Retired Colonel Nikolai Zimovets celebrated his 96th anniversary in December 2018. Despite his age, the Voronezh veteran has a great memory – he remembers his entire life in detail, he has excellent eyesight — he reads without glasses. And he is a big optimist. He says that it was this quality that helped him to survive the hungry 30s, go through the war and live to gray hair together with his faithful wife Inna – they have been together for 67 years. Their most important wealth is two daughters, two granddaughters and a great-grandson.

Nikolai was awarded two Orders of the Red Star, the Order of the Patriotic War of the second degree, the medal “For Courage”. The veteran shared his memoirs with journalists of RIA “Voronezh” in honor of the Day of Crimea’s Reunification with Russia, which is celebrated on March 18.

The whole family died of starvation

– I was born in the Poltava Region in the village of Gorobtsi, was the eldest child in the family. Our childhood was hard, I still cannot calmly remember it. There were four children in the family. In 1933, famine killed his parents, brothers and sister. The terrible famine was all over Ukraine at that time. All my relatives died in turn – from January to May. Our family was peasant: a cow, five sheep, chickens, 1.5 hectares of land. It fed us, but the cattle and the whole harvest were taken to the collective farm in the autumn of 1932. Only vegetables and some grains remained at home. I do not understand how they managed to hide it. In January 1933, these crumbs of grain were also taken away. I remember a loud knock on the door at night. My dad opened the door, and five people broke into the house. They started to demand to give all the bread in the house. They put it in the sleigh and took it away, but we stayed with potatoes. Our parents gave everything they had to us, children, but this was not enough.

My mother was the last who died in April, 1933. I survived, probably because I was the eldest of the children, the strongest. When I saw my lifeless mother, I crawled out of the house to the street, I could not walk because of weakness. My neighbors noticed me, had pity, said that they would bury my mother, and they took me to the regional center. The authorities sent me to one woman, who by that time already had five orphans like me. She saved me. They dragged me inside by my legs and arms and threw me into the corner. I was almost unconscious out of hunger. The girl who lived there, told me that the woman called a paramedic, he came, examined me, felt the pulse and said that I could still be saved. Then she began to nurse me. First she gave me some water in my mouth, then smashed potatoes. A day later I opened my eyes. I lived there for a month. In the summer, all orphans were gathered and sent to the camp, and in the autumn, we were sent to orphanages.

Work during the day, study in the evening 

– I lived and studied in the orphanage until the seventh grade. Then I was taken by my relatives who lived in the Donbas in Debaltsevo and worked at the railway. My uncle found me a job at the Machine Building Plant as a moulder assistant in the foundry. I worked and attended the evening school for working youth. I worked eight hours in the workshop during the day, and then I went home, took my books and notebooks, and ran to the school, where I studied every day from 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm. That was how I finished the eighth and ninth grades.

“There will be no exams. The War”

– On the morning of June 22, 1941, I went to school to find out the schedule of examinations for the ninth grade. I noticed children in the sandbox early in the morning. I walked past them and heard what they were saying: “The Germans bombed Sevastopol today. And Kiev was also bombed.” I thought what crazy games the kids were playing. I entered the school, the staff room, and I saw the crying teacher and the director with a paper in his hands. He asked me why I came, and said: “Kolya, the war has begun. There will be no exams. I am holding a military subpoena. You will be given marks and certificates confirming that you have finished the ninth grade, of course, if you need them in this situation.”

On my way back home, I saw some people at the station, they were standing by the radio. Everyone heard about the war, but hoped that it was rumors, so they waited for an official statement. At 12:00, we heard the address of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, saying that the fascists attacked our country at four o’clock in the morning.

Artillery School cadets

– I was called up to the army together with my schoolmates on August 8. We were trimmed, fed in the factory canteen, put into cars with triple-deck bunks in the evening and sent to an unknown destination. A few days later, we left the car and saw the name of the station “Barnaul”. We found ourselves in a military camp, the Major General came to us and announced that we were now cadets of the Lepel Artillery Mortar School. After a month of training, we received a uniform, took an oath. We studied there until February 1942. Then we were put in the same cars and sent to Ufa, where were taken to different units.

At first, I was enlisted in the mortar regiment, which was supposed to be sent to the front the next day, but the commander said that he was all staffed and ordered not to take additional people. So I ended up in the reserve mortar regiment, was battery executive officer. There we prepared artillerymen and mortar gunners for the front. In the fall of 1943, I was sent to the commanders retraining courses, and a month later to the front, where my fire versts began. Until the end of the war, I served in the 305th howitzer artillery regiment of the 77th howitzer artillery brigade of the 26th artillery division of the reserve of the High Command. First, as the firing platoon commander, and at the end of the war, the battery commander.

Forcing the Dnieper

– In February 1944, we crossed the Dnieper. It was very muddy that the equipment got stuck there. The regimental commander found a tractor that coped with the mud despite its low speed. It dragged three of our howitzers (a type of artillery guns – RIA “Voronezh”) to the other bank. Then we were transported with the guns on pontoons to the island, which was on the Dnieper. Our battery was the only one of the entire regiment that crossed the river. We supported the infantry with our guns when the crossing began. Suddenly I heard a whistle, immediately reacted and dived into the trench. Then I was told that a fascist mine exploded next to me. After that I was unconscious for almost two days, our guys rescued me, they dragged me to a safe, warm place.

Liberation of Sevastopol

– Our regiment liberated Crimea as part of the 4th Ukrainian Front in the spring of 1944. The Nazis rampaged there for almost two years. Thousands of civilians in Crimea were murdered. Simferopol was liberated on April 13, the fascist occupation lasted more than 800 days. Then the Soviet troops reached Sevastopol and began preparations for the assault on the city. The task was to break through the enemy defenses on the Sapun-Gora section, so we broke the stability of the German defense. This was accomplished on May 7, and on May 9, the front forces broke into Sevastopol and liberated the city. At that time, none of us could even imagine how symbolic the liberation of Sevastopol on May 9th was. No one imagined that the war would end in exactly one year.

Miracles happened

– The liberation of Sevastopol was achieved with fierce fighting. I am not ashamed to say that we were all scared during the war, because everyone wanted to live – both young fighters and those aged. Death walked around us all the time, but miracles also happened. For example, we walked to the observation point during the day and noticed: our mortar men were lying and playing cards 100 meters away on the mountainside with a box instead of a table in the middle. Suddenly we heard a boom and an explosion. A German mine fell just on the box with the cards. We thought everyone was killed. But the guys began to move, crawled in different directions. A nurse ran to them, immediately after her the commander of the battery shouted that he had forbidden them to play so many times, and that they had finished playing. But everyone was lucky that time. Despite the fact that the mine got into the center of the company, no one died, only three soldiers were deafened. Of course, I saw few such happy occasions during the war.

Crazy salute

– When the Crimea was liberated, I was 22 years old. By that time, I had 15 soldiers and two gun crews in command. All of them were of different ages, there were those who were old enough to be my father. But none of them had ever told something bad to me, that I was too young to take command. When they said on the radio that the 4th Ukrainian Front liberated Sevastopol, the glee began! A crazy salute with live shells started on Sapun-Gora. I have never seen anything like this in my whole life. The fascists left there a few dozen anti-aircraft guns, of which Soviet soldiers fired for joy. All the shells went for the salute, and only later, we learned that the city had been liberated, but the whole German troop concentrated on the sea south of Sevastopol, and there were no shells to shoot at them. Then the command sent vehicles for the shells to Bakhchisarai. Only when everything arrived, we started shooting, but then suddenly we received a command to cease fire. It turned out that the fascists threw out all that they had white, showing that they were giving up. This happened on May 12, 1944.

We celebrated the victory with canned food and vodka

– After the liberation of Sevastopol, we were sent to a camp near Simferopol, where we put the gun in order. At the end of May we received a command to arrive at the station and get into echelons to be sent to the front. We were informed that the 4th Ukrainian Front was abolished, and we went to the 1st Belorussian Front. We got off near Gomel and three days later, we joined the battle to break through the German defense in Belarus. Then we liberated Poland.

We met the victory not far from the German city of Rostock, which was about 200 km from Berlin. Our division stopped fighting on May 5th. We celebrated the victory with a festive dinner. We were given additional canned food and 200 g of vodka. It was my first alcohol, since I always gave my vodka on the front, I did not drink it myself. After all, war has no breaks, I was sure that by head should always be sober no matter what happens. However, I drank for the Victory, of course.

40 years in the army

– After the war, many of my fellow soldiers wanted to resign from the army, did not want to fight any more, but the personnel officers let out only those who were older. We were told: “And who will defend the Motherland, if you also leave?” They sent the young lieutenants to other units. Already being a captain, I graduated from the tenth grade in Vologda and entered the Military Academy. In total, I gave the army 40 years without two months, resigned as a colonel. During the years of service, I and my wife Inna, with whom we have been together for 67 years, changed units 12 times. In the 70s, I was transferred to Voronezh to the Senior Division of the Voronezh State University. By that time, our eldest daughter was in the ninth grade, and it was necessary to think about her education. My wife also got a job at the university. At the Senior Division, I taught the history of wars for ten years. Resigning from military service, I worked for more than 20 years as a “civilian” engineer in research institutes. I retired in 1992.

“I dream of a book and prosthesis”

– Sitting at home is not about me. I was a member of the Presidium of Levoberezhny District Council of War and Labor Veterans for a long time. Last autumn, my leg was amputated, and all my civic activities ceased. We live on the fifth floor without elevators. I can hardly move around my apartment, not mentioning going out on the street. It is very difficult to go down the fifth floor even in a wheelchair. However, I am an optimist and not used to giving up. I hope I have a modern prosthesis, not just imitating a leg, but which will allow me to move again on my own. I also dream to write a book. I have a collection of memories of my comrade on my desk. I have read it five times. Maybe it’s not too late for me to publish my memoirs