Ballad of a Soldier

Igor Ivkin, 19, was killed in heavy fighting outside Kharkiv. Family photo, courtesy of the Moscow Times

IT JUST BREAKS YOUR HEART… This is hard to read. And it should be.

“Born Under Putin, Dead Under Putin: Russia’s Teenage Soldiers Dying in Ukraine”

Different people will react in different ways, of course, but for me two things stand out in the story of 19 year old Igor Ivkin of Pskov. First, I could’ve taught this kid. Others actually *did* teach him, but he reminded me of more than a few Russian students I taught English and History to over the years: good kids, salt of the earth, with their whole lives ahead of them. Now, just like that — and for no good reason — he’s gone.

Secondly, the beginning of Igor’s exchange with wife Yulia, as recorded here — when he says “I promise to come back” — cannot help but remind people of my generation (and older) of another Russian 19 year old soldier who doesn’t come home alive: Alyosha Skvortsov, the hero of Grigorii Chukrai’s classic film “Ballad of a Soldier” (1959), who tells his mother near the movie’s end “Mama, I’ll come back.”

The movie is set up as a retro-narrative, so the audience already *knows* he doesn’t make it back home; and that is part of what makes it an enormously effective cinematic moment in a film that is manipulative in both good and bad senses. The short version of a viewer’s reaction, in any case, is as predictable as it is earned: if you are unmoved when Alyosha makes his promise to his mother, you need to check your wrist for a pulse.

Finally, and hardest of all to take, is a third thought born of the first two: Alyosha Skvortsov died for a good cause, one that everyone remembers; Igor Ivkin did not have that honor, dying for a cynical parody-version of Alyosha’s cause that his country’s leaders keep advancing but can never justify.

These evil people somehow succeeded in making a fine young man, Igor Ivkin, husband and father, one of the Bad Guys in Europe’s first new-millennium war-as-morality story. He didn’t deserve that.

It is important to hold the people responsible for this accountable — and even more important to do whatever we can to end the Russian leadership’s war against Ukraine, a tragedy beyond any telling of it, as soon as humanly possible.

Source: Mark H. Teeter, Facebook, 8 April 2022. Thanks for his kind permission to reprint his remarks here.


Yulia Ivkina would have preferred her husband to become a carpenter, not a soldier. 

But as the coronavirus pandemic dented the Russian labor market and the newlyweds from the western city of Pskov tried for a baby, 18-year-old Igor Ivkin reasoned a short-term contract in the army was the best option to safeguard his family’s future. 

Igor enlisted in February 2021, shortly before Yulia realized she was pregnant. A little over a year later, he was killed in heavy fighting outside Kharkiv amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He was seven months short of his 20th birthday.  

“People from the draft board told me about his death, they came to me with a death notice on March 25. He was buried on March 30 in the village of Vorontsovo where he was born,” Ivkina, 24, told The Moscow Times. 

Igor Ivkin is one of at least 25 teenage Russian soldiers to have died fighting in Ukraine, according to a review of official statements and social media posts by The Moscow Times.

Source: James Beardsworth, Yanina Sorokina, and Irina Shcherbakova, “Born Under Putin, Dead Under Putin: Russia’s Teenage Soldiers Dying in Ukraine,” Moscow Times, 8 April 2022. Read the rest of the article by clicking on the link.


Grigorii Chukrai’s “Ballada” is the movie that probably best represents how Russia’s Greatest Generation saw World War II — or wanted to see it, rather, at a decade’s remove. The film is an undisputed classic of postwar Soviet cinema, combining a multi-dimensional, wide-angle depiction of Soviet soldiers & civilians during the war w/ the extraordinarily successful close-up manipulation (largely in a positive sense) of its sympathetic young hero (wonderfully played by Vl. Ivashov) and his 2 nearest and dearest (Zhanna Prokhorenko, Antonina Maksimova).

How was “Ballada” perceived outside the USSR? In an era when Soviet propaganda, actual and historical, was routinely dismissed in the West, Chukrai’s film was a revelation to American critics and audiences, producing an emotional reaction many art-house and festival viewers found overwhelming: as Time magazine’s awed critic put it, the movie “brings back the kind of catch in the throat that Hollywood movies used to achieve on occasion.” And indeed, if you find yourself unmoved as the teenage Private Alyosha Skvortsov tells his mother at the end of his odyssey through war-torn Russia, “Mama, I’ll come back” (“Mама, я вернусь”), you need to check your wrist for a pulse.

Some of the crew who made “Ballada” were unhappy w/ parts of the film during production, apparently, and some day an enterprising dissertation writer will tell us why. What emerged on the screen, in any case, became the most decorated Soviet-produced World War II film ever made, taking home something over a hundred international and domestic awards altogether (including an Oscar nomination).

Tune in and see what so impressed the world in the early 1960s about this groundbreaking Mosfilm effort — and then decide for yourself just how true its message rings two decades into the new millennium, when Moscow gears up to commemorate the next anniversary of what official Russia will always call the “Great Patriotic War.”

Source: Mark H. Teeter, Facebook, 8 April 2022. Thanks to him for his kind permission to reprint his review here.

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