Corporal Koschei

In the fallout from World War II, many Soviet secrets were buried or abandoned to time, waiting to be dredged up by future generations. One such secret was the subject of a text post on an Urban Exploration chatroom. Purporting to be from one of a pair of friends from Belarus, the account told of an area near a town just outside of Grodno that had been dubbed haunted by local children. The poster described sighs, groans, and shouts with no apparent origin point in a certain clearing. Apparently, that is, until the poster and his friend decided to dig up what they thought was an old well cap.

The lid was three-inch-thick concrete and gave a ringing echo when struck, indicating a hollow space inside. After striking it with a mattock several times, the lid cracked and fell inward, revealing a small tunnel opening up to a larger chamber. Within the chamber was a square metal hatch on the floor, three feet by four, secured by a padlock and several steel bars, along with a boulder the size of a wheelbarrow. The poster admits they fled at this point, coming back the next day when the light was stronger. They took turns shifting the boulder and striking the padlock with a rock, after all their attempts to pick the lock failed. The steel of the lock gave before the boulder did, and working with a lever improvised from a tree branch, they both managed to uncover the door.

The poster acquiesces that the two were almost too frightened to proceed at this point. The area bore no traces of human habitation and the entrance had been cunningly concealed; whoever had made this place obviously hadn’t wanted it to be found. They returned yet the next day, armed with flashlights and the steel bars that had secured the door.

The hatch’s hinges broke upon opening, forcing them to set the door aside. When lit matches failed to illuminated the floorspace adequately, it was decided that the poster himself should descend first, with his friend lighting his way with a flashlight.

The space within was similar to pictures of Soviet military bunkers the pair had seen, but was furnished in a manner that suggested habitation. There was a gas range, a mattress, and a plumbing arrangement. The poster said that although various homey touches had been added, such as pasteboard pictures from old magazines, the interior space felt lonely and “horrid.” The water and gas still ran. When his friend above joined him, the two were able to cover the chamber in a much more thorough manner. The poster alone found labeless tins of food, a mouth harp, a hairbrush(without any hair), a sliver of soap, a watch(missing a strap), and a comb with broken teeth. They both found the shackles.

Protruding from the wall about an inch was an old safe, which had already been cracked and hung slightly open. The shackles were attached to a thick ring embedded in the wall just beneath it. The poster estimated enough chain length that the prisoner could reach every facility in the space. There was a dried brown residue on the inside of the shackles that the poster guessed was blood. His friend opened the wall safe and found the mother lode: a stack of official-looking papers.

Between the two of them, the poster said, they had had enough and went out into the sunshine to examine their findings. Most of the papers were in code, but had photographs attached to them. The poster described the photos as a series of snaps of a peaky-looking young man, who seemed to thin out over the series of photographs until the last showed him as haggard as an old man, the whites of his eyes shining out eerily from his sunken eye sockets. A few papers were diagrams for some unknown surgical process.

There were also errant scraps as well, more like notes passed between students than official military correspondence, the poster said. The first seemed almost sarcastic, “good luck, Corporal Koschei!” followed by a series of missives sarcastically wishing a corporal well on his career path. Others were more cryptic and ominous: “don’t get too cold in there, your foot might fall off,” “say hello to the future for me,” and “eat the chocolate while you can.”

The rest were in more formalized Russian neither teen was adept at translating, so they took the papers to an uncle’s. The man received the papers without much fuss, but the next day the poster and his friend were visited by police. All papers were confiscated, along with the watch the poster had taken as a trophy. The official police report was issued weeks later, and the area was permanently cordoned off by the military.

That, said the poster, had been the end of it until recently.

Another friend of his joined the military and, with some squirreling, managed to get his hands on a less abridged version of the report. The military, due to the thick layers of secrecy in the Soviet forces, could not pinpoint exactly what project the bunker was part of and deemed it safer to bury in concrete, rather than risk any kind of contamination. All physical evidence pointed to a young corporal, dubbed K— Vladimirovich, being entombed alive in the small space for an undetermined amount of time. And despite the clear evidence that the hatch had not been opened in-between the time it was sealed and the time the teenagers broke in, there was no evidence of a body.

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