‘If you feel nothing, you’re not human. And in the end we’re all human.’

Yevsei Rudinsky, Soviet navigator

The war came for Yevsei Rudinsky, a student and gymnast, when he was sent to a recruitment station and was told the country needed 100,000 pilots. “I didn’t dream of aviation, but I really liked to study,” says Rudinsky, 98. Drawn to charts and astronomy, he trained to become a navigator in Russia’s far north, where polar pilots taught their inexperienced charges to orient in treacherous weather without reliable maps. His baptism into combat came in the skies above Kursk, scene of the war’s biggest tank battle. “I flew a dive bomber, Petlyakov PE-2. We lovingly called it Peshka,” meaning a chess pawn. He recalls fear only after landing. “When you see how many holes you have in your plane, or how the Messerschmitts attacked you, then you start to feel.” He adds: “If you feel nothing, you’re not human. And in the end we’re all human.”

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