The Volokh Conspiracy

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The Russianest Russian Song Lines I Know


I was recently listening again to Yuri Shevchuk's song about the wreck of the submarine "Kursk," and was struck again by several lines. Loosely translated, the opening line of the song is, "Who of death will tell us a couple honest words?" ("Кто о смерти скажет нам пару честных слов?") And the last stanza starts with:

About the things that happened, there'll be many lies.
Will the inquest tell us how hard it is to die?

[После о случившемся долго будут врать
Расскажет ли комиссия, как трудно умирать?]

For more, here's the backstory, which I mentioned in a post about the song last year (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 ….

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.

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