NEW YORK, May 4. /TASS/. Russian Orthodox icons guarded the approaches to Moscow in the tragic autumn of 1941 when showpiece divisions of the Third Reich were rolling towards the Soviet capital, the veteran of World War II combat operations on the Soviet front, Vladimir Kindyuk who took part in preparing the secret action told TASS.
As the Nazi troops were getting closer to Moscow in spite of the unprecedentedly fierce resistance put up by Soviet troops, Joseph Stalin issued an order to find the Russian Orthodox priests who would bless defense lines around the capital with prayer.
"Several months after the outbreak of the war, when the Germans were already sighting Moscow, Stalin gave an order to sanctify the defense lines, which the enemy units would then be unable to break through," Vladimir Kindyuk said. "I was a very young guy at that time but quite by chance I happened to take part in fulfilling the order although I didn’t know anything about it."
In 1941, Vladimir was only 16 years old and he could be drafted to the Armed Forces. Still the drafting office put him on its register.
"It turned out that my teacher in radio technologies - something I’d long been fascinated by - was a member of the commission that registered us, " Kindyuk said. "And he placed me to a signal core school that trained junior specialists. That’s why I was always by my teacher’s side."
"It so happened that he and I found ourselves in Moscow in October 1941," he said.
Stalin’s order to sanctify the holding lines around Moscow was commissioned to pilots of the warplanes stationed on Khodynsky field, an airbase right inside the city just a few kilometers away from the Kremlin. Supervisors of the secret mission chose I-16 ‘Ishak’ (Donkey) fighters planes for the purpose.
"Usually these planes had only one seat in the cockpit but a dual-cockpit version of the plane existed, too," Kindyuk said. "They were used to train pilots."
"And a few of those ‘Donkeys’ had even triple cockpits and it was exactly those triple planes that were selected for the blessing assignment," he said. "One seat would be taken by the pilot, the other by the radio technician, and the third by the priest."
The special assignment given by Stalin embraced six planes and twelve or so priests. They would fly along six routes mapped out around the city. To assure correct navigation, radio beacons were installed on the ground to send orientation signals to the pilots.
As for the priests, they had small icons and "brushes of some kind", as Kindyuk put it. Most probably, these were the aspergils for sprinkling the sanctified objects with blessed water.
Vladimir Kindyuk said frankly he had a purely technical function of ensuring power supply and attaching supplementary batteries and he did not make inquiries about the super task of the mission.
"It was only on February 23, 1942, that I and many others learned about the kind of task we fulfilled in those days (of October 1941)," he said. "The commanders assembled us and congratulated us on the occasion of a mission successfully accomplished. We were told that no a single Wehrmacht soldier managed to get through the lines sanctified then."
All members of the team engaged in the sanctification assignment, including priests, received orders and medals. "I was the youngest of all of them and I received my first-ever expression of Stalin’s gratitude - a certificate of gratitude - and I was very proud of the fact," Kindyuk said.
He got to the frontline upon reaching conscription age and did a tour of duty in a long-range air force. His task was to do maintenance of warplanes.
"I was a junior specialist guarding, camouflaging, cleaning, and washing the warplanes that returned from sorties," Kindyuk said. During a Nazi bombing raid at the positions of Soviet troops in the Leningrad region in 1944, he received a fragmentation wound, as three fragments pierced the right side of his chest.
"We were sitting in a trench and someone told me, well, look, you planes - that is, they planes I serviced - are burning," he recalled. "I held on to the parapet of the trench to look out of it and when I did so I felt as if someone on had struck me with a whip."
A woman surgeon in the field hospital retrieved the first fragment from his chest and the second fragment was retrieved a big military hospital where he was taken from the frontline.
"A physician there told me, you’re lucky, brother, because all the fragments pierced the right side of your chest. Had they pierced the left side you would have been dead by now," Kindyuk recounted the physician’s words. "This means you’ll live a hundred year."
The veteran who is now 92 said the third fragment that had stuck deeper than the other two fragments and had gotten almost through to the shoulder blade was still in his body.
"I’ve grown accustomed to perceiving it as something quite organic to me and I don’t even feel it’s there," he said. "It started squeaking and sending other signals only once. It was during a security check when I was on a tour of the UN headquarters. After that physicians gave out a certificate confirming I was carrying a wartime fragment in my body.".