On Aug. 12 Olga Kolesnikova received a letter at her apartment in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was from her husband of four months, Dmitri, 27, a naval lieutenant captain serving aboard the nuclear submarine Kursk. Despite Dmitri's rugged appearance, Olga had soon come to realize that he was a man of an unashamedly romantic temperament. And so he had written her, as he often did, trying to express the depth of his love: "I will drown in your eyes, like a real submariner, without any sound."
With brutal irony, the Kursk sank that very day, after what now appears to have been an explosion onboard, during maneuvers in the icy Barents Sea, north of the Arctic Circle. From the time the tragedy occurred, there was speculation that some of the 118 crewmen might have survived in one of the sub's watertight compartments for a matter of hours or even days. But it was not until Oct. 25, when a team of Russian divers entered the sub, some 350 feet below the surface, and recovered the body of Lieutenant Captain Kolesnikov, that the truth became clear. In his pocket they found a sodden note. On one side was a matter-of-fact report of the crew's dire situation, including the words, "There are 23 people here.... None of us can get to the surface." On the other, under the preface, "I am writing in darkness," is what officials have described as a last message to his wife, the contents of which have not been disclosed. "We had a very strong love, and I know he couldn't just leave me with nothing," says Olga, 29, who still has not seen the note because it is being
held as evidence in the investigation. "I don't know what the letter says yet, but I know that it speaks of love."
Olga and Dmitri met only last December, while he was on leave. They were brought together by his mother, Irina, 56, who teaches at a school in St. Petersburg where Olga is an instructor in biology. Olga's mother, Galina Nikiforova, 55, recalls Dmitri's phoning on New Year's Eve to wish the family well. "He was a real gentleman," says Galina. "Olga was not in love with him at the time, but I told her, 'He is your destiny.' " And, indeed, in a matter of weeks Olga had fallen for the husky officer who delighted in writing her poems. With Mitya, as Olga called him, due to return to active duty, their courtship was brief. On April 28 they were married in a simple ceremony in St. Petersburg.
Less than a month later, on May 23, Dmitri returned to his home base near Murmansk, headquarters of Russia's Northern Fleet. Perhaps it was because he was a new husband, or perhaps he'd had a premonition, but Dmitri became apprehensive and uncharacteristically spoke of death in his letters. In one of his last poems to his wife, he wrote, "When the hour comes for me to die/ Although I try not to think about it/I would like to whisper just this:/" 'My beloved, how much I love you.' " Before setting off to sea on the Kursk on Aug. 10—his 27th birthday—he left behind a crucifix and his dog tags. "He never took these off," says Olga of the tags that she now wears. "I don't know why he left them. He must have known."
Heartbroken, Olga plans to bury her husband in St. Petersburg. Of the controversy over the government's moving too slowly to save the Kursk and its crew, she says simply that she blames no one. Nor does she speak of regret over Dmitri's fate. "When we met, we realized that we were born on this earth to meet and love each other, whatever happens," she says. "We knew that the job of a submariner was full of risk. But we said to one another that even if there is only one happy day in our lives, we will take it because it will be our day together."
Eileen Finan in St. Petersburg and Juliet Butler in Murmansk
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