Short beeps in the tube interrupted the commander’s swearing. A few minutes later, the colonel was already in the headquarters, and after some time, all the command was gathered: the head of the political department, the head of staff, the head of the department, and even the chief engineer, the chief power engineer, the commander’s deputy upon the rear and propagandist came.

The duty with the assistant, the specialist, and Khlopotov were standing in the corridor. They looked rather unpresentable. The daily officer’s uniform with a belt and a shoulder strap is clearly not intended for hand-to-hand combat. The duty officer had his buttons torn off on his jacket, the assistant had his shoulder strap ripped, Khlopotov had both sleeves torn, and the special officer had his nose twisted, black bruises under his eyes.

After listening to the commander’s tirade, consisting mainly of swearing, the commander’s deputy upon the rear on his instructions took me and Khlopotov to the commander hotel, the head of the political department put a propagandist to us. The specialist went to lick his wounds at home.

The commander’s hotel was a couple of furnished apartments, one-room and three-room, in which checking officers and superiors sometimes settled, occasionally coming to our part from GUKOS, the General Staff of the Strategic Missile Forces and the Ministry of Defense. The rest of the time, the apartments were empty.

The commander settled us in the three-room flat. We were placed in different rooms and banned from talking to each other. A propagandist of the political department was located in the hall, who was assigned to look after us so that Valera and I did not communicate.


After a sleepless night, I fell on the bed and immediately regretted it: the hilt of pistol, which I picked up in the office of the specialist, poked me in the side.

It was an ordinary PM,************** if not for one small but significant difference. When I examined the gun, I did not find a number on it. The gun was clearly smuggled from China. These were sometimes used by Mongolian and Chinese smugglers, but buying from them was almost a guaranteed puncture: the police, the KGB, the special department, and the military prosecutor’s officers tracked unaccounted weapons. There were plenty of spies, but the seven nannies still had the child unattended and unrecorded weapons sometimes appeared on the illegal market.

I looked around the room, wondering where to put the weapon in order to hide it more reliably later. In one corner was a small sideboard, in the other a fridge. I opened it and saw several cans of canned food and a three-liter jar with a clear liquid. The liquid smelled of alcohol. It became more fun. In the sideboard, I found an opener and spoons with forks. But there was no bread.

There was the ringing out of Khlopotov’s joyful shout. Apparently, he also discovered alcohol. I looked out into the hall. The propagandist was standing at the open door to Khlopotov’s room and was discussing something with him. Suddenly, he looked around and looked in my direction. I pulled away from the door, but the shout of “Lieutenant!” made me go back and leave the room.

“Do you want to guzzle?” The political officer was peacefully disposed.

“Of course!” I replied.

“Then sit in your room, don’t go anywhere,” he said, and left the apartment.

I wanted to sleep. I put the gun under the pillow and lay down on the bed. Dreams overcame me before the propagandist returned. But in my sleep, I heard his voice, the voice of Khlopotov and their songs. “Eh, company commander, give machine guns, give batteries, so that it becomes more fun…”


We were woken up late. The crumpled propagandist went home and an assistant to the commander’s deputy upon the rear brought soap, toothbrushes and clean towels. In the officers’ hostel, the hot water was often turned off, so I gladly took a shower. Valera demanded a pickle, and a three-liter jar of pickled cucumbers was brought to the fried potatoes. We turned on the TV and began to have breakfast while viewing local programs. “We are transmitting the latest news,” the announcer said, but there was not a word about us with Valera.

After lunch, a commission arrived from Moscow. She was delivered by the service plane of the Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Missile Forces, and settled in one of the best, if not the best hotel of Ulan-Ude: Baikal. For us, this hotel was valuable in that it was always possible to buy fresh Doktorskaya sausage and inexpensive Bulgarian brandy Solnchev Bryag and Pliska in its buffet, however, all with restaurant margins. The commissars from Ulan-Ude and back drove on the CPSU Committee’s Rafik*************** attached behind them. Valera and I were left at the commander’s hotel, already known, and we walked to the headquarters under the supervision of a propagandist or the Chief of Staff for the regime.


One day, late in the evening, Valera and the guard left for Khlopotov’s apartment. I, taking advantage of my loneliness, immediately re-hid the gun, previously tied with fragments of rope to the inside of the radiator of the refrigerator. I thought that the PM would have to lie in a secret place for a long time, and took some measures to prevent its rusting. I did not have gun oil and I could not ask for it from my colleagues; this would instantly raise suspicions and, most likely, would have come to the commander and the specialist. I met the latter several times in the corridor of the headquarters, and he looked inquiringly into my eyes, but did not hurry to ask a question about the pistol.

Undoubtedly, the special officer believed Khlopotov was responsible for the loss of the pistol. I was his second suspect. In third and fourth place were the duty officer and his assistant. Arguing from the point of view of a specialist, I came to the conclusion that he was afraid of publicity and does not want to ask the question head on, waiting for the weapon thief to incriminate himself with careless action.

But even more burning thoughts caused me to ask the question: “Why and how did an unaccounted gun appear in the specialist’s office?” It is clear that he was not going to shoot. And a terrible hunch pierced me: if the gun had been found with me or Khlopotov, it would have been irrefutable evidence of our connection with foreign countries. Undoubtedly, it was necessary to get rid of the pistol as soon as possible. But I did not want to throw it out at all, and I decided to hide it in the taiga, since it was very close and even entered the residential area.

I understood that the PM should be hidden outside the hostel and houses. I replaced the gun oil with sunflower oil, found in the refrigerator, and plentifully greased the pistol and the holder with cartridges. Then I soaked a couple of socks, bought the day before at the military shop, with sunflower oil. After the interrogations, we returned on our own, I took advantage of this and prepared for the conservation of weapons as I could. Having put socks on the gun, I put all this in a plastic bag. To discourage the smell of oil and the desire of stray animals to dig a package out of the ground, I bought a few packs of tobacco, and, having gutted part of them, I poured the contents of the package in the bag and sprinkled the package tied tightly in the pit.

The taiga approached the military unit closely; finding the right place was not difficult. I gutted the rest of the shag packs, and, mixing them with the ground, I piled up and tamped down the pit, put the fragments of deadwood on top, and sprinkled it on the old fallen leaves. The masking turned out to be successful: the place did not stand out among the surrounding taiga. I returned to the hotel.


My cross-examination began after breakfast and lasted until lunch. I did not think that Khlopotov did something reprehensible, so I told everything I knew. In addition to me, they called in other officers who went with Khlopotov on shifts, who drank vodka with Khlopotov, and, in general, everyone who communicated with him or with me.

A few days later, the commission finished its work, and the pandemonium in part stopped. I was sent to carry the service further, and I was surprised to learn that the special officer was transferred to serve in another place, and so hastily that his wife had to collect independently the containers to move.


The commissioners took Valera with them. Married for the fifth time, Valera realized that he understands women better than the Holy Inquisition, and did not end the marriage for the sixth time. He had no children. His girlfriend collected her things, gave me the keys to the apartment, and drove off to Ulan-Ude. I moved to live in their two-room flat. This made me happy: bedbugs raged in the officers’ hostel, and although I cleaned my room of them, uninvited guests still occasionally appeared, disturbing my delicate body. I had to use against them weapons of mass destruction in the form of an aerosol, Prima. The enemy temporarily retreated, but then appeared again. The prolonged war between me and the bloodsuckers was going with mixed success. Living in the apartment of Khlopotov relieved me of this anxiety, and I gladly took advantage of the opportunity to stay in an apartment without bloodsuckers.

Valera did not appear in the military unit for several months. Rumors about him went very different, starting from the fact that he was an unrecognized mathematical genius worse than Einstein and taken to the top-secret closed scientific research institute, and ending with the fact that he was a well-disguised foreign spy who managed to get the teams and encryption codes of our satellites and was trying to transfer this data abroad. Depending on the rumors, the attitude towards me also changed: first, gentlemen officers tried to lure me to the parties and persistently asked about Valera, then they shied away from me as if I had syphilis, which young inexperienced officiers-bachelors sometimes sinned with. I kept a proud silence for all questions, vaguely shrugged my shoulders, and shook my head. I really didn’t know anything.


More than three months passed, but one fine Saturday morning I woke up because someone was shaking my shoulder. Opening my eyes, I saw Khlopotov. His smug face glowed with happiness, and lieutenant colonel shoulder straps shone on his shoulders. He put a bottle of brandy on the table, dumped a pile of sausage cuts on the table, and a feast began.

A few hours later, most of the common bachelors and even some married officers had come into the apartment. Mishanya Sandratsky brought a guitar, and his “Baksanskaya” flew through the open window on the street, causing a burning curiosity in passersby and dragging new participants into the booze. Everyone wanted to take a look at Valery and talk to him. Instead of brandy, a three-liter jar of alcohol had long been standing, and scarce canned food and sausages gave way to boiled potatoes, garlic, and omul, while the people came in and came out. The revelry ended well after midnight.

Khlopotov had already settled down in a new place and came to pick up his Ulan-Ude belongings. These were mostly books, most of them on the theory of probability. Foreign military review magazines were piled up in a separate pile. Only living in his apartment, I realized how serious Khlopotov was. I helped him pack the literature in cardboard boxes, which he took from the grocery store in abundance, and I thought longingly about returning to the hostel and the disappointment associated with it: bedbugs, occasionally vanishing hot water, and guards on duty, who did not allow young single officers to bring women in.

The fees of Khlopotov, interrupting our revelry, lasted a whole week. The following Saturday, an unorganized crowd carried out him in Ulan-Ude. When we got into the electric train, our ranks were thinned out, and very few reached the Ulan-Ude railway station.

Absorbing the beer, we waited for the train on which Khlopotov had a ticket, put him in the carriage, and shoved a few vermouth bottles in his satchel. There were problems with better quality wine in the capital of Buryatia: aqua vitae ended by that time, there was little money to buy brandy, and we didn’t want to look for vodka.

Valera waved his hand to us and the apron bear,**************** the train drove, and the conductor slammed the door.

To go back in a crowded bus was not our desire. We overstocked with beer, waited for the electric train to go back, and returned to our military unit. Most of our roads with Khlopotov did not intersect, and I heard nothing about him.


“Uchinoura” was a spaceport in Japan. Our people actually called it “Utinoura,” but the Japanese pronounce this combination of letters softly and it sounds like “ch.” So I wrote on the Japanese “Uchinoura.” If I made a mistake, sorry.

I have never been to this cosmodrome, and it is unlikely that I ever will. I can’t say anything about turning off electricity, hot water, and the presence of bloodsucking insects in the hostels of the Japanese staff.

The Japanese have few astronauts and they flew on foreign ships. Many Japanese space programs are closed for lack of funds. But despite this, the Japanese do not grieve and calmly develop their economy. With the economy, they initially had a very hard time. In August 1945, Japan received two atomic strikes, and in September of the same year signed an act of unconditional surrender. Japan did not receive loans from the United States, who remembered Pearl Harbor, and even paid contributions to the Americans.

But Japan officially waived its right to declare war. Japan’s constitution prohibits the country from having its own army and participating in wars. Modern Japanese forces are called “Self-Defense Forces” and are more like our Rosguard.***************** But unlike Russia, their military activities not directly related to the defense of the country are severely limited. From such a cool attitude towards the army, the Japanese are also not worried and are not afraid that someone will want to capture and enslave them.

With virtually no natural resources of their own, Japan after World War II achieved record-breaking economic growth that lasted four decades and averaged ten percent annually. In 1960, when my grandfather saw a Japanese transistor receiver, it was the beginning of the second decade from these four.


Now buying a car of clean Japanese assembly is an almost unattainable dream for a Russian officer, and buying a home appliance of clean Japanese assembly pummels the wallet. But Russia staged a war in the Donbass and, unlike the Japanese, we have a ruined economy. Putin has been in power since 2000, has created a kleptocratic regime, and is only concerned about enriching himself and his sycophants.


************** PM: the 9mm Makarov pistol is a self-loading pistol developed by Soviet designer Nikolai Makarov in 1948.

*************** Rafik: a Soviet minibus.

**************** Apron bear: decorative bush on the platform of the Ulan-Ude railway station, cropped as a bear.

***************** Rosguard: the National Guard of the Russian Federation, the state military organization. The military men are well-armed and equipped and have high salaries. The service is headed by Viktor Zolotov, a former Putin bodyguard. Rosguard servicemen were repeatedly implicated in excessively harsh detentions of Russian citizens, but they did not suffer any penalties for this. In fact, the Rosguard is an organization that ensures Putin’s continued tenure as president of the Russian Federation.


For all installments of “Uchinoura,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1