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Vasili Yasevich
Fictional Character
The Hot War
POD: November, 1950
Appearance(s): Bombs Away;
Fallout;
Armistice
Type of Appearance: Direct POV
Nationality: Stateless Russian (resident in China 1922-1951, in Soviet Union from 1951)
Date of Birth: c. 1920
Occupation: Carpenter, Pharmacist, Soldier
Parents: Deceased
Military Branch: Red Army, then defected to Polish partisans (World War III)

Vasili Yasevich (b. ca. 1920) was a Russian resident of Harbin, Manchuria at the outbreak of World War III. His parents, who'd supported the Whites during the Russian Civil War, fled to Harbin after the war ended. Yasevich was a toddler at the time. He and his family survived the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. His father was a druggist, and he taught Vasili his trade. However, Vasili was more talented in carpentry. When the Red Army invaded Manchuria in August 1945, the NKVD entered Harbin. Vasili's parents committed suicide. The now adult Vasili was left alone. He stayed in Harbin even after Chinese Communists took control of the town, and found plenty of work as a journeyman carpenter.[1]

On 23 January 1951, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on several Manchurian locations, including Harbin. Yasevich was in Pingfan helping to repair the train station there. He was asleep when the attack began, and was awakened just prior to the atomic explosion in Harbin. In short order, he had to remind a Chinese builder, who'd almost certainly lost his entire family in Harbin, that he, Yasevich was Russian, not American.[2]

Yasevich was immediately put to work by the Chinese government cleaning up in Harbin. He was exposed to the horrors of the atom bomb: the charred corpses of the dead, the burns injuries suffered by those who survived the blast, but ultimately succumbed, the radiation poisoning in people who were a distance from the explosion, and the like. He scavenged valuables, and had to work to keep the secret police from taking everything he'd found when he left Harbin at night.[3]

Word soon got around that Yasevich had some skill as a pharmacist. After providing ma huang to the wife of a Peking commissar charged with rebuilding Harbin, other spouses of officials bought various drugs from him. This meant that he didn't have to help rebuild the railroad and expose himself to radiation.[4]

Selling drugs had its own risks. In April, a man named Wu approached Yasevich for ma huang. Feeling uncertain about the stranger, Yasevich told Wu he'd meet him the next day after work. Wu insisted twice that he could go home with Yasevich for the ma huang. When Yasevich told Wu no and insulted him, he further reached for the razor in his pocket. He didn't have to use the razor; Wu stomped off.[5] That was nothing compared to a commissar who approached Yasevich in the closing days of April in search of opium. Yasevich turned him away: possession of opium was grounds for execution under Mao, and Yasevich didn't want to take the risk. Ironically, he did have opium stashed in his rooms.[6] Some weeks later, he was approaching his shanty when he saw a jeep in front of his home. Realizing that he'd been denounced, Yasevich fled Harbin.[7] He made his way towards Soviet territory, seeing the atomic destruction of Khabarovsk in the distance as he traveled. Once he reached the Amur, he found a fisherman who carried him across.[8]

Yasevich wound up in Smidovich in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. Throughout June, he worked hard to convince the local MGB officer, Gleb Sukhanov that he'd hailed from Khabarovsk, claiming that he'd been outside Khabarovsk proper, visiting a married woman when the Americans attacked. He also claimed that he'd lost his identification card as a result. While Sukhanov seemed to have his doubts, he was prepared to let Yasevich alone so long as he stayed out of trouble.[9] For the first time in his life, Yasevich was surrounded by fellow Europeans, but more like an outsider than he had back in Harbin.[10] While he looked like everyone around him, he was also aware that everyone in Smidovich still perceived themselves as being in the Soviet Union, even though Smidovich was thousands of kilometers from any major city, and consequently, everyone there was scared all the time.[11]

Yasevich found himself employed in various odd jobs, including carpentry.[12] His work ethic quickly distinguished him from some of the others in the village, too late realizing that the work ethic in the Soviet Union than it was in China. Indeed, one of his customers, Nikolai Feldman, warned Yasevich that he might be making the rest of the handymen in town look bad.[13]. Sure, a few days later, a handyman named Grigory Papanin gathered some friends and threatened Yasevich with violence. For the time being, Yasevich promised he would not work so hard.[14]

A few days later, however, Yasevich caught Papanin alone. After sneaking up on Papanin, Yasevich severely beat him, breaking his nose, and kicking him in the crotch and belly. He then took an automatic pistol Papanin had been carrying, and made it clear it would he kill Papanin if he ever messed with him again. Papinin promised to leave Yasevich alone from then on. On-lookers were impressed with the beating Yasevich handed out to the town's toughest man.[15] Even people who weren't there soon knew that Yasevich had beaten Papanin. In the meantime, Yasevich kept up his habits of efficient quality work around town. His customers also realized that he was not being honest about his background.[16]

Weeks later, Sukhanov upbraided Yasevich after Papanin accused him of being a violent hooligan. When Yasevich challenged Sukhanov to deny Papanin's incompetence, Sukhanov could not.[17] However, Sukhanov also warned Yasevich that there were no records of him in the corrective-labor systems or the Red Army. He even tried to trick Yasevich by speaking Mandarin, but Yasevich was able to maintain his calm demeanor. Sukhanov dismissed Yasevich with a warning.[18]

Yasevich's reputation in the community was such that people trusted him, even with illegal activities. David Berman, an elderly member of the community, offered to sell Yasevich opium. The opium had belonged to Berman's late wife, Natasha, and he certainly had no use for it after her death.[19] Immediately after, he ran into Papanin, and confirmed Papanin had complained to Sukhanov about him. He threatened Papanin, in part by leaving Papanin with the impression that he, Yasevich, was part of the MGB, although he was careful to also explicitly deny it, as well.[20]

In April, 1952, Yasevich gave some of the opium as a gift to Sukkarov, to help with his troublesome toothache.[21] A few week later, Yasevich was walking in the woods when he found Maria Bauer, one of five West German zeks who'd escaped from a nearby camp. After agreeing not to turn her in, Yasevich enlisted the help of David Berman, who agreed to claim Bauer as his niece and give her a place to live. Berman was amused by the prospect of helping a German; Bauer was astonished a Jew was willing to help her.[22].

In May 1952, after the Soviet Union destroyed Washington, DC, New York City, and Boston,[23] and the U.S. responded by destroying Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Odessa.[24], Gleb Sukhanov approached Yasevich, and informed him that he would do his best to lose Yasevich's conscription notice. Sukhanov also told Yasevich that he himself might be conscripted, even though he was a Chekist.[25] Their meeting concluded, Yasevich checked up on David Berman, who looked much less disheveled than he had before Maria Bauer came to live with him. Berman admitted he was quite a bit happier with Bauer there.[26]

This status quo didn't last: Gleb Sukhanov discovered Maria, and arrested Yasevich and Berman in short order. Berman was given a 25-year sentence to a gulag. However, as the MGB hadn't found any records for him, they decided to give Yasevich a choice between the gulag or joining the Red Army. Yasevich chose the army.[27] He was sent west in short order,[28] arriving in Poland shortly after the death of Joseph Stalin. He soon had a crash course in urban warfare,[29] even after the European phase of the war ended in July.[30] In short order, he realized he didn't want to be a soldier for the Red Army, and began looking for ways to defect. During a firefight in which Polish partisans successfully overran Soviet positions, Yasevich was captured. He quickly convinced the Poles that he wasn't loyal to the USSR by giving them a thumbnail sketch of his life, and they elected not to kill him.[31]

The bandit leader, a "major" named Casimir, also decided he believed Yasevich.[32] Casimir tasked him with building a position that allowed the bandits to attack the Red Army. Yasevich was further content to join the band completely, despite Casimir's warning that the Soviets would kill him when they realized he was Russian. Yasevich accepted this, and his defense works proved successful in repelling the Soviets during the subsequent skirmish.[33] He quickly adapted to being a Polish fighter, though he was frustrated by the Poles' lack of discipline. On the other hand, he could detect the general lack of resolve in the Red Army now that Stalin was dead.[34]

Yasevich's unlikely fortunes changed yet again in September, 1952 when he and Casimir entered Warsaw to connect with another rebel, a druggist named Witold, who would give them some medical supplies. However, as they made their way through the city, a Russian official recognized Casimir and opened fire. While Casimir killed his attacker, he was fatally wounded. Yasevich fled, and made his way to Witold's. He was greeted by Ewa, the proprietor's daughter. When Yasevich recounted his fantastic biography, she decided no MGB man would create such a stupid, unlikely story, and so gave him shelter.[35]

Thus, Yasevich wound up entering his father's profession, working for Witold, and even sharing some of the knowledge he'd acquired in China. He also began developing feelings for Ewa. At night, he endured constant Soviet aerial bombardment, and then the Red Army's shelling of the city came in short order. As the uprising began to break, the Soviet government promised amnesty to anyone who pledged loyalty to the Soviet Union. However, the Soviets moved on 26 October, and subdued the city. Yasevich and Ewa had gone to a Catholic church to hear a firebrand priest named Karol Wojtyla when the invasion began, and the two managed to escape with their lives.[36]

By December, Yasevich realized Warsaw was firmly under Soviet control, and that he had no place left to run. Ewa convinced him to stay, and the two admitted they had some feelings for each other.[37]

ReferencesEdit

  1. Bombs Away, pgs. 54-55, ebook.
  2. Ibid., pgs. 55-57.
  3. Ibid., pgs. 98-102.
  4. Ibid. pgs. 185-188.
  5. Ibid., pgs. 268-270.
  6. Ibid., pgs. 318-320.
  7. Ibid., pgs. 366-369.
  8. 389-394.
  9. Fallout, loc. 270-329, ebook.
  10. Ibid., loc. 270.
  11. Ibid., loc. 1275-1290.
  12. Ibid., loc. 1290.
  13. Ibid., loc. 1306-1322.
  14. Ibid., loc. 1322-1337.
  15. Ibid., loc. 2317-2348.
  16. Ibid, loc. 2971-3032.
  17. Ibid., loc. 4011-4024.
  18. Ibid., loc. 4037-4062.
  19. Ibid., loc. 4335-4361.
  20. Ibid., loc. 4372-4398.
  21. Ibid., loc. 5569-5641.
  22. Ibid., loc. 6338-6411
  23. Ibid. 6620-6692.
  24. Ibid., loc. 6953.
  25. Ibid., loc. 6980-7016.
  26. Ibid., loc. 7028-7041.
  27. Armistice, pgs. 43-46, ebook.
  28. Ibid., pgs. 51-54.
  29. Ibid., pg. 105-109.
  30. Ibid., pg. 183.
  31. Ibid., pgs. 183-186.
  32. Ibid., pg. 203.
  33. Ibid., pgs 203-206.
  34. Ibid. pgs. 251-256.
  35. Ibid., pgs. 294-297.
  36. Ibid., pgs. 370-374.
  37. Ibid., pgs. 408-412.
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