“As a soldier, your sacred duty is to follow the orders of your commander. Under no circumstances will you disobey them.”
Petrograd, Russia 23 February 1917
Nikita patrolled the streets of Petrograd. He was astonished at the utter chaos. Stampedes of people, marching and chanting. The bakeries, empty and looted, with shattered glass as all that remained.
He understood. People were at the lowest of lows, and they were starving. One loaf of bread was a treasure, one any worker was willing to fight over. One bowl of borscht for a family of 5 every night. And they were tired of it. Tired of starving, of empty plates on the table, of wailing malnourished infants.
Their cries were directed at the top of the Winter Palace, at the Tsar Nicholas II, the Emperor above all. They resented him, and his incompetent leadership. Very little food could get into the cities with barely any roads leading into them from the rural areas.
He ignored the cries of the commoners, so this time they made sure they were heard.
The Tsar directed most of the available resources to the army for the Great War, so Nikita himself had enough to eat every day. But his own comfort came at the expense of his brothers and sisters in the workforce. They had turned to rather unfavorable methods for their survival.
26 February, 1917
“Soldiers! I have received direct orders from the Tsar. You are to crush the protesters on the Main Avenue. Open fire and leave no mercy!” Officer Yakov projected throughout the Petrograd Garrison barracks.
Nikita flinched. He felt reluctant to fire on civilians who were only protesting because the damned feudalism left them no other choice. Regardless, he had to obey his orders. Such was his duty as a loyal soldier of Russia.
He prepared himself and joined his squad, then headed to the Main Avenue.
Nikita frowned at the sight of the crowd. Their screams were filled with anger and desperation, but they were holding banners, not weapons. He knew about stores and police stations in other districts being destroyed from violence, but this crowd was peaceful. Firing on them would only make things worse. What was the Tsar thinking? Nikita furrowed his eyebrows.
But at Officer Yakov’s cue, he raised his rifle along with the soldiers beside him.
Menacing booms echoed from their guns, cutting through the air mercilessly. This was followed by dozens of screams from the crowd.
Remorse punched through Nikita’s gut. He just hurt innocent people. Hungry people. They had every right to be there. They were holding a peaceful demonstration but he just initiated a possible massacre.
Once again, Nikita could not help but pull the trigger on instinct. He shut his eyes as the ear-splitting bang sounded.
He heard Officer Yakov shout with his tough, frightening voice, which never showed a hint of sympathy: “Civilians! Retreat and halt the protests or we will continue to open fire!”
A familiar voice shot through Nikita’s ears, rising above all the other screams. His eyes scanned the crowd, looking for the only possible source of the voice.
Then his eyes landed on her. Nikita’s mother, looking at him with beady forlorn eyes. In her arms was his limp younger brother, his trousers stained a deep crimson from a bullet wound. Agony was written all over his face.
He then heard, coming from his brother Dmitri. His cry was amplified by the choking of tears from his mouth. Nikita winced.
He then realized. The barrel of his gun was pointing straight at Dmitri.
He shot his own brother.
“I can’t do this… anymore.”
Nikita felt a piercing uneasiness in his chest. Dmitri and his mother came to fight for their lives. They chose to brave the risk of getting hurt. They didn’t leave, even with dozens of guns pointed at them. And yet, he himself, was a coward. Too afraid to stand up for what he knew was right. And it cost him his brother's well-being.
He shot his own brother.
"My true duty..."
“What? You scared? I always knew you were a coward, but surely even you can shoot some lowly rioters,” Alexander, the soldier next to him, smirked. But Nikita could see a glimpse of doubt in Alexander's eyes.
“They’re not lowly rioters! They’re humans with families, with friends, with lovers! And they came to tell the Tsar that they’re suffering! And we are killing them! Our own brothers and sisters!” Nikita felt a surge of anger coursing through him. An anger directed at Alexander, at Officer Yakov, at the Tsar.
Alexander frowned. “You’re right…”
“You know what, Nikita?" he continued. "Let us drop our rifles. This is just not right. Even as soldiers, who are not to disobey our orders, our true duty is to protect our countrymen. As members of the Petrograd Garrison, we are to help our people, and to ensure everyone is safe. So this is simply against our purpose!” He rested his gun at his side as he finished. Nikita did the same thing, smiling.
Officer Yakov glared at the soldiers from his post.
“What are you doing, you cowards? You are to follow your orders! Under no circumstance shall you disobey them!”
Nikita looked around him. All of the soldiers had put down their rifles. They refused to waver, even with Officer Yakov’s seething fury. He knew they all felt the same way.
"Seems they heard your speech too," Alexander grinned.
They were all angry too. At the system, and at the Tsar. For not listening to the cries of the people. For forcing soldiers to fire at their own family.
Alexander shouted, determined: “Comrades! We will not tolerate this absurdity anymore! We will join the people to fight for our lives!”
“Ura!” the squad chanted, unanimously leaving their posts to join the masses on the other side.
Leaving their rifles behind.
This story describes the February Revolution in 1917 in Imperial Russia, where troops were ordered to open fire on the protesting public, through the perspective of the main character Nikita. It aims to describe the feelings of the soldiers as they were forced to hurt their own people, and quickly mutinied, against the Tsar (or Emperor)'s orders.
Although this piece is slightly violent, I believe it is not gratuitously violent, as the violence contributes to the narration of the true event of the February revolution. I hope you enjoy my story! :)
Note: All dates mentioned are according to the Julian Calendar, as used in 1917 Russia. The city of Petrograd is now known as St. Petersburg.