babel's bees

I mourn for the bees. They have been destroyed by warring armies. There are no longer any bees in Volhynia.
We desecrated the hives. We fumigated them with sulfer and detonated them with gunpowder. Smoldering rags have spread a foul stench over the holy republic of bees. Dying, they flew slowly, their buzzing barely audible. Deprived of bread, we procured honey with our sabers. There are no longer any bees in Volhynia.
'In our Cossack villages the womenfolk tell tales of the bee and its kind nature,' my friend began. 'The womenfolk tell all sorts of things. If men wronged Christ, or of no wrong was done, other people will have to figure out for themselves. But if you listen to what the womenfolk of the Cossack villages tell, Christ is hanging tormented on the cross, when suddenly all kinds of gnats come flying over to plague him! And he takes a good look at the gnats and his spirits fall. But the thousands of little gnats can't see his eyes. At that moment a bee flies around Christ. 'Sting him!' a gnat yells at the bee. 'Sting him for us!' - 'That I cannot do,' the bee says, covering Christ with his wings. 'That I cannot do, he belongs to the carpenter class.' One has to understand the bees.'

From Isaac Babel's 'The Road to Brody'


August 19:
A ruined, defiled garden ... and smashed, smoked-out beehives, this is a terrible, barbaric custom - I remember the broken frames, thousands of bees buzzing and fighting by the destroyed hives, their panicking swarms.
August 23-24:
...we attack the unripe apples, the beehives.
More details about the beehives another time.
August 31:
A meeting with the brigade commanders. A farm. A shady glade. The destruction total. Not even any clothes left. We clean out the last of the oats. An orchard, an apiary, the destruction of the hives, terrible, the bees buzz around in desperation, the hives are detonated with gunpowder, the men wrap themselves in their greatcoats and launch an attack on the hives, a bacchanalia, they drag out the frames with their sabers, the honey streams onto the ground, the bees sting, they are smoked out with tarred rags, burning rags ... In the apiary there is chaos and complete destruction, smoke rises from the ruins.
I am writing in the garden, a glade, flowers, I feel sorrow for all this. 
Excerpts from Babel's 1920 diary. He was attached to the Sixth Calvary Division as a war correspondent and what he saw with then became the basis of The Red Calvary Stories. All translations by Peter Constantine.

Photo of a bee veil by Daily Memorandum via The Etsy Blog.