Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Masha: The Best-Loved Bear in the Soviet Navy

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

All the world's naval traditions back in the '50s made it clear that females were not allowed on military ships. But we picked up Masha anyway.

Our cutter was docked at Ust-Kamchatka when a local hunter led Masha aboard. Some of the men stashed her in the crew room below decks. And after the ship had made way, they selected a delegation to go to the captain and confess.

Faced with a fait accompli, the captain had no choice. He couldn't very well throw her overboard. "OK," he said grumpily. "But only as far as Vladivostok."

And that is how our little cutter became the temporary home for Masha, a bear cub that we figured was not more than 3 months old. She was a darling ball of fur with the face of a fox and enormous, human-like brown eyes with the saddest expression you've ever seen. By the time we approached Vladivostok, the captain pretended that he had forgotten about his order and not a word was said about sending her ashore.

A year passed and Masha remained with us. Hopelessly spoiled by everyone in the crew, she acted like a crew member herself, having free rein of the entire boat. She even learned a few odds and ends of our life. When the morning wake-up call sounded, she would rush up on deck and stand alongside the crew as we did our exercises. She would stand on her hind legs and wave her front legs so energetically that sometimes the motion of the boat would cause her to topple over comically.

When the orders for "lunch" and "dinner" sounded, Masha would lumber from the crew room and join the line of sailors forming at the mess in hopes of something tasty. After the cook gave her a portion, she would nonetheless make the rounds among the diners looking for seconds.

In short, we all treated Masha as if she were one of us. Of course, some crew members were immune to her charms and would treat her coldly. But she could always identify such people and get her revenge. Before long, any crewman who kicked her or something like that would inevitably have his bowl of soup overturned.

In the end she became particularly attached to one kind-hearted officer. When the order for lights out came, she would end up next to his bunk, curled up on the floor.

The end came when she suddenly decided one day to demonstrate her affection for her beloved. Unexpectedly, she reared up on her hind legs, gave out a roar and wrapped the officer in her huge front paws. She gave him the most powerful "bear hug" that anyone could imagine.

After that, the officer spent the next two months in the hospital with several broken ribs. And Masha was handed over to the zoo in Vladivostok. But for months afterward, we'd visit her every time we were in port.

Vladislav Schnitzer is a freelance journalist and pensioner in Moscow.