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To die for Russia
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, 26 2003
A year ago, after the terrorist attack at Dubrovka, the name of Lieutenant Colonel Konstantin Ivanovich Vasilev, of the Russian Ministry of Justice, was made known to all residents of the city of Sarov. Hisblue eyes looked at us from the pages of the city newspapers, and he looked into the heart of everyone. We, in turn, gazed into his eyes, in pity, trying to understand, and to remember. Whywas he at the theater that night? Hewas not among the spectators, nor with the soldiers who freed the hostages. Backthen, on the very first night of the hostage crisis, not in response to a command, but in listening to the voice of his own conscience, Konstantin Vasilev went there to offer himself, a Russian officer, in place of the children. Hewas shot, and his corpse was cruelly mocked by the Chechens before being tossed into a basement.


Ten days before the tragedy, on Nadezha Stepanovna Vasileva's birthday, a friend of Konstantin arrived with a huge bouquet of roses: Kostya called from Moscow and asked me to bring these over! For Konstantin, his mother's birthday was always a holy day. Pages yellow with time preserve the warm words that he wrote his mother from military school: My very dearest Mom! Icongratulate you with all my heart, and Iam proud of you. Youare a true daughter of Russia, and you passed your ever-burning flame of love on to me.

These two words motherland and mother were one and the same to Konstantin. Hisfirst love and pride was his mother, while the second with all the love and pain of our modern world was Russia. Itwas Russia that he lived for, and Russia that he diedfor.

When the terrorists seized the theater at Dubrovka, Nadezhda Stepanovna watched the news with alarm. I watched that dark Hell and Ithought: 'God please don't let my son be there'. But, in truth, he was. Amother's heart just knows.


From school on, little Konstantin held justice and honesty in high esteem. Hewould not make peace with evil, and always said straight-out what he was thinking. Hisgoal in life was made clear early to him. Hefirst told his mother that he would be a soldier when they went to attend his older brother's oath of enlistment. Fromthen on, he wrote in his school compositions that he would become a soldier. Whenhe finished school he entered the Krasnodarsk military academy for the strategic rocket forces. Later he attended law school by correspondence. In1997 he entered the ministry of defense military academy in Moscow, and finished with highest honors. After university he served in Moscow in the military superior court system.

In becoming an officer, Konstantin was to painfully endure the difficult situation of the army in the 1990s. Ashis friends tell it, he never complained about the poor pay, but worried more about the collapse of the nation and the army, as their defender. Hebelieved in Russia and its resurrection.

As a person he was ingenuous and hard-working. Healways put the service ahead of everything. Whenthey were going through Konstantin's belongings after his death, nothing most people would consider valuable could be found, only a lot of books on war, which he collected from library auctions and abandoned collections. Heoften travelled around the area to rescue these artifacts. Hedonated these to schools, academies, and what was left over, he saved. Hecould not bear to see them tossed in thetrash.


The coroner wrote that Lieutenant Colonel Vasilev had a deep wound, from where his crucifix hung around his neck the murderers tried to yank it off. Though it was a thin chain, for some reason they were unable to break it. According to friends, Konstantin did not wear it because it was fashionable. Hewas constantly in search of spirital guidance, and when he took up Orthodox Christianity, he believed in it deeply and strongly. Itis known that he literally saved a friend from death with prayer. Major Anton Manshin, a veteran of both Chechen wars, had been in a coma for 5months after being seriously wounded there. Konstantin went to the Optina hermitage, and stood up nights in prayer in all the cathedrals there, and, wherever he could, had his friend's health prayed for by the priests. Hisfriend recovered, and has since returned to activeduty.

Knowing the deep spiritual connection between a mother and her son, Iask if Konstantin had gotten his faith from his family.

I'm not one to play the hypocrite, says Nadezhda Stepanovna. I couldn't have given him his faith. Inour day going to church was bad they even dismissed a girl from school because she was in a church choir. No, he found his faith on his own. WhenKostya told me about it, Ianswered: 'Son, do what you feel you need to do. Ifyou believe, then believe. Onlysincerely. Always be a real person in life and Iwill be happy'.

Konstantin could not do otherwise sincerity was an integral part of his character. Therefore he had to try to do something on thatday.


After Konstantin's death, it turns out that he had very many friends. People with whom he served in various cities, who loved him, and for whom his death was an awful personal loss, arrived for his funeral.

The Sarov circle is the most long standing, says one of Konstantin's friends from his school days. Andrei Dushenko made friends with Konstantin right after they both decided to become soldiers. Ayoung military science teacher named Grigory Antoshenkov, a former paratrooper and champion of Greco-Roman wrestling, had a great influence on the young boys. Backthen, in the 1980s, with Afghanistan raging, to choose a soldier's career and serve the motherland did not always mean stabilty and an elite place in life. Theboys made their decision, and this is why they became friends.


Moscow journalist Natalya Suhinina writes: Konstantin Ivanovich Vasilev left life in the prime of his years. Byearthly standards, his death makes no sense. Yes, and there are those who say that his foray into the theatrical center that night was pointless. Whatdid he accomplish? Whatdid he change? TheLord's court, however, has its own laws

At my son's funeral, Nadezhda Stepanova recalls. A bloody tear rolled down his cheek. Iwiped it away with a handkerchief, and Ithought: 'What does this mean?' A monk from the Sanaksarsky monastery conforted me and said: 'He is a saint for you, who was murdered, who accepted a martyr's death Thistear is a sign of gratitude that the Lord has accepted him, and that everyone loves him and feels sorrow for him.' When Iheard this, it was as if a heavy weight had been lifted from my soul.

A heavy weight taken from the soul, and a mother's heart is a little easier. Butwill we ever be able to understand Konstantin Vasilev'sdeed?

This summer friends and army buddies of Konstantin appealed to Sarov residents to sign a petition to the president, asking that Konstantin Vasilev be posthumously awarded with the Hero of Russia medal. Manyresponded, and arrived at his mother's house. Manycame who were just sympathetic, and others came who understood that Konstantin Vasilev had performed a heroic feat. Theletter with the signatures of citizens of our city was sent by Nadezhda Stepanovna to the president, and a response arrived, stating that it had been received and was being examined. Ithas already been acknowledged that Lieutenant Colonel Vasilev died while performing hisduty.

Does Konstantin Vasilev need this official acknowledgement? Morethan anything, we needit.

A patriotic children's group in Moscow bears the name of Lieutenant Colonel Vasilev. Friends stocked its library with the books Konstantin had saved. Articles have been written about him in magazines and newspapers, and radio broadcasts devoted to him. Amemorial is located in the museum of Sarov School No. 20, where he was a student.

The last time Konstantin went home, he left for his mother his favorite book a collection of Nikolai Bogolyubov's patriotic lyrics, titled To Die for Russia. Asan epigraph in the book were words from the Bible: Be faithful unto death, and Iwill give you the crown of life, while the first line of one of the poems reads: To die for Russia is a gift, a calling

Lieutenant Colonel Konstantin Vasilev realized his highest calling.

Sarov Courier
Photos from the Vasilev family archives

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