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Vyachslav Mironov - - Assault on Grozny Downtown ("Я был на этой войне")

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Vyacheslav Mironov. Assault on Grozny Downtown


© Copyright 1996-1999 Vyachslav Mironov

© Copyright 2001 translation by Alex Dokin (adokin@today.com.au)

© Copyright 2001 translation by Konstantin S. Leskov

© Copyright 2001 translation by Marta Malinovskaya

© Copyright 2001 translation by Oleg Petrov (siberiaforever@hotmail.com)

Date: Feb-Mar 2001



     Origin: http://lib.ru/MEMUARY/CHECHNYA/chechen_war.txt

     Translation includes 1,2,3,4,5,7,8,9,18 parts of novel.


МЮ ЮДПЕЯ lada@lib.ru

If you are ready to take part in the translation and editing of

this text, please write to lada@lib.ru



© Copyright 2001 translation by Alex Dokin (adokin@today.com.au)

Date: 7 Mar 2001

Date: 9 Mar 2001

Date: 26 May 2001 Corrected version

Date: 4 Oct 2001


     I'm running. The lungs are bursting. The damned wheeze is a murder. Have to run a zigzag path (in our brigade we call it "run a screw").

     God, help... Please help. Help keep this insane tempo. That's it, if I ever get out of here - quit smoking. Zapp... Zapp... Sniper!!??... Get down and crawl, crawl out of the killing zone.

     Lying. All seems OK - no sniper, probably just "shul'nyak".

     Alright, now catch your breath, find your way around and race ahead - to the Central Post of our brigade's the first battalion. Just a few hours ago they reported on catching a sniper. From the report we knew he was Russian and, from his own words, even from Novosibirsk. F..ing compatriot. On two APCs, along with the recon squad I set off to pick up "the clapper".

     En route to the Central Train Station, the streets are crammed with burnt and mangled hulks of "armour" and strewn with dead bodies. The bodies of our Slavic brothers, all that's left of the Mikop Brigade, the one that "spooks" burnt and wiped out on the New Year's Eve 95-96. God, help me... let me out of here... They said, when the First Battalion busted the "demons" out of the Station building, as the gunfire slacked off, one of the grunts, having looked around, howled. From then on other grunts stayed away from him - another crank. Now charging through the walls like spellbound, scared of nothing. And there are enough screwballs like that in every unit, the enemy and ours. Eh, Mother Russia, what've you done to your sons? We thought, maybe medivac the fellow, but then again, can't even medivac the casualties, and this one, though a crank, still fighting. Up there on "The Continent" he'd definitely go nuts.

     Literally in a few blocks we came under ferocious gunfire. The spooks were spraying from above, madly (about 20 guns) but disorganised. With a couple of grunts now had to leave our APCs behind and sneak our way over to the headquarters. At least the dogfaces are more confident now, more or less used to this, all were tested by fire. In the beginning I howled a wolf, just like that mad grunt. The men were all "green", some rushing forward, others still fear struck in their "armour". I had to boot and kick them out of their APCs and foxholes. As for myself, I'm OK. Baku, Kutaisi - 90, Tshinvali -91, Moldova - 92 and now Chechnya. Alright, just let us get the hell out of here. But only in one piece. If crippled, I've got a little toy in my pocket - RGD-15. Surely enough for me. I've seen enough of our crippled post-war heroes living in peace life. They too were following orders of their Motherland, their Party, their Government and hell knows whom else. "Reinstating Constitutional Order" on the territory of the former Soviet Union. And now again, we are beating our own Russian land on somebody's hugger-mugger order...

     All this sped through my mind in a few seconds. Turned around - all my grunts are fine, prone on the ground, watching. Their faces are all black from gunpowder, eyeballs and teeth are shining. I'm probably no better. Nod to one, point direction to another and we are all off sprinting forward, zigzag, "screw" and roll. Although, these coats were surely not made for rolling. The sweat is blanketing my eyes, fatigues are steamy; the taste of blood in my mouth is unbearable and temples are pounding heavily. Blood is jammed with adrenaline. Short streaks forward, bits of bricks, chips of concrete and broken glass everywhere. Carefully avoiding open spaces. Still alive, thank God.

     Zapp... zapp... again! Damn it, could it really be a sniper? Ducking into the nearest basement, grenades on stand-by. Who or what is waiting for us in there? Pair of corpses. Fatigues seem like ours - Slavic. Nod to one of the grunts to secure the window, and then myself move to the doorframe. The second grunt kneels near one of the bodies, unbuttons his coat and flank jacket and fetches his papers and the dog tags. Same with the second corpse. The boys wouldn't mind anymore but their families must be notified. Otherwise smart asses in the Government won't pay them their pensions, reasoning that soldiers are missing in action and who knows, maybe even crossed over to the other side.

     - Got the papers? - I asked.

     - Got'em - answered private Semeonov, nicknamed "Semeon". - What's now?

     - Now, via this basement we run across to the neighbouring street, then to the first batt (battalion). Do we have radio contact with them? - I'm asking my RTO (Radiotelephone operator), private Harlamov. His nickname is "Glue". His arms are long, sticking out of his BDU, like sticks, no one size fits. Wrists are disproportionately huge. First time you see the guy the impression is like torn gorilla arms were sewn to a man's body. Now probably no one could recall where his nickname "Glue" originated.

     Our soldiers are Siberians and all together we are "mahra" (Russian word for cheap tobacco). In the WWII books and movies, infantry is called "The Queen of the battle field ". In real life, however, we are just "mahra". And one individual infantryman is a "mahor". That's life.

     - Get on the APCs too, - that's me about the left behind at the Railway Station APCs, - ask how they're hanging.

     Glue moves away from the window and a starts muttering into his handset, calling onto the 1st Battalion's Road Post and our APCs.

     - All OK, comrade Capitan, - says RTO. - "Sopka" is waiting for us, "boxes" were fired upon and rolled back a block.

     - Fine, let's go, or we'll frost down here, - I make terrible hoarse sounds coughing. At last my normal breathing came back. I spat with green and yellow slime - consequence of my many years of smoking. - Eh, mama told me: "learn English"

     - My mama told me: "Do NOT crawl into wells, sonny". - Picked up Semeon.

     No sign of the enemy in the window at the other side of the house and we leapfrog, taking short streaks, stooped four times our normal hight, towards the Central Train Station. High above in the sky, a jet fighter is barraging the city with high explosives and shooting at somebody's positions from an unreachable hight. Down here, there is no single front line. Gunfights are starting everywhere sporadically and sometimes turn into some kind of cheesecake: ragheads, us, ragheads again and so on (US Marines call it a "cluster fuck"). All of it, in one word could be called a madhouse, almost no interaction anywhere. Especially difficult to work with are the Internal Forces. To be precise: all THIS is their operation, but we, mahra, are doing their job for them. Often we storm the same objects in complete ignorance of each other's presence. Sometimes we even point the Air Force guys onto them and they onto us. In the dark we fire on each other and take our own grunts prisoners.

     Now we are going to the Central Train Station, where, in almost full complement, was wiped out the Mikop Brigade. Vanished into the night. Nothing was done before they were sent in. No reconnaissance to ascertain the spooks' defensive structures, no artillery runs to soften them up. When after the battle they began to fall asleep (imagine no sleep for a week, adrenaline and Vodka for breakfast, lunch and dinner), spooks slunk up and wasted them from a point blank range. Just the mistake Chapaev made: no guards along perimeter. Here, though, all guards were soundly asleep or spooks gashed them quietly. Everything was on fire, all that could burn and even all that couldn't. It seemed like the Earth, asphalt and house walls were ablaze from the burning fuel. People panicked in the inferno, some tried to return fire, some helping the wounded. Some even shot themselves not to get into the ragheads' hands. Few were trying to flee. No one of them must be judged. What would you, my reader, do in that hell on earth? Don't know? Ha? That's it. Then don't you dare judging them!

     No one knows what exactly happened there. Their commander, with both his legs injured; still tried to reassert control, although he could retreat to the rear. He stayed though. God, guard their souls and our lives...

     When our brigade fought its way through heavy rebel defences to help them, our tanks had to struggle through barricades of corpses of our Slavic brothers... When you see how tracks chop and hummer human flesh, how heavy leading wheels coil intestines of people just like yourself... When heads pop open with a crunch under a steel caterpillar and all around it is sprayed with a grey and red mass of brain. Brain of a maybe unaccomplished genius, poet, scientist or just good lad, father, brother, son, friend who didn't chicken out and came here in this shithole of a place called Chechnya and, may be, to his last moment, didn't even realised what the hell happened to him. When your boots slip on the bloody mucus, then the important thing is to think of nothing, and concentrate on only one objective: survive, survive and save your men. Because those you'd lose will come to you in your dreams.

     As their CO you'd then have to write up their Death Notifications and body ID reports. The job I don't even wish to my worst enemy. I'd rather choke in an attack, blasting from my beloved AKS left, right and forward with my eyes popping out, rather than write those horrible papers. Why all these wars? Although, honestly, no one of us has really understood what has transpired here. At all times only one goal in mind - survive, complete the task and save your men. And what if you don't? They'll send more in, who, maybe, because of your inexperience, cowardice and desire to go home, will drop under machinegun fire and will be ripped to pieces by grenades, mines, mortar or be captured. All THIS: because of YOU. The very thought of this responsibility makes my stomach rumble. How about you, my reader?

     Glue noticed some movement in a window of the five-story building, next to the Station Plaza. He yelled out: "Spooks!!!" and leaped back. Semeon and myself too hastened to take cover behind the nearest heap of rubble. From behind his corner, Glue opened up at the window from his AK. Shivering, we too began to load up grenades in launchers.

     Eh, what a wonderful device, this launcher (Russian GP-25, under-barrel grenade launcher for AK assault rifles, similar to M203 - grenade-launching tube sometimes mounted under the rifle barrel of an M-16). We call it lovingly: "podstvol'nichek", although, weight of the device could prove a bit too much (about half a kilo). It is mounted under the rifle's barrel and can be fired straight into the target or launch in an overhead trajectory. It could be described as a tube (about 2.5 inches in diameter) with a trigger and a safety pin. There is also an aiming mechanism, but since the first days we conned it so that now easily can do without it. From a standard issue GP-25, a grenade can easily be dropped into the smallest window or thrown over any structure. In a straight line it delivers its mighty punch to about 400 meters, its shrapnel (after the explosion) cover an area of about 14 meters. A fairytale of firearms. It saved countless lives in Grosny. How would you bust sharpshooters from upper floors in a quick gunfight in town? There is no other way but the GP-25, believe me. You could call for an air strike or long range artillery and then pull out or try to contact your own "armour", which, by the way, can be easily burnt by RPGs... On the other hand, there is an every soldier's personal launcher that he can use to bust the ragheads by himself. The device also possesses one other undisputed advantage: its grenades explode on impact. Imagine a gunfight inside a block of units when a raghead is above you on the third floor. Next, you throw a standard issue grenade with a time-delay of about 5 seconds. Now, count: fetch the safety pin and throw, then the bitch hits something on the way up and falls right back into your lap. Only later on in January they shipped us these mountainous grenades, or as we call them "afghan" grenades. These babies only explode when they hit something hard. Before then, some local "Kulibin" (famous Russian inventor of the 19th century) guessed to slam the grenade up his heel, thus arming it, and throw the darling as far as he could away from his persona. And, ramming an obstacle, it burst with shrapnel, obliterating every living thing around it.

     Now Semeon and I were blasting off our grenades into the window where Glue spotted motion. Semeon hit the target from his first attempt; I made it with my second. The first one slammed into the wall and burst, tearing off a decently sized piece of masonry and making a huge cloud of dust.

     Putting to work the results of our little skirmish, all three of us, glinting at the dreaded house, quickly cleared the open space, then, sprinting and sneaking, a few blocks later, at last made it to the HQ.

     The silly bastards imagined we were ragheads and nearly shot us.

     They escorted us to the outpost where we found our Com-batt (Battalion Commander).

     Tough chap is our Com-batt. Physically not so much a big man, but as a commander and a person: giant. I won't hide the fact that our brigade is blessed with battalion commanders. It'd take a while to describe each one of them, so I'll pass on that, but to say the least - all are real men. Who once went to war, would know what I mean.

     1[[st]] battalion's HQ was situated in the Railway Station's basement. As we walked in, the Com-batt was boldly cursing somebody on the field radio.

     - F...ing hell, where are you charging, moron? You schmuck, they are luring you out there. And you are buying it with your dogfaces. Clean up the area around you! To the last "spook"!!! - Com-batt was yelling into the handset. - Pull the "boxes" out of there, let the grunts work! Yourself, stay on the BP and don't stick your head out there.

     He hung up and saw me.

     - Hey man, - he smiled.

     - God bless, - I said shaking his hand.

     - What's new in the Group's HQ? Let's go eat, - he offered, looking at me merrily. At war, seeing a familiar face before you is always a delight. That means that luck not only follows you but also your comrades.

     Still in the heat of the past clash, I knew that if I don't have a drink now, I'd soon be shaking with a nervous, drumbeat-like fever or turn hysterical and just keep gabbling ... So I accepted the man's offer with appreciation.

     Setting himself on a box from artillery rounds, Com-batt softly called: "Ivan, we've got guests, come on eat". Then from a neighbouring basement appeared the 1[[st]] Battalion's chief of staff captain Ilin. Skinny fellow, the biggest volleyball aficionado in our brigade, although, at his job, pedant and perfectionist. In peace life always tight, in perfectly ironed and shiny uniform, now he looked barely any different than any other man around us. Same gunpowder- parched face, unshaven and in need of sleep.

     - Hey, Slava, - he said and his eyes glinted a little. We were almost of the same age, only I was a senior officer in the Brigade's HQ and he was a chief of staff in the battalion. Both captains. We had a history of friendship, so did our wives and kids.

     I couldn't conceal my emotions and went straight for a hug. Slowly my nerves were giving in and I was turning a bit hysterical after our little adventure.

     I wasn't worried for my grunts. They were all here, amongst their own, thus will be worm and fed in no time.

     - You've come for the sniper, Slava? - Asked Com-batt.

     - Sure, who else, - I replied. - How did you manage to grab that son of a bitch?

     - He just wouldn't let us breath for three days, - Ivan turned grim. - He made up a nest by the Station and plinked at us over the plaza. Knocked down three grunts and shot our first company leader through his leg. We were unable to medivac the wounded and had to fetch the medics over here to operate on them.

     - And how is he, - I asked. That story about the medics I've already heard: fine job. But the company leader: would he live and walk again?

     - Yeah, yeah, sure, - Com-batt confirmed merrily, - I let him rest for now, only the problem is we're short on company leaders, you know it too well yourself. So we have to use the two-year-termers ("civilian officers", college graduates on the obligatory military duty, in officers ranks by default). But this lad is rather snappy. A bit of a hotshot though: like Chapaev on his horse, rushes to free all Chechnya by himself.

     - What did the sniper have on him? - I asked. - Maybe, he wasn't even a sniper after all. You know, could've been some daunted local, a great deal of them bumming around town these days.

     Com-batt and the CoS almost seemed upset. Ivan leapt to his feet, raced to his niche and fetched a soviet SKS rifle. Only the scope was foreign, I noticed that instantly, - I've seen those before. Most probably Japanese: fine toy.

     Pal Palych - com-batt - while Ivan and myself were inspecting the carbine, was telling that the detained shooter had two boxfuls of rounds in his pockets and in his nest they found a case of beer and two packs of cigarettes. While recounting this, Palych was setting up the table: carving bread, opening stewed meat cans, condensed milk containers, salads (God knows where those came from), pickles and marinated tomatoes. And at last, positioned a bottle of Vodka on this improvised table.

     By then I counted all slashes on the carbine's butt: equalled thirty-three. Thirty-three chopped lives. The way the snipers worked here we all knew first hand. They met us while we were coming into town, at night, by early WWII maps. Though we raced, crushing our heads against the walls inside our APCs, ragging our teeth from the mad ride and damning everyone and everything, snipers managed to shoot off dangling antennas from the passing armoured vehicles, at night and in clouds of dust. Without intercom they'd stop and officers sent men to check out what the hell happened, this very moment snipers picked them out. They also had another slick idea: they didn't always finish off their "game", but rather wounded him, shooting him through his legs, so that he wouldn't crawl out of the killing zone and then held back. The downed men cried out and snipers picked the speeding helpers, just like the duck silhouettes at a shooting gallery. By now, our brigade has lost about thirty men to this kind of sniper fire, thus adding to our special account to be "invoiced" to "spooks" some day. Amazing that the grunts brought this cocksucker alive.

     A few days ago, grunts from the second battalion discovered a nest, by all clues - female. All was like always: a sofa or a chair, soft drinks, a doll and a rifle, hidden close by. The grunts spent all day stalking her concealed, completely motionless. No piss, no shit, no smoke. Finally they succeeded. What happened next - no one knows, but the Chechen woman took a flight off the roof of a nine-storey building, but half way down her body burst from a grenade explosion. Afterwards, the grunts solemnly swore that the woman sensed the stench of their unwashed bodies and sprinted for the roof, and from up there, dived by herself. Everyone, of coarse, showed compassion, but still regretted that themselves couldn't help her flight. Nobody believed, however, that for her last dive with grenade she went by herself. Chechens never committed suicide - that is in OUR character - fear of captivity, dishonour and torture. After this memorable event, their com-batt declared a phrase, which was then to become our brigade's motto: "Siberians do not surrender, and do not take prisoners".

     By now Com-batt poured out Vodka and Ivan and myself settled down too. If anybody tells you that we fought here intoxicated, - spit him in his face. At war, people drink for disinfection. Not often you can boil your water or wash your hands properly. Our corpsmen's motto is: "Red eyes never go yellow". As for the drinking water, we had to get it from the Sunzha River - a tiny river that flows thought the whole of Chechnya and, of coarse, through the Grozny. Only no one could possible tell how many human and animal corpses drifted in there, which meant we could forget about the proper hygiene. I'm telling you, at war, nobody would drink to get shitfaced - that would mean certain death. Your comrades, too, would never let you do that kind of stuff - with firearms, who knows what's on the drunk's mind?

     We lifted up our plastic glasses - lots of these we chunked at the "North" airport - and struck them together. There was no ding, just rustle, "so that our zampolit wouldn't hear", officers jested.

     - Here is to good luck, men, - Com-batt enounced, and, having exhaled all air from his lungs, "capsized" half a glass.

     - To her, the damned, - I picked up and tipped my glass. The heat flooded my throat, worm wave swamped my guts and halted somewhere inside the stomach. My body suddenly relaxed. Then all of us attacked the food: who knows when the next opportunity like this would present itself. Bread, stewed meat, pickles, tomatoes. All vanished in our stomachs. Now, Ivan poured out Vodka; we toped, with the usual silent rustle. Lit up some smokes. I almost pulled out mine, from home, "TU-134", but noted Ivan's and Com-batt's Marlboro and tossed mine back.

     - Sniper's? - I inquired, reaching for one.

     - Yep, - Replied Com-batt.

     - How is the Second Battalion hanging? - Ivan asked, taking a deep puff.

     - Storming the hotel "Kavkaz", now we're throwing the Third Batt in to help them and some tanks too. Ragheads are deeply entrenched there and holding it so far. Ul'yanovtsy and marines are attempting the assault on the Minutka Square and Dudaev's Palace. But having no luck there as yet, just loosing men.

     - All of which means that we'll be sent in to help them soon - Com-batt broke in our conversation. - It's not as simple as a slugfest in a corner bar; some thinking must be done beforehand. To save the men and complete the task... I could never grasp the concept of the airborne troops: how is it so that they, absolutely sober and voluntarily, would jump off of a perfectly good aircraft, ha? - Palych made a joke.

     - And I never understood the rangers, - picked up Ivan, - for four years in college, they learnt how to use binoculars and tail behind a K-9... I'm sensing with my heart: we'll be crunching on asphalt down there at that freaking Square.

     In my mind I've already made a conscious decision: the captured sniper wouldn't make it to my HQ. He'll die on the way back, attempting an escape. He's already told everything he knew.

     In movies, agents, working with "a clapper", try to formulate the necessity to give up the information he possesses as well as break his ideology. Real life, however, is much simpler. Everything depends on your imagination, rancour and time on hands. If time permits and there is a matching desire, we can try to scrape enamel from his teeth, with a rasping file. Or we can use our field phone. A brown box with a side-handle. Connect your interlocutor to it with two stripped wires and spin the handle, having asked him a few questions beforehand. But all this is fine if you're housed comfortably and he's to stand trial afterwards. This kind of questioning will leave no marks. Of coarse it's best to soak him in water first. As far as the screaming is concerned, for that you fire up a heavy armoured truck near by. But, again, all this is for aesthetes.

     In the trenches it becomes even simpler. You shoot the fingers off his feet, one by one, with your assault rifle. There is no one human being who could take that. He'll tell you everything he knew and everything he ever remembered. Feeling a little seek, ha? During which time, you, my reader, celebrated New Years Eve, visited your friends, skied shitfaced from a hilltop with your kids. You didn't come out on the Red Square demanding to pull our soldiers out of that shithole. Neither were you collecting worm cloths or money for those Russians who fled Chechnya. Cold soldiers in their frozen bunkers never got so much as a cigarette from you. Therefore, do not look away. Listen to this truth of war.

     - OK, let's get the third one over with and we'll go take a look at your shooter, - I said pouring out the remains of Vodka.

     We stood silently for a few seconds, and toped without cheers. Third glass - is the most important in the military. Civilians drink it "to love", students: to something else, but soldiers always drink it "to the fallen", always standing up and in silence. Every one sees before him those he has lost. It is a chilling toast. Although, on the other hand, you know for sure, that if you perish, regardless of how many years would pass, some green lieutenant, in a God forsaken garrison in the Far East, or a stale colonel in the most prestigious headquarters, will stand up and drink their third glass to You.

     We toped; I cast another piece of stew in my mouth, a few bits of garlic and "the officers lemon" - onion. There are no vitamins at war, although your body constantly demands them. That's why we refer to onion as "our lemon". At war onion is a commonplace. The stench around is horrible though, but we've no women here, so we've grown used to it by now and wouldn't even notice anymore. Moreover, it fights the sickening odour of decomposing human flesh that otherwise turns your stomach inside out. I've chased the alcohol with refection, sipped condensed milk right out of its container, fished a smoke out of the Com-bat's packet and started for the exit. Com-bat and Ivan followed me.

     In about 30 yards from the basement's entrance, grunts encircled a tank and were having a loud discourse. I also noted that the tank's gun is unnaturally cocked upwards. As we walked closer to the scene, we also saw that a stretched rope was hanging from the barrel.

     The grunts saw us coming and gave way. The view that opened up in front of us was picturesque but terrible. At the end of that rope a man was hanging. His face was swollen from beatings, his eyes half shut, his tongue hanging out and his hands tied up behind him. Although, by now

     I've seen lots of stiffs, still, can't get used to them.

     Com-batt started yelling at the grunts:

     - Who did this?! You sons of bitches! - I'll leave out the rest of the names he called them. Ask any line officer, who served in the Army for 10 years or more, to swear a little and you'll greatly increase your vocabulary with all sorts of idiomatic expressions.

     Com-batt kept going at them, trying hard to beat the truth out of them, although I somehow knew, looking at his sly face, that he's not mad at them at all. He might've felt a bit regretful that he didn't send the bastard on his last journey, but mostly my presence, the HQ officer, drove him to this theatrical performance. All of us: the grunts and myself read it well. We also realise that no one commander would ever report anything of this kind. All this breezed through my mind while I was sucking on my cigarette. It's funny, but these cigarette belonged to this hangman, whose limbs are now dangling before my eyes, then to the Com-bat and now, I am smoking it while observing this spectacle.

     Tired of the circus, I asked surrounding us grunts, amongst which I picked Semeon and Glue:

     - What did he say, before he died?


... ... ...
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вы долго прожили в токио, если:
- совершая покупки дожидаетесь чека и не читая бросаете его в коробочку для чеков
- при переходе дороги, вас не уже не удивляет, что pajero остановился, чтобы вас пропустить
- вы знаете вкус 12 сортов риса
- фильм "трудности перевода" считаете комедией
- уже не смешно говорить в трубку телефона "моши-моши" вместо "алло"
- совмещаете поездку в россию с лечением зубов
- выбор магазина определяется наличием поинт-карты
- у вас много этих поинт-карт
- у вас есть велосипед
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- летом вы идете в магазин потому, что там есть кондиционер
- вы знаете, что самая оптимальная температура в любое время года - в вагоне электричке
- вы знаете что такое "мацуя"
- вас не пугает меню без картинок в ресторане
- вы видели людей, садящихся утром в электричку вместе с вами уже много раз
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- не переходите на противоположную сторону улицы, если на встречу попалась группа подростков
- у вас появилась мысль "а не купить ли и мне кеды?"
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