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The victims at the Berlin Wall: Window of Remembrance of the Berlin Wall Memorial, Photo: 2010 (Photo: Hans-Hermann Hertle)

Vladimir Ivanovich Odintsov

born in 1960 shot dead on February 2, 1979

on Dorfstraße in Seeburg
on the outer ring between Seeburg (Potsdam-county district) and Berlin-Spandau

Odintsov, Vladimir Ivanovich

The Soviet soldier Vladimir Ivanovich Odintsov left his area of duty around 11 p.m. on the evening of February 1, 1979. He handed his weapon – a Kalashnikov – over to the guard on duty, Sergeant S. and informed him that he was going to walk to a town (Dallgow or Seeburg) to visit a pub. [37] The 18 year old was serving his military duty in the artillery regiment of the Soviet garrison Elstal, which was stationed west of Berlin with housing barracks at various locations including the former Olympic Village of 1936. [38] According to information provided later by members of the Soviet military and secret police to the People’s Police in Potsdam, Vladimir Odintsov had been assigned that day to “guard duty securing the vehicle fleet in the winter camp.” The files do not provide a motive for his actions, nor do they reveal whether they were perhaps designed to conceal Odintsov’s true destination. Although the supervising sergeant had apparently allowed the first-year soldier to leave, Vladimir Odintsov’s departure from the troops was nevertheless irregular. That Thursday night, February 2, 1979, was cold for central European standards: The temperature ranged from 2 to 5 degrees below zero Celsius and the ground was covered in a few centimeters of snow. The 18-year-old soldier, however, had grown up in eastern Russia, and was used to much colder temperatures at this time of year. Vladimir Odintsov -- dressed in a padded army jacket, but no coat -- took nearly an hour and a half to reach Seeburg. What he apparently did not know was that the restaurant in Seeburg – if that was in fact his destination – was closed on Thursdays. [39] Four hours before Vladimir Odintsov begins his many kilometer-long journey to Seeburg, on-duty police officers had gathered at the Potsdam People’s Police headquarters for a briefing on an emergency search that was underway for a Soviet soldier. They were looking for Wladimir Kisimow, born in 1960, who had been missing since the previous day from his post in the Lynow unit, in Luckenwalde county – and was armed with an MPi Kalashnikov and 60 rounds of ammunition. [40] Two of the men present at the briefing were policeman A., who was assigned patrol leader, and Z., who was assigned patrol guard. They were both instructed to take up an observation post in Seeburg, a small village 18 kilometers north of Potsdam – and just one kilometer west of West Berlin. A file memo notes: “Their job was to observe and control human traffic from and to the state border. The regulation on the use of firearms was addressed again at the briefing. Comrades A. and Z. were instructed to merely observe members of the Soviet Army and only take action when absolutely necessary. In such an event headquarters were to be notified so that back-up forces could be sent.” [41] The two men were also informed that the “state border” was located only a kilometer away from their location. The patrol team took its position in a vehicle on the main road in Seeburg at around 7:30 p.m. They conducted their observation from inside the car. They were each armed with a Makarov pistol and 16 rounds of ammunition. Additionally, guard Z. had a “Kalashnikov” machine pistol and 120 rounds of ammunition. They were also equipped with a Model UFT 720 one-way radio, a red stop light, a chain grip and a truncheon. Many hours passed without anything happening.

According to the information they provided later during questioning, at around half past midnight the two policemen noticed a “male person coming down the middle of the main road in Seeburg from the direction of F2 towards the state border.” [42] Would a military deserter march casually down the middle of a village road? Nevertheless they both believed the man must have been the soldier they were looking for. A few hours later, patrol leader A. explained: “The description of the man on the search list perfectly matched the member of the Soviet army before me. Except that he wasn’t wearing a coat, but he could have taken it off and he could have discarded his weapon or hidden it on his body.” [43] They called out to him – according to their own testimony – (“Stoj, comrade!”), but he continued to run. Patrol guard Z. fired a warning shot without an order to do so because the unidentified person had picked up speed and – allegedly – was heading towards the state border. Patrol leader A. finally gave the order: “shoot!” and Z. fired again. The soviet soldier surrendered then and threw himself onto the snow-covered ground. He was ordered to stand up, which he did, and he followed instructions to walk to the vehicle – but when he was told to put his “hands up,” he didn’t obey. A second warning shot followed; the Soviet soldier was on the ground again, following the order to unbutton his jacket. But then he tried to flee again – allegedly in the direction of the border to West Berlin.

The guard Z. ran after him but the distance between them grew. “Comrade A. called to me that I should shoot,” the patrol guard explained as he described what happened next. “I fired from the hip, the soldier was about ten meters away. When he didn’t stop, I took up the MPi and fired a single burst, about three shots, from a distance of about 15 meters. Then he fell to the ground.” [44] The wounded man groaned quietly as the gunman “secured” him from the appropriate distance. The patrol leader had meanwhile driven to a telephone in Seeburg where he reported the incident to headquarters. He returned about ten minutes later, according to A., and while trying to feel the pulse of the Soviet soldier established that he was dead. [45] Contrary to information provided by the two policemen, a sketch of the crime site from the Criminological Institute of the East German People’s Police shows that Vladimir Odintsov was not fleeing towards F2 and the border to West Berlin, but was instead heading in the direction from which he had come. [46] Moreover: If he had in fact been trying to reach West Berlin, wouldn’t he have taken a much shorter route to the border on the way to Seeburg?

The shooting of the Soviet soldier caused a bustle of activity among the investigative agencies in the small municipality of Seeburg. [47] The People’s Police forensic taskforce documented the bullet’s point of entry on the soldier’s back as well as the exit wound on his chest, determining that the bullet had been fired from a distance of 18 meters. [48] At 2 a.m. the chief physician of the polyclinic of BDVP Potsdam issued a death certificate for an “unidentified man” – with the cause of death listed as a “bullet wound in the thorax region.” The dead body was handed over to the Soviet’s “forensic medicine” department at 5 a.m. [49] The results of the autopsy were unambiguous: the death had been caused by a bullet to the back which led to injury to the chest, specifically to the heart and lung.” [50] No alcohol was found in the dead man’s blood. [51] The Potsdam criminal investigative department had searched the dead man and discovered on him two letters and a new year’s greeting card addressed to Vladimir Ivan Odintsov, field post no. 47490 “L.” Soviet authorities soon confirmed his identity without providing further details to the People’s Police. The Potsdam investigators were able to determine that the letters “were mostly about general personal problems and information concerning relatives and other people. (…) The letters did not reveal any further personal problems.” [52]

Why did Vladimir Odintsov set off for Seeburg late in the evening of February 1, 1979? And why did his supervisor allow him to go? If he had been planning to flee to West Berlin – why did he hand over his machine pistol before leaving? And why would he take a detour through Seeburg instead of taking the shortest route possible from the Elstal garrison? And: If a person is fleeing, would he walk down the middle of a road? Was Odintsov really planning to go to a restaurant in Seeburg – or did he perhaps have a different destination? What did his family learn about his death – and where is Vladimir Odintsov buried? The files that have been found thus far provide no answers to these questions.

The last letter included in the file addresses the responsibility of the policemen. It was decided on March 5, 1979 that a preliminary investigation would not be opened against the gunman on the basis of Art. 96, Para. 1 of the StPO: “Given that the description of the injured party matched the description of the missing Soviet soldier, the comrades were under the assumption that he was the person they were looking for. His repeated fervent attempts to flee reinforced this assumption. Since the injured party did not obey the order to halt and continued to flee even after warning shots were fired, targeted shots were fired. This action was in accordance with regulations on the use of firearms and with the instructions provided by the supervisor.” [53]

Twenty-two hours after the shooting of Vladimir Ivanovich Odintsov in Seeburg, Wladimir Kisimow, the Soviet soldier who was the focus of the search, was arrested by members of the Soviet’s own army on the Soviet training grounds near Merzdorf in Luckenwalde county. The People’s Police report concludes with the words: “Weapon and ammunition complete. Search is over.” [54]

Text: Hans-Hermann Hertle (last update: September 2017)

Translation: Miriamne Fields

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