The war began when I was in my 3rd year of the 1st Medical Institute. That day we had a physiology exam, for which I wasn't prepared. Learning came to me with difficulty. And when I heard on the radio that the war had begun, I thought: "That's good, maybe they'll at least give me a passing mark!" Indeed, the professor didn't care about anything else and marked our grades almost mechanically. So, my first feeling was relief.
In the summer we were mobilized to work on a Sklifosofskiy Institute ambulance, since all paramedics had been sent to the front. Since I didn't have any money besides scholarship, I went to work with pleasure. They fed us there, gave us boiling water. I had a car and a driver; no doctor or paramedic - just the two of us. Night shifts, bombings. Moscow was bombed heavily. One time we were sitting in the yard of the Filatovskaya Hospital waiting out a bombing raid. I had my medic's bag in which I carried all medicines and put under my head instead of a pillow during rest stops. They announced an emergency departure. The driver ran to the car, but I lingered, trying to find my bag in the dark. I barely found it, ran out to the car, and saw a bomb crater in its place. Is this not fate? Still, they immediately put me into another car and we drove off. That's how I worked through the entire summer. In the fall our institute was evacuated to Ufa, I could go with it or I could transfer to any medical school in the country. I had a girlfriend Nina from Samarkand in the institute. She said that life would be easier in the south: warmth and fruit. So when I had the opportunity I transfered to the Samarkand medical institute and departed.
I finished the institute in 1943. I was given the rank of senior lieutenant and immediately called up to the military commissariat, where they had me write an autobiography. I wrote: "My parents died." If I wrote that they had been arrested in the purges, they wouldn't have sent me to the front (Mariana Vladimirovna's father was executed in 1937. Her mother came back in the early 50s after eight years in the camps and seven years of exile), and I didn't want to remain at the home front. They gave me a warrant to hospital #4567. So I'm standing with that ticket and see my girlfriend Nina with some woman. They approach me, and Nina says: "Why don't you exchange: you go to my hospital, and she to yours, with her friend." We went to the commissar. He rewrote my number to 3963. Then we parted. Consequently it turned out that the hospital #4567 had been a field hospital and had been bombed to pieces on the way to the front, and I got into a large front evacuation hospital of 1,500 beds.
We rode to the front in freight cars. We carried all our equipment with us. We rode for a long time, almost three months. They would put our train into a siding, and we would have to go to the railway station manager to ask for a locomotive. We had this 'easy' nurse, Zoika, who usually wore a papaha fur cap, like a partisan. So we would give Zoika alcohol: "Go, tell them to give us a locomotive." Everybody stuck their heads out of the train: "Zoika's going! Zoika's going!" Then we're waiting, would they give us the engine or no? Some time passes, and Zoika returns. "How is it?!" "Got it!" And indeed, we hear a locomotive clutching our train. When we were riding near the Aral Sea everybody gathered salt. I didn't know what for, but my Nina says: "Come on, take off the pillow case, go buy salt, we'll be bartering later on." So we bartered right up to Voronezh: you give them a pot of salt, they give you a boiled chicken. We also had a kitchen in a Pullman car."
We cooked various porridges there - we didn't starve. But there wasn't anywhere to wash, and little by little everyone got infested with lice. Here my Nina, who was more enterprising, says: "Let's go, the engineer will give us water." We came to him, he poured out some water, then we found some wash basins and were standing there, washing. I raised my eyes and saw that he was watching. He was happy, smiling, and we were satisfied that we finally got to wash. They brought us to Romny. Told us that they'd take everybody to the bathhouse. My God, such happiness! Everybody undressed in there. There was a plywood partition between the male and female sections, and behind it they brought some soldiers to wash. Then it turned out that all the tubs were on our side, and there wasn't a single one on theirs. Suddenly this wall started shaking and collapsed, and these soldiers were running at us. We all got scared, we were naked after all, but they started snatching these tubs from our hands, they didn't give a damn about us. They took away my tub, but Nina stands there naked, red, with her hair undone and yells at the soldier to wanted snatch her tub: "Get away or I'll scald you!" She was the only one who managed save hers, and the soldiers, having got our tubs, ran away to their side satisfied.
Our hospital belonged to the First Ukrainian Front. It has to be noted that all hospitals specialized in something. Ours specialized in wounds of upper and lower limbs. It usually deployed in schoolhouses of the big cities. The first city where we started working was Konotop. Just as we deployed and received wounded, we got a message that Kiev had been liberated. We moved to Kiev. As soon as we deployed we were transferred to Novograd-Volynskiy. Then Dubno. In Dubno there was an aviation regiment next to us, and every night we had dancing at the volleyball courts. From our side - nurses and orderlies, from theirs - mostly ground crews. There were such affairs! Wow! Then we went to
In Rovno we were bombed every night. Germans hung up candle bombs, so that it would be light as if it were daytime. We ran around in the trenches during bombing raids with strechers, pulled out the wounded. The exhaustion was boundless. Then you'd go lie down - it was light and scary, you'd barely sleep until morning, and in the morning - dressings, dressings... Then there was Lvov. There we had a permanent hospital in a women's monastery. At first they even allowed the sisters to be nurses. They really cleaned up everything! Although later it was forbidden because they constantly talked to soldiers about religion, and religion back then was, to put it mildly, not encouraged. In May of 1945 they transferred us to Germany. White sheets were hanging out all over Poland. We arrived to our destination city, Beuton (Bytom). We quartered in the building of the station, which had glass covering instead of regular ceiling, and waited until our hospital train is unloaded. And suddenly in the middle of the night there was a yell: "The war is over!" All soldiers started firing into the air out of happiness. For the rest of my life I will remember this shooting and the sound of the glass falling from the ceiling, ding-ding-ding... Victory!
And then our superiors apparently decided to distribute alcohol: "Guys, take your mugs out - they're giving away alcohol!" And in the morning freight carriages arrived and carried all our belongings into a maternity ward, where our hospital was to be deployed. There was such luxury compared to what we saw previously. Soap in bottles, cleanliness... Just as we deployed, didn't even get any wounded, there was a new order to move to Legnica. Liegnitz (Legnica) is a beautiful city. There were "Oscar Otto" flower planations at its edge. Fields of flowers: carnations, roses - everything abandoned. That's where we finally deployed and I worked there until the fall of '45, until I demobilized. By then we only had light wounded, mostly walking, whom we were preparing for demobilization. Everybody got some trophies. A wounded solier would walk, one arm in a cast, and there would be maybe five watches on it. We also dressed up: they brought us clothes from abandoned or broken stores to select from. We could also ride around the Soviet zone of occupation. Our cafeteria became very good, we used to have only the various kinds of porridge before, but now we also had meat. In Germany our girls started getting married, officers came for them.
At the hostpital I was a surgeon. We girls performed simple surgeries and assisted during amputations, but serious operations were done by more respectable surgeons, professionals of the highest level, I should say. I also worked as an evacuator. A train would arrive with the wounded lying in freight cars on the straw. They already had their cards from the medical battalion with their last name and wound type. I came to the ramp with an ambulance and picked out "mine", according to the specialization of our hospital. Some on crutches, some without, some on me, were loaded into the car. The car had seats and four stretchers: a couple on the floor, and a couple hanging from the roof. The roads were broken up, and on every pothole my whole car would cry, scream... "Be patient, we'll get there soon, we'll get there soon." Immediately into disinfection; those who could washed themselves, some were washed by others, then dressing of wounds and to ther wards.
They were happy: clean linens, clean rooms... Our usual work - rounds, dressings, receive wounded, send wounded, and the same day after day, without salaries. They did give us money, maybe enough to buy some apples, otherwise the rest was taken away for war bonds. But overall, compared to the home front, we lived luxuriously - cafeteria, bathhouse, beds. As soon as wounded could be transported, I took them back to the ramp. They were already washed, clean. Loaded them into freight trains, the hospital trains came rarely.
In my opinion, the most common were fragment wounds to the limbs. Of course, there were some bullet wounds. If there was a suspicion of "samostrel" (self-inflicted wound), people from SMERSH appeared immediately. They conducted an investigation, looked for the presence of gunpowder inside the wound.
Of course, our disinfection methods were primitive, we didn't have any special medicines, just sulphidine, streptocide, and potassium permanganate. Later we got penicillin. I treated a boy once, Boria Gribov. He was brought from the front with his arm already in a cast. He said: "Doctor, my arm is hurting. Doctor, my arm is hurting." We took off the cast and found soil and pieces of a bloodied coat under it. They put his cast on without even treating his wound! By then gangrene had already started. We amputated his arm very high. Overall, gangrene was responsible for more fatalities than anything else. At first we didn't know how to fight it; an arm would swell - we wouldn't know what to do. Much later, after a special class, where they taught us for several days, we started making long parallel cuts, on which we put frequently changed bandage with potassium permanganate. There was one captain that I treated, he owes his leg to me, he had a hip wound with a fracture. Despite that I ordered his cast to be removed and his wounded be constantly treated with potassium permanganate. We saved his leg. But there weren't many such patients.
Then I had a boy from Rovno, he had an unlucky fragment stuck in him. The visiting famous surgeon came. He tried, and he tried, but he coundn't get to that fragment. You see, the X-rays was done in one projection. How could you perform a surgeory with such naive shots? He was coming from the back, but the fragment was closer to the front. Then gangrene also began, and we amputated the arm. Towards the end of the war we only got boys. They threw pillows at each other inside their wards. Young men's bones have space to grow at the expense of cartilage. When you look at an X-ray, you see bone, then a lighter part, then bone again, and when I saw such shots for the first time I ascribed it to fracture and put a cast on. Later, after the war, in the radiology classes, I understood how many mistakes I had made.
Against lice we had "soap K". It stunk like kerosene. One time we got acquainted with the commander and zampolit (political officer) of a field hospital close to ours, and invited them to us. I tell my girlfriend: "My head burns." She looked at it, found lice. She said: "Mine also feels wrong." We lathered this soap on our heads, put on kerchiefs, and sat there waiting for our cavaliers. She asked: "Mariana, what if they start crawling out from under the kerchief?" I said: "No, they must drop dead in there." The guys came, asked: "Wow, there's a strange smell here. What is it?" We go: "Oh, yes? We don't smell anything!" Oh man, it's funny and it's sad!
One wounded soldier at the end of the war gave me a Browning as a gift: it was small, black, fit in my palm, with 6 cartridges and a spare clip (apparently it was a Browning FN 1906). During all the time I had it, I only shot it once, and then my husband exchanged it for I don't remember what. A personal firearm gives you a nice feeling. We were not supposed to have them, and that one wasn't even registered.
The worst wounds were, of course, maxillofacial wounds, although we rarely got them. One time in Rovno we were sent to help out to a hospital which specialized in wounds of the urogenital system. That was scary. They had a huge hall where the wounded were lying. Oh, there were such screams and groans! You take off the bandage, and there's nothing... a cesspit. They told us those were typical wounds of a "frog mine". It was a nightmare. There was a 24 year old Georgian. They're taking him for dressing, and he wails, grabbing your gown: "Nurse, poison me, poison me, nurse!". Oh, horror, horror! I could live through that only because of my youth.
Recorded and edited by Artem Drabkin. Translated by Oleg Sheremet. Photos from the archives of M. V. Miliutina.
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