The road was steep, narrow and curved, which made it very difficult for the larger trucks to manoeuvre. It was assumed there were probably a few other German units who had already crossed the river in a few places – possibly north and upstream of our position. The drivers, by this time, were weary and harassed from the constant need to drive without sleep or food. Long before sunrise, the convoy came out from the canyon into the open steppe and started moving very fast in the southeasterly direction. The wide road on the steppe made it possible to drive three to four trucks side-by-side and this abridged the length of the convoy to half a mile long. The race was to get to the new Russian front lines before any fighting occurred, and possibly hunker down in the forests where German air craft could not sight us and attack from the sky.
Out of nowhere came a barrage from different firearms and explosions. The convoy was racing directly into a line of fire and it was instantly apparent we were the target. Kirilenko immediately jumped out from the truck he was riding with Gorbachev and me to join his assigned men. Under heavy fire, the convoy broke formation in an attempt to look for cover or hideouts in all directions – spreading out as widely as possible. The fire intensified and concentrated on the convoy where the explosives seemed to be concentrated. Different types of shrapnel were hitting the convoy and no matter which direction the drivers took to evade fire, the convoy couldn’t avoid barrage. Whenever a vehicle stopped, frightened soldiers crawled or leaped out from the trucks, screaming this was an ambush, a trap, the Germans had trapped them in a surprise attack.
The soldiers left the convoy and spread out onto the field leaping from one place to another and took up positions in the lowest possible places on the ground - great distances from the trucks and waited for further orders. I knew the realities of the front line but I never expected to find myself in the midst of live fire on the front line. I had convinced myself the evacuation and the retreat would be safe and not pose any real risk of danger. I did not think I was exposing myself to the opportunity of certain death. I looked up into the terrified eyes of Gorbachev whose eyes told me the situation was clear. The convoy had been intercepted by German troops and within a very short period of time everything would be lost and destroyed.
I made it clear to Gorbachev that I could not surrender to the Germans because I was a Jew and since no chance of escape existed, I would commit suicide. No other solution was possible for me. Gorbachev was close to breaking down; so deep was he shock by the latest turn of events. He turned to me and said that he had no other choice but to fight to the bitter end. He would not allow himself to be taken alive. Then just as suddenly, the shooting ceased and the noise from the guns grew quiet.
Gorbachev and I jumped out from the truck and saw two trucks with white cloths were moving towards the direction from where the shooting had originated. There were scattered bodies of the dead and wound soldiers lying everywhere in the fields. There was no attempt at subterfuge and the white flag of surrender was tied to a truck in the lead. This time, the Ukrainian nationalist elements in the regiment were convinced their moment had come and the convoy would be shortly and firmly be under German control.
Gorbachev and I were surprised and interrupted from carrying out our suicide pact by a group of Ukrainian nationalists acting on their own initiative. They forcibly disarmed us and placed us under armed guard until we could be handed over to German military authorities, The Ukrainians promised that after our interrogation by the Germany authorities they would personally kill us both. Gorbachev couldn’t understand why the regiment surrendered without even displaying token resistance while I sunk into despair.
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I was a rebellious daughter. I did not start out that way but it was what I became. I was naturally quiet and quite shy, always hiding behind my long mane of blondness as I moved around the outer perimeters of my mostly adult world. No one took much notice of me. My father would regularly forget me in department stores and go home without me in tow. I was so quiet and complacent that he would forget he had me with him – at least, that was the excuse he gave to my Bubbe when he periodically arrived home without me. More or less, I was the inconvenient child among a world of adults. Everything changed in my world when I was thirteen. The world outside my home suddenly stood up and took notice of me in a way which might have overwhelmed anyone but a daughter waiting to rebel against the silence of her world.
I swore I would never be silent again. The world was wide open to me and I was determined to experience it. From this point on, I did what I wanted, whenever I wanted. Society had rules and social conventions which I would or would not follow - depending on my mood. And now, after 40 years, peace is what I crave, but chaos is often what I leave in my wake. I paint, I care for those close to me….and still, there is something which drives me to seek, to search, to know – what, I am not sure of. I just hope that when I find it, I will know what ‘it’ is.
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