Russian Song About the Wreck of the Kursk

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

I had only dimly recalled the 2000 wreck of the Russian submarine Kursk, but I just came across a song about it that I very much liked, and that I wanted to share with our handful of Russophone readers. Here is something of the backstory, which one needs to know to understand the song (Chicago Tribune [Colin McMahon]):

Dmitry Kolesnikov's body was the first to be positively identified from the wreck on the bottom of the Barents Sea … [among] the 118 crewmen who died after a pair of explosions devastated the submarine Aug. 12.

In a pocket of Kolesnikov's uniform, divers also found a letter that the 27-year-old lieutenant captain wrote just before he died. For proud Russians, for Kolesnikov's wife and family, the letter is a testament to loyalty and sense of duty.

Kolesnikov scribbled words of love to his bride of only four months. And in a more practiced, more disciplined hand, he recorded what he could of the events that led him and 22 other men to scramble to the Kursk's last compartment and wait for a rescue that never came….

Kolesnikov's documentation of survivors—according to his notes, the men lived for at least several hours—disproved the recent government versions that all 118 aboard died within minutes.

It also revived some of the anger against the government for its slow and confused response to the accident.

Here's the song, from the Russian band DDT and its lead singer-songwriter, Yuri Shevchuk; you can read the Russian lyrics here, and an attempt at a somewhat rhyming and metered translation here. The song opens with the line,

Who about death will tell us a couple of honest words?

The music may at first seem like something of a mismatch with the theme , but I found that it worked for me.


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  1. One disadvantage of teaching online sections is that the number of papers to be graded increases, and at the intro-level, you don’t have the luxury of David Foster Wallace’s three-pen grading system, given the onslaught. Early on, I discovered that the duration of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was precisely the amount of time that I could spend on grading a certain type of paper. Seemed to work quite well.

    Mr. D.

  2. I was in Russia when the Kursk sank. The number of conspiracy theories floated about it (mainly by state actors) was amazing. Well, not so amazing if you are familiar with Russian government culture.

    1. From the last stanza: “After what has happened there’ll be many lies” (or, more literally, “they will lie a long time”) .

  3. “he recorded what he could of the events that led him and 22 other men to scramble to the Kursk’s last compartment and wait for a rescue that never came”

    What’s Russian for “Chappaquiddick?”

  4. The music did seem jarring at first, but quickly became natural. Couldn’t understand a word, but the emotions come through regardless of meaning.

  5. There’s also a very good Dmitry Bykov poem about this:

  6. Parts of the song sound like “you are my sunshine”

  7. Putin’s failure to ask for help was shameful. Trump would make the same mistake but it would be hard to tell if it was arrogance or incompetence.

    1. The post is about men who lost their life on a submarine. Is your hate so extreme you have to post it on everything? I suggest you get professional help.

      1. “Thoughts and prayers”

  8. Well you’ve gotta see the movie The Command, about the disaster. It’s a well made drama and is pretty moving, particularly the parts about the main character (presumably Kolesnikov) and the wife and son he leaves behind. And it’s a damning portrayal of Russia’s response.

  9. Thank you, EV, for your ‘Light Well Spent’ (after John Milton).

    USN SS ‘69 – ‘75.

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