated on me and I woke up in the recovery room. Our St. Petersburg group was working. They're good guys.

“I spent a year at home and, honestly, I drank a lot”

29PIPSS.ORG - And then you stayed in Vladikavkaz?

30Sergei: No, I spent 3 days in the recovery room in Vladikavkaz. I lept up in the middle of the night in a terrible sweat and I pulled out the probe – I had a tube in my nose providing oxygen – I took it off entirely. And no one had time to do anything. And when the doctor came he really yelled at me: “What have you done? What have you done? What I am supposed to do with you now?” They took me on an Antonov, on a plane, and sent me here, to Moscow. Here the most difficult cases were admitted by the Vishnevskii hospital. Here there were two admitting hospitals: Burdenko and Vishnevskii. I wound up in Vishnevskii. This is the Krasnogorsk military hospital, very serious, military. No one less than a colonel was there, so they called it the “General” hospital. I'm grateful I ended up there because from Burdenko they were carrying people out in Kamaz trucks. I ended up there and for a long time they were fighting for my life. I left there like four times, I had internal bleeding, they cut me endlessly. Then there were complications caused by peritonitis, I had abdominal separation, my abdominal muscles weren't healing together long after the operations, they put in an implant, they grafted skin. They sent me home. I spent a year at home and, honestly, I drank a lot. Then I got myself together spontaneously. There was this guy going to Ukraine to Slavutich. Taking him to the station, I say, “I also have somewhere in Moscow to go” – he was traveling through Moscow. I had made friends here with a nurse. He said, “Get your stuff, let's go.” I got a taxi from the station, I go home, I grab my documents, money, I buy a ticket and I get on the train with him. I travel here, I arrive: “Hello!” That's how I got here. I say: “I'm with you, let's go.” I got my stuff, we arrive there, celebrated my wedding, then in about eight months we returned here to Krasnogorsk.

31PIPSS.ORG - Did your parents come to see you in the hospital?

32Sergei: They were there.

33PIPSS.ORG - Who let them know?

34Sergei: When I was in recovery in Vladikavkaz, there were some Russian families, despite things... Understand that in Vladikavkaz, there are Kabardino-Balkarians and Osettians, and all sorts... There was once a military regiment and the women of the soldiers from the military town gathered – they didn't have any money for themselves, at that time thousands were millions, inflation was wild – they gathered every morning, kicked in money, they went and bought us oranges, water, and brought it there. And when they let a woman into see us in the recovery room, she went around and asked all of us. She says: “Seriozha, you must tell your parents where you are.” Honestly, when I went to Chechnya, I wrote my parents a letter the contents of which were something like “Mom, don't worry, I am going on a business trip, but not for long, I'll be back.”

35PIPSS.ORG - They didn't know?

36Sergei: Yes. They didn't know. I wrote a letter, when I was already in Chechnya, at the Terek Pass. A car was leaving, one warrant officer was sick, the car was leaving for Maikop. In Chechnya, the postal service wasn't working at all by that time. And he told us, “Guys, my advice to you is to write. Write your mothers your last letters at least, where you are and what is going to happen.” And I decided to write honestly, “Mom, I'm in Chechnya. We have one envelope for two people and there is one guy with me, Misha. I will give you his address. You write his mom in Volgograd that he is with me here.” And this woman -- my mother has a really difficult first name and middle name – she is Lilia and her middle name is Fominichna -- her father was Foma, an old Russian name -- not everyone pronounces it correctly. This women, when she called... I gave her work telephone number, I knew the number by heart... There weren't cell phones then, only landlines and not in every apartment... only on the work phone was it possible to reach her. I explained it to her. Then, as my mom tells it, the ladies tell her “Lilia, they're calling you to the phone from Vladikavkaz.” She picks up the phone and right away she says “What happened?” This woman imagined, “So, your son is injured, he's in Vladikavkaz in some hospital. If you want you can come. We'll be your escorts, we will take you, we'll show you everything.” Dad was in the circus at that time. He was a forest warden, he was in charge of the forest, the taiga. And in the circus there was good company. They were always spending time together. Vitka comes to him and says “Seriozha is injured.” “What do you mean injured?” They were sitting there and knocking some back. He says, he became stone cold sober, then and there, he gets his things, he goes home. He comes home, gathers money. Everyone in this apartment building, we grew up together and were in one class and everyone who could brought money to give: “Take it and go”. And that's how they went to Vladikavkaz. When they arrived in Vladikavkaz, I had already been sent from Vladikavkaz here to Krasnogorsk. The woman met them with her husband the colonel and brought them here and explained to them that I had flown out of here literally the day before and they had missed me by a day. They get a train ticket from there and they come here to Moscow. The Committee of Soldiers Mothers, they start to call around, where should they go? They don't know where I am, in Burdenko, in Vishnevskii? They just transported you and sent you somewhere to some town and this is how the distribution worked, the surgeons go to around to all the hospitals and collect people “We'll take this cranial-cerebral injury.” “This guy is coming with us.” “This is a cavity surgery, he's with us.” They start to call around; they called to a woman who was posted at the station where something like a headquarters had been set up. It was almost impossible to get through on the phone, there were thousands of people trying to call when they learned. They got through and they learned -- Krasnogorsk, Vishnevskii Hospital. When they arrived, the first person who told me was the nurse who had been taking care of me, then the doctor came in and said “Seriozha you should be good. Tomorrow they are coming, today it's not allowed, it's already too late at night, let them rest a little from the road. Tomorrow you will see them.” On the next day I saw them. I had tried to write them, I saw later these notes which the nurses gave them. Mother kept watch, if not around the clock, at least she sat all day in the recovery room. They let her come in there a few times, but mostly not. During that period I had internal bleeding four times, I was really dying... My father flew back, he needed to earn money, he needed to return the money to people that had lent it. My father is a good guy, he settled his accounts with everyone as was necessary. He worked a lot, a smart guy. And my mom lived here. He always sent her money.

37PIPSS.ORG - Where did she live?

38Sergei: In the Vishnevskii hospital hotel. It is a military unit so there is a hotel. They had a room, she lived together with another woman. The woman was also from Novokuznets and I know the guy... I knew him actually. He died. He died stupidly, he started to fool around with narcotics, he overdosed, it was the natural end. He died not long ago, about three years ago.

39PIPSS.ORG - Did she pay for the hotel?

40Sergei: No. They accommodated all the parents there for free. I think that's the right thing. If they had taken money for it... I don't know. Russia is a country of paradoxes, but it doesn't succumb to sorrow. In feverish times, the people know how to stand back to back. The Russians have this: they wanted to spit on one another during peaceful times, but when it is really tough they will share a piece of bread.

“Maybe it's like this in any war, a reevaluation of your values occurs…”

41PIPSS.ORG - When did you get out of the hospital?

42Sergei: I got out of the hospital in May of 1995. I spent a half year in bed rest there. When I got out of the recovery I weighed forty eight kilograms and when I checked out of the hospital I weighed fifty two, I could already stand up. But the first time when I saw myself after recovery, when I stood up for the first time, it was really interesting, they put me in a single bed and I started to come around and I said to my mother then: “It would have been better if they'd killed me”. I simply thought that I wouldn't ever stand. And she told me then: “Son, what do you mean? Don't anger God. They left you alive”. It was difficult...

43PIPSS.ORG - When did you return home? Right after you got out?

44Sergei: I returned in May, when I got out of the hospital. I went home, I met all the guys. The meetings were big, warm. You know what I didn't like... maybe it's like this in any war, a reevaluation of your values occurs... those people, those guys that I had left, 18-20 year old guys, healthy, strong men... they were troubled times, confusing times, the difficult 90s... these guys whose dads had greased some palms, who had been excluded as sick, who had just bought their way out [of serving in the army]. And when I returned home to these people, I didn't understand them anymore. I didn't understand in the sense that their conversations seemed cheap to me, about some duds, clothes, stupid things, which I, after what I'd seen... Were at a minimum not enjoyable. I felt like a stranger in their company.

45PIPSS.ORG - Were you able talk to your friends about what happened?

46Sergei: They knew everything very well. They knew that I'd been in Chechnya, fought, was wounded, was in the hospital some time. They knew from my parents and neighbors. The old people understood me well – that it was necessary to have a drink, what war was, they'd grown up on the books, the stories that theirs parents or grandparents had told them.

Gray hair

47PIPSS.ORG - But you couldn't openly talk about your feelings?

48Sergei: With them? No.

49PIPSS.ORG - And with your parents?

50Sergei: With my parents, yes. I thought that there was no one who could understand me better than my mother and father. And my brother. Because being faced with losing a child my mother lived through a lot. And my father. It's just my father was fair and curly haired and my mom had dark blonde hair like me. And when I got here to Moscow I worked a year here and returned home and I I look at here and she had a gray streak. Then I left, worked a bit and in a year I come and she's gone totally white. And I say to her “You've gone gray” and she said to me “This is how you affect us.”

51PIPSS.ORG - Did you brother also go into the army?

52Sergei: Yes, he went into the army, he served.

53PIPSS.ORG - Is he younger than you?

54Sergei: He's two and a half years younger: I was born in 1974 and he was born in 1977.

55PIPSS.ORG - And he still enlisted?

56Sergei: Yes. Dad didn't want to let him go, but the military commission took a position such that... If they'd killed me then he wouldn't have gone, and he would have been the only son left in the family. Understand this is a policy of satisfied people they will never understand this. Moreover the times were different, they were hard, difficult times for Russia.

57PIPSS.ORG - Did he also wind up in Chechnya?

58Sergei: No. They promised that they would keep him far far away from any hot spots. They sent him to the Far East in Khabarovsk. There on the Amur, he served his time on the Russian-Chinese border. Not on the border itself, there were other troops, the air defense troops I guess.

No disability benefits status

59PIPSS.ORG - When you returned home how did you get involved with the Cheshire Home?

60Sergei: That is an interesting story. That was a lot later. I flew from Novokuznetsk to here. I lived here and worked for four years.

61PIPSS.ORG - Did you get any military service money then?

62Sergei: Yes. I got a one time stipend and a stipend for being wounded.

63PIPSS.ORG - How much was it?

64Sergei: It was something like... everything was in the millions then... If you count it in dollars, it was something on the order of two and a half thousand dollars. Not such big money.

65PIPSS.ORG - And did you receive invalid status?

66Sergei: Yes, I was classified as an invalid second class at first. The next year I went and they moved me into the third class. Over ten years, year after year, I went and confirmed I was in the third class.

67PIPSS.ORG - They didn't give you permanent status?

68Sergei: Not permanent. Every year it was necessary to confirm that you're an invalid. And one fine day, it was my own fault, I didn't go. I got sick of dragging myself around. Imagine, for ten years, year in and out... What, was my health going to get better? Especially when you take into account that, unfortunately, we're not getting any younger. After some time I decided that I need to at least make some money. I wanted to get invalid categorization, they said to me: “No, dear, we can't give it to you. Because you are fine, your legs and arms and your head are in one piece. Go work.” I went to the oblast Medical-Employment Expert Commission and it was the same there. Then to the federal and from the federal it was the same. “Until 2005 you were an invalid but in 2005 there was a directive that you should first die, then, crawl, and they we will maybe consider you an invalid.” “Thanks! I understand.” You had to turn around and walk out. I am waiting for an official refusal, some official paper and I will try and send the whole package of document to the Human Rights Committee under the President. If the Committee will approve, I'll duplicate my letter with their verdict for the Presidential Administration. If they cut me down, I don't know where to find the truth, within our government in any case.

69PIPSS.ORG - And if I understand correctly, you are at this time already not considered an invalid?

70Sergei: Yes. It turns out I'm not an invalid. That is, having lost my health, I'm not considered an invalid.

71PIPSS.ORG - Do you have any consequences still from the injury?

72Sergei: Yes. I have peritoneal disease, I have problems with my liver, because the bullet when through the liver and this is pretty serious. They gave me excision of the stomach, the upper and lower intestine, the transverse colon mesentery. It was all complicated by a myocardial bruising, injuries of the heart because one bullet, when it went in, hit me in the bulletproof jacket and this was the hardest hit and outdid the rest. My left ventricle my atrioventricular fascicle is a little messed up. It all adds up to a lot. But, unfortunately, we have such a bureaucratic system that you can't break through nohow.

73PIPSS.ORG - In all these years have you received a veteran's pension?

74Sergei: In the years when I was an invalid, yes, I received money. Now...

75PIPSS.ORG - How much would you receive?

76Sergei: Now the pensions are indexed, now the pension is good. Then I got pennies, I don't remember, I think it wasn't even 1000 rubles. Under Yeltsin they were even 600, 700, 800, they were indexed to the kopek. Then the thing was some beyond the clouds amount of millions, then the country was falling again... We had a huge schemer, an Ostap Bender type, this was Anatoli Chubais. He lifted the country up three times, first with the privatization by voucher, then devaluation, and so on. The country didn't understand. I think that to you, from the West, you looked at it, even like, like some “[bear] asleep in the den” There lies something big with a club which you don't need to touch. Really the country didn't trade, it was living its life; then, when everything was dumped on the head of uneducated people – it was fraught. This is why the bandits came: “Aha, you have a lot of money and I have a gun.” Which of us is right? […]

Veterans organizations

77PIPSS.ORG - And do you have the right to an apartment?

78Sergei: No. Unfortunately. Then there was the law on veterans it was written during the Union for invalids and veterans of the Great Patriotic War then the Afghan veterans were given the same status. This law was in effect for us as well. “On the territory of the local war and conflicts” it was called. Then I went and I finished it, I tried something... In Krasnogorsk, one uncle from the administration told me. “Well? You have a communal space – I don't remember how many square meters he said – that is more than six and a half meters per person (then the hygienic norms were such). It's not appropriate for you.” And that was that. With this paper they said “Goodbye.”

79PIPSS.ORG - Did you ever turn to a veterans association?

80[…] I tried through Iuri Ivanovich and through Sergei Alekseevich... They wrote letters to Gromov, he simply stopped answering them. Sorry for being so direct, but this guy, is, in my opinion, a highfaluting general who spits on those who were in his place. I don't doubt that I will pay for my words. Once he was in the band of brothers, he helped the Afghan war veterans, I don't contest that. Then this all grew into such a huge committee under the name “all local wars and conflicts”. And it's all the same, there is no real help, no matter how you write or appeal – absolutely nothing. How can you sit there, ask yourself, where did you get all that money from? I've personally applied there, I applied even through General Nauman, me and Sergei Alekseevich, his deputy, sat and wrote letters “Give at least something, give a piece of land, I will build the hut myself.” It's not possible, now you work... I have a little daughter, I have a wife who is on maternity leave. I can't support all this on my salary. It is necessary to start taking a pension again. I even joined a veteran organization. But they couldn't give me anything that made sense. They didn't give me anything.

81PIPSS.ORG - When was this?

  • 2 One of the three largest veterans organizations in Russia.

82Sergei: Towards the beginning, in Krasnogorsk I tried to join a veterans organization. There was a good guy there, but for some reason, I don't know why, they removed him. Or maybe even he left on his own. He was really honest. I got no subsidies, I didn't get one kopek out of the veterans organizations. The only thing is that these veterans organizations, who went to Iuri Ivanovich, they gave some gifts, some money. That happened, yes. And so... I went to one, there was no reaction, at another it was the same thing. Then Vasia called me and says “Seriozha, I talked about your request about a piece of land, they won't give an apartment, so at least a piece of land, did I really not deserve that? go to Krasnogorsk to the Boevoe Bratstvo2 Committee, it's a branch. There is some representative there...” he told me the name of a corporal and gave his telephone number. I called him and said “I am ready to give up. I may have already given up, but I'm ready another time if it's necessary.” He said “What would you like?” I said “Here's what happened, I have a serious problem, I have nowhere to live, I want to do something about this.” In response it was something like this: “And why are you coming to us? Do you know how many invalids we have? We help, we work, and you... You know that in Krasnogorsk there is no land. We can't help you. We work here for a miserly salary.” I said :“I am ready to work. How about this? Let me help how I can.” “Why are you coming to us? You know we need fighters who in war and on voluntary basis. You came as a volunteer. And what will we give you? We have nothing. And why don't you yourself open something? Go on the internet, download a charter and pack away the money.” Imagine that this guy, who is doing, let's say, a charitable job, says that to me. I, of course, understand that you are a corporal, your pension is something like 35 or 40 thousand and what's more you probably have some private security enterprise, you sit and pack away the money... But what about me, with a young baby, with two children, living on charity? And you understand what you're suggesting to me? Open the same thing and do that? And how many such organizations can there be here? I said this all to his face, and he didn't like it. He said: “You know what, soldier!” And I say to him: “I haven't been a soldier for a long, long time. Such an officer as you I wouldn't have wanted to have in my command.” He was screaming at me, going crazy and hung up the phone. And you have the flag in your hand!

83PIPSS.ORG - Where do you live today?

84Sergei: In Pushkino, 30 km from Moscow.

85PIPSS.ORG - Is this your apartment?

86Sergei: No this is a rented apartment. It's the apartment of my friend. Because he's my friend he doesn't charge much. In general, near Moscow – this close in -- apartments cost around 15-16 thousand for a one room apartment. This is a two room apartment and he gives it to me for seven. Since I have a child from my first marriage, of course, I give money to him. And a car is necessary, whatever one might say. That is to say we got a car, of course on credit. To help us my parents sent us about 100 thousand rubles and Tatiana's grandmother helped. She introduced the conversation like this: “I have money. So it doesn't burn up, let's pay off your loan and you pay me.” This is what we did. We paid off the loan and now we have only one grandmother, we owe her about 100 thirty thousand. I think that in a year if we will give a thousand to ten we'll celebrate hard. But this is serious money for me. My salary isn't so high although I work in a good company and the management is in good standing, but we don't have high salaries. My salary is about 40 thousand. Plus I get a bonus every half year. As normal, you participate in the profitability of the company, and they then share out of course. […]

The “war invalid business”

87PIPSS.ORG - When did you meet Mr. Nauman [Director of the Cheshire Home, rehabilitation house for war invalids]?

  • 3 Veteran of the Afghan war.

88Sergei: When I came to Moscow, I had a friend. Then he died. I will tell about him later, he was a great guy. We worked at the Fund for Professional Rehabilitation of Invalids as drivers and mechanics. This was organized by Sergei Mikhailovich. He organized this fund to achieve his own, you might say, mercenary interests. But he of course told us otherwise. […] In the legal code, there was this loophole. There was this thing in there: if 50 percent plus one person were invalids then you were released from a series of taxes. Because then it was impossible to pay taxes, if you earn a ruble then you should give in taxes a ruble and four kopeks; it was 104%. By the way, you know, when I applied to the Law Department things were still the same... I don't remember who was the minister for taxes and collection, he from the screens of our blue televisions brought out such a phrase that it totally staggered me: “Yes, in Russian taxes are very high and it's almost impossible to pay, but it's necessary to pay taxes.” You understand, this was an educated person talking, a minister.... How can your tongue say something like that? Thankfully these times are over. I don't know how much, all the levers of power are still... So, we worked at this foundation, this Sergei Mikhailovich taught us some very good things. He made us into a military group, we were five people, he taught us to drive, and really well. There was this guy, I don't know whether he's still alive or not, Ernest Sergeevich, he was in charge of the vehicles at the Institute of Physical Education and Sport on Shelkov highway, he taught a driving master class, racing and so on. His job was secret, since he sometime in the Soviet period taught all the drivers of our party leaders – all the police u-turns on ice, 180 degree turns, weaving in and out like a snake, how to brake on ice and so on. He taught all of this. The police u-turn is done like this: you go fast in reverse, pop the clutch, turn the wheel, engage the clutch and go straight. There was a guy, this one Maksim, his arm was cut off at the elbow. He had a prosthesis but the prosthesis didn't work, that is you couldn't use it to drive, you couldn't turn the wheel. He had to work with one hand. There was competitions – naked ice, on the Shelkov highway, there is a soccer field, it was filled with ice, racing and pulling these figures. Among the healthy people it was necessary to show the best result, and within a regular street's width, three meters, not hitting one cone. He showed the best result and took first place. It was done like this, he races, with a cigarette in his teeth – a sportsman! – you pop the clutch, the cigarette starts to hurt his eyes, he manages to inhale, do the figure and go forward, showing the best result. Then Sergei Mikhailovich had some grandiose plan, he stated to play with money. This one guy taught him I guess... He used to work with one Afganets3, he gave him all the work in the legal field and he saw this and built his business on this. In the end, of course, he stole all the money and everything fell apart, he fled, then hid for a long time, then he appeared again, now he is in the milk business I think. Naturally we also all left.

General Nauman

89PIPSS.ORG - How long did you work there?

90Sergei: Probably around five years. He introduced us there to Major General Nauman. He came to us at that time. Slabodianik had this idea then that we would leave one car there for administrative needs – to go for milk, for the things we need to run the place –at your disposal, it was absolutely free. But my people who would be working there, you would feed them and they were at your service. And like, yes, all in business, everyone is satisfied. Then Iuri Ivanovich came to us. They come in and greet everyone. I had gotten divorced around that time, I didn't have anywhere to live but I was staying in the dorms, crashing. Thankfully I had a brother [cousin] who was studying at the Academy, in the police, he was a major then. He let me crash at the dorm and I lived there some time. Then they graduated they needed to leave with their families to their placements: “Seriozha, you need to look for something else.” I, of course, pleaded to Slabodianik: “Help!”. He decided to find a way out of the situation, he made an agreement with Iuri Ivanovich. Iuri Ivanovich took me in and I lived there, he fed and watered me, and I worked for him. And once I come and on my table are some forms, standard, A4 format, and there is my last name, first name and middle name. The Academy of Labor and Social Relations – my mind couldn't comprehend it... I took the form. I say “Iuri Ivanovich, what is this?” “Seriozha, you should fill those out and tomorrow take them to the Academy.” “No, Iuri Ivanovich, I won't, I have forgotten everything, I don't want anything, I after the war, I'm suffering from shellshock...” […] “I don't want to hear it! Just that you fill it out and by tomorrow evening it's been submitted!” My goodness, you can't fight with your own father. You live with him, he feeds you, waters you, sits you down. With tears in my eyes I start to write. I filled it in, I submitted it. Then: “You have been assigned to take the entrance exams in a month. The themes will be such and such. History will be mandatory, you should focus on the dates. Russian language will be mandatory. And government and rights theory. You must pass these.” My goodness, what literature? I don't want to read and I won't. Anyway, I ended up having to do it. Myself and Tolik got in. He was from Tula, he was an Afghan vet, he lost his legs. It was necessary to apply. We got in, we passed half of the exams miserably, they accepted us, probably with half of the normally required score. But whatever, the heck with them. It turned out, it was all a joke. But when everything is decided at such a level... they insisted that you go study and you went... even unwilling... such people at the dean's level... and the general decided all this... you can't let such people down. It was necessary to hit the books, sit yourself down and study. A secretary of the study committee was in charge of me. She was always telling me: “Seriozha, you are a good boy, your teachers praise you.” I started to read and this stated to have an effect in the seminars. It somehow took a hold of me. And thanks to that another uncle told me: “Just don't give up or it will be necessary to kick you out. To study this is normal.” Then one after the other, pass, pass, pass. Then we were done. And Vasilii came after me, this guy was totally blind, he was wounded in Afghanistan. Looking at me he says “Why not Seriozha. I can too.” And you know I was already in the fourth year and they were in the second, two years after me they entered...they had to do their civil law class. The civil law class was for us probably the most basic thing. International law is not so hard, it is all written, pacts, agreements, conventions... it can all be found easily and it is from the Roman law code. But our civil law – this you need to know the details, the legal forms and so on. I was really surprised: this guy recorded everything on a dictaphone, then he listened, he doesn't read braille, he thinks it is beneath him to read in braille. I sat with him at the cafeteria at Iuri Ivanovich's at night. And we – probably from 8 at night to 4 in the morning -- I read to him the whole civil code, I read and comment to him clause by clause, a series of words he didn't understand, I explained him what their origins are, and what they are used for. And I was amazed that when he took the civil law test, there were 25 people in his group, from them 4 people got fours [out of five], ten people got threes, the rest didn't pass at all. One of the four people was Vasilii. This was my little victory. And his of course. Good for him. We to this day stay in touch and I visit him with pleasure and we are happy to see each other. He shares with me his family problems and I give him advice. So that he would be calmed. A guy who lost his sight, this is difficult, of course. He talked in Cheshire with one guy who was blind from childhood. He said “You Vasia, you saw, what is a green leaf, what is spring. I never saw that at all. You at least know what is fire, water, what could they are, and I can't even imagine.” This is difficulty of course to lose your sight, especially as a young man. Now he's already approaching forty years old, he's older than I am. So that's forty and change.

Professional options

91PIPSS.ORG - When you got your diploma what happened? Did you find work right away?

92Sergei: No, finding work as a lawyer in Russia is really not easy.

93PIPSS.ORG - Did you work during your studies? When you lived at Cheshire Home did you work?

94Sergei: When I lived at Cheshire Home the first half of the time I worked at Sergei Mikhailovich's. Then when this whole enterprise started to fail and fall apart... It's more that our relationship with him soured. Because he in the first place stopped paying. Then, maybe it was the times. And this would be nothing, it would be bearable, if he'd kicked in anything. But you know, when a man already is greedily taking from one pocket, so to speak, for himself and buys property abroad... How can you do that? People are working for you, you get something from them, but you don't pay them, you just line your own pocket. This greediness is what got him. Then he hired himself a bodyguard, he was really afraid that the gangs or the authorities would get him. And I of course quit. I just sat around the house for a time.

95PIPSS.ORG - At you parents' house?

96Sergei: No, here at my wife's house. Probably three months. I couldn't find a place. A man without work... I don't know. You know a vacation, that's nice, that's great, you don't want to go to work. But when you aren't working, when you lost you work, and week after week you're sitting home, this is something else entirely. I can't not work, not me. It really starts to weigh on you.... I found work, a guy studying at the Academy with me offered it to me. He said “I am leaving to Beeline, and they have salaries like this...” Then four hundred dollars was a serious salary, it was good money. And I say “Listen, Andriukha, if there is something there, take me to work with you.” His father worked there, his father told him: “Listen, do you want to work with me?” He said, “No, I'm not going to move, but I have a friend, will you take him?” “Okay, send him over.” And I came and Piotr Iakovlevich set things up and I and the rest of the collective went there.

97PIPSS.ORG - Was this connected with your diploma?

98Sergei: No, I am in charge of logistics. It's completely unrelated. You know, if you get a paper or you read the internet Russia is really a paradox. Look: lawyer with five plus years of experience is needed, let's say, or with three plus years of experience, desirable civil defense, desirable conversational English. Excuse me, I graduated, I got a diploma, where am I supposed to get five or three years of experience? It's a closed circle, you stand in place and are trampled. Going to somewhere in the government administration into the police force or the prosecutors office isn't possible for me because of my status, I was fired according to the statute, that is I was decommissioned, so they won't take me... with an injury, with my health condition, I just won't get in. So it turns out that the government just spit on me: “Here you go, go, do what you want.” At that same moment, in a flash, higher education became a pay service. That is it turns out that a person who went to war, who gave his health to the government, he wanted to adapt, maybe he still wants, to get into the social stream, but the government itself won't let him for anything. You are thrown out onto the will of fate, you become someone no one needs. They gave you this miserly pension – go live on this. When my mom learned what kind of pension I had she first started to cry, like any woman -- such little money for the health of her son. And second she said, “Seriozh, I will take this money, I'll take it to Red Square and I'll give it to Yeltsin right in front of the Kremlin. I'll write a sign: “Take this money! Just give us our health back.” Now to go into being a lawyer... lawyers earn very little – around 15 thousand. To sit at some factory to write absolutely identical contracts, stamp them, to just change the name of the organization and the name of the director, it's not the work for me. One interesting job is -- I would like to be in a law enforcement organization, but alas, alas. In the police... You understand what kind of police force we have now? My cousin works there now, in the police. I have an older cousin who lived here and worked while I lived with him. I see it all clearly, I understand what people are like there. I don't want to just ruin myself as a person. It's a bunch of sarcasm, unnecessary taunts, attempts to catch people out, it's completely ineffective... There are two sides of the coin, from one side they are encountering such dirt, but from the other side you still need to remain a person.

War trauma

99PIPSS.ORG - Does it bother you to remember the war?

100Sergei: It used to. The memories didn't bother me, but you know... […] Now I don't even dream of bloodied boys. You know, it really helped me a lot that Iuri Ivanovich pushed me into the academy. I started with my peers, with my boys, including those who were younger and who were older, there were both types, we studied at night, there were working people there. This collective, these conditions – student parties -- although they were older than the day students, who went straight into the institute after school. When we got together it was great. And with them, you don't even notice how you're adapting and becoming a fully fledged member of society, you don't notice those illnesses, those losses, that you don't have hands or legs, that you are an invalid. You don't notice this. You are with them and they don't ask anything and you also don't say anything. Although many knew of course. Before that, yes. I will repeat, I will say, that when I came there I drank very heavily. I drank hard... I probably for a year drank an ungodly amount... My mother tried to talk me out of it several times. She said “Seriozha, stop, you already have health problems, what are you doing on top of that?” You are like a lost person, simply lost to your fate. That's it, you're not needed, you are used up material, remnants...

101PIPSS.ORG - And how did you stop drinking?

102Sergei: Well this probably helped me: at first I distracted myself with sport, cars, this was great, this was captivating. I knew how to drive a car, but on the ice, on bald tires, it is just captivating. Such adrenaline is maybe what was missing. It distracted. We still got together, but already less often. We understood that tomorrow we had to be at work, and it was work that would feed us. Then when I started living with Iuri Ivanovich [Nauman], I lived there exactly half a year, and he sent me to the academy: “Go study.” I didn't want, I was against it fully, but he insisted and for and I'm his most humble admirer. This man understood, he knew, that if a person isn't put on some track, he'll just skate along and turn into a nothing. And Maksim, after Sergei Mikhailovich sold them all out, I found myself another job, but I had studied and it was a little different for me, I understood that it was necessary to clamber upwards. He was leading Maks hard. He just understood that he would be sold out again, betrayed, sold out. He started to drink, and drink heavily. And he burnt out after a year or a year and a half. When they did the autopsy, his wife said later, that the doctor who did the autopsy said “It is amazing, you would think that this guy was an old man. All this internal organs – liver, lungs, heart, they are chewed up.” He started to drink and smoked a lot. This guy, that was it, he didn't find himself.

103PIPSS.ORG - And what about the nightmares, what did you say?

104Sergei: I had nightmares, yes. I dreamt and I was scared. At first I just sat at the window and smoked.

105PIPSS.ORG - What were you scared of?

106Sergei: I don't know, I don't know. You know, as a rule, the shooting was only at night. Daytime was usually more or less quiet. Although during the daytime they also shot at us. But nighttime was especially dangerous. For this reason night was for me always very difficult. I at night would sit at the window, smoking two packs a night. And as soon as the sun... when it started to get even a little bit light, around five in the morning, I would go to sleep. That's how it was.

107PIPSS.ORG - And it's gone now? Completely?

108Sergei: Yes, it's over. For a long time now I don't have any dreams. But you know all the same, from time to time on the internet...

109PIPSS.ORG - How long did this go on?

110Sergei: This went on for a long time. I think probably around 10 years. Definitely ten years. Even when I was at the academy, I often remembered Chechnya. The shooting, the blood... You know I hadn't seen anything like that before. I was in the heavy armaments. Our brigade was destroyed in exactly 2.5 days, in 60 hours. This, you understand, it's winter, it's dirty, mixed shells, tank tracks, blown off parts of people, heads, arms, legs, half covered in blood. And for this reason, at night, when it was all burning, when the house 50 meters across the way just turns to dust, it's shining brightly, like daytime, and you crawl through all this, just because you need to crawl. And this all later came back to me often, I was immersed in them. Every person has memories, and these memories can't ever be forgotten. Of course I am still fighting... I am always fighting and I never forget, I will remember it until the end of my days. One time Iuri Ivanovich [Nauman] told me: “Seriozha, I understand you. But you need to forget. It's time already to get this out of your head. You won't ever forget about it, but you also don't need to remember it.” I really started to remember it less and less. You know, before with Vasia we often talked about Afghanistan. I have known him a long time. Most recently when we've been meeting, every five years or so, we don't even talk about Afghanistan or Chechnya. Naturally when on the television they flash on something related on the news reports, a captured shaikhid, a captured someone, a captured field commander -- I can already imagine under whom he served, and how... Vasia sometimes asks. Already these things... it's already easy you say... already the memories are so deep you can't turn them over in your mind. It's already more a mathematical accounting, from the tactical side. And deep memories you try not to stir them up, so as not to touch them.

“Get out of here with your psychology!”

111PIPSS.ORG - Did you not feel like you needed to go to a psychologist?

112Sergei: [Laughs.]

113PIPSS.ORG - At the hospital did any psychologists come to you? Did they offer this?

114Sergei: You know, a psychologist. This is my strictly individual point of view, but what can a psychologist do? You were raised more democratically, in your part of the world these movements come and go. And you know these institutions in medicine, that the institution of psychology really helps one unburden themselves and so on. We lived in the [Soviet] Union and we each always dealt with our problems ourselves. This is a country of slaves for the most part. Although we didn't think of ourselves in this way of course. We always considered ourselves the happiest people. And what would a psychologist have given me? One came to me, after the war, opened this book for me, and there are little circles and stars inside. And I look at him and with such an expression on my face, you know, if you weren't a woman I would say how I looked at him: “Do you think I'm an idiot or something? Why are you asking me these questions?” That was the first impression: “What do you take me for?" You turn around and leave.

115PIPSS.ORG - So you mean, someone did come?

116Sergei: Yes, a guy came, to help you maybe. And since we didn't know about the institution of psychology at all... Especially a guy who has gone to war... “You are suggesting that I cry on your shoulder or something? What do you want from me? What are you showing me?” That is how we related to him. We kept away from the psychologists: “Get out of here with your psychology!” For you maybe it's like this: it's a doctor, you need to sit, after all he's giving you good advice...

117PIPSS.ORG - This is not a doctor.

118Sergei: But all the same, someone from the medical establishment, let's say. Russia is a different country, here everything is tense, like a thread, or a cable or a rope. These upper class citizens can allow themselves, but a simple person, what is psychology to him for the love of Pete? He needs to feed his children and we don't have a dime...

“Pasha Mercedes”

119PIPSS.ORG - Do you have any honors?

120Sergei: The Bravery Order.

121PIPSS.ORG - When were you awarded it?

122Sergei: I got it in March 1995. The Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Grachev... I don't remember his last name gave it to us. Grachev didn’t come himself. That's the kind of commanders we have – he ditched us all, sold us out... Ah... “Pasha-Pasha-Mercedes”. There was some article about him, do you remember? […] He really liked Mercedes cars. Then the country was starving, but our bureaucrats were driving Mercedes. He loved exclusive models, he had a ton of Mercedes. And there was one article that called him Pasha Mercedes. Pavel Grachev. Yes... But you can't keep the minister from living well, of course. But I still though that people should have some honor. I was always amazed by this, I compared such things: in Japan one aviation manager, I think in the company... I don't remember exactly what the story was, but it was like: his plane for some reason crashed, people died, a lot of people. And this manager committed hari-kari, he was responsible to the people. Do you understand? And this Pasha Grachev, he didn't care, I don't think.

123PIPSS.ORG - Would you like him to have committed hari-kari?

124Sergei: No, but there should still be honor. If you are in such a position, be kind, answer for your actions and your words. First of all, you are a man, and second you are a bureaucrat. Here, alas, everything is the other way around. Although you know it would be great if our bureaucrats started to realize; they would start hari-kariing themselves. Half the country would be gone immediately. We have such a small population on such a large territory. It was like a feast during the plague, someone was riding in a Mercedes and someone is gnawing on a crust of bread.

“A place to live. This is my number one problem”

125PIPSS.ORG - What are the biggest problems you have right now?

126Sergei: A place to live. This is my number one problem. You understand, I want to live today and not sometime, not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow, not in the next life. I have a young wife, I have two children, I need to do something for them, I need to at least let them live if I don't make it.

127PIPSS.ORG - When did you get married?

128Sergei: In 2000. And the second time... My daughter is a year and eight months, two years ago it was then, in the summer. I don't remember the dates. Different responsibilities, different problems. But all the same you want to make your wife happy, to earn money somewhere... Knowing that soon it's kindergarten, then school, then the institute... But you need to look ahead. Iuri Ivanovich was a good guy, he had forethought, he is a German. Although he was Russified, of course. A good guy, a smart guy. One time General Ermolov said to Nikolai, Nikolai he asks him -- the Tsar our grandfather says: “What else can I do for you?” General Ermolov answers the Tsar: “You know, I am afraid that my desire cannot be fulfilled.” “Why do you think that?” “Move me into the rank of a German.” There you have it! Because once most of the governor generals, governors, bureaucrats as a rule were Germans and they fulfilled all their commands accurately, whatever they were given. Then when everything fell apart then the Russians were put in these posts and everything was squandered through drinking.

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Notes

1 Self-propelled anti air weapons.

2 One of the three largest veterans organizations in Russia.

3 Veteran of the Afghan war.

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References

Electronic reference

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski, « Interview with Sergei, 35 years-old, - conscript soldier injured during the storm of Grozny (Winter 1994) -, conducted in Moscow, 14 July, 2010 », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 14/15 | 2013, Online since 31 December 2012, connection on 23 October 2017. URL : http://pipss.revues.org/3992

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About the author

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski

PIPSS.ORG / CERCEC

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