Vasily Grossman was a Soviet journalist keeping a notebook of his impressions of the campaign, undated vignettes of what he saw. Much of this material would find its way into his novels, including ‘Life And Fate‘ one of the masterpieces of literature to emerge from the war. But the original source material has also been published and paints the Russian perspective of the front line in graphic detail:
Lieutenant Matyushko commands a destroyer detachment, whose task is to annihilate Germans occupying the houses. The annihilators break into the village and rush into the houses. Matyushko said: ‘My men are all bandits. This war in villages is a bandit war.’ They sometimes strangle Germans with their hands.
A sergeant’s voice is heard coming out of smoke and flames: ‘Don’t fire in here, I’ve captured this house’.
A member of the destroyer detachment entered a house and swept the people sitting there with his quick dark glance. Everyone understood that this had become his habit, the habit of a man who breaks into a house and kills. Lieutenant Matyushko, too, interpreted his glance this way and said, laughing: ‘He could have done away with all of us on his own!’
We enter Malinovka with the battalion of motorised infantry (commanded by Captain Kozlov). The houses are ablaze.
Germans are screaming, they are dying. One of them, all black and scorched, is smoking. Our soldiers haven’t eaten for two days and are chewing dry millet concentrate while they advance. They look into destroyed cellars and immediately get some potatoes, stuff snow into their kettles and put them on embers found in the burning izbas.
How could a dead horse have got into the cellar? It’s impossible to understand! In the same cellar there’s a broken barrel of [soured] cabbage. Soldiers are gobbling it up greedily. ‘It’s all right, it isn’t poisoned’ In the same cellar someone is bandaging a wounded photo-correspondent leaning against the horse’s corpse.