R H Auslander uses his intimate knowledge of Russian Armed Forces, Russian culture and Russian history to give the reader a deep look in to Russia, her culture and her Spetznaz Regiments. The author’s deft hand and storytelling ability open to the reader a view of Russia few outside of Russia have seen in a gripping tale of war and romance wrapped in a vivid panorama of betrayal and treachery, love and honor, loyalty, faith and duty.
With the clouds of war darkening the horizon for all to see, the story unfolds of Annya Dmitrovna, a beautiful Russian lady, and Starshi Sarjant Roman Ivan’vich, a foreign man, a professional soldier serving for Russia in 317 Independent Spetznaz Regiment. As their romance blossoms in to an understanding during a night of good food, good wine and animated conversation, the thought of war banished from their minds, Roman Ivan’vich is suddenly ordered at 01:00 in the morning to report to his regiment immediately.
As the regiment gathers and moves to assembly and deployment, an ominous event portends trouble. As the war begins and the fighting progresses treachery rears its ugly head, a treachery and betrayal that goes to the very heights of power in Moskau, contrasting dramatically with the courage, honor and loyalty of the Spetznaz set in the mixture of east and west that is Russia and the unique culture of her Spetznaz, those warriors who are never defeated, who are Never The Last One.
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Original publish date 10 June 2015. Page count 710.
She rose early, why she did not know, actually she had hardly slept at all. As she left the flat to walk the first pair of dogs she absent mindedly turned on the TV. The news came on as she took her cell phone and left to walk Par and his wife. The predawn was warm and soft, the moon bright, the few street lights cast a gentle glow, a mist in some areas forming a soft and delicate golden halo around the lights. The smell of spring flowers was in the air, the earthy scent of damp soil and wet grass adding to the ambiance of the early morning. She smiled for a moment, watching her huge red/mahogany collie Par gently nuzzle his wife Darya before continuing with his swaying gait, his long hair flowing side to side, his chest ruff narrow and brilliant white. Darya followed behind him faithfully, trotting from time to time as Annushka gave her more leash to keep up with Par, Darya’s coal black hair blending with the night, just the white of her shoulder mane showing where she was.
She smiled to herself. ‘If only my Roma was here, it would be so romantic to walk with him in this dawn. Par and Darya are so tender this morning, the world is quiet, so beautiful, so peaceful.’ She remembered the first time she saw her Roma, remembered his average looks, his very polite demeanor, his stocky and strong build, and she remembered the first time she looked in his eyes. She knew now that in her subconscious at that moment she knew she would marry this man. She sighed happily and smiled again.
There were no cars out except one tired old Militsiya Lada. The car slowed as it passed her, the Sarjant in the right front looking at her, recognizing her and calling a quite greeting which she returned with a wave. Nothing else, not a soul, was around.
'Where is my Roma? Why isn’t he here to enjoy this beautiful and gentle night with me? What is he doing now? I knew, I knew the moment I saw our guard come in to the restaurant, the moment I saw his face, I knew my Roma was going to war. I know he has his duty just as I know it is my duty to support him, to send him to his service with no worries of me, it is my duty to tell him to be brave, to serve us faithfully, to make me, to make us, proud of him. But I worry, I am so frightened for him. What if he is wounded, what if he doesn’t return, what if I never hear of him again?'
A single tear started its journey down her delicate Turkoman face as she thought, her deep brown eyes misting over.
'I swore I would never let a man in to my heart again. My husband died two weeks after we married when I was 18 and he was but 20. Never again would I have the heartbreak of that. Never. And then the Madame Polkovnik, my dear friend, the loving mother I never had, introduced me to my Roma these many years later. I swore I would not let him in, I swore I would not love him when I let him in, I swore I would not lose him when I fell in love with him. Now my Roma is gone, off to another war. When will it end, when will our men be allowed to stay with us and not go off fighting in some soon to be forgotten dark corner of this vast land?'
She walked, Par and Darya staying close to her now, sensing her troubled mind, Darya staying so close to her they touched.
'I was so happy when my Roma’s two letters arrived. The young Lutanant, not much more than a child in uniform, blushed when he handed them to me at my flat door, saying before I could ask ‘Please ask me no questions, Madame Starshi Sarjant, I cannot tell you anything.’ I smiled at him and thanked him for the letters, and I told him I know, I know I can ask nothing about my Roma or his Regiment or the coming war. He smiled and left. In the morning I will go to Church, I will speak to Father Piotr’s assistant Natalya, his aid, she who in reality runs the Church, I will have prayers said by Father Piotr for my Roma and his men, his Regiment. In his second letter my Roma gave me the name and phone number of the mother of a young Medical Sister he met. While I am worried of my Roma, poor Sophia is frantic with worry and fear of her daughter. She lives not far from my flat here in Odessa, and I know the Madame Polkovnik will also come to me, we will go to Church together to offer our prayers.'
Annushka walked, silently enjoying the early predawn ambiance. She thought. 'Another block to the park. I will slip their leashes and let them run and play for a bit, then back to the flat to walk the other pair. It will be good for them to run. No one is out, we are alone, no one will be worried about the dogs, the dogs can run and play as they want. How I wish my Roma was here. Par so liked him when I introduced them in Moscow, my Roma and he were instant friends.' She glanced at her watch. It was 03:30.
Suddenly Par went on point, uttering a deep, long low growl with bared fangs, his hackles and brilliant white ruff flaring, looking straight east where the first delicate softening of the night sky on the far horizon told where dawn would break. Annushka instantly grabbed her little canister of Mace, defense against both stray dogs and stray people, and wrapped his leash around her hand. Par was not pulling and spoiling for a fight as usual, all he did was stand and look east where the sun would rise and continue to growl with bared fangs and ears back, a deep, wet guttural growl she’d never heard before. He stopped growling and looked at her, starting to whine. He came a step towards her, ears up, whined again and looked east. Darya began to get nervous, also whining and looking east, ears up and listening. ‘What do they hear?’ she thought.
Suddenly Par turned back east, let loose a savage roar and lunged forward, almost catching Annushka off balance. She pulled frantically at his leash as of a sudden Darya also snarled and lunged forward. As she struggled to control the dogs both Par and Darya started to bark frantically, both looking due east and pulling violently at their leashes. As she struggled with the dogs suddenly Par stopped and sat, snapping once at Darya who was instantly quiet and sat beside him. As she wrapped the leashes more securely around her hand she continued to look around. ‘I see nothing, absolutely nothing. What is going on? Why are they so savage? Why did they attack and what did they attack?’
As the dogs calmed and sat, her cell phone vibrated silently. She looked at the number and saw it was Sophia. Fearing the worst, she answered.
“Annushka! Where are you? I am at your flat.”
Annushka was puzzled. “I am walking the dogs. What’s wrong?”
“Come home, Annushka, come home! The news….” and she burst in to tears. Annushka started to run, Par and Darya running beside her, both looking over their shoulders and whining, Par barking at something from time to time. She got to her building and ran up the two flights of stairs, letting the dogs go to run up faster. She got to her door and there was Sophia, weeping, Par and Darya whining and pawing at the door. She keyed the lock and in the four of them went. She could hear the news from the kitchen, hear shooting. She and Sophia ran to the television. She was shocked at what she saw.
The news was in English, dubbed over with Russian. She thought ‘Shut up! Let me hear it in English!’. The camera was showing distant streams of tracer arching out, muzzle flashes everywhere, some close and some far. Suddenly a brilliant explosion half blotted out the screen for a moment, then it darkened again, then another just to the left of the first, then darkness again, crisscrossed with tracer fire. A third explosion appeared and this one was clearly identifiable as a BTR brewing up. The camera switched to a man in civilian clothes speaking English, something about a UN Resolution. The screen then went back to a rerun of the earlier view of the fighting. It was obvious that whoever was doing the filming was quite some distance from the actual fighting. After two more reruns of the fighting without comment by the station, Annushka turned the sound down and switched to another station. Sophia had stopped weeping for the moment.
“Sofi, don’t worry so much, if anything has happened they will let me know immediately, so no news is good news. Your Anastasiya is safe and sound as is her Ivan. Don’t worry, my dear, everything will be OK.”
She began to fix tea. Par and Darya had calmed down, just Par going to the balcony from time to time, putting his front paws on the railing and standing on his hind legs, looking to the east, ears up and listening, from time to time growling as Darya huddled in a corner looking frightened and miserable.
Again she thought ‘What do they hear?’
While she was outwardly calm, inside she was quaking with fear and worry.