Maria Ushakova

Once upon a time, somewhere in the East of Russia, lived a boy whose name was Sasha. His relatives called him Shura or Shurik. Often little Shura was very sick, he contracted various different illnesses, and doctors were at times not even sure if he would survive. Once, on New Year’s Eve, Shura ended up in hospital. This time, it was scarlet fever. This disease was usually treated at home, but the boy was so sick that it was decided to take him to the hospital. Doctors began preparing Shurik’s mother for a possible tragic outcome. But a miracle occurred. 

One morning, after a difficult night, the boy woke up to some unusual noise. Doctors and nurses were happily talking and laughing. Everyone was staring out of the windows: some of the patients sneaked out from their beds; others were sitting on the windowsills. Shura looked out too. 

There was a figure in a black flying-corp naval uniform on a huge snow-covered field next to the hospital rapidly moving and jumping around. And, as if by magic, beautiful and funny images appeared on the snow. Shura immediately forgot about his throat and his rashes in fact he forgot about being ill altogether. Even if the snow outside was not white but black as coal, he would have immediately recognized this figure. It was his father! His father was a great artist and even wanted to study at the Academy of Arts before the war. Shura had never known that he could paint like that, jumping in zigzags on a snowy field. There were bears, elephants and completely amazing birds and animals. Shura, like other children in the hospital for infectious diseases, was in quarantine. Nobody, except for doctors and nurses, could get to see him. There his father was, tirelessly leaping around on the snow, like a fabulous black hare, trampling the snow down and making beautiful images to entertain his son and the other children.

When the winter sun began to dip beyond the horizon, Shura’s father made an image of the Mother of God. Then he made a big jump to the side of the image and hurried back to his port, leaving a path of footprints towards the distant ocean.

Fresh images appeared next to old ones. Even snow did not prevent new masterpieces from materialising. The new ones were even better than the first ones. This continued for days until Shura recovered and was out of the hospital. Love and art happened to be stronger than the disease. 

It was not all easy. Shurik’s father served as an officer quite far from the hospital, in one of the units of the Pacific Fleet. He was almost always on duty, and the family did not see each other for a long time. The sky was guarded day and night, in all weather conditions. At home two things reminded Shurik of his father: a gilded dagger and high fur boots. They were so high that Shurik could sink in them up to his waist. It was very warm inside them, especially if the stove that heated their flat was not on.

Much later, Shurik learned that during the war his father was a fighter pilot in the Black Sea Navy Fleet. His call sign was ‘Vasilyok’ and he fought with dignity. He had phenomenal eyesight, incredible memory and intuition and this helped him stay alive in the most difficult combat situations.

The Germans knew his call sign. They spread frightening stories about ‘Vasilyok’ to their new pilots. Well, there was something to be afraid of. By the end of the war, Vasily remained the only member of his regiment who had never been shot down or wounded. His combat history has an amazing sentence: “All planes led by senior lieutenant V.V. Zayats returned to their bases safely”.

Photo of Captain V. Zayats – Order of the Patriotic War, 1st class, medal: ‘For Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945, For the Victory over Japan. Medal for Combat Service, Order of the Red Star’

The main task of a Soviet fighter pilot in a war was not to shoot down the enemy at any cost but to stay alive and accomplish the combat mission. Most missions were to escort and protect bombers. Fighters flew much faster than bombers and moved in zigzags, at angles to the direction of the airborne convoy of bombers. 

The enemy could attack from all sides, and fighters, even at the cost of their lives, were obliged to save the bombers. Many fighter planes would start these operations, and few would return. Even if there was only one fighter left, it still would be flying at full speed and jumping in zigzags, covering the bomb carriers until its mission was completed.

And now a little bit about something else. Vasily Vasilyevich flew on the Bell P-39 Airacobra – an American Second World War fighter plane.

Bell P-39 Airacobra

Half of all Airacobras produced in the USA were delivered to the USSR under Lend-Lease. The P-39 was flown by Alexander Pokryshkin and Grigory Rechkalov.

We (descendants of war veterans) are organizing a nationwide action with the name PAINT ON SNOW. Our goal is to symbolically honour war veterans by ‘drawing’ on the snow (in the same way as Captain Zayats did for his sick son), to commemorate the memory and the 30th anniversary of the death of the outstanding artist (04/07/1918 – 01/14/1991), V. Zayats, and in memory of other war veterans. Moreover, we want to honour current military personnel. ‘Why snow?’ you might ask. We all know there is an endless number of snowflakes falling from the sky. Each of them is like a human destiny. It is unique in its beauty!

The rules are simple: you can paint anything that symbolizes PEACE, CHILDHOOD, LOVE and FRIENDSHIP. Our partner is a company (to be named following tender) which produces ecological paint that does not harm nature. Support the action on social media! Create your PAINTINGS ON SNOW and share them before 23 February with the hashtag #RusKaz2021. The best artists will be awarded!  

We would like to thank the United States and Russia’s allies in World War II. Victory is one for all. We hope that such an action will find a response among caring people in allied countries. We will be glad to see them too!


Our little boy Sasha grew up and got married to a wonderful woman, whose great-great-great-great-grandfather participated in the US War of Independence back in 1775 (but that’s another story). 

By Maria Ushakova (the grand-daughter) of V.V. Zayets. 

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