Having moved to a new place of residence, my parents transferred me to a new school. Rather, my mother transferred me. Although not far from us was a full average school, my mother put me in her eight-year school, located much further away. In addition, she set out to apply her Jesuit method of education by recording all comments on behavior in my diary.

It must be said that by the sixth grade, schoolchild performance had changed—markedly decreased—there were almost no honors and the number of good schoolboys had fallen sharply. My mother did not take this into account, and her requests to teachers to write down everything that I “got up to” in the classroom in the diary hung in the air. The class teacher Nadezhda Sergeevna expressed in the face of my mother’s teacher council that due to her zeal in raising her son, the school may lose its potential excellent student. My mom stopped chasing the teachers, but for a long time came off on me, forbidding me to read fiction, go to the sports section, and, of course, go out with friends.


Exercise books filled almost the entire visible space. They lay in piles on a table, windowsills, in a bookcase. They were piled on a sideboard, on the radio, and on nightstands. A mountain of notebooks towered on a chest of drawers. Mother did not have time to check them and berate me and my father. She trusted us only dictations. My father and I did not check the statements and essays, as my mother believed that we could make mistakes ourselves.

I don’t know what my father did, but after a while, Mother stopped imploring him to check notebooks, and he calmly surrendered to his hobbies: he went for walks, played chess.

I liked to check the notebooks. Before starting the test, I carefully read the dictation of my mother, remembering punctuation marks and difficult places. Then I took a stack of notebooks, an ink bottle with red ink, and a pen and proceeded to check. However, not far away, at arm’s length, I held the purple ink. In each class, I had “favorites,” and I helped them; I wrote in the missing commas and, wherever possible, imperceptibly, corrected grammatical errors. I recall Viktor Telepnev, a nimble kid, a few years older than me. An avid football fan, he always tried to take me to his team, even if there were stronger players. Vitka did not become a football player; he went to work at the mine. He wrote illiterately. Mother always wondered why, when she checked, Telepnev barely pulled a “three,” and when I—he—has a solid “four.”

I don’t know what motivated him; most likely, he turned to propaganda, but in the Donbass conflict, he enlisted in the DPR army, hit the spot of a Ukrainian armed forces sniper, and blew his head off. Apparently, due to his neglect of Russian literature, he forgot Krylov’s fable: “The trouble is, since the shoemaker bakes pies and the cakeman sews boots.” Everyone must do their job.


I loved math. I liked solving problems and examples; I liked proving theorems. Sometimes, knowledge of mathematics helped me in my life. After the fifth grade, during the summer holidays, I began to pester my parents to buy me a bicycle. Mother, as a rule, turned the conversation into a scandal, while Father preferred not to intervene and kept silent.

But a miracle happened. Father, in a good mood, said he would buy me a bike if I solved a few examples from the next grade school curriculum. I brought a textbook, a pencil, and my father checked the boxes next to his chosen numbers.

The punishments practiced by my mother—the ban on leaving the apartment, the ban on reading fiction—made me familiar with this textbook, especially with its initial chapters for the first quarter. After a couple of hours, I brought my father written notes with solutions. Father, who had so confidently told my mother that I couldn’t learn anything, was depressed. Mother, as always, began to make a fuss, but my parents had nowhere to go; from the next paycheck, I was allocated the required amount.

I remained attached to mathematics for life, and I still like to solve problems and examples, especially since I have an assistant: a friend and a сomrade Computer.

A few years later, going to the graduation (tenth) grade, I went up to our head teacher and mathematics instructor Anatoly Ivanovich Drozdov and asked him to allow me to study not in the school textbook, but in the two-volume reference book of Konstantin Shakhno designed for entering university. I blew through school tasks like crazy, and they satiated me. Shakhno had a theory in the first volume, and practice in the second; that is, tasks and examples. All tasks were divided into four categories:

  1. For applicants to humanitarian universities and not requiring in-depth knowledge of mathematics, such as literature, history, biology, zoology, and many others like them.
  2. For applicants to technical universities in which mathematics is a non-core subject, such as chemistry, food, and light industry.
  3. For applicants to technical universities in which mathematics is one of the main subjects, such as programming, radio science, and mechanics.
  4. For applicants to the mathematical faculties of Moscow State University and other leading Moscow higher educational institutions.

Anatoly Ivanovich graciously allowed me to advance, and I began to delve into the wisdom of mathematics for applicants. The first two categories I solved without problems. The third category was given to me with difficulty, but I did not miss a single unsolved problem or example. The fourth category was too tough, and I simply ignored the tasks of this group.

Anatoly Ivanovich occasionally guided me, being interested in the numbers of tasks that I reached, and sometimes gave instructions to solve one or another example from among the passed ones for verification. This guidance did not cause any difficulties for me, and I continued to study mathematical sciences and prepare for entrance exams.

Anatoly Ivanovich Drozdov, the Kingdom of Heaven to him, has long been dead. I feel wild remorse that after leaving school I never went to visit him, nor took an interest in his life and health. But it is to him that I owe a lot to the fact that I entered the academy and became an officer.


I did not know physics well, despite the fact that it was interesting to me.

Our teacher, the cutest and kindest Timofei Ivanovich Pantyukhov, has become famous over the years for the fact that during his work he did not name a single “dunce.” I recall an episode when he called my friend Genk Mordin to the class board. He did not learn a lesson and, naturally, could not answer anything. Pantyukhov instructed Geshka to learn two topics for the next lesson, otherwise he would make him a “dunce” and write a note in his diary. Geshka was not a desperate tomboy, but then he was bitten like a wasp; he grabbed his diary, opened it, went to the teacher’s desk and, pointing a finger at the page, said: “Now write ‘dunce’ here! ” Then Mordin opened a cool journal on the physics page and, finding his last name, he began to poke his finger there, saying: “And here! Here, here, here! ”

The class began to laugh. Timofey Ivanovich took the pen and took aim.

“Bet, bet,” Mordin said.

“And I will put ‘dunce!’” the stunned teacher answered at the end, but instead, he deftly slammed the magazine and parried:

“I’ll ‘dunce’ next time if you don’t learn. Now sit down and don’t interfere with the lesson.”

Genka dejectedly trudged to his desk. I do not know what prompted him to this trick. Geshku was shocked no less than me, and if Timofei Ivanovich put Mordin as a “dunce” and wrote a remark, then my friend would be hit by an great spanking from parents. But the teacher forgave the student, and everything worked out.

Ukrainian Lesson

In eight-year school, I had a classmate named Vanya Khachai. Short and frail, he quietly sat at his desk and looked out the window. He had two troubles: deaf-mute parents and the fact that he did not want to study. Once I witnessed the scene; his mother and father came to school and the class teacher, Nadezhda Sergeevna, demanded that Vanka tell them about his unlearned lessons. The teenager stood with his head bowed, and three adults looked reproachfully at his face. Vanka quietly whispered: “I will correct, I will correct…”

The house was asked to memorize a poem by Taras Shevchenko, “Although the Recumbent is Not Beaten.” It was short. Shevchenko’s poems are melodious and folding, easy to remember. I did not write the assignment in the diary, but at home I naturally forgot about it.

Arriving at the next lesson of Ukrainian literature, I saw classmates refreshing the imperishable in their memory, and rushed to learn, but nothing happened in my head. The first pupil who the teacher called was Slavik Gulyi. He was a lanky, skinny kid, taller than me. Passing by Vanka, he saw that the teacher was looking at the magazine, and, released, Khachai clicked. Vanka hooted and the schoolchildren laughed. Slavik hobbled to the board and turned to face the class. He did not know the poem. His eyes ran over his friends; the defendant was waiting for clues.

The girls began to whisper “Although the Recumbent is Not Beaten,” but they did it quietly and it was difficult to make out. The first word of the poem in Ukrainian, “hocha” (“although”), was similar to the name of Vanka, “Khachai.” Vanka stuck out his chest and began to poke a finger at himself. Slavik took in air and said, “Khachai the Recumbent is Not Beaten.” Vanka let out a cry. The class stifled a laugh. Teacher put Gulyi in his place. Passing by Vanka, Slavik tried to give him another click, but Ivan was on the alert and evaded. And when Gulyi almost passed by, Khachai put him on the bandwagon, and Slavik flopped to the floor. This put the teacher out of composure; she barked at the teenagers.

The second to the board called me…

I never had time to learn the poem, but the first lines spun in my brain and I hoped to get out of the situation painlessly. I still can’t understand and explain how it turned out, but when I started to answer, I spontaneously said: “Khachai the Recumbent is Not Beaten.” Vanka yelled even louder than the first time. In my diary, a fat “dunce” blossomed. The flogging took place at home.

Vanya Khachai died in a mine due to a methane explosion before he was 30 years old. Glory Guly survived him a little; while working as a driver, he crashed in an accident. Earth to you, my dear school classmates…


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
  5. Chapter 4: Football as it Is
  6. Chapter 5: My Friend Sasha Bichukov
  7. Chapter 6: Score
  8. Chapter 7: Again, the Transience of Being, Part 1
  9. Chapter 7: Again, the Transience of Being, Part 2
  10. Chapter 8: Old Colony, Part 1
  11. Chapter 8: Old Colony, Part 2
  12. Chapter 8: Old Colony, Part 3
  13. Chapter 8: Old Colony, Part 4
  14. Chapter 8: Old Colony, Part 5