In late autumn of 1941 the 78th Rifle Division of the 16th Army, staying at the defence of Istra, was awarded the title of the ‘Guard’ and renamed in the 9th Guard Division. A group of reporters including Alexey Surkov was sent to the Istra front to cover the event. On November 27 the group reached the staff of the division and then proceeded to the command post of the 258th Rifle Regiment (22d Guard) deployed in the village of Kashino.
On arriving they discovered that the advancing German 10th Tank Division had cut the command post off and the communication was lost.
Another round of shelling forced officers and reporters to hide inside the dugout. Captain
Finally reaching the positions of the Red Army, Surkov discovered that his overcoat was entirely slashed by shell splinters. ‘I didn’t even take a step outside the regiment staff. Not a single one… But I was four steps away from death’, exclaimed Surkov.
The officers and reporters were lodged in a dugout. Surkov remembered that everybody was very tired. Velichkin was so tired that after the second spoon of soup he fell asleep right at the table. The rest of the group sat by the fire. Someone started playing the accordion, while Surkov started working on his news report. But instead of the report he wrote a poem.
In February of 1942 famous Soviet composer Konstantin Listov visited the editors office of the ‘Frontovaya Pravda’ newspaper where Surkov was working. The reporter remembered about his poem, quickly made a fair copy and handed it over to Listov. Later Surkov would tell that he was almost certain about his failure. Nevertheless only a week later Listov came back to the newspaper office and presented his new song titled ‘At the Dugout’.