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Some would have said the 25 Ukrainian soldiers did not stand a chance. Virtually stranded at a small railroad station in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine, the small platoon of the 78th Guards Infantry Regiment faced a crushing onslaught of German tanks on March 2, 1943. There was no one to come to their aid. Yet Lt. Piotr Shironin and the small band of men refused to give up their fight. Determined to block enemy access to the railway station, the men rallied around a 45mm field gun. Although fellow Ukrainians manning the gun had been killed, Shironin’s group did not waver to use the weapon to blast approaching enemy armor. 

Their prospects for victory looked very dim. The advancing army of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich possessed one of the largest and most technologically sophisticated forces in the world at that time. Hitler’s troops committed wanton acts of brutality. German troops mowed down anyone who stood in their path as they pushed eastward with the goal of conquering the Soviet Union.

German forces hurled themselves at the tiny Ukrainian platoon with all their might, ultimately sending 35 tanks and armored vehicles to overrun the position. Yet the defenders held on. Using the field gun, Sr. Sgt. Sergey Nechipurenko and Pvt. Alexandr Tjurin destroyed three German tanks, while Ukrainians in the nearby village of Taranivka supported the beleaguered group of men with artillery fire.

Eventually a self-propelled German artillery vehicle destroyed the field gun. Nechipurenko was killed and his comrade wounded. Hope seemed lost. Without the field gun, it was no longer clear how the men would withhold the onslaught. The German armored vehicle swept closer, about to roll straight through the men’s position.

Seizing an antitank grenade, Pvt. Andrei Skvortsov hurled himself beneath the encroaching German vehicle and blew it up, sacrificing his life to stop it in its tracks. His comrades followed suit. No less than four of Skvortsov’s brothers-in-arms—Sgt. Ivan Sedih, Pvt. Piotr Shkodin, Pvt. Nikolai Subbotin, and Pvt. Vasily Tantsurenko—each seized antitank grenades and threw themselves beneath the roaring German vehicles with desperation and valor. Their fearless spirit transcended the desperation of their situation.

Despite their cruel resolve, the invading Nazi forces were thwarted by the small platoon. Shironin’s men inflicted heavy losses on the Germans, killing over 100 and wounding additional troops. The German advance foundered and eventually came to an unexpected halt. Losing a total of 16 tanks and armored vehicles to the Ukrainians, the Germans pulled back from the railway station. They had not succeeded in capturing it.

Of the 25 men in Shironin’s platoon, only six survived. These survivors included Pvt. Vasily L. Isakov, who sadly died of war wounds later that year in August 1943, Pvt. Alexandr F. Toropov, Pvt. Alexandr Tjurin, Pvt. Ivan P. Bukayev, Sr. Sgt. Ivan G. Vernigorenko, and their commander, Shironin. All members of the platoon were recognized with the title of Heroes of the Soviet Union on May 18, 1943.

The pictures of the men can be seen today at a memorial at Taranivka near the spot where so many of them lost their lives. At the center of the memorial, beneath a monumental sculpture of a soldier hoisting a grenade, is the image of Shironin. Severely wounded during the fight, he survived the remainder of the war and died on June 30, 1968. The railroad station at Taranivka was named Shironino in his honor.  MH