The Death of the Ball

Football was played mainly by older boys. They had a real three-rand leather nipple ball. They took us to their games infrequently, only when they did not have enough players. We were very proud of such trust, but this happiness rarely happened to us.

That day, we were spectators. A serious battle ensued: the team on our street was headed by Viktor Lysenko, subsequently the player of the Odessa team Chernomorets, and the team of opponents from the next street was lead by Valery Postoev, subsequently the player of the Donetsk team Lokomotiv. Our village was rich in sports talents.

The game was coming to an end. Victor was to make a fine kick. The score was tied, and a penalty could decide the fate of the game. The ball went through the goalkeeper’s hands, hit the rack of the metal support of the power transmission line, which was used as a football gate, and flew into someone else’s backyard. This did not happen often, but sometimes it did. Worse, the ball flew into the kitchen-garden of a man who had repeatedly threatened the boys with heavy punishment for such a thing. In previous cases, teenagers managed to free the ball from captivity. But the owner let out a sheepdog in the kitchen-garden, and a huge dog greatly complicated the procedure for rescuing the ball. This time, the threat from a peasant came true.

The dog frantically rushed between the ball and the fence, behind which the boys stood. The dog could not bite through the ball. The pooch only scratched it with his teeth, and when the dog flew into a rage, the boys banged sticks on the fence; the dog threw the ball and charged at the teenagers.

The ball-returning plan was simple. A few boys went to the next street, where this garden also went. They tried screaming to attract the attention of the dog. Then, teasing the evil animal, they had to lure the dog into the front garden, where she could not get out quickly because of her lack of mind. At this moment, Valerka and Vitka had to quickly get over the fence, throw the ball into the street, and escape.

The plan failed. The owner, alarmed by the dog’s barking, stepped out onto the porch. He saw the cause of the dog’s frenzy immediately. His face instantly took on an angry, triumphant expression. He took the ball, put it on a wooden workbench, and brought in a kitchen knife. He did all this slowly, angrily looking around in our direction. A wonderful ball lay helplessly on the table. The man took a knife and swung it with all his might, slicing the ball from top to bottom. The ball was immediately deflated, and the peasant began to shred it, depriving us of the slightest opportunity to repair the ball.

Finally, the destruction of the ball ended; the gardener took it in a handful and threw it in our direction on the street. We all saw this, and the boys were seized with anger, inevitable and merciless. The guys who went near the house on next street to distract the dog also witnessed the death of the ball. They, like us, were overwhelmed by the evil, and stones flew into the windows of the master’s summer kitchen. The ringing of broken glass stirred the owner; he rushed in that direction, but then the broken glass of the windows facing our street rang.

A man rushed into the house, the older boys fled, and Mishka and I came into Mishka’s yard. The gardener ran out with a rifle. The street was empty, and only Mishka and I looked out of the barn. He threw up his rifle, we hid behind the barn, but the gardener still shot in our direction. Although he was far away, the shot reached Mishka’s courtyard and bullets showered like rain on the leaves of bushes.

Uncle Zhora came out to the sound of shooting from the summer kitchen and, realizing what was the matter, began to shower the gardener with swearing. A verbal skirmish began, which lasted until the arrival of the police.

The older boys did not forgive their abuser. They acquired an expensive new leather ball with great difficulty. The main source of money extraction was the collection of coal pieces, a bucket of which cost from 10 to 25 kopecks, depending on the size and quality of the coal.

It was possible to collect empty bottles remaining after the miner’s salary. But for this, it was necessary to wait for the day the salary was issued, track down the brigades celebrating the anniversary, and drive out the competing collectors. The collection of empty bottles was occasional and unreliable.

The collection of coal on the terrikon was more laborious, but it could be done in any free time, without fear of competitors. (A terrikon is an artificial hill made of rock extracted from underground mining of coal and other minerals. The highest terrikon in Donbass—124 meters—belongs to the mine number 1 named “Chelyuskintsev, in which both my grandfathers and father worked.)

The ball cost 16 full-weight rubles. In addition, for pumping the ball, a special needle was needed, which cost a outrageous price of one ruble and was in a terrible shortage; you could only buy it illegally in the market from a huckster friend. It took one to three hours of hard work to collect one bucket of coal, depending on luck. There was no sense from the kid under 10 years old. Coal was collected by Victor and Valera, their friends. It took almost a month to collect coal. And now, the result of the work disappeared in a matter of seconds.

And the boys did not forgive their offender. He had a Victory. We remember this post-war car, which the Soviet Union subsequently sold to the Poles. At that time, Victory was the flagship of the domestic automotive industry for the common people. It cost as much as 3,600 rubles, but it was affordable for a good working miner.

The gardener did not work at the mine. He was a taskmaster of builders with a small salary in a housing office. His wife was a housewife and worked hard in the garden. Evil tongues said that he attributed to his hard workers an increased amount of work done; they received bonuses and shared with the boss. People also said that he sold stolen cement and paint, hence the money for the “Victory”. But not caught, not a thief. There were few such families on our street; not everyone had cars. Having your own car was not yet in fashion then, and most ordinary people did not need one.

The gardener idolized his car. He built a large garage with a viewing hole and many racks and shelves for it. Sometimes, mainly on holidays, a son with his daughter-in-law and grandson came to him. In such cases, the gardener went out into the street, put his grandson and one of the neighboring children, grandchildren of the same age, into the Victory, and drove children to ride.

I was lucky a couple of times. We drove into a country road running parallel to the railway, waited for the appearance of a passenger train, and drove alongside it, gradually ahead of the train. This filled the kids with delight.

On Sundays, the gardener and his wife went to the bazaar. He parked the Victory on the site near the grocery store, and the couple slowly went to inspect the malls and ask the price of possible purchases.

So it was that Sunday. Returning back, the family, loaded with bundles and bags, squeezed into the car, the head got behind the wheel, they started the engine and slammed down on the gas. The machine, with creaking tires and rumbling exhaust, began to rapidly pick up speed, but its path was short-lived.

Someone during the absence of the owner hitched the rear axle of the car to the electric pillar of the power supply. The car jerked sharply back and stopped with a terrible rattle. The pillar leaned into the car, but it did not fall. The car engine stalled and became quiet.

Inside the Victory, there was a terrible cry. The door on the driver’s side swung open and a gardener fell out. His face was broken, blood flowed from his forehead, a senseless gaze wandered around the assembled onlookers. He opened the trunk, pulled out a tire mount, and rushed into the crowd. Onlookers ran from the car.

The gardener returned to the Victory and opened the passenger-side door. His wife continued to screech, but not so loudly. The gardener tried to pull her out of the car. The woman fell out of the door and flopped onto the asphalt. Her face was also broken; blood was flowing from her nose. Her husband helped her up and put her on a bench. After a while, an ambulance arrived and the woman was taken to the hospital. The gardener had his forehead bandaged; he refused to go to the hospital.

The car’s rear axle was torn off. The owner phoned to his work; after a while, a tractor-excavator of Minsk production arrived. The car was unhooked from the pillar, the cockerel tucked it in the back with a grab, and, lifting the damaged part, dragged it into the owner’s yard. The neighbors helped drag the car into the garage, where the car stood in autumn and winter. In the spring, the owner sold it to the mechanic of the carpool and bought a Volga for himself.

9 to 2

When the Day of the Mine came—it was always the last Sunday of August—the leading mine of the region made a gift for its miners: they built a stadium. The main team of Donetsk Shakhtar was invited to the opening, and the team arrived! We saw our idols led by their coach: Oleg Alexandrovich Oshenkov.

Although Oshenkov instructed his wards to play at full strength, the mine team flew in with a terrible score of 9 to 2. The difference was more devastating: рitmens mastered, weaved laces of multi-way combinations, and were in no hurry to get to the goal. Donetsk Shakhtar was at that time one of the strongest teams in the Soviet Union and even won the Cup of the country.

Despite the strong loss, there were no upset people. After all, we still managed to see our idols; real football players, near by, shake their hands and let them pat us on the head. Vitka Lysenko and Valerka Postoev, who scored against Shakhtar on the ball, were generally at the zenith of their fame.

But the most colorful player of the match was the mine goalkeeper. Unfortunately, I do not remember his name and surname. As a young man, he went to war with the Nazis, and they deprived him of one eye. After the first throw after the ball, the bandage flew off his head, exposing his empty eye socket, and he did not wear it until the end of the match.

The game took place after the rain. Although the main part of the field had dried up, the penalty area, which was trampled down by previous battles, was dirty, and there were small puddles in the free kick area. Sometimes, after especially strong blows, the dirt hit the goalkeeper in the face. It was rare, but the judge in such cases stopped the match, the goalkeeper walked out the gate, picked out the dirt from his empty eye socket, and washed it in a bucket of water, which his wife prudently brought him. The stands at this moment burst into violent applause.

At a meeting with Fansat, the mine club, that took place immediately after the match, Oshenkov said that he was surprised at the high development of amateur football at the mine. In addition to the participation of the national team in the district championship, the championship of the mine regularly held competitions in which the adult children of miners could participate.

After that, the mine team began regular training. Vitka and Valerka were invited to the Shakhtar youth squad and they stopped playing on the street in hole-hole.


(“Hole-hole”: a kind of street football in which simplifications are allowed, such no marking lines, gates with arbitrary reduced size, sometimes without a crossbar, imitated by any suitable objects, including briefcases, caps, and drawn chalk on the fence. The goalkeeper and gate can be common to both teams. Controversial moments are decided by the altercations of players.)

With the departure of senior boys for their teenage years came hard times. Having lost their almost-adult leaders who could stand up for themselves and for younger friends, the boys were forced to give up their positions in the struggle for street space. As soon as we appeared with the ball, the gardener ran out and, screaming foul language, demanded that we stop the game. Not even the intervention of Mishka’s father helped. The skirmish between Uncle Zhora and the gardener was on the verge of a fight, but nothing happened. Mishka’s father came up to us and said: “Boys, what about you? Swearing with a fool here is more expensive. He will cripple any of you, and there will be much grief. Indeed, you would drive the ball near the bushes. There is a place.” He waved his hand toward the forest belt.

There really was a place, but there was also a nuisance: there was a public toilet near this site. The fact is that at the end of the street, there were two single-entry two-story houses built by captive Germans. People didn’t think much about conveniences in those years; they confined themselves to a wooden structure, divided into six cells with holes in the floor. The economical people tore down and stole doors t night. The head of the mine housing department, swearing, sent carpenters to hang up new doors, but they did not last long, either. Most often, of the six sections with a door, there was one, the rest grinned by torn hinges.

We were not afraid that the ball would fall into the toilet; it was located far away and the doors were directed away from the path of a possible flight and falling of the ball, but the stench blew into the field and it was disgusting to play there.

That day, the ringleader was Vaska. A healthy bummer, four years older than me, he came and brought the ball with him. The ball was leather, but old, shabby, not nipple, but with a camera and lacing. The camera was punctured; the ball did not hold air. We went to my distant relative, Uncle Volodya. He worked at the motor depot and had access to a very valuable device at that time, a vulcanizer, and putting the ball in order was for him a matter of several minutes. He repaired the camera, put it in the ball, pumped it with the compressor, and tightened the lacing. The ball became resilient, bounced, and we went to play hole-hole.

How We Were Taught This…

The battle was in full swing, when afterwards, Vaska hit the ball, sending it soaring into the air towards the toilet. We sent the youngest to get the ball: Mishka. Shket jumped galloping toward the ball, but, catching up with the toilet, he suddenly stopped, froze, and began to nod to us and wave his hand, calling to himself. The boys realized that he saw something interesting there, and we ran to him. Mishka pressed a finger to his lips and made signs for us to walk quietly.

In the toilet, a woman was squatting over a hole. Her head was lowered, she was sleeping or dozing, but she did not pay the slightest attention to us. The lady’s skirt was pulled up over her back, the leggings were stretched to her knees, and her legs were apart. The casual place of the woman was available for viewing, as in a shop window.

This lady was known to all the inhabitants of the village. Her name was Erna. She was once married, but her miner husband died, leaving his young wife without a livelihood. It was not possible to find a man who wanted to take the vacant seat of a spouse, and Erna, already then accustomed to the merry life, went all out. She quickly became addicted to the single life and loved to collect fun company, which young reckless guys often used, and partying in her house became the norm.

The day before the miners got paid, Erna’s party dragged on until late, and the next day continued. When we walked to play hole-hole, we heard outrageous music coming from the open windows of her apartment. As she went to the toilet, none of the boys noticed.

Vaska was the last to run. Out of breath, he squeezed into the first row of spectators, squatted down and, staring at the female charms, laughed with satisfaction. Erna raised her head and opened her dull eyes. We backed off. The woman hiccuped, got up, pulled on her leggings and pulled up her skirt.

“What, boys, interesting?” She gave us a cloudy look.

The libertine woman left the toilet and stepped in our direction. We rushed in all directions, and only Vaska, squatting, tripped over a stone lying behind and flopped on his ass. A woman grabbed his sleeve:

“Let’s go, I’ll teach you!” and led him to the forest belt.

Vaska guessed what they were going to teach him, winked at us, and quietly went with Erna into the forest belt. They passed the domino table and plunged into the undergrowth. There, in a neighboring meadow, there was a large hovel. Drinking people hid in it during the rain, we used it to play war, and adult guys walked into it after dancing with the available damsels. In the hut stood a lame table, a pair of old stools, and a rusty bunk with a creaking net covered with a frayed mattress.

Erna sat down on the bed, put Vaska to her face, pulled off his pants, and began to tug at Vaska’s nature. Vaska giggled and, running his hands under Erna’s bra, began to feel her breasts. We laughed. Erna drunkenly turned her head in our direction, grabbed the empty tin can that was on the table, and threw it at us. We jumped out of the hut and clung to the cracks.

However, Vaska failed to become a man that day. As soon as we jumped out of the hut, the older boys appeared on the path. We knew them: two of them studied at vocational schools, one at a technical school, another finished middle school and was waiting to be drafted in the army. They walked by, but when they heard our crap, they came and looked into the hut. What they saw enthralled them; they threw Vaska out and put Erna on the bed.

We were preparing to watch the second series of the spectacle, but one of the guys came out of the hut and explained what would happen to us if we didn’t get away. To concretize his threats, he gave a couple of kicks to the nearest boys. There was no doubt in his intentions. We turned and slowly went to play soccer. After us, inflating our curiosity, we heard very curious sounds and screams.


For all installments from In the Shadow of the Belt, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Introduction
  2. Chapter 1: Early Childhood
  3. Chapter 2: School? This is Just the Beginning, Baby…
  4. Chapter 3: Cognizing Life