Sevastopol, September 1918

A week after our arrival or thereabouts, the doctor1 announced to us that we are going to work today. We were excited and started off in an unknown direction with him.

When we had already walked for a while, he stopped abruptly and said:

— I forgot my briefcase — And it was obvious to everyone that something bad had just happened as the doctor had never entrusted this briefcase to anyone. With some hesitation, nurses offered to come back to pick it up. He declined, which was a great relief for everyone, as the doctor was so distrustful.

— We’ll go back to pick up the briefcase, — he said.

— But why do we have to go together? Just tell us where to go, and we’ll find the place, — I interdicted.

— I can’t, — he said. And I was outraged.

— If you don’t trust us with this information, why would you take us there? We’d know the address in half an hour anyway. Do everything on your own, then.

After my speech, he gave us the address. That was a small house with a penthouse. Courtyard entrance, walking by the stairway heading to the penthouse apartment. An officer met us at the door and let us in a room that was packed with storage shelves like in a library. There were medicine bottles on the floor, along with wound and cut management materials and other medical stuff. Two officers brought us some crates and told us to pack everything. So, we began to work. At that moment, the doctor came. His behavior suggested that everything was fine.

Suddenly, we heard prompt steps on the staircase outside the window. A young German officer. He peeked through the windows with some interest and promptly continued his stride. All of a sudden, we froze. All that conspiracy!… And the Germans were known to confiscate medicines and wound management materials.

The next day, we finished packing. In the end, we’ve got two large crates. All of that wasn’t enough for more than two or three moderate engagements. But I didn’t tell anything about my calculations. Then the doctors approached me:

— The steamboat sails tomorrow. Be at the pier at 13 hours sharp. A cabby would recognize your clothes and will approach you. You are a woman, so there’s less chance to raise alert among the Germans.

— And who will pick up the goods from the cart? — I asked him.

— There’s a loader crew formed by some officers. They are warned, — he said.

In the morning, I commandeered an elderly nurse, and we went to the pier. It was long past one hour, and the steamboat had already whistled once. There were many carts arriving. Officer loaders and ordinary loaders were unloading them swiftly.

Finally, we saw our crates. The cabby came over, but the loaders weren’t paying our goods any attention. The cart started to be an obstacle for everybody, so the nurse and I moved over and didn’t know how to proceed. 

The second call would probably come soon, so I gathered myself, found the officer-foreman, and asked him:

— You are an officer and the foreman of the loaders?

— Officer and the foreman, — he told me.

— Do you have any knowledge of a load that has to be passed to Novorossiysk without letting the Germans know?

— I don’t know anything, — he replied.

— Can we do that now? The cargo is on the cart.

— Sure, but it has to pass through the customs office of the local government. — He stopped two other officer loaders, and they confirmed. A moment later, we were at the customs office.

I still didn’t have a solid plan by then. I could only keep looking around, trying to find a familiar face of any officer I had dealt with before. But there was no one like that there.

The customs officer informed us that he could not pass the cargo through without showing the contents to the Germans. I looked around, but there were no Germans in the room. And, really, there were no Germans anywhere on the pier. So, I guessed that he was asking for a bribe. 

My money was quilted in an inaccessible place, so I sent the nurse to bring the doctor. He should have been in the area as we were already waiting for the second steamboat’s whistle. And, as I thought, the second whistle sounded right when the doctor came to us. Cabbies disappeared momentarily, and we only had time to find a place to sit on the ship’s head before it left the port.

Feodosia – Sevastopol, August 1918

When I finally found my way to the Volunteer Army, I fell ill with the Spanish flu1, which was rife here at that moment. My temperature was at 38C and not dropping; I was so weak that I was drenched in sweat after every slightest effort. I even was suspected so faking it, so I said to them:

— Well, just leave without me. It was I who searched for this opportunity, not you.

And they left.

Our preparations were finalized by a public service at the monastery2. The service was very sonorous. Suddenly, a young woman points at a nurse and whispers to me:

— This girl was expelled from the school for misconduct. And she behaved really badly!

I had to pass that to the general’s wife. And we decided to let her go.

All our preparations were very clandestine. But this girl’s father came to the general and made a scene there. He continued to shout and swear even in the street, berating our detachment. Alas, it seems that nothing was able to attract the attention of the Germans.

On the appointed day (after the 20th of August), five of us left with only limited luggage for Sevastopol. There we were scheduled to get our medical outfits.

The train left at midnight. The station was poorly lighted. All passenger wagons and even the freight cars were packed with Germans. Finally, we found an empty carriage and wanted to board. But from the inside came a German soldier and started to shout at us and threaten us. We got the message from his gestures more than from his speech. Luckily, the next carriage was empty. We boarded, and after that, our trip to Sevastopol was uneventful.

It was hard to find a room because the city was overcrowded. In the end, we settled in the living room of some Jewish family. All of us, together: one of the nurses was in her prime, around twenty years old; the other, older than forty, small and always busy. Both of them were pretty ordinary. Unlike the third one: she was tall, skinny, and unpretty blond with some gray hair, well over forty. She had a Dutch surname but believed to be French and spoke French as well.

She arrived with a famous literary Jewish family. Maybe she was Jewish as well, as when we got better acquainted, she asked me if the son from the family with whom she lived could join the Volunteer Army. I persuaded her not to pursue that idea. She was a very sophisticated, educated, lovely woman. The doctor left without saying anything to us in the morning, promising to come back before the night. We were afraid to get out and spent the whole day at home. Before he left the next day, we warned him that we would also go out. He let it slide. So, we spent the day walking around the city. He returned late. It continued the same way from that moment on.

I was very impressed by the large and lavish bazaar in the city.

However, we still haven’t got a clue where the doctor was spending his time during the day. His behavior surprised and irritated us. We didn’t come here for sightseeing.

Feodosia, April-July 1918

Probably, all of you have witnessed a moment when news from a single source became known to a whole city. This happened that time as well. An out-of-nowhere older small woman, after a mass at a secondary school for boys, she ordered a requiem service and secretly said something to the priest. He anxiously replied that he only could pray for the repose of the dead Lavr, nothing more. Hard to say if anyone heard more or just guessed, but the whole city was abuzz that General Kornilov was killed1. After that moment, everyone believed in the existence of the Volunteer Army2. I have heard about it before but never thought it was real.

Once, in search of solitude, I was sitting at the pierhead and didn’t even notice when an elderly woman sat nearby. I was astonished that she started talking about the Volunteer Army almost right away. She came from the northwest, where there were German [occupation] forces there3, and it appeared from her speech that they were quite benevolent towards the Volunteer Army. Pretty soon, she mentioned that she’s a doctor and offered to join her because they pay well. I maintained silence, afraid to open up to a stooge. Patronage of the Volunteer army by the Germans seemed to be impossible and strange.

Soon the existence of the Volunteer Army was backed by some evidence.

An engineer in years arrived in the city and told about the Volunteer Army. It is active in the North Caucasus and is in dire need of literally everything. Especially in meds: even amputations are done without any anesthesia. I went to the head physician of the city hospital, but he gave me the cold shoulder and didn’t give me anything. At he hasn’t turned me up.

Since that moment, I have kept thinking about the Volunteer army. But I had no clue how to join them. Of course, I’ve made some careful inquiries but didn’t succeed in finding any options.

Out of the blue comes this stranger, a short, dark-haired man. He introduced himself as the son of our neighbor, a medical examiner. He invited me to join a detachment that was being formed. He had to be the chief medic there. And I had to have an interview with some general to be confirmed.

However, I was met by the general’s wife. A heavy older woman of that “old-battle-axe” type. She told me about everything with the exception of the salary. I don’t remember any moment when I received any compensation afterward. But at least there was board and partial coverage for the work outfits. At the end of our discussion, the general came over. Tall, handsome, and not yet old. I was absolutely astonished by his English mustache that could be seen from behind of his ears. This mustache demanded a lot of time for daily care. So, I decided he was a fool, and his only use was to sign the documents.