The Reaper. Kazimir Malevich. Oil on canvas. In the Nizhny Novgorod State Museum of Fine Arts

On the third day of encirclement, Lieutenant Komarov proposed that he should be sent to break through the German lines.

“But what would we do without you, Komarov?” asked Captain Baranov. He was not joking.

Lieutenant Komarov could not shoot or read a map or remember the signal codes; he spoke to his superiors just as he spoke to the men and neither really understood him; he was active and excitable like a man with a fever. The war had lifted him from a coffee house in St Petersburg, dropped him into the army and made him a lieutenant because he was an educated man, but it had not made him a soldier. Nevertheless: he was brave, and even in our current desperate position his cheerfulness never faded.

Read on …

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