Author’s notes: Babi Yar and Concentration Camp Syrets existed. I’ve changed the timing of the discovery a little so as to fit in with the story, but in essence everything else is true. I have tried to keep the details as accurate as I can without being too descriptive, but I warn you, some images may be extremely disturbing.
The Einsatzgruppen: Immediately following the German invasion, Himmler was appointed to take measures to strengthen German ethnicity in the occupied territories and to create lebensraum, or living space for German citizens. To this end, Himmler created special task forces within the SS, the Einsatzgruppen, and placed them under the command of Reinhard Heydrich. On September, 21, 1939, Heydrich instructed those under his command to observe a distinction between the "final aim," which would take some time and "the steps necessary for reaching it which can be applied more or less at once." The Einsatzgruppen became "mobile killing units" charged with liquidating all political enemies of the Reich.
Sotniks – Ukranian militiamen recruited by the Nazis.
Colonel Nikolai Koulikov strode into the main hall of Red Army Headquarters, the file tucked under one arm, and was met by Naran Ivanova and a cheerful Private Lubov. They were sitting chatting on a bench next to the main desk, anonymous in the growing numbers of staff bustling hither and thither, paperwork in hand and with errands to run.
They both stood up as they saw Nikolai, and their easy smiles faded as they saw the grimness on his face.
"Lubov, go back to the billet and round up the men. Meet me back here as soon as you can. Sergeant," he turned to Naran, "I’ll be back in a few minutes – you have some instructions, I believe?"
Naran nodded, mystified, and handed Nikolai a sealed brown envelope. Nikolai’s eyebrows shot up.
"You haven’t opened it?"
She shook her head.
"No, comrade – I was told to open it only in your presence."
Nikolai handed it back.
"Open it. It’s instructions for both of us. But keep it to yourself, girl – this is classified, you understand?" Seeing her puzzled nod, he glanced at Lubov, now jamming his ushanka on his head. "Do you have any transport, boy?"
Lubov shook his head.
"Left the trucks at your billet – the fellas thought they’d unload your stuff this morning for the Missus before they came up to the hospital. Was supposed to meet ‘em there, so I hiked out to the hospital and knew I’d get a lift from there."
"All right - Naran, take Lubov back to my billet, and tell those lazy sods to get their arses into gear and get back here fast. Then go find yourselves a couple of jeeps. Oh, and come armed, Lubov. All of you." His mouth set grimly. "We have a job to do, and I don’t want anyone interfering."
Lubov turned to leave but stopped, frowning.
"But comrade Colonel sir, we’re mechanics, not regulars!! I mean, don’t you want properly trained soldiers - "
"I want men I can trust with my life, boy, and that’s you mangy lot," Nikolai said, his voice a quiet rumble. "The work we have to do means shut mouths and men who will do what they’re told without question – and I may have to ask you to prevent the NKVD from interfering, d’y’hear?"
Lubov’s expressive eyes widened, but he nodded.
"Yes, comrade Colonel, I hear you. Righto. We’ll be back before you know it."
Nikolai took a deep breath.
"All right, off you go. I’m off to get clearance."
He watched as Naran and Lubov headed off out of the building, then he headed off down a corridor to the administration department.
For the next fifty minutes, Nikolai sat quietly on a bench in the entrance hall, methodically working his way through the file Chekurda had given him. As he read, he grew paler. The details made grim reading. In 1941 the Germans had finally taken Kiev from the Soviet army, and after settling into the city had swiftly made their presence known. In the following weeks thousands of Jews and gypsies had disappeared, it seemed, although the details as such were sketchy. There were rumours of a ravine where bodies lay in their thousands, but there was little proof other than a few eye-witness accounts from terribly emaciated Russian prisoners of war.
Nikolai’s hands trembled slightly as he continued reading, and at one point a little, elfin secretary, concerned at the paleness of his face, asked him if he was all right. Giving her a shaky smile he nodded, and returned to the file. Minutes later a tap on his arm made him look up to find the little secretary smiling down at him, a mug of hot tea in her hand.
"Comrade Colonel ... you looked cold. Here - I made you some tea."
Nikolai took the tea gratefully and thanked her, charmed by her concern. After she returned to her work he took a few sips, allowing the hot, strong liquid trickle soothing warmth into his chest. Immediately feeling better, he returned to his reading. The file contained little information other than circumstantial evidence and a description and map of the camp. Some survivors were recuperating at the hospital, and Nikolai decided he would try and speak to them later when he visited Nikitin. But his mouth set in an even grimmer line when he discovered the NKVD had already been there before him. Their ‘questioning’ of these poor, battered souls produced little in the way of results other than complaints from the doctors about how their methods had severely stressed men already close to total mental breakdown.
He was still reading when Naran and Lubov returned.
Nikolai looked up as they came to stand in front of him. He noticed with satisfaction that they were both armed.
Lubov touched the holster at his waist carrying the Tokarev automatic.
"The lads are all waiting outside, comrade Colonel sir. We’re ready to go."
Nikolai studied the two soldiers for a moment. Lubov’s boyish face was set with concern. Naran just looked pale.
"All right," Nikolai said as he stood up, putting the mug on the bench and slipping the folder under his arm. "Do you know where this camp is, sergeant?"
"Yes, comrade. Just by the Syrets district."
Nikolai took a deep breath.
"Let’s go and get this over with," he said quietly. But he knew as he followed Lubov and Naran out into the dull, chill day that this investigation was going to be neither easy nor simple.
The drive through Kiev didn’t take long, and soon they were following a surprisingly good road through a residential district. Nikolai noted in passing that the houses were less battered than in the rest of the city, a fact he stored away in his mind for future reference.
Behind their jeep drove four more, all of them carrying members of the 7th Motor Pool attached to the Engineers, and every single one of the mechanics was armed to the teeth, faces set in grim lines as they followed Naran along the road.
A ravine began to chisel its way alongside the road, and in the bottom was a small river frozen solid in the sub-zero temperatures, but Nikolai noticed that the ice was dark with soil and refuse, as though tainted by a landslide or other material. The ravine looked dark and treacherous in places, the sides almost vertical at times and the depths shadowed by stark, stunted trees. A haunted place, Nikolai thought. Yet the ravine was probably very beautiful in the high summer, when the trees were covered in leaves and the sun glinted off the water.
"That place has a funny name, comrade Colonel, or so I believe," Naran said, her voice raised to reach over the noise of the engine. Her words were almost whipped away by the rush of freezing air as she drove, but Nikolai caught the gist of it.
"Funny? In what way?"
Naran gave him a bitter smile as she drove the jeep under heavy, overhanging branches that turned the road into a gloomy, wooded cavern.
"It’s called the ‘ravine of the Old Woman’."
Nikolai turned his blue gaze once more to the chasm alongside the road, the gaps in the trees flickering past and giving him glimpses of snowy overhangs and bare, cold rock. Once more a chill of horror ran through him.
Ravine of the Old Woman.
"Babi Yar," he said.
They passed a cemetery, cold and desperately lonely, and nearby was a range of buildings that Nikolai knew from the information that Chekurda gave him to be an old prison. Beyond the prison were the houses of Syrets, the suburb that gave the camp its name. Glancing back to the ravine, he noticed that its once-precipitous sides had given way to a shallow hollow. The small river had disappeared. He looked away, swallowing bile, but Naran took her foot off the accelerator and touched Nikolai’s sleeve, distracting him from the dark thoughts filling his mind.
"Look. That must be the camp."
Ahead the trees thinned out to farmland, and nestled almost on top of the ravine was a high double fence of barbed wire surrounding a collection of huts, perhaps a dozen in all, and a few buildings that were obviously administration centres and living quarters for the guards and Kommandant.
Outside the gates were several GAZ jeeps and a truck. Nikolai straightened, eyebrows drawn down in anger.
"Bloody hell!" he growled, the muscles jumping along his jaw. "What are those bastards doing here?"
There were soldiers entering and leaving what looked like the main building of the camp, loading what appeared to be drawers from filing cabinets into the back of the truck. The young officer in charge wore a distinctive sky blue peaked cap with a red band and piping.
"NKVD! How the hell did they get wind of us coming, the sly buggers!"
Lubov leaned forward and tapped Nikolai’s shoulder, indicating a soldier leaning against one of the jeeps picking at his fingernails. Sorokin.
"Shit!" Nikolai hissed, as Naran drove through the entrance to the camp and brought the jeep to a halt beside the officer. Behind them, the motor crew halted their jeeps in a semi-circle and got out, rifles at the ready and alert to any perceived danger.
Naran sat still behind the wheel as Nikolai got out of the jeep. Before him, the young NKVD Lieutenant turned and perused the new arrivals. The soldiers did not stop loading the drawers into the trucks as the officer noted Nikolai’s rank and stiffened into a languorous salute. Sorokin watched smugly, content to stay where he was.
"Comrade Colonel," the lieutenant said, his green eyes shining with what looked to Nikolai like amusement, "what can I do for you?"
Nikolai ignored him and turned to the half-dozen soldiers loading the trucks.
"Put that lot back where it came from! And don’t look at him," Nikolai said, noticing how the soldiers’ eyes turned to the young officer, "I’m in charge here. Colonel Nikolai Koulikov, 284th Rifle Division, appointed by General Chekurda to oversee the investigation. Do you understand?"
The soldiers’ eyes widened as they recognised the name, but they were still unsure.
"Excuse me Colonel," the lieutenant interrupted, his voice now a little concerned, "but surely you know this is an NKVD matter - "
"Not any more, boy." Nikolai said, his eyes ice cold. The lieutenant paled. Never in his life had he seen such eyes … there was a loathing in them that made his breath hitch. But Nikolai ignored him and turned back to the men, now hovering with indecision. "Move! NOW!"
The soldiers couldn’t control a start of shock. Nikolai Koulikov was not a man to take the refusal of orders lightly. They hurriedly began to return the filing cabinet drawers to the administration building, almost falling over each other in their haste.
Nikolai swung back to the lieutenant, his face set.
"Right. Now lad, you can tell me who you are and why you’re here."
The lieutenant straightened, tugging at his jacket as he tried to regain a semblance of authority, but he could not conceal a slight flush of embarrassment, and it angered him.
"Lieutenant Stepan Ilyich Orlov, NKVD, comrade Colonel." He gave an almost imperceptible bow. "We have our orders - "
Nikolai gave Orlov a wolfish grin.
"Not any more. Get your men out of here and don’t bring ‘em back."
Orlov arched an elegant eyebrow.
"Surely, comrade Colonel, you must understand this is an intelligence matter, and therefore out of your jurisdiction. There are papers here that may have a bearing on where the enemies of the Motherland will strike next - "
"Bollocks!" Nikolai growled, taking a step forward, his bulk towering over the slender soldier. "Your bosses are just worried there might be incriminatory information, Orlov, about Ukrainian militia aiding the Fritzes." He saw surprise on Orlov’s face. "Oh yes, lad, I know all about that! Local men helping the SS! Some of ‘em wouldn’t have anything to do with the NKVD, now would they?" His eyebrows raised in enquiry.
Orlov’s jaw tightened.
"Comrade Colonel, I - "
"Bugger off, Orlov." Nikolai’s voice was a low rumble, but his words were crystal clear, heard by everyone. "And take your lackeys with you." He cocked an eyebrow at Sorokin, who was now standing watching Nikolai with hooded eyes.
Orlov’s reply died unsaid as Nikolai turned on his heels and barked orders to his men. Suddenly he was standing alone, blinking in the dull light, and once more he flushed in embarrassment and anger. Just who the hell did this boorish idiot think he was?
"You can’t do this - " Orlov’s voice broke with tension.
He found himself looking down the barrel of a Luger.
"Just try and stop me, you little arse."
Orlov hitched his eyes over the barrel to see Nikolai Koulikov holding the Luger at arm’s length, hand rock-steady, and in that split-second Orlov realised this was not a game. The big Colonel had every intention of pulling the trigger if Orlov so much as twitched an eyelid.
For no more than a heart-beat it was as though time stood still, the only sign of life being the wisps of cold air as chilled and tense men slowly allowed breath from their bodies, as if the mere action of breathing would spur Nikolai to shoot Orlov between the eyes.
Orlov shuddered, then blinked. He had to speak, but he wasn’t sure if this lunatic Koulikov would shoot him just for the sheer hell of it. It was obvious the man was crazy. He decided to take the chance.
"Very well …" Orlov’s voice was a whisper, "We shall leave, comrade Colonel … for now."
Nikolai held Orlov’s gaze in his own, and decided the young officer finally understood that Nikolai Koulikov was more than ready to shoot him without a qualm if Orlov disobeyed. And, Nikolai thought, it should be something the lad is used to, considering how the NKVD shot their own soldiers when retreating back from the threat of Panzer tanks. There was no place for weakness, he decided. Not when dealing with the NKVD.
Slowly he lowered the Luger and slid it back into the holster on his belt. Not sparing the NKVD officer a second glance, he turned to Lubov.
"Take three men and check that those bastards put everything back that they’ve removed, and post a guard at the gate. Then report back to me." Keeping his back to Orlov, he continued. "Get your men out of here, Orlov, and don’t even think about coming back. I have a detachment of soldiers on their way from headquarters solely under my orders, and this place will be heavily guarded. Oh, and you can whine to your superiors all you like – you won’t get anywhere. I have my orders from the highest authority, boy. D’you understand?"
Orlov didn’t reply, but Nikolai could almost feel the hatred emanating from the man.
Orlov gathered his thoughts and motioned to Sorokin to start the jeep. His men were finally finished and were heaving themselves into the truck ready to leave, and Orlov was about to get into his jeep alongside Sorokin when Nikolai’s voice once more cut through the cold air.
"Oh, and if you do come back, comrade …" Nikolai turned his head to gaze at Orlov, head cocked slightly to one side, emphasising his point. "I will shoot you. On sight." Nikolai let the words sink in, then sighed. "Now then, be a good little soldier and piss off."
Nikolai turned his broad back to Orlov and concentrated on his men. Lieutenant Stepan Ilyich Orlov of the NKVD stood for a moment and gathered his thoughts, then nodded his head stiffly in a grudging acceptance of Nikolai’s words.
"Comrade Colonel." He muttered through clenched teeth.
Then he got into the jeep and Sorokin drove out of the compound, the other jeeps and GAZ truck following behind, jolting over the uneven ground.
Nikolai watched them go, Naran Ivanova beside him, the little sergeant frowning with concern. They stood quietly for a moment as the NKVD disappeared along the road into the cover of the trees, then Naran sighed.
"Colonel …" she said, her voice low. She looked up at Nikolai. "Would you have shot him? Really?"
Nikolai looked down at her, struck by the dark pools of her eyes, and he thought of Rivka, how wonderful she was and how much he loved her.
"Yes, little one, I’d have shot him. Without a second thought. Still," he added, his eyes turning once more to his men. "They’ll be back, despite my warnings. The NKVD … they always come back …" he said, almost as an afterthought. "And someone’s going to end up covered in shit, I have no doubt." He ran a big, gloved hand over the back of his neck, working out the tension knots. "Righto, Sergeant. Let’s go and see what those bastards were trying to hide, hey?"
Junior Sergeant Naran Ivanova nodded hesitantly and smiled.
Nikolai gave her a steely grin and clapped her gently on the shoulder, then led the way over the frozen, rutted compound and up the two steps into the camp’s administration block.
The offices were in turmoil, with paperwork scattered everywhere and much of the furniture smashed or flung about as though the German staff had tried to get out of the building as quickly as possible – which, Nikolai realised, was quite probably exactly what had happened as the Soviet army advanced on the city.
Leaving Lubov and Naran in charge of organising guards and investigating the rest of the camp, Nikolai found a room at the end of a corridor that was obviously the Kommandant’s office. He took off his hat and settled down into the comfortable chair and studied the office, trying to get a feel for the man who had held the lives – and deaths – of so many in his hands. It was a neat room, spartan … the room of a disciplinarian. There were no photographs or personal items, and no marks on the dull beige walls to show where photographs may have hung. It was a cold room. A soulless room. Placing the file that had been given to him by Chekurda on the leather-covered desk, he opened it once more. The Kommandant was a man called SS Obersturmbahnfuhrer Paul von Radomski.
He sat there for three hours, occasionally looking through filing cabinets and rifling in the files the NKVD had been in such haste to remove. But it wasn’t until it was nearing dusk on this cold, dull day that he found what he was looking for in a file tucked into an anonymous pile of papers concerning guard rotas and orders. It was a small, undistinguished piece of paper, nothing but a flimsy official copy from a memo book … but its contents made Nikolai Koulikov’s heart lurch in his chest. This was it. This was what he needed, the proof to hang every German soldier and Ukranian militiaman that had ever been in Syrets Concentration Camp.
1. Operational Situation Report USSR No. 106
In agreement with the city military command, all the Jews of Kiev were
ordered to appear at a certain place on Monday, 29 September, by 6 o'clock.
This order was publicized by posters all over the town by members of the
newly organized Ukrainian militia. At the same time, oral information was
passed that all the Jews of Kiev would be moved to another place. In
cooperations with the HQ of EGC and two Kommandos of the police regiment
South, Sonderkommando 4a executed 33,771 Jews on September 29 and 30.
Nikolai read and re-read the memo several times, just to make sure he had not misunderstood the contents … but he knew he had not. Gritting his teeth to suppress the nausea that threatened to surge through his system, he began to methodically search the cabinet drawer in which he had found the memo. More documents came to light. Documents that illustrated in chilling, matter-of-fact sentences how the Einsatzgruppen had carefully and thoroughly destroyed anyone who stood in their way. The numbers of murdered innocents that began to emerge were terrifying.
He was disturbed by a rapping on the door, and he looked up to see Lubov peering in. The young mechanic’s face was ashen.
"Comrade Colonel sir … I think … I think you’d better see this …"
Without a word, Nikolai closed the files and stood up, following Lubov out into the corridor where he saw Platov waiting.
"You stay here, Platov – let nobody – and I mean nobody – into this office, d’you hear? It’s off limits to all personnel except me." Platov nodded and lifted his rifle. Nikolai turned to Lubov. "Now boy, show me what you’ve found."
Lubov nodded and led Nikolai down the corridor, through the entrance and out into the fast-descending gloom.
"We’ve got flashlights, Colonel – we’ll need ‘em. It’s in the ravine …"
Nikolai put on his ushanka and indicated to Lubov to lead the way.
The ravine, he’d said. The ravine called Babi Yar.
Naran Ivanova met him at the edge of the ravine. Even in the limited glow of a powerful army flashlight he could see how pale she was, and he could swear there was the trail of a tear hastily wiped from grimy cheeks.
"Down here, comrade. Watch your step …"
Lubov handed him a flashlight and Nikolai followed Naran down a rock-strew incline which levelled out almost immediately into a flat area among the trees that lined the ravine. It was too shallow here, Nikolai realised. The ravine had been filled in.
Naran led him to a group of mechanics about fifty metres away, a little further down the slope and obviously digging at something. He saw the flicker of flashlights, and heard someone retching, the noise carrying far in the still, freezing air.
As he walked towards the group he saw faces turn to him, all of them shocked, their eyes shadowed and haunted by the glare of the flashlights. A young mechanic called Pavlyuk, a bare nineteen years old, Nikolai knew, had tears in his eyes. All of them straightened as Nikolai reached them, and Pavlyuk pointed wordlessly at the ground where they had been digging.
The wall of the slope had been exposed by they mechanics’ shovels, and even Nikolai had to swallow the bile that rose and threatened to make him lose what little was in his stomach.
There before him was a tangle of burnt and semi-burnt corpses, limbs, faces, rotting and charred, naked and exposed in the night air. Staring back at him from amongst the carnage was a face still recognisable as human, covered as it was by earth and partially decomposed flesh. It was a girl. About seven years old, Nikolai guessed, and she lay still partly embedded in the wall of earth and human remains. Her one remaining eye was open and gazed at them with what appeared to be a mixture of surprise and accusation. The other was obliterated by the gaping hole caused by the bullet that had been fired into the back of her head. And gleaming like spun silk in the beams of light lay a beautiful fair plait of hair, still attached to her small, neat head, and tied at the end by a blue ribbon.
Before him, Nikolai knew then, was a giant grave. A grave that held the last, burnt remains of nearly 34,000 human beings.
Behind him, Pavlyuk turned and vomited into the undergrowth.
It was after midnight by the time Nikolai wearily trudged up the steps to his new home, and smiled to himself as he saw the lights gleaming through the cracks of the closed shutters. Home. He was home at last, where his family was … where his Rivka would be waiting for him and his baby son slept safe and sound in his crib.
He was about to turn the handle of the front door when it opened, and Rivka stood before him. She held a lamp in one hand, and she smiled up at him in relief.
"At last! I was beginning to worry, Niko!" She waited until he was in the hallway and shedding his greatcoat and ushanka, then shut and bolted the door behind him. Putting the light on the little hallstand, she helped him off with his coat and hung it up. "Are you hungry? I have something put by for you, it just needs heating." She saw the tiredness in his face, and she touched his cheek in sympathy. "Come, love. Sit down and rest."
She led him through the hallway into the kitchen, which glowed with warmth and comfort. Rivka had been busy. He dishes and utensils were all stored away, the Meissen platters he had brought her all those months ago sat in the dresser, winking in the lamplight. In the space of a few hours she had begun to turn the battered, bullet-pocked house into a home.
He gazed at her for long moments as she heated soup and warmed a plate of potatoes and salt beef in the oven.
"You shouldn’t have waited up for me, Rivka. I could have made myself something when I came in."
Rivka turned and scowled at him affectionately.
"Yes, I’m sure you could – and what would you have made? A couple of slices of bread and lard and a mug of tea? Hmm. I don’t think so, you big fool! No, Niko … you need a proper meal in you, you’re still recovering from a fever, or had you forgotten?"
Nikolai snorted, amused, even though he was exhausted and, he realised, deeply depressed.
"Yes, woman, I know." His eyes softened. She looked as tired as he felt. "You should go to bed, my lady. I’m sure Vasha’s been asleep for hours, and so should you be."
Rivka placed the soup in front of him with a hunk of bread, and kissed his short-cropped curls.
"Eat, Niko. We’ll go to bed together. I couldn’t bear going to bed without you."
She sat and watched Nikolai eat his meal, concerned at his tiredness, but glad to see him home at last. After he had finished, they sat quietly for a little while and drank tea, then Rivka reached over and squeezed his hand.
"It’s been hard for you, my love, I can tell."
Nikolai frowned, puzzled.
"You know? About - "
"About Babi Yar? Yes love, I know." Rivka kissed him, feeling the chill in his stubbled cheeks. "A young officer came by this afternoon and said you would be detained. He was very polite. He explained what you were having to do, my Niko."
"Who was he? Did he say?"
Rivka thought for a moment, then her face cleared.
"Oh, yes, now I remember. Orlov. Lieutenant Orlov." She smiled, but the smile was bitter. "He was NKVD." She saw the fear on Nikolai’s face. "Don’t worry. I guessed why he was here – I saw Sorokin in the jeep. And when he explained about Babi Yar I knew he told me precisely because he knew you wouldn’t want me to know … that you would try to protect me from the terrible things that happened there."
"The bastard! The little, shitty bastard! I’ll - " Nikolai growled, incensed beyond all belief.
"You’ll do nothing, Nikolai Koulikov! Nothing, you hear me?" Rivka’s voice was soft but forceful. She squeezed Nikolai’s hand again, to let him know how much she loved him. "Listen … it was an attempt at revenge, Niko, that’s all. What you’ve had to do today would horrify any man … and I suspect Lieutenant Orlov was trying to hide something up there and you stopped him. I’m not stupid, love – I know pettiness when I see it, and I suppose he thought I would be terribly upset when I discovered about …" she hesitated, took a breath, then carried on. "… about my people. About the Jews. They killed them all, didn’t they? The Germans slaughtered all of them."
Nikolai nodded numbly.
Rivka took his other hand and sat facing him, feeling his fingers clutch at hers as though they were a lifeline.
"Tell me," she said quietly.
So he did.
He told her about the bodies, and he told her about the electrified fences and the stench of burned and rotting human flesh. He told her about the memos, the letters, and the photographs. He told her about the people murdered indiscriminately … not only the Jews massacred on those two days in September 1941, but also those that came afterwards … those men, women and children incarcerated in the camp. The people who would be lined up every morning, and where Kommandant Radomski would walk along the lines and indiscriminately shoot whomsoever he wished. There died Russian prisoners of war, gypsies, ordinary Ukrainian citizens of both sexes. There died sailors from the Dnepr fleets. In the 778 days of German occupation, the Einsatzgruppen murdered thousands upon thousands of human beings … and it was all meticulously recorded in those anonymous-looking filing cabinets in Syrets Concentration Camp. But never – never – would he forget the photographs. The dying bodies, the faces set in a rictus of fear as they died … the naked women trying to protect the children they carried as the sotniks fired at them at point-blank range. And the image of the dead girl would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Rivka sat and listened, appalled not only at what Nikolai was telling her, but at the look on his face. He told her how he had talked to one of the survivors at the hospital, a ghost of a man in both body and soul, his mind gone, his emaciated frame covered in sores and welts. He had escaped from the camp, but the horror of what had happened there was trapped in his mind and he could never in a lifetime escape what lay there.
Nikolai remembered seeing Naran’s tear-streaked face as she turned to him in the hospital corridor. She told him that she now understood why Nikolai would have shot Orlov without a qualm – the NKVD did not want the world to know about Babi Yar, they would have played down the horror of it for their own purposes. She knew now that she would happily put a bullet in Orlov and his kind herself.
After he had finished speaking, Nikolai sighed brokenly, and shivered. Rivka saw the unshed tears in his eyes, and wiped away her own as they trickled down her cheeks.
"Come to bed, my Niko."
Nikolai Koulikov placed his mug on the table and stood. Rivka was beside him then, and she led him up the stairs and along the corridor to their bedroom. Somehow she had managed to put up their own bed and made it up with fresh sheets and blankets. The fire was lit and a lamp burned beside the bed, giving the room a warm, comforting glow.
There she undressed him and put him to bed, then disrobed and slid in beside him, her naked body moulding to his side. He was shivering, although he was not cold, and Rivka wrapped her arms around him and held him close. She kissed him gently, and murmured her love for him, and slowly Nikolai relaxed. His hands touched her tenderly, stroking the fall of her hips and flanks, and Rivka found the sensitive nubs of his nipples amongst the drift of hair on his broad chest. She nipped and suckled, and Nikolai moaned his need, letting Rivka’s passion sooth him and ease his mind.
When she straddled him, he was already desperately hard and aroused. As always, her love and touch calmed him, and as he lay quietly, feeling her body settle on his and her hands stroke his skin with such sweetness that it made him gasp, he thought about the pleasure she gave him. Only Rivka could drive away the foulness of this day, if only for a little while, and as he reached up and cupped her breasts he marvelled at their fullness and smooth, velvet texture.
"Rivka, I want to be inside you … please, I want to feel you around me … so tight …"
She leaned down and kissed him, her answer sweetening his soul.
"Soon, my love … soon …" and her voice was soft and sultry, knowing what demons still lurked in his mind.
Nikolai lifted a hand from her breast and pulled her in for a deeper, lustier kiss, and her tongue reached for his, tasting him, lips moulding together.
When they broke apart, both breathing heavily, Nikolai knew with startling clarity what he wanted.
"Let’s make a baby, Rivka. Let’s make one now, this minute."
Rivka’s eyes widened, but she looked down into Nikolai’s eyes, the deep azure blue aglow with love and need for her. He needed something wonderful to come out of this dreadful day … they both did. She thought of Vasha, sleeping innocently in his room next to theirs, oblivious of the inhumanity in the world, and Rivka’s heart was suddenly awash with such a feeling of tenderness tears came to her eyes. It was right, she knew. Now was the time. She knew deep down in her soul that she would conceive, if not tonight, then very soon. And nothing would make them both happier.
"Yes, my Niko … my love. Let’s make a child this night …"
And slowly, oh, so slowly, she lowered herself on him.
Taking just the tip of him inside her body, she stilled for a moment, hearing Nikolai’s groan as she fitted snugly around him. Shifting her hips she teased him, moving slightly, rhythmically, until the pressure on the sensitive, engorged head was driving him wild, his hips jerking as she impaled herself a little more on his arousal.
He was panting now, his voice harsh with need, and Rivka felt his hands settle at her hipbones trying to pull her down onto him, but she resisted.
"Wait a little …"
Nikolai was impatient.
"Now, Rivka! I can’t hold on much longer … please … I’ll come if you keep doing that - "
And he cried out as she suddenly took all of him inside her in one, easy, movement, the head of his engorged penis bunting against her welcoming cervix. Rivka arched back at the sensation, Nikolai supporting her with his big hands, and he felt her settle on him. He felt Rivka’s hand reach behind her and cup him, fingers gently rolling the heavy testes, squeezing hard enough to make him groan and arch upwards at the ecstasy of her touch.
She began to move, slowly at first, her hips rocking slightly. She clenched her inner muscles around him, and Nikolai had to grit his teeth to stop himself ejaculating then and there. She moved faster, her own need reaching out and they both rocked together, perspiration gleaming on straining bodies, soft moans and cries whispering through the shadowed, fire-lit room.
But Nikolai could not hold back. The stress of the day had played too much on his mind, and his need for completion could not be denied.
"Rivka … here … here it is … I’m … I’m …"
In a moment his orgasm took him, his big body arcing upwards on the bed and Rivka held tightly to him as he bucked and thrust, the muscles of his powerful frame cording with effort and the groans spilling from him as his semen spilled into his Rivka in thick pulses.
But still Rivka moved, her own body near climax, and sounds of love came from her as she felt the heat of Nikolai’s seed flood her. Hips blurring now she worked on him, and the sensation was a glorious, ecstatic pain as she teetered on the edge of oblivion. Just a little harder … oh God … nearly there …
And the world shattered around her as her climax shook her body, the contractions of her inner muscles making Nikolai groan anew and his waning erection stiffen once more, leaving him gasping in wonder then shouting wordlessly as he shot again into her convulsing depths, his seed filling them both with the hope of new life.
Both of them slept deeply that night, and Nikolai only awoke once in the early, lonely hours. Rivka roused sleepily to receive him as he entered her, his body urgent with need. He loved her with a gentle ferocity that left her shaking with pleasure and when he came he cried softly, and buried his face in the hollow of her neck. Afterwards he lay quietly in her arms as she soothed him into sleep, crooning to him as he nuzzled at her breasts.
But she did not know that the face he saw in his dreams was that of a blond child with blue ribbons in her hair, running in a field drenched with blood that echoed with the sound of gunfire.