The stories about war children are often tragic. The Second World War, according to various estimates, claimed the lives of 13 million children. Some of them were tortured in concentration camps, some could not survive the horrors of the blockade, and others were forced to take part in hostilities.
One Soviet child, Sergey Aleshkov, was the youngest participant in the Battle of Stalingrad and one of the youngest soldiers of the World War II.
Documents on the birth of Sergey Aleshkov were not preserved, but his estimated year of birth is 1934 or 1936 in the forest village of Gryn in the Kaluga region. After the outbreak of WWII (the Great Patriotic War in the USSR), this village became a Resistance base for the deployment of partisans. In the summer of 1942, German troops unexpectedly arrived in Gryn and began to kill the partisans.
For their complicity with the partisans, the villagers were executed as well. The 10-year-old older brother of Sergey, named Petya, was hanged, and his mother was shot while trying to protect her son. Thanks to a neighbor, Sergey escaped through a window and ran into the forest. There he wandered until August 1942 when, during the fighting in the direction of Kozelsky and Soviet scouts found him.
Sergey was by that time was physically and psychologically exhausted, and his body was full of scabs from insect bites. How long he spent in the woods he could not answer. Scouts covered Sergey in a horse blanket and brought him to the staff dugout.
Many soldiers, seeing the state of the boy, were shocked. Major Vorobiev recalled his first meeting with his adopted son: “In the dugout, everyone seemed to be numb. I wanted to rush in there, to the line of trenches, and to grab the throat of the first Nazi who was caught.”
After questioning Sergey, the soldiers managed to find out the name of the boy, but when asked about his mother, Sergey burst into tears and could not be reassured for a long time. The colonel decided to leave him as a pupil with the 142nd Guards Infantry Regiment of the 47th Guards Rifle Division. Sergey was given medical assistance and sewn a suitable military uniform.
Major Mikhail Vorobiev, who did not have his own family, cared for the boy and soon officially adopted him. He did not want to send Sergey to an orphanage, deciding that nothing would happen to him in the regiment. In a conversation with his new father, Sergey said that he would like to see a good nurse, Nina Bedova, in the role of his mother. The major thought about this and soon married Nina. According to the main version of the story, they became an official family after the Battle of Stalingrad.
Seryozha–an affectionate version of the name Sergey–considered himself an assistant to the Major. He went to the headquarters every morning and reported on his readiness to carry out new assignments, but did not take part in combat operations. Sergey’s tasks included carrying messages and delivering newspapers and letters to the divisions. During battles, he also offered soldiers water, cartridges, and grenades.
Once, while delivering the newspaper, Sergey noticed suspicious people in a haystack and reported them to the artillery commander. It turned out that the people were German artillery fire spotters, hiding in the haystack with a walkie-talkie. The spotters were neutralized, and Sergey received gratitude from the command.
Later, during German shelling, the regiment commander’s dugout was destroyed. Nobody except Sergey saw that Major Vorobiev was under the rubble. Frightened, Sergey unsuccessfully tried to move the logs. Then he ran for help and only because of this, the commander was saved. As a result, the youngest soldier received his first medal “For Military Merit” (За боевые заслуги), and Marshal Chuikov gave him a pistol, presumably a Walther P38.
Soon the 142nd Regiment took part in the battles at Stalingrad. On November 18, 1942, Seryozha, along with soldiers of one company, fell under mortar fire. He was wounded in the leg by shrapnel and was sent to a hospital. After treatment, Sergey returned to his regiment.
Soon after, the entire region was liberated from the German troops and survivors from the village of Gryn explained how Sergey had become an orphan. In addition to his mother and 10-year-old brother being killed for their links with partisans, his father had died before the war, and his older brothers Ivan and Andrew had gone to the front.
The adoptive mother of Sergey, Nina Bedova, became pregnant and left the regiment. However, a few months after she gave birth, she returned to the front and along with her husband, who was now a colonel, she saw the victory in Berlin. After demobilization, they both settled in the city of Chelyabinsk and returned to peaceful life.
In 1945, Sergey Aleshkov was awarded the medal “For victory over Germany.” At the request of Marshal Vasily Chuikov, he went to study at the Tula Suvorov Military School. In 1954, he graduated from the Suvorov School and became a student of the Kharkov Law Institute.
After receiving his education, he moved back to the Chelyabinsk region and served in the district departments of the prosecutor’s office before becoming a legal adviser at the Chelyabinsk Plexiglas Factory.
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Sergey married and raised two children, a daughter and a son, and even lived to see the birth of his grandchildren. In honor of the 40th anniversary of victory in 1985, he was awarded the “Order of the Patriotic War of the First Degree.” Sergey Aleshkov died at a bus stop in 1990. Military childhood had left a mark on his health.