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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blood Siblings From Great Patriotic War

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Very few people knew that our neighbor Vera Nikolayevna, an elegant, attractive woman and a World War II veteran, had been seriously wounded during the war. And that wound robbed her of the joys of motherhood.

Vera lived alone in our building and kept to herself for the most part. Twice a year, a man came calling -- in the fall with a basket of fruits and vegetables, and in May for Victory Day. She threw a party every May 9, but invited only women, their chests strewn with medals. They would sing old wartime songs together and dance. Each year fewer "girls" turned out for the victory party, and they made a little less noise than the year before.

On Victory Day last year, my wife, Maria, and I had some friends over. Vera unexpectedly rang the bell, apologized for disturbing us, and said she would be delighted if we would join her in the celebration.

The dining table in her apartment was laid for 10, but this year a lone guest had come -- the same man who had come to visit her twice each year.

"Vasily," he said, introducing himself as he rose from his chair. "Verochka's blood brother." As he spoke, the hostess removed unneeded plates and glasses from the table.

"They couldn't come this year," she said. "Most of them are no longer with us. The rest only had the strength to phone."

With that the festivities got under way. We went through the traditional toasts, and Vera and Vasily sang "Zemlyanka," a sad, old song. Maria watched them intently, trying to discern a family resemblance. Vera realized what she was doing and smiled. "There's no point in looking, Maria," she said. "Vasya and I aren't related."

"What do you mean we're not related?!" Vasily objected. He went into the bedroom and returned with a small photograph of a charming 18-year-old girl with short-cropped hair. She wore an overseas cap cocked jauntily to one side and a soldier's blouse with the three triangles of the volunteer medic on her collar tabs.

"What a girl!" Vasily said. "The whole battery, the whole regiment was in love with her. But Verochka didn't let anyone get close to her."

"I should have let them," Vera said sadly. "Then I might have had a daughter, a son, grandchildren."

"When are you going to stop being so modest?" Vasily said, interrupting her. "Show them your medals and orders!"

"Don't you dare," Vera said gravely.

"You risked your life to save mine," Vasily said. "You dragged me from the field under enemy fire on a stretcher. And I wasn't the only one!

"And when the medical unit ran out of my blood type, she took off her overcoat, rolled up her sleeve and gave me her blood," Vasily said. "That's why I'm her blood brother. And you're saying that I'm not a relative?"

Vladislav Schnitzer is a pensioner and journalist, living in Moscow.