Arkadiy Shapiro

by Paul Dmitriev

"A Good Citizen"
My grandfather, Arkadiy Shapiro, calls himself a good citizen for his work during the war and his support of the former USSR in the Second World War. I've known Arkadiy for 15 years and have known that he's the president of a Russian World War II veteran's society, but I've never talked to him about his experiences in the war. It was 1943, and my grandfather was 16 years and 8 months old. He changed his passport date of birth to 1925 so that he could enlist earlier and help his country in the war. He trained as a paratrooper but traveled through Europe fighting as a regular infantry soldier until the war ended.
VDV Badge
Current Patch
Soviet VDV Emblem Pre-1945 Russian VDV and Paratrooper Patch after 1960

In Russia, being a paratrooper was considered an important and honorable task. They would receive the most amount of training and were paid more than any other regular soldier. A paratrooper was paid 130 rubles instead of the 100 regular infantry received.  My grandfather Arkadiy recalls training for five months between January and May 1943. Taking multiple training jumps out of planes during practice sessions, that he would never have to use during any real combat in the war. Ironically, even though Russia was the first country to use paratroopers, they never actually used them for important missions in the war. In June of the same year, he was part of the Guards Airborne Brigade Tactical Unit, or VDV. He was one of 10,000 people in his division. My grandfather recalls some of the people he met and their jobs, even seeing tanks dropped from the sky in practice jumps.

VDV (Paratroopers):
These soldiers were trained extensively in winter warfare. They were used to an advantage on difficult terrain such as mountains or forests. The VDV troops were also trained to take cover in snow or severe cold. Using their skis, VDV troops could often make quick surprising attacks on units flanks. Soldiers were told to never use the same trail once and to leave false trails to make finding them harder. Lastly, these soldiers were also trained in giving first-aid in the severe cold of winter.
Ground Paratroopers

Responsibility During The War:
From December to May, my grandfather never had to jump into a battle but instead was used as part of a normal infantry brigade. He was part of the 106th Division of "Gvordaya Strelika", which means that the entire unit earned an award for their service as shooters during the war. My grandfather was to be a Sergeant in the war. He was in control and responsible for 10-11 soldiers at a time. He would have to look after them, tell them where to attack, as well as take orders from higher-ranking officials. He was also the youngest Sergeant in his Division at only 18 years old. In the former USSR, 10-11 soldiers where known as a "Nzord", and 3 of these would create one "Rod". Three Rods would make a Battalion, three Battalions a Platoon, and three platoons a division.

Often times, VDV troops were used in small quick missions used to hinder enemy movement. In this case, two soldiers are about to explode a train track which has been sending supplies to Panzer units deep within Russia. Trail Sabotage

As I ask my grandfather about what he actually did during the mass part of his time in the war he tells me that he was fighting. "We were freeing Europe from Fascism", he says. I asked him what he meant and he calmly replied, "If you don't kill, they'll kill you. That's war." For the last two years of the war, he marched from Hungary, to Austria, to Czechoslovakia and saw his first American, a soldier. Soon after, the war was over. The VDV soon after became a fulltime guards rifle division. In Russia, the war between the Soviets and Germans is known as the Patriotic War. After Germany broke the Non-Aggression pact it had signed with the USSR, the USSR then began advancing into Germany. After Germany had sent in a large Panzer tank unit into Russia, Russia was nearly beaten if not for the mass amount of soldiers that Russia had. After 3 years of mostly defeats the Russians turned the tide of war as Russia's cold winters broke down the ebbing German troops cut off deep in Russia. Soon after, Soviet forces began their reclamation of Russia and marched into the Fascist territory of Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia and eventually Germany.

Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia:
My grandfather fought at the siege of Budapest. He remembers leaving Moscow starting at a river called the Balaton. After a long March, he arrived in Budapest, which eventually turned into a large battle comparable to that of Stalingrad. Budapest held out for nearly a year and became a battle of "rats" as the entire city became a war zone of civilians in hiding against small units of soldiers. During this siege, the Russian Red Army committed many atrocities raping and killing thousands of women. Eventually, Budapest fell and my grandfather's division turned their sites to Vienna Austria. They planned to march there and free it from Fascist Rule. This time, it only took them two months instead of a year like in Hungary. Vienna was left in much better condition than Budapest and after the battles the majority of the city was rebuilt. The city even had elections only days after the end of the battle. After Vienna was conquered, many people joined the Russian ranks to help fight against their oppressors – Germany. Then, towards the end of my grandfather's trip, he marched on to Czechoslovakia. My grandfather was the highest ranking Sergeant in his Division and was only 18 years old now. By the time he reached Czechoslovakia the war was already coming to an end and he had survived fighting in the Eastern Theatre, which would ultimately claim over 30 million lives.

Battle for Budapest Battle for Budapest:
The fight between the Soviet forces and the German forces at Budapest was known as a battle of the rats.  Hitler sent two panzer tank groups as well as multiple SS troops to help maintain control of the city. When the Russians arrived, fighting to take control of the city was painstaking since defending the city is easier. Eventually, many of the natives in the city joined the Soviet side to help them because the Soviets tried not to ruin water sources by bombarding. With the support of the natives, the Soviets were able to take control of 8 city blocks which gave them a foothold in the city. Towards the end of the siege for Budapest, many German troops were stuck by the hills surrounded by Soviet forces. Once the Germans gave up control of the city, 50,000 German troops had been killed in the fighting. The inner city combat which took place door to door was a preminition of what was yet to come to Berlin.

After The War:
Currently, the VDV is known as one of the elite and special forces in Russia. After the war my grandfather was 19 years old. After he returned to the USSR he eventually married my grandmother. In 1988 they moved to America and for the second time in his life met an American. Soon after my family also came over to America. Without my grandfather, entering America would have been a much harder task and may not have been possible for another many years. After living in America for a few years Arkadiy came in contact with many other Russian World War II veterans and decided to join an organization, which supports veterans. Now, he is the president of this organization and often shows me many of his medals, which he earned. Medals that used to mean nothing to me, now symbolize his hard work so many years ago and a brighter future for my entire family.

Victory After the Soviet forces took control of Prague, other Soviet soldiers had been in the process of capturing Berlin to end the war. Many of the soldiers in this picture, like my grandfather fought in Prague to take the city back from German control at the end of the war. Here, soldiers celebrate by parading down the streets for their victories in Czechoslovakia and Germany.    

soviet flag Bibliography soviet flag

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3. Oktorino, Nino. "Disaster in Budapest." Waffen-SS. 13 June 2004. 7 Jan. 2007

4. Pike, John. "Russian Airborne Assault Troops VDV." Global Security. 8 June 2003.
       9 Jan. 2007 <

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