“Before we reached Kiev we were attacked by the German air force. They totally bombed one of our artillery sections. The bombs were flying. It was the railway station in Priluky. At night we were attacked there by German bombers. The railway cars got direct hits. Over fifty dead and many wounded. So this was our welcome to the front. We have not even fired a single shot and we already had huge losses. It was strange that there was no anti-aircraft defence. The way the transport was secured was weird. There were no anti-aircraft machine guns, because the machine-gunners died during the first attack as well. The German airplanes were thus able to fly freely as they wanted.”
“We were supporting the 4th strike battalion which entered Břest on the sixth at night. They scared the Germans there and the Germans ran away. The artillery mortar battery was following the battalion. I set up a firing position on the outskirts of Břest. It was already May 7th, and the weather was splendid. I didn’t know what was happening in front of us. In the village there was still some fighting going on; anti-tank artillery installed their cannon there. The Germans shot the cannon operators; the Germans had left many snipers there and they were firing from three houses, and the cannon, thus, remained without operators. Then, I saw what was happening, and we launched a mortar fire at the place where the Germans were hiding.”
“Then, I went home for a leave. As I saw the situation in Carpathian Ruthenia, the villages and towns taken over by the NKVD and commandants everywhere, I became fed up with those NKVD agents. The guys there talked me out of it. My older friend tells me: 'Honza, do you want to stay in Carpathian Ruthenia?' I replied that I didn’t know. 'We had better go to Czechoslovakia and make our future there'. And so, I came back to the division command in Kroměříž, and I declared that I wanted to stay there. I went to Prague to the Ministry of Interior and I signed an option declaration, stating my preference for the Czechoslovak Republic.”
“Uchta--I was in the labour camp there. It was a shock, because you had to work there--do regular work--and the working conditions were inadequate. It was freezing--around thirty degrees below zero. But, then I got to know leaders of one of the camp sections, and they gave me much better work. I began working as a helper in a training centre, and this is how I survived it. When I realized that people in Russia, especially in Leningrad, suffered from hunger, well, I didn’t.”
“The very same day, at night, we continued towards the outskirts of Kiev. We were assigned a place to establish our firing position and an observation post. At first we had to away German corpses. There were many dead Germans, and we had to clear the place. You see a German, open eyes and mouth--he is dead. And, you think that you will lie there as well. So, that was our welcome to the front: bombardment and collecting dead bodies.”
Collecting dead bodies after bombardment--that was our welcome to the front
Jan Ihnatík was born on March 1st, 1922, in the village of Poroshkovo, Perechinsky region in Carpathian Ruthenia. In May of 1940, less than a year after his native region had been occupied by Hungary, he and his two friends decided to escape to the Soviet Union. Shortly after they crossed the border, they were detained by Soviet border guards. Because he illegally crossed the border, Jan Ihnatík was sentenced to three years of imprisonment in labour camps. Before his sentence, he was initially detained in the assembly camp in Skolje, then sent to prisons in Stryja, Uman and Starobelsk, where he served his sentence. He was deported once more and sent to the gulag near the town Uchta located one hundred kilometers North of Moscow. Although the conditions in the camp had to be very harsh, Ihnatík does not complain of the situation in the gulag in his narrative. After spending several months there, the camp leaders sent him to work as a helper in a nearby vocational training centre where he received larger food rations. In 1943, Ihnatík was released and soon joined the newly formed Czechoslovak military units in the USSR. He was an artillery soldier and took part in the well-known battles of Kiev, Bila Tserkva and the Dukla Pass. Soon, he became commander of an artillery battery, leading his men in the battles of Jaslo, Liptovský Mikuláš and those in the Czech territory. But once he found out about the situation in the Carpathian Ruthenia after the War, he chose to return to Czechoslovakia where he joined the army again. He remained in the Czechoslovak army until his retirement. Jan Ihnatík now lives with his wife in Havířov.