In May 2008 Sharkhunters President HARRY COOPER (1-LIFE-1983), was invited by some friends of Sharkhunters; some veterans and some not – to accompany them to the battleground where the 5th SS confronted the Red Army at the little town of Uspienka, Ukraine which is right at the eastern border of Ukraine with Russia. This was as fearsome a battle as that fought at Stalingrad, but perhaps not quite so well known. To those who struggled there – it was very real. To those who lost loved ones in the farmlands around Uspienka, it was very real. And to anyone and everyone interested in the true and honest history of the men of the Waffen SS – this is a very real place with very real history of brave soldiers and a valiant struggle.
We are told by the residents of Uspienka that their village name is pronounced oos-pee-YEN-kah in Ukrainian but in Russian, we are told, it is pronounced oos-pen-SKY-ah. Okay – it is whatever it is, but it is a beautiful place with friendly people.
|A view to the garden of our host……..and the red arrow points to the little building where – well, you can figure it out. It appeared that none of the homes in the village have indoor plumbing, but it was neat and clean and if one is going to be an adventurer, one must get used to leaving some amenities back in the city.|
Invasion of Russia!
Then it was time to “invade” Russia! Crossing the border from Ukraine into Russia is about as easy as crossing the southern border of the United States. But there was no place to get free health care, free food, welfare, free housing or anything like that. Actually, they learned that if they were caught, they would at least go to prison if not be shot on the border. Maybe they have an idea there…………….. Our “invaders” merely drank a toast of vodka (there is a lot of that there!!!) and returned to base.
That sign, we are told, says that we will be imprisoned or shot if caught crossing this border…..no sense of humor at all!
Actually, this entire area was the battlefield, and these veterans were remembering some 65 years back in their memories.
|It is almost as if they never left……….||They have found something……….|
|Yes indeed – almost as if they had never left.||Some of the old fortifications are still there.|
……..in the village of Uspienka
The Memorial Service in the village cemetery for the local man who helped so much for the friendship and cooperation between the Ukrainians and the German veterans. He only recently passed away.
|and back at the little church…….||Seated on the bench on the churchyard we see (from the left):
PAUL RÖSCH, HEINZ KEITH, “Sepp” Dorsch, Father Gabriel, Dieter Bunge, Evgeni, Gerhard Sellin, HARRY COOPER
(the names of Sharkhunters Members are caps and bold)
|Bringing water from one of the few deep wells in town.||PAUL RÖSCH relives a moment from his past. As an Oberleutnant, it is more likely that he rode in the sidecar some 65 years ago rather than driving it. No, this is not a museum piece – there are a lot of these old bikes with sidecars in this village. There are not so many cars, but we counted at least half a dozen of these bikes.|
|Village children swim upstream of the bridge||Cattle are in the river downstream of the bridge as PAUL chats with the fishermen. He speaks the language because he spent many years in a Soviet labor camp after the war.|
|They sure ate well at Serge’s house! This is not the breakfast for the three guys staying with Serge – this is breakfast for EACH of us!||Serge on the telephone making the day’s program.|
|The river figured prominently into the battles more than 60 years ago. This bridge – no joke – really is the actual footbridge the villagers use to cross the river……….carefully; VERY carefully!!||This bridge would frighten Indiana Jones!|
|As these photographs clearly show –||sometimes the results of battle are never repaired.|
|Field HQ of General Steiner|
|When the visitors travel to the high ridge above the village,||they find more small homes. One is of particular interest.|
|The lady of the house wants to know who are these strangers
and why are they taking photographs of this house.
|Our host Serge explains that the visitors are Germans who fought against the Soviets here nearly 70 years ago. She is happy and calls out her husband to have more photos taken.||From the left: PAUL RÖSCH; Serge; the lady of the house; HARRY COOPER; the man of the house and Gerhard Sellin. PAUL and Gerhard are veterans of the 5th SS and they saw heavy combat here.|
|And why is this particular house of such interest? During the battle||in this area, this was the HQ of General Steiner.|
|And on to more of the battlefields…………………..|
|Serge has located the son of a man who lived here during the battles and he loaned photos to the group of what it looked like back then. The son is the young man with the bandaged arm standing between Gerhard Sellin and PAUL RÖSCH – and for some reason, old ladies all over the world seem to love HARRY as we see here while Serge stifles a grin.|
|Holding up the photos borrowed from the young man,||they compare yesterday with today.|
|They stand exactly where the sentry stood six and a half decades ago, and Serge drives the group to the next place on the former battlefield. Roads? Who needs roads? Serge drove right across fields to the exact spot on the battlefields.|
|Serge and “Sepp” check the location and sure enough, when compared to the old wartime photo – it is the same place.|
The Soviet Memorial
to the eight divisions of the Red Army thrown against the 5th SS
|It can be seen from miles away. Gerhard Sellin, HARRY COOPER, PAUL RÖSCH and “Sepp” Dorsch at the display. Gerhard and PAUL saw heavy combat here. Gerhard (on the left) still has a huge gap in his midsection – the result of a Kytushia rocket attack right here.|
|The Red Army won this battle – but the cost was very high. The names of just some of their men who fell are on these markers.|
|Huge memorials to the infantry and the armored troops||– and more names of the fallen.|
|Memorial to the artillery and the Air Force||………..and even more names of the fallen.|
|Looking from beneath the statue of the soldier and from||the other side, the former battlefield stretches out for miles.|
|Above – Never known for doing anything small, this Soviet soldier stands about thirty feet (ten meters) tall and from this memorial at the top of the hill, one can see for miles and miles in any direction.||Getting up to this memorial is no easy task – it is on the top of a mountain with a very steep path of more than a quarter mile – UP!|
|PAUL RÖSCH, Serge, Gerhard Sellin and “Sepp” at the summit.||Above – Serge sits in the control seat of the Kytushia rocket vehicle. Weren’t these trucks made by Studebaker in South Bend, Indiana USA?|
|Our travelers encounter “Rush Hour” traffic here on the||“Autobahn” returning to Uspienka. Sure is peaceful!|
It is somehow difficult to equate this quiet, peaceful landscape of today with the bitter struggle between the 5th SS Division and eight Soviet Army divisions. Explosions, fire and steel rent the air – men were being killed by the thousands day after day. Today veterans return to visit with the villagers – some of whom were there during the war, others who are the descendants of those people.
All is calm now. The villagers welcome the veterans of the 5th SS as friends – no, more like family and the land is again peaceful.
……….to the School
These warm-hearted veterans did not just come here for the battlefield. They do a great deal for the local school too.
The poster in the lunchroom tells about the proper food – and the ladies are preparing the lunch.
from the left: HEINZ KEITH (seated), Dieter Bunge, their host Serge, HARRY COOPER (seated), two lunchroom ladies, PAUL RÖSCH (seated), ‘Sepp‘ Dorsch (seated) and Gerhard Sellin. The ladies served cookies and coffee with sweetened milk.
It would seem that every culture has their fairy tales of the handsome prince coming to capture the heart of the fair princess and Ukraine is no different. This painting (above right) hangs in the school’s main hallway. Below left – the school’s fresh water well. Below right – one of the students waves farewell to the friends of their school from a former enemy nation.
Not only the School, but the Kindergarten as well……
These veterans also help the local kindergarten. Once having 120 little children, they now have an enrollment of only about 25.
What the heck is this?
Well – it was built by Germans before the First World War………the broken windows have been replaced with stone over the years but what is this black granular stuff? You’re not gonna’ believe it…………….
New meaning to “Hands Across the Oceans”
Back to Auto Shop 101……….
Next morning – our last morning in town…..below left Serge prepares to pick up the kids for school.
but some live near enough, they walk to school.