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The person of Glory 

Every time when Victor Vetoshkin, an elderly Gomel-dweller, watches the news on TV about the attempts either to destroy the monuments to the participants of the Second World War or to cross the Victory Day out of the list of significant dates, the veteran feels really hurt because it is him who is supposed to be destroyed and crossed out
The 82-years mortar man, Victor Dmitrievich Vetoshkin, received two Orders of Glory at the front. The third was awarded to him twenty five years after the Victory date. In Belarus there are only two persons of the kind — Absolute cavaliers of the Order of Glory. However, it is not figures that value but personality, previous and present deeds. In this respect Victor Vetoshkin is really a unique person, the acquaintance with whom makes us both joyful and more tolerant.

His house made of red brick, situated in one the suburbs of a Gomel micro district, does not stand out of the average city dwellings. The interior is modest with a touch of army accuracy and simplicity. On the table there are old photos, sheets of paper spotted with records. Some of them are folded in triangles — the shape of the front letters delivered by the field mail. “Oh yes, old habits die hard”, — nods in consent my affable host having caught my inquiring look. It is a busy time for him now. It happens every year: first the Victory Day, then June 22nd — the black date of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War followed by July the 3rd — the day of the liberation of Belarus. These days Vetoshkin spends according to the schedule: meetings with schoolchildren, reception of authorities, shootings in TV programs, articles for newspapers. And during the “off-season” the front-line soldier does not stay at home as well — meditates veteran affairs: helps someone or organizes something.

— I seem to have repeated all that for more than one thousand times, but still when I start recollecting I feel as if I were returning back into my past, as if it were happening now, just behind the door of this room, — somehow shrilling confesses the old man revealing his soul.

All his barefoot youth passed in the village Milcha near Gomel. Childish pastimes, fishing, “light hunting” with bast-baskets of mushroom and berry “trophies” and at leisure — first lessons of reading and writing given by the father, a railwayman Dmitry Kuzmich. And then reading everything within easy reach...

— I remember the foundation of the collective farm, I remember how exulted we were when we got the first tractor, how many pleasures brought the electrification of Milcha, — recollects Victor Dmitrievich, — and how people marvelled having seen the first radio — a “plate” fixed on a column near the Village Council.

And then broke out the war. The village learnt about it from the countrymen who came from the third shift of the city factories. But nobody wanted to believe the terrible news.

The mobilization began right at the time and Gomel was bombed on the third day. It was confusing to know that during the first days loaded trains were leaving “as usually” for Germany which heretofore had been receiving millet and pork. The military commissioner had to turn them around halfway.

…The participation in the War of Victor Vetoshkin began at the age of 16 with a digging of tank ditches. Infernal work. The pits of a two-storeyed building depth were dug manually. Suffice it to say that the ground was lifted to the surface in two stages: to throw with a spade as far as from the bottom was impossible. Simultaneously the preparation for the evacuation of factories took place, underground and guerrilla groups were organized. Under the enemy’s powerful outnumbered onslaught it was clear that it would be necessary to abandon Gomel.

The invaders started zealously the imposing of “the new order”. There appeared heads, curfew, coercive hard labour; armed police with white bandages on sleeves, composed of locals and visitants, plied about the streets. The traitors were especially ferocious proving the willingness to execute a most brutal order. They forced people into baths and sheds occupying their houses. Violence and robbery became an ordinary phenomenon in broad daylight.

Once they came in a certain yard to take away a cow — narrates Victor Dmitrievich. — The owner didn’t want to give his beast. At first they pay little attention to his protests as if he were just an annoying fly then started to beat him, and when he continued to persist — shot him right in his own yard…

However, among the aggressors there were those who hated senseless murders. Izot Kovalev who also somehow wronged Germans lived in the same street. Two soldiers and an officer took him off the village. The man didn’t come back and nobody was surprised then but later, when Izot appeared in Milcha and told the unusual story of his rescue. Close to the forest where the “shooting team” brought him the officer ordered the soldiers to wait and himself took the “sentenced” man into the thicket where gestured him to leave. When Kovalev started to run there came the shots — the German fired into the air. Though, that exception only emphasized the rule.

The young men and women, who remained on the occupied territory, were afraid to leave their houses from fear to be sent to Germany and become slaves. Taking great risks, Victor and his friends wandered in the neighboring woods with a hope to meet the guerrillas and join them but there were none in the area.

People gave a sigh of relief only in the end of 1943 when after the stubborn fighting Gomel was liberated. Victor managed to enter the railway technical school and after the graduation was to become the chief of the station. But he didn’t have a chance to study. They started to draft the young men born in 1925. But they seemed to have forgotten about Vetoshkin. Then he and friends from Milcha came to the military registration and enlistment office without any call-up papers. And… he was refused. The status of a technical school student automatically gave him “a cover”. But the guy insisted. The very evening the military commissar invited Victor for private talk and said: well, the brave boy — let it be your way…

The Milcha group was directed to a depot regiment near the city of Starodub of Bryansk region. During a month they were trained military business and the range ground became their second home. After the training the recruits were directed to the 601st shooting regiment of the 82nd Jarcev division named after Kutuzov and Suvorov. There the mortar man Vetoshkin was getting ready for a large-scale attack moving closer to Bobruisk.

The 601st regiment participated in the operation “Bagration” when a large German grouping was crushed in Bobruysk-Rogochev pocket. They didn’t give it a chance to incorporate to the basic forces, having moved it in Minsk direction and brought into a big fight under Puhovichi. The enemy suffered huge losses trying to break through the encirclement. The campaign proceeded in Poland direction. In the winter of 1945 it was necessary to force Vistula. At dawn covered by fog and smoke blocks the advanced detachment of fifty people crossed the river on self-made rafts.

— We were lucky, — assured Victor Dmitrievich when describing the events of 62-years’ prescription, — Germans bethought only when we were on their bank. And the action began…

The dense fire did not allow raising a head but nobody cancelled the battle task — to expand the bridgehead to ford the basic forces. Victor Dmitrievich speaks rather reservedly about those fights. The documents are more eloquent: “…On January 14th, 1945 during the break through of the enemy defense on the left bank of the river Vistula near a Polish city Varka the Red Army man Victor Vetoshkin suppressed two machine-gun points and has struck down up to ten enemy soldiers”. A month later the Decree of Presidium of the Supreme body of the USSR awarded Victor Dmitrievich with an Order of Glory of the 3rd degree…

The 601st shooting regiment crossed Poland with fights and reached the river Odr. Germany was behind it. And again we shall quote: “…on March 27th, 1945 during the liquidation of the bridgehead of the opponent on right bank of the river Odr… the commander of the mortar crew of the 601st shooting regiment (the 82nd shooting division, the 47th army, the 1st Belarusian front) Vetoshkin V.D. has destroyed two gun points and eleven soldiers of the enemy”. For the displayed courage Victor Dmitrievich, a junior sergeant by that time, has received an Order of Glory of the 2nd degree.

The Victory was close. But the closer was the German capital, the more sever were the fights. The attack of Berlin began at five in the morning with massive aviation blows and preparatory bombardment. The roar of the cannonade muffled human voices — one had to read the lips…
The battles lasted 16 days. We fought for every house and for every porch, sometimes even hand-to-hand. On the request to describe the fights with enemies face to face, after a short consideration Victor Dmitrievich whispered the only phrase: “God forbid!…”.

The shooting was ceased only on May 2nd when the Red Banner was raised over the building of the Reichstag. When at the foot of the impressive building, Victor Dmitrievich as well as everyone who was near has scratched an autograph on the granite column with a bayonet: “Gomel. Vetoshkin”. But it was not yet the end…

The shooting encounters still occurred in different areas — the rests of the German units wanted to get to the other side of the Elba to surrender not to the Soviet armies, but to their Anglo-American allies. During one of such fights near the city of Vritsen, sergeant Vetoshkin, adjusting the shooting of the mortar, “has muffled” five gun points and annihilated about a dozen of soldiers…

The decision to reward Victor Dmitrievich with the Order of Glory of the first degree was made a year after the Victory — on May 15th, 1946. But the hero did not know about it. As it often happens, the documents “got lost”. And only by a fluke the tunic of the former front-line soldier was decorated with the third award. A certain Moscow writer working in military archives has found the data that a mortar man from Belarus has been presented to the award but and had not received it. The Order was handed to the absolute cavalier of the award in 1970…

Even in peaceful times Victor Dmitrievich did not leave “the front line”, for this time — the labour one. Working at the factory “Polespechat”, he was honoured the rank of “the honourable worker of the industry of the BSSR”, and in 1977 was given Lenin’s award for the successful introduction of the technology of the offset printing. In honour of the 40th anniversary of the Victory he received the Order of the Great Patriotic War and anniversary medals. And in 2006 became one of the first honourable citizens of the Gomel area.

In the evening of life the front-line soldier worries about one thing — a new vision of the history of the Second World War, his personal history. However, Vetoshkin is too wise and has seen much to concern seriously the attempts to rewrite anew the bloody pages:

— We obtained all together the victory paid by millions of lives, — says Victor Dmitrievich in the end. — Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians, as well as Balts and Frenchmen, Poles and Hungarians went into battle, ate from one mess kit and nobody asked their nationality. Politicians can remove monuments but they cannot destroy the memory of the war and its victims …

Violetta Draliuk
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